Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Running (and Getting No/Somewhere?) on Tuesday . . .


This Bluestocking (okay, they're grey, but the term  is used figuratively rather than literally) wants you to know that she's off schedule thanks to last week's travel. She's currently grappling with lists -- making them; ticking tasks off them; leaving off a task from one list because she's remembered she has to add something to another. . . Writing this blog post has been top of one list for several days, but there are other lists, and they tell me I really need to call the dental office for an appointment; to get out for a run; to organise a weekend family brunch; to return a (not-quite-finished) book to the library
Also: homework for tomorrow's French class; writing a post for my Reading Blog; booking a Mammogram; getting some bloodwork done; prepping the guest-room for the ex-pat daughter's visit (YAY!). . . and on and on it goes. . .

Meanwhile, though, the window for running before the snow falls is closing rapidly, and I really, really want to get a few kilometres in before the ground is white and slippery. When I get home, I may pop that very cosy sweater on again -- I knit it pre-2003, so it's well-paired with the Gap wool pleated skirt (well over 10 years old). . . We're in for a few days of wintry weather here -- hey, maybe that will give me a chance to catch up some of this lists. Or am I more likely to hunker down and avoid them. Hmmmmm. . .

Anyway, I know this is short shrift and all, but I really have to get that run done while I can.  Wave hello or leave me a comment, and I'll try to do a better job on Friday.
xo,
f

Friday, February 15, 2019

Portland Packing: What To Do When It Rains and Rains and Rains. . .

 If you've been peeking at my Instagram feed, you might know that I've been in Portland, Oregon this week. Pater had meetings here, and I accompanied him in anticipation of playing flâneuse -- and getting a jump on spring in a city 500 kilometres (315 miles) south of us.

Alas, no spring here yet, although perhaps the rain that has poured all week will usher it in. And at least we got out of Vancouver just before the snow fell there. . . .

We're packing up this morning, and hoping the roads will be clear for our drive home, but I thought I'd show you what I do when the weather keeps me indoors in a hotel room. . .

First of all, note that I came well-supplied for this weather siege:

I packed knitting (two projects: a hat, almost finished now, and socks, just begun), a bag of pencils, markers, eraser, pencil sharpener, glue stick. . . and my trusty mini-palette of watercolours, plus a water pen.
I brought several sketchbooks and notebooks. Packed that big art book I talked about last post along with the travel journals I referred to there. My MacBook, my iPad Mini. . .
Oh, and I even packed our little Jawbone Jambox (mini-speaker that Bluetooths to the Spotify on my iPhone)

We're trying to get out of here by a reasonable time this morning, and I'm not quite packed yet, so I won't transcribe notes until later -- and then only if a few of you request that. . . .

The page below isn't finished yet. . . .
but I thought you'd like to know that I brought along the kettle I talked about in this post -- bought last year in Portland when I was frustrated at not being able to make up my cuppa in the morning and afternoon -- now that post generated quite a conversation!

I did make sure to get out and walk a few times each day -- and had my umbrella turned inside out by the wind far too often! Refuge was taken, and I even sketched on site (prolonging the refuge before having to brave the wind and rain to wend my way back to the hotel). . .

 I wasn't always sketching -- I found spots for lunch, went for dinner with Pater -- last night we even went to a club for some live jazz/blues!
I got to Powell's books  and added to my TBR list. . .
Read the very good book I'd brought with me (Anna Burns' Man Booker prize-winning Milkman), knit most of the hat I began the morning we left, watched three or four episodes of Frankie and Grace. . . . wrote Tuesday's blogpost and did some work on my second draft. . .

