Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I am so happy to say that, after a slightly rocky start, my new little publishing website has launched.

Pilgrim Small Press is named after Ivaan, whose nickname (to me, anyway) was Pellegrino, the Italian word for pilgrim.  It was a particularly apt nickname for him, as his entire life was a pilgrimage to a place where he felt the most free and unencumbered.  No artist myself, I could see how important it was for him to make this journey.

I was often amused, during our married life, by people who looked askance at what must have seemed to them a really traditional marriage.  Ivaan never washed a dish, never shovelled the snow, never mowed the lawn, took out the garbage, never cooked a meal or wielded a vacuum cleaner.

He never expected me - or anyone - to do those things.  He didn't even recognize that they were things that ought to be done. I did a great many other things, such as laying cobblestones in our front and back gardens, carpentry, tiling, electrical and - well, just about everything - quite cheerfully, because expecting Ivaan to participate in any of those things would have been a waste of my time, and even more important, a waste of Ivaan's time, too.

It was more important for me to enable him to concentrate on his art, a decision I have never regretted.  His one regular foray into domestic life was grocery shopping, which he loved.  Happily, this was the one thing I disliked, so we were well matched.  He sliced fruit for my breakfast, he once took a loaf of bread out of the oven, and he once helped me take down a wall.  Other than that, his domestic endeavours consisted of holding out his open wallet, saying frantically, "Take!  Take!"  This meant, "My money is yours.  Take all you want to hire someone to help you do whatever you want around here; just don't ask me to help you."

I knew exactly what I wanted Pilgrim Small Press website to look like.  Thanks to the kindness of a couple of seriously talented people,  it does look exactly like the image inside my head.  And, just like that, is a thing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Two weeks ago, I received official confirmation from the City of Toronto that one of Ivaan's beloved laneways has been named in his honour.  The laneway runs south from Dupont Street, just east of Shaw Street, as far as Melville Avenue.  Later this summer, the street signs will be installed and we have been invited to have a little unveiling ceremony once the signs are in place at each end of the laneway.

There are certain conditions that must be met before a laneway is named after an individual.  The first is that this individual must no longer be alive.
I guess the assumption is that once someone is deceased, they can no longer do anything discreditable, like become a white supremacist or a bank robber or something.  The second is that they have made a significant contribution to their community or the City.  And in fact Ivaan has had a significant positive impact on the City of Toronto.  Thousands of his photographs are owned by the City of Toronto, depicting life on the streets of downtown Toronto in the 1990s.  Distinctive jewellery by Ivaan is collected and worn with pride by thousands of people and he has truly enriched the artistic environment in Toronto.

So I am really happy that there will be this permanent memorial to Ivaan.  He loved Toronto laneways and often photographed  them.  These are the  hidden paths that Toronto natives often use to traverse their neighbourhoods:  not the major commuter streets used by vehicles and people just passing through.

One advantage of  having laneways named is that they appear on GPS mapping and are easier for first responders to identify in case of a fire or medical emergency.  Another advantage is that it ties a neighbourhood together.  We have some other named laneways in the vicinity, including the
humorously named Vermouth Lane (an amalgam of Vermont and Yarmouth, two nearby streets).

I think Ivaan's parents would have been astonished to learn that their son's name adorns a laneway.  Ivaan would have been thrilled.  I imagine his
sister will be proud to see her brother's name on a couple of street signs.

And his wife?  I just hope the City doesn't think I'll be responsible for shovelling the snow on Ivaan Kotulsky Lane. Although I do so much snow shovelling in the neighbourhood that it might be me the paramedics find lying beside my trusty snow shovel.  I will post photographs of the signs as soon as they are installed, and of our unveiling ceremony.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the 5 year anniversary of the opening of Atelier Ivaan on Dupont Street went right by me. May 31st, in case you care. In fact, it was only three days later that I asked myself, "When's our anniversary coming up?" and realized it had passed unheralded.  That is something that would never have happened in our marriage, because we married on April Fool's Day, and there are always plenty of reminders that our wedding anniversary is approaching.

