Monday, December 10, 2012


Everything I know about photography, I learned from Ivaan.  When he was photographing someone's wedding, he'd usually drag me along. I'd be responsible for doing the "bread and butter shots" - the groups of bridesmaids, the groomsmen, the in-laws, the outlaws (yes, there were often some of those at the weddings we photographed), the cake, the groom dancing with his mother - and I'd be totally exhausted, whereupon Ivaan, who had been taking it easy till then, would step up and effortlessly take the one perfect, heartstopping shot - the one that always appeared on the Thank You cards. Grrrrr.

And what does this photo have to do with wedding photography, you may ask?  It's an example of Rule Number One at the Ivaan Kotulsky School of Photography.   That rule is, get up as close as you can to the action.  Zoom right in.  You're probably looking through the lens at the pores on someone's face at this point.  Now, back up, slowly.  Zoom out a tiny bit.  Repeat, until you have the optimal composition.  Never start far away and simply zoom in, or come closer, because from back there, you can't see what the picture is all
about.  You can only see what the photo is about when you start from much too close.

My first independent photo gig, in 1989, was, unfortunately, Ivaan's mother's funeral. Believe me, I did not know I'd be in charge of photography.  When we arrived at the Cathedral, he simply handed me his camera and said, "You're doing the photography.  Just don't take any photos from up front where the Priest is standing."  I was horrified, partly because I didn't actually know people photographed funerals, partly because I didn't know whether this was permitted in the Cathedral, but as it was clearly important to Ivaan, I thought I'd just do the best I could. I survived, and I learned an important lesson in the process:  funeral photography is much easier than wedding photography. The "guest of honour" isn't moving, and you don't need to worry about getting people to smile in a natural way.

Ivaan had a line he used when he saw someone timidly taking a photograph from too far away. He'd say to them, "Back up a little more, why don't you? That way you'll be able to fit Asia into the picture as well."

There was one occasion I recall, in the late 1980s, when Ivaan really needed to be far away when taking a picture.  Ukraine was escaping from Soviet control and heading towards independence.  Correspondence between his mother and the Ukrainian relatives was no longer taking place in secret.  She asked Ivaan to take a photo of her standing smiling in her kitchen, holding the refrigerator door open, to send to the family back in Ukraine. She wanted it to be a really impressive shot.  So please, she told him, make sure you get both the stove AND the fridge in the picture.

So that was one occasion when Ivaan was obliged to take a photo from far back, with a wide angle lens.

The photo above shows Day One of the construction of The Subterranean Spa Room. I took the photo from as far back as I possibly could without actually leaving the building.  Perhaps you can't see the fridge and the stove (because Atelier Ivaan does not actually have a fridge and stove - or a kitchen, for that matter) but you can see, in the far corners, our new water heater and furnace.

And in between them, in the farthest distance, you can probably see Asia.

Friday, December 7, 2012


Angus and Ivor

Yesterday morning, I received an email from our 22-year-old nephew Angus, who lives in Kingston.  Angus is one of those rare people who does an astonishing number of things extremely well.  At eleven, he was a violinist with the Sault Symphony Orchestra.  He is a bagpiper and a trumpeter, a commercial pilot, a graduate of Algonquin College in Aviation Management. He was a member of the musical group The Tangible Ears, the Garrison Band, he currently performs with the Queen's University marching band, he is an instructor at an Air Cadet squadron in Kingston and has spent several summers as a member of the Fort Henry Guard.  Another thing he does well is wear Ivaan's favourite items of clothing.  They shared a lot, including a shoe size, and Angus has inherited Ivaan's beloved sheepskin bomber jacket and his black leather jacket with Ivaan's signature in red chenille lettering on the back, both of which he wears with pride and considerable panache.  He is a mentor to his 14 year old brother, Ivor, no slouch himself in the accomplishments department, who is among other things an accomplished violinist at Canta Arya School For Strings, an Air Cadet, and Vice President and Tech Support at Atelier Ivaan.

Here's an excerpt from Angus' email, reminiscing about his close relationship with "Avunculus", the Latin word for Uncle, which was Ivaan's nickname:

"Today I was fondly remembering all of the great times I shared with you and Avunc.  Whether it was eating at Le Commensal, or setting off fireworks, giving him the Doctor Death foot massage, or just hanging out at the studio, I cherish all the moments we shared.  He was, and will forever be the cool uncle I was always talking to my friends about.  I miss him terribly."

It might have been a difficult day yesterday, marking another year without Ivaan, but every time I felt gloomy, I went to the computer, reread Angus' email and was instantly cheered up.  Did I mention that Angus is also a fine writer?  Well, I guess you can sense that already.

I don't think I can say it better than Angus said it, but Ivaan, we remember you with warmest love and miss you more than we can say.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


On December 6, 7, 8 and 9,  in loving tribute to Ivaan, ATELIER IVAAN will be marking the fourth anniversary of his having left the planet by offering 20 % off all Ivaan's jewellery to registered Organ and Tissue donors.

