Ghost Town

“I’m placing an ad,” I told my daughter. “Wanted: Engaging young adults willing to come to our country home and pretend to be our children.”

“Mom, that’s not funny,” she said.

“Compensation includes accomodation in a house filled with antiques and art, access to  mature perennial gardens with swimming pool, excellent meals featuring local farm produce and unlimited wine, civilized conversation, beautiful surroundings.”

“MOM!”

“You do realize that July has come and gone without a single visit from you and your sisters?”

“We’re busy. Everyone’s getting married and there are showers and rehearsals, and Matt’s birthday party, and guests coming from Paris.”

“Successful applicants must say things like, “I have such great memories of this place,’ and ‘Can I help you in the garden?’ (Don’t worry, we won’t take you up on it”)

The truth is, our country house has felt like a ghost town for a few years now. Out in the garden I hear their voices:

“Mom, can we go to Ben and Jerry’s?”

“Look, we’re building a fort”

“Can we sleep out in the fort?”

“Can we come in? It’s too scary in the fort.”

“Can we swim after dinner?”

“Marco. Polo. Marco. Polo.”

Aside from  ghost voices, things are blessedly quiet out in the garden.  I try to emphasize the secondary gains of the situation: I can weed for as long  as  I want. I don’t have to worry about anyone drowning or breaking a leg. I don’t have to fight with anyone to turn off the computer and come outside.  I can READ!

Change is hard. Especially when you have loved things as they were. I think many residents of our little town of Knowlton feel much this way. Outside our gallery I bump into people I know just vaguely and with very little provocation they begin to rant: “This town is dead. DEAD!!!!” Eyes bulge. Veins pop. I glance around for zombies but there’s no one out on those sidewalks, it’s true.

Many things have happened to create this situation – the grocery and liquor stores moved to the outskirts, the ski hill closed down, the population is aging, there is a Walmart now. Still, other towns in the area seem to be jumping.

“Come on. Would you want to be Sutton?” I counter. ” Is there even one store you would want to shop in there? Aside from the bakery?” I quickly add. “And Bromont. Have you driven through lately? So tacky it’s embarrassing. At least our stores are good stores: Jones, Bromewood, Athletica, Woolrich. There’s the theatre, Shakespeare on the beach. Buzz. Florale. We’re classy. We’re interesting. The new antique stores are good. Looks like fewer storefronts are for rent this summer.”

All this falls on deaf ears.  These folks have converted to a mindset and mere facts cannot dissuade them. And it’s true, there are fewer tourists and the ones who come into our gallery are mostly older couples from small-town Quebec. They like to see the art, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

I think it very likely that things will change for the better in Knowlton, because the opposite just doesn’t make sense. Any fool can see how gorgeous our town is, with its hill, its pond, its river, its beautiful buildings. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here? There will be a renewal but who will be a part of it? Perhaps our little gallery, amongst others.  In the meantime, there may be secondary gains we can concentrate on, like the possibility that some of our commercial buildings,  converted homes,  will once again become residential. Would that be so bad? Would we love Knowlton less? I don’t think so.

Oh, and by the way, my kids are all coming down this weekend. Hallelujah.

(I hope this post doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I try to write in a humourous vein and part of humour is exaggeration. Still, my apologies to anyone who feels offended, especially those unfortunates who live in Sutton or Bromont.)

 

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Tope Trope

We all have our little quirks. In the spirit of no-holds-barred, here is one of mine: I love topiary. I do get it that topiary is, well, silly. Why trim the heck out of some poor plant in order to give it a shape Nature never intended? The French would scoff at the idea of respecting nature’s intentions. They unabashedly fly in the face of nature. In fact, friends were shocked when we explained that we simply let the trees on our country property  grow without interfering. It just seemed bizarre to them, “You mean you don’t keep them trim?” The expression on the faces would have been the same if they were saying, “You mean you never wash your hair?” Below is an example of what untrammelled French slashing leads to:  the deformed stumps they call trees in Limoges.

IMG_0877Public square, Limoges.

 Seriously. Why would you do this? Looks like Edward Scissorhands ran amok.

Still, the sculptural possibilities of trimming plants into shapes delights me. For example, Levens Hall in the U.K.

levens Admit it, this is fun. images

 

 

 

 

His Royal Highness Prince Charles has some pretty good topes at his garden Highgrove.imagesThe-Thyme-Walk---Andrew-Lawson-2011---G395-11D-79These are yellow holly topes. So cool. How enchanting it would be to walk this allée, enjoying the artistry of the many forms these shrubs take while waiting for the White Rabbit to pop out from behind one of them. Of course, the Prince bought the topiary along with the Elizabethan era mansion that is the heart of Highgrove. I have been less fortunate. In the financial sense.

But even Prince Charles cannot manage the largesse of some other royals. Louis the XIV, for instance. One of the pleasures of Versailles are the hundreds of perfect topiary specimens that line the major axis of the gardens. I think I photographed half of them.

IMG_1651 IMG_1637IMG_1633IMG_1631 Beautiful, no?

But, having shown you Levens Hall, Highgrove and Versailles, you are no doubt breathless for a view of my own topiary, introduced some years ago in my country garden. This plan was hatched after a typically long Quebec winter that I spent poring over the very compelling book by Bunny Guiness, Highgrove – A Garden Celebrated. So what if Prince Charles had a crack team of gardeners to help him keep the Thyme Walk Topiary in trim? I had to try. And, as usual, short on time and cash, we went to our own woods to dig out baby fir trees. I chose tamaracks for their bluey-green feathery foliage. Examining our work in progress, our friend the forester, Justin, helpfully pointed to the 50 foot tall tamaracks of our forest and said, “You do realize that they get quite tall”? “I will keep them trimmed,” I said breezily.