This year, I've been burning the candle at both ends.  I've been on a mission to complete the upgrading of my degree in Italian to a Specialist degree, and la tocca finita, as they say in Italian, of the Italian Specialist program is to undertake a research term on one of a few projects under the direction of a professor.   I had applied to a project involving a collection of vintage Italian films, and was accepted.  I asked if my research term could be moved up so I could complete it during the summer months, and received approval.  So in addition to running the store, working in the palliative care hospice where I volunteer, my piano lessons and everything else, I would now be spending 20 hours a week working on the repair and conservation of vintage films.

And that is where I was on May 31st: in a chilly archival vault wearing steel-toed construction boots.   I had to race home at the end of the day for client appointments, and I really felt as though my life had been turned on its head.

But, five years, you know, feels like an achievement.  Still, I often feel quite incompetent as a shopkeeper.  I still wander away from the shop on occasion, leaving the door unlocked.  Only last week, I was expecting a friend to come by, so I went upstairs to the kitchen to make lunch in case she was hungry when she arrived.  As I was taking an apple crumble out of the oven, I heard a female voice downstairs, calling "Hello!"  I assumed it was my friend, so I went to the stairwell and called back, "Hey, Sandra, I'm up here".  But it wasn't Sandra, it was a customer, who had logically assumed this was a self-serve operation and chosen the items she wanted to purchase without any assistance from the shopkeeper.

After completing her purchase, the customer gave me a funny look and a gentle lecture about leaving money lying out in the open when the shop door is unlocked.  Point taken!

So while the five-year anniversary passed unnoticed, another anniversary is fast approaching that is already causing me anxiety.  This is the year - and the month - where I will become the same age as Ivaan.  I'm not remotely preoccupied with the effects of aging.   Grey hair?  I've always wanted that. Wrinkles?  I think they suit me. I look at myself and say, "Nothing hurts, everything works, and I have more strength and energy than most 30 year olds.  I'm incredibly lucky."  But by the time he was 64, Ivaan was dead.  I've kind of taken over being Ivaan, and this month I'm going to catch up with him, and then surpass him.

So if that's what my five-year plan was, to "just keep right on going", I will have to build in some time for quiet reflection, to decide what I hope the next five years will bring.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Sunday April 30th was a triumphant day at Atelier Ivaan, as we hosted the launch party for 30 Pieces of Silver.  It's hard to imagine that we packed 35 people into this little place.  We can't actually prove it, because it was so crowded we couldn't take photographs, but we opened up the second floor and the basement so people could  escape the crowds if they were feeling suffocated.

I spent the morning driving around picking up the Sweets From The Earth carrot cake, the samosas and the falafel/pita/tahini/pickles which I'd ordered.  Just after I arrived back, my nephew Angus's partner, Sara, arrived to help me set up.  That's when the fun began, because she let it slip that Angus was flying in from Winnipeg to attend the launch.   I was so thrilled.  A few minutes later, I heard a key in the lock, and I thought, "Angus!"  But no:  it was Ivor, my other nephew (who is the VP of Atelier Ivaan).  He had driven in from Kingston to surprise me.  I was completely beside myself.  Sara had managed to keep that little detail secret.  She's tricky that way.

So I felt on top of the world.  I didn't care if anybody else came at that point, because my boys and Sara were here.  And we had cake! Here's what the shop looked like before we put the food out:

Then the guests started arriving.  It took people a while to start digging in to the refreshments, but at any party, once there is a critical mass of people, they will generally start eating and drinking.  We reached that critical mass within about half an hour.  We had planned the launch to be held from two until five in the afternoon, but in fact it was seven before the last guest left.

To my amazement, when I went upstairs, the nephews and Sara had already done the dishes and much of the cleaning up.  So in addition to coming from great distances to Toronto, they acted as gracious co-hosts, and then became the busboys.  That evening, Ivor drove Angus back to Kingston to visit their parents.  They were both exhausted when they arrived. It was a stellar gesture of support from both of them.

Two days later, I headed for the airport, where I met up with Ivor, and the two of us boarded a plane for Iceland.  We'd been talking about taking a trip back to Iceland together for a while.  I'd decided to go, and finally Ivor booked himself a seat on my flight, directly across the aisle from me.  We had a great flight and arrived to beautiful weather in Reykjavik.....just as torrential rains started in southern Ontario.  Meanwhile, the Icelanders thought we'd brought the gorgeous weather with us, because it remained glorious all week.

