Monday, October 10, 2011

Life and times so bright I’ve got to wear shades! Part 1

Life is certainly in flux these days, which has left me with a great deal to catch up on. In something resembling chronological order I’ll give it my best shot.

The Homestead is coming along fabulously. Our microwave has been installed. We are not so hopeless as to require someone to come over and plug it in for us, the microwave actually seconds as a range hood so some handyman stuff was required.
All stainless steel, chrome and flat panel buttons it is a veritable chef in a computer chip that can be programmed to undertake an extraordinarily complex array of cooking assignments. I’m just happy that we can at last make popcorn in the country, and, not of minor importance, reheat coffee - all for less than a thousand dollars.

The more- than-ample deck had been coming together nicely in the later weeks of August. In the absence of reason and forethought we have decided to go ahead with an outdoor shower that will serve no particular purpose except to ensure that we have mosquito bites everywhere.
Of tangential interest we can’t seem to get Hydro Quebec to send us a bill or even acknowledge our existence. I attempted to contact them twice before leaving Canada but their customer service website has baffled me. From what I can tell you need to be a customer already to use the site. I did send a message to the general mailbox (because that is all that is provided) pleading with them to let us pay for the electricity that we have used to which they responded a few days later with an email instructing me how to go onto the website and went on to inform me that once I entered my customer information I would get all the assistance that I needed. I sent a second note thanking Hydro Quebec for their prompt, if not utterly useless (I didn’t use those words...exactly), response and reiterated that unfortunately I am not a customer and therefore cannot enter my customer information. There has been no response thus far. The catch-22 clearly eludes them.

If anyone reading this works for Hydro Quebec, or knows the mystic incantation we need to make to get our electricity bill – please help us. In the meantime we look forward to having our power shut off and being sent to collection.
Within a few days of each other, Robert and I went off to New York City – primarily to celebrate Robert’s birthday over the Labour Day weekend. We did so in style at F.A.O. Schwarz, the giant toy store that was featured in the 1988 Tom Hanks film, “Big”. Guests, royalty among them, initially gathered in the courtyard of the Metropolitan Club. Then the toy soldier, which serves as the doorman for F.A.O Schwarz, appeared and trumpeted as a prelude to his announcement that we were changing location.
All the birthday guests were given a musical instrument and played them like no one was listening as we marched down 5th Avenue. Though the instruments were a clue many were still guessing at our final destination when F.A.O. Schwarz came into sight. Of note - yours truly picked the venue. Do I know my guy or what!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A little NYC just outside of Poltimore, Quebec

In the picture is Robert and Kevin. Kevin will be building our deck.
Less as a matter of compromise than of default, Robert and I finally came to an agreement over the name of our new country home. It turns out that the scope of the veranda we had originally planned would have brought the outer reaches too close to the river to meet local building codes.  It was simply a case of way too much deck.
We bought two Adironack (Muskoka) chairs at the fair

The reworked plans, while still fabulous, aren’t quite as grand and “Good-sized Deck”, or “More Than Ample Deck” just doesn’t have the same cache as “Big Deck”. So, I let it go only to rally temporarily yesterday while at the local Poltimore County Fair where I came across a rather large rooster for that we could take home with us... but alas, “Big Cock” would have been a little too obvious. As a result I have begrudgingly acquiesced and the agreed name of our homestead down in the gulch is...”The Homestead”. Yawn.

In keeping with the rustic vein to which “The Homestead” alludes to, Robert has decided to build a giant glass studio up on the thickly forested ridge that overlooks our home (think of the Apple Store at the corner of 5th Avenue and 59th Street in New York City but in a woodland setting).
Robert's original models
Robert's final model

He purchased a few roles of neon pink surveyor’s tape from the local hardware store and after breakfast Sunday morning we staked-off the acreage of what amounts to be our backyard. 
Initially he debated whether or not to engage the services of an architect but assuaging my concerns of the Apple Store sliding over the precipice and pile-driving into our More Than Ample Deck, he has assented to the use of professional guidance. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Showdown at Big Deck

It turned out that the armoire which launched the great citywide shopping spree for furniture did not actually fit up the stairs. I wasn’t there at the time of delivery but Robert assures me that the turning radius on the first landing was only a hair to narrow. At the time he had discussed disassembling the piece but was thankfully talked out of it.