IMG_1883 Here is half of the main axis of our garden that runs parallel to the south side of the house. The topiary were to provide structure and demarcate the axis,

IMG_1884Gulp. Here you have it . Four topiariy-in -training, one half of the topiary walk.

IMG_1875Here is my best one. I said this to a friend recently and she said, “Aren’t they supposed to be, well, round? ” “Getting there!” I responded testily. It’s OK.  Lots of other friends come to visit and say, “I LOVE the topiary!” And they smile and squeeze my hand. I think what they are saying is, I love it that you are the kind of crazy person who would conceive and try a topiary walk in a frozen little Northern garden when you are not Louis XIV or even Prince Charles. Right.

Here We Go Again

Yes, I’m back. I’ve missed the blog, and it feels great to tell you that many readers have been saying that they miss it , too. Time for a fresh start and a new focus, without forgetting the fun we had before, in Paris.

IMG_1778 Ferns emerging in mid-May.

Six weeks have passed since we returned from our Winter in Paris. We have picked up our many responsibilities: houses, gardens, aged mothers, adult children who still need us, and the extended circle of friends for whom we wish we had more time. During our absence, a member of the extended family died, leaving us a lovely bequest but also the  ton of work it takes  to settle the many details of an estate. Our car died, too, and it was not a clean and painless death. But while our Uncle is missed, the car is not. Good riddance. Never buy a Hyundai.

How does it feel? I LOVE it here. Here is me. Here is who I am.I adore Paris, but I can never be a Parisienne, however fascinating  that idea may be. All this baggage of home and its people and the things that go with it  doesn’t quite define me, but it is a big part of my definition. It all expresses a myriad of choices made over decades, and all the work and nurturing and trying and imagining that has gone into crafting  my life. It all stands out in relief now that I have been away and I must say that I like what I see. Pretty much.

IMG_1809 Our country garden..

IMG_1802 We came home to primroses.

IMG_1779

 

Things are different here and so am I.  For one, I am less good-looking. Here’s what I mean. I was going through some of my Paris pictures with my friend Hannah, who will be  in Paris soon and wanted to get my thoughts on Versailles. So I was showing her pictures of me and my friend Alison at Versailles and she pointed to one and said, “This must be Alison”. “Uh… no. It’s me.” She looked at the photo again in disbelief and then back at me.”Okay,” I said. “I up my game when I’m there.” She reacted the same way to several more photos. I vowed to start wearing make-up again. And accessories.

IMG_1626Me at Versailles. Note foulard, tight pants, vintage belt, Chanel (not really) jacket, everything matches.

baggy pantsMe at home with Sophie. Note baggy pants,  dirty hair tied back so that I look like a ninja, sensible red boat shoes, glass of wine.

I’m less focussed on food here. It’s just a lot more difficult to get the very best ingredients and usually involves getting in a car and takes time which I may not have. Meals are simple, usually grilled fish, a salad and a glass or four of wine. Chocolate is a must because I insist on healthy eating. I hope to be eating from the garden soon and more on that later.

IMG_1849The gallery with new banner flying.

What I am very much focussed on is the art gallery, my beloved artefact, 255a Knowlton Road, Town of Brome Lake. We open in less than 5 days! Yikes. Any readers living in the vicinity are invited to join us for the Grande Ouverture, wine and cheese at 5 pm and a  chance to win a framed work on paper. That just rolls off my tongue because I have been repeating it over the phone so much and now even in my sleep I can be heard muttering, “framed work on paper…” I am so excited about the opening exhibition, “Atila et Moi/Atila and Me” which features the surrealist works on paper that I bought on auction in Paris and many of my own works, also in a surrealist vein. Here’s a preview.

 

IMG_1865One of my works.IMG_1868One of Atila’s works.

More to come, on every front. Gallery website: http://www.artefact-bromelake.com.

 

 

The Kindest Cut

img_5991

I do love topiary. I have an area in my own garden  we pretentiously call “The Topiary Allee”, which, for future generations, will no doubt be quite impressive. Currently, I fear  my topiary are what Edward Gorey would call objects of pity on the lawn.  No matter. I faithfully go after my little tamaracks with the clippers, picturing the  balls and birds  which will some day disport themselves whimsically across my garden. In the meantime, I take note of how they do things in Paris.

01659ce899198a5c8451417c54da4b8846adf11ff5The French are totally into clipping trees. They are kind of out of control.

011148e55b746e8446db29f8d2104f3cd9feb90e00 It can look kind of spooky. Gothic. Skeletal.

01eace18b04874fa86c8b03005c7eb41a328961732_00001 You get these interesting nobs on the branches.

01953d1be1c26f31166eb1aead81ef94bcd4430a03 In addition to pollarding, they also limb up, creating really tidy shrubberies.

0151ea3077e6f37555151bc271cf213e44851e0e50 Tidy as heck.aadsc09093 This kind of hedge-on-a-stick look is everywhere, but not in leaf yet in Paris (thanks to apartmentinparis.wordpress.com for the image). I guess it’s a question of how far from nature do you want to go. I find bonsai a bit too far, for example. Poor little trees, with their roots like bound feet in the tiny pots. I think we need to revisit this issue when things leaf out. Is it possible to go too far with this? 6532361

Maybe.