And still had time for one more sketch. Yes, the effrontery! I decided I had to follow Tuesday's post with an attempt to capture the Modigliani painting referred to there, his Jeune Femme Assise au Corsage Bleu.  And I know that "a poor worker always blames her tools," but this paper is really not meant to take much watercolour, and the waterbrush doesn't offer much finesse against its not-at-all-toothy surface. . .
Moving right along,
here I am, getting ready to leave the room . . . I've found yet another way to wear That Sweater. I'd forgotten about this J Crew silk blouse until I found it tucked under a jacket on a hanger in my closet. Hadn't missed it much because I don't like the way it buttons (there's a tendency to gape in awkward spots). This is such a comfortable get-up, thanks to those wide-legged, high-waisted, cropped pants (Aritzia) being knit -- so kind to my tummy ;-)

And now I really must pack. Chat soon. Happy weekend and all. . . .let me know if you'd like transcriptions of my journal scrawls.  Let me know, also, if you're so inclined, whether you ever pack a similar arsenal when you travel. . . or am I the only one?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Presenting. . . Modigliani and other Painters. . . and my Memory Prompts

In the French classes I've been taking, students give a ten-minute presentation on a subject of their choice. Last week, two students presented, and one of those focused on the artist Amadeo Modigliani.  Accompanied by photographs she brought up on her laptop, this student's brief survey of Modigliani's work was both informative and engaging, her passion for the artist's paintings, drawings, and sculptures evident throughout. She also expressed regret that he hadn't had the long lifetime of, say, Picasso, and wondered what Modigliani might have accomplished if he'd had another thirty or forty years instead of only 36 (born in Livorno, Italy in 1884, he died in Paris in 1920 -- and throughout his life, was dogged by illness undoubtedly exacerbated by poverty).

My fellow student's excitement about Modigliani, and her musings on the tragedy of his short, but prolific, life sent me home thinking about two exhibitions I've been lucky enough to see in Paris over the years. One, just last November, was a magnificent exhibition of the works of Egon Schiele and of Jean-Michel Basquiat. I'll tell/show you more about that soon, but will just say, for now, that the connection I make between Modigliani, Schiele, and Basquiat is that all three were phenomenally prolific from a relatively young age, but all three artistic lives were sadly truncated (Basquiat and Schiele both died at 28).
Self-Portrait of/by Egon Schiele, 1912

Basquiat's self-portrait, 1984


The other exhibition which my classmate's talk recalled to me was one I only vaguely remembered when she announced her topic (Ce soir, je voudrais vous présenter. . . .).  Gradually, as she spoke, images from my memory coalesced until I knew Paul and I had seen Modigliani's work at the Pinacothèque in Paris in an exhibition of the work of numerous painters, not only Modigliani's.

The day after that class, I worked my way through two stacks of exhibition catalogues/art books piled temptingly next to my favourite reading couch. Yes! There it was! The hardcover copy (weighty -- this would have challenged our carry-on limit that year) of the catalogue for La Collection Jonas Netter: Modigliani, Soutine et l"Aventure de Montparnasse.



Next stop, a concerted rifling-through my box of travel journals to find what I might have noted about this exhibition in general, Modigliani's paintings in particular -- and to determine when it was we'd seen the exhibition. 2012, it turns out. It also turns out that 2012 was still back in the days when I used the pocket-sized lined Moleskine notebooks to record impressions. It was the year, though, that I'd taken that transformative Illustrated Journal class I've often referred to here, and I'd brought along a very simple, light, sketchbook with paper that could tolerate a light wash of watercolour. It's devastatingly clear now how raw I still was to sketching -- and encouragingly clear to see how much I've improved since then.

Where I've also improved since then,  I think, is that I tend to take more time writing necessary identifying details.  . . .

If I were bothering now, for example, to sketch a composition such as this, taking the time to stand in a busy gallery and (probably furtively, because feeling self-conscious) make a quick rendition of a painting that impressed me, I like to think that I'd write down whose painting it was, what was the title. . . As it is, coming across this quick pencil sketch in one notebook, in sequence that seemed to line up with my notes in the little Moleskine, I first assumed that this painting had been by Modigliani, and I searched through the catalogue and then online trying to find an image of it.
Only after ten or fiften minutes of fruitless searching did I go back to my written notes and read that Modigliani's Jeune Femme Assise au Corsage Bleu

reminded me, in its simplicity of composition and its colours, of the "Picasso portrait with white hat from yesterday."

