The quality of others’ lives have a direct impact on our well-being; the energy of generosity, as an antidote to acquisitiveness, establishes the reciprocal loop of happiness that occurs when we take others into account while making choices. – Michael Stone, Yoga for a World Out of Balance
I sit in a chair, in the sun, on the bank of the river, reading a book. High, rushing water filters the honking of geese and the twang of a basketball striking the pavement. Compliments of the leafless trees, I see all.
I see the dog-walkers and the first horde of spring motorcyclists. I see the Sunday drivers slowing down to gawk at the river. Small packs of cyclists come and go in both directions. One foursome stops on the bridge, dismounts, and take turns photographing each other.
I set out in their direction, unsure if I’d reach them in time.
“Now I know you’d all rather be in the photograph,” I say, and they are surprised at my random appearance. I take the camera and corral them as I do all my subjects.
They’ve cycled this route for ten years and are delighted by the spontaneous kindness. I point out our house and tell them they are welcome anytime, for water, the bathroom, and coffee. If they catch us at noon we’ll throw lunch in as well.
Smiling, I head back to the chair and the sun and the book.
Before long, four chocolate bunnies appear at our door. It’s my turn to be surprised.
Yesterday’s changeable sun/cloud mix presented a perfect backdrop for some architectural photography in Ottawa’s Hintonburg neighbourhood.
Carpenter, and fellow Algonquin College Heritage Trades Institute alumnus, Christoph Altehoefer restored this gorgeous porch, integrating a mix of original and reproduction pieces. Carefully redeploying existing materials, he crafted each reproduction piece from unusable rafters and other surplus lumber from the existing porch. In all, the recreation took more than 550 person hours to bring it back to its historical form.
If you’re interested in learning more, Christoph will be giving a presentation on this project on Wednesday, April 10th at 7:00pm at Algonquin College, Perth Campus. To contract his services, he can be reached at (613) 269-3717.
Built in 1407 and reputed to be the oldest house in Paris (though other buildings claim that title), this abode has a mystical history. Harry Potter fans should take note: this was the real-life home of Nicolas Flamel, the alchemist whose sorcerer’s stone is the source of immortality in the popular book series. A wealthy scribe, merchant, and dabbler in the mystical arts, Flamel willed his home to the city as a dormitory for the poor, on the condition that boarders pray daily for his soul. Today, the building is home to apartments and a restaurant. - Fodor’s Travel Guide, Paris
There was definitely some magic to how my brother-in-law Marco and his partner Rod came to live in Nicolas Flamel’s house in Paris.
Paris is choc-a-bloc with architectural eye candy and with creative and interesting people scrambling for creative and interesting living spaces. The market is very competitive, made more difficult for foreigners, like themselves, without a local history of rent-and bill-paying. Would-be renters rely on credentials, luck, timing and, according to Marco, the ability to charm the keys out of owners’ hands. It’s about flattery, connection and the weaving of tales that convince them that you are “the one.” North Americans might consider this manipulation. In France, it’s the everyday business of seduction.
Whether it was his inherent charm, good looks and style, impeccable French, personal history, or educational pedigree, he and Rod won the the rental lottery. And they have been kind enough to share this wealth with those of us who are more geographically challenged.
Unlike the hordes of Harry Potter fans who huddle outside gazing up, I had the good fortune this summer to explore the unique characteristics of the apartment building I’d heard so much about.
Much to my delight, Library and Archives Canada continues to post more and more of their fascinating materials online for public access. Just in time for Halloween, they’ve posted a set of 52 costume/Halloween pics here on Flickr.
Seems Lady and Lord Aberdeen, Canada’s Governor General from 1893 to 1898, ran an enviably entertaining and social household at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. Here the staff are outfitted as young students of the fictional “Dame Marjorie’s School” as part of a winter ball in 1894. Feeling very Monty Python-esque, with moustaches tucked in for good measure.
Wish I had a time machine.
I spent the last two days hanging bits and bobs on my dining room walls. And taking most of them down.
Seems the thrill of decorating – the implementation vs. the idea of it – is less a thrill and more a sucker-punch to the head. It appears to involve a disproportionate amount of mental anguish and mind games for a seemingly lightweight activity performed by women who carry purses that match their shoes. It’s not rocket science. So, really, why are my walls still empty?
