Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Disappearing species

November 26, 2012

Mausoleum: Red List Lament, Doris Auxier, 2012, Metal framework, piano scrolls, vellum, paint, light box.

Is it a temple or a mausoleum?

Disparate elements in this installation create an eerie, warm feeling. From a distance, I felt as if I were being drawn into a Zen temple with oriental scrolls marked with calligraphy. A closer view reveals that the scrolls are not oriental at all, but player piano scrolls with sentimental words to old songs printed on the side to match the tempo or the music as it plays. The words, like Asian writing, read from bottom to top, contrary to our usual top down habit of  reading.  Hanging between these scrolls are ephemeral charcoal drawings of plants made on vellum or parchment paper, glazed with beeswax to create the same golden timbre of the piano rolls. They glow slightly. An odor of beeswax has all but been erased but lingers gently.

In the centre of the arrangement, there is a four foot tall glass container lined with fiber glass insulation and lit from the interior. It has the feel of a stele or a mortuary box. It’s as if it contains a soul. A dying soul.

Detail, paintings on vellum, with beeswax

The piece is, in fact, a lament. It documents 14 species of native plants that have almost become extinct in the Gary Oaks area of Vancouver Island, near the city Victoria. They are red-listed – a designation that is assigned when a plant becomes endangered and threatened with extinction.

Doris Auxier, the artist of this deeply sensitive installation, is keenly involved with using her artwork to alert viewers to the ecological, environmental situations concerning endangered species.

She explains:

“While player piano scrolls are still in existence, the piano itself is rare. This makes the scrolls that were dependent upon the piano/infrastructure/system virtually useless, existing mainly in antique shops and museums. Similarly, the plants on the red list can be grown from seeds saved from the plants, but they can’t survive if the ecosystem is destroyed. The plants become museum objects that exist in research gardens and other limited environments.”

Mausoleum: Red List Lament, is a reflection on nature, displacement and loss.

Detail, charcoal on vellum, beeswax

Accompanying Auxier in this exhibition, print maker, Edith Krause has created a series of prints beautifully constructed, on the same theme.

She too laments the loss of habit, citing the importation of non-indigenous plants whose incompatibility with the existing ecosystem results in a disastrous  destruction of the local plants. When an early settler, Scotsman, planted a bit of broom he brought with him from his homeland – that hardy shrub with a cheery yellow flower – little did he think that the plant would aggressively reproduce to the point where it would rob the delicate native plants of their habitat. It’s the well-known “Butterfly effect” where a tiny decision ends up playing havoc with the environment, inflicting irreparable damage.

The Butterfly Effect No. 1: Western Sulphur, Edith Krause, Screen-print, digital print, acrylic, plywood, hardware

Each of her art pieces consists of a Plexiglas panel suspended a half inch in front of a secondary image on plywood. The base image on the plywood appears to be a close-up view of butterfly wing, while the suspended image in front of it on Plexi is a map of the Victoria area where loss is occurring.  Superimposed on the map in black is a screen print of one of the invasive species causing the decline of the Garry Oak; like an obliterating force.

These “prints” are beautifully executed. The effect of transparency gives depth to the images. The three-dimensionality produces delicate shadows. It confirms the fragility of the plants, while the map imagery underlines that the city has superimposed itself upon a natural setting, disrupting the natural order and contributing to the demise of endangered species.

This is a thoughtful exhibition worth seeing. It’s at the Fort Gallery until December 2nd, 2012. The address is 9048 Glover Road in Fort Langley, B.C. Hours are Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

Advertisements

Coming Home – part 2

July 10, 2011

(see the previous post for the beginning of this story)

There was a message on my answering machine when I got home. “The Greyhound bus depot located at la,la,la,  has a parcel for Kay Kerrer.  Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Thirty or so paintings had been found by a thrift store on the Sunshine Coast. There was no longer doubt in my mind. They were mine and I didn’t want them to be sold in a Thrift store. I would buy them back, even though, if I were of a different mind, I could have tried to get them to give them back to me. I had never relinquished ownership.  They had never been paid for by the Anchor Rock gallery I had consigned them to. As far as I could see, they were akin to stolen goods. The Thrift people couldn’t prove provenance but I just wasn’t up to making a fuss. It wasn’t worth a legal scrap – they were just small drawings and paintings, and charitable organizations are doing good – they didn’t need a fight on their hands.

What if they did put them on sale, for five or ten dollars? I volunteer to price things here at a Thrift in my community. I know that’s all they could expect to get for them. Or they would have to wait a long time to find a customer, just like I do.

So I phoned to the woman who had contacted me about their value. She was an elderly woman, one without a computer, the e-mail had said. The call was long distance, and yes, it was the Sunshine Coast.  The thrift was in support of the local hospital.

I gently told my tale of how the paintings had disappeared from view; how I didn’t want my paintings to be sold for rock bottom prices in a Thrift, in honor of the clients I had who paid full price. I was willing to make a donation in exchange for return of the goods.

She told me how they had funded an ultra-sound machine  by their Thrift work and fund raising, to the shame of the government who had been promising to provide one for years and years but never had.

She told me how the paintings had arrived, all dusty and dirty. They were about to throw them out when one of the volunteers had seen the consistent signatures and thought to look it up on the Internet to see if my paintings were valuable.

“But”, she reassured me, “they are all in pretty good condition because they are all wrapped in plastic. A few of them are a bit moldy. They couldn’t have been stored in a really dry place. They are all in one box – about 36 of them.”

“There were 64 of them in all.” I replied. “There might be another box. Please keep your eye out for them.”  She said she would let everyone know.

My lady of the Thrift began to  tell me what the paintings looked like, describing them, saying, “It’s so lovely!” or “Its really beautiful!” I promised that once I had documented them all, I would send one back to her for her trouble. At her request, I sent back an e-mail explaining as I had to her, that the paintings were indeed mine.

Everything seemed fine.

Then  another representative of the Thrift e-mailed. She said that the woman who had talked to me had no authority and she didn’t know how she had gotten involved. She shouldn’t have contacted me. The only person who could decide was the manager of the  Thrift.  Would I please call her? So, I did.

The woman on the end of the line was icily polite. It began badly.  “Do you know that once a charitable organization has received a donation that the  goods belong irrevocably to it?” There was a sharpness to the question and the tone of voice did not brook an answer.  “We could sell these for quite a bit, you know.”

I laughed quietly. “I’m not that famous,” I replied. “They weren’t that expensive in the first place and they haven’t gone up in price at all since they were consigned to the gallery. I should have received them back; I’ve never been paid for them. The paintings didn’t belong to the gallery; they were on consignment.

“Exactly how much were you willing to donate?” she asked sharply.

In my mind, I cut my original figure in two, then stated it. I reminded myself that it was the charity receiving my donation, not this officious person. I had become annoyed by her tone of voice – by her implication that I was getting away with something; that I was getting a steal of a deal. And then she accepted.

“I’ll send the cheque today,” I said. I suspected that she would wait until it was received before she released the paintings; and I’m sure it was so.

And now, here they were in a thin, flat box, all thirty eight of them. The lovely sounding lady from the thrift, the second contact that I had, had made a neatly typed list of the works recording title, size and medium. The paintings were all cleaned up from their muddy first impression. In groups by size, the works were carefully and beautifully wrapped in crisp white tissue paper as if they were precious.

One of the hardest things for artists to do, if they are deeply involved in their work, is to let go of their paintings. The artist must treat them like adult children ready to make their own  way in the world. And yet, if an artist has given a bit of her soul to the work, then that bit of soul goes with it. The work needs to be respected, hopefully loved.

For me, I paint what is important to me at the moment of creation. Many of these are like visual diary entries. When they go out into the world, it’s like a page of a diary has been ripped out and flung to the winds. Will people think the visual thought is lovely, or significant? Will they take care it? Will they see to it’s future?

For that reasons, I am glad they have come home to “momma”. After ten years of neglect, they need some care and nurturing. They need to be listed in my good book of inventory; they need to be photographed to give respect to their place in my production history.

“Aren’t you disappointed that they ended up in a Thrift Shop?,” says Mrs. Stepford, my next door neighbour.

“No. Au contraire!” I reply. It’s a miracle that they have found their way home. I’m awed by the coincidence of life events that made it possible. I’m thrilled that a volunteer recognized their value enough to trigger their search for me on the Internet. And, I’m glad to have them home again, before I send them once again on their way.”

Coming home

July 4, 2011

Where is the beginning?

Was it the e-mail late afternoon, yesterday, telling me that thirty of my paintings had been donated to the thrift store and could I tell them what they were worth? “Please call Edith

Or was it my gentle friend and gallery dealer on Texada Island who notified me that she was dying – her last diagnosis on a recurring cancer having given her only a month to live? “Would I please pick up my paintings?”