Earlier this week, I attended the Trillium Gift of Life Network's Donor Medal event at the Palais Royale in Toronto, where I made a speech to an audience of Donor Families about being a hero.  I was thrilled to be presented with a Donor Medal engraved with Ivaan's name, in honour of his having been a donor.  It was a proud moment to be among so many wonderful donor families and staff of Trillium Gift of Life Network.  These people are indeed heroes to me.  Another of my heroes also spoke at the event.  Her name is Jennifer M.  She's a beautiful, vibrant lady, who was accompanied by her two charming and handsome sons.  Jennifer is the recent recipient of a donated heart.  Every time a potential recipient agrees to undergo transplant surgery, they become a hero: it's always a risky surgical procedure and even if it's a complete success, recipients face a lifetime of anti-rejection drugs  and constant monitoring. Seriously, it takes  huge courage to agree to undergo an organ transplant.  But every time someone does, they improve the odds of the next transplant recipient surviving, because the surgical team's expertise increases with every procedure.  Successful recipients also raise the public profile of organ and tissue donation - something Ontario desperately needs, as our number of registered donors is shamefully low.

If you'd like to acquire some of Ivaan's beautiful jewellery and you don't live in Ontario, we'll happily honour the 20% discount. If you live in Ontario but you're not already a registered donor, you you can register online in advance at or bring along your Province of Ontario Health Card from December 6th to 9th and we'll help you to sign up on the spot.

And, hey, ask to see Ivaan's Donor Medal. It will be proudly on display.  I'll even post a photo of it...when I figure out how to take a good picture of something so shiny.

Ivaan, this week and every week, you are loved and missed more than I can say.   Not only are you Canada's National Treasure, you are my personal hero.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


This is my poppy pinned to the left lapel of Ivaan's navy cashmere overcoat. At eleven o'clock on November 11th, I stood in silence in the doorway of Atelier Ivaan, wrapped in his overcoat.  Remembrance Day was important to Ivaan. His third stroke took place on Remembrance Day, 2005. (With his usual sense of occasion, Ivaan marked Ukrainian Christmas Eve and Hallowe'en with heart attacks, Valentine's Day, Remembrance Day and Pearl Harbour Day with strokes. )

Although he was born during World War Two, it was the First World War that really gripped Ivaan's imagination.  Speaking about the events of the Great War, and the tragic legacy of that war, Ivaan often brought listeners, including me, to tears.  In one single year, the entire graduating class of Eton College, all of whom had enlisted, died taking part in the war effort.

Ivaan attended as many Remembrance Day ceremonies as he could, though as his health deteriorated, it was harder and harder for him to sit in his wheelchair in the cold, at the cenotaph in front of Old City Hall.  One year in the early 1990s, we watched the ceremony from inside the lobby of Old City Hall, where I worked at the time. On this occasion, Ivaan met and photographed Poland's Solidarity leader, Lech Walesa, who was also in attendance.

One of the greatest tragedies of the Great War, as Ivaan told it, was the lasting legacy on future generations.  In Canada, virtually every young and middle aged male in reasonably good health went overseas to fight in the War.  Being exempt from enlisting, through poor physical or mental health, or because one was needed at home to work for the war effort, was a source of great shame for men and for their families.  Yet the casualties of the First World War were so high, and the conditions under which the men fought were so horrific that the few who returned home after the war were damaged beyond repair.  Loss of limbs, the effects of breathing mustard gas, loss of hearing, shell shock, and loss of mental stability were just some of the effects of the war on returning combatants.  But most were simply slaughtered, and in retrospect it is hard to reconcile the events at places like Passchendaele with the results, particularly for Canada.  Canadian men were used, plain and simply, as cannon fodder. They went overseas to fight for freedom from oppression and for justice, but there was none for them.  Once enlisted, there was no turning back.  Desertion meant death at the hands of one's own army.

The end of the War in 1918 left a much depleted inventory of men for young women to marry.  There were the men who were exempted, on grounds of poor mental or physical health, and there were the men who came back permanently damaged by their experiences.  This was the pool of men from among which one might find a spouse.  The result, as Ivaan calculated, was that it would take five generations to undo the effect of wiping out the cream of the Canadian and British male population.

Ivaan, whose physical health was so compromised by the circumstances of his birth in a Nazi slave labour camp, never forgot the sacrifices of the World War One veterans and of their families who suffered the ravages of the War.  Right until the end, Ivaan was there at the cenotaph with his camera, so those veterans would live on through his pictures.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I went to the cemetery today with a loaf of bread and a pebble from our trip to Iceland last June, to wish Ivaan a happy birthday. The squirrels were dancing around his plot, still full of carbs and olive oil from the herb fougasse I brought there yesterday. Rule number one when visiting Ivaan's grave is: bring only fresh bread.  Ivaan insisted on only the freshest bread for his birds and squirrels.  A few years before we were married, I remember dropping by Ivaan's house and he'd be out on the verandah feeding the sparrows.  They'd be so stuffed with bread, their little legs could hardly touch the ground, but they kept right on eating.

It was a bit like that with the squirrels today.  They had the decency to back off and let me sweep up a bit  and have a peaceful visit, but when I started tearing off bits of bread and making a circle of bread around the plot, I suddenly looked up and realized I was surrounded by black squirrels waiting for me to leave.

You have probably never contemplated the intelligence of squirrels before, but Ivaan had.  He claimed that grey squirrels were much more intelligent than black ones.  I think by this he meant that they were easier to train.  At our house on Portland Street, we had a second floor deck at the rear of our house. I'd lie out there in the summer, reading and sunbathing.  One afternoon, dozing on the deck, I felt an extraordinary feeling on my back and found that Ivaan had positioned a row of peanuts in their shells along my spine, and a grey squirrel was sitting on my back eating peanuts.

Next time I go to the cemetery, I think I'll bring some peanuts in their shells, place a row of them along the plot, and return the favour.