The logical solution would be, of course, to exchange the armoire for a smaller one. But that’s not how we roll up at Big Deck. No siree, Bob. Not by a long shot. The only clear and rational course of action is to take out part of the stairwell. Yep, ‘cause exchanging the thing doesn’t make a lick of sense. The plan is that the contractor who built the home will be there on the day of the re-delivery and he will remove, in a controlled demolition, whatever section of wall that gets in the way. We do have three empty bedroom closets upstairs by the way. But since the dresser that we have yet to purchase and likely would make it up to the second floor is destined to be inside the large closet of the master bedroom, the master bedroom will have no closet space. So, of course, the room needs an armoire; and a big one at that. See how that works.
Another little snag occurred with our brand new furnishings, Robert doesn’t like the color of the dining room table and chairs that we purchased from the Emporium. The set was actually made to order, but there was some mix-up and antique cream white intended for the base and legs was understood to be blond. The store has graciously offered to refinish everything. And here, again, one might be tempted to think that the course of action is pretty straightforward. Have them pick it up, refinish it and bring it back, right? Again, that’s just not how we roll out at Big Deck. We’re homesteaders after all. Robert wants to do the work and has ingratiated himself upon the store’s owner to teach him how to do so. They’ve agreed.
Initially I was not as supportive as I could have been, “Hell, no!”, but I soon gave way to the gleam in Robert’s eye as he ignored me entirely and talked excitedly at the prospect of being a craftsman. My reaction can be traced to childhood memories of my parent’s own failed attempts at FIY. There was the perfectly good kitchen table that my mother decided to re-varnish only to have the clear coat at the centre of the tabletop pit and bubble. For my sister and me, picking at it and peeling flecks up with our finger nails became as addictive as popping bubble wrap. Risking the ire of our mother we stealthily chipped away at every opportunity. Then there was the time my father had decided to oil all the moving parts of the faucet in the main bathroom of our brand new home. Free of any resistance the pressure of the flowing water was all that was needed to open the taps up wider and wider. To compound this self-inflicted problem the hot and cold taps didn’t unscrew at an equal pace. Hot lead the charge. Once initialized, say to wash your face, the process rapidly drove itself to an angry jet of scalding water gushing out of the faucet and burrowing down the drain. I had not known that my father had oiled the taps and therefore this new and seemingly unexplainable phenomenon had spooked the crap out of me. It had been quite a while before I had asked anyone in the family if they had been having a similar experience. I had been afraid they would say no.

But then what then what is the purpose of Big Deck if not for Robert to express his creative side… far, far, away from our home in the city. He has my blessing.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ménage à trois and the chunky brass doorknocker.

A few decisions have been made about our place in the country. First, Robert would like to give it a name. Second, he fully galvanized into action on the decorating style of our home; French Provincial meets eighteenth century Americana meets ‘homestead’. This ménage à trois motif was arrived at thanks to an armoire, the single piece that Robert had set out to purchase one day for the bedroom. His search took him to a few Ottawa shops and had inspired a frenzied spree to fill our home.

When the dust settled arrangements had been made for the delivery truck. Its first pick up would be from Yardley’s Antiques on Bank Street, and the final pick up would be from the Emporium on Main Street. Stuffed, the truck would then waddle off to our little casa in the Gatineau Hills by Rivière Blanche.
Among the more interesting pieces were a neon Labatt’s Blue Beer sign with an accompanying Canadian Maple Leaf that says, “GO ORANGE” (which I assume is rooting for a sports team as opposed to the fruit), and a beat up New York Mets pennant, both of which have found a home in our main floor powder room. Being unfortunately oversized, it has become a sort of in catch-all that, but for the sink and toilet, might be otherwise referred to as shed.
Also within the confines of this room is a rather substantial Moroccan door knocker, which was given to Robert during our recent trip to New York. It is a dividend payment of sorts for Robert’s investment years ago in “Rick’s Cafe” in Casablanca, which an old friend of his who was living in Tokyo at the same time in the 70’s/80’s created, when she was with the U.S. Department of Commerce drumming up trade for America. She loved it and decided to build the one thing Casablanca didn’t have ... Rick’s Cafe.  Somehow a chunky brass doorknocker seems to work alongside the Labatt’s Blue Beer sign, and until we find a more suitable place there it shall remain.

Robert has also decided that he would like a huge wrap-around porch, so he took the logs of the three dead birch trees we had to get cut down and made an enormous outline on the lawn, which framed the house. This was done last Thursday while waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ...... for the delivery truck to arrive down the steep hill of our dirt road, with the armoire, beer sign, two American/Provençal wing chairs, a Pennsylvania Dutch hutch to be used as a wine rack, six 19th century ‘Arkansas-hills/Quaker-inspired’ fan-back chairs and an accompanying round, hand-hewn, pine dining table.  
After spending Canada Day in the city to watch the fireworks from the 22nd floor of the Westin Hotel, we packed up the Jeep and headed off to the country. When we arrived, Robert first gave me a tour of the new furnishings, ironically, minus the armoire as it had been too big to get up the stairs, and then took me outside to show me his log template.
Then  we sat on the front veranda in our new grey/powder green rocking chairs, made with twisted and turned twigs – you know the kind, but these are curiously attractive -  and marvelled at how nicely things had come together. It was during this discussion that I became inspired and offered my suggestion for the name of our homestead, Big Deck. To my surprise this was not met with a warm reception. Hey, it’s not bragging if it’s true.

