Monday, October 23, 2017


This year I decided I'd like to return to Iceland in October, to attend the annual lighting of the John Lennon "Imagine Peace" memorial on Viðey Island, very close to Reykjavik. The memorial was 10 years old, and John Lennon and Ivaan share a birthday, October 9th, so I felt this was a significant year to attend.

I've been to Iceland many times, but never this late in the season, and never twice in one year.  I'd also never been there alone, so I was looking forward to the adventure. I decided to stay in an expensive hotel instead of the bare-bones apartment I normally occupy in a very old house. Frankly, next time I'll stay in the bare-bones apartment, but that's another story!

Yoko Ono chose Iceland for the location of the Imagine Peace memorial because it is a country without an army, and because there is so little pollution that the blue light from the memorial shines straight up into the heavens. Every year, she attends for the lighting. As she's becoming frail,  and the weather was cool and rainy, this time she opted to stay at the Reykjavik Art Museum, on the mainland just across the harbour from Viðey Island, and to appear at the lighting by video link. At five-thirty p.m. on October 8th, public transportation is free of charge in Reykjavik, in honour of John Lennon's birthday.  This includes Gestúr, the ferry to Viðey Island.  Special buses took us right to the ferry docks.  We climbed aboard and headed for Viðey.

We wrote messages of peace on paper tags and hung them on the branches of trees that were collected in bunches for this purpose.

Food and hot drinks were available. We listened to music by John Lennon.  We attended the tiny Lutheran church on Viðey Island.

When nine o'clock came, we were all assembled around the Imagine Peace Memorial, a white marble cylinder bearing the inscription IMAGINE PEACE in 24 different languages.  A beautiful women's choir sang a gorgeous rendition of John Lennon's song Imagine, and you couldn't tell if we were crying or not because it had started to rain.  I had a good umbrella with me so I was protected, but  still it was very cold.

There were about a thousand people on hand from all over the world.  Babies.  Elderly people. Young people. Couples.  Families. Individuals.  We didn't all speak the same language, except the language of peace.  We all spoke that.

It was a great week for me.  The weather improved day by day, until the day I left when it was basically sunbathing weather.  Icelanders were thrilled.  Other highlights of the trip were visiting the Art Museum and Háskólann Í Reykjavík: Reykjavik University.  It is modelled on the Star Wars X Wing Fighter.

It's a small, brilliant university and I wish I'd had more time to explore it (and the geothermal beach next door). The various corridors are named after planets in our solar system:

This working Formula One car is a class project by the Mechanical Engineering students.

 I also slept a surprising amount, ate very well, and had plenty of time to think - something you can't always do when you're playing tour guide.

Each time I visit Iceland, I come away with a few new words and expressions in Icelandic, and I am amazed how many similarities there are between Icelandic and Russian, both in grammatical structure and in actual words.  Iceland is becoming increasingly expensive.  The locals tell me they can't afford the restaurants and clothing shops frequented by tourists.  One bus driver told me that it's cheaper for him to fly to Germany and buy clothes than it is to buy them on Laugavegur, the shopping street, or at Kringlán, the little shopping mall.

My purchases were simple this time:  Icelandic liquorice as gifts for liquorice-loving friends and relatives, an Art Museum t-shirt for my Reykjavik-loving nephew, and a brand new vintage suit for myself from Rauđi Kross, the Icelandic Red Cross thrift shop.

I came back feeling light and free, energized and happy.  And I felt that for one night, I had been among totally kindred souls.  I could, in fact, imagine peace.


About a year ago, I started to miss listening to my small but excellent vinyl record collection, so I decided to invest in a fully restored vintage stereo system.  Naturally, I went to Ring Audio. I'd worked part time at Ring Audio in the mid 1970s and I liked the equipment from that era. Ring Audio is no longer in the original location, nor is it owned by the original proprietors, but the current owners were part of the Ring Audio community back in the 1970s.  Ted Syperek and his son, Nick, now run it out of a warehouse at the foot of Carlaw Avenue.

I emailed Nick (honestly, I remember when that kid was born, and he's now a married man) and told him what I wanted.  He said he'd look after it, but it might take some time.  It did. It took so long that Nick went to Korea on his honeymoon before I had my stereo.  So I exchanged a few phone calls with his dad, Ted, and one fine day Ted called to say he had an admirable system put together for me.  It was exactly what I wanted: a Dual turntable, Boston speakers and a Luxman receiver...all at a substantially discounted price. I was so excited, I rented a car and drove right out to pick it up.

