Sunday, December 11, 2011

PRANKED AGAIN: The Week We Got Stairs

Our house on Portland Street was built in 1855.   It was an incredibly vertical house: three storeys,  high ceilings, a very small footprint - from the outside, it looked exactly like a shoebox tipped up on end.    But after 140 years, the stair treads between the first and second floors were worn with deep grooves left by the feet of all the generations of occupants who had climbed the stairs over the years.  I decided it was time to replace the staircase.

My paternal great grandfather, Barnett Levy, had been a staircase carpenter back in east end London at the beginning of the 20th century, and during the Week of the Staircase, I sincerely regretted never having met him.    However, a friend introduced us to a woodworking company who introduced us to a stair carpenter, and - at least in theory - our staircase replacement project was in progress.

As a cost-saving measure, we'd agreed to remove the original staircase just before the new stairs arrived.  On Sunday, when the stair carpenter called to say the new staircase would be installed the next day, I rented a long ladder, got my toolbox, and prepared to wield my crowbar and sledgehammer. Just before the first hammer blow, Ivaan spoke up:  "Take care when you're removing those stair treads", he cautioned.  "I know people who are paying fifty dollars each for worn stair treads in good condition."

With all the precision of a surgeon, I removed the treads without damaging a single one.  It took a really long time.  From the second floor landing,  Ivaan supervised.  By the time I had fourteen of them piled on the floor next to me, Ivaan could contain his laughter no longer.  "I can't believe you fell for that one", he howled.

The rest of the staircase was removed in stony silence, punctuated only by the ringing of the telephone.  It was the stair carpenter, calling to say the new stairs would not be ready until the following Friday.   I learned some valuable new skills that week.  They included climbing down a ladder while wearing a motorcycle helmet and carrying both a briefcase and a cat.

The new staircase, once installed, was perfectly satisfactory, but wow, was it ever straight.  And boring.  So we decided to finish it off with leopard print broadloom, a carved double-rope mahogany bannister with bronze hardware handmade by Ivaan, and the ultimate "flourish" - a pie-shaped mahogany stair leading to the living room, which would also serve as a stage for the Pyromaniac Choir - our nieces and nephews - when they felt like performing during family get-togethers. This is a photo of my Dad (the grandson of Barnett Levy) checking out our newly installed "stage" leading to the staircase we'd replaced.

Monday, November 14, 2011


In 1996, The Advocates' Society approached Ivaan to discuss creating an original sculpture which would become their Award of Justice.
The Society already used as their symbol the gryphon, a mythical creature said to be the offspring of an eagle and a lion, which had a long tradition of symbolizing justice in English Common Law.

The Advocates' Society is a Toronto-based organization of Ontario trial lawyers and judges, the roots of which go back to 1965. Its membership includes the most famous and remarkable legal minds in Canada.  Ivaan was thrilled at the prospect of creating a sculpture for them.

The Award of Justice was intended as an award which would be presented biennially to a lawyer who had distinguished himself or herself by taking on a legal case which would have been considered unpopular or unwinnable, either because of the nature of the case or the disfavour in which the public might have held the person accused - in other words, a case which could have damaged the career of any barrister who took it on.  So a lawyer who might be worthy of an award like this would be someone who believed that an unpopular accused's right to a fair trial and excellent legal representation outweighed any potential harm that might be done to the reputation of the individual defending such an accused.

Ivaan's gryphon sculpture project began with him looking at other examples of how gryphons had been depicted throughout history and in art.  Not satisfied with what he saw, he set out to create a realistic looking sculpture of a gryphon - not easy, because no one had ever seen one.   He carved his vision in a hard, sticky type of wax, which was incredibly difficult and labour intensive.  Sometimes he'd bring it home from his studio and work on it at the kitchen table after dinner.  I used to tease him that it looked like a squirrel that had fallen into a vat of tar.  He nicknamed it Froggie, for some reason, but as Froggie took shape, it was clear that this was going to be one of Ivaan's most remarkable works of art.   We had endless discussions about the nose, or beak, and Ivaan always claimed that he had modelled it on the handsome and prominent proboscis of Mr. Justice Charles Dubin.  Although Ivaan hated the idea of anyone interfering in his art, he eventually recruited me to cut out some of the feathers to apply to the upper torso of Froggie.

In a playful moment, Ivaan carved a heart on Froggie's chest, right where a human heart would be, and inside the heart, he carved the word MOM.  He then covered the heart "tattoo" with a feather, and explained to me that behind every fine lawyer who was destined to receive this award was a mother who deserved some recognition for her support and encouragement.

When Froggie was finished, he held aloft a sword, on the tip of which was unevenly balanced a set of weigh scales, representing a legal case which was so tipped against the accused as to be unwinnable.

Froggie, or The Award of Justice, as he was now known, was first presented in 1997, coincidentally by Mr. Justice Charles Dubin, whose nose had served as a model for the sculpture.  It is not the most prestigious award The Advocates' Society presents.  That honour would fall to The Advocates' Society Medal.   But Ivaan attended every presentation of The Award of Justice, until his death, and never failed to point out to the recipient's mother exactly where the MOM heart tattoo was located, and what it meant.  I often think of the individuals who have received The Award of Justice to date: Raj Anand, Jeffery Wilson, Barbara Jackman, David Lepofsky, Jacquie Chic, Susan Vella and Lawrence Greenspon, and how they must marvel at this gothic creature watching over their legal career.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Ivaan was never a man to plan ahead.  He lived in the moment.   So I was a bit surprised, in early 2007, to find him sitting at the computer doing research on coffins.  He explained how impressed he had been by the funeral, many years prior,  of a Bishop of his church, Vladyka Michael. (Vladyka means Bishop in Ukrainian.)  It seems that Vladyka Michael had chosen to be buried in a simple linen shroud and a plain pine casket.  As Ukrainian Orthodox funerals go, this would have been quite "unorthodox".  For a Bishop, it would have been virtually unheard of.    Ivaan decided that when he died, in tribute to Vladyka Michael, whom he admired enormously, he also would be buried in a linen shroud and a plain pine coffin.

Adding to the complexity of his task, Ivaan had decided that his own casket must be kosher and contain absolutely no animal products, metals or synthetics.  He wanted to honour the Biblical edict "ashes to ashes."  After considerable research, Ivaan found what he wanted at a small company, Arkwood Caskets, in Ashland, Oregon.  Arkwood Caskets fit together with dovetail joints and resemble a giant wooden pencil box with a sliding lid. Ivaan placed his order.

