Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Finding Words

Something that I have started doing in the last year is writing poetry. I was struggling with a novel (my usual state) and decided to take a step back, to find some way of freeing up my thoughts and language. I've only written one poem in my life, in sonnet form. If you like you can search it out here in the deep recesses of my blog.

Since then, I've written a few prose poems. I'm freeing up, with the encouragement and amazingly insightful critiques of my writing group. Oh yes, I joined one of those too, and they are really special people, for whom eating and drinking is as important as writing and sharing. My kind of people.

Well, my poetry is for them right now. So here I'd like to share a poem by a true master, Pablo Neruda, inspired by my other passion, pottery. The English translation comes after the original Spanish.


Todo tu cuerpo tiene
copa o dulzura destinada a mi.

Cuando subo la mano
encuentro en cada sitio una paloma
que me buscaba, como
si te hubieran, amor, hecho de arcilla
para mis propias manos de alfarero.

Tus rodillas. tus senos,
tu cintura
faltan en mi como en el hueco
de una tierra sedienta
de la que desprendieron
una forma,
y juntos
somos completos como un solo rio,
como una sola arena.The Potter



Your whole body has
a fullness or a gentleness destined for me.

When I move my hand up
I find in each place a dove
that was seeking me, as
if they had, love, made you of clay
for my own potter's hands.

Your knees, your breasts,
your waist
are missing parts of me like the hollow
of a thirsty earth
from which they broke off
a form,
and together
we are complete like a single river,
like a single grain of sand.

Monday, August 29, 2016

RIP, Wonderful Wilder

I just read that Gene Wilder passed away today. He was 83, older than I expected. For some reason I always supposed he wasn't much older than me, probably because the work of his I've mostly seen was from the 70s and 80s. I have the impression in later life, before he was assailed by Alzheimers, that he enjoyed a lovely retirement, playing the tennis he loved and visiting France or other favourite countries. Most of what I knew about this wonderful actor was through his late wife Gilda Radner's autobiography, It's Always Something (a line she used to great effect with her SNL character Roseanne Rosanneadanna, and a favourite line of mine). Anyway, in this memoir Gilda relates her battle with cancer, one she ultimately lost. She describes her initial attraction to Wilder, finding him funny, smart, athletic and handsome.

Yes, all those things. Those stunning blue eyes, that crazy hair. And the on-screen persona that veered between tender sweetness and barely contained hysteria that I found so irresistible.

According to his nephew's statement, Wilder didn't suffer the worst kind of Alzheimer's, but still he chose to keep his illness private, not wanting to deny his fans the memory of him at his best.

I loved The Silver Streak, and the not-so-well-known The Frisco Kid (with a very young Harrison Ford). One of my favourite films of all time is Young Frankenstein. It's beautifully filmed in black and white, wonderfully funny, with Wilder often playing his role quite straight, while the rest of the cast belongs on the vaudeville stage. What a contrast - thanks Mel Brooks!

I only saw The Producers a few years ago, well after discovering Young Frankenstein. One rather sexy afternoon, I watched it in bed with the man who introduced me to the film. Laughter is the best aphrodisiac. And Zero Mostel and Wilder were just... perfect.

There will have to be a tribute evening this coming Labour Day Weekend. I've got some delicious brisket from Montreal, a gift from some good friends. I think we'll steam that up and toast the wonderful Mr. Wilder.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Let's Start the Catching up, Shall we?

My first instinct was to type, "How has it been two years since my last post?" But it feels at least that long. Life is short, but wide, and I've been living pretty widely. Pun intended.

I've missed blogging, so I might do a bit more of it. What have I been doing in the meantime? Lots of work, play, idleness, friendship, love, travel, food, books (I'm reading again!), gratitude, walking, tree-hugging, and working out (with an actual trainer!).

I tried things I always wanted to do as well. And one in particular really stuck: pottery. I've always loved holding and using one-of-a kind pieces, so it was with some excitement that I took a throwing class a year and a bit ago.

