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.