Luckily, I remembered how to hook those things up.  But it didn't feel quite complete so I looked on Kijiji and found a Harmon Kardon CD player for sale that would blend in well with the system.  I now have an awesome sound system. I was so thrilled with it, I invited Ted to let me return the favour by providing a piece of jewellery, as a thank you.

So Ted and his beloved, Victoria, came over.  It's a miracle that she and I hadn't met before.  She owns a vintage clothing and accessories shop called Gadabout, and we've been at many of the same vintage clothing shows. We know quite a few people in common.  So Victoria tried various things and finally selected a pendant for herself.  It looks terrific on her.  Then she mentioned that she has quite a few good gemstones and has always wanted to have them all set in a ring.  So she looked through the inventory of Ivaan's rings and was very drawn to one in particular.  Oddly, that ring and my stereo system are the same vintage exactly.  She brought me her gemstones and I made up the ring in white gold. It ended up looking spectacular, partly because her diamonds were absolutely terrific.

 Every time I turn on my stereo, I think of Ted and Victoria and her ring, and I do a little dance of joy, because I am so lucky.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


This is what the City of Toronto installed yesterday.  Two of them, one at each end of Ivaan Kotulsky Lane.  Just in time for Yom Kippur and his birthday.    I like to think Ivaan would be a bit proud of himself today.

Friday, September 22, 2017


If you've been reading the blog for a while, you may remember the story of Nik and Connie and the very unusual ring by Ivaan that  they bought  in an antique store in Cambridge, Ontario. Connie did a bit of research on the ring and managed to locate me. She emailed me to tell me about her find, and I arranged to have her send me the ring so that I could do some work on it and return it to its former  glory.

It was very exciting getting to meet them and their beautiful daughter, Lola. when they came to pick up the newly restored ring. Nik and Connie own a vintage clothing and accessories store in Hamilton, Ontario, called Vintage Soul Geek. I immediately liked all of them very much.

While they were visiting me, they had a chance to poke around in our display cases, and Connie was particularly taken with a sterling silver one-of-one bracelet by Ivaan. It's a remarkable bracelet.  And I confess it's a bracelet I often worry about, because it's so unusual I wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands. Here's a picture.

It requires a key to unlock the bracelet which, as you can see, is one side of a handcuff. If the wrong person wore the bracelet and lost the key, they might panic and be tempted to destroy the bracelet in an attempt to get out of it.

Recently I received a message from Nik asking me if I still had the bracelet and if there was any way I would consider parting with it. He said that Connie was so enamoured of the bracelet, she mentioned it probably once a week.  As it turned out, Connie's birthday falls at the end of September, and Nik was hoping to surprise her with the handcuff bracelet.

I suddenly realized that this is exactly where the handcufff bracelet was meant to be all along, but I explained to Nik that I would be anxious if they took it with only one key. I asked if he could wait long enough for me to make a duplicate key,  in order to ensure that there was one on standby just in case the original ever got lost. Luckily, that seemed eminently sensible to Nik as well, and last week I cast a spare key.

This evening  I polished the handcuff bracelet for the very last time, because Nik, Connie and Lola are coming to pick it up on Sunday. I'm thinking of putting the duplicate key on a leather cord that Nik can wear around his neck just in case of emergency.  He already knows he has the key to her heart, but an extra one, just for insurance, will never go amiss.

Friday, September 15, 2017


This has been such a transitional year, both for me and for Atelier Ivaan. After five years on Dupont Street, I thought I'd pretty well learned everything I needed to know.  I love my Dupont neighbourhood, which is a perfect mix of commercial, residential and industrial.  I've got good neighbours and so many things that are now part of my life are virtually on my doorstep.

So the opportunity to undertake an intensive research term at the university during May and June felt risky.  I'd be away from the store during
wedding ring season, and I didn't know how long it would take for business to bounce back once my research ended. Yet I felt if I passed up the opportunity to do something entirely different, I'd regret it.  So I plunged in and applied to work on the research project. In fact, I enjoyed my research into vintage Italian films so much, I'd cheerfully do the term all over again if I had the chance.  All round, it was the best experience, and it was a breath of fresh air in my life.

I also rededicated myself to piano lessons.  I'd let it languish a bit since I moved to this location and I knew I was at a crossroads.  Either I recommitted to lessons and daily practice, or I knew I'd have to give it up for good.  And, if I gave it up, I would force myself to sell my beautiful piano, because it takes up a lot of space in the store. And, at the exact moment when I needed to make a decision, I met a musician who lives in my neighbourhood and who teaches piano.  Right away I liked him a lot, and as he lives literally a five-minute walk from me, there was no necessity to weigh the pros and cons.  So I'm a piano student again, and loving it as much as ever.