That very first class was telling. By the end of it I could prepare the clay and centre it on the wheel. That's about it. I could not make a decent shape for anything, although some of the people around me were already shaping cylinders. But I was already hooked: the smell and feel of the clay is so sensual. The dipping of the hands in the water, and the wonderful combination of strength and gentleness you need is constantly intriguing, and the pressure you need to do it changes so suddenly, but the moves have to be sinuous. I love the total focus, the sense of play, the primal quality of clay and the turning it into useful object. I love the MESS. What can I say - it's just one of the best feelings in the world.

The first few sessions I used the glazes that were available to us in the class. These were some of the results, most of which have gone on to be gifts. There were quite a few garlic pots made, and all the mugs had multiples too. They were small... kind of cute, best for coffee (shown) or hot chocolate.

I then made a sizable batch of large mugs in time for Christmas, but, as I had been well warned by my excellent teacher, "Don't get attached to anything." They didn't work out. *Full body shiver* and were all pitched. OUCH.

Onwards and upwards.

I purchased my own glazes and started testing combinations. I have so many of these little test tombstones now and I have them all in a row on a windowsill in my study, kind of like... an art installation! Yeah - that's it! Heh heh.

From those results came the latest batch. The bluey green is very pleasing and I'll be doing a range of pieces with this glaze combination.

I'm also trying some gesture sketching that then gets glazed over clear. The first experiment went well so now I want to do a range of those pieces.

The best part is, if I need a certain vessel, I can make it myself. I needed a second utensil holder by the oven, so there it is, and it compliments the original green Emile Henry one well.

So there you have it... my new pash!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cottage Bouquet

 When we arrived at the cottage this year, a lovely bouquet of wild flowers greeted us. Thanks S and S!

As the light shifted swiftly in the late afternoon, I lost myself in taking photographs. The closer I got, the more magical it was. I was lost in detail... in a good way!

Eight Days on the Lake = Three Words: Too Much Happiness

I have so many years of photographs, I thought this year I'd just edit some of the video I took. Here you go - there's even seven seconds of me, slinking out from behind the camera for a change.

Canada's cottage country... can't be beat.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Gosh, I Love Donkeys

 When I was five years old, we were living in Kuwait. I was sent home to London after school ended for the summer as I didn't seem to be faring well in the extreme heat. One day my aunt and her boyfriend took me to The Donkey Sanctuary in Devon, which has become a model for donkey sanctuaries around the world. It was founded in 1969 by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen and you can read more about how it came to be right here. I still remember that visit, learning that donkeys were still being horribly overworked and badly treated in many parts of the world, including Britain. I learned that when they were admitted to the sanctuary, they were paired up with buddies, which not only offset loneliness but also helped keep the donkey calm if it had to have veterinary treatment; if their buddy was with them, they were more relaxed. I also remember one particular field where there was a miniature grey donkey, rather like the one below on the left, and a larger white one. We walked with them and I can still remember my arm over the larger white donkey and how rough and warm his back was.

Several years ago my mum and I visited The Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph, Ontario, which has been set up along the same lines as the one in Devon. It's a beautiful spot. The donkeys have so much room, and are excellently cared for by the staff and a slew of volunteers who do an excellent job as docents as well as more of the behind-the-scenes tasks.

Two friends and I were back this summer and it really is a special place. We hung out in the barnyard with some donkeys and even got to brush them. I knew their ears were big, but I was surprised at how lovely and furry they were, quite thick and rough. Check out those bangs!

All donkey sanctuaries need financial aid and support in other ways, like fostering donkeys on your property, sponsoring donkeys (I'm helping support Ruby who is just about a year old!), volunteering, and signing petitions, including this one that will be presented to the mayor of Santorini to ensure higher standards for the care of donkeys who act as taxis for the town.

A Treat for you

If you don't know the music of Tom Sturdevant, as sung by Annie Sellick and the Hot Club of Nashville, then here you go. You're welcome.

