Thursday, January 25, 2024

THE THOUSANDAIRE

When I was a kid, a millionaire was a rare and special thing to be. The only millionaire I remember did things like send us gift boxes of cellophane tape at Christmas. I confess I’ve always thought of tape as a luxury item, to be used sparingly, and not as a mere convenience for attaching sheets of paper to other sheets of paper.  The gentleman in question was a Detroit-based millionaire named Charles E. Feinberg, who, my father said, was a shareholder in  3M, the company that manufactured all kinds of tape. I’m guessing that every Christmas he received a large gift box from 3M, comprising all their products for domestic use, and then had to figure out who among his acquaintances would be the beneficiary of his largesse. We knew he didn’t care about Christmas, being Jewish, and we sure weren’t going to tell him we had a common ancestor. This was easy. Dad took pains to disguise that unhappy accident of birth, even sending us to a Baptist Sunday School for tips on how best to assimilate. We suspected the real reason was Free Babysitting on Sundays.

At first we were neutral about it. Later it became a burden when it was impressed upon us by fellow churchgoers that we couldn’t get into heaven because we were not baptized. Finally, neighbour women were sent to convey to our mother that it was frowned upon to send their unbaptized children to Sunday School with our paltry collection coins in our sweaty palms. Our mother imperiously conveyed a message in return: that she could understand their need for a church to attend because they were weak people, while she herself was strong and did not need a guiding hand to raise her children.  I could have added that she had a pretty good hand and applied it regularly to her children, but even I was embarrassed and ashamed when she once invoked the little-known fact fact that our neighbour had a child who lived in an institution, and this might be the reason she was in need of spiritual guidance. That was a low blow, and I knew it. I started going to the park on Sunday mornings, and despite the subterfuge, no one ratted me out. Eventually I dropped the pretence, and stopped going outside altogether. For some reason, I never connected the slightly diminished Baptist collection plate with our frugal mother’s equanimity at my disobedience. 

But back to our millionaire. I imagined all millionaires did was count their money and invest in Honeywell, a company that manufactured thermostats, but which I imagined provided vats of honey to millionaires. I didn’t even like honey, but this seemed like a reasonably luxurious thing to have on hand if one were very rich. And honey, like cellophane tape, was sticky.

It’s no longer 1961, and probably Charles E. Feinberg of Detroit, Michigan  managed to increase his earthly fortune before shuffling off this mortal coil. He was elderly at the time, which only added to his mystique. I guess that I am now about the age of Charles E. Feinberg and I, too, am a millionaire. At least, I reason, if I can purchase a house for a million dollars cash, and have some left over, I must be a foreign member of that Detroit Jewish √©lite who keep a vat of honey in their cupboard. I haven’t quite risen to the level of owning shares in 3M, so I’d better exercise caution and refer to myself as a thousandaire. 


There’s no point in attracting undue attention to oneself, after all.



Sunday, January 14, 2024

WORKING HANDS

 Some people have hands that look like they’ve never done a day’s work in their lives. Their fingers are long and slim, their nails are manicured, and they probably could not pick up a five-pound bag of potatoes if they tried. I am not one of those people.  I lost the habit of using nail polish when I opened Atelier Ivaan, and I never picked it up again. Polishing jewellery is filthy work. If you survive a session on the polishing machine without black grime under your nails, you’re not polishing hard enough. 

Jewellery polishing compound comes in various grades.  The rough grade is called Tripoli. The finer grade is called Rouge.  To complicate matters, there’s red Rouge and green Rouge: red for polishing yellow gold and green Rouge for polishing white gold, and for silver. There are other colours, for polishing Platinum and other metals, but let’s leave it there, because all you need to know is that it turns black, and that which doesn’t embed itself in your fingers ends up inside your nose. This will horrify you, the first time you realize it. After that, you accept that this is just a part of life.

I used to have thin, pliable fingernails.  By contrast, Ivaan had nails that resembled a coal miner’s. But once I took over the business, my nails grew thicker and less flexible. My fingers changed too. They’ve always been strong and substantial, but nowadays they are even more so.