This month, I've completed two years of volunteering at a palliative care hospice.  At first, I was a bit anxious about taking on any role there, so I cycled through the training for different volunteer roles and now I'm perfectly comfortable doing pretty well anything there.  I've done some plumbing, I've sung, I've played the piano, I've cooked a thousand meals, fed residents, been present at the end of dozens of residents' lives,  comforted their families, done mountains of laundry, handled the reception desk, washed a million dishes, and made many friends among my volunteer colleagues.

Last month I reached another milestone, when I became older than Ivaan was at the end of his life.  The months leading up to it were surprisingly difficult. I had to accept that without Ivaan in my life, I have only myself to rely on, not just physically, but emotionally and in every other way.  I've always been the family 'fixer': the person other people look to when they need help, not someone who ever turns to other people when I need support.  The only person I could trust was myself.  I could no longer even bring myself to visit the cemetery, I was so unnerved.  And the cemetery is somewhere I normally go when I feel I need comfort.

Another huge milestone occurred earlier this year, in a roundabout fashion.  A couple of years ago,  I'd met a woman who, among many artistic talents, has been a solo farmer for decades.  We're not just talking about a little vegetable garden here.  We're talking about a 100 foot square vegetable garden, a front field of buckwheat, 50 acres of hay, a tractor, a forest, a lake. We're talking about 123 acres.  I'd hear her talking about seed catalogues and splitting firewood, as if these were everyday occurrences.  Some things she said really resonated with me. These included, "I live within my means", and "When I read seed catalogues, I'm actually grocery shopping for the next year".  Sometimes she'd come over with a box of organic vegetables she'd grown: the entire makings of a pot of vegetable soup, for example.  Squash. Garlic. Rhubarb.  Once she came over with a Welsh onion plant.  I'd been experimenting growing organic ginger in a pot in the shop window, but I actually have a black thumb and there is no plant I cannot kill.  She assured me Welsh onions would be quite hard to kill.
The ginger I haven't killed yet.
Now, my building is an odd building, in that it occupies the entire lot on which it is located.  There is no back yard, no front yard, no side yard, no balcony or deck.  And for five years that never bothered me at all.  But one day, I thought, it might be nice to have some outdoor space.  So I had a roof access hatch installed on my kitchen ceiling.  It comes with a folding staircase so I can open the hatch and go out onto my flat roof any time I want. Once I was on the flat roof, I thought I'd move the ginger and onions up there.
Onions are easy to grow, I'm told.
I added basil.  Then I bought pots and organic soil and I decided I'd plant some cloves of the spectacular garlic grown by this woman, and see what happened.  I added heirloom tomatoes, mint, parsley, and then I thought I'd like to grow potatoes.  I didn't think my chances were good, but I figured since it was on the roof, no one would know, and when I failed miserably, I wouldn't have to tell anyone.

I planted garlic cloves on July 6th.  By July 13th, the plants were already four inches high.  They were so healthy, it was astonishing. I bought small organic potatoes and they took so long to sprout, I eventually just stuck them into the pots of soil and expected them to rot or something.  It took weeks, but eventually green leaves appeared and then they took off so quickly I could hardly believe it.   I started photographing my tiny container garden to record my progress, still expecting crop failure any second.  But since it was on the roof, the normal creatures that attack gardens - raccoons, squirrels, potato beetles, etc.,  - were notably absent.  I bought a chaise longue so I could lie out on the roof and commune with nature.

One day last week I became curious, stuck my finger deep into the soil beside one of my garlic plants, and felt something round in the soil.  A week later, the round thing was bigger, so I dug it up and it was an actual head of garlic - not divided into cloves, just one giant round garlic clove.  I hung it upside down - like a bat - in the basement to cure.
Newly harvested garlic

Last evening, I stuck my finger into the soil beside the largest potato plant.  I could feel round things down there as well, so I pulled the entire plant up and was rewarded with 8 potatoes of varying sizes.  I'm embarrassed to say I'm from potato country in Scotland and I never even knew what a potato plant looked like.