Sunday, October 7, 2012



Ivaan's thumbnails were always a sight to behold.  His thumbs were an important resource in his arsenal of tools for making and polishing jewellery, and his thumbnails came in handy for protecting gemstones while he was working on the polishing machine.   That meant that his thumbnails were usually quite battered, with fairly deep ridges running lengthwise, and they were often blackened from jewellery polishing compound.  It was easy to tell when he'd been in hospital, because following some time away from the polishing machine his nails became well tended once again.  Back at work, the inevitable would happen, and once again his thumbnails would look like a chewed boot.
The nephews were perennially fascinated by his thumbnails, and this is where one of Ivaan's urban legends originated.  He told the nephews that his thumbnails so closely resembled product bar codes that he had scanned them at Loblaws one day and a price of 79 cents came up on the cash register.
"That's what I'm worth, 79 cents!", he'd tell the nephews, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.  Needless to say, the nephews were anxious to see this in action, so much of Ivaan's attention, when they were visiting, was focused on finding distractions so the nephews would not insist on being taken to Loblaws to scan their uncle.
I just remembered this a few minutes ago, when looking at my own thumbnails.  I try to be careful, but it doesn't much matter if you wear protective gloves or not when you're polishing jewellery.  It's going to get ugly. But, Ivaan, in case you are wondering, to the nephews and to me, you are worth a whole lot more than 79 cents.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


I can see how this renovation is going to unfold.  It will take a lot of time and it will appear to be taking place in a random fashion.  There is nothing random about it, however, because I am operating on a rational principle: that I will renovate the thing that bugs me most.  If that means living with no kitchen for a very long time (and it most assuredly does), then I will live without a kitchen for a very long time, and I will not complain about it.

But once I had the bamboo floor in the office levelled, I became obsessed with replacing the baseboards because the existing ones did not connect with the floor.  So I had new baseboards installed.  It was a stressful few days with a tradesman who was not feeling well.  So actually it felt like a few weeks. But while he was here, he mentioned that he had a cousin who was very skilled at cutting and installing tiles.  This made me think of my basement bathroom.   The basement bathroom was clean and well maintained, but that was the full extent of its virtues.  This is a photo I took the day of the home inspection.  Perhaps this will give you some idea of how I felt about it.
I do believe this may have been the bathroom Noah had on the ark.
I tore the vanity out the next morning. You could hardly believe how solidly it was in there. Whoever had installed it 50 years ago was preparing for the apocalypse. Then I started trying to remove the floor tiles. I used a claw hammer. That was a joke.  I could drop it with all my force onto the floor and not even chip a tile. I used an axe.  I might have cracked a couple of tiles with the axe. A sledgehammer was next. Then the axe combined with a grout cutter.  Finally I put a masonry cutting wheel on the rotary grinder, removed the safety shield, and tried that.  Sparks flew.  But the tile remained. I wore out the cutting wheel, replaced it, and was well on my way to wearing out the second one, getting virtually nowhere. So I took myself to New Canadians Kitchen and Bath Outlet and spent a happy couple of hours choosing wall tiles, floor tiles and new fixtures.

It took the tile cutter two days to rip out the old tiles and install the new ones and the fixtures.  I was delighted to find that the faucets I had chosen were hands free:  they turned themselves on with a light touch, and turned themselves off 10 seconds  later.  I love my new basement bathroom.  The new pedestal sink is capacious enough that I could conduct baptisms in it.
See what I mean?
Perhaps now I'll be inspired to head upstairs and get to work on the second floor bathroom - or maybe the kitchen.  Just don't expect me to start cooking.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Ivaan, as I've mentioned before, was passionately interested in history.  He spoke about certain historical events as if he had actually been there.  One of the events that captured his imagination was the Siege of Leningrad.  For Ivaan, I suppose, it wasn't really a historical event, because it took place around the time he was born.

We often spoke about what life must have been like for Russians during the Siege of Leningrad.  Because it took place over a considerable length of time, and got worse as time  passed, it must have taken both physical and moral strength to survive.  Ivaan once asked me what I thought I'd miss the most under conditions like that, and I told him the unrelenting cold weather would probably be the hardest for me to endure.

It was during a discussion about the Siege of Leningrad that Ivaan and I came up with a play about an imaginary group of women during the siege.  Ivaan named it The Bath Lottery.  Here's the story:

In an abandoned warehouse in Leningrad, a group of six women who are strangers to each other begin congregating and as they get to know each other they start acting as a collective, meeting almost every day and sharing their personal stories.  Their husbands, brothers, sons are all absent from their lives: fighting the enemy, dead, in prison, or have simply abandoned them.

The women share what little they have and provide emotional support and comfort to each other.  One day, in a conversation about what they miss most, one of them says that even more than food and warm clothes, she misses having a hot bath. This gets the women thinking, and one of them, realizing there is a large metal tub in the warehouse, suggests that they collect all the wood and paper they can find, light a fire, fill the tub with snow from outside, melt the snow and heat the water over the fire, and hold a lottery. The winner of the lottery gets to take a hot bath, and the rest of them get to sit around the hot fire and keep warm.