Family in Powell River picked up those paintings and kept them for me until next time when I was visiting.  I packed them in my car and traveled back along the Sunshine Coast highway, stopping at Half Moon Bay. To my surprise, there was a very pleasant book store with a strong gallery element in it.

I took the opportunity to introduce myself to the new owner, an enthusiastic young woman, and showed her my paintings. She liked them. I had a list from the previous gallery. We photocopied it and both kept a copy as proof of our transaction. I left all sixty-four paintings with her. They were small – 8×8, 8×10, 11×14,  10×12 . You get the picture – they filled two medium size cardboard boxes.  Great for the tourist traffic wanting to take home a little something from their visit. Coastal scenes, (I had lived in Pender Harbour in my early adult years), spring flowers, a few metaphysical things, nothing too deep.  Sketches, little drawings, postcard-sized watercolors .

It suited us both perfectly. Thus, she had some small stock, hopefully easily movable; and I had a place to “store” these lovely little art works.

I had moved into my mother’s place to help her in her last years and there was precious little space she was willing to allow me for studio and storage. I hadn’t known where I would put this lot,  so it was a timely solution.

Time passed. I was working full time. When I came home daily, I had mother to look after, drive to appointments, feed, get groceries for, buy clothes for, look after her bills. She ached when she walked. Despite all of her fierce independence, and prairie grit, she had become thoroughly and completely dependent. Then my brother and his two boys came to live with us. It was a thriving, busy household of five and I had become the major domo.

I didn’t hear from the gallery nor did I expect to.  In the two or three years these sixty-four paintings had been at the Holtenwood, only  two sold. They sell slowly. Besides, these small tourist galleries only do business in the summer. They only open for the tourist trade. I didn’t worry.  The paintings were safe and dry.

Then my sister Heather and her husband came in for a medical appointment. They had been up to Halfmoon Bay at the grocery and went poking into the new store there.  I don’t remember exactly what it was – a bakery, I think. Or was it a fishing tackle shop?

“Oh? Have they built something new? Is the grocery store gone?”

“No,no. It was in the little building beside the grocery.”

“But that is an art gallery,” I said,

“Oh, the gallery? It’s been gone for a few years now.”
With a sinking feeling, I realized that not only had the gallery gone with no notice to me, but also the paintings along with it. Where were they?

It ate at me. I phoned the number I had for the gallery, but of course it was out of service. I looked up the woman’s name on the Internet – BC telephone directory white pages. Not listed. I spoke about it to friends. Finally I decided I must go up to Halfmoon Bay to see if I couldn’t find out what had happened to her. Surely she would not just chuck my paintings.

It took me a while before I could find someone to mind Mom for the day. She pleaded with me not to go. She was becoming much, much more dependent. But I needed a day for myself and I did not back down. The housekeeper came to stay with her and I left.

The day was rainy, cold and miserable. The windshield wipers slashed insistently like a metronome, sending sheets of water to the pavement. Luckily, Frank had agreed to come with me.

The defogger was not responding well and the car windows had large grey patches of condensation riddled with drippy lines that just would not go away.

Once on the ferry, Frank lifted the hood and tinkered until he was able to send gusts of air through the car to dissolve away the mists, but the air was frigid. The heater was not working.

We arrived in Langdale, disembarked and drove to Half Moon Bay, the windshield wipers still slapping away aggressively at the interminable rain.

At the little cove, the grocery was open but the small companion store was locked up for the season.

“Where has the gallery gone?” I asked the first person I saw in the store.

“Don’t know” was the answer “I moved here two years ago. I never knew the gallery. But the owner will be back in ten minutes. He’s lived here for a while.”

There was nowhere to go. The rain was teeming down. We stood near the cash register and waited more than fifteen minutes.

“She was a nurse’s aide or a nurse, I think,” the owner said. “She might be working at the hospital. That’s where she said she was going at that time. It must have been two years ago. There was some talk,” he said vaguely. “I don’t know if she’s still around.”

Hope dwindled. We drove back to the local hospital discussing my next move. What if she wasn’t there? Then what?

And what if she was there? What could I say? Why hadn’t she tried to contact me or send the paintings back? Had this long uncomfortable trip been for nothing? Was there a possibility that she could tell us where they were and we could just pick them up. Had she sold them and kept the money?
At the hospital, she hadn’t yet arrived for her shift. The receptionist said she would leave a message for her to come to see us on arrival. We could wait.

We sat, feeling numb. We couldn’t talk, with the injured and sick patients sitting morosely around us. Besides, in a small town, everyone knows everyone. It would have been indiscreet.

“I’m going back to the car. It’s your business,” Frank said flatly, suddenly leaving me to wait alone. I wasn’t surprised. He wanted to smoke.

The reading material was dismal – old Health journals – but I flipped through one nevertheless while I searched possibilities of what I could say.

“Are you Kay?”

The woman standing before me was thirty something, dark hair straggling around her face. I had a flash of Mother complaining, “In our day, nurses wore uniforms and crisp clean caps. They were polished and neat. Now you can’t tell the doctor from the nurses from nurses’ aides.”

“I am ,” I said.

I explained my business. I wanted to have my paintings back.

“You didn’t come to pick them up when I closed, ” she said accusingly.

“You never told me your were going out of business,” I defended.

“I notified everyone,” she replied defiantly.

“And how did you do that?”
“I put up posters everywhere in Halfmoon Bay and all the way down to Langdale.

“I live in Vancouver. How could you expect me to see your posters?”

“I phoned you and you  had moved. The answering machine name wasn’t the same.”

“I haven’t moved in eight years,” I said, a note of accusation in my voice. I didn’t believe her. She was making things up as she went along. As for the answering machine, it was possibly true. We had one of the nephews living with us record the message. Had they included my name on it? There was a measure of doubt. The menfolk in the family were not always responsible about phone messages. Had she phoned and I hadn’t gotten back to her?
“Well, that doesn’t really matter now, does it. I’m here now. What did you do with the paintings?”

“I must have sent them by Canada Post,” she said. “I sent them to the address you gave me when you first brought them in.”

“Canada Post?” I knew it was an unlikely way to send parcels, they were so expensive. I was incredulous. “You sent them when you thought I didn’t live there anymore?” I purposely brought the rising anger in me down, down down, until  I could speak normally. “Well, they never arrived. Didn’t you get the parcel back then, undeliverable?”

“I can’t remember. I’ve been so busy. My mother’s been very sick and now she’s died. I’m looking after her estate. Now my father’s sick. My boyfriend left me.”

The litany of woes, of misplaced blame, came out in staccatto form.

“Supposing they came back, what would you have done with them?”
“I don’t know. I don’t remember. It was too long ago. They could be in my mother’s attic. But I’m just going through things now. If I find them, I’ll let you know.

She was defensive and I was trying to keep the conversation on a level. After all, I wanted her cooperation. I didn’t want to shut her down. She was trying to make me go away. I wanted a commitment from her to find the paintings.

“Could you keep an eye out for them? Please take my name and telephone number and give me yours.”

We exchanged information. I returned to the car thinking, “She doesn’t care one whit.” I suspected that my business card would find the nearest waste basket as soon as she turned the corner. The little scrap of paper which I had,  I carefully folded into my wallet.

On the way back to Vancouver, impatiently-waiting Frank was sullen and weary. I repeated the conversation I’d had with her and proceeded to pick it apart. She’d never sent them. Was it possible she had called my  house? Why would she say she would look for them at her mother’s when she said she had sent them by Canada Post. How careless could that woman be?  Had she kept the paintings for herself? Had she sold some and couldn’t pay me for them, so was avoiding me?

Fast forward to last night:

I’ve been busy myself, enough to  forget things. I’ve had a six week pile of documents on my kitchen counter that I haven’t found time to sort.

Last night, I took from the pile all the exhibition data  – price lists, artist statements, resumes, submission cover letters, invitation designs, posters, press releases and sorted them out to be able to put them in a binder. At the end of the pile, I was holding a list of some sixty four works consigned to the Anchor Rock Gallery in Halfmoon Bay.

That confirmed it. The thrift store had my Anchor Rock paintings. No one else I knew had more than five of my works. It was the only answer.   Now how coincidental is that? I hadn’t seen the list in many a year and the list of works/contract finds itself into my hands on the same day as the e-mail arrives.

To be continued.                                    .

