Saturday, May 22, 2010

In Memory of Gidu

where's the bean stalk?

The Harvest
Andrea. 2009 

My Grandfather (Gidu in Ukrainian) passed away very early last Sunday after a long illness. I wrote this eulogy as I was flying home from Vancouver:

My memories of Gidu always have been and always will be centred on earth and on the bounty brought forth from it. When I see Gidu in my mind's eye he is frequently in his garden nurturing giant tomatoes, digging in dark soil. I see him in the kitchen biting into the sleek red skin of one of these tomatoes and eating it whole, like an apple, sprinkled with salt. I have been lucky enough to never know hunger but for Gidu, who has known what it is to lack for life's basic necessities, it makes sense that his love has always been tied to the vegetables he has grown and silent toiling in the hot summer sun.

Contained in the Mason jars lining Baba and Gidu's store room are not just pickles, apple sauce, tomato sauce, and fruit cocktail, but a legacy of tradition, care, and loving preparation of food for their family. As so many of us know, Gidu's pasta sauce is not just a careful mixture of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices but a testament to everything he stood for—hard work, patience, and living as sustainably as possible off the products of his own labour.

There came a time when Gidu announced the production of his last batch of tomato sauce. The canning process was too gruelling and he had to admit that he could no longer do it. My mother was in possession of one of these final jars and said to me that she was afraid to finish eating it. Her father was so tied to that jar and the labour that produced its contents that to finish it might be to lose him. If the pasta sauce remained the Gidu would be alive as well. But she did eat it, because who can resist Gidu's tomato sauce? The last jars dwindled but we all had the privilege of knowing what it is to be nourished by food and love all combined in the confines of a single glass jar.

And what I am left with now are vignettes where Gidu is present and I am fed and cared for and loved:

The world's largest blueberry bursting on my tongue at the “pick-your-own” blueberry farm that Baba and Gidu took the grandchildren to each year;
The bliss of perogies fresh from the pot and covered in fried onions;
Gidu shirtless and strong with the sun warming his back as he works to produce a small backyard harvest. Later there will be ham and tomato sandwiches, a game of Euchre that Gidu will win, and much laughter. 
We grandchildren have been so lucky to have had this man in our lives this long, to sit with us at the table sharing stories and hopes and dreams. With a good meal spread before us the room is infused with the quiet serenity that comes from knowing you are loved. These are gifts that I can carry on from here for the rest of my life.

Thursday, May 6, 2010



I took another Polaroid. I couldn't help it. It's like having a giant bag of cookies lying around and trying not to eat one. This one took a fair bit of staging. My apartment is absolutely crammed with stuff so it was surprisingly difficult to set up a shot that didn't have all sorts of distractions in it. In an attempt to avoid overexposure I shut the picture up in my violin case as soon as I grabbed it from the camera and then left it for a full 10 minutes. That seemed to successfully produce darker, reddish tones that I quite like.

In addition to photography I wanted to share this exerpt from Susan Holbrook's newest book of poems Joy is So Exhausting

Editing the Erotica Issue
Susan Holbrook

 Crocuses glistened. Sparrows throbbed.
………..Would he approve
………..Of her nipples of mauve?
And that was what had first attracted him, her canvas flaps.
A father of four, he is nevertheless kittenish.
Her skirt had a stuffed look, which could only mean she was wearing ruffled panties.
Oh nutritious mound of sprouts.
Richard and Regina had been friends for a long time.
Dear editors: When I saw you were doing an erotica issue, I thought, woody-licious!
And in the velour pantsuit of evening, even the sandflies laughed to see their joy.
Richard throbbed. Regina glistened.
In the land of Zamore, mailmen had a dual function.
“Oh, excuse me, I thought everyone was gone for the night,” she says, foaming at the
Her heart throbbed, and the surgeon saw that it was glistening in there.
“Quickly! More crumpled wet sheets!”
He carries me upstairs under one arm, like a chicken.
…………Left a hickie as big as a toonie,
…………Monday acted like he never knew me.
Dear editors: I have been waiting years to share my expertise in this very special field
…..of writing.
Are you even glistening? I’m throbbing to you.
Oranges, all over.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Polaroid Fever

New Love!

 New Love
Andrea. 2010

I have taken my first Polaroid image and it was the biggest photographic adrenaline rush ever. For someone who is used to nonchalantly snapping digital images taking a Polaroid was a whole new world. Let's begin with the fact that the film is insanely expensive and hard to get. After the Impossible Project started manufacturing Polaroid film again all the people out there with Polaroid cameras went a little wrangy. They either sold their cameras for a mint or started hoarding the rare, limited edition film like they had just struck oil. The Impossible Project is currently sold out of just about everything, but I did manage to find some PX-100 Silvershade film at a local camera shop where I bought three boxes instead of the one I was planning on purchasing because I succumbed to scarcity panic. The salesperson informed me that they only had a few boxes left and with the Impossible Project being out of stock the possibility of more film in the near future was low and my fear of being left out in the Polaroid cold induced me to purchase $92 worth of film. Which gets me a whopping 24 exposures for a per image price of $3.83! Not only that, but the anxiety produced by Polaroid film shortages was so great that I acutally put my name on a waiting list to get a few boxes of the colour film that is supposed to arrive in the next few weeks. I felt as if I had just purchased illicit drugs. My heart was pounding as I left the store with three small white boxes containing 8 exposures each and my rather incredible receipt.