They put the plan into action.  Over a number of days they collect anything they can burn, build a firepit and start piling the snow into the tub to melt.  On the day of the lottery, one of them rushes into the warehouse with a pile of half-rotten, frozen potatoes she has unearthed from somewhere.  They put the potatoes in the embers to cook and draw straws to determine who gets the hot bath.  The rest will sit around and eat the potatoes.  The eldest woman, Masha, wins the lottery for the bath.  Once the water is the right temperature, the other women help her into the tub.  They sit around on the floor eating the potatoes and talking.  Finally one of them passes a potato to the elderly woman in the tub and says, "Here, Masha.  Have a potato.  You will feel like you're in heaven."  No response.  "Masha!" calls the woman, thinking she's fallen asleep.  No reply.  The women get up and look into the tub and see that Masha, lying in the warm water, has died.

Everyone who hears this story thinks it's the saddest story and would make a horrible play. But I agree with Ivaan.  It's a beautiful story.

When I wrote in an earlier blog post that I felt like I was living through the Siege of Leningrad, it was because I was without a bathtub for two days.  Fortunately, I did have a giant rubbermaid bin and plenty of hot water, so it was a poor facsimile of the Siege of Leningrad. A friend actually volunteered to come over with potatoes.

I have this advice about bathing in a rubbermaid container.  It's easy to get into.  But it's very hard to get out of without tipping the entire thing over.  Just bear that in mind, in case you're ever required to play a part in Ivaan's play, The Bath Lottery.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


This is a story I wrote about nine months after Ivaan left the planet.  I reread it today and realized that, although the fourth anniversary of Ivaan's death is approaching, he still feels just as present to me. Here, then, is "The W Word":
our wedding reception April, 1995.

The W word took me completely by surprise.   I’d contemplated the possibility of its appearance, turned it over in my mind a couple of times, and then decided it was unlikely to crop up at all.  Even if it did, it would likely appear in a drop-down menu of possibilities, requiring only a check mark beside the appropriate selection:  single, married, common-law, divorced, widowed.   But it was 2009 and I was completing a Canadian passport application, not an application for a marriage licence, for which one’s marital status actually has some relevance.  Years ago, a friend told me that when she married in Wales at the age of 20, her occupation was noted on the marriage licence as “spinster seamstress”.  It seemed funny at the time.

I only wished I were completing an application for a marriage licence.  If I were, I’d be able to turn back the clock and relive all the years of our remarkably happy marriage.  The recipe for a happy marriage is for each partner to believe secretly that he (or she) is the luckier of the two.  In our case, it was no secret:  I was definitely the lucky one, because my husband was not only brilliant, talented, adored by everyone, gregarious and witty, he was also drop-dead gorgeous.  If he were reading over my shoulder now, he’d be pointing out that he was quite literally drop-dead gorgeous.   Never one to let picayune details get in the way of a really good story, Ivaan would have ignored the fact that he didn’t actually drop dead, but died slowly over a number of days, following a massive stroke he’d suffered during brain surgery. 

Four months later, while completing an application for a new passport, I found myself confronted by the W word. How is it that I attended the funeral, several dinners and receptions held in memory of Ivaan without understanding that the W word now applied to me?   Even worse, the passport application provided a blank line on which I was apparently required to write the word.  Offended, I completed the rest of the information, leaving my marital status blank, folded the application and put it away. 

Widowhood is an honourable state.  Widows are depicted in literature as tragic, noble, sometimes merry.  The widow’s peak, a v-shaped point in the centre of the hairline, reminiscent of the hood worn by bereaved women, was believed in English folklore to identify a woman who would outlive her husband.  Then there is the black widow spider, the female of which occasionally eats her partner after mating.  It’s interesting to note that even males of the species are referred to as black widow spiders.  Dracula had a widow’s peak.   I don’t.

Three weeks elapsed before I pulled out the passport application again.  I looked at the grim, unsmiling photos that I’d had taken and wondered if it was worth investing in a new set.  Something about these images brought to mind the passport I had the year we were married.   I looked solemn, serene, and – dare I say it?  Drop dead gorgeous.  I looked so good in that passport photo that Customs officers in every country we visited did a double-take.  No, I decided, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.  I’d keep the photos I already had, because the next ones would probably be even worse.

Reconciled though I was to my passport photo, I balked at writing the W word on my application.  I called friends and family for advice.  Their replies ranged from “just leave it blank” to “just write Married.  Who will even notice?”  Nobody suggested I capitulate and write the W word.

The problem with widowhood is that it’s a marital status few people would choose.  For the most part, we marry freely and expect that our marriage will enrich our lives.  If it doesn’t, separation or divorce are admittedly imperfect ways of wiping the slate clean and reclaiming our single status.  It’s likely fair to say that most newly-single people find social occasions – weddings, dinner parties, even funerals – awkward.  It’s probably like being a teenager all over again, unsure of the rules, anxious to fit in, feeling as though they are under a microscope. 

No such agonies exist for me, although I usually find that my hosts have taken particular pains to ensure my comfort.  They seat me close to interesting people who have clearly been forewarned about my new marital status, so that they never ask indelicate questions and carefully steer the conversation around any potential minefields.  At a recent wedding, I was astonished when a very charming and attractive stranger sat next to me and announced, “I’m told I’m your date this evening.”  He was very entertaining, and I  thoroughly enjoyed his company, but I felt like I was attending with two dates – the one who was refilling my glass and the one I’d come with.  Because eight months after Ivaan left the planet, I don’t feel his absence.  On the contrary, the air around me still feels suffused with his warm presence. While he’s here in spirit, the W word doesn’t apply.