November 10, 2009

Edward cherry Mercery Lane Canterbury small

Edward Cherry , late 19th c. Etching, Mercery Lane, Canterbury

This has been my first “tools down” day in two weeks. Sure, there were a few days when I was doing something different – going into Vancouver, seeing people for business, attending an opening – and a day when my sister Elizbet came through town on her way to  Tahiti. The main thrust of my activity, though, was preparing an at-home sale of art work. which meant completely changing the display of paintings in my house and cleaning. I spent a lot of time sorting out boxes stored in the basement full of old things from Mother’s house and my own collection of vases and trinkets.

My house gets so disorganized in the process that it looks like Hurricane Gustav has hit, concentrating on my location only. At the end of the two weeks, minutes before the first guest/customer walks through the door, though, it looks calm and classy. The process of getting there is erased and the illusion of neat-and-tidy is maintained for a full day.

But back to Lizbet. I must say that we had a lot of fun on our one day together. There were no garage sales to be had but we did two or three thrift stores; went for fish and chips for lunch;  then headed over to Langley to the “art candy” store where she bought a lot and I bought a little. We shared a sinful cinnamon bun at a coffee shop; went to the Fort Gallery in Fort Langley;  got lost trying to find the new Golden Ears Bridge to cross the Fraser River;  and came back home for a glass or two of wine and an easy dinner.

The next morning we had breakfast together and she left for Otto’s place. She’s gone with him to Tahiti for three weeks. Nice work if you can get it!

I came back to the house, took paintings downstairs to storage and brought a new selection upstairs. That sounds so simple but it wasn’t. The stairs are steep and I can only carry one or two at a time. I would find just the right painting for a spot, only to discover that it needed hanging hardware on the back, so I would stop and do a bit of framing; or I would find that it had been stored too long and needed a good cleaning of glass and frame.

I was doing this show with my friend Rose who also had paintings she wanted to sell. We had to coordinate paintings that didn’t really hang together. She had a beautiful framed framed batik of three zebras (which I covet, by the way) . It’s zingy and in your face, perky and fun. I had  etchings by Edward Cherry and Georges Capon, both print-makers of the classical persuasion from the early days of the 20th Century.

There were other contrasts – she had a painting of a panda sitting in a house, as hair of the dog realism as you can get; and a gorilla in another painting peering out aggressively through ferns. On this painting, too, you could see each hair of the beast. Contrast that with my own flamboyant paintings of lilies. It was quite a challenge.

On Monday, I should have issued invitations by e-mail but I didn’t get to it until Tuesday for some reason or another. By Tuesday, it was pushing the limits, expecting people to rearrange their lives for our sale. But on Saturday, we did get a few people – just enough in my case , that I don’t feel badly about the lack of sales. Rose, on the other hand only had one of her invitees turn up and then that lady bought my stuff. It’s a strain for friendships, I’d say, having been there, done that, but Rose took it in stride.

Yes, she was disappointed. but Rose has a lovely personality. She was upset but not angry at me for the little success I had. On the next day, I decided that I would try to pull my Christmas presents from the remainder. I had bought them, after all, but just not this year; and the quality of things was quite lovely for the most part.

When I say only one of Rose’s invitees turned up, I’m not counting the half hour when her entire local family turned up – all eight of them, including the baby and a very energetic two year old – and they milled around looking at things, providing moral support to my friend.

Our friend Matthew was supposed to turn up and protect us from unscrupulous shoplifters and those would-be murderers who turn up to Real Estate open-houses and cart bodies off in the trunk of cars or leave them bleeding on the newly installed interlocking laminate flooring. Since we didn’t invite any but our acquaintances, we didn’t get any of those bad people, luckily, because Matthew had other commitments by the time the actual sale started and he didn’t stay to protect us.

We were on for dinner, all three of us, though. Fish and chips at Austen’s; five-thirty on the dot.

By the time five-thirty rolled around, Rose was  deadly tired an begged off which left me alone with Matthew. He drove. I was also pretty punch drunk after two weeks of work so I appreciated the lift and I closed my eyes whilst driving up to Austen’s in the manner of a catnap so that I didn’t fall asleep on my plate during dinner.

Don’t laugh! My ex, Frank, and I used to deal in antiques in France many years ago. We’d get up at four in the morning, drive two hours to some small town with an antique fair; set out all our stuff to sell; finish at noon, pack back up  and then deliver, if needs be; then go home for another two hours driving, usually stopping at a roadside cafe or a truck stop diner for a meal. More than once a poor, exhausted Frank drooped precariously while waiting for his meal; and by the time he had eaten it, when the carb slump kicked in, his head might just touch the table and stay there until it got really embarrassing and we (me and the other antiquarians) poked and jabbed him until he came back to life. Sometimes our days were fourteen hours long with out much of a break. It may sound grueling, but it was  the most interesting job I ever had.

But that’s an aside.

Matthew and I ordered our fish and chips. We were just about finished, lapping up the last coleslaw on our plates when Rose came in the door.

“It’s Saturday night,” she exclaimed. “What am I doing home along alone on Saturday night? Don’t they say that you should pay yourself the first ten percent? Well, that’s seven dollars and I’m treating myself to fish and chips with it.” And she did.

I think we were out of there by six thirty. Matthew dropped me at home. He waited until I safely got in the door and went on his way.  I went in and got jammies on and promptly fell asleep. The next day, after all, was an important one.

When I woke up about ten that night, still dressed in jammies, I packed out paintings and drawing to the car, arranging them so that the canvases would not get dents in them and the paper would not become dog-eared before it had a chance to get framed. It was dark out but the constant rain storm that we had been going through for the last three days had abated. It was dry; and I figured no-one would see me.

Sunday was the day I would be interviewed by a nearby artist-run gallery to see if I could join their collective. There are some fabulous artists in the group and I’d like to get to know them and work with them.

Wouldn’t you know, I woke with a headache Sunday morning, already severe enough that I knew I couldn’t just wait it out. There was no way that I was going to be sick for this interview, so I popped a migraine pill.  Within a half hour, the pain abated, but rapidly, I was feeling stomachly very out of sorts.

Oh no!” I thought. “H1N1! Here it comes. Rapid onset. Nausea; chills and fever.”

By three o’clock, the ill feelings had sorted themselves out. I was still moving rather slowly, but no longer was I feeling like I was teetering, balanced on one leg like a heron,  on the turbulent edge of water. I could go to my interview and manage it, if acing it was not in the books.

I drove over early so that I could find the place in daylight. With the new bridge over the Fraser, my driving paths are no longer the same. I’m still trying to find the best way to get to the Fort. In doing so, I arrived three-quarters of an hour early, so I went for a delicious crispy crusted apple strudel and a cup of coffee at Wendell’s Bookstore and Cafe and read a book to pass the time.

It was the funniest interview I’ve ever been to. When I opened the door to the gallery, there were fifteen people sitting in a circle and I could tell they were criticizing the work on the wall, the latest exhibition that had been up for three weeks already. When I entered, no one said, “Yes, you are in the right place” nor ” please come in and sit down while we finish this critique”. I didn’t know whether to come in or back out. After a hovering awkward pause,  someone said, “Just take a seat. We will be finished in a minute.” And I did.

Two artists helped me bring my few paintings and drawings into the gallery. I was appointed as the second speaker. I fee, now, that I explained myself fairly well – my background; my exhibitions; why I wanted to join the cooperative; and how I saw my commitment, volunteering, to this artists’ organization. I think I acquitted myself well but I was just as nervous as I was thirty years ago. Somehow, all my bravado about my work fled out the window, replacing my assurance with a heavy dose of self-doubt and timidity. Nervousness reigned (whether they could see it or not). I was being judged!

I won’t know until Wednesday or Thursday what the decision is.

But going back to the ill feelings I had on Sunday morning. I panicked about the H1N1 flu. I don’t fit into any category that would give me the right to go get innoculated yet. If I got it, I’d have to ride it out. Some people were dying of it. That got me to thinking that I needed to change my will.

So this evening, I was next door to see Mrs. Stepford. Mr. Stepford, a lawyer, was not home. Mrs. Stepford plied me with some red wine. We chatted quite a while about gossipy things and reran the interview a couple of times, picking out this word or that which had been pronounced on my art work and wondering what it meant in this context.

Mr. Stepford arrived about ten with his libation of choice and a bag of hickory-smoked sticks, some kind of very salty junk food.

While Mr. Stepford was getting his jacket off and preparing to join us, he saw Mrs. Stepford put her hands on the packet of hazel smoked chips.

“Get your paws off of there!”  he bellowed. “They’re MINE!”

Mrs. Stepford put them down and smiled sweetly at him. The eyes however told a different tale. There was mischief in them.

“Don’t you touch those, now” he admonished her, and he issued a few threatening scenarios if he came back into the room and found the package was opened.

Exit left, Mr. Stepford. He has something to get from the basement.