Okay, so now I had some useful breadcrumbs to follow. I thumbed back a few pages in my Kraft-paper-covered pocket-sized Moleskine and found this note
There we go! That's the non-Modigliani painting that I'd stood in front of and sketched, in an uncomfortably busy Musée de l'Orangerie.  I found this photo of it online. Picasso's Femme au Chapeau Blanc, and I stand by my comparison. . .
What to make of all these painters, all this remembering, all these notes and books and sketches? For me, it's that integration of travel experience into my everyday life that I've written about here before. Frustrating as it was, at first, to fossick through that jumbled box of travel notes, to try to remember when and where and what, I was very satisfied at following a thread -- at first tentatively, but then with increasing confidence and, ultimately, fist-pumping validation -- from my classmate's presentation through my own memories and artifacts to synthesize a narrative of these four artists' relation to each other, however idiosyncratic.

And I'm content, also, to be able to travel through my memories without physically leaving that couch, that stack of books. Who knows when that might be the only way I can travel?

One last painting before I go, this one by Moïse Kisling, one of the artists who participated in l'Aventure de Montparnasse with Modigliani and Soutine. As a knitter, I couldn't resist this one
And there we go. . . Happy Monday!
As always, I'll be happy to read your comments. . . 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Walkin' on Sunshine. . . and Don't It Feel Good!

(With thanks to Katrina and the Waves for my title . . . and apologies to you if you're now stuck with an earworm for the day. . . )

I'm fiddling a bit with my schedule these days, and I may end up shifting to only posting twice a week here -- which is what I'm trying this week, a Monday-Thursday posting schedule, and I may also try a Tuesday/Friday . . . .
 And as I've mentioned several times, I'm also playing around with content, seeing what might keep you coming 'round to visit but also meet my changing interests and reflect my life as it evolves. . .
 After Monday's travel post, I'm firmly back in Vancouver where it's quite chilly -- a few Celsius degrees of frost (-5 when I woke this morning and the hellebore flowers on the terrace are drooping disconsolately). 
 Tuesday morning, I had an appointment with my GP, and decided to extend the 1.5 kilometre walk there by another 3 kilometres to enjoy the blue skies and bright sunshine while doing a few errands I've been putting off. And I thought I might dress up a bit, taking the chilly temperature into account.

I haven't worn my Eileen Fisher pleated skirt for a while and it's not really warm enough for this weather, but with a pair of grey wool tights underneath, a layering of cashmere sweaters above, and a swath of silk wrapped securely around my neck, I was street ready. (in case you're wondering about the detail at bottom centre of that grey cashmere centre, that's the embroidered patch I made to mend a small hole.) I do know that the purple of the skirt is a different purple from that of the sweater; with the scarf mixing both hues with a few other colours, I like the combination. Probably not everyone's cup of tea.

Just needed sturdy boots now. Remember that Linda Wright Instagram post I mentioned recently? The one which brought her some flak for combining her cashmere with combat boots. It reminded me of my own pair of combat-style boots, Fluevogs that had disappeared into the very dark back of the hall closet. So I pulled those out instead of wearing my faithful Blundstones. Et voilà. C'est parti! (Just did a search of my archives to see how long I've had these boots -- here's a post featuring them six years ago, also with wool tights and cashmere and purple, but quite a different look. Interesting.)

Then my wool coat over my two layers of cashmere, and I was ready to head out. . .

An efficient morning, such that I've crossed annual tests and bra fittings and face cream supplies off my list for now and I got fresh air and exercise. This is a part of city life that I truly appreciate. 