Now I'm having a new roof and a railing installed around the perimeter, so I decided this morning was harvest time.  I could have waited another couple of weeks,  but I want my new roof to be in place in time for me to plant next year's garlic crop.  So I harvested dozens of potatoes, eight heads of garlic, several chunks of ginger root, the two ripe tomatoes, and some basil. I sorted the potatoes.  I cooked some of the larger ones for lunch and set aside 41 of the smallest potatoes for planting as seed potatoes in the spring.  That means I'll have 41 potato plants.  If I plant early and let them grow longer, I can perhaps expect 8 potatoes per plant - some for 'putting by' (that's farmer talk) for winter, some as seed potatoes for the following year's planting.

Next year I plan to add a beehive to my little farming operation. But today when lunch was a bowl of boiled potatoes that were in the ground yesterday, I just felt I had stretched and grown in unexpected directions this year.  Kind of like my vegetables.  My goal for next year is to be able to say to myself, without laughing, "I grow my own food."
Me, my potatoes and garlic.

Friday, September 8, 2017


One of the strange things about running Atelier Ivaan is not always knowing what happens to a piece of jewellery after it has been purchased.  It's wonderful when someone who has bought a ring bursts through the door a few days later, beaming, and announces, "She said YES!"  But many times the item gets boxed and bagged up, and I never hear another word.  I have to assume, on those instances, that the gift (if it was a gift) was a complete success.

Social media plays a significant role in Atelier Ivaan.  I've met many people through social media who come to be friends once I eventually meet them in person.  It's not surprising: we get the formalities out of the way before ever actually meeting, know we're going to enjoy each other's company, and meeting is almost a foregone conclusion.

Recently, I got to know two sisters through social media.  Both are beautiful, very accomplished women; both are charming with a great sense of humour. They also share a very strong bond.  Their names are Tina and Michelle.

A funny quip by Michelle on Twitter led to a plan to meet for lunch in Toronto. I invited them to come to Atelier Ivaan for lunch and they accepted. Now, the average person might find it a bit awkward to be having lunch in a store owned by a stranger.  Luckily, neither of these sisters is average in any way.

So on the appointed Tuesday, Tina and Michelle showed up for lunch. Michelle is an actor, and we knew in advance that our lunch plans could be derailed at the last minute because she might be called to an audition.  But we were lucky. Michelle arrived with a bouquet of flowers, and Tina, who is an author, arrived with a selection of several of her books.

We talked non-stop through lunch, and then Tina was curious to see what was in the showcases.  Almost instantly, her eye was drawn to the Beach Emerald ring, which is featured in my book, 30 Pieces of Silver.  Incredibly, it fit her ring finger.  You could just see that it reminded her of something.  Finally, she asked me, "How much is this ring?" I laughed and explained that the store wasn't open on Tuesdays, so it wasn't actually for sale that day.

After the sisters left, I found myself immersed in one of Tina's books, Picnic in Pisticci.  It was a delightful book about a series of picnics she'd been on throughout her life and what they meant to her, ending with a picnic in her father's ancestral village in Italy.

While I was enjoying rereading it over the next few days, particularly one chapter about she and her husband being committed "beach people",  I received a message from Tina, asking if we could talk about the Beach Emerald Ring. She just felt that it was meant to be on her finger.  I tried to persuade her that maybe her husband would not be impressed by such an unusual piece of jewellery on her finger.  "Oh, no", she replied, "He completely gets me.  He knows my taste."  She was more worried that I would feel bereft by giving up the ring.

It's odd, but as long as I know a special piece of Ivaan's jewellery is in the right place - even if that is not in my possession - I feel completely at peace with no longer owning it.  And so that's how Tina came to own the Beach Emerald Ring.

I asked her how she felt about writing a Love Story for my website about the ring (because after all she's a writer!) and this is what she wrote:

And now, here's a photo of Tina's Beach Emerald Ring.  Reading her Love Story, I understood right away why she got that look on her face when she first tried it on.  The Beach Emerald is exactly where it was meant to be.

Saturday, September 2, 2017


Ronnie Chlebak has been a friend of Ivaan's since they were neighbours back in the 1970s.  Ron ran a company, Pure Sound, that made stereophonic speakers, in a warehouse on St. Nicholas Street, and Ivaan's Yonge Street home and studio backed onto St. Nicholas Street.  I first met Ronnie in about 1984, around the time his son Nathan was born.

Ronnie was a pretty laid-back guy with a million friends and acquaintances, but he was the type of loyal, reliable friend who could always be counted on to lend a hand when anyone he knew was in need of some help.  Often that help involved moving people's possessions.  Ron had a pick-up truck and a ragtag crew of helpers, often young people he was mentoring.  He was humorous, kind and very non-judgmental.  In fact, I never heard Ronnie say a bad word about anyone.  He just accepted people as they were, however complex their lives and personalities were, and helped them when he could.