With impish glee, Mrs. Stepford grabs the package and opens it. She holds it open to me!

Now my rule is, “If you can’t see anything is missing then there are no calories. ” Equally”, I will add, “if you can’t see that any are gone, then most likely there aren’t any gone.”  I took five or six of these very thin potato chips and popped them in my mouth.  Mrs. Stepford took a handful. I innocently stopped elbow bending towards them just before Mr. Stepford came back into the room and eyed the opened bag.

“I warned you,” he said, menacingly, though I knew he would not do anything but be gruff. He’s got a soft heart.

“I opened them for Kay,” Mrs. Stepford prevaricated.  The scapegoat tales deepened. I remained, hands in lap. Mr. Stepford looked at the two of us, then conspiratorially at me. “Thanks for leaving them, Kay,” as if I had, truly, been innocent of this deed, and he leaned over and snatched the bag from Mrs. S.

“Kay says she just took a few for medicine,” continues Mrs. S.  “You know you are supposed to gargle with salt water to attenuate the H1N1 flu. With these very salty sticks, you don’t need to gargle. The salt flowing from them is sufficient to kill off all the viruses. It’s medicine. You just chew them up and savour them in your mouth for a while. Did you bring more than one package of medicine?,” she asks saucily.

“You’re not getting any more,” Mr. Stepford says as he protectively holds the bag of Mrs. Vicker’s hazel smoked sticks to his chest. As an aside, in a much softer vein, he says, “I love these. They’re a favorite snack. Want to try them?” and he proffered the bag to me.

Of course I had to try some, looking more innocent and pure as if I’d not gotten into them myself very recently.
I had the decency to wait until I’d chewed them up a bit before I let him know my opinion.

“My, they are salty!” I exclaimed. “I’ve never tried these hickory flavor ones before. Very good.” I felt it was political to go. It was getting late and with a glass or two of the red stuff (which I had to have more of, because I’d eaten something quite salty), I was getting rapidly very tired.

Tomorrow is another day. I’ll take Mrs. S. to do her grocery shopping and I have an evening reception to attend. Otherwise the day is mine and I’m heartily looking forward to it.

Reflections on a kitchen floor

October 31, 2009

The String Quartet K458 of Mozart ran sweeping melodies through Kay’s thoughts mingled with some odd memories.

Lizbet was arriving. The kitchen floor desperately needed cleaning. There were coffee spills, coin size, around the microwave and in the corner where she prepared food.  There was the spot where some drawing charcoal had spilled. She had cleaned up, more or less, but there was a circle of grey spanning the radius of her arm-length where she had wiped it. She’d gone on with her drawing and not gone back to finish the job.  She would not want Lizbet to see that.

Kay carefully lowered herself onto her achy knees and dipped the floor cloth in the lukewarm soapy water. She began her scrubbing, concentrating on the lines of faux-tile that caught the dirt. Who, she grumbled silently, would design a kitchen vinyl flooring with ridges to catch the dirt. It was diabolical. It must have been a man who had never cleaned a kitchen floor.

She wondered if her mother was looking down on her from Heaven. If so, she might have been chuckling that it was  Kay’s little hell on earth, to be scrubbing floors, albeit her own. She might have been doing a little bit of “I told you so-ing”.

Kay had always known that her mother had vicariously wished many things for Kay without really asking whether Kay had wanted them for herself. Some had worked out well – like the music lessons. No, Kay had not become the Concert pianist her mother had hoped. (Thank God, Kay prayed silently. The life of a Concert Pianist cannot be an easy one, travelling always to cities where one has no friends, where the hotel is as cold and unwelcoming as the last one in the last city); always being reviewed by critics, always having to be on show. But Kay loved her music and played the piano almost every day That had been a huge gift in her life.

Kay had been shocked when Heather had owned up that Mother’s dream life for Kay was Wife of a University President.  As Kay swabbed her cloth back and forth, rinsing from time to time,  wringing out the cloth and recommencing, Kay’s thoughts turned to how that possibility might be.

Instead of swiping this slightly grey floor, she might be sitting at an urn, pouring tea for Faculty Women, warm in a luxurious room with fine china and polished silver.  If there were no Tea in progress, perhaps she would be in tennis whites, swinging away at a ball in practice, or chatting up some academic wife, lobbing balls across the net. No, Kay thought. She had no regrets. She had led an interesting life.  Not an easy life, but interesting.

Mozart’s violins sang sweetly with a little waltz rhythm. Kay found herself swiping the floor in time with the tune. At least it was her own floor, she opined. She wasn’t earning her living scrubbing someone else’s floors on her knees.

The only way to get a floor really clean was to get up close and personal with it. Kay had no faith in the new mop technologies nor the old. The sponges fell apart far to fast and didn’t get into the corners well. When they needed rinsing, there were awkward motions and drips of accumulated grime that spilled on the floor. The new, well advertised Spiffies promised an easier task and a cleaner floor, but they were also a disposable technology which went against the grain of Kay’s environmental sympathies. One floor cleaning and throw away the offending dirt on a handy-dandy cloth, right into the garbage bin – if only one cloth per floor was the dosage. Kay had her doubts.

Floor cleaning is not mind-engaging work and her mind continued a conversation with her mother.

“I know you wanted the best for me,” she said in an acceding gesture of atonement, ” but had you no thought that I wanted something else for my?  After all, I told you clearly enough that I wanted to be an artist.”

That hadn’t been an acceptable occupation for a young upcoming woman. The family approved choices were clear. Get a degree. Marry a professional with ambition. Raise children to an even higher level of Academia. Shoot for the stars. Support his career until he became president. Run interference with any who might aspire to the same. Promote him in all his work. Hold teas. Do charitable work. Schmooze with faculty staff and wives. Play tennis and bridge.

It has been a terrible shock for Mother when Kay had gone Hippie. A shock to find her, run away from home,  living in an industrial district while finishing University. It was a shock when she had confessed to both smoking and inhaling. And when Kay had chosen her husband, well! That was the last straw.

Kay admitted that it hadn’t been a wise choice.  The marriage had not lasted long. But Kay did not like to dwell on those early days of independence.

What she could tot up on the good side of her experience was the teaching that eventually placed her in a prestigious Art school. She would never regret the years she had spent abroad studying in Europe nor the interesting things she had done thereafter.  She had come home fluently speaking another language.  When finally she had settled down, mid-life, to a continuous job, she had risen in the ranks and taken on responsibility, for which, finally, her mother had been proud.

Now here she was, retired and on creaky knees, swabbing the decks. By this time, Kay had reached the other door of the kitchen, all the floor looking uniformly the same colour.  Perhaps it’s only uniformly grey, she mused.

She backed out on all fours, found the nearby stairs to help her rise again, reflecting on this accomplishment too. It was only July when she had been unable to walk again, from back and knee injuries; so these knees, performing – maybe not to her will, exactly , but none the less performing – form and function, were something of a success as well.

It was a good life and it wasn’t over yet. Maybe, just someday maybe, Kay would get someone to come clean her floors and she could spend that afternoon going out to tea.

Preprandial hornet

September 8, 2009

Shuswap yellow life jacket 2 small

Lizbet lured Kay to the lake with promises of fresh air, warm bathing water and a fine picnic table to set her paints upon.

Kay gathered her paint pots and paraphernalia, locked the cabin door behind her and toted her kit down to the beach. Lizbet was just coming out of the water, her wet dog dancing around her, teasing Lizbet with a stick that she would not let go.

At ankle deep, the dog shook with a mighty wiggle, radiating the lake water out four feet about her in a diamond spray as the droplets caught the sun.

“Oh,” says Liz, “I was just coming out. Are you coming in?”

“How cold is it?”

“Seventy-two degrees warm,” she replied. “They tested it this morning. It’s not bad if you go in slowly. You get your feet wet and let them freeze. When you don’t feel them anymore, you move in up to your knees and let them freeze. You keep doing that until you are in. Everything’s frozen so you feel warm” She hesitated a minute noticing that Kay was not at all convinced and added dubiously, “and there are warm pockets…”

Her words hung in the air. Kay had no intention of freezing herself for the pleasure of a two minute swim and the unlikely chance of finding a warm pocket.  She unpacked her palette, her paints and vials, her water tub and her brushes and paper until they spread over the entire table.

Looking across the lake, she saw little to paint.  Smoke still hung heavily above the water obscuring the low mountain, obscuring even where the shore and land met. The sky was grey with a pall of ocher-tinted smoke coming from the west. The Sorrento fire had grown from thirty five to seven hundred kilometers square overnight. It was unimaginably huge.

The cloud travelling east towards Seymour Arm was smoke, not moisture. Moisture in the form of rain had not been seen for a month and then, it had barely wet the surface.