Two weeks later, Ivaan suffered his fourth stroke.  It was a serious one and the hospital felt it was time for Ivaan to go into a long term care facility.  I was determined that his wish to return to Toronto Rehabilitation Institute be respected, as I knew Ivaan would go downhill very quickly if placed in a nursing home.  I quickly learned that the best interests and wishes of the patient are not deciding factors in determining where they are transferred from the acute care hospital, and it was a real battle to get the all-powerful social worker's decision reversed.   Fortunately, Toronto Rehab intervened and agreed to take Ivaan for five weeks of rehabilitation, to enable me to sell our home and find wheelchair accessible accommodation for us near his  hospitals.

We were still in the acute care hospital, however, when our friend Myron Dylynsky, who works in real estate, jumped into action and put our house up for sale immediately.  The first day it was listed, a request for a showing was received.  There was no lock box on the house yet, so Myron called the hospital and asked if I could go home and unlock the door for the prospective buyers.  I hurried home.  When I arrived, the telephone was ringing.    As I answered it, I was opening the blinds on the living room window.   It was the hospital social worker on the telephone.  Listening to her, I couldn't comprehend what she was trying to tell me.  The words "end of life situation" meant nothing to me.  As I struggled to understand the reason for her call, I  was also watching a UPS truck pull up in front of our house and unload a large box from the back of the vehicle. Mystified, I watched the delivery men approach our house and knock on the front door.  Again, the social worker reiterated the  phrase "end of life situation" and I suddenly realized what the delivery was.

"Hold the line for a moment", I said to the social worker, "Ivaan's coffin has just arrived."

There was dead silence on the other end of the phone.  Clearly the social worker thought it was my idea of a joke, and ended the call abruptly.

It was, however, no joke when the delivery men set the coffin down on the living room floor, handed me a sheet of paper, said "Sign here", then left.  I tried to move the coffin.   Impossible.  It was really heavy.  I was pondering what to do when the doorbell rang again.   It was the people who had come to see the house.   Three men walked in.  Four pairs of eyes gazed at the coffin on the living room floor.   Silence. Finally, one of the men spoke up.  "Does this come with the house?" he asked.

Their whirlwind tour through the house lasted less than five minutes.  They left, muttering something about Morticia Addams.  Clearly our home had not yet found its new owner.  My brother Dave arrived later that day and slid the coffin neatly under the dining room table.  That's where it remained, undetected,  until the house sold a few days later and we moved.

Over the next few days, I kept Ivaan company in the hospital while doing needlework.  One day, our friend Myron Dylynsky dropped in to Ivaan's hospital room for a visit. "Isn't this a nice domestic scene?" he enthused. "You're sitting here, keeping your husband company, and sewing.  What are you sewing, my dear?"  "His shroud", I replied.

Observing Myron's appalled reaction, I quickly learned to reply, "It's a tablecloth" when anyone inquired about my needlework project.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Whenever a group of people gets together and starts reminiscing about Ivaan, a frequent topic of conversation involves Ivaan's "back room" and how chaotic it was.  Ivaan wasn't a hoarder in the classic sense, but he tended to put things down and hope he'd remember where he'd put them.   He was indiscriminate about what he kept, and so whatever constituted his "back room" at any given time was a complete catastrophe:  rare classic Leica cameras cheek-by-jowl with rolls of film that had expired during the Korean War, plastic junk from the dollar store sharing shelf space with old telephone books, dead batteries and plastic bags with someone's mother's scrap gold, waiting to be turned into wedding rings.  Ivaan's back room was not for the faint of heart.

Usually someone whose memory is heavily tinged with nostalgia will chuckle and say, "Yes, it was a disaster, but Ivaan always knew where everything was."

I love reminiscing about Ivaan, so I'll usually let it go, but the truth is, Ivaan never knew where anything was.  Frequently he spent more time worrying about where he'd left one of his creations than he did in making it in the first place.  He lost things all the time.  He created elaborate scenarios to explain where something was - or wasn't - and he wasn't lying, either:  he would completely convince himself that his imagined explanation was gospel.

The ruby-studded gold heart and chain in the photograph above is a case in point.  In 2006, Ivaan's studio was in a warehouse building two doors away from our house.  The warehouse was huge, and it had to be because it contained Ivaan's entire life:  over 700 cameras,  40 years worth of rubber jewellery moulds, bins full of photographs, bins full of metal, his workbench, power tools, books, memorabilia, much of it on - or under - his gigantic round mahogany table.  This gold heart is one of the most expensive and labour intensive pieces Ivaan ever made.  It's something a female member of the Medici family might wear.  It's spectacular.  And for some reason, Ivaan believed he had left it on the mahogany table, the day some contractors came to install a ventilation system in his studio.

Two days later, Ivaan said to me, in the quiet voice he used when he was really upset, that the contractors had stolen his ruby heart and chain,  which he'd  left on the mahogany table.  I was slightly incredulous, because I knew what was on that table, and if one were to have touched anything, one risked triggering an avalanche that would have buried the hapless contractors alive.  We discussed what to do.  Ivaan felt there was no point in reporting it to the police, or building management, or the ventilation company.  He said he would take the pain of the theft of his masterpiece to his grave.  He was genuinely deeply wounded by the loss.

A year later, I was at home, cleaning out the drawers of Ivaan's dressing table. In the very back of the top right drawer, behind the bow ties, the suspenders, the silk pocket squares, the handkerchiefs, the scarves, the yarmulke, the cufflinks,  tucked away neatly, was the ruby heart: the very same ruby heart and chain that Ivaan said the ventilation contractors had stolen.

I tried to keep my face perfectly solemn as I went to Ivaan and asked, "Remember the ruby heart and chain?"  Ivaan looked at me with a pained expression.  "Don't remind me", he said.  "Remember how those workmen took it off your mahogany table?"  I persisted.  "I will take that memory to my grave", reiterated Ivaan.  "It's so strange, what they did", I continued.  "What's so strange about it?  They stole my masterpiece" cried Ivaan.  "They probably didn't even know what it was, and they stole it."

I savoured my moment of triumph.  Finally I could resist no longer.  "What's so strange isn't that they stole it".  I  said.  "What's strange is that after they stole it, they broke in here and hid it in the back of your dresser drawer."  And I opened my hand and showed him the ruby heart and chain.

"Oh", said Ivaan. Just that one word.  "Oh."

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This is a photo of Ivaan with his beloved Cadillac Seville, taken in the summer of 1986. I was planning to write a blog entry about the day the Cadillac caught fire, but yesterday I was telling a friend a story about another set of wheels Ivaan had, and she suggested I post that story instead.