Even some public art to think about on the way home (and our marvelous snow-capped mountains backdropping the city). . . .
 These Walking Figures -- by Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz -- might be familiar to you if you've visited Chicago where there are apparently 106 of them grouped in an installation titled Agora. There are only nine of the cast-iron, 9-foot, headless fellows walking toward the Cambie Skytrain station here in Vancouver,  but they make quite an impression nonetheless. . .
 Especially in bright winter sunshine when the shadows are so dramatically elongated. Even mine. . .

More walking today -- I'm getting my hearing checked again, seeing if my hearing aids need adjusting. Is anyone else finding this surveillance and maintenance of one's aging body a bit of a nuisance? (and yes, I agree that I'm lucky to be able to care for myself this well, lucky I still have a relatively healthy body to survey and maintain. But still. . . )

So I'm off, in the sunshine, and we will chat soon. Okay? (that's a hint, you know: leave a comment below, if you're so inclined. I do enjoy hearing from you.)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Back to Edinburgh, a Retrospective Visit . . .

Still dark outside as I put the last touches on this post and get ready to publish it. I'm sitting on the couch, a wool blanket tucked over my legs as the room gradually warms -- it's cold just beyond the window, and the skim of snow that's dusted the city's concrete surfaces overnight makes it look colder still. Finally, a small taste of winter, quite enough for me, to be honest. 

I've had these paragraphs sitting in my virtual Draft pile since early December, and while my trip to Edinburgh now feels like ancient history, I decided to finish and publish it here nonetheless. Perhaps it will resonate with some of you either through your own memories of visiting that attractive northern city or through your own process of realizing and setting priorities -- either for travel or for life in general. 

 I have no regrets at all about all the places I didn't get to last month (last month, when I wrote this, but now, last year!) in Edinburgh. Not that I don't have a list of (different) must-sees for next time.  Nor, even, that the places I visited gave me the most comprehensive view of the city possible in my five days there. But those five days were so full of exactly what this solo traveller needed that I will be drawing on memories for months, perhaps years, as a reminder of what I truly value.

Before the trip, I/d spent a few hours browsing travel websites and books, reading reader suggestions (thank you) for must-sees-and-dos in Edinburgh.  I'd jotted notes over a couple of pages in my travel journal of iconic sites, recommended restaurants, shops worth checking out. . . Most of which, given another four or five days, I likely would have visited.
Percy Wyndham Lewis' portrait of Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999) a writer and activist for social justice and women's rights, as seen in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery -- I'm always drawn to paintings of women reading. . . .

Rather than regretting that I didn't have those extra days, I'm tickled to discover how clearly my priorities were revealed in the absence of obligations and the presence of abundant choice.

Actually, I could be a bit clearer here, because while free from obligations in Edinburgh, there were several constraints in the reality of my jet lag and of the short winter days. Normally an early riser,  I was rarely out of bed before 10 in Edinburgh. Never got out of the house before 11. And the city is a fairly northern one, with darkness falling by 4 in the afternoon. 
Lucian Freud's painting Two Men as seen in Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Still, I managed to log many kilometres walking the city's street and another few wandering its galleries and museums and botanical garden. I peered in shop windows, even once walked through Marks & Spencer, slightly tempted by its cashmere, some narrow plaid pants ("trousers," there, of course). I'd thought I'd shop more, had jotted down boutique names in my travel journal beforehand -- several knitting shops that looked worth checking out, some fun-edgy little stores where I might pick up a scarf or necklace, bag or belt, even a skirt or top to sharpen my look back home. Turns out that temptation was easy to resist, although with a few more days next time, I'd probably yield. . .

This trip, though, I think I was so simply satisfied that I couldn't find the Want that generally propels shopping. Not only fashion retail, but even the promising windows of the art-supplies shop next to Greyfriars Bobby, even the idea of knitting socks from artisan yarn dyed and spun in Scotland,  all the treasures my pounds sterling could have bought me appeared Surfeit, Too Much, In Excess. . .