Finally, though, there was the matter of the passport application.   I decided to tell the truth, and let the Passport Office do what they liked with my application.  On the blank line beside Marital Status, in large block letters, I wrote MARRIED.  Underneath, in very small letters enclosed by parentheses, I added (but widowed).

Friday, September 21, 2012


In the residential side of the Atelier Ivaan building, I have an office.  Like the store, it has a tongue and groove bamboo floor.  Unlike the store, the floor in the office is not level.  At one end of the room, there is a dip in the floor about the shape, depth and size of a large birdbath.  At first, it was just a visual irritant.  After a few months,  I began to wonder if furnace ductwork directly underneath was concealing a problem.  I'd been planning to replace the furnace anyway, so it made good sense to replace the furnace and overhead ductwork so I could properly assess the situation.

Once the ductwork was removed, I took several photos with my close-up camera, uploaded them onto the computer, and had a good look at them. Everything seemed solid but one joist sat lower than its neighbours.  I made the decision to have the entire floor taken up and levelled.  I figured, once the floor was taken up, I could have a look at the situation from above.

The flooring guys arrived early, removed the bamboo floor and put it in the basement.  Next they removed a layer of plywood, then a layer of linoleum, then another layer of plywood, then a layer of roofing tarpaper, then a layer of newspapers from 1952, and then a thick tongue-and-groove subfloor.  No wonder there was a depression on the floor.  I was depressed just looking at the pile of debris!

Here's how the room looked when all the flooring was taken off:


The flooring guys sistered the existing joists to provide extra support and raise the height of the floor in spots, to make it level. Two layers of plywood were installed, for stability.  It was harrowing, just looking at the mess. It was doubly harrowing, going down to the  basement that night and finding that the hammering had caused a water pipe to split open.  There was water everywhere. Luckily there was Zoltan.  The comfort of seeing Zoltan pull up in his van was indescribable.

It took 25 hours  of brutally hard work for the flooring guys to finish the job.  It was stressful. There is something about having no floor that makes one want to cry. Happily, I now have a floor again and it is much more level.
I like the contrast between the two colours of floor, as we mixed new caramel coloured bamboo with the original cinnamon coloured floor.

While Zoltan was here to repair the split pipe, I also asked him to take a look at my bathtub drain, which I suspected was leaking.  Zoltan agreed that the drain pipe would have to be replaced.  Unfortunately it was impossible to find a replacement drainpipe that fit.  This left me with an out-of-commission bathtub.   In addition to no stove, no dishwasher, no washer or dryer, and only a bar fridge, I now had no bathtub.  I felt like I was living through The Siege of Leningrad, which will be the subject of a future post.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


POLKA TIME, 1960  (c) Petro Schkurka

Whoever said "a picture is worth a thousand words" was probably referring to this photograph. You might possibly recognize a 16-year-old Ivaan in the centre of the photo, and perhaps you have surmised, correctly, that he was dancing the polka.  The photograph was taken by Petro Schkurka, who was Ivaan's earliest mentor in photographic arts.

Unless you know Ivaan really well,  chances are you won't know what makes this photograph particularly memorable. I think it was taken in the church hall of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.  I really love this photograph. Other than that, as the ancient Romans would have said, "Res ipsa loquitur":  the thing speaks for itself.


If I did well in my university courses in historical musicology -- and I generally got good results, with the notable exception of my final Beethoven exam, where aliens stole my brain as I entered the examination hall -- the truth is that only half the credit for my success is due to my own diligence.  The other half goes to Ivaan.

Whenever I had an exam coming up, I relied on Ivaan to quiz me.  I'd  give him recordings to play at random.  I'd have to tell him who the composer was, the name of the composition, the year it was composed, what movement (if any) was playing, what the key signature was, what the tempo was, and perhaps the instrumentation as well.  Ivaan was a tough quizmaster.  He wasn't satisfied until I could answer all his questions without a single error.

For one particular exam in medieval and renaissance music, quite early on in the program, some of the pieces of music were indistinguishable to my untutored ears, so Ivaan's coaching was critical to getting me prepared for the exam.  When Ivaan's quiz started, I sailed through Hildegard of Bingen's O Viridissima Virga (1150, in case you care), squeaked through with Leoninus' Viderunt Omnes (1180) and Machaut's 1360 Mass of Our Lady.  As we sailed into the Renaissance, I was unshakeable on the lovelorn Beatriz, Countess of Dia's I Must Sing, because it had become one of my favourites.

I even knew the next one, because I had previously written a paper on it: Guillaume Dufay's Lament of the Holy Mother Church of Constantinople. But when Ivaan asked for the date of composition, I was totally stumped. I made a couple of guesses, both of them wrong. Finally I said, "I give up." Ivaan replied, softly, "Come on.  You should know this.  It's the year the Turks were at the Gates of Kiev."

I would like to pretend that the fog lifted and I said, "1453".  The truth is, I did not know the Turks were ever at the Gates of Kiev.  But Ivaan did.  The events of that day (May 29th, 1453) were as clear in his mind as if he had been there.  Sometimes I wonder if Ivaan in an earlier incarnation were actually there.  However, he was evidently also present in Vienna in 1809, the year of Joseph Haydn's death, witnessing Napoleon's invading troops besieging the city, yet passing Haydn's house quietly so as not to disturb the dying composer, and I know he cannot have been everywhere.

Still, I have never forgotten the year of Dufay's Lament, and yes, that question was on the exam.