Ivaan suffered his first stroke in 2000, but it wasn't until 2002, when he suffered his second stroke, that we realized a wheelchair was going to become a permanent part of our lives.  Because both of the strokes had affected his vision, and paralyzed his right side, it couldn't be a motorized wheelchair. He'd lost vision in one quadrant of each eye, and so he'd never be able to see reliably enough to propel himself anywhere.

For the first three years we had the wheelchair, Ivaan resented it.  Any time we were out for a walk and ran into anyone we knew, he'd immediately tell them, "I don't really need this wheelchair, you know.  My wife just likes pushing me around."  Yet, we'd really have been stuck without it.  We'd had to give up a lot because of his strokes:  we could no longer participate in  ballroom and Latin dance, which we loved. I had to give up my beloved motorcycle, because if I'd had an accident I wouldn't have been able to look after Ivaan.  We had to accept that caregivers were necessary because I was still working.  It took a lot of adjustment, and it was frightening how fast life was changing.

By 2005, when the third stroke occurred, the  wheelchair felt like a member of the family with incredibly expensive taste.  We wore out our first pair of rear tires ($200) and the wheelchair was constantly being "tweaked" to make it more comfortable and useful;  a new seat cushion was $500, new hand grips, a back rest, heavy duty front wheels, brakes....if the Cadillac had been expensive to maintain, Ivaan's wheelchair was the Cadillac of wheelchairs.

In early 2008, after the fourth stroke, we sold our house and moved to a condo near Ivaan's hospitals.  By the end of 2008, Ivaan's fifth stroke had resulted in his death.  It was just me and the wheelchair.  Now, the wheelchair was so specialized that it really would not have been much use for anyone other than a left brain stroke survivor.  It had a specialized arm rest to support a paralyzed right arm.  Because of all the "tweaking", it was in fabulous condition, and it had been a very expensive chair, so I knew it would be very useful for the right person.

I decided to donate his wheelchair to Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, which was our second home.  Ivaan had been a patient there following the first four of his strokes and we were enormously grateful to the staff for their hard work helping Ivaan rehabilitate after each stroke.

The morning that I'd arranged to bring the wheelchair down to the Rehab for donation, I went over it carefully to ensure it was cleanly scrubbed and everything was tightened and adjusted.  It looked as good as new.  The only thing wrong with it was that Ivaan wasn't in it. It wasn't very difficult to manoeuvre an empty wheelchair down University Avenue, so I arrived at the Rehab pretty quickly, and took it to the office where I'd been instructed to drop it off.

I knocked on the door.  A staff member came out, looked over the wheelchair, handed me a form confirming the donation and thanked me, assuring me how useful it was going to be to other patients.  As I turned to leave, a sudden wave of emotion hit me. I knelt down, threw my arms around the empty wheelchair, and cried. It had gone from being the bane of Ivaan's existence to his liberation in the space of six years.  As much as it had trapped and confined him during the years of his illness, it had also set him free.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

1000 DAYS

October 9, 1944 – December 6, 2008

Each life is as individual as a snowflake.  A snowflake may last an eternity or melt in a heartbeat.  Ivaan’s was large, brilliant, and so multifaceted that it caught the sun from a million angles.  His warm and generous spirit, (barely contained within his gorgeous exterior), radiated through every aspect of his life.  Ivaan’s exquisite metal art, photographs, and his devoted circle of family, friends and fans is his enduring legacy.
Today 1,000 days have passed since Ivaan left the planet. Please feed the birds and squirrels some fresh bread today, and tell them it’s from their good friend Ivaan.  Thank you.
Ivaan is remembered with affection and gratitude, today and every day, by his loving wife Eya Donald Greenland Kotulsky, his beloved sister, Nadia Michisor, and by our families.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

LENIN'S TOMB: Ivaan's Quirky Streak

For as long as I've known him, Ivaan had a quirky streak.  From stories he has told me about his childhood, I suspect it originated when he was very young.  He loved to see how far he could pull the wool over the eyes of gullible people, by telling them outrageous stories and seeing if  they believed him.  He was greatly assisted in these endeavours by the fact that people genuinely wanted to believe him.  Sometimes this got him into trouble, because people who didn't know him well enough would accept everything he said at face value, and he'd be too embarrassed to tell them they'd been the victim of one of his pranks.   Sometimes he genuinely regretted a tale he'd spun, particularly when he realized he'd hurt someone in the process, but he found it hard to own up to his actions.  Wiping a tear that was half mirth and half regret from his eye, he'd tell me, "I can't tell them the truth now. I think I'm a moral coward!"

Sometimes, Ivaan's pranks were just so funny that it was a pleasure to be on the receiving end of them.  These were the occasions where the prank originated from a serious premise and then "grew legs", becoming funnier and funnier in the process.  And so it was with the story of Lenin's Tomb.

Ivaan was a history buff.  He knew a great deal of history, and not just a dry recitation of dates, names and places, either.  He spoke about historical events as if he had been there.   One day, he was telling me about events in Russian history, and he mentioned that in Red Square,  in Moscow, right next door to the Kremlin, the body of Vladimir Illich Lenin, the founder of the U.S.S.R. was entombed in a glass coffin, ever since his death in 1924, and that people would line up for hours to file past and see it for just a few seconds.

At this point in his story, I interjected:  "I wonder if it's the same Lenin as the original one they put in there."

No, Ivaan replied.  It wasn't.  Every five years in Russia, they had a Lenin Look-Alike Contest, where people from all over the country who thought they bore a resemblance to Lenin could enter themselves into the competition.   The winner - the person who looked the most like Lenin - got to spend the next five years lying in state in the glass coffin in Red Square, and have long lines of people coming by daily to pay their respects.

Ivaan told both halves of this story with a straight face, in the quiet, solemn voice he used to relate historical events that moved him, and so it wasn't until he concluded his tale that I looked up, saw him wiping tears of mirth from his eyes, and realized I'd been pranked.

I've always thought of The Lenin Look-Alike Contest as the most beautiful example of Ivaan's humour.  Starting from a perfectly "straight" premise,  the story suddenly veered into the improbable,  collided with the outrageous, and yet miraculously no one was hurt.

To this day, I can't even see a picture of Lenin without laughing.


