Thursday, March 24, 2011

cloudy amber jewellery

When I was growing up and hung out in forests in southern Ontario, I sometimes saw resin dribbled down the bark of pine trees. The resin was clear and yellow and sticky. It stayed clear and yellow and sticky even when it rained.
I don't know what happens in the stage between resin becoming amber so that you can't get amber wet. I bought myself a beautiful amber ring a week ago. I wore it one evening and the next day noticed that the amber looked smudged. I tried to clean it but nothing worked. I finally looked on the Net and found innumerable smart-ass sources warning me not to get amber wet. Amber + water = turbid. Maybe the jeweller could have let me know. I hadn't done the dishes or anything like that. I'd just... washed my hands at some point.
How could I restore it? Searches revealed ever more warnings about getting amber wet. Thanks. Also lots of self-help medical sites on what it means if your urine is cloudy amber in colour. I had to read through a few sites on the properties of amber before I found a line suggesting that an oil bath would help. "The oil fills the numerous pores to which the turbidity is due." (Cf Wikipedia.)
I've had my ring soaking in almond oil for 4 days now. It doesn't look 100% new, but almost all the cloudiness is gone. I'm posting this so that the next person who wants to undo the damage of amber + water might not have to look so long. I used almond oil because sites on cleaning amber--without water--suggested almond oil.

Friday, March 11, 2011

chandelier candleholders

We found these chandelier candleholders in Madonne’s kitchen cupboards. When she moved away, she took only her clothes. She left the sofa with a dog-chewed armrest. The iron bedstead, sheets and blankets still on the mattress. A frilled satin pillow. Beer glasses from the 1976 Olympics. Dog bowls by the kitchen door.
On Sunday we drove 12 hrs to get to Madonne’s house—which now belongs to R. No telephone, no internet, no TV, no radio. I brought a Canadian Tire camping chair to sit in. On Monday, with the snow streaking by outside, our closest contact with humanity was the snow plough that roared down the highway every hr or so. On the side of the house that faced the wind, halfway up the window—a metre off the ground—was covered with snow. The house was turning into an igloo. In the Gaspé snow rules. The wind takes a bead on the horizon and tears along with manic dervish whips. Snow upon snow upon snow. Desolate whiteness. I could just make out the fir trees that marked the edge of the neighbour’s lot. I couldn’t see the ridge of hills behind the house. Despite the wind, I felt brave and strapped on my new snowshoes. Floundered through the powdery snow around the house. At the back, the snow had drifted so high that my knees were level with the shed roof. By the time I got back to the front of the house, my steps from the door were swept smooth, any mark of my passing effaced by the Maritime wind.
I thought it would be good to come to the Gaspé after Mexico City. Absolute quiet after the non-stop cacophony of people, traffic, music, and noise. Our lungs would need a boost of fresh air after the mega-city smog. Mind you, I wasn’t thinking HOWLING fresh air stinging with ice and snow. Silly me. There’s a reason why Madonne wanted to escape. Why so many of the old houses along the coast are abandoned. Windows boarded up.
The Gaspé—la Gaspésie—is the easternmost region of Quebec. A peninsula that sticks like a fat hitchhiker’s thumb into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The St. Lawrence River is so wide here that it's not a river anymore. You can’t see the coast on the other side. The water is saline. I’ve seen whales from Madonne’s kitchen window. Here, too, you can hike to the very end of the Appalachian Trail that goes from Georgia to Maine, then crosses the border into Quebec, the last suggestion of once-upon-a-time peaks heading out to the tip of the Gaspé peninsula.
We spent all of Easter weekend last year dumping out Madonne’s house. Again at Thanksgiving. Rock star posters, pink china puppies, religious kitsch. Why did she accumulate so much junk only finally to leave it behind?
I thought I’d already emptied the kitchen cupboards of all but the plates, bowls, and cutlery which we can still use, but I’m still finding things. A dozen barbecue forks. These chandelier candleholders.
We’ll keep the candleholders. They’re perfect cottage aesthetic. Slowly the house is beginning to feel like ours.
The trip back to Montreal today took only 8 hrs. The roads were dry. The CBC and Radio Canada telling the horrible story of the catastrophe in Japan.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