My convocation took place on November 12, 2008, three weeks before Ivaan's death.  It was to be the last occasion he went out in public. However, I still had a final examination to write, and that exam took place two days after Ivaan's death.  It was an exam on The Beatles. Ivaan and the Beatles go back a long way - all the way back to 1966 - so he had a vested interest in ensuring I did particularly well on the exam. We spent the last week of his life studying, quizzing, listening to The Beatles, then quizzing some more.  When Ivaan went into hospital for his brain surgery, it was impossible for me to study.  My job was to sit in the waiting room of Intensive Care and concentrate on sending strength, courage, positive energy and love through to Ivaan in the neurosurgical theatre.

The surgery was successful, but Ivaan suffered a massive stroke about half way through the twelve-hour operation. The next few days were spent waiting to see if he would regain consciousness,  undergoing another surgery to relieve fluid build-up on his brain, asking his priest to administer last rites, and eventually saying a final goodbye to my beloved.

Meanwhile, back at the University, my professor, one of my absolute favourites, heard the news of Ivaan's death and emailed me, telling me not to come to the exam, that he would handle things administratively.   But in the days of relative calm following Ivaan's death and preceding his funeral, I felt strongly that I owed it to Ivaan to show up at the exam and give it my best shot.

Ivaan may well have been at the Gates of Kiev in 1453. He was probably in Vienna in 1809. And he was definitely with me in the examination hall on December 8th, 2008, encouraging me, prodding me, whispering dates and key signatures in my ear. Thanks to Ivaan and to Professor Kippen, we got a 90.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I love this building. It's a thrill just unlocking the door and walking inside. But every time friends visit and ask, "Can I see upstairs?" my blood pressure soars. Let's put it this way:  "upstairs" is a work in progress, and it's going to be a work in progress for quite some time.  I had no idea how many of my friends are frustrated architects.  They go upstairs to look around, come down looking pale and panic-stricken, and start throwing around terms like "pop off the roof" , "add another storey" and "blow out the south wall".

Now, I love renovating more than most people, but this  reno is going to be a challenge.  It's claustrophobic up there even when it's empty.   Claustrophobia sets in before you even get upstairs.  The stairway is 28 inches at its widest, and half way up it becomes 26 inches. This means nothing that goes upstairs can exceed 26 inches.  No fridge, no stove, no dishwasher, no washer, no dryer, no bathtub.

I  knew I couldn't replace the staircase until after my upstairs reno, but I wanted to cheer it up in the meantime.  I removed the commercial grade vinyl tiles.  Apparently they were held in place by school glue that hadn't dried in decades.  Here's how it looked part way through.  Nice, eh?

I thought if I left it exposed to the air for a day or two, the sticky glue would dry. No dice. So I decided to paint it with primer, because I knew primer would eventually dry.    I used the flamingo pink primer left over from the store.  That worked. So I painted over top with the leftover red paint from the store.  That worked even better.  Then I tiled the lower landing with black and
white stick-on tiles and continued that vibe up the first four stairs.  Here's how it looks now:
I changed the light fixture at the top of the stairs, and so for a total investment of $46 and an embarrassing amount of work, I have temporarily disguised the fact that the staircase is claustrophobic. Ivaan would be laughing at my ingenuity.

Next up?  The bathroom.  The floor in the upstairs bathroom is not remotely level.  The bathtub lists to one side so much that I'm looking for a shower curtain with a picture of the Titanic on it.  Ingenuity is not going to cut it when it comes to this bathroom reno.  Not even close.
Stay tuned  for The Sinking of the Titanic.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


February 3rd is a very significant day in our family because it is the birthday of three family members.  So when something happens on February 3rd, I usually remember it.

On February 3rd, 2012, I was on the Dupont bus, heading eastbound.  I was feeling dejected.  I'd just been to see a property that was for sale on Dupont, and I was disappointed that it was not going to be suitable for my purposes.  "I'll never find the kind of place I'm looking for", I grumbled to myself.  As the bus crossed Shaw Street, it passed a compact two-storey commercial building on the south side of the street.  I'd noticed it before, and admired it.  "If I owned that building, I'd never complain about anything again", I said to myself.  Here's what it looked like.

The following evening, my niece Justine emailed me a "Just Listed" flyer from a real estate agent, containing a listing for a house identical to, and just down the street from, our family home. "Look at this house; it's the same as Grandpa's", she wrote.  As I opened the attachment, I glanced at the house she was referring to, but was amazed to see there was a second listing on the flyer....for the building I'd coveted the day before.  It had not been for sale yesterday.  Suddenly it was for sale.  I didn't get too much sleep that night.  By the morning, I knew I had to act quickly.  I called our friend Myron, who is a realtor, and begged him to drop everything and take me to see it.  Myron made an appointment for three o'clock that afternoon.  By two-thirty I was in front of the building. 

Myron knows me pretty well.  So he wasn't too horrified when he pulled up in front of the building and found me inside, deep in conversation with Tatiana, the current owner.  We toured the building.  I made up my mind.  Myron made his recommendation.  I trust him a lot so I listened.  A few days later, Myron drew up an offer.  Another offer came in.  I sweetened my offer.  Dead silence.  It looked like I had lost out to a better offer. On February 13th I went to sleep wondering if I had made a mistake by not offering more money.  I woke up next morning telling myself that I regretted letting it slip through my fingers.  But all was not lost.  Myron phoned with news that I was still "in the game" and before the day was over, I'd received this amazing Valentine's gift from Ivaan.