Shortly after Ivaan's death, two of our nephews, Angus and Ivor Benderavage, collaborated on a tribute to Ivaan which was published in the Globe and Mail, in the Lives Lived section, a regular feature about an interesting person who has recently died.  People who know Ivaan instantly recognized Ivaan's huge personality in the article, and readers who had never met him before suddenly felt as though they'd known him all their lives.  Here is the text of Angus' and Ivor's tribute:

"With Ivaan, we were always laughing.   He called us the plemeniks, Yiddish for nephews.  We called him avunculus, Latin for uncle.  Witty, debonair, endlessly fascinating, he was the coolest of uncles.
Ivaan exuded a rare, unabashed joie de vivre, perhaps because his early life was marked by extreme hardship.  He was born in a Nazi internment camp, where his parents, Mykyta and Maria, were forced to work from morning to night.  The family endured illness and near-starvation until liberation.
They immigrated to Canada in 1949 and settled in Smoky Lake, Alberta.  There, Ivaan’s passion for metalwork was sparked by observing the village blacksmith.  In 1951, the family moved to Toronto.
Ivaan was a member of the camera club at Harbord Collegiate Institute and he won awards for his early photography.  After graduating from Ryerson  Polytechnical Institute, he joined Maclean Hunter Publishing in 1967, and became Chief Photographer in 1970.  His many notable subjects included The Beatles, Janis Joplin,  Jimi Hendrix, Yousuf Karsh, Pierre Trudeau and the Queen.
By 1969, Ivaan’s focus was shifting to metal arts.  Although he left Maclean Hunter in 1973 to devote himself full time to metalworking, he continued to pursue photography as a hobby.  He won gold and silver National Magazine Awards for his photographic essay, No Fixed Address, published in Toronto Life magazine in 1996.  His long-standing interest in photographing street people reflected his deep respect for life. 
We loved spending time in Ivaan’s studio, sorting treasures and operating the grinding and polishing machines.  Ivaan transformed wax, plastic, glass and even bread dough into objects of beauty.  He cast jewellery and small sculptures in gold and silver using the ancient  lost-wax casting process.  His vision and skill were so breathtaking that nothing about him seemed improbable.  For years we believed a tale that certain painted bricks on his house were solid gold.
Ivaan and his long-time beloved, Eya Donald Greenland, married in 1995.   He taught us that carrying a camera was a great way to meet girls.
A relentless series of strokes that began in 2000 led to Ivaan’s eventual paralysis.  He adapted patiently to wheelchair life, continuing to laugh and to create.  Faced with an imminently fatal brain aneurysm, he underwent a pioneering neurosurgical procedure last December.  Although it was successful, he suffered a massive stroke, never regaining consciousness.
Ivaan was an artist for whom the creative process was as essential as breathing; from it he derived great joy.  He shared that joy every day."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS, (or: Sh*t Ivaan Said...And Did)

Lately, I've found myself bursting out laughing at the memory of the funny things Ivaan said and did.  One of the very interesting things about being around Ivaan was that you could never predict what was going to happen next.  Here are a few of the bizarre episodes I've been laughing about lately:

On one memorable occasion, we were grocery shopping at Loblaws Queen's Quay.  Now, I absolutely loathe grocery shopping, but for Ivaan a trip to a grocery store was akin to a vacation:  he felt it was essential to allot several hours to the excursion and  to visit every aisle (except the meat department), pausing to scrutinize all  the merchandise in minute detail.  Certain aisles took much more time to peruse than others.  These included the coffee aisle and the jam aisle.  Sometimes it also included the bakery aisle, if the bread was very fresh, because Ivaan only fed fresh bread to the neighbourhood  birds and squirrels.  We rarely spent much time together in a grocery store.  Leaving Ivaan with the shopping cart, I'd do a quick sprint through the aisles, gathering the essentials in my arms.  By the time I was ready to hit the checkout, usually ten minutes or less, he'd be half way through aisle one.   On one memorable occasion, we met up in the bakery section.  On the mezzanine level, above the bakery department, a Latin band was playing.  As I placed my items in Ivaan's shopping cart, the band struck up the opening notes of a tango.  Ivaan turned to me and asked, "Would you care to dance?"  "Why, yes, I think I would", I replied.  He held out his arms, I stepped into them, wriggled my shoulders a bit until our tango posture was correct, and we executed one of the best tangos we have ever done.  It's important to maintain an imperious expression while dancing the tango.  I must have been doing this with some success, because I don't recall the reaction of other shoppers, but when the last notes of the music died away, the entire band rose to their feet and gave us a standing ovation.

Our nephew Philippe is 22.  It is miraculous that he has lived to adulthood.  When Philippe was seven, Ivaan invited him and his brother Sam to visit him at his Queen Street West store.  The back room of the store was chaotic in a way that is hard to put into words.  Stuff was lying everywhere, and though urban legend had it that Ivaan knew where everything was, I have actually seen hand-drawn maps of the room he had drawn to help him locate items.  Ivaan loved anything to do with fire, and so did Philippe.  After all, Philippe was a member of the Pyromaniacs, a club whose membership consisted of Ivaan and every one of our nephews who was old enough to walk.   Ivaan had a huge pair of heavily-padded leather blacksmith's gauntlets.  That day he put those gloves on Philippe's arms.  They came almost to his armpits.  He directed Philippe to stand with his arms outstretched, sprayed the gloves with lighter fluid, then held a lit match  to each arm in turn.  I have it on good authority that Philippe looked like someone had set fire to a scarecrow.  The lighter fluid burned off within seconds, but it was several weeks before any of the Pyromaniacs confessed to me what had taken place that afternoon in the back of Uncle's store.

It was on that same occasion that Philippe decided he wanted to buy himself a silver ring made by Ivaan.  He examined all the trays of sterling silver rings in detail, trying on a variety of rings until he found the one he wanted.  Having made his selection, he went up to Ivaan who was standing behind the counter, held up the ring he'd selected and with great solemnity fired his opening salvo:  "I'll give you two dollars for this", he said, "and not a penny more."   Just as solemnly, and perhaps feeling some retrospective anxiety about the incident with the lighter fluid, Ivaan conceded that two dollars was a fair price.  Philippe counted out the two dollars, plus tax, and the transaction was completed.

Terry Robinson was five the first time Ivaan went camping with the Robinsons.  Our friends Neil and Chris have three sons, and Terry is the youngest.  It goes without saying that Chris Robinson did not go camping with her husband and sons....ever.  If she had, she would no doubt have had something to say about this incident.  One evening, while sitting around the campfire, Ivaan and the Robinson guys decided to rub some charcoal onto Terry's face, put some leaves in his hair and generally make him look as grubby and unkempt as possible.  Then they sent him round to other campsites, claiming to be lost and hungry and begging for food.  The scheme went off without a hitch, until some outraged campers seized Terry by the scruff of the neck and brought him back to the Robinson family's campsite with some strongly-expressed invective directed at the more senior members of the camping expedition.