I marvelled at the slender fingers of women who were shopping for an engagement ring. Honestly, sometimes I felt like saying, “Come back when you’ve put a few miles on those fingers”.  And I steered them toward rings that had some negative space on the reverse that I could use to enlarge the ring in a couple of years (or babies).

A few years ago, just before the Covid-19 pandemic, I  consulted a hand surgeon who diagnosed trigger finger on the middle and fourth fingers of my right hand. Those fingers would no longer open and close without encountering an obstacle. The surgeon offered the operating room for an immediate procedure if I was willing. “You’ll have some scars on your palm afterwards”, he warned, but added that I was very unlikely to get a job as a hand model anyway. Point taken! He operated, bandaged me up, and injected enough painkillers that I was able to drive my manual transmission car home without feeling a thing.

Then Covid hit.  I was not able to attend the hospital for hand therapy due to the lockdown. Slowly my hand healed. Once the bandages came off, I noticed my fingers could no longer open completely. But the hand functioned quite well, and I got used to joking that I had one hand and one claw: quite useful for dredging the ponds. Dr. A didn’t think that was quite as funny as I did. I have no idea why. After all, he and I had bought our rural properties at the same time, and we were regularly exchanging funny stories about being newly-minted farmers.  

I was crushed in the spring of 2023 to receive a letter from Dr. A, saying due to the effects of Long Covid, he was retiring from his surgery practice. It was particularly hard because I’d been his patient for 20 years, since he was injecting my thumb joints with steroids, to undo the damage done by pushing Ivaan’s wheelchair.

It’s been a long time since I pushed a wheelchair, and I’m thinking of going back to the hospital for hand therapy to straighten out my claw.  It’ll be hard, returning to the “scene of the crime”, but at least I can feel grateful that my fingernails are finally clean. 



Friday, January 5, 2024

MASTERING LA BELLA LINGUA

 I guess it’s the season. Being stuck in the house for months has that effect on me.  I’m not a cold weather outdoor sort of person, which sort of begs the question “Then why do you live in the country? In Canada? In winter?” Well, in my defence, I moved here in April, and I’m impulsive by nature. I was not thinking that far ahead.  In summer, I always remind myself that I’ll want to remember these beautiful hot days during the long winters ahead.  Then winter comes, and  I spend my days fixing things around the interior of the house. It’s a big house, admittedly, so until last winter there was a fair amount to fix. I’d always imagined I would do all the work myself, but that idea dissolved last January when I started putting in new windows. The windows here are massive. Michael, whose company installed them, is extremely tall. I’m guessing 6 foot 8.   I don’t think he’s as tall as the windows.  They’re a real showstopper, no doubt about it.

Once I’d painted the exterior (indigo),  painted the interior (white), and installed new kitchen counters (blue) and sink (white), there was precious little to do. I didn’t want to get caught up in that endless cycle of demolition and renewal that keeps home improvement magazines afloat, so I’ve been strict about what I’ll do and not do.

In 2023/24,  I reached Peak Reno.  Yes, there are things I’d like to replace, like light fixtures, but none so urgently that the anodyne ones that came with the house are in any danger of disposal.  I am really happy with the house.  It’s like me:  seasoned, but responding enthusiastically to even amateur efforts at remediation. This leaves me with at least 100 days of fallow time till I can get outside and have fun. Last year, I studied Scots Gaelic to while away the winter.  I always do better at languages that bear no resemblance to any I have a passing acquaintance with.  So now I can amuse myself by saying aloud “Madainn mhath, a caraid. Ciamar a tha thu?” and respond, shaking my head sadly, “Tha fuar. Chan eil snog”.  My Scots relatives are dubious.  They’re from the eastern side  of Scotland and speak Doric, which is what you often hear when people are imitating Scotsmen. It’s based loosely on English and has a great many native speakers. Gaidhlig (Gaelic) has probably … 12? 13? I imagine that all of them will be on hand to welcome me if ever I go to the Isle of Skye.