Perhaps similarly, many of the recommended sites I'd jotted down in my travel journal while trip-planning -- sites connected with Scotland's political or literary history, for example -- never did get a line drawn through them on the page. Not only because I ran out of daylight hours or because my feet were sore, but mainly because I'd already seen Enough. Not at all in a worn-out or fed-up sense of "I've seen enough," but rather in the sense that I had restocked the mental or spiritual or emotional or intellectual pantry -- and needed time to digest and savour. . . .
This photo and the two below are of the paper sculptures housed in a glass case in the National Library of Scotland -- the glass case made it difficult to get a decent photograph, but you can sense the intricacy, I hope. Each sculpture represents a book by a Scottish writer.

And that's as much as I wrote when I first drafted this post back in mid-December. What follows is even more retrospective, but still valid and, I hope, relevant. . . 

As it turns out, though, what I found time to do and what I enjoyed the most was a trinity of activities:

 1. Flânerie, pure and simple -- wandering and looking and listening, sometimes with a general destination in mind and a willingness to surrender it if something more interesting beckoned along the way. A morning or afternoon spent this way might include some discreet people-watching and a bit of sketching or journal-writing while I nursed a pot of tea or a glass of wine.

2. Spending time with other women, talking and eating and drinking and listening to opera and watching "tiny plays." Thanks to my friend Lesley, in only five days, I enjoyed four social evenings: one was spent watching student performances of student-written mini-plays inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson's Songs of Travel, followed by a wonderful meal at the home of L's friend, the three of us caught up in lively conversation until after midnight; another evening, spent with L and a mutual Social Media friend, began in the late afternoon with a bottle of bubbles at L's and continued through a very good meal at a nearby restaurant; L and I had another good meal and a very decent glass or two at a French restaurant celebrating the nouveau Beaujolais just down the street from her place; and finally, I was graciously included in an invitation she'd been extended to a performance of Rigoletto.

Truly, I could easily write a post about each of those evenings, but collectively, they reminded me of how stimulating both city life and conversations with other women can be and of how much I value those. Yes, I knew this before I went to Edinburgh, and yes, this is part of my life at home (although I think that at home the urban choices often get subsumed to the lazy and comfortable pleasures of Netflix!). But it was good to have these choices and these values affirmed. And when the day comes that I can't easily travel any longer, I hope to remember this lesson. . . .

3.  Art and architecture. . . In my brief visit, I'm so pleased that I managed to see the Victoria Crowe exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery; to breeze through the National Museum, stopping briefly to check out an exhibition of embroidered samplers; to look at the brilliant paper sculptures displayed in the entrance hall of the National Library, where I also quickly perused some of Frederick Douglass' letters; to visit both Modern One and Modern Two buildings/sites of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art where I tried to absorb as many visual impressions as possible, but merely grazed the Andy Warhol/Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition.  . .

Of course, there were many other possibilities I missed when it comes to Edinburgh's Art and Architecture on offer last fall: I never did make it to the National Poetry Museum to see the fuller collection of paper sculptures made by a mysterious artist and gifted over the past decade to advance literacy, advocate for literature and the arts, especially in Scotland.  I did pretty well, though.  And once again, I affirmed for myself how much enjoyment I take in wandering through gallery halls and rooms on my own, looking and thinking and connecting and synthesizing. . . .

Having made this retrospective visit to Edinburgh, done some strolling through photos I took of paintings, sculptures, architecture (that staircase I mentioned back here and promised to tell you more about) and cityscapes, I'm thinking I may share some impressions and images with you in the next while. As well, I realize I still haven't told you much about my solo days in Paris, where there was, of course, also so much art to enjoy. So expect a post about that as well.