Robert’s thinking more in the line of Tara...(the main house in ‘Gone with the Wind’)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Russian Embassy, Burgers and Pneumonia

Robert returned to Ottawa from Venice a few weeks ago after taking a somewhat circuitous route by flying first to Paris and then, a day later, on to Montreal. For those of you who are not familiar, flying within Europe is ridiculously cheap, whereas flying to Canada from Europe is not. Therefore, in order to get the carrier you want and the seating class you want at a price that you are willing pay it does make sense to see who is leaving out of which city and plan accordingly

To give you an idea of the cost of flying within Europe, I once had a hamburger and fries at one of Venice’s most expensive hotels, The Hotel Cipriani. It was a dining experience that was memorable only for the price. Later that same month Robert and I flew Easy Jet from Venice to Pairs to attend an award ceremony at the Russian Embassy of John Kapstein, the husband of one of Robert’s oldest friends the Baronessa Luciana Leto. The award was for his culture contribution to the Soviet-American relationship during the Cold War.
During one of our strolls through the city we happened upon a pub where I had my second European hamburger. The cost of that Parisian hamburger, inclusive of the airfare from Venice, was competitive to the cost of a lesser burger at The Hotel Cipriani.

It was also while in Paris that we discovered The Great Canadian Pub along the left bank of the Seine, near St. Michel. The establishment was serving one of Canada’s (mostly Quebec’s) most infamous confections – Poutine! French fries, squeaky cheese curds and gravy! Yum! Incidentally, the cost of an overflowing serving of this gooey goodness, again inclusive of airfare from Venice, was also competitive to the cost of the burger at The Hotel Cipriani.
The photo is of Liu Fang
performing in Pairs where
we were honored with a
private concert along with
the concert pianist, Noel Lee
You get the picture; flying within Europe is very inexpensive. So it made sense for Robert to fly to Paris in order to get a great value, non-stop flight to Canada. Of nearly equal importance to Robert was that the flight from Paris flew into Montreal and not Ottawa. Arriving in Montreal gives us an excuse to have a little getaway together plus has the added bonus of Robert avoiding Ottawa Immigration. Ottawa is the only city in the world where Robert has been detained by immigration officials for a major grilling  – twice. The second time an immigration official came all the way out to the waiting area to interview me ... where I lived, a number I could be reached at and finally my relationship with Robert.


"He’s my partner.”
Blank stare.  
“Life,” I elaborated. 

“Oh,” she said to me and then a second time at me and a third and final time aloud to herself as she was walking away. Robert was released a minute or two later. (This incident, by the way, has given us great impetus for Robert to get his Canadian Residency.) 
When his flight was booked to Montreal Robert had then proceeded to plan a dinner party with some dear friends we have in the city - Ted, a retired airline executive, Mark, a composer,  Liu Fang a world renowned pipa soloist  (a Chinese instrument reminiscent of a lute) and her husband and manager, Risheng Wang.  It was planned that after dinner there would be a mini-recital where Liu Fang could play some compositions that Mark arranged specifically for her.

Robert’s flight arrived in Montreal mid-afternoon on a Friday, and I met up with him after work at the Hotel Nelligan in Old Montreal. I could tell immediately that he wasn’t feeling well. He sounded congested and looked tired, but, truthfully, it was the other clues that were more telling of his state of health. Yes, he had adorned our room with flowers, but he hadn’t rearranged the furniture. Yes, he purchased tickets to the ballet for the following afternoon, trying to shoehorn it in before the dinner party that would be taking place later that very evening. But that was it, only the one thing planned. No additional plays, or museum tours, or recitals to speak of. This was not the man who had once insisted that I join him at the Royal Ballet in London after I had been awake for over twenty hours. This was not the man who would come home to our Palazzo in Venice and announce that a few people were coming over for drinks and dinner and when I, blindsided and slightly flustered, asked at what time would give a chipper response that would be something like ‘They’re coming up the garden right now.’
It turned out that I had reason to be concerned. As the evening progressed Robert kept getting worse, and although we attempted dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Verse, he ordered very little (his favorite rhubarb pie), drank only water and excused himself to retire to our room shortly after our food arrived.  That night he had difficulty finding a comfortable position that wouldn’t lead to a coughing fit. His wheezing was loud enough to wake him up when he did happen to drift off.
In the morning Robert decided that he wanted to skip the ballet, which again, spoke volumes to me about how awful he was feeling. By mid-morning we concluded that he might have something serious, and I called Ted to see if he could recommend a clinic. Robert was by now shuffling when he walked. During our cab ride to the Westmount Medical Clinic I was both doting and reprimanding as he kept on insisting that we should go to the dinner party. While we sat in the waiting room both his illness and my stubbornness had taken its toll and bobbing in and out of sleep in the waiting room, he relented on the dinner but felt that we should at least try to make the recital.