Two Words: Chocolate Cupcakes

Royal icing is so deceptively soft and voluptuous when first made. It always sort of surprises me that it hardens up in a very useful way. This particular batch was lavender, one of my favourite colours. And then there were cupcakes... devil's foodcake chocolate cupcakes! And there will be more this week and then a fortnight from now. I love making them. But I don't eat them. I'm gluten free and don't have a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is my only sweet weakness. And baking is my zen.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Three Days in Prince Edward County

This was a golden moment. The fabulous four were visiting Prince Edward County again, staying in the lakeside cottage that belongs to one of the party. We were touring around one day and a small general store had two piglets outside in a little pen. It turns out that the general store is run by local farmers, hence the pile of home-made pies for sale. I never got to the pies... I was squeeing too happily along with the piglets. There was one pink female piglet, one black male one. I asked permission to pick one up and was in heaven. So small and sausagey and firm. Look at those little trotters! Having a relaxed piglet laying on one's bosom is a pretty special feeling,

We had a joke that later I would be photographed cuddling a packet of bacon. We ate a lot of bacon that weekend.Sorry piglets.

We also had cocktails on the dock from where we watched a slow sunset. We visited our friend's friend's restored mill, a cidery, a country cemetary tucked away on a well-cared for rural slope (South Bay Cemetary, founded 1820), ate good meals in good company, and hung out with little Dudley, a sweet old doggy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Five-Day Road Trip to Chicago

It’s rare to find anyone that you really enjoy travelling with. It's rarer to find three such people. I am lucky to know three people who are not just easy to travel with, but are delightful and treasured friends of many years, and so, once again, the fabulous four hit the road for Chicago. Of course flying was considered but, with suggestions for locations of interest that could be experienced along the way, it was decided that we’d drive. The main purpose of the trip was to see the Tiffany glass exhibit at the Driehaus Museum. The only other time I was in Chicago was 2008. That was in middle of Hurricane Ike and for some reason I never found a decent place to eat. What we could only hope for this time was what we got: constant sunshine, mild temperatures, and the best food.

We set off from Toronto on Thursday morning, hitting the Detroit Institute of Fine Arts (above) by lunchtime. The Diego Rivera murals (above right), the Scarab Club (below), and so much more were very worth the trip.

Later that afternoon we visited a blog favourite, the Motawi Tileworks in Ann Arbor. We spent the night nearby after a very satisfying dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse. I'd never heard of it before, but by the time I'd finished googling it after dinner, I felt like the last person in the world to discover it. It's a national treasure and I'm so jealous that their monthly bacon box, or whatever it's called, can only be shipped to U.S. locations. That night I was catching up on Twitter and noted that the great film director John Sayles was visiting the Detroit area, specifically the University of Michigan, at a symposium about his work among other events that also included screenings and the opening of his archive. I gnashed my teeth that I had missed this by a day. His impressive entourage for the visit included his life/work partner Maggie Renzi and actor David Strathairn (secret boyfriend!).

The next morning, before hitting the road, we decided the only logical place to eat breakfast was back at Zingerman's where I had the best breakfast of my life. Onions, potato, bacon and asparagus were sauteed together before being topped by a beautiful egg, and accompanied by the best gluten-free bread I've yet tasted. I'm still thinking of this breakfast.

We hit the road and I pondered that there seem to be only three types of highway billboards in Michigan: churches, personal injury lawyers and sex stores. One after the other we were exhorted: Injured? Call us! Jesus Saves! 50,000 Square Feet of Sex Toys! We pondered why the "50,000 Square Feet" was important as as selling feature. So when a billboard suddenly popped up advertising the Kalamzazoo Institute of Art's exhibition of Tiffany glass, it kind of stood out - big time. This is the joy of a road trip... the surprises.


Kalamazoo was full of charming, clapboard houses and good people. The exhibit was excellent. It didn't just showcase stunning glass and jewellery, but also detailed the way Tiffany and his artisans worked and how the glass was treated and manipulated before being cut into different shapes.

By mid-day we were in Chicago. What a great city.

Our first stop was back at the 2nd Presbyterian Church that we first visited in 2008. There was a jumble sale in support of the church in progress and I picked up two lovely green platters made in Italy, for which they tried to charge me only a $1 each. Yeah. They got more than that. The volunteers were fantastic, taking us into the church and turning on the lights for us. Even the organist appeared and gave us an impromptu recital. Of course the main attraction was the stunning collection of Tiffany and Morris windows. The moment I stepped into the church my eyes got misty. These windows are so stunningly beautiful, and the church is so short of funds. They're trying hard to raise money to restore what they can, when they can. Oh, isn't there a sensitive millionnaire somewhere who'd like to save and restore these works of art? Below left you see up into a vaulted ceiling, and a small patch of restoration work in prrogress. Below right, patched carpet.