Terry and Ivaan shared a fascination for a children's outdoors magazine called Ranger Rick, to the extent they used to address each other as Ranger Rick.  On this same camping trip, Ivaan indulged his love of sunbathing to such an extent that his skin blistered badly.  Upon his return home, Ivaan was shedding sunburnt skin in boa constrictor-size pieces, which he promptly collected, put into an envelope and mailed to five-year-old Terry....all in the interests of science.  He felt it was an appropriately scientific gift, since Terry had recently given him a year's subscription to the equally scientific Ranger Rick.

When Terry was seven, we went out to dinner with the Robinsons at Golden Thai, a very nice restaurant at the corner of Church and Richmond Streets.  Part way through our meal, Ivaan and Terry noticed a police car pull up kitty-corner to the restaurant.  Two officers jumped out and arrested a young man standing on the sidewalk.  As they were handcuffing him, Ivaan and Terry decided they'd better go and investigate.  The rest of us continued our meal.  By the time we were ready to leave the restaurant, Terry and Ivaan had still not returned.  We went outside to search for them, and eventually noticed them sitting in the window of a very shabby donut shop across the street, enjoying some coffee and donuts for dessert.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Last night, our friend Meghan had a dream.  She sent me an email about it.  Over to you, Meg:
- - - - - - - 
Hey Eya

I wanted to share with you a dream I had last night. I went to a flea market with Ivaan! He was real excited, scampering around and telling me all about the weird items for sale. I think some of the stories were exaggerated, but it was fun! 
He had on really nice white leather shoes, I asked him if they fit properly, he gave me a thumbs up and directed me to a stall selling sweets.

It was a fun outing!


- - - - - - - 

If you ever want proof that there is an afterlife, I think that Meghan's dream may just be what you're looking for.  First, Ivaan let loose in a flea market that has weird items for sale?  Check! Second, he's wearing really nice white shoes that fit properly?  Check!  Third, there's something sweet to eat?  Check!  And fourth, Meghan's there too?
I think that's all the proof we'll ever need.  Thanks, Meghan.  You made my day!  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I'm not much of a consumer, and that's probably an understatement.  I love fine quality things, especially clothing and accessories, and I buy well, but very sparingly.  A friend who helped me pack in preparation for my move to this house was taken aback by the emptiness of my closet. I just don't lust after material goods.  It's quite rare that an item of apparel sets my heart aflutter. Before Ivaan became part of my daily existence, it was even rarer.  In late 1991, I had a fleeting passionate relationship with a pair of highly improbable shoes in a high-end shoe shop.  First of all, they were very expensive.  Even on sale (which they were), they were about a week's salary.  Second, they were size 7 - at least half a size too small.  Third, I'd have looked idiotic riding my motorcycle wearing them.   Fourth, they conjured up dyed blond curly hair with about an inch of dark roots showing, a cigarette in a cigarette holder, a stiff drink and a negligee.  Frankly, the only thing I sleep in is my bed, which is probably more than you needed to know.  But the shoes were red patent leather, with scalloped edges, lined in gold leather, and they were, admittedly, beautifully made.  They were a minor work of art, actually, and leaving them in the store felt like abandoning them to an uncertain fate.

By December of 1991, Ivaan and I were living together, but things could easily have gone either way.  One thing that puzzled him about me was my lack of interest in the trappings of domesticity.  The women in his family delighted in a well-equipped kitchen, the more dishes and appliances the better.  Me?  I had a kettle.  One evening, he asked, "What would you like me to get you for Christmas?"  I reminded him that Christmas wasn't a huge part of my social calendar, and I couldn't really think of anything I wanted or needed. I suggested if he wanted to buy me something, he might make it a practical item.  He suggested a coffee pot, since my habit of making coffee by putting a filter cone on top of a mason jar always seemed a bit like camping to him.  I readily agreed that a coffee pot would be a practical gift, and I was glad to have the problem solved so expediently.

On Christmas Day, I wasn't surprised to find myself tearing the wrapping paper off a cardboard box bearing a photo of a nice-looking coffee pot. Reaching inside the box, however, I was surprised to find that his gift was not in fact a coffee pot, but.......

...a beautiful pair of very expensive red patent leather shoes with scalloped edges and gold leather lining, in a size 7.  I had never told a soul about those shoes, and definitely not Ivaan.  Nowadays, they are a full size too small and I have never yet worn them. But I love having them, because they remind me that sometimes the one you love knows you better than you know yourself.

Friday, May 13, 2011


If I ever had to flee from my house due to a fire, the list of things I'd take with me would be mercifully brief and easy to locate.  This piece of blue gingham cloth would be close to the top of the list.  It looks like a well-washed and often-mended cotton cushion cover, measuring about  19  by 22 inches. When Ivaan was a baby, and his family was interned in a Nazi slave labour camp near Cologne, Germany this was his only protection from the cold.  I have a tiny photo of Ivaan with this piece of cloth on his bed.

The harsh conditions under which Ivaan was born and lived in his early years meant that he was never physically robust, either in childhood or as an adult. Even if you'd known Ivaan for decades, you would never have known the incursions frail health made on his life.  He never talked about it.  People who saw him deliberately avoiding physical strain assumed he was either lazy or that he considered physical toil beneath him.  Ivaan never corrected either assumption.

On January 6, 1993, Ivaan helped me carry a small kitchen stove up two flights of stairs one morning before he went to church.  Half way through the church service, he had his first heart attack.  He got up and walked out of church, ignoring the disapproving glances of fellow parishioners, crossed the street and walked into the hospital.  The Cardiology team later told us that if he'd arrived five minutes later, he would have been horizontal...on a slab.

Ivaan's family kept this piece of blue gingham cloth as a sort of talisman that would keep him from harm.  I keep it in his top left dresser drawer.  If you're ever at my house and fire breaks out, please save Ivaan's "blanket", because I treasure it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Ivaan, who was so dextrous and whose art required such exquisite hand-eye coordination, was completely unable to fathom typewriting.  He was never able to understand how someone could type without watching their fingers, or while having a conversation, or while reading or listening to someone dictating.   He hated having someone talk to him while he worked, and preferred to work with no one in the room.  Even if they were paying no attention to what he was doing, their presence made him uncomfortable. Ivaan was happiest when he was working alone.

In the 1980s, I was a court reporter.   In those days, court reporting was a serious, slightly glamorous profession, with skills that were hard to acquire and credentials that were highly sought after.   Court proceedings were taken down in a type of shorthand that was developed especially for the fast pace of a courtroom, and subsequently transcribed as needed into typewritten form.   Being able to type quickly and accurately was essential; a substantial part of our income was derived from transcript production.  Being in court all day meant spending many evenings typing transcript.  It also meant being habituated to working in a high-stress environment, surrounded by people and noise.  Ivaan would watch me transcribing my shorthand notes on a typewriter and every so often his anxiety would build up to such a fever pitch that he'd scream, "I can't stand it! I can't believe you can do that!"