I sat myself down on a bench because I couldn't wait to load the film and carefully opened the box. My mouth was dry as I considered the possibility that this Polaroid camera I purchased on eBay might not even be functional. The seller claimed it was film tested and since I'm a trusting sort of person I believed him, but you just never know what you're going to get when there is absolutely no way for you to inspect the item before purchase. I snapped in the film cartridge and my camera promptly spit out the following message:

Impossible Project

A Message from My Camera
Andrea. 2010 

I'm not really sure what that means but I was charmed. My camera wanted me to be enigmatic, mysterious, impossible to pin down, unwedded to any specific identity, flexible, and curious. I thought, "yes, that sounds good, I will be a question mark." Then my philosophical moment dissipated with the mounting fear and excitement produced by my fully loaded Polaroid camera sitting on the bench beside me. It was time to take a picture and I had performance anxiety. There were a lot of things to consider.

I had been warned about the diva-like nature of PX-100 film. It doesn't like light so as soon as it emerges from the camera you're supposed to put it somewhere dark or at the very least place it face down. It doesn't like extreme heat or cold, preferring a moderate 62-75 degrees. So if it's hot outside you should bring it somewhere cool to develop and if it's cold you should put it in your pocket. You're not supposed to touch the surface as it develops and you have to wait about 5 minutes for it to finish becoming an image. I really wasn't sure what the temperature outside was but I was guessing around 50 degrees. I figured I would put the picture in my pocket for good measure but worried that my pocket might be a bit too warm. Alas, with no other options I strategized that my pocket was my best bet. I found myself a photographic subject, a very quaint house across the street from my vantage point. I debated the merits of the house to decide if it was actually worth of a $4.00 picture. It had doll-house-like shingles, sweet white curtains on the windows, a laburnum tree hanging over the left side of the room and another large tree to the right of the lawn. I thought it would lend itself well to the vintage sepia tones of the PX-100 film. So feeling confident about my subject matter I raised the camera to my eye and peered through the slightly dusty viewfinder. I let my finger hang over the shutter release. My mouth was dry and I was feeling a little sweaty. I depressed the ominous red button. Heard a click, a whizzzz, a click and the picture was spit out of the camera.

AHHH! I wasn't ready! I was expecting a lag time between the exposure and the emergence of the picture. Frazzled I grabbed it. Shoved it in my pocket as quickly as I could. Realized that it was a bit large for my pocket and one corner was hanging out. Began to freak out about light leaks and covered my pocket with my hand to try to reduce the possibility of sunlight touching my print. So picture this--I'm standing on the sidewalk holding a Polaroid camera in one hand and using my other to press my right pocket closed. There's a vintage leather camera bag hanging from my neck. I'm trying very hard not to move because I'm afraid I'll bend, crinkle, or otherwise marr the developing image in my pocket. I'm desperately fighting the urge to look at the picture because the need to know what it looks like is monopolizing my entire mind and I'm starting to feel giddy with dread and anticipation. I wait a full 7 minutes to make sure that thing is developed. And then...the moment of truth!

I pulled the picture out of my pocket and Voila!

First Polaroid Ever

 House of Dreams
Andrea. 2010 

I was in love. The image wasn't perfect. It wasn't nearly as good as many of the Polaroids I've seen recently on Flickr (it's Polaroid week over there and people are doing some amazing things!), but there was something about it that I found incredible. The completely modern scene before me had been magically transformed into something that spoke of bygone years. The image was full of blurred and hazy mystery. Details were reduced to smears of light and I found the entire thing absolutely marvellous. And I was hooked. And I wanted to do the whole thing again right away. But with much effort I restrained myself. At $4.00 a shot I can't afford to be taking Polaroids willy-nilly. I'm going to have to save them for special occasions so I can stretch out the supply and keep M. from leaving me because I'm spending our grocery money on instant film. To comfort myself I'll allow myself to take regular film pictures on the old Minolta I've borrowed from M.'s parents. That film is much cheaper to purchase and develop but still presents the excitement of not quite knowing what you're going to get when you're done.

