Monday, March 22, 2010

In case of fire or earthquake

Recently I wrote about a sculpture I love, and said that it would be the second piece of art I would save if my house was on fire. The first piece I would save is so important, I have always hung it near the front door in the four successive homes I have lived in since it was created in 1991. As I have told the artist, that's so I can easily grab it as I flee from the flames. Here it is, right beside the door:

The artist is my son, and the title is "My Fourth Birthday Party". But there is no need to tell you the title, because of course you knew it depicted a birthday party as soon as you saw it. Right? The orange birthday cake with glowing candles (very Dali-esque in perspective) gives the subject away:

The wild, fifteen-toed creature lighting the candles to the left of the cake is me. Clearly, my kid will spend many future hours on a shrink's couch dealing with mother issues. The happy person in red to the right of the cake is the birthday boy artist.

There are many gifts with lovely loopy bows and ribbons, which you can see stacked on the left of the painting. In fact there are more gifts than people, perhaps indicative of the relative importance of the former over the latter in the artist's psyche. On top of the gifts, depicted in orange with five legs, is the cat.

It was a sunny day, but there was also a rainbow, because rainbows are such happy additions to a party. The sun looks rather piqued about being upstaged by the rainbow.

If my house ever catches fire, or gets rattled in an earthquake, I will be standing on the street in my pajamas (such disasters are always at night you know,) clutching this masterpiece. Other than the people and the furry creatures, there is nothing else so precious in my home.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Paddy's day

Top o' the marnin to ya!

I always feel like smiling on St. Patrick's day, though I can't explain why. There is nothing remotely Irish about me except the shamrocks currently blooming in my front yard.

(Aside: I have not seen any other outdoor blooming shamrocks here in Vancouver except in a plant nursery. I found a tiny clump of these in a hidden corner of my side yard when we moved into this house six years ago, and transplanted them to the front. They have thrived and colonised, even through the nastiest of winters, and delight me by blooming every year around leprechaun day.)

As I was saying, despite the red hair and a fondness for a bottle of O'Hara's Red, I have no Irish blood. I am seventh generation Canadian, a Heinz 57 mix of Scot and several other nationalities, including native Indian.

So why do I have an affection for St. Patrick's day? Bartenders ruin beer in his name by turning it green. Leprechauns are greedy, gold chasing little buggers. Irish people talk funny so. I don't even know an Irish person.

Wait a minute, I do know an Irish person. Or did, once. Dilip Kerrigan. He was Indo-Irish, with caramel skin, licorice hair, and deep navy eyes. His smile radiated sensuality way beyond his 16 years. I was 15, and Dilip was my first boyfriend. We met at a party of ex-pat teens in Dar Es Salaam in 1973. We were both home for holidays from boarding school, his in Dublin, mine in Nairobi. We had four weeks before we had to return to school, and we met every day after that party.

Dilip had a motor scooter. We would ride it to one of the empty beaches north of town and swim, then make out under palm trees. I learned from Dilip that kissing could transport me to an exquisite new world, and  the shy touch of his fingertips on my breast could ignite a fire that thrilled and terrified me.  In the evenings when most ex-pat parents were at the gymkhanna club playing bridge or snooker, we met up with friends and went to Etienne's. Etienne was a French bar owner with a passion for African bands and no scruples about serving beer (but no hard liquor) to under-age kids. That month I developed a taste for beer. And kissing.

Etienne's was an open-air bar with rickety tables and a dirt floor. The drumbeats would reach up through the ground and free our  timid western limbs into wild dancing, leaving us sweat soaked and breathless when we hurried home to make our curfews.

When Dilip and I returned to school we wrote to each other for a while. Dilip wrote me vaguely suggestive poems which I hid in my Swahili textbook and devoured nightly after lights out. I never saw Dilip Kerrigan again. Our next school holidays did not coincide, and later that year my family and I returned to Canada.

Perhaps St Patrick's day, with its reminders and celebration of all things Irish, evokes the sensation of the first awakening of sensual passion in my life by that sweet Irish boy. Now that's a reason to celebrate.

Beannachtam na Femle Padraig!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Puck, Prime Minister, people swilling beer:

At ten o'clock on a Saturday morning. Oh Canada.

I was at the first sledge hockey game of the Paralympics last week. Generally, Paralympic athletes do not get the recognition they deserve. I have to admit, the Paralympics would hardly be on my radar, except that the sister of a friend of mine was an Olympian in wheelchair rugby some years ago, making me a little more aware. Now the games are here in Vancouver, and I am happy to see them generate so much excitement.

That excitement was evident at the sold out Canada versus Italy game last week. It is Hockey, after all, and this is Canada. Our red blood cells look like microscopic pucks. Our passports are the same shape as the blade of a goalie stick, and their covers are dyed to match the blue line.

At the game, the beer was flowing, the flags were waved, and the cheers were deafening. There had been no tedious security checks coming in: in fact the only hold up at the entrance was the line up at the beer taps.

Our Prime Minister was there, looking like someone had shoved a pickle up platform. His advisers forgot to tell him this was not a somber occasion. Someone should have brought Stephen a beer. Are we sure he is Canadian?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Water therapy

"I'm going out in the Kayak," I informed B on Saturday morning. "I'll just be an hour or two."

It was a glorious spring day. I decided to paddle up the lake to Seal Bay, about two kilometers away.

It was silent but for the drip of my paddle, and the little rivulets of melt water cascading from the rocks, onto me (and the camera lens)when I went in to explore a little cove.