He did in fact have pneumonia, and we were given a fistful of prescriptions and were told that if things got any worse, we should head immediately to the hospital. We got his medication and during our return cab ride I suggested, strongly, that we stay in for the evening to which Robert  expressed concern over disappointing his friends.

“Robert, in life-or-death situations, people understand when you don’t attend a dinner party.”

I won him over, but just barely.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Houseboy & The Mystery of the Vacuum

Robert is rather pleased with having a new cleaning person for our home. I am rather indifferent about it. This divergence of enthusiasm is likely due to our very different perspectives on the matter. I would expect to come home after the cleaner has been through the house and see a marked improvement. This was not the case. Except for ironing napkins and misplacing my cleaning products, I have no idea what else he did on his first visit. 

Robert, on the other hand, now has "staff" in Canada.  In principle alone this has him very excited. The role this staff person has taken on, unwittingly, is that of “houseboy”. And that is actually all I know this man as – “the houseboy”.  

I fear to ask Robert houseboy's name as it might somehow take away a little of the magic of it all for him. While I will likely never see this man, I will be shopping for him. He has given Robert a list of cleaning products, for which he thoughtfully emailed photos, put in a request a specific brand of mop and has asked that we purchase a vacuum.

Robert had phoned me at work on that initial day to ask if we owned a vacuum. We do not. We don’t own one in Ottawa, as we have hardwood floors throughout, and we don’t own one in Venice, as we have marble floors throughout.  This came as a bit of surprise to Robert – the lack of a vacuum, not the respective flooring materials. As an aside, if vacuums cost ten thousand dollars apiece and served merely an aesthetic function, he’d own five - with three still in their crates.
Wanting to keep the new staff happy, Robert has tasked me with purchasing the vacuum. His reasoning was that he felt it to be more in my area of expertise. I, however, suspect that it is because he doesn’t know what one looks like.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More dating tips for women and the man chore that can be seen from space

Now let’s suppose you have a man currently in your life who is not a pseudo-boyfriend (see definitions), and you are interested in trying to move the relationship toward something a little more intimate but you don’t want to seem too obvious, so you invite him over for dinner. However, to blur the possibility of the dinner being clearly and correctly construed as an overture by said man you incorporate a man chore (see definitions) favour into the evening. If this is your tactic of choice, your handling of “the favour” makes all the difference.
My experience whether with a female friend, a girlfriend or with some type of relationship in between, has been that women get it wrong every single time. Yet it is so simple to get right. Ask “the favour” at the time that arrangements are being made for the date not, I repeat not, at the time of arrival. If “the favour” is asked at the time of arrival it can be a little deflating. And I assume, perhaps presumptuously, that your first choice for a date would not be a deflated man. If it is, then I say: to each her own sister. And you are soooo reading the wrong blog.
Free, Public Domain Image: Man Using a Grinder at WorkThere is nothing that makes me cringe more, to this very day, than when I enter a woman’s home as her guest, and she speaks those dreadful words which go something like: “While I am preparing dinner, I was wondering if you could do me a favour.” “The favour” more often than not frequently required tools which she did not posses and therefore must have assumed that I, as man, carry around at all times. This is akin to my asking a female friend to knit me a sweater the moment she walks into my house. After all, don’t all women innately know how to do this? Are they not ever vigilant with assorted yarns at the ready and needles, like Japanese Chokuto blades, sheathed across their back?
During the single episodes of some of the women in my life I have unwittingly slipped into the role of their pseudo-boyfriend and “the favour” became my nemesis. Oddly I continually fell for it. There was never a free meal. One would assume that once a woman has a man in her life that “the favour” would no longer be a concern but this, I learned, is a dangerous fallacy. The scope of “the favour” may actually grow exponentially in this situation. “While I am basting the chicken can you put a shelf up for me?” can explode into “While I am basting the chicken can you help Jack put up a retaining wall?” I did eventually catch on and required that certain of my women friends explicitly state that I would not be ambushed by a chore of any sort upon arrival. They have respected my wishes, though admittedly through avoidance.
Comparatively, on the rare occasion when a gay man required help with some type of luger work, not only would he ask while extending the invitation but also take part. Imagine. I still get misty when it happens.
From my experience I can guarantee that it is a misnomer to think that some emperor or other had decreed that the Great Wall of China be built. I know differently. It is the only man chore that you can see from space. “While I am basting the chicken can you help my husband and brothers put up a retaining wall?”

Great Wall of China