In fact, he was busy helping a friend right up until the end of his life.  He'd gone up to the Muskoka area to help his friend Joe, who lived up there, and, as I have heard the story, was doing some hard physical labour out of doors. Perhaps he had gone to the river to splash some cold water on his
face, but when his friend returned, Ronnie had died of drowning.  He had just celebrated his 70th birthday.

Last Tuesday I attended his wake.  The place was absolutely loaded with food and packed with the people who had brought it, all friends, from all walks of life, many of whom had known him for decades.  Some people went up to the microphone to speak about Ronnie: how they had come to know him, funny stories about him, heartwarming stories about the kind deeds they will remember about him.   I spoke about the first time I met him, about how recently I had seen him, because he always came by the shop on his bicycle to check up on me and make sure I was okay, ever since Ivaan's death. The last time he'd come by, about a month ago, he was looking terrific:  all dressed up in freshly-laundered clothes, hair trimmed, looking better than I'd seen him in years.

I was particularly glad that I'd dropped by his house one evening a couple of months ago, to give him an inscribed copy of my book, 30 Pieces of Silver.  He had not shown up at the book launch, perhaps fearing that it would be too much of a dress-up occasion for his habitually casual  sartorial standards.

Ron was, as usual, grumbling about the incursions of old age, and making vague promises about starting to eat healthy food and to get his affairs in order.  And then our talk turned, as it inevitably did, to his son Nathan. Ronnie marvelled that he had produced such a tall, handsome, sweet, creative, capable, clever, charming son.  Nobody else marvelled at that.  Ron himself had many gifts, but his love and devotion for Nathan was foremost in everything he said and did.  What other kind of son would Ron have had?

Tears spring to my eyes every time I realize I will never see his unlocked bicycle leaning against my store window again.  Thank you for being such a good and loyal friend, Ronnie. I will really miss you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Back in 1997, a young couple named Lou and Karen came into Ivaan's store on Queen Street West.  Soon to be married, they were looking for a wedding ring for the groom-to-be. Lou chose a ring that is a real Ivaan classic: a thick, wide band with a Celtic love knot worked into the design.  He wanted it made in 18 karat yellow gold, which is a very rich hue.  It's a heavy, ornate ring, complicated to make, but especially in 18 karat gold, it must have been spectacular, and noticeable from about a block away. Lou wore a size eight and a half, but the ring he chose was originally made two sizes smaller, so Ivaan had to make a larger version to fit Lou's finger.

Ten months after their marriage, life got busy, as Lou and Karen welcomed their baby daughter to the family.  And somewhere along the line, Lou's wedding ring went missing.  One day, it vanished from their home and was never seen again.  Karen purchased a different ring to replace the original, but Lou promptly lost it in a deep, cold lake.

Lou's 50th birthday was in early August.  Karen decided that she wanted to surprise him with a duplicate of his original wedding ring.  First, she needed to put on her detective hat and do some sleuthing.  That's how she discovered our shop on Dupont Street.  But it had been quite a while since she'd seen Lou's original ring, so she enlisted their daughter to come into the shop with her and try to describe the ring.  This was a smart move, because their daughter remembered her Dad's original ring vividly.  She remembered the Celtic love knot, she remembered the rich colour of the gold and she remembered the "real estate" of the ring:  how much space it took up on his finger.

Karen was no slouch in this process, either.  She realized that Lou's finger had probably gotten bigger over the years, and she managed to spirit away a ring of Lou's that fit him perfectly so I could measure it.  She was right.  Lou now needed a size 10.  Between the two women, they were pretty sure they knew exactly which ring style was Lou's original.

Problem was, the original mould of this ring was still a size six and a half.  Six and a half to eight is tough, but it's manageable.  Six and a half to ten takes nerves of steel.

Ivaan was good at documenting the details of things he was working on, so I decided to search through his journals, and I managed to find his original entry for Lou's ring: their names, Lou's address, Karen's phone number, the ring size, plus all the details about the gold.  So I was off to a good start.  Next, I had to give myself permission to fail.  I knew that my chances of being able to make a size 10 ring out of a size 6.5 first time around were slim, so I injected several waxes and pretended I was just practising an expansion.  With the pressure off,  the anxiety dissipated slightly, and eventually I realized that I had made a good-looking size 10.  But good looking is not the same thing as functional.  It can look perfect and still have microscopic flaws or cracks.