There were children on the beach screeching in their high pitched voices, a band of six small boys, cousins, were building a fort from beach rock. One of their fathers was an engineer and the child was precociously instructing the boys to reinforce the bearing wall, to dig out drainage and to grout the stones with sand as the five boys piled the stones three wide and three deep.

Two toddlers were lumbering along precariously as only toddlers can, bottom heavy with diapers and top heavy with yellow life vests. Thin girls were parading in their bikinis, exhorting each other to run into the water, hitching the panties that would not stay firmly up over their skeletal hips.  When they raced back out of the water just as fast as they went in, they quickly wrapped large beach towels over their heads and about their slender frames, looking like miniature Biblical figures.

Kay watched in wonder at their insouciant sense of balance and their indifference to the rough stones that scattered the beach beneath their tender feet.

Lizbet took her leave.

“I’m going to get into dry clothes,” she said as she walked up the sandy hill to the road and from there to the cabin.

Kay shrugged. It had taken her half an hour to get down and to prepare to paint. If she didn’t find anything to paint, at least she could drink in the fresh air and watch the activity flowing around her.

It was almost an hour later when Lizbet’s voice came, proclaiming from the road, “Don’t ever say I don’t do things for you! I’ve brought you a glass of wine!”

Sure enough, she was balancing two glasses of red as she picked her way over the tufts of dried yellow grass that gave purchase on the sandy hill to the table.

Coming behind her was Heather’s husband, grinning, balancing his own glass filled with a milky brown liqueur, his libation of choice, Baileys.

Kay moved her spread of painting tools out of the way and the three of them clinked glasses and sipped away as they chatted.
Kay, absorbed in a child and its movements and continuing on with her daubings of a moored boat, payed little attention to the conversation and the wine.

She loaded her brush with blue and carefully drew it along side of the boat she was painting. A few strokes of the same blue over the first wash served to describe some reflection and water movement below the boat.  Then she picked up her wine glass and savored two long sips of wine.

It’s one of those things. You don’t really look at what you are doing. You are focusing on one thing and doing another. Beach-side multi-tasking. Out of  peripheral vision, a movement catches your attention. Your brain is slow to register; it does not compute the image; the pattern slowly emerges; an alert comes far to late for the registering message to be heeded. There was something black in the red liquid contained in her glass that she had just freely drunk from.

“EWWWWW!

She almost flung the glass from her. There was a great black insect in the bowl of it drunkenly swimming in the red wine. It was wearing white and black striped swimming trunks and she had narrowly missed ingesting the ugly beast!

Kay touched the glass gingerly by the stem, pushing it away from her. It was a very large hornet. She dumped the glass to make it go away, but the hornet was not interested in leaving. The hornet climbed swayingly to the rim of the glass and fell helplessly back into the residue of wine. He licked his angular legs and rubbed his mandible and antennae. Oh wine! How Divine!

Kay closed her eyes and said a powerful prayer of thanks. She had narrowly missed ingesting that ugly besotted, black striped beast.

The insect, like many a drunken fool, proceeded unaware of Kay’s repulsion. He continued to wobble and sway about the rim and down again into the cup, bewildered that his drinking partner had cut off his supply.

Kay packed away her kit and headed back to the cabin to make dinner.

When Lizbet and Heather’s husband came in for dinner, Lizbet was laughing.

“He misses you! He’s still down there drunkenly calling your name. Jason gave him a droplet of Baileys as we left, but it just wasn’t the same. I distinctly heard him cry, “Sauvignon, Sauvignon, my beauty, where are you!”

Shuswap 1 006 crop

Karma

July 19, 2009

zz 711 small

I set the house alarm and left, locking the door behind me, then realized that I didn’t have my camera.

I’ve walked the dikes so many times now, I should have them in my mind by memory, but I don’t. I don’t seen to have visual memory, funny enough, and I keep trying to record what I see either in photography or paint so that I don’t forget.  It was getting warmer out by the minute and I made a conscious decision to leave it at home. I would walk faster, and anyway, I’ve already photographed everything thirty times. You’d think I’d already had the ultimate image, but no…. it’s always the penultimate.

And so there I was, on Sunday morning, walking in Paradise.

There were very few cars in the lot which was a good thing, because in this unusual heat wave, parking under one of the grand willows at the entrance to the dike walks,  there is a large pool of shade and there was one parking spot left, right up by the big concrete dividers that delineate the edge of the lot.

I extracted my walking poles from the trunk, locked the car and set out. There wasn’t a human in sight.

Without the camera, I was able more acutely to hear myself and the birds.

I’ll always remember asking Mom if she could hear the birds that were chirping loudly, a flock having chosen her back yard for an early evening town-hall meeting.  “Birds?” she asked, puzzled. “Hear them?” She strained to listen. “Are there birds”  She shook her head. She couldn’t hear a single peep.

I vowed to listen to them while I could and here, early morning there was a leading edge symphonic composition of unrelated tonal  sounds going on with each orchestral section doing it’s own thing.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many different birds competing in a battle of the bands before. There was a persistent, overriding one going “Chi, we,we,we,we” . There was a beautiful melodic one, about sixteen notes long, whose tune I could not imitate nor remember. There was a ticking one going, “chi, chi, chi, chi” and a starling imitating a chickadee with a throatier version of the “dee, dee, dee” sound.

When a person pays attention with all one’s senses, it’s amazing what there is to hear and see. And smell also. There was a decided scent of mown hay permeating the air with an attenated sweet manure smell behind it. It had been spread more than a month ago and the awfulness of it had sunk into the ground, nourishing it, leaving the hot earth with this pleasant farm smell.

Without the camera I beetled ahead at a rapid pace, which is what I should be doing most days but never do if there’s something to photograph. But I havn’t been serious about walking as I should, so I was happy to halt, catch my breath and watch two birds grasp the same tall branch of a pink-flowered shrub. They were the size of bush-tits but all brown and they were swinging around the twig like a pair of acrobats.

When I resumed my walk, I reflected that not having a camera forced me into having conversations with myself.  I thought it might be a great exercise to go home and paint what I saw today.

I dismissed the problem of colour. I had that down pat – the brilliant summer sky, a mix of cerulean and French ultramarine; The far mountains,  a wash of French Ultramarine and closer ones simply a deeper version of the hue; the trees, a mix of viridian and burnt sienna; the sunnier greens mixed with a lemon yellow and a sap green.

It was the composition that I couldn’t carry with me – the way the shapes nestled together, the way the shadows defined the shape, the rhythm and flow of it. I tried to memorize one or two.

There was the way the dike path split the marsh grasses like a bolt of lightening diminishing to its pointy end far off in the distance, only to be stopped in the mid ground by two small poplars and the heron tree. Overpowering everything were the pure blue  mountains, receding in distinctly shaped layers of progressively lighter hue.

There was the way the dike sweeps down into the farm lands where the blueberry fields are ripe and ready. At the edge of these, the windbreak is made up of mid sized shrubs entangled with blackberry and wild rose. It’s an image full of curves and warm, golden grasses.

As I approached the Neames Road bridge, I tried to memorize the shape of it – its four creosoted posts on either end, the white railing with three tiers, the water flowing underneath,  everything reflecting in the water with the addition of a good swig of sky and a dollop of a single cloud floating in the water. Sounds like a blueberry float with whip cream on top!

On the way back, the sun was coming straight for me, as were a number of late starters their dogs or their children in tow. A few runners sped by, coming and going. I concentrated on trying to find word equivalents for the  bird songs and repeated them as one of my memory exercises. I wasn’t sure whether I would be racing for the brushes or the keyboard when first I got home.

Chi, we, we, we, we, I was repeating to myself as I was interrupted by a “kitty-wake” sound but I was sure it wasn’t a kittiwake because there were no gulls around. I stopped to listen and joined a conversation unfolding before me.

A middle-aged woman in a broad raffia hat sporting two braids down to her shoulders had stopped two petite Iranian ladies more or less appertaining to a leash-free teacup-sized dog with a tiny bow on it’s head.

“There’s a coyote hanging about. Several people have seen him this morning,” counselled the braided woman.

“Oh, we’ll be okay,” said one of the Iranians, smiling as they continued to saunter along. They clearly had not understood, neither the message nor the import of it.

“It’s your dog. The coyote will eat your dog. It’s like a wolf,” insisted the woman with the braids.

The Iranian women stopped, trying to make reason of the message.

“You had better carry your dog,” insisted Mrs. Braid.

Their eyes popped and one of them let their mouth hang open in horrified understanding.  They both nodded. The little muffet was called and one of them scooped up the handful and tucked it close to her breast.