But to return to  the subject of this blog post,  and my 100 fallow days.  I’m feeling very energetic, despite having suffered memory loss due to Covid. So I decided that I’d like to do my Masters in Italian. When  I came here, Italian dripped off my tongue like I was a native speaker. Either due to Covid or old age, even English doesn’t do that any more. So I called up the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Toronto and sought their help. I would need it badly, it seemed.  Fortunately, they indicated they would lighten my wallet by only $320 in return for an intermediate review course over Zoom. Sold!

A dear friend who is a former Musicology prof expressed concern. Grad school was much more intense than Undergrad.  Had I thought about all the changes that had occurred at the University? I wouldn’t have my regular crew of well-meaning profs to encourage me. They have all retired…or died. Another Musicology friend feared I’d be that much older, with a crew of age 20-something classmates to support me and compete with me. A third Musicology friend, equally well-informed, said, “The hell with it! Just go. What’s the worst that can happen?”

So a plan is forming.  Next week I start my Istituto course. Now all I need is un po di coraggio ed un  sacco di bella fortuna.



 

Sunday, December 31, 2023

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE

This afternoon, I went for a stomp around the property.

I went down to the island, and instantly was transported to May of 2019. I mean, you couldn't walk three steps on the island in 2019 without being hit in the face by overgrown brush. Then there was the time, a few weeks later, when my dear friends Jim and Annette had come up from Toronto for a visit. I was giving them a tour, so we walked down the hill, to the bridge to the island. I had cleared a bit of overgrowth already. I leaned my hand against a tree trunk while I turned to say something to them...and the tree promptly fell over. I tried to make it look as though this had been my intention all along. It didn't fool them one iota. The island has been a microcosm of my life here: a lot of brute labour, a dearth of expertise. But slowly, slowly, it has borne fruit. I can now walk across the island unimpeded. As long as I've got my eyes glued to the ground, I'm safe on the island. 

Exactly five years ago today, where was I? It was my final day in the shop, Atelier Ivaan, and I was excited about winding down my stint as jeweller-in-residence, and even more excited about what was yet to come. I had no idea what I'd be doing next, but after seven years of doing the impossible and making it look like no big deal, I was ready for action. I often say my building was so compact, I could fit it into my swimming pool. That's no exaggeration. I worked there, I lived there, I saw clients in there, and I gardened on the roof deck. I so badly wanted some fresh air and some space around me that didn't include clients wanting something from me. I felt occasional pangs of guilt about abandoning Ivaan, but I'd spent more than a decade grieving him. It wasn't so much his death I was grieving; it was his life. I was dimly aware that in grieving the foreshortening of his life, I was also foreshortening mine. I was now older than he had ever been. I don't know what's going to happen next. I never know. But I guess I'll know it when I see it. 
Happy New Year's Eve 2023.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

TRA DUE SEDIE

Climate Change Christmas is upon us. It's time to participate in some new ancient traditions: waterskiing, pumping water out of the basement, and bemoaning the various wildlife species we're about to eliminate. A friend told me of a pair of geese and their newly hatched goslings on a pond in London, Ontario on Christmas Day. Here, I've noticed squirrels the size of small rabbits, awake and foraging when they should be hibernating, and giant crows, with unshelled peanuts in their beaks. I didn't even know crows ate peanuts, but there you go. They adapt, or die. However refreshing it is to see green outside, instead of unending white, I wonder whether we'll be taking a raincheck on really cold weather, and we 'll find snow on the ground in June. This is one of the drawbacks of rural living. When there's snow in the yard, it's acres of snow, for months. A couple of years ago, I halfheartedly embraced the idea that it's not the winter, it's our response to it that matters. We just have to wear layers, or goose down, or Goretex, or whatever they're selling this season. I call baloney on that. If the snow is ubiquitous enough, it's also deep. Thigh high, at least. This property is hilly; that's one of its charms. Walking in deep snow is exhausting and dangerous. Snowshoes? - I can just hear you now. No thanks. Not on hills. I don't want to be found by my relatives next spring (in, say, September). That's not the hill I want to die on. So I'm (as the Italians say) tra due sedie: between two chairs, neither here nor there. In short, I'm indoors. On one side of the dining room, I have this semi-tropical region: I call it the State of Florida.
Whatever I could say about the building of this house's old wing, I can't fault the siting of the building. It's brilliant. It takes full advantage of the morning sun, and that makes mornings here a joy. That won't change with Climate Change. I don't have curtains on the windows, because I don't need them. Yet the sun is so strong, I marvel that the carpet here hasn't faded. It's like travelling by plane, without any of the associated guilt, delays, cancellations, or announcements from your Captain. If I have to be 'tra due sedie' in 2024, I will gladly take this seat. It probably comes with peanuts as a mid-flight snack. Served by crows.