What he meant was that he couldn't fathom working when his eyes and his hands weren't both aligned in the same direction.    He'd watch me play piano and marvel that the musical notes on the page in front of me translated into the keys on the piano, but it wouldn't make him scream, because my eyes and hands were focused on a common task.

I bought this typewriter the other day.  It's over 80 years old and it still works perfectly.  It's almost identical to the typewriter on which I first learned to type back in 1977.  Since buying the typewriter, I've been thinking of other things I did that made Ivaan scream. Knitting made him scream. Making pie crust made him scream.  Flying an airplane made him scream.   So did threading a sewing machine or operating a treadle sewing machine.

Since I bought this typewriter, I've found myself several times, sitting at my desk and typing away on it, not even looking at what I'm doing, and I realize I'm waiting to hear Ivaan scream.

I miss Ivaan's screams.

Friday, April 1, 2011


I would not have predicted this.  Yesterday I took the Separated At Birth ring to Ivaan's former partner, Tamas.  He is very knowledgeable about gemstones. Tamas took one look at this stone and said, "It's an opal".  I've never seen an opal with a rugged surface like this before, but he says it's a good one.  So some lucky person who was probably born in October and wears a size 7 ring is going to be very happy.  Ivaan was born in October, so opal was his birthstone.

Today is our 16th wedding anniversary, so it's an auspicious day for me to have completed the Separated At Birth ring.    I hope it ends up on the finger of someone who loves it as much for its history as for its beauty.

Happy Anniversary, Ivaan.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


A very valuable lesson I learned from Ivaan early in our friendship was, "Never say you're going to do something until you've already done it. This will greatly enhance your appearance of being successful." I should have thought of that before I wrote, in the post before last, that I was going to cast the Separated At Birth ring in sterling silver and set the stone in the silver version.

I've been working at it ever since.  It is still not done, but barring any unforeseen eventualities like the stone shattering (may it not come to pass), the ring is now within sight of completion.  It is at this precise stage that I should have written, "I think I'll cast it in silver and set the stone in the silver version."   Grrrr.

"Si j'avais su" often seems to be a recurring theme in my life, and it certainly was in this instance.  Had I known it was going to be half this much work to cast the master in sterling silver and set the stone in it, I would simply have set the stone in the bronze master, given it a good polish, and gone for a manicure, secure in the belief that I had carried out Ivaan's wishes.

Instead, my hands look as though I've been coal mining, the ring isn't finished, and neither is my term paper on Italian Sociolinguistics.  And who can write an academic paper with fingernails like these?

Here are some photos of the work in progress.  I've still got some work to do, mostly on the strands that connect the band to the bezel, but chances are I will get it finished this week.  I'm still not sure what the stone is, but it's possibly ammolite:  time - and Tamas - will tell.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


In the summer of 1989, Ivaan's friend Len bought a new video camera.  One day he decided to pay a visit to Ivaan.  He was filming when Ivaan opened the front door.  Here's a clip of the film Len made.   My heart still pounds every time I watch this.  The mess is breathtaking, but it's beautiful to see a young Ivaan again.  This was at the very end of his bachelor days....and judging by his standard of housekeeping, not a moment too soon.

Monday, March 7, 2011

SEPARATED AT BIRTH? A Vintage Ring And The Stone Around Which It Was Made

A couple of days ago, I was sorting through some bronze masters (originals) of rings Ivaan had made.  Many of them were vintage rings and some of them were quite spectacular.  One in particular caught my eye.  It had a large, unusually-shaped bezel on top.  A bezel is a metal border that folds over very slightly to hold a stone in place.  I was mystified by the shape of the bezel, and wondered if Ivaan had intended to have a stone cut to fit it.  It didn't make much sense, but I set the ring aside, planning to do some research into stone cutting and polishing.  Here are two photos of the ring, which appears to date from the late 1970s or early 1980s:

Yesterday, I was sorting through a bag of gemstones.  The bag looked like it might have been recovered during a salvage operation on the Titanic; that's how bashed up it was.  I had just finished sending an email to Ivaan's former partner, Tamas, who is extremely knowledgeable about gemstones, asking if he would help me figure out which (if any) of the stones were worth keeping, when I noticed an oddly-shaped crystalline stone shaped a bit like a kidney bean.

I've often marvelled at how many rings Ivaan had that required stones, and how many stones he had that didn't fit any of the aforementioned rings.  If an oval stone is required, it has to be the exact shape and size.  Rectangular stones are the worst to fit.  I guess that's why they are usually in a claw setting. So I wasn't optimistic when I picked up this crystalline stone and went in search of the ring I'd found the day before. I'd be better off buying a lottery ticket than expecting a random stone to fit a particular ring. I popped the stone into the ring.

It fit like a glove.  (You could see this coming, couldn't you?)  For a few moments, I marvelled that Ivaan would have gone out of his way to have a stone cut to fit this ring.  It didn't  make sense.  It wasn't a particularly exciting shape, and Ivaan was acutely sensitive to how things were shaped. Suddenly I had a revelation:  Ivaan had acquired the stone first, and had made the ring to fit the stone.  This, of course, doesn't explain why the ring has sat for 30 years in one plastic bag and the stone has sat for 30 years in another plastic bag, moved seven times from one studio to another, shared the same closet for the last two years and have never - until this weekend - been reunited.  It's a bit like having been separated at birth from your twin, and eventually meeting as adults, only to find out you'd both gone to the same school.

I know what will happen next:  I'll be leafing through one of Ivaan's journals and I'll find the original drawings for this ring. Ivaan's journals will be the subject of an upcoming post.  They are so interesting: a combination of drawings, diary entries, clever ideas, phone numbers, random thoughts, plus descriptions of many of his techniques.   So here's the ring:  I think I might cast it in silver and set the stone in the silver version.  Stand by for further developments.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


During their internment in a forced labour camp in Nazi Germany, one of Ivaan's family's deepest secrets was the fact that Dad owned a camera.  It was not only a prized possession but it was also the source of great fear.  If its existence came to light, there could be repercussions.  But for that camera, however, there would have been no early photographs of Ivaan and his sister Nadia.
Ivaan and Nadia, 1945
The first photo of Ivaan and Nadia was taken a few months after the liberation. He had fattened up considerably, and his head had been shaven for a couple of reasons:  head lice and tradition.  It was believed that shaving a baby boy's head would ensure he would have a good head of hair as an adult. Notice his eyes? Anyone who knows Ivaan well will recognize him by his eyes. I used to describe them as two currants in a loaf of bread.

