Friday, May 26, 2017

Paris Windows, Whimsy and Wonder

 Finally, my photos are rolling in and out of their cyber-tunnels as they should be, and now the problem will be sorting through them all and deciding which to share. All as we're getting ready to take the train out of the city tomorrow.  We've had a lovely, busy enough three days walking off our jet lag -- I haven't been getting as much sleep as I need, and my knee has been crankier than I'd like, but we've still managed to see two enjoyable exhibitions in a couple of manageably scaled museums  (the Balenciaga, as I mentioned earlier, in the Musée Bourdelle, and Alicia Kolpowitz's gorgeous collection of paintings and sculpture, exhibited in the sumptuous Musée Jacquemart-Andre.
 As always, though, I find just as much stimulation in the city's shop windows, even though we've confined ourselves to three arrondissements, for the most part, with a tiptoe into an adjoining one or two. Within a kilometre or so from our hotel, for example. . . .
 These whimsical windows in a millinery shop in St. Germain -- which I couldn't help but think of the next day when we saw that Balenciaga hat I showed you the other day.
 I mean, who doesn't want a sweet little bird nesting on one's head?

Not so sure where this giant millinery ant wants to nest, but while I wouldn't want him at my picnic. . . .

 he's rather impressive, no?
If you're curious about the prices on that list you can glimpse underneath Mr. Ant's nether parts, they range from 350 to 600 or 800 Euros, if I remember correctly. Better just too look then, if your budget's anything like mine. Window-shopping's free, after all!

 It might be free, but I suspect that window-dressing provides employment for many artists and artisans, and it seems to me to feed a marvellous cycle of art's inspiration and realisation that permeates Paris at so many levels.

The earthy levels of our aardvark, for example (and I suppose that Ant, a few doors away, might be twitching antennae nervously and scurrying back to its hill, away from hungry anteaters).

Sometimes, it's the transformation of the most ordinary materials into surprising shapes and possibilities that delights me. Corrugated cardboard, for example, abracadabra'd with scissors and glue. . .

 Okay, yes, I might have been distracted from the cardboard sculpture by these tempting espadrilles. . .

and perhaps even made a note of the price list  . . .
 and a reminder of the shop I'd seen them in (Cotélac, and don't you love that whimsical graphic, which they've printed on a fabulous white top? Resisted, so far. Window-shopping's free, remember?)
 A few blocks away, the windows of the Bon Marché also use strong graphics and simple materials to wonderful effect. Truth be told, I'm a bit leery of this commercial recourse to endangered species, these supposedly consciousness-raising campaigns used in service of a consumerism that might itself be indicted in that endangerment.

 But when I get down from the soapbox, I nonetheless enjoy the whimsy, although I suspect it does little for the gorillas....
 As I say, I have oodles more Paris photos to share with you, and a few anecdotes as well, but we have to get out into a sultry Paris evening and figure out some dinner, get ourselves to a bridge for a 10 p.m. twinkling of Mme. Eiffel's lights, and then stuff everything back into our cases for a day on the train tomorrow.

So I'll leave you with one last window dressed with unconventional materials -- in this case, computer cables in a variety of colours, cleverly complementing a Vitrine full of luxury goods (the cynic in me pipes up about the sustainability of our cabled world and whether that might have anything to do with our vanishing gorillas a few windows away, but she shrugs a realistic/resigned shrug and chooses to be consoled with beauty or ingenuity or mere distraction, perhaps -- And perhaps raised consciousness, tickled by art, can make meaningful change. And what did cynicism ever do for her anyway?)

All that inner muttering aside, I must say I'm quite pleased with this image, the early morning City reflected in the glass . . . .

I'll leave you with that, shall I, and totter off for a Kir somewhere in the day's waning sunshine. When next I write to you, I'll be in a different city. I suspect there will be wonderful windows there as well. À bientôt!

And I'm sorry I'm not finding time to respond to your lovely comments, but I've decided I'm going to enjoy reading them -- and please, please do keep them coming! -- but not feel guilty if I don't answer. Time with Pater is the priority for now, quite honestly, as much as we both appreciate your huge contribution to this blog. I hope (indeed, knowing your generosity, I'm quite sure) you'll understand if I take this break from my normal efforts to answer each and every response individually.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Balenciaga Teaser. . . . A Postcard from Paris

 Technology is holding me back in posting (slower Wifi, photos not transferring as quickly as I'd like from iPhone to Cloud and then to my MacBook), so instead of sharing the myriad brilliant window displays I've been snapping, here's a teaser from the Balenciaga exhibition we saw at the wonderful Musée Bourdelle (former Montparnasse home of the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle)
 Luckily we've visited this museum before, because otherwise it would have been even tougher to get through in the hour we'd carved out of the day's schedule (the museum opens at 10, and we had a lunch reservation at noon. If you put this on your travel itinerary, leave yourself at least ninety minutes, preferably two full hours).

