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Friday, February 10, 2012

Questions about home


Wednesday night, after a day of banging and sanding that made my house seem more like a beaten drum or a cave beneath an avalanche, Bill and I were driving home in the dark from a workout.  Somehow my experience of home--the retreat to the crowded treehouse, the relentless noise beneath me, made everything strange, and as I drove down a familiar street it was if I was seeing it for the first time.  You could have told my I was driving in an older residential neighbourhood in Edmonton or Montreal and I'd have nodded in agreement and asked for directions.  "Home" has been redefined by the limited space and the limited kinds of space we have, as well as by the ways other people occupy that space, shutting us out of it while they try to make it a more beautiful home.  We can do everything we need to live here--eat, sleep, shower--yet there is no space that's just for living in.  We spend most of our time in my small study (nicknamed the treehouse) where I read, write or work on quilts.

Today, after a short sanding this morning and another coat of stain, the cats and I had a quiet early afternoon in the treehouse.  Some things are becoming familiar for them.  Whether the door is closed or not (as it certainly is when Greg is putting something surely toxic to cats on the floor), they hang out with me.  When someone comes up the walk, they head for the back of "their" closet.  About three, in an attempt to stave off boredom, I put treats in a kong that Sheba rolls over the floor, puzzled but eager, trying to get her favourite food to fall out, while Twig watches.  I read and sleep.  The noise has made me incredibly tired, so tired I can sometimes nap right through it.  Veronica's friend Jenny thinks that we're worn out by trying to ignore the noise below, which is often alarming.  Or perhaps it's a week and a half of being at home in a small room and inside Virginia Woolf's head that is at least partly the cause of my sleepiness.  But today, because we finally had a respite, I was intensely aware of the more peaceful sounds in the house.  Tiny Sheba snores like a lumberjack.  We have two squirrels living in the eaves above the alcove where I have my desk.  They were chatting with one another today over my head and then scrambling in the eaves and up the stucco walls of the house to the roof.  For small creatures, they were quite noisy.  In the middle of Friday afternoon, even College Avenue is quiet, the odd car sounding almost laconic, perhaps even bored.

Late this afternoon, we needed to collect ourselves and leave again for about four hours.  I'm not good at "killing time," but Bill is an enormous help.  We went downtown for coffee, read our respective books, and then roamed Cornwall Centre.  We went out for dinner.  Then for the last hour, we went to the MacKenzie Art Gallery.

I love the MacKenzie on Friday nights.  There were perhaps one or two other people there, but for the most part we had the gallery to ourselves. You can take your time.  You can look closely at a work and then back up slowly to consider it from different viewpoints without worrying that you'll back into someone.  You can talk out loud without worrying that your inane, clueless--or even perhaps insightful comments will disturb the thoughts of other viewers.  But I think it's mostly the lighting, which is designed for normal daytime viewing.  At night, each work seems to occupy its own penumbra of light, setting it off in a mysterious yet celebratory way. This was particularly true of the Schumiatcher Sculpture Court which has an exhibition called "Hard Rock.  Heavy Metal."  It includes a charmingly foreshortened view of a Joe Fafard cow and a whimsical bench by Vic Cicansky.  Also a pair of overdone Rodin lovers (I preferred the honesty of the cow).  Some of the sculptures, though, were assemblages, and in the unusual light you were sure for a moment you knew what they were for.  Then their wonderful strangeness suddenly returned again.

But my favourite was a video installation called "Sunrise" by David Claerbout.  The scenario is simple.  We see a maid bicycling to work in a modernist glass house, and watch her work there:  washing floors, cleaning glass, sweeping up debris on the modenist deck, cleaning the chrome that envelopes the classic leather chairs.  The camera work is extraordinary, turning the geometry of the glass house into abstract compositions that the maid either resolves or muddles.  Like the maid's uniform, the house is black and white. The simplicity of the space is both appealing and estranging.  There is none of the untidy effluvia of life; rather, the natural world provides most of the decor, beautiful, even on an early spring or late fall day.  But of course you need a maid to keep its impossibility clean.  In one of the final scenes, she puts out the simple white plates, cups and saucers for breakfast and fills up the Bodum coffee press.  The scene looks serene until the camera's vantage point changes and you realize that the house's three inhabitants will sit in a row on small metal stools about four feet apart, removed from one another by verticals holding up the long tabletop so that any intimacy is impossible.  The ideal of the clean white modernist space (perhaps this was built by Le Corbusier or by one of his acolytes--"a machine for living") so free of the untidiness of life, suddenly looks like a prison.  A beautiful, balanced, serene, inviting prison.  The eighteen-minute video asks a dozen questions about home, as does my empty living room with its beautiful floors.

1 comment:

  1. We got rid of the last of the contractors in our house this fall. We "shared" our home with tradespeople for a year, as they completed the final stages of building our house. Not even the first years of my children's lives--having that new baby in the house--were as exhausting as this year of tradesmen. I felt that no matter how wonderful these workers were, it was difficult to forfeit the sanctuary of our privacy. Even a busy day of work at home can feel restful if we're given the chance to follow our own rhythms. There can be rest in such movement...but it drains us to be moving to other people's schedules, noises, and demands. Alas, I'm not as adaptable as the squirrels. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; as always, your words make me smile and give me a calm bit of sanity.

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