“Oh, look,” cried Mrs. Braid. “There are two birds chasing an eagle.”

It broke the conversation and everyone looked. Two small birds, likely the size of robins or starlings were bearing down on the eagle high above the poplars. One flew in so close it could have dropped six inches and ridden on the eagle’s back without having to do any wing flapping himself.

The bald-headed eagle was angrily chastising his pursuers with that ki,ki wake sound . I had at least matched one of the choruses  from the bird symphony, now.

Mrs. Braid and I talked then about having seen coyotes and bears and other wildlife. We traded stories for quite a long moment before she announced that she had just retired from working as an art teacher.

“How coincidental!” I said, very happy with our conversation that just flowed. I explained my connections to art. Then I explained what I was doing to integrate myself into the art community as a newcomer, inviting groups of artists to salon-like gatherings so that I could get to know them and they, me.

“Would you like to come to one sometime?” I asked.

“Oh, I would love to,” she answered and started to cry. Not the sobbing kind, but the sniffly, trying-desperately-not-to kind, with an index finger reflexively wiping away moisture from the side of her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she apologized, dipping her head so that with the shadow of the had, I could not see them. “It’s so recent. I’ve just put my husband in a residential care facility this week. Alzheimers. ”  She struggled to force the tears back into her eyes.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I replied, with a look of concern for her.

“I’m only fifty-five. He’s only sixty-four. For the last four years, I haven’t been able to get out. It’s the first time I’ve had any time to myself. I’m not used to having time. Not that I’ve just left him there, though. I go every day between six and ten at night. That’s when I can be most useful, getting him to bed. Sometimes he recognizes me. Mostly he doesn’t. And I’ve never had time to go anywhere, not even grocery shopping, because he had to be watched. He didn’t understand anything anymore. While we were out walking, he would see a house and construct a story around it. He would think it was ours and we had renters. He would want to climb a fence to get into the place to see if they were treating it properly.”

“Like a two year old,” I sympathized.

“Yes, exactly,” she replied. “I couldn’t leave him for a moment, and I couldn’t take him anywhere. But finally, I stopped being humiliated and embarassed by the situations he got me into.”

Her situation came out in a torrent. The relief that she felt in finally having the burden of his care lifted from her shoulders alone and shared with the health system was huge, but at the same time, she felt guilty. A new round of tears escaped from her eyes. She was really in quite a fragile emotional state.

I thought to myself, I guess this was the reason I came out to the dike so early this morning. It was a bit like this chance meeting had been engineered by the invisible and all powerful Higher Power of the universe.

I tried to distract and reassure her. I told her about caring for my mother in a similarly senile state, though her husband seemed to be  far more difficult than my mother had been.  I told her about the drawings I was doing about feelings. How I had originally pounded marks onto the paper, in anger, and beat away the frustration in long, attacking strokes.  I told her about standing in front of my paints and closing my eyes to see what my feelings were and then finding colours that matched and images that expressed those states.

She had pulled her emotions together and stuffed them back in their box.  She said, “It’s the first time I’ve been back on the dikes. My husband and I used to walk here. I’ve been frustrated and lonely and feeling guilty to be enjoying all this beauty, this paradise. I had no idea I might talk to you or anyone. It’s so strange. I think I must have been sent to meet you here today. It is as if it  was meant to be.”

The similarity of our our situations and our thoughts amazed me. I said so.

Again, I invited her to join up with us at one of our artist groups.

“You know, you will not feel out of place. We’ve all had our griefs. Elizabeth’s mother has died of Alzheimers just recently and she cared for her daily for several years. My mom was getting senile and slipping deeper and deeper in to geriatric states of confusion, so I understand perfectly. Mrs. Stepford is going blind, and Thelma is desperately trying to get her granddaughter out of the Ministry’s foster home care system. Her daughter is too sick to look after the child. You’ll feel right at home. And you don’t have to wait until I throw another potluck. Just come for tea.”

It was time to be getting on. We exchanged names and promised to be in touch.  We said goodbye and I walked hastily back home, this time regretting my camera very much.

A young family with two children under the age of six  riding bicycles and parents afoot, pushing a baby in a stroller. The mother’s shadow was imprinted on the gravel walkway in perfect silhouette.  Just in front of her, the four year old was peddling furiously on her red an blue bicycle with training wheels.  Her shadow too was at a perfect ninety-degree angle, flattened upon the light gravel path. The moving shadow’s legs pumped up and down perfectly, the spokes were more noticeable here than on the bike, turning round and round like some fair ground ride.

It wasn’t long after that I got into my nice cool car, hiding as it was, under the willow tree, and made for home. I went straight for the computer before I could forget Mrs. Braid’s last name. I took the information and put it in my address book immediately, then phoned up to leave a message.

Someone on the other end picked up. I hadn’t thought she could get home so fast.

“Mrs. Braid?”

“Speaking,” the voice replied, quite formal.

“Mrs. Braid, it’s Kay here. I just met you on the dike a short while ago. I didn’t think you could get home so fast.”
“What did you say your name was? Kay? Kerrer? Is that right? I just looked up your number and was about to call you. Is this the right address. I just had the phone in my hand to call you….   I think we were destined to meet.”

Perylene Maroon

July 18, 2009

Lizbet has been visiting. She left yesterday and I was sorry to see her go. We have a common interest in art, although her work is very different from mine.  She’s a fine watercolourist.

On Wednesday, we drove down to the Big Box store to load her up with cases of canned goods and various other items she likes enough to buy in quantity. Canned peaches and canned pineapple are two favorites. She’s partial to the Dempster Cinnamon Raisin bread and the Squirrelly no-flour whole grain bread that she can buy there at an advantageous price.She picked up a kilo of fancy nuts and a few other things while she was at it.  In Nelson, she doesn’t have access to this kind of discount store and we are all counting our pennies now in retirement.

I convinced her that the seven cent difference in gasoline might be easy on her pocket book as well.  We drove up to the forward-most pump and she leaped out of the car.  I did  the same. After all, the gas tank was on my, the passenger, side. She dove back into the car to get something – her credit card or who-knows-what. All that matters is that while her head was buried in the car I was exclaiming over the candy red metallic painted Model-T Ford replica that was parked on the curb of the gas station.

She, meanwhile, was goggling over a MKX Lincoln on the other side of the gas pump.

“Perylene Maroon, wouldn’t you say? Pure Perylene!” she exclaims.

“Looks like Candy Red – what do you call it when it kind of sparkles right in the paint? Metallic? Yeah, Metallic Candy Red! Just look at that colour!” I return to her.

“No!” she says. “It’s maroon.”

We’re sisters. This is a common kind of misunderstanding we have. We don’t even listen to each other. We aren’t even talking about the same vehicle but we’re ready to defend our side of the fence with fierceness. It’s the opportunity for a great squabble that will end, we are sure, in some kind of stand off where no one is really offended. Or maybe just a few ruffled feathers and then we straighten it out and we’re a little sensitive for a moment or two. In this case, in hindsight, nobody even had to lose!

She pulls her head out of the car. “Look!”, she commands. “It’s Maroon.” She’s pointing at the the MX5.  Simultaneously, I’m saying, “Look! with the same directorial passion, arm outstretched to the Model T look-alike. “It couldn’t be a more pure Candy red  – an Alizaron Crimson. And Oh! That one there is pretty nice too. Metallic Burnt Sienna.’

I turn around to look at the equally metallic paint job on the MXK. She jerks her head in the direction of my outstretched arm, right down the arrow-like index finger to the car she had not noticed before.

“See, I told you,” we both say simultaneously.

“Oh!” we both say with a startled surprise, and start to laugh.

“I didn’t hear you,” we both say in unison.

“When you were talking to me, your head was in the car,” I say while she, talking at the same time says, “You got out of the car as I was speaking to you. Nobody ever listens to me.”

“Good grief!” she says. “You are about the only person I can have these kinds of conversations with.  People must think we are completely  starkers. We’re babbling along in conversation defining everything in the colour of Windsor and Newton pigments.”

Lizbet, as I’ve mentioned before, has a talent for meeting people. Next thing I know, she’s marching over to the owner of the Lincoln who is about to get back into her car.

“Excuse me,” calls Lizbet. “Excuse me, ” she calls a bit louder until the lady turns around in a bit of a surprise as if Lizbet were about to announce she had a flat tire. Lizbet’s voice reduces from her normal classroom volume to a conversational tone that I no longer can hear. She’s gesticulating, pointing to the red Model T, laughing, telling her story about our argument on the subject of car colours.

The lady turns towards me, some thirty feet away now, and calls as if she were calling her kids in from the back forty, “It’s Cinnamon. Metallic Cinnamon, they called it.”