Ivaan, circa 1959

Ivaan's interest in photography stemmed from the time he started high school at Harbord Collegiate.  He must have been about 15 when this photo was taken.  I don't know who took it.  Perhaps he took it himself or maybe it was taken by another member of the Camera Club at Harbord.  It's an excellent photo, though, and he treasured it.

Ivaan, by Helen, circa 1961

I think this photo was taken by Helen Poliwka, who was Ivaan's first serious girlfriend.  Ivaan and Helen were the cutest couple imaginable  - both with movie star good looks and personalities to match.  Helen remained a lifelong friend and Ivaan always treasured her as one of the favourite people in his life.

Ivaan, Helen and friends, circa 1962

I don't know whether it was for a school play or a dance or some other reason, but Ivaan and his friends dressed as beatniks for this photograph.  That's Ivaan in white, in the middle of the photo, and his girlfriend Helen is directly to the right of him in the photo.

Ivaan with some cheerleaders, circa 1962
I think the glasses were just for effect.  Ivaan didn't actually need glasses, yet he wears this pair in several photographs, so I can only speculate it was to give him that certain "je ne sais quoi". 

Ivaan as "Jesus", circa 1973
Ivaan took this photo of himself in about 1973.  There are a million photos of Ivaan but this is the one most of his female fans swoon over.  I think he took it just before he cut his hair and shaved his moustache.  I only have one copy, and I can't find the negative, so I really prize it.

Ivaan christening his goddaughter Mariana in 2001

Mariana looks far less worried than she ought to be in this photo:  Ivaan had just suffered his first stroke a few months previously, and  his right arm was still  quite paralyzed.  He was terrified he was going to drop her, so this photo was taken in a hurry. For the remainder of the christening ceremony, Mariana was held by her godmother Anna (also a goddaughter of Ivaan's).

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The Portland House: Before Sweeping
The Portland House:  After Sweeping

In September 2008, two and a half months before his death, a special collection of Ivaan's metal art was exhibited at KUMF Gallery (The Canadian Ukrainian Art Foundation).  Entitled "Sweepings:  Treasures from the Atelier Floor", this was an exhibition of the metal art that Ivaan made for no purpose other than the joy of creation.   The title of the exhibition was pure Ivaan, and pure tongue in cheek.  On the one hand, it referred to the fact that the pieces on display were made in between commissioned works, and were literally swept aside when the need to commence a commissioned work became pressing.  At the same time, it was his affectionate tribute to the understated role I played in his artistic life since he suffered his second stroke in 2002.   People often asked us how much I participated in his metal art.  I'd always answer, truthfully, "Not at all".  Ivaan's more humorous (but equally true) response was invariably:  "She's really, really good at sweeping."  What we both meant was that, although he borrowed my hands from time to time, we only ever used his brain.  He had no instinct for order and neatness; I have no creative impulse.    He created; I swept.

As I've previously mentioned, Ivaan was totally oblivious to the domestic aspects of married life.  Ivaan never mowed the lawn, never shovelled the snow, never took out the garbage, cooked, vacuumed,  loaded the dishwasher, or did laundry.   He didn't even recognize that these tasks existed, thus never expected that anyone would do them. So it's fortunate that I enjoy running a household.

Our house on Portland Street was built in 1855.  It was a fabulous house, shaped like a shoebox tipped up on end:  three tall storeys, with the kitchen on the third floor.   As much as I have ever experienced the joy of creation, it has been through renovating the Portland house.   Fortunately, there was no shortage of potential for renovation; a lot can go wrong with a house in 140 years.

Early one Saturday morning, I awoke with an idea:  I decided to remove the wall that separated the narrow front hall from the living room.  I knew it wasn't a load-bearing wall, as all the supporting walls ran north to south.    I knew that removing a lath-and-plaster wall would be a surefire way to ruin a perfectly good weekend....unless I could find someone to help me.

Ivaan had an Achilles heel, and it was in the form of a genuine phobia for clumsy people, or for someone using the wrong tool for the job.  It drove him crazy.

You may wonder why a vegetarian even had a steak knife in the drawer, but it was with a steak knife that I made the first cut into that lath-and-plaster wall. Having removed the first segment of plaster, I kept diligently sawing with the steak knife, dropping the small pieces of severed plaster into a wastepaper basket until I'd excised about a square foot of plaster.  By this time, Ivaan was awake, and his curiosity had gotten the better of him.  He came part way down the stairs, peered around the corner and asked, "What on earth are you doing?"   All innocent, I replied, "I'm taking down this wall" and held up what was left of the steak knife.  At that moment, several million years of evolution began to evanesce before my eyes.  Ivaan headed for the back porch and returned carrying a crowbar and a sledgehammer.  "Stand aside", said Homo Sapiens.

Ten minutes later, the entire wall lay in ruins on the floor.    Homo Sapiens put down The Correct Tools For The Job, and with an imperious wave of his hand in the general direction of the debris, uttered the one terse syllable that came to represent our life together in metal arts:  "Sweep."

And that, dear readers, is how Ivaan renovated the Portland house.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


April 1, 1996: Our first anniversary
For a man who was in no particular rush to get married in the first place, Ivaan could top anyone when it came to planning a memorable anniversary.  It wasn't a difficult date to remember, as we were married on April Fool's Day.  (We joked that if things didn't work out between us, we could claim it had been an April Fool's prank - albeit an expensive one - not an actual wedding.)
The morning of our first wedding anniversary, Ivaan announced that he was taking me on an all-expenses-paid shopping trip.  Our destination was to be a surprise, however.  We headed out by TTC, Ivaan leading the way, and about 40 minutes later, I found myself being led not into Holt Renfrew as I'd hoped, but into Home Depot.
I wasn't disappointed, but I confess to being slightly surprised.   However, I was part way through renovating our house, so I decided to make the most of the opportunity.  I began by selecting some wooden mouldings to frame doorways.    Now, just to be perfectly clear, when I say that "I" was part way through renovating our house, I don't mean "we" were part way through renovating our house.  No.  You see, Ivaan was not a renovating type of guy, and for Ivaan, even snow shovelling, lawn mowing and taking out the garbage all fell into the category of "renovation".
It's lucky that I enjoy renovation, in the widest sense of the word, because with the exception of one notable occasion - the subject of an upcoming blog - renovation was solely my responsibility.
I had selected enough wooden mouldings to trim all the doorways in the second floor hallway when Ivaan mentioned the sole condition he was imposing on this all-expenses-paid anniversary extravaganza:  whatever I chose, I had to carry home by myself on the TTC.  Wooden door mouldings are heavy.  They also come in eight-foot lengths.    In case you are wondering, it is rather difficult to  manoeuvre an eight-foot length of lumber through the front doors of a TTC streetcar.    When one is carrying eight of them, it is next to impossible, but I managed somehow.  Once on board, Ivaan suddenly began to pretend he wasn't with me.  He rolled his eyes and exchanged disapproving glances with the other passengers.   On one occasion, he muttered loudly, "SOME PEOPLE..."  It  was impossible to carry the pieces of moulding vertically, as they were too long.  I didn't want them resting on the floor where they would get dirty and trip people, so I had to balance them on the backs of several seats, rendering those seats inaccessible for other passengers.
Ivaan took a photograph of me and my lumber after we disembarked at the King and Portland streetcar stop. I still have the picture.  For some reason I was smiling.  Perhaps I was wondering what he would dream up for our next anniversary.