We’ve lived in our old house for fourteen years now and there is little – save for a couple of mirrors – hanging on the walls. The artwork and trinkets I’ve collected sit in boxes and bins in the basement, tucked in the back of closets, or hidden behind the sofa. I have a few theories about this.
My first theory is that it’s distinctly dissatisfying to hang lovely objects on imperfect surfaces. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t unhappy with most of the walls: I hated the vinyl wallpaper or I had to make repairs to the lathe and plaster, or the colour didn’t work, or the existing drywall sat proud of the tin ceiling, or I was adding (or removing) walls. Three colour changes and multi-repairs later, the dining room walls – like most of the others in the house – are now finished. This should no longer be an impediment moving forward.
My second theory is that I don’t hang anything on my walls because hanging things would mean I am staying put. No running off overseas, no moving across the country, no doing the life-changing stuff that is still on my agenda. I discuss this with my friend, Lulu, because we are cut from the same cloth. She broke down and bought a bookcase last year and I can only recall the lovely landscape that hangs over her kitchen table. Perched to fly – should the opportunity present itself – yet still here (I’m selfishly glad). And our family is still here in body, if not always in mind. So is that really it?
My third theory has to do with timing. So many of the rooms were repeatedly repurposed throughout our early family years that the furniture seemed to migrate of its own free will. We swapped the kitchen and dining room back where they belonged. Kids shared, switched, and unshared bedrooms. The hand-painted murals and closet-cum-puppet theatre were lovingly created but are now gone. The laundry room moved to the back of the house. We have a front vestibule where there was none. Doorways appeared and I don’t recognize the noisy room any more.
With so much change, it’s little wonder hanging things on walls has been a low priority.
My fourth theory is that I am pulled by my need for individual expression and pushed by the elephant of conformity and fear of making mistakes. I am normally fearless, direct, and creative, yet I am reduced to a neurotic cube of jell-o when I try to hang pictures on my walls. What is ‘right’? Will it be tacky? Will I blow money on framing/fabric/furniture and still make the wrong choice? Will I hate it after a month? Think I’m out of my mind? Check out the piece I wrote on F. Stuart Chapin’s Living Room Status Scale.
Failing to acknowledge the underlying psychology and feelings doesn’t make them go away. I think there’s a reason the whole minimalism thing is so big right now, shepherded under the environmental umbrella: there’s a narrower, highly-prescribed range of objects to choose from, therefore a proportionately smaller chance of self-embarrassment by bad taste or complete lack of any personal style. Look objectively at the design mags and you’ll notice a tedious sameness to many of the wall, floor and furniture treatments. What’s worse, marketing departments gleefully prey on this shift, this human vulnerability, convincing consumers to give up what they already have and buy/make all new stuff. Writer Steven Kurutz sharply captures this trend in his recent NY Times article on living an over-propped life.
I think there’s an awful lot of reality underlying this theory, more than anyone cares to admit.
Which parlays into my fifth, and final, theory. Cohesive decorating and design, with a semblance of originality, is actually hard, highly time-intensive and often expensive. It begins with great promise and excitement and can end in disappointment and self-doubt. Shelter magazines, reality and DIY television shows, blogs, and Pinterest make it look easy because they have crews and budget and professional expertise, and/or they can edit out the mistakes and invent a suitable narrative. And this narrative resembles reality like I resemble Marilyn Monroe: we’re bottle blondes of the female persuasion and that’s it. I know that design and decorating is hard because I have fourteen years of personal anecdotal evidence – and the scars – to prove it.
So what’s a woman staring at blank walls to do? I could go out and buy a whack of stuff that perfectly matches the dimensions and colour schemes of the rooms. I could admit I have a problem, get over seeing design as frivolous, and consult a designer and/or decorator to help move along the process. Or I could ease up on those hammers, Jed, and take it slow: slowly frame my pieces; slowly lay out those things I love on slow winter nights; slowly cull, dream some more, and look around. Maybe I could stop thinking about it all together and do distinctly un-house stuff for awhile.
One day, in who knows how long, I will wake up and realize my house is as done as it’s ever going to be and decide that it makes me happy. And that will be – really – good enough for me.
Copyright 2010-2013 Andrea Cordonier
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