In the afternoon we arrived in Oak Park, revisited Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio and wandered the streets taking pictures of some of his other designed homes before realizing it had been a long time since breakfast at Zingerman's. In a pub in Oak Park that evening, I fell on a lamb shank like a slavering dog (well, not really, just kind of) and it was - again - delicious.

Tucked into my very comfy bed that night, I caught up on Twitter. John Sayles and Maggie Renzi, that fantastic director/producer partnership behind such great films, had visited the Diego Rivera murals the day after I had. Great minds... what can I say? ;)

Saturday started with perfection. Okay, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum isn't a home that William Morris would have loved, and normally a gilded age American home wouldn't be my sort of thing, but it happens to be the most beautiful home I've ever been in. My pictures don't do it justice. There isn't a square inch that isn't lovingly honed. There is the perfect balance between marble, wood and other materials. Just visit it. After a drool and some shopping in the giftstore (I indulged in every museum we visited), we headed off to the Loyola Museum of Art for an excellent and comprehensive Edward Gorey exhibit. Charming and whimsical. And I got a lovely print of my favourite Gorey illustration ever. It's just waiting to be mounted and hung. We had amazing burgers at Chef's Burger Bistro then headed off to Navy Pier for more of the Driehaus collection of Tiffany stained glass and more besides. Hot and tired after this, we did the only thing that you can do when you are hot and tired in a big city: find a cool, comfortable hotel bar. We escaped into the Bellwether Hotel where they took excellent care of us, serving us perfect tea and warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies with vanilla icecream. I think after that we could have handled anything. As it was all we had to do was step onto a boat for a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise. Sailing under the first bridge and seeing those well-loved towers soaring above me surprisingly brought tears to my eyes. Our excellent tour guide shared her extensive knowledge and it was so good to sit and absorb for an hour or so. After that the two ladies of the party hit Nordstroms on a flying visit (I bought clothes!) before an evening of food and laughs.


I checked Twitter again that night. Well.. look who had visited Zingerman's that day and had also returned.... for gelato. I thought of titling this blog post "My Trip to Michigan with John Sayles" but thought that would be borderline creepy. Heh heh.

On Sunday morning we drove through Riverside, a community designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who knew what he was doing. We saw a FLLW property that is for sale and very decrepit. Hello? Millionnaires? We visited the Art Institute of Chicago as the contermporary wing hadn't been open last time we'd visited. We had lunch in the treed and scenic courtyard and then saw the Viviane Maier photographic exhibit at the stunning Harold Washington Library (you can see the top floor atrium below), and the equally impressive Palmer Hotel with its glamorous, palm-festooned lobby and the shimmering, mosaiced Chicago Cultural Centre. Seriously... a great city. One of our party hadn't seen the Bean so we went to play there and at the wonderful outdoor concert shell, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry. We then had to find dinner. The place we'd planned on eating at was closed, so TripAdvisor came to the rescue and we ate at State and Lake Chicago Tavern which is located... at State and Lake. Such good food. This is where my friend started with Coalminer's Poutines (which included guanciale and a fried egg) and continued for his main course to consume the Butcher's Bigger Brother's Beef Brisket Bacon Burger on a Bun, which give you an idea why he was feeling he'd overdone it at the end of the meal. My baked wings were incredible. The best I've ever had. My mouth is still watering. We then headed into the sumptuous Chicago State Theatre for Eddie Izzard's show, which he's touring around, titled Force Majeure. Izzard was stylish, witty, eclectic, and the huge crowd couldn't get enough of him. He was doing three nights in Chicago alone!

The next day was a slowish drive all the way home to Toronto with a lunch stop off in Okemos, MI to see some more FLLW. I don't dream of living in a FLLW home, but there is something I find endlessly fascinating about his work.

It was a splended five days in June.