I nod my head, smile, glance admiringly at her vehicle and get back into Lizbets car. Lizbet keeps on talking. The woman puts one foot on the dashboard and makes to climb into the car. Lizbet starts to make her way back to our vehicle.

“She just got the car,” Lizbet informs me. “She’ really happy with it. Great for camping. They’re leaving tomorrow for a week holiday.” She added in more detail – number of kids, the  woman’s name, her husband’s name, where they were going.  In less than five minutes, Lizbet had the woman talking to her as if she were her best friend. It always startles me. I wouldn’t even have dared to ask about the car’s color.

“How did we get into that conversation?” I ask Lizbet. We are both making a concerted effort to not get into inflamed conversation of misunderstanding.

“I told you the Lincoln was Maroon,” she answers. “You didn’t listen. I’d already said that and then you were telling me to look at it. Nobody ever listens to me.” She had a huge smile on her face like she’d won a prize.

I began to laugh. We both began to laugh.

“Perylene. I just love the sound of it. And Quinacridone. Where do they come up with these names?” she says. We both shake our heads, still chortling. Lizbet drives off and finds us a parking space.

Just a wee scrap of useless information I found on the Lincoln site,

  • Cars with metallic paint are worth more than cars with flat colours and usually demand a premium in dealer showrooms. Metallic cars are said to sell faster as used cars, and could be worth more than a flat-coloured counterpart.
  • Loud colours such as reds, yellows and oranges are generally more popular on sports cars and compacts, while larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks, tend to me (sic) more neutral.

And there you have it.

Between you and me, though, I never admitted that I didn’t have a clue what pigment colour she was talking about. It’s not one that I use. So I looked it up on the Internet, as I often do to keep my facts right.

She was right on. It was a perfect colour for the Model T – like a fat ripe cherry or only slightly darker than a red candy apple, all aglow.

It you want to look it up, I found it on this site:

http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/waterr.html

a

Potent Stuff

March 20, 2009

“You artists gabble on about things I don’t have a clue about. For instance, just what does chiaroscura mean?” Dorothy asked, just a bit petulantly, then added, “If I turn up to one of your artists’ salon things, I won’t be able to talk to anybody.”

“That’s the beauty of our relationship,” Kay replied. ” Tell me what a lipid is and I’ll tell you what chiaroscura is?  That time when I was down visiting Earl and he showed me your doctoral thesis, I read the first page and realized I didn’t even know what language it was written in. I could understand the connecting words  and the articles – to, from, about, above, in and out, the, this, that and and – but all the rest might as well have been twenty-third century Hungarian as far as I could tell.”

Had I known she could write and talk in this completely esoteric language and be revered for it, I probably would have to kiss the hem of her skirt (if she ever wore one). That wasn’t a good omen for a friendship on an equal footing.  Our mutual friend Earl was drooling and exclaiming as he showed me his treasure “Do you have any idea how important this woman is?”

I didn’t. He set me straight enumerating her various accomplishments and her world-wide connections in her esoteric field of DNA research and their application to lipid research. I felt very fortunate to have met this good-hearted woman before I knew all that. There was no hope I’d be kissing any hem by  now. I’d met her at they gym, both of us eagerly pumping away at the various weight-resistant  machines trying without much hope to become svelte and healthy.

Since then, we’d established a great friendship over our love of food, theater, and art.  She was different (from me) in that she loved exercise and could cycle for two hundred kilometers on a weekend and could do beautiful woodwork. She installed her own hardwood floors, start to finish, and had built a beautiful pine blanket chest with utmost artisan skill. But then, I was different too, or so she said. I paint, draw and write amusing stories – something she found quite incomprehensible.

We were sitting in her kitchen having brunch, crisp bacon with a heavenly odor, eggs and toast. Nothing exotic, as brunches go, but it’s the company that makes dining exciting.

As I was waiting for Dorothy to get her coffee and join me at the table, I was flipping through one of her pharmaceutical science trade journals.

In the way of women’s circular conversations, I ventured “Chiaroscura simply means light and dark. It’s the art of dramatizing an image with light. To enhance the light, you underscore it with shadow. That’s all. Light. Dark. It’s a concept that had it’s defining moments in the Italian Renaissance. I guess that’s why it has kept its Italian name. ”

“Cool!” she said. “That’s not difficult.”

“Not like lipids. It means fat, doesn’t it?” I continued.

“There – you already know, don’t you? I don’t need to explain it. But there are lots of different kinds – monosaturates, polyunsaturates, polysaturates, et cetera, et cetera, …”

“Yes, but what are you doing with them? Why are they important? We’re all dieting here.  We keep on trying to get rid of them off our portly frames. We’re not trying to conserve them, for Pete’s sake.”

Dorothy laughed, and leaned a bit forward, pen at hand and a paper, ready to draw me the reticulo-endothelial system.

“Lipids are synthetic molecules. We take lipid molecules out of cell membranes and then manufacture synthetic packages with them which can carry drugs to wherever you want them to go,  like to cancer cells, to kill them.”

“We can insert stem cells wherever they are needed in the body and they will grow to be whatever is needed. If you need to regenerate the liver, you stick stem cells in the liver. If you need to regenerate blood cells, you insert them into the bone. It’s rather neat, actually.”

“There are two kinds totipotent and pluripotent.  Pluri- means that it can do several things. Like the word “plural” meaning more than one.  Toti- is like the word “total”.  It’s almost the same and I can’t remember exactly what the difference is now. Potent, of course, means powerful.”

“Iif you use the stem cells in a liver, it grows liver, and if you use it in a kidney, it grows kidney, if you use it in bone, it grows bone – but you are starting out with exactly the same stem cell. When it is inserted, it can understand where it is and it will grow what is needed.”

“Wow!” I said. “Talk about cool! But they sound like twins. Or a couple.

“Here, let me introduce you to Mr. and Mrs. Potent – Toti and Pluri.

Or, those impish twins “Toti and Pluri! It’s time for dinner – wash your hands and get right in here!”

More laughter.

“Trust you!’  she said, still chortling,” to make some fool connection and turn them into something entirely unrelated.”

“It would make a good story,” I rejoined. “Or can you imagine a painting of Toti and Pluri? I’d have to think about what that would look like, a bit.”

We continued our banter, then she went off to work and I went home. I’ve been thinking about it off and on for a week or so.

Dorothy phone up last night wailing about her awful Strata Council and how they were a bunch of idiots. She was seeking my esoteric property management advice (‘Really, Dorothy, it’s not DNA science…”)  and I was happy to give it, for what it was worth.

“Have you written anything about our conversation last week? ” she asked as we were signing off. She’s one of my faithful readers and she just loves sending them off to her mom who gets a chuckle about our lopsided friendship, so she eggs me on to do my literary anecdotes.

“Which conversation?” I say, regretting my legendary sieve-brain.

“The one about the lipids and stem cells,” she says, a bit of chiding in her voice. Perhaps there was a hint of slight that I hadn’t remembered all about the explanations.

“Oh, yeah! No. I’m thinking about it. You mean about Omnipotent and Plenipotent? ” I say.

“What’s that?” she sputters and then dissolves into a bright, continuous laughter, and I think she’s laughing still, even if the sound has been turned off.

What can you do? I had to be reminded that the new twins I should write about are Toti and Pluri.

Fire, insurance and a day in town.

January 26, 2009

w-044-small

w-043-small

I think I must have told you about the fire? If I haven’t then rest easy, it was not at my house. My friend’s friend, Harley was doing some home improvement in the basement late evening on New Year Day gluing baseboards as  a finishing touch for his new hardwood floors, using contact cement. It’s very volatile and one needs to have doors and windows open with a good cross draft to dissipate the fume, but it was the first of January. With bitter weather outside, Harley didn’t open up the doors and windows.

The electrical baseboard heater must have kicked on and it ignited the fumes which made an explosion he simply could not have contained. He fled for his life; woke all the family and got them out of the house in less than five minutes. Everyone but he was in their jammies. Of seven of them,  only two had shoes. The fire department was somewhat hindered by the heavy snow and dismal driving conditions. When they arrived in ten minutes, it was too late. The house had exploded in flame, collapsed and everything was burnt. There remained a pile of charcoal.  Everything was gone.

Harley is doing remarkably well or is simply still in shock. He’s tremendously thankful that  everyone got out safely. He’s herding everyone into doing the things they need to do.

Two of the seven were foreign students staying with the family. They too are uninjured. But they’ve lost absolutely everything they had with them. They are seriously shaken.