For now, though, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this post. Have you also become quite clear about what you want from travel? Or, more generally and more importantly, from Life, both over the long haul and from day to day?  And how well can you honour those priorities once you've identified and articulated them for yourself? These are big questions, yes, but we could also break them down a bit. You could tell me, for example, about the last best thing you did, just for yourself, no matter how small. . . buying a jar of marmalade and, spreading it on a piece of toast the next morning, remembering how much you'd once loved its bitter sweetness, wondering why you'd let go of that preference, determining to enjoy it more regularly. . . . or walking to the local library, leaving without having been able to choose a book but nonetheless satiated with the promises that whispered from all those spines, those dust-cover flaps, you promising in turn to come back soon. . . .

Okay, that's enough from me for a Monday morning. Your turn now. . .











Friday, February 1, 2019

Mess-Making or Art-Faking or "Just" Plain Child's Play? A Peek in My Journal

 As I work on revising my draft, I'm finding a useful counterpoint in the messy play I allow myself in a field I come to with limited skills and lower expectations.

To revise my writing is to tighten it, hopefully, to become as clear as I can about what I want to say, and then make the saying as precise and concise as I possibly can, while maintaining a voice that is as authentically me (however problematic that notion might be) as my skills allow. It involves a metaphorical x-acto knife as much as it does a pen  . . . Sprawl is not what I'm trying to do there, and the time is past for sloppy indulgence. Discernment becomes tougher the closer I get to saying what is really important, but the work demands that discernment. My "Mean Inner Critics" -- as I've joked about them before in regards to my sketches -- serve a very usual function when Draft II must emerge from Draft I.

Hence the need for some messy play.
Evidence of mess above, my gear spread out across the dining table in the early morning -- I muck away while he's still sleeping. . . .

Below, two pages from my Illustrated/Junk journal as I turn it from January to February.
 Transcription of my Snowdrops page from yesterday, the last day of January:
Across the top: Ran today, 5.5 km total, but that included a 5-minute walk as warm-up and cool-down
Perpendicular, to the right of the snowdrop: Reading: Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1; Knitting: A pair of socks for Rachel. I'm on the second sock but spent 90 minutes tonight frogging what I'd knit in the previous hour; Watching: We've just started a Netflix series called Black Earth Rising.
Below the stamped word "snowdrops": And that's the only snow we've had in this first month of the year...
Trying to work out how to keep all the creative balls in the air without feeling I have to do each activity every day because that's impossible. . . .
Also blooming on the terrace: One pink hellebore and one white one, the sarcococca -- headily fragrant, the wallflower, all scraggly coloured scent.

And here's the start of my February pages. My almost-four g'daughter gave me two paintings earlier this month after I'd let her use my Travel Kit of watercolours.  She'd dismissed my foolish offers to show her how to use the paints and just dove in, soaking up pigment like nobody's business. . . Compared to the fine-motor concentration I've seen her bring to colouring-in someone else's drawing, her painting concentration had a more flamboyant, exuberant energy.

My supply of kids' art is always greater than fridge or frames can accommodate, but I couldn't bring myself to throw these pages away. And this morning, as I clipped the letters "P L A Y" from an Opus Art Supplies mailing, I decided this was where E's creations belonged, but the only way to make them fit -- and to make my art from her art --was to bring out the scissors and glue.
 And that process spurred me on to some thinking about what I'm doing in this messy play, about why I'm wasting time doing something I'm not (yet?) good at. About whether it's important to do things I'm not good at but that I might enjoy. . . .
And I jotted some of those thoughts down here.
Transcription:
Left page, top left: So we're already into Month 2 of this year -- it's no longer the "new" one. And in January, I managed 23 journal pages in 31 days.
Bottom left: Some of my January pages really please me and others make me cringe. Some of my collages seem crude, messy, grade-school-ish. Some pages are full only of hand-written prose, no illustrations at all. . . 
Middle right, then curving down to the bottom of the page and up the spine of the right-side page:
Compared to some of the wonderful journal pages I see on Instagram, so many of mine strike me as sloppy, messy, embarrassing, so I've collaged elements from E's watercoloured pages. She took her play so seriously. So seriously and joyfully at once.
Top right: She completely committed, convinced that she knew how to paint, despite never having used similar brush or paints before.
Centre right, a quotation from David Bayles and Ted Orland's Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ArtMaking: The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.
Bottom, slanting upwards: So here's my commitment to another month of making messy journal pages, of playing despite the fear of ridicule or censure.