I will say right away that my limited photographic skills were overwhelmed by the triple challenge of photographing black fabric (the show is called Balenciaga: L'Oeuvre Au Noir), the lighting, and the reflective surfaces (as seen below).  The photo above is an attempt to show Balenciaga's system of coloured threads and attached notes recording modifications to a pattern. The pattern pieces are held in the glass case pictured below;  you can see how the glass mirrors the mullioned windows and skylights of this stunning space.

 In other rooms which are otherwise quite dark except for the light through one or two windows, the problems become more acute, but still, I thought you might like to see a close-up of a hat or two. . .

 I might wait until I'm back home before I do a separate post or two out of the twenty or thirty photos I took -- the posts I published of another couture exhibit (featuring Madame Grès) at the Musée Bourdelle are among the most popular of anything I've ever posted here (yes, there are four separate links there -- a whole lotta dresses!), so I know there are many of you who will appreciate the sharing, even if the black reads as grey, and a photographer of a certain age casts her shadow across the skirt of a brilliantly strict suit.
So this is just a teaser, and I beg your forgiveness for the weak photography.

Here's a shot of a much less strict outfit, not a smidgen of black nor a hint of haute. . . photographed stealthily (sneakily? ;-) by a fellow who makes a very good travel companion and who gets mad props for his patience and his fairly convincing display of interest in a couture exhibit.
And let me tell you, those sneakers (Onitsuka Tiger) worn with a pair of technical running socks are the dream. Walking never felt so good. Seriously!  (White tufted cotton skirt, J Crew; navy Bompard V-neck tissue-weight cashmere; white Madewell T; M0851 bag; and Club Monaco silk scarf I've had for years). This outfit might not be any kind of couture, but I loved it! Felt so myself, comfortable, expressive enough but not too. And pockets!!

There you go. I'll load up some Paris Windows photos when technology cooperates, and I'm also posting a few times a day on Instagram.  As usual, I'll be reading your comments each day, but it might take me a while to respond -- my main focus for now is hanging out with my guy, eating and  sipping and ogling and walking our way through Paris. À bientôt. . . . 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Next Stop, Paris. . . .

Just a very quick Good Morning before I finish my packing, and we head to the airport.  I will admit to some reluctance about leaving our new garden just as the sun is promising to shine on Vancouver for a week or so and everything is green and lush and blooming. This would also be great weather for the cycling we've been waiting to do, and as we wheel our cases over to the Skytrain Station, I know I'll be wondering why we're leaving this gorgeous city just as it's being its most gorgeous self. . .

But it's been so very busy around here, and it will be good for us to spend three weeks just the two of us. Family here will be enjoying our garden terrace, and some sleep training and sleep catch-up for one small weary family will be expedited by the extra condo space. And we'll be in a few European cities that have architecture and culture and food enough to distract me from worrying about the aphids on my roses or whether my daughter has watered the plants on the front balcony . . . .

It's been awhile since we've done a trip that involves moving relatively often, and I'm not sure what that might mean for blogging. But we'll be in Paris tomorrow morning, and once I've got over that first horrid confrontation with jetlag (I rarely sleep more than 20-30 minutes on the flight, and we arrive in the morning before our room will be ready, and it's a nine-hour time zone change!), I'll be doing my best to post a few times a week. Between that, I'll certainly be posting on Instagram.

Off I go then. . . . 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Urban-Condo Garden Inventory: What We Were Left

Since some readers expressed interest, I'm going to try to track our progress as we adapt any skills and knowledge gleaned through years in our seaside garden on "our little island" (those links will take you to a few of the many posts about that garden I've published over the years) to a garden on the rooftop terrace of an urban condo.  With the very heavy rains of our past week, we're recognising how steep our learning curve might be, as we carefully watch the (non!)-draining pattern of soil in some of the containers. Certainly, we've grown plants in containers before -- some tall grasses, substantial bamboos, a few decent-sized ornamental maples, a Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Uneda). But we've always had great flexibility in where to put those containers, choosing from south or north-facing, shade or full sun, seaside or woodland.  Now we're figuring out the dripline, noticing that some plants are right in its firing line so that they get soaked, while others inside it stay so dry that they need watering more often than we would have guessed.