sparkle spray paint shrines on the way to taxco

This morning we woke to the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire. Silence for a moment, then the birdsong started again. We'd rented a beautiful room in a hacienda in the mountains 2 1/2 hrs southwest of Mexico City in Taxco. Terracotta tile floor, embroidered runners on the whitewashed walls, brick ceiling, windows open on the sunrise on the mountains. White curtains stirring in the fresh breeze.
Yesterday we had a beer on a cafe balcony overlooking the mountain valley. The carved spires of the baroque cathedral on the skyline. Magenta bougainvillea tumbling down adobe walls. The flowering purple tree below our balcony so brilliant in the dusk that the blooms looked fluorescent. Then gunshots? Sounded like the guns in movies. We couldn't see any fireworks to explain the noise. Maybe we just thought we heard gunshots because earlier, when we were walking in the narrow cobbled streets, we'd seen a police jeep with a mounted machine gun atop. The police standing against the stucco walls were all carrying what R called assault weapons--rifles? machine guns? I'm not so clear on these terms.
After our beer, we joined the crowd in the square in front of the cathedral. People were sitting with their children eating roasted corn on the cob. A wizened toothless woman sucked the lime and chili pepper off her chunks of watermelon. A man hawked painted wooden animals. Would these people just be sitting here if someone was shooting guns in the streets? (Well, if they live here, where else would they go? Humans are amazing for what they get used to.)
We came to Taxco because we'd heard that it was beautiful. Aged stucco and adobe brick buildings wedged into the steep mountainside. The heavy beams of the balconies. Wrought iron. Cobblestone streets. Years ago I bought a silver ring in Montreal that was stamped Taxco. We were so close to Taxco and I wanted to buy myself a chunky silver ring in Taxco. I read the travel advisory advising against travel in the province of Guerrero because of the drug wars. I googled Taxco and crime and read about the mass grave that was discovered. The big shoot-out last summer. I have no idea how I'm going to die, but I decided it was highly unlikely that I was going to be shot by a drug lord in Taxco. (By a policeman I was less sure.)
We took a bus from Mexico City through arid mountains that became pine forests. The pines here don't look like Canadian trees. They're fluffier--as if they've been blow-dried. Then lush cornfields. Rich vegetation. Higher into the mountains again. Shrines along the way to commemorate accidents. Sparkle spray paint and streamers. Enormous plastic lilies. Mexican kitsch turned up a few notches by devotion.
There weren't any other tourists on the bus. No doubt they took the travel advisory more seriously. Their judgment wasn't addled by a love of chunky silver rings. Or they knew about the obligatory entertainment on the bus. You are not allowed to read. You must suffer, even if you try not to watch, a stupid Sandra Bullock movie dubbed into Spanish at earsplitting volume. And when that horror was over and it seemed no worse could follow, we got Alvin and the Chipmunks! Je-sus.
But it's true, we saw less than a dozen tourists in Taxco, including in our hotel which was so excellent that I'll recommend it: Los Arcos. Well-appointed rooms, tastefully decorated. No kitsch here. Calla lilies. A great stone fountain. A rooftop terrace. Fronds and palms. Lots of pillows on the bed. A firm mattress. A table and chairs. (So, okay, the bed was only a double and there was no hairdryer, but I'm not that kind of traveller. I don't need everything. I bless every hotel owner who puts a lamp next to the bed for that arcane pasttime of reading before sleep.)
After we sat in the square with the families, we decided to go relax in our comfortable room for a while. At around 8 pm we headed back downstairs to go out for a snack, but the main door of the hotel wasn't only closed, it had a log across it. We were barricaded inside. The desk clerk didn't want us to go out. She mimed guns shooting and told us it was dangerous. Ah, we said, so those really were guns earlier? Si, she said, guns. We went back upstairs--we had our comfortable room after all--and R complained for a while because he could see people in the street from the window. But that was different because one more or less Mexican shot in Taxco doesn't make the international news. A foreigner does. And then we did hear more gunfire--which sounded a helluva lot MORE real now that we knew it really was gunfire. Later we went up to the rooftop to sit in the balmy night and look at the stars and we could see the searchlights playing across buildings probaby a kilometer away. Only 10 pm and the streets were completely deserted. No pedestrians, no cars. Whereas in Mexico City the evening would only be starting to gear up.
So this is really too bad that this beautiful town which has already lived through a couple of ghost-town phases--when the first discovery of silver was played out, when the second discovery of silver was exhausted--might be heading for another eclipse while tourists stay away because of gunfire in the streets. Well, of course, they stay away. I would too now.
I'm still glad I went--and not least because I bought myself a beautiful ring. Ojo de tigre. Taxco is one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. I loved climbing through the market on several steep levels of steps; the man who explained to me what red drink he was serving in his big jug by pursing his fingers to mime the flowers he steeped in water; the purple flowers that had fallen from the tree into the courtyard like a petal carpet; the discoloured adobe walls; the mountains all around; the slow mountain dusk.
We're back in Mexico City now. DF. Another earsplitting movie in transit. I suspect there's no volume control in this country. There's only an on/off button. You turn on a machine and the sound is automatically at max. You have to get used to it. Invest in high-tech earplugs if you want to read or sleep.