So I had to go over it several times with a 30x magnifier, checking and double checking, strengthening and reinforcing the wax where I even imagined there might be a weak spot. This is nervewracking work.

Somehow the stars aligned and the casting of Lou's new ring came out even better than I'd hoped.  I took it home and started finishing it.  It's tempting to go at the finishing process hammer-and-tongs, but I knew I had to use a gentle touch so the ring remained a size 10.  And somehow it all came together, just in time for Lou's milestone birthday.

Lou's Ring ©2017 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The walls of Harpa from the inside

The ceiling of Harpa

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

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

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

Thursday, April 27, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, March 31, 2017


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

But I'll let Sonia pick up the story:

"Dear Eya,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindest regards, 

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

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

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


We lived on Portland Street for most of our married life, in a three-storey house that resembled a shoebox tipped up on end.  It's right downtown, where few houses exist. We loved it there.  We had a backyard the size of a postage stamp. At night, our back yard would be lit up by flood lights illuminating the silhouettes of marauding raccoons.

Ivaan loved raccoons, but not as much as he loved our cat, Pinky.  The raccoons were cramping Pinky's style. At one time, there was a mother and father raccoon, whom we called Fat and Skinny, and their five cubs, all inhabiting our back yard. It was them or us. Ivaan rented a humane trap, and invested in seven cans of sardines.

He had heard that if you transport raccoons across a body of water,  they won't find their way back. The Don River was five or six miles away.  Ivaan figured we could catch them one at a time, take them across the Don River by cab, release them all in the identical spot, and return for the next one, until the whole family was relocated.

We set up the metal cage in the back yard.  As soon as it got dark, Skinny showed up.  It didn't take him long to smell the sardines.  Once Skinny was in the cage, the gate snapped shut, and immediately Ivaan was ready with a large contractor garbage bag, into which he slid the cage, sardines, Skinny and all.  He called for a taxi, requesting a cab with a large, empty trunk.  The taxi arrived.  Ivaan loaded the cage into the trunk and we headed east along King Street.  When we crossed the Don River, he asked the cab driver to pull over, got  the cage out of the trunk, walked to a little wooded area and carefully unlatched the cage.

Ivaan didn't have to ask Skinny twice.  Skinny acted like he'd just robbed a bank. He got out of there so fast, he didn't even bother to finish his sardines.

Ivaan got back in the taxi, returning the cage to the trunk, and we returned home.   So far we'd spent $30 on cab fare.

We set up the cage again with a fresh can of sardines.  Within half an hour, Fat came by with a nonchalant air. She looked like she was just checking out a new pop-up restaurant.  She barely fit in the cage, but free sardines?  She wasn't going to pass those up.

Things worked exactly as they had before.  We called another cab, headed east on King, stopped in the same spot, and honestly, it wasn't that easy to get Fat to back out of the cage.  Ivaan had to tip it up on end, so she and her sardine dinner were ignominiously dumped by the wooded area.  He got back in the cab and we went home, forking out another $30 to the taxi driver.

On round three, we caught one of the cubs, called a cab, went to the wooded area and released the cub.  Ivaan was starting to do the math.  If we relocated the entire family by taxi, we were going to have to spend over $200.  And we were getting funny looks from the taxi drivers.  So Ivaan persuaded me that our return trip, with the empty cage, should be by TTC.  "After all", he said, "the streetcar stops right at Portland Street."  So we paid the taxi driver $15, went to the streetcar stop and waited.  Just before we boarded the 504 streetcar, Ivaan handed me the contractor bag containing the cage.

Now that I was actually holding it, I realized the whole apparatus smelled strongly of angry raccoon mixed with sardine.  Ivaan got on the streetcar first and paid our fares.  I clambered up behind him with the cage, but Ivaan was already half way down the streetcar.  As I came close to him, he arched his eyebrows, looked disdainfully at me and the cage, and said to a passenger seated nearby:  "Some people!"  

It was a rather quiet ride back to Portland Street.  Once we were home again, Ivaan set up the cage for a fourth time, caught another cub, called a taxi, loaded the cage into the trunk and climbed in the back seat.  Instead of getting in after him, I just leaned in the door, said to the driver, "Some people!",  closed the car door smartly and went back into the house.

By the time we'd run out of sardines and returned the rented cage and tallied up our transportation costs, we'd spent nearly three hundred dollars.  Fat, Skinny and the kids got a waterfront property, and Pinky got his yard back. It was a memorable, if expensive, evening. But we like to think it was worth it, and we know Pinky felt the same.