I got to Seal Bay, and decided to continue further north, by then mesmerized by the rhythm of paddling, and the sun on my shoulders. Our weathered old kayak, which we bought from a friend for a case of beer, is fast and sleek. She whispers through the water. I decided to head for the Indian pictographs, painted by ancestors of the Katzie First Nation.

When I had been gone longer than expected, my pit crew showed up with lunch. I was happy to see them, and hungry, but I enjoyed my solitude again after they went back to the cabin. I paddled on.

Eventually, as the sun dropped closer to the mountain tops, I turned for home. As I paddled into our bay, the snow on Golden Ears Mountain gleamed, and the afternoon light sparkled on the lake.

Days like that are imprinted on my soul.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

In the eye of the beholder

I own very little original artwork apart from some inexpensive pieces picked up in markets on my travels, and a few paintings by a talented great aunt. But I have one piece of painted wooden sculpture that I love so much I would grab it second on my way out of my burning home. The first, most cherished piece of art I would grab is my son's painting of his fourth birthday party. But that's another story.

I call my sculpture "Silly Little Man", although that is not what the artist called it. It depicts a small man with arms outstretched, standing in front of three large salmon swimming toward him. Here it is:

If you are thinking "Is she kidding? That's junk," you are not alone. Someone once asked me if I bought it at a garage sale.

I love it.

I love that the salmon are so fluidly carved, and done in otherworldly colours, while the person (to me he is a man, but could be female I suppose,) is blocky and rough, with no nuances of colour.

I love that the salmon look as if they are about to swim right over the man, barely seeing him and his outstretched arms.

I love that this piece symbolizes for me the mystical power of the salmon runs; so much a part of our west coast culture, both from prehistory to right now, for first nations and all of us. Anyone who has seen a shallow stream roil with the ruby backs of salmon on their fatal upstream journey, or watched them arc high over a waterfall cannot be but awed.

I love that, while the body of the fish are painted in jewel bright colours, their eyes reflect the raw cedar forests that line the streams they travel.

But what I love most about this piece of art is the foolishness of the little man in trying to stop the salmon from swimming upstream. At the same time, I identify with his hubris at trying. When I bought this sculpture, in 1992, he was me. I was a single mom of a toddler, still wet behind the ears in the practice of law, and going through an ugly divorce. It was just beginning to dawn on me that I was not CEO of the universe, and I had to let go of trying to control things I had no power over, or go crazy. I saw the "Silly Little Man" in a gallery window downtown, and it stopped me cold. I knew at once I had to have it, though at the time I could not have fully articulated the reasons. It is only in retrospect that I came to realize why it "spoke" to me. It cost far more than I could comfortably afford then (or even uncomfortably afford). I ate many meals of cheap mac & cheese after buying "Little Man". It was worth every noodle.

So "Silly Little Man" sits on my mantel, and I love it even more than when I got it 17 years ago. He still makes me chuckle. At both of us.

The artist, Peter Kiss, would likely be surprised by my interpretation of "Silly Little Man". His title for it, printed on the underside, is "Fish Guides". If you look closely at Little Man's right hand, it is pointing backwards, as if perhaps he is showing the salmon which direction they are to take. (And, yes, one finger of the right hand is broken. Sorry Mr. Kiss, your art is a little too delicate for the number of times I have moved house.) Perhaps the artist intended to portray the whimsical idea that, instead of salmon having a mystical force guiding them to the spot they were born, there are actually little traffic cops showing them the way.

What do you think?

Do you have a piece of artwork that you were compelled to have?

Monday, March 01, 2010

The day the country turned blue

The Olympics are over. I have mixed feelings about the whole Olympicorporation, though I do admire the athletes and their dedication. Today, I am happy to have my city return to some kind of normal.

Yesterday though, my ambivalence was on vacation. Gone so far it could not even text me a little reminder. No matter how I feel about the Olympics, I AM a hockey fan. Multiply fan by a thousand and you have the level of passion for the sport felt by my beloved and his father. So yesterday, we went en famille (me, husband, son, father-in-law and mother-in-law) to the packed local pub to watch the game on the big screen.

The game was a nail biter, though when only 24 seconds were left and we were a goal ahead it seemed time to start celebrating gold. Then; "OH NO!!!", and people across our puck-crazed Dominion groaned when the U.S. scored. I swear I heard a guy in Corner Brook scream "SON OF A BITCH! Lads, pass the screech, quick!" In the pub we shook our heads, disbelieving that the game was tied and would go into sudden death overtime.

In the interval, I commiserated by phone with my sister, who was watching from New Zealand. (She is a bigger hockey fan than I am, once mortifying me at a Canucks game by standing and screaming "I love you Trevor", after Linden was sent to the penalty box.) The pub patrons wondered how they could bear the tension. Many more pitchers of Molson Canadian seemed the answer at most tables. (I saw one young woman at a nearby table drinking a Corona. She must be foreign.)

The puck dropped for the overtime period. The din in the pub made the lampposts outside tremble. A rowdy woman kept shrieking at the T.V., "GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!GET IT OUT!" It was my 80 year old mother-in-law. I looked nervously at my 89 year old father-in-law, who was half out of his chair, fists clenched. I mentally reviewed my CPR training. After five minutes , the tension and the beer forced me to take a very speedy trip to the ladies'. Too bad medals are not given for fastest trip to the loo. The score was still zip all when I breathlessly returned. Then the beer caught up with my son and he jogged off to the Gents'. Just as Son was out of sight, Crosby scored for Canada, and the Country let out its collective breath. My son came running back. "I missed it," he wailed. Many of you have seen the ensuing decorus pleasure shown by us reserved, shy Canadians. We went ape shit.


My mother claims that my father had a talent for being in the bathroom whenever something important happened. It looks like that gift has skipped a generation.