Here's the house we stayed in, on Bergstaðastraeti. It's a 110 year old wooden house clad in metal.  That's very, very old for an Icelandic house.

The first day, we took it easy and walked around downtown Reykjavik, visiting Hallgrimskirkja, the very large modern Lutheran church close to our house, which has a magnificent pipe organ.  We went up the tower for a fantastic 360 degree view of Reykjavik.

Then we went to Glō, one of our favourite vegan restaurants, and then walked along Laugavegur, the main shopping street.  Here are some photos of buildings we passed.

We planned a trip to Vestmannaeyjar, some islands off the south coast of Iceland which had been buried under a volcanic eruption in 1973.  This involved a two-hour bus ride at seven a.m. to Landeyjahofn, the harbour where the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar sets sail. Here's the ferry.

The 35 minute crossing was very rough.  When we arrived at Vestmannaeyjar, I was pretty sure I'd made a big mistake, because as beautiful as the islands were, I knew we'd have to return on the same ferry.  When you travel with a 19 year old, though, you can expect miracles.  A few minutes of sipping warm ginger ale while watching Ivor's thumbs on the keyboard of his phone yielded dramatic results.  "There's an airport within walking distance", he said.  "If you can walk up that hill for about an hour, I've booked us on a small plane to fly us back to Reykjavik". At that point, if he'd told me to walk up Mount Everest to get on a small plane, I'd have done it.  Sure enough, we walked past sheep and unusual buildings and eventually ended up at a tiny airport which was totally unoccupied.  About an hour later, a small plane landed, we got on board, and within 20 minutes we were back in Reykjavik.  Here is some of the scenery en route to the Vestmannaeyjar airport:

On one of our remaining days, we visited Harpa, the exquisite concert hall on the Reykjavik Harbour.  It's like being in a honeycomb.  Ivor pointed out that Icelanders don't use it just as a concert hall.  It's also a sort of community hub where people meet to talk or have a snack, or attend a party.  But apart from its social significance, it is a magnificent concert hall.

The walls of Harpa from the inside

The ceiling of Harpa

Harpa exterior
Another highlight (for me, anyway) was buying a summer dress at Kjolar & Konfekt, though Ivor was surprisingly supportive through this process.
Here's my flamingo print dress:

We also took a small (very pleasant) ferry to Viðey, to visit the John Lennon "Imagine Peace" memorial (here's Ivor at the memorial) .
And I braved the cool waters of the North Atlantic to retrieve a stone to bring to Ivaan's grave.  We brought back some pieces of lava as souvenirs and gifts. On our way back to the airport for the flight back to Canada, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon for a soak in the thermal baths - a surefire way to ward off jet lag.

This was my fourth trip to Iceland, my second with Ivor, and my first with Ivor as an adult. Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat. I love travelling with him. He's super easygoing, up for any adventure, and nothing fazes him.  He fit right in to Icelandic culture and people just assumed he was Icelandic. He picks up languages easily, so by day four he was answering them back in Icelandic.  We are going to try to keep up our Icelandic till our next visit - because we are definitely going again.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


It's almost the eve of the book launch, celebrating the release of 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky,  my long-awaited book about some of Ivaan's most iconic pieces.

Writing the book was not difficult.  Choosing the pieces to be photographed was only slightly difficult.  Seeing the book in finished form has been
far more difficult than I anticipated.  Celebrating its release is extraordinarily tough, though, and it's difficult in a way that is hard to quantify.  On the one hand, I know I will be surrounded by friends and people who care about me and Ivaan, I'll be on home turf and the place will be packed with guests, laughing, talking, eating, drinking and showing off their Ivaan jewellery. What's not to like?

I'll give a short speech, welcoming everyone, thanking them for coming, and recognizing the people who played a special part in the creation of the book. I've never suffered from stage fright.  You could send me into a room of a million strangers and tell me to charm them right out of their seats or speak to them about astrophysics, and I wouldn't turn a hair, because I'm not invested in my ability to charm people or my knowledge of astrophysics.

But I am deeply invested in wanting to ensure I've done Ivaan justice.  I didn't want to write a hagiography; he wasn't remotely saintly and would not have been flattered to be presented as one.  In fact, he was extraordinarily quirky, and it's just as well that he was very good-looking, because that kind of quirkiness is rarely well tolerated in someone less beautiful in appearance.  But he was an artistic genius and a very kind, generous and large-spirited human being who loved every hair on my head, and I wanted to pay tribute to the whole person, not just one facet of him.