The building didn't always look sleek and stylish; three years previously, Tatiana had bought the building from a family who had operated a shoe repair business there for 30 years.  Here's how it looked  at that time:

This is the building that Tatiana renovated into her stylish Pimlico Design Gallery.  In three short years, her business had grown to the point that she needed more space.  Loving the neighbourhood, she bought a bigger building one block away and renovated it to suit her interiors business.   And me?  It did not take much effort for me to convert "the Pimlico building", as it is known in the neighbourhood, to its newest incarnation, Atelier Ivaan.  The store was already almost perfect.  Here's what it looks like today:
Now that the Atelier Ivaan store is perfect, I have my work cut out for me on the second floor.  Let's just say it's going to be a work in progress for quite some time.  My next  blog entry will feature "before" photos of the second storey...once I work up the nerve.  But the store?  Ivaan would be so thrilled with this place.  I nearly cried watching the sign and banners go up.  It was a proud moment.  Yes, February was a good month this year.  Thank you, Ivaan.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


By late 1970, Ivaan was seriously, passionately interested in metal arts.  He loved everything about it.  As an experiment, he decided to make
himself a belt out of a strip of empty bullet casings he'd found in the neighbourhood Army Surplus store.  He cast a bronze buckle that he'd
designed for himself. This was a purely decorative belt, because all those bullet casings would never have fit through the belt loops of his jeans.  But he slung it around his hips over top of his jeans, and actually it looked pretty cool.

Ivaan was still working as a photographer for Maclean Hunter Publishing, but he was pretty much up all night doing experiments in metal arts.
He was burning the candle at both ends - so much so that he wasn't really paying attention to what was happening in the world around him.
He had never heard of the October Crisis, the FLQ, the kidnapping of James Cross and Pierre Laporte.  If he'd heard of it, he'd probably have  assumed the War Measures Act was the name of a band.

Ivaan was just happy doing what he did best.  And in that happy mood, he cheerfully volunteered on behalf of Maclean Hunter Publishing to drive out to the airport and pick up someone who was flying into Toronto to be interviewed for Macleans Magazine and to be photographed by Ivaan himself.  Ivaan jumped in his British Racing Green Volvo 124, with its saffron coloured racing stripes, parked the car, strode into the airport smelling of patchouli oil, long hair flowing to his shoulders, handlebar moustache drooping, wearing his black panama hat, his boots, and around his hips....the bullet belt.

Five minutes later, two security officers tapped him on the shoulder.  Ten minutes later, Ivaan was in the Airport Security Office being interviewed by the RCMP.  He took off his bullet belt, demonstrated that the shell casings were empty, produced his Maclean Hunter press pass, and half an hour later, he was released with a stern lecture about the seriousness of the War Measures Act.

One year later, Macleans Magazine sported this tongue-in-cheek cover shot by Ivaan.  Yes, that's Ivaan himself on the left of the photo.  I don't think the top brass at Maclean Hunter ever learned the true story behind this cover.   It's one of my favourite shots of him.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


After the hurricane had died down, staying in the hotel was less than appealing.  There was broken glass everywhere, bats swooped through the lobby every evening,  eliciting screams from the hotel guests, and a large band of gypsies had taken up residence in the hotel.  We decided to make ourselves scarce.  We went down to the waterfront outside the hotel to look around and were promptly accosted by a man intent on robbing us.  It was only through Ivaan's quick thinking that we escaped.

We headed downtown along the Malecon and came across a large crowd standing on the breakwater looking out into the harbour.  The waves were still high, and a small fishing boat had capsized.  Two men and a young boy who had fallen overboard were flailing in the deep water.  They had apparently gone out to catch some fish, which are plentiful in the wake of a hurricane.  In the distance, a tiny rescue tug was chugging slowly towards them, but it was pretty clear it was not going to reach them in time.  It was horrifying.

We headed downtown.  On every corner, musicians were congregated on street corners singing and playing songs from Ry Cooder's Buena Vista Social Club.  On every street, children were running up to us asking for caramelas (candy) and luckily we had brought plenty from Toronto for just this purpose.

No trip to a strange city would be complete for Ivaan unless it included visits to every one of the second hand camera stores.  There were several such stores, all run by seedy-looking Russian expatriates.  Each of them promised that if Ivaan would just step into their back room, they would show him the rare treasures they had hidden back there.  Ivaan was desperate to see these cameras.  I was just as determined that we were going to leave, as things were beginning to feel very unsafe.  

We had not been back at the hotel for long before the telephone rang and the front desk clerk told us we had a visitor who wanted to see us in the lobby.  We realized that the Russians had followed us back to the hotel.  Needless to say, we stayed in our room and didn't answer the door.

Havana was an incredible photo op.  The ornate, crumbling buildings, the 1950s American cars in pastel colours, the incredible ingenuity of the Cuban people who seemed able to repair absolutely anything.  Cuban women were very uninhibited about their attire.  Women of every shape and size, and of every age, wore bright pink or yellow spandex.

In spite of the trauma of our vacation, Ivaan was sorry to leave.  He'd made two friends in Havana: a stray dog he named Perrito and a lame bird he called Frosty.  As the food in the hotel was pretty much inedible, Ivaan collected all the roast pork he could find in the restaurant and took it outside to feed Perrito.  All the breads and cereals he could find were saved for Frosty.