The morning of our second anniversary, Ivaan announced that once again he had a surprise in store for me.  We headed out early in the morning, Ivaan leading the way.  After a fairly lengthy walk, he stopped outside a blood donor clinic. opened the door and motioned for me to enter.  If you've been a blood donor in the last couple of decades, you'll be familiar with the detailed questions that potential donors are required to answer aloud before their pint of blood is extracted.  I've never been able to get through answering the questions without laughing, which often starts the person asking the questions laughing as well.  
Ivaan sat in the waiting room with a magazine while I donated blood.  Once I was finished, he took my arm and escorted me to a nearby coffee shop.  I sat down while he ordered a couple of coffees, then beckoned to me to peruse the baked goods in their display case.  "That lemon poppyseed muffin looks good.  They're baked right here on the premises", he said.  "Why don't you order it?"  "No, thanks, I'm not hungry.  Coffee is fine", I replied.   Several times he tried in vain to get me to order the muffin, until I became slightly irritated and suggested he order it himself, if he felt so strongly about it.
Ivaan sighed deeply.  With a pained expression, he asked me, "Why do you always have to have the last word?  Can't you just agree with me for once?" The sales clerk was watching us intently, probably wondering if we were about to have a huge argument.  I began to feel slightly embarrassed.  Biting back a stinging retort, I suggested we share the lemon poppyseed muffin. After all, it was our anniversary, and I wondered if his criticism were perhaps justified.    The sales clerk put the muffin on a plate and brought it to our table with a knife so I could cut it in half.  I was careful to cut it right down the middle, so Ivaan would feel like he had won.   Part way through cutting through the muffin  I heard a decidedly un-cake-like clunk.
Now, I'm very familiar with bakeries.  My brother is a baker.  As a teenager, I used to work after school in the Harbord Bakery, which is coincidentally where I first met Ivaan.  I once sliced through an entire cigarette embedded in a loaf of light rye bread.  I've heard all the urban legends about lumps of aluminum foil, stones, and even small rodents being found inside loaves of bread.  (Note to the legal profession:  none of these instances occurred at my brother's bakery.)
That un-cake-like clunk sounded to my experienced ears like metal hitting metal.  I put the knife down and opened the muffin with my fingers. Baked inside the muffin was a beautiful heavy gold ring by Ivaan.  The poor sales clerk looked as though she were going to collapse.  She'd had to keep a close  eye on that lemon poppyseed muffin all morning, to ensure that no one else bought it before we got there.
Up until that moment, I'd have said that nothing could have surprised me more than the morning Ivaan proposed to me (on one knee, in his dressing gown, on the living room floor) but I think the anniversary muffin incident probably takes the cake.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I'm saving Ivaan's red shoes.  They're quite well worn, despite the fact that he didn't wear them often.  He bought them in the late 1980s and was still wearing them, on occasion, in 1995 when he opened his studio on Queen Street West.  Ivaan liked the way they looked, loved the colour, which is much more red in actual fact than in the photo.  He took good care of them, as evidenced by the fact that they've obviously been to the shoe repair more than once.  Even at size 45, though, they were two full sizes too small, and definitely too narrow, which was no impediment to the pleasure he got from looking down and seeing them on his feet.

Ivaan had a complicated relationship with footwear.  He loved beautiful shoes and boots and he didn't just collect them; he wore them too.   In 1993, he went with his sister Nadia and her family on a trip to Ukraine.  As footwear for the trip, he insisted on taking a beautiful pair of black cowboy boots I'd bought him for his previous birthday.  Knowing they'd be walking a lot, I suggested he take some comfortable shoes as well.  Ivaan demurred.   He loved those cowboy boots and he was determined to wear them.  I was fairly certain he was making a mistake, so I bought him a pair of canvas espadrilles and hid them in the bottom of his suitcase.  He didn't find them until he was already in Ukraine.  Disgusted, he promptly gave them away to the first person they fit.  Two weeks later, when Ivaan returned from Ukraine, he insisted vehemently that his cowboy boots  had been the perfect choice of footwear.  It wasn't until years later, when one of the friends he had made in Ukraine came to visit us, that I began to hear stories about Ivaan's boots.  Apparently, they had hurt him so much that he was obliged to take taxis everywhere.  In Ukraine, those boots became the stuff of legend.  Frankly, he might as well have left them in Ukraine, because he never wore them again.

After we were married, I started exerting not-so-subtle pressure on Ivaan to buy shoes that actually fit.   It was a short distance from discovering the pleasures of well-fitting, stylish footwear to discovering the pleasures of spa life.    Our wedding reception had taken place at The Elmwood Club; soon afterwards, it became The Elmwood Spa.  Initially, it wasn't easy to persuade Ivaan that he might actually enjoy a massage, but one visit to The Elmwood Spa was sufficient to convert him. Henceforth, many of our vacations were spent at a spa.  He became famous at The Hillcrest Spa in Port Hope for booking two 90-minute massages, back to back.

As his series of strokes began to permanently limit his mobility, Ivaan reluctantly agreed to let me give him a weekly pedicure.  I can't honestly say he enjoyed them; he was so inured to the memory of his toes hurting inside too-small shoes, and he worried that I might hurt him.  But one day at his rehabilitation hospital, Toronto Rehab, one of his therapists, having removed his socks and shoes for a therapy session, marvelled aloud at how beautiful and well-kept his feet were.  Ivaan was delighted, cherished the compliment, and never complained about pedicures again.

As for me, I cherish the red shoes.  They're a reminder of a younger Ivaan - the man who was so "form over function" that he'd suffer pain cheerfully for the pleasure of looking down and seeing a handsome pair of shoes on his feet.