This evening I received an email from a friend who is also an artistic genius. And the interesting thing about this friend is that she has exactly the same very rare quality Ivaan had:  when she walks into a room, it's as though someone had suddenly turned on all the lights.  It's an extraordinarily attractive quality.

She emailed to tell me that she had just read my book.  Here's how she described it:

"It's like a love poem with beautiful pictures".

When I read that, I nearly started howling, because she's a perceptive person and she was able to see what I had been unable to see: that I had, in fact, written a 30-stanza love poem.

In replying to her, I suddenly remembered a poem I'd found among Ivaan's personal papers a few months after he died.  The poem had been written by me 40 years prior and he had saved it all those years.  I transcribed that poem in a blog post dated April 2014.

This brought me to thinking of another, shorter poem I'd written about Ivaan during a dream I had on January 18, 2002.  I wrote it down on actual paper on waking from the dream at 5:30 a.m:


I turn and study faces in the places you have been
To see if any traces of you yet remain therein
You left on me your imprimatur, fingerprint and sign
I wonder if you touched their life as much as you touched mine.

Very soon after I wrote this poem, Ivaan suffered a second stroke which severely compromised his wellbeing for the remainder of his life.  It seemed to be a foreshadowing of what was to come.  But I now realize, thanks to my friend's perceptive words, that I have written about Ivaan in three different poems during three stages of my life, and in doing so I have in fact done what I set out to do:  pay tribute to the whole person, and not just one facet.  It is an incredible relief.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I like to think that I'm pretty excellent about keeping promises.  It's just that some promises take longer to keep than others.  It's been 8 years, 4 months and 2 days since I promised Ivaan I would write the book he had been planning to write for years.  Yesterday I fulfilled that promise.

Trying to explain why it took me so long is not easy.  Perhaps for the first couple of years I secretly hoped Ivaan would come back and write it himself. Being around his art all the time makes it hard to come to terms with the reality that I'm experiencing his presence in a different way.

Do I miss him?  Incredibly so.  I miss his enjoyment of things.  I miss laughing so hard I'm crying.  My friend Crystal was reminding me last Saturday, when it was Ivaan's and my 22nd wedding anniversary, how he used to affectionately tease me all the time.  I remember the first time Crystal came home with me for lunch.  She and I were musicology students together at University of Toronto about 12 years ago.  She and Matt were newlyweds, Matt hadn't even started medical school yet, and our lives were so different than they are today. 

Ivaan was already quite paralyzed, but we still lived in our house on Portland Street, and one day I invited Crystal to come home with me after class for lunch, so she could meet Ivaan.  I set up lunch on the deck at the rear of our house.  When I brought out a bottle of green juice for us to drink, Ivaan noticed right away that Crystal looked mildly surprised.  "Swamp water", he quipped, just loud enough for her to hear, and she burst out laughing.  Right away, I knew Crystal and I were going to be lifelong friends, because she "got" Ivaan right away.  And I think she liked the swamp water, too.

Crystal and I have remained close friends, and because she and I have been through a lot of joy and grief together,  we still communicate in a kind of code that only very close friends share.  One way she does that is by remembering the days that are important to me - the sad ones, the happy ones, the poignant ones.  So I'll get an email from her, reminding me of Ivaan's teasing, and she keeps those memories alive and present for me.

One memory that was not going to go away was the memory of my promise to him to write the book he planned to call 30 Pieces of Silver. I think I started planning it about two years ago.  First I decided to blog about it, because once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop the forward momentum.  At first I thought I'd be perfectly capable of handling every aspect of the book myself.  It was only when I'd finished the first draft, I had to accept that I'd need professional help for photography.  And that's where a very talented photographer, Richard Freedman, who knew Ivaan well, came on board.  Richard enlisted Sean, a graphic artist he worked with, to come and help us with the layout and appearance. It was a wise decision, and it really improved the appearance of the manuscript and kept the project moving along.

Yesterday the first shipment of hardcover books arrived.  I was astonishingly nervous when I heard they were being delivered.  I had a razor blade ready to cut the first box open, but my hands were shaking so much, I feared there'd be blood all over the white book covers.