And a side note--I don't have a scanner so I had to take a digital photograph of my Polaroid in order to post it online. From what I can tell in the Polaroid photography community this is a sin punishable by ex-communication. The Polaroid pool on Flickr warns that anyone posting such images will have their pictures deleted from the site. This has something to do with maintaining authenticity. I'm not quite sure how a scan is fundamentally different (and less digital) than a digital photograph, but alas this means I can't submit my photo to the pool. Hopefully I can be forgiven for posting it here!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Pursuit of Free


Andrea 2010 

On Sunday I dragged myself out of bed at 6:15 am, put a liter of tea in a Thermos, grabbed six breakfast cookies freshly baked on Saturday night, and got on a bus headed for the "Got Craft" fair on Commercial Drive. The fair didn't start until 10 am but a bag of free stuff from the vendors had been promised to the first 30 people in line and it appears that the possibility of free stuff causes temporary insanity in the potential recipients of said free stuff, causing them to engage in bizarre behaviour. I was meeting a friend at the craft venue for 8 am. We assumed 2 hours would be more than enough time to claim our prize and we came prepared. I brought knitting as well as food, my friend brought a book and piles of fruit. We were going to settle in for the long haul. We were going to sit there cold and uncomfortable for two full hours in order to lay our hands on a bag of god-knows-what. The mystery of the bag's contents may have been part of the allure. The thought that something truly amazing might be in that bag and you won't get a chance to know unless you get up at the crack of dawn turns out to be a powerful motivator.

So I'm on the bus headed for the Craft fair with my Thermos snug in my back-pack and the sweater I'm knitting for M. curled up alongside it. And I'm dreaming about all the amazing things that might be in the swag bag that I'm quite certain I'm going to obtain with my ambitious 6:15 am start time. In my mind there is something in that bag so completely inspiring that it might just change the course of my entire day,  maybe week, maybe my life. At the very least I'm sure that whatever is in there will fill me with delight and make my early morning trek worth it.

As I finally approached the venue I became jittery. Would I be early enough? Surely there weren't 30 other people in Vancouver as keen as I was to find out what was in those bags. There was no one ouside when I arrived and my heart jumped. I was sure that I had made it. I opened the door and found about 10 people standing at the bottom of a long set of stairs. Okay--not too many people yet, I was probably in luck! But it suddenly became horribly clear that the line of people went all the way up the stairs and that the place was packed with eager crafters who had somehow managed to arrive even earlier than my extravagant 7:45 am. My friend, seeing the line growing in a video online, had rushed over and managed to sneak into 29th place, securing a bag for herself. There had been an actual sprint for the 30th place, she reported. And I hadn't even been close. I felt crushed. As absolutely stupid as it is I was fighting the urge to cry. I stood there with my knitting and my tea and my cookies baked especially for the occasion and felt thoroughly defeated. I now faced a 2 hour wait on a cold staircase without the potential of anything to reward me for my patience. My friend, a gracious, kind, and sympathetic soul, agreed to split the contents of her bag with me and I was somewhat appeased by the fact that things were not entirely in vain. And I also got a rare opportunity to observe a whole group of people who had decided to forgo sleep in order to crack into a mystery swag bag.

I quickly concluded that I had underestimated the hard-core nature of the crafters assembled. A brief look around confirmed that I never had a chance against the die-hards assembled in the chilly, damp hallway of the Royal Canadian Legion. Almost everyone was knitting, and we're not talking stockinette scarfs here--people were knitting lace standing up, they were shaping socks on double pointed needles, they were working on projects hanging off size 2 needles. These were dedicated knitters full of energy and determination. One woman was wearing a Sock Summit sweatshirt. The frenzy of knitting was accompanied by an absolute cacaphony of talking, laughing, and despairing cries from people who arrived too late to get a Mystery Bag. People were relating the tales of their rush to the venue as one might relate tales of glory (and destruction) in battle. It was all very epic. I sipped tea from my thermos, ate a few cookies to comfort myself, and snacked on the fresh raspberries my friend had brought along. We chatted, I knitted, she read a book and my fingers slowly seized up in the cold.

My disappointment slowly dissipated and as 10 am drew near I could feel the anticipation buzzing in the room. Finally my friend was handed a lovely tweed bag stuffed full of small packages. We immediately retreated to a corner to empty out the loot like a couple of theives in the night. And there was some good stuff in there, and because of my friend's generosity I got to go home with some of it--a necklace some fabulous magnets, earrings, stationery. We carefully picked through every item marvelling at the best items and tossing less interesting ones back into the bag. The greatest of the excitement over we were able to spend an enjoyable few hours browsing the craft tables, drooling over the sweet knits, needle felted toys, clothes, and accessories. There was a craft table set up where everyone could assemble a pinwheel brooch out of felt, fabric, and buttons. Ultimately I went home happy, though a bit tired and channeled my inspiration into a few hand-made cards in the afternoon.

The craft fair happens again near Christmas. We're busy plotting our strategy for getting free stuff. Clearly we need to reevaluate our dedication to free-stuff procurement. Live and learn.