By miracle, the filing cabinet was not totally destroyed and Harley was able to retrieve everyone’s passports. My friend Dorothy was up one side and down the other of him for doing that. The house is condemned. If the house had collapse a little more, he could have been killed or seriously injured in the process and then what would the rest of the family have done? And yet Harley is pleased. These are the only things left to prove their existence, pre-fire.

The family are living in a hotel and are moving to rental house this week until their own house is rebuilt.  The insurance company won’t let them rent furniture, only buy, but they don’t know what they will need for furnishing the new house and want time to consider how they want to decorate if they are starting from scratch.

Meantime, they are surviving with furniture handouts from neighbours’ attics and basements and buying only the things that they will need but that will not affect their decor choices,  like beds. They have already bought a basic wardrobe each and now have, amongst all the other basics, shoes and coats.

So Dorothy  asked me to see if I had duplicates of things they could use, since they don’t have anything. They need every kitchen tool, appliance, dish, cleaning supply, and linen that you could think of. They need bathroom toiletries, towels, bed linens.

They lost the husband’s home based business – from his computer and all the information on it right down to the last paper clip. I can’t imagine how devastating that must be.

So Friday, I set about collecting things from my house that were duplicates and I took them into Dorothy on Saturday around eleven. I stayed for a nice cup of tea with her and one of her friends who was visiting.

Just before I left, I transferred all the chattels I had been able to gather – broom, mop, Corning Ware, a vase, wooden spoons, a bowl,  kitchen knives, two sauce pans, kitchen garbage pail liners,  cleaning liquid, dish drying cloths and hand towels, cloth and paper napkins. I brought face cloths and towels, a Queen sized comforter, and some toiletries. I included three ice cream pails with lids. I always find them so useful.

I had two small and one large  box full of goods plus plastic bag of the linens. It didn’t make a dint in my house. Now I’m keeping my eyes open for some more things to add; but the first load has been delivered.

When I knew I was coming to town, I let Doctor Gordon know. He is  ninety-six now, frail and bent over but sharp as a tack. (His latest acquisition is a Blackberry which amuses him to program and figure out). Doctor Gordon was my Mom’s only contemporary friend in the last three years of her life.

He asked me to lunch at the Sequoia Restaurant in Stanley Park. He was waiting for me at the main floor of his apartment building when I arrived.

“Where’s your walker?” I asked.

“Oh, I just use that in the house. I can do just fine. You’ll see.” But my heart sunk a little. If he faltered, could I catch him?

At the apartment, all he had to do was walk from the front door to my car door; at the restaurant though, we had no idea how close we could park. It was just the two of us and I worried about being able to hold him up if he started to fall.

Off we went.

“You’re my navigator,” I told him blithely. With no hesitation, he called out the directions. Left onto this street; right on Pacific into Stanley Park;  past Second and Third Beach, turn right and go until the Causeway. Drive under it and go round the circle halfway. Head North, turn left at the end of the road.  He never missed a beat.

We went past the area that had been devastated by the storm two years previously. Debris had been cleared away leaving a good view out into English Bay where a few tankers waited for entry to the Port of Vancouver. It was a lovely crisp and clear day.

Luck was with us. We got the closest spot to the ramp where he prefers to enter – the stairs are more difficult for him. Our mutual friend Noreen had cautioned me that I should keep a hand under his oxter to steady him. Much as he would like to be independent, at 96, he needs the support, but he did very well.

I was a bit amused at his determination. As we walked up the handicap ramp to the restaurant door, very softly under his breath, he kept repeating something. Finally, I caught it. He was saying “I can do this. This is good. Yes, this is good,” as if with each step he was conquering his faltering limbs.

At the restaurant, though the place was almost completely full, there was a window seat. My parking angel had done me well, and now the restaurant angel was helping out too!

I had an excellent visit with him, the best I’ve had yet, since I could hear him well and he could hear me and we weren’t distracted by other people or other things. He said this was his favourite restaurant. He dines or lunches there  at the Sequoia twice a week or more so the staff knows him well.

When we went back to the apartment, I brought him his belated Christmas present – a large batch of shortbread baked to and old recipe that  Mrs. Baxter had given to my mother. His nurse aide from the agency had arrived by the time we got back into his apartment. Julie fussed with him and then put away the cookies so that I could take the tin home. Gordon and I continued our  little visit. God Bless Julie. She makes his life happy and he is still in his own home amongst his own things.

After that, I went to see Noreen who lives in the same building. Noreen is a friend I made, having met her at one of Doctor Gordon’s dinners.  She is in the middle of Estate woes and so we had lots of talk to share.

When we met a few years back, we knew each other like soul sisters. Our liking was instantaneous. She’s twenty years older than I – a free spirit of the Beat Generation. She fled a staid, Ontarian family of the Establishment for the theatre in London.

Now,  her health fails  and she is frail, but her spirit is just amazing. She’s an inspiration for me in how she keeps bright and happy and never complains.  Her skills with the English language had been honed in her literary career, so her imprecations on her greedy and conniving siblings in the matter of her mother’s Estate gave us much to laugh about.

At quarter past four, I regretfully had to go. I couldn’t risk a parking ticket and I wanted to get back home before daylight ended altogether. The only exception I was willing to make was if I could have a bit of time with my nephew Ron.

I regained my chariot and headed out of town via the Cambie Street bridge. Curses on old habits! With the construction still underway, traffic inched along the bridge as three lanes of traffic merged into one. If I had chosen another route and I would have saved myself a half an hour.

As I waited my turn to merge impatiently,  I phoned nephew Ron to see if he had a bit of time for me. I could easily pass close to his house on my way out of town, but he wasn’t answering.

Before I was off the bridge, he phoned back. I could hear the happiness in his voice that I had called. He said to come right over and I did. I was glad to do so, because I wanted to deliver a belated Christmas gift of shortbread and cookies to him, too.

The snow at Christmas and my subsequent car  breakdown had prevented me from coming earlier.

It took another quarter of an hour to get to Sixth Avenue and to turn back to Great Northern Way. I had only driven three city blocks.

When I arrived, he was out in the driveway waiting for me. He had a parcel in his hands.

“I’ll just put it in the car. That way I won’t have to worry about you forgetting it when you go.”

It was just about dinner time and I suggested calling for delivery; but he said he wanted to eat in, and he would cook! The menu choices were pizza or hamburgers.

“It’s all the same to me but the thought of pizza is good.” I said.

I detected a trace of disappointment.

“I have the the barbecue already fired up,” he replied.

It was obvious he had already started preparing for hamburgers, so hamburgers it was. While he was defrosting them, his mother phoned. She was just outside the house but was checking to see that she was not intruding on other visitors. So we added in a hamburger and she stayed for dinner. Then Ryan asked if it would be okay if Sherry came over and ate with us as well. He was expecting to see her later that evening and she came.

Sherry is a friend he recently met at a neighbourhood bar and they sometimes played pool together and shared some conversation over a beer;  so they have become friends.

She’s lovely. I hope she remains important in his life even if she doesn’t become his special girlfriend. She’s a hair stylist and she loves riding horses. She stables her horse out in Pitt Meadows not far from my house. It’s not even a ten minute drive from here. She’s mature, friendly, calm. Seems happy.

I’m very thankful, for Ron’s sake. He’s got a woman friend. He still has his job and nothing is slowing down there, so that too, is to be thankful for.

I drove home in the dark thinking about how fortunate I was. I love Hugh and Ron, the two nephews I had a hand in rearing during their teenage years. I was happy to see the changes in Ron as he takes on a manly self-assurance. Hugh, you may remember, is in Ottawa doing his studies. We keep in touch by phone and, being a year older, is more sure of his path. He knows where he’s going.

As I was watching my late evening television show, I opened up the parcel Ron had given me. I was delighted to see my belated gift from Lizbet. She sent it down with Ron from Nelson after his Christmas visit to her. The box said it was an  Optima digital camera! However, inside was a disc for that awesome series, Planet Earth, and a very lumpy other Christmas present  which turned out to be the brush washing, brush protecting, water holding receptacle which only a water-colourist would treasure. It’s wonderful. I think I may try it out today! I’ve got a drawing that would be interesting to try expanding into a painting.

I feel very blessed to have a sister who is equally engaged in art as I am to whom I can talk about the fine points of our art. And I’m very thrilled with my Christmas presents.

I forgot to say that the drive into Vancouver was stunningly beautiful around the Mary Hill Bypass. The trees were covered in hoar frost and it was one of those winter wonderland kind of scenes – light, airy-fairy, briskly cold but wintery sunny. I took photos whilst driving (at a red light, but through a not perfectly clean windshield) and the quality of image is not there,  so they are only indicators of how marvelous it looked.

It’s been a day Maggie Muggins. So many people!

Tomorrow I shall stay home and keep all to myself.

w-041-small