Because when I get past my fear of ridicule (or simply accept it as a slightly irritating companion that I try to ignore), I find these efforts at something I'm not particularly good at (not false modesty, as you can see. I'd say I'm muddling-middling amateur) humbling, instructive, exhilarating, and liberating all at once. And I hope that they might be yielding results that can't be seen on the page. They're changing me in ways I can't know yet; I need patience and faith in the unpredictable discipline of regular play.

So tell me, have you found time for pursuits you're not especially good at? Do you think there's any point to this, or would you prefer to save your time for those activities at which you're more likely to excel?  When's the last time you did something with very amateurish results? Was that okay? Fun? Upsetting? At what point does the frustration of trying something new cancel any enjoyment? No right or wrong answers -- awkward, messy, thinking-out-loud is allowed here, as in my journal ;-)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Winter Sunshine and Weathered Memories

 In contrast to Monday's post about urban noise, I'm featuring a more tranquil scene today, and I only have to swivel my head a quarter turn to the left (and plug my ears!) and I eliminate those digging machines from the cityscape. . . I love the way the morning sun tracks over our terrace garden, and yesterday, its winter-watery light was so sweet, so promising, so magical really, that I grabbed my phone and scooted outside barefoot.  No time for shoes when the light source is moving . . .

(And while there was a crackle of ice on the roof opposite, the terrace concrete was dry, so no toes suffered unduly in the making of this blogpost).


 This corner of the terrace holds a collection of artifacts invested with memories. That iron "It All Began In A Garden" plaque, for example, which I purchased in a little metalworking shop at least ten, perhaps fifteen years ago. It wasn't rusted when I bought it,  and it hung for years on the white wall of our kitchen, linking indoors with out. Here, rusting beautifully on that bench, it does the same thing in reverse, drawing my eyes outward through the window. . . .
 I spotted the green bench the day I drove 90 kilometres home from the university where I'd just Passed (with distinction) the oral portion of my comprehensive field exams, and thus become a Doctoral Candidate. I'd studied over six months for those exams, spent a gruelling seven hours ten days earlier writing feverishly in a small closed room, so much, it seemed, at stake.  Exultant and relieved on the scenic drive back, I'd just begun thinking about how I might celebrate this milestone,  when I saw those uplifting, simple green arches of the vintage Doukhobor bench siting outside a store.  My car seemed to drive itself off the highway and into the parking lot, and I left the shop ten minutes later with a slightly complicated moving project for the coming weekend. . .

The bench sat on our deck, facing the ocean, for sixteen years, and it seems to have adjusted happily enough to its new home.  Once, it may have hosted members of a rural congregation. These days, it hosts a plaster cast we brought home from Bordeaux five or six years ago, an interpretation of one of the many mascarons that adorn that city's architecutre.
 Like the ceramic crow you can see above this aged face, in the third photo above (a gift from an artist friend who was experimenting with sculpting corvids in many, many postures), this fellow is showing the effects of weathering, and I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to discern his features.
 But I've come to think of him as the primeval Green Man, so it seems altogether fitting that he should demonstrate the transformative power of Nature this graphically . .
 As well, I suppose, since the building we now live in is almost new and constructed from contemporary materials more resistant to weather, I'm very appreciative of any element that points to a longer history and that testifies to the beauty of decay. . .

Back inside, and my toes are completely warm again. My sympathy to the many of you who are hunkered down against the Polar Vortex right now. I sincerely hope that my post from the currently mild climate of the Pacific Northwest doesn't smack of smugness or, even worse, of gloating. . . Just trying to share some sunshine and tranquility. . .

xo,
Frances


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