We're keeping notes, and I hope to share what we learn as we go along, but as I said earlier, I thought it might be good to start by showing you what we inherited from the previous owners, and then add future posts about our additions and modifications, our ongoing challenges, any solutions we find -- and probably far too many posts with pretty pictures.

First, you'll get an idea of why ours is a Rooftop Garden, but also of why it isn't, quite.  As you can see, ours is one of several units that top a middle, low-rise section of two taller buildings, so that while our Terrace has some advantages of a rooftop -- we can grow tall trees! Check out our neighbour's magnolia across that low glass wall -- it doesn't have to cope with stark exposure to weather.

But of course it's not easy getting trees up to a rooftop garden so we were thrilled that the previous owners decided to leave us theirs. We love the attention-getting red of the ornamental maple in the photo below.

My favourite, though, is probably the golden maple you can see through the wisteria, below. Behind the fountain, it spends much of its time dancing in the slightest breeze, and it interprets the morning light magnificently.

Between the two maples, although my photos don't really show it, is the indigenous snowberry bush. I'm still debating this one's continued presence, although it provides a nice continuity with the woodland portion of our previous garden, where it grew wild and, in fact, I regularly had to remind it of its place. In a container, of course, that's not a problem, and the birds really seem to appreciate the dense cover it provides for them to hide themselves in. I also know the birds will appreciate its berries in the fall, so I'm going to wait at least a year before making any decision to give it away.

I'm really excited about having a wisteria, and grateful for the sturdy structure the former owners built for it. Yes, we will prune it back a bit so that we can continue using that doorway (!), but we'll wait until it flowers this year (if that happens, we've just realised, it will probably be while we're away, too bad) and until we've done a bit more reading about how best to prune. For the moment, I'm not bothered -- in fact, I'm rather charmed by that romantic softening of the otherwise rather stark concrete-and-glass-and-metal of the architecture here.

I won't bother showing you the forsythia again,  but while it's not terribly exciting now that it's finished blooming, it nonetheless does yeoman service as a tall column of green in one corner of the garden. Directly opposite, the Magnolia Stellata, also finished blooming, does the same. (and to the left of it, you'll see that we've followed the previous owner's example and are growing some cherry tomato plants. In the pot below those, I'm hoping to see sweet peas blooming soon.

And while I'm showing you the container trees we were lucky enough to inherit here, I thought you might be interested in a news article about City of Vancouver's annual tree sale and the effort to regrow the city's arboreal canopy. There were some concerns this year, apparently, with the lack of trees for balcony and rooftop growers (which have been available in other years of the program) -- and these concerns will be addressed through a rebate for trees bought at nurseries and through smaller trees once again available at future CofV tree sales. What I found interesting in the article was the acknowledgement that what we grow on our balconies does contribute in significant ways to our urban environment specifically, but also to the environment overall. Certainly, we've been impressed and surprised here to see how many birds stop by here regularly, what a variety of species the city does host. (More on our urban birding in future posts.)

To continue the cataloguing of the plants we were left, here's a hydrangea that I wish we'd trimmed in the fall (they bloom on old wood, and even though this one's blossoms are too, too pink for me, I'm loathe to have to miss the flowers entirely, so pruning will happen in the fall).

I'm very happy with the lushness of that hosta, although I'm not so keen on its probable need for division and repotting soon. Those of you who've grown hostas in pots for years, how often do you find you need to do this?
Speaking of hostas, one delight of rooftop terrace gardening is the complete absence  of slugs (so far, at least. I suppose I should quickly knock on wood, shouldn't I?

I'm waiting for this rose to open so that I can see if it might be the same Rosa Rugosa "Hansa" that I loved so well in my old garden -- a fragrant rose, a very resilient rose, I might add, which our then-puppy Golden Retriever Skeena broken almost immediately after I planted it fifteen or so years ago, and which not only recovered easily from having a large branch severed, but which also yielded an entirely separate rosebush from my sticking that branch in the ground and keeping it just wet enough.  So if this is the same rose, we're old friends.  Never grown it in a container though.

Nearby, there's another rose, a climber, pink, if I remember from the week or two we were here last fall, but I don't remember any fragrance. If it's pretty enough, it can stay, but I have to admit that I don't really understand the point of roses that don't smell. . .

If it ever, ever warms up, cherry tomatoes and sweet peas. I'm keeping my fingers crossed....
And I think this must be a potful of rudbeckia, which will be a very welcome splash of colour before too long, I hope. And eventually, the flowers will yield sculptural seedheads, which will also attract birds, so these guys can stay. There's also a pot with hollyhock, one with wallflowers, and a long pot full of lavender which will bring the pollinators along for the fruit trees we've just planted.