Monday, December 4, 2023

BEWARE OF FALSE PROFITS (see what I did there?)

I guess it's better than being female, of a certain age, and broke.
“It”, in this case, is being female, of a certain age, self-sufficient, and not broke. I am the target audience for all kinds of males whose means aren't proportional to their wants. Notice I don't say "men", because these guys aren't men. They're biologically similar to men, but they're so emotionally stunted that they're positive they're just what I needed. Their names are monosyllabic. Their goals are simple. Their modus operandi is strangely familiar. They're a friend-of-a-friend. Or a former acquaintance of Ivaan's. But not a friend, because he was acquainted with a boatload of people, yet counted his friends on his fingers. They come namaste-ing their way up to Ivaan's portrait...and my pocketbook. 

Right after Ivaan died, a decent cross-section of "lifelong bachelors" began showing up, bearing chocolates, wine, flowers, and in one case homemade hummus...all intent on one thing: to "comfort the afflicted". My Dad was the first one to burst my balloon. When the first bachelor gamely tried out his courting ritual (at the actual funeral), Dad summed it up eloquently. "He probably thinks you're good at looking after people. That must be the attraction", opined Dad. I mean, why bother with niceties when you can convey precisely what you mean AND flatten the romantic aspirations of a newly-bereaved widow at the same time? Just kidding. All I really wanted was to go home, and climb into bed. Alone. And sleep for about two months straight. But Dad is a male too, and he was once widowed and solvent. As I recall, the first candidate for the role of Wicked Stepmother arrived at our family's door soon after our mother's death, without fanfare, but with luggage, which Dad promptly threw out said door.

 So, back to the issue at hand. I have summarily rejected all applicants for the job of whatever you call a male hanger-on of a woman of mature years and adequate means, regardless of their self-proclaimed attractions, and will continue to do so for, I hope, many years to come. So you can take that, Mack, Mick, Mark, Mike, or whatever monosyllable you are currently going by, and go fishing with it in the shallower end of the genetic pool than the one in which you currently stand. The one with the leeches. FIN.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

RESILIENCE

Resilience. I got none. For nearly five years, I've lived alone, happily and healthily, on my five-acre rectangle of rural paradise, untroubled by the cares of city folk and city life in general. I eat well, I sleep well, I go to bed early, I talk to myself, sing to myself, enjoy the company of good friends when they visit, and enjoy waving goodbye when they return to the city. I pride myself on being independent. I'm never lonely. For three years and seven months, I've successfully avoided Covid-19 by avoiding people. My luck ran out two weeks ago. Three friends were coming to lunch. I tested negative beforehand, and I felt just fine. After lunch, we all went through to the living room, sprawled ourselves out on sofas and chairs, and were laughing and talking when suddenly I coughed, just a bit. A minute later, I coughed again. Annette asked if I felt okay. Sure, I did, and I'd tested negative, I replied. After they headed home, I tested twice more, just to be certain. Both negative. Next morning, I felt miserable, but still tested negative. The next test was positive. My friends were perfectly fine. But the worse I felt, the worse I felt. I started to unravel, day by day. Within three days, I was feral. I was trying to do the normal things a person does every day. Make tea. Sweep. Brush teeth. I couldn't. I was in a rage. I couldn't do anything requiring two steps. Like chew and swallow. Like be polite to people who wanted me to fill out a form. Twelve days later, I'm still testing positive. But I've been out in the car twice. I have come to the conclusion that I haven't been changing my mask often enough. It's that simple. User error. I'm sure I'll be testing negative again within the next few days. But it's humbling to know that the resilience I wear with pride most of the time is a pretty thin veneer.