I removed the first copy from one of the cardboard cartons, carried it over to the table as gingerly as if it were a priceless, ancient manuscript, or a hand grenade, and picked up a pen that I had purchased for just this occasion.  I inscribed the book to my dear sister Lesley, who is my closest friend in the world and my most valued wise counsel, among my many wonderful friends. I packed it up in a padded mailing envelope to send to her.

Then I took another book from the box, inscribed it to Ivaan's sister Nadia, rented a car, drove over to Nadia's house and sneaked it into her mailbox. I came home, took a third copy, packed it up and sent it to the national archives in Ottawa, where all books published in Canada by a publishing company are required by law to be catalogued and kept for the use of members of the public.

My next privilege is to show some pages of the book to the people who read this blog. I am always touched to hear from people who have read it and laughed right along with me at the stories about Ivaan.  So even though I may not know who these people are, the fact they care enough to read my blog makes me feel they have a special right to share in this moment with me.

Here, then, is 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky.  It is my loving tribute to my truly beloved husband.



Friday, March 31, 2017


On March 11th, I received a letter by email from a young woman named Sonia. She was writing to tell me about how she came to acquire an Ivaan ring in 1989 and 28 years later, it's a ring that she still cherishes.  This in itself is not unusual.  Ivaan's work is easily recognizable, and for people who are attracted to his work, it makes a big impression when they see it for the first time.

But I'll let Sonia pick up the story:

"Dear Eya,

It's been a great surprise and pleasure for me to have found you and your shop, on line.  I have spent time reading the love stories you've shared as well as perusing the photos of your beautiful pieces of amazing art.   Also, at the risk of sounding like a veritable weirdo, I've read many of your blog postings.   

I have had the privilege of owning a beautiful ring of Ivaan's since the winter of 1989.  I was a young 18 year old girl from Wawa, ON, staying in Toronto with my aunt's friend, Stepha. She had been so kind in taking me to the Japanese consulate so that I could then travel to Tokyo where I would be staying with my aunt, Laura.  Stepha was such a wonderful, stylish young woman who whisked me around to her favourite restaurants and also "gave" me the gorgeous ring!

As we rode the subway, she just took it off her finger and presented it to me, saying her friend Ivaan had given it to her claiming it wasn't anything of great value because he would run his pieces in silver, as trials before making the final piece de resistance...I was grateful and a little embarrassed by her extravagant generosity.

This ring has been such an auspicious token for years garnering many, many compliments and much interest.  Once, even, when I was about 22 I nearly lost it, but a gallant young waiter returned it to me, on the street.  I was playing that hand slapping game with my now husband, and because it hurt to be wearing it, while he slapped my hand, I had put it in the clean ashtray on the table of the restaurant...Fortunately for me, it came back!     

After reading about your trip to Sault Ste. Marie, I knew I had to contact you! First of all, you posted that lovely story on my birthday and I lived in the Soo from 1992 to 2008.  Both of my children are born there so it really does hold a special place in my heart as well.  The other interesting coincidence about all of this; your nephews Angus and Ivor attended the school where I taught.

Naturally, when I read about your visit to Sault Ste. Marie I was filled with nostalgia and awe. Your nephews must still remember that wonderful week of unadulterated fun with joyful hearts, as I am sure you do, too!  

Well, I hope this brings you a smile and a bit of a laugh, too.  I am forwarding a few photos of the ring.  

Thank you for your continued inspired work and legacy toward your dear, loving Ivaan.  Yours was a love affair of a life time and I know you must miss him, always.  

En espérant, un beau jour, de te rencontrer dans ton atelier!

Kindest regards, 

I couldn't help smiling when I read her letter and saw the photos, because no doubt Sonia was teaching in my nephews' school while Ivaan and I were staying with them in Sault Ste. Marie.  Because we picked them up for violin lessons and returned them to school afterwards, (wiping Boston creme donut residue off their chins), Sonia and Ivaan likely unwittingly came close to meeting each other in the hallways of the school.  And when I shared her letter and photographs with my nephews, who are now adults, they could hardly believe it (they say she hasn't changed a bit).

Here's Sonia, and here's her ring.  I'm so glad she tracked me down.  And hey, I'm always thrilled to know that someone reads my blog.