But that's another post. . . .

For now, let me close with a journal-page sketch of those maple leaves opening.  Three or four times a week, I manage a 5 or 10-minute sketch of something in the garden, just one more way that it brings me relaxation and contentment and a deep engagement with Green, with a (Cultured, obviously) Nature that mitigates beautifully the bustle of the city just beyond.

Always welcome.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekend Joys, Sparking Joys: A little (un) Kondo Condo Decor . . .

What a weekend! We loved the Vancouver Opera Festival's fresh production of The Marriage of Figaro; it was grand to have my GF check out our guest facilities here and to have two good long morning chats and a leisurely dinner together; and my sons-in-law hosted a Mother's Day dinner to honour their wives and the Grand Matriarch (which would be me!).  In between, I found time to write another Garden Post, as some of you have expressed an interest in learning more about our Urban Condo Terrace Garden.
In fact, I was all set to schedule that post for Monday morning, when I came across this article by Nathalie Atkinson in this weekend's Globe and Mail, coincidentally just as I was trying to decide what to include in vignettes on the new solid-maple floating shelves we had a carpenter friend build for us.

You might remember that I'm trying to find space for displaying collectibles, memorabilia, and bric-a-brac, much of it undoubtedly of the sort that Marie Kondo is urging us to purge. I can't honestly say that each piece I'm reluctant to part with "sparks joy." Some of it triggers sorrow, in fact, or a sense of loss, or simply an ambivalence over a relationship it holds memories of.

As I wrote in Sunday's Instagram post, the Royal Doulton figurine "Patricia" would not be something I'd choose for myself, although there's much about its elegant, simple aesthetic to admire. And perhaps Kondo followers would tell me that I'm missing the point of her advice, that while I might not find aesthetic joy in the object, the joy it sparks through its associated memories would justify its place in my home. In return, I'd have to argue that I'm not sure it's joy, exactly, that the memories bring me, at least not unproblematically, not without a tincture of sadness at my dad's repeated attempts to coax happiness from my mother, to whom it didn't always come easily.

And even the joy that I might admit it triggers is spoiled somewhat by my inclination to tot up the amount of "stuff" in the room and calculate the putative balance point at which it all topples into the dreaded category of Clutter. . . .

So I was glad to read Atkinson's claim that while "the unexamined life is not worth living, an empty room is no fun either." And she talks about the Kondo tribe's "tossing-around" of the Japanese word mottainai, which denotes the regretting of wastefulness.  She counters this tossing-around by arguing that "there's probably an equally evocative word for the regret of discarding that chair/dress/book." Atkinson's article is worth reading in its entirety. I especially appreciate the way she points out that so many of the design or lifestyle books that emphasise minimalism are nonetheless as materialistic as those that tease out the way biographical possibilities of the objects in our lives and that make an argument for holding on to these tangible traces of where and what and who we've been. I'm also making a note of the several titles she cites on both sides of the issue -- there's a great little list here I'll be keeping an eye out for at the library.

I'm curious: how many of you find the Kondo approach a relief and enjoy your cleansed, joy-sparking new spaces? and how many of you prefer to have a lifetime of memorabilia gathered around you? And then let's leave some room for the middle ground, those of us who want to simplify, who are yearning for the tranquility of less-cluttered rooms, but have items that are too important to relinquish, no matter that they spark no aesthetic admiration nor any mood or emotion other than solemnity, sorrow, loss. . . .

Over to you . . .

Friday, May 12, 2017

Five Things Friday

Good morning!
Let's just get started, shall we? No time for preamble today. . .

1. If you haven't seen this Instagram video yet, you might want to click on it for a view of my terrace garden in the pouring rain yesterday afternoon. I'd have thought the skies might be rained out by now, but nope, there was more Wet coming down in abundance this morning.  And our weather forecast suggests the only break we can look for now is that next Wednesday it might be only cloudy all day rather than rainy.

2. At the park, during the last week of her visit here last month, my granddaughter looked across, from her spot halfway up the slide, at some kids who had climbed another, riskier apparatus in the "big kids" section. She commented on how high they were, almost in the sky, and I agreed, and we talked about whether the kids were almost as high as planes flying. That must have been the prompt for her to say, a bit later, "Nana, I'm going to Ee-taly."   And when I acknowledged that indeed, she was, she looked at me very solemnly, and added, "and you goin be really sad."
True that, darling. True that. . . .