To our amazement, when we returned home, the tour company offered us a replacement trip to Cuba, which we could use within six months.  Ivaan was determined to go back, if only to see Perrito and Frosty.  Not surprisingly, I put my foot down firmly.  Once was more than enough.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


This morning, I found a little notebook that had been in my purse the week we went to Cuba.  My handwriting is pretty bad.  That's because most of the entries were written in black darkness.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the beginning.

In 2001, Ivaan decided we should go on vacation.   He thought he'd like to go to Cuba.  I wasn't wild about the idea, but Ivaan's first stroke had taken place the previous year.  He was just regaining his confidence and his memory, and I didn't want to spoil his pleasure by hovering over him and second-guessing his every decision.    So Ivaan went to his travel agent and booked our vacation.   I vowed that I would just go along for the ride and keep my opinions to myself.

Three days before we were due to leave, the travel agent called Ivaan to tell him Hurricane Mitchell was due to touch down in Cuba during our stay.  She offered to postpone our vacation.  Ivaan declined.  She offered us another destination.  Again Ivaan declined.  He thought it would be an adventure, as he'd never experienced a hurricane before.  He opted for Cuba.  If he'd mentioned the call from the travel agent to me, I'm pretty sure I would have refused to go.  But he didn't.

I did not know Cuba had a national sumo wrestling team.  I also did not know Ivaan and I would not be sitting next to each other on the plane.
He was seated directly in front of me, beside a person of average size.  I had an aisle seat directly over the wing, beside a member of the Cuban national sumo wrestling team.   He might have been the captain of the team, for all I know.  He was that big.  He and his teammates, who occupied the rear half of the plane, were enjoying the flight immensely.  Every so often, my seatmate turned to shout something jovial to one of his compatriots or reached across me to beckon the flight attendant to bring him another beer.  They were clearly celebrity passengers on this flight.  I have never been so squashed in my life.

Four and a half miserable hours later, we arrived in Havana and were transported in a rickety bus to the saddest-looking beachside resort on the whole island.  We were taken to our room, which smelled so strongly of mildew we had to insist on another room.  By this time it was midnight. At 2 a.m. the telephone rang.  It was the front desk, telling us we should prepare to be evacuated due to the approaching hurricane.  Ivaan seemed suspiciously unconcerned about news of a hurricane, and confessed that he'd known about it all along.  We tried to sleep.  At 5 o'clock the phone rang again.  We were told to come to the lobby immediately.  We did.  Outside the main doors, a gigantic Mercedes Benz bus awaited us.  It must have belonged to Fidel Castro - or the sumo wrestling team. It was to be by far the only memory of luxury we took away from our trip to Cuba.

Two hours later, we were deposited at the entrance to a hotel in downtown Havana and instructed to go and check in.  No one at the front desk had heard of us, or of any of our fellow vacationers, most of whom spoke neither Spanish nor English.  I'd studied Spanish in high school, and Ivaan had lived in South America a couple of decades previously, so we talked our way into a room on an upper floor fairly quickly.  It was a very nice room.  Unfortunately, we didn't  get to see much of it.  After settling in, we went down to the lobby and were amused to  observe that the palm trees in front of the hotel were bent double by the wind.  We went outside and  took some photos of each other holding onto the trees.  If this was a hurricane, we told each other, it was no big deal.  We went back inside.  Hotel staff were putting masking tape on all the windows in the shape of an X.  Just a precaution, said Ivaan.

We returned to our room.  The front desk called and asked us to leave our luggage and come down to the lobby.  There we were directed to a large windowless conference room in the basement of the hotel.  Actually, all 500 guests of the hotel  were directed there.  Probably 498 of them smoked.  There were small children.  There were babies.  And there were two women who were members of the world's oldest profession. As the hurricane picked up momentum, the electrical power failed.  No lights...except for the glow of the ends of 498 cigarettes, illuminating the members of the world's oldest profession as they nonchalantly plied their trade.  When dinner was served, there were two choices:  you could have roast pork sandwiches, or you could have potato chips.   We spent three days locked in this windowless conference room in the dark, eating potato chips, drinking canned ginger ale  and breathing second hand smoke.  On the second day, Ivaan bribed some chambermaids to go up to our room and bring us some sheets and towels.  On the third day, when the hurricane was finally dying down, Ivaan resourcefully bribed the hotel employees to let us be among the first guests to return to our rooms.  We got into the front of a packed elevator and started our ascent.  We were about five and a half floors up when the power went out again.  Plunged into darkness, the elevator ground to a halt between floors.  That is where we remained for two hours.  I probably had the best position in the elevator, as I was jammed against the doors, so whatever air drifted in from the elevator shaft was blowing directly in my face.

"Tiene alguien fosforos?" asked Ivaan, and luckily a few of our fellow passengers pulled out their matches and cigarette lighters.  This gave
Ivaan enough light to reach up and remove the grill covering the overhead fan, increasing the air flow just slightly.  As the minutes ticked by, some of the passengers became grouchy.  Ivaan was still cheerful, though the exertion of removing the fan cover had caused him to break out in a sweat.  "Great sauna", he quipped.  "What time is my massage?"  A very large German lady standing right behind Ivaan snapped at him in a heavy German accent:  "Dat is NOT very funny!"  "Serves you right for the Holocaust", I hissed.  Just then we heard Spanish voices  outside the elevator calling to us and within minutes the doors were forcibly opened, between floors and we were able to jump to the floor below.

The adventure did not end here.  Things got worse.  But that's for another post, so stay tuned.