3. So I'm very happy that we've now arranged to spend a few of our Croatia days at the beach with our Roman crew. Who know? Perhaps we'll even find a slide.
4. I was doing so well with my new fitness regime, rebuilding my running time/distance through a program drawn up my physio, complementing those carefully scheduled runs with strength-training sessions under the guidance of a Personal Trainer. But somehow, last week, I did too much of something or everything. My knee is telling me, forecefully,  that I've got to slow down on the running and wait for the strength-training to build more support.  Luckily, my Trainer loves a challenge and she's so encouraging. I'm just back from a session of productive stretches and ball- or foam-rolling (for fascia release), and we're working out a plan to get me to and through my three weeks of travel. My carry-on might have to make room for a mini-roller and a few fascial-release balls, and I'm learning a few good hotel-room stretches. Much as I love my running, it's more important to me to be able to walk, and to look forward to walking well into my old age.

And if the weather ever changes here, cycling is a reasonable substitute for running and makes a nice cross-training balance as well. . .

But that's a big "if."

5. And in case you're interested, my personal writing project continues, and I've found a reader for my emerging draft, someone with considerable experience as a (published) writer, and as a teacher of creative writing. We've set up a schedule that should result in my amassing a book's worth of chapters over the next year. My partner already has a contract for hers, while I have no idea what I might do when I've completed that first draft. But at least I'm daring to commit to the process, which is a big enough step for now.

5b, if I can sneak that in, is that I posted another belated, catch-up, too-slapdash-because-I-don't-have-enough-time posts on my Reading Blog, in case you're looking for a few new titles.

Now, if you'll excuse me, we have our first adult overnight guest coming this weekend and we have another opera to attend tonight (the last one in this year's Opera Festival, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, The Marriage of Figaro, with costumes by Canadian-international fashion star, Sig Neigum. I'm also determined to finish that promised garden post (the photos are all loaded but we need some words. . . )

And you? What are you up to? Or have you a comment about any of my Friday Five? Or perhaps you have a random Friday One or Two or Three of your own. The mic is all yours now. . . I'm listening.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A What-I-Wore Wednesday Round-up

As promised, a round-up of some recent OOTDs, during this very transitional weather we've been having. . . I bared my legs and slipped my newly pedicured feet into my white Birkenstocks for an Easter Egg hunt at my sister's last month.  Decided to try combining my new off-white,  cat-print, All Saints sweatshirt with this white tufted-cotton full skirt I bought at J. Crew last summer. It's a stretch for me, combining the print with the texture, the white with the off-white, the could-get-dressed-up skirt with the laid-back-vibe sweatshirt. But I liked it, and my daughter gave me a thumbs-up. . . .

Even with the sunshine, I wrapped a cashmere scarf around my neck for warmth. . . That was three weeks ago, but it hasn't got much warmer since.
So I'm still wearing a coat most days, but I've mostly switched from a wool peajacket to unlined cotton. I picked up this swingy little navy coat at The Gap five or six years ago, and it's perfect for these few weeks of the year. With a scarf at my neck (and an umbrella in my purse), I'm all set.... I do think of changing my bag to a more seasonal colour, but honestly, so far the weather had neither demanded nor inspired a switch. . . (those Denham jeans and Vince sneakers you've seen too many times already, but I love how well they're working for me these days).
I wore this for dinner when we snagged a reso at the hot new restaurant in town, Kissa Tanto (Japanese-Italian fusion, small-plates sharing, so good, fabulous room in a cool old Chinatown building). We walked the two kilometres there and back, so comfy shoes were de rigueur, and the area's a bit rough, so I wanted to wear something special, but more "street" than fussy.
A perfect outing for my leather skirt, and I wore it with this three-year-old J. Crew navy sweatshirt. And again with the Vince sneakers. . . .

I had a few more to show you, but my hope was to post this sometime on Wednesday, and it's already noon, so maybe I'll save the others for another post. Perhaps by then I'll even have been able to break out some warm-weather clothes -- you know? because it's already May? Although I'm not getting my hopes up, since the official forecast at the moment is for rain and clouds through to next Tuesday, with a possible mix of sun and clouds on Monday. . . .

At least this weather is making it easy for us to care for the container plants on our terrace garden. Not sure the the Sweet 100 tomatoes will be yielding any fruit at all, never mind in numbers approaching the hundreds, but at least we're not having to water much yet. Garden post coming up. Stay tuned. Now over to you -- what's the relationship between your wardrobe and your weather at the moment. I know that some of my Canadian readers back East are in gumboots and rain slickers and crossing their fingers that rivers don't invade their closets. Your plight helps me keep my complaints in check, and I hope you see some relief soon.
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