Odds and Sods Around Our House

Back in the Dark Ages when Laurent and I were, for lack of a better word, courting we would occasionally bring home surprise gifts for each other. (Don’t give me that eye roll, you may well have done the same sort of thing.) At the time I was working at Ottawa Airport and there was a little gift shop that often had bibilots that seemed appropriate (i.e. cute) at the time.

So one evening after an afternoon shift I presented himself with two brass – no not monkeys! – mice. What they were meant to signify at the time or for that matter what purpose they served I’m not sure.

Though I would dare say that visitors never noticed them they have accompanied us in our travels and always had their place on shelves or in cabinets in our various homes.


I have always liked this inquisitive little creature. She, and I’m sure it’s a she, has gazed at family photos, festive candles, creche scenes and other nick-knacks for the past 43 years.


The word for September 27th is:
Bibilots /bē′bə-lō″/: [noun]
1.1 A small decorative object; a trinket.
1.2 A miniature book, especially one that is finely crafted.
1.3 A small object of curiosity, beauty, or rarity; especially, an object of this kind which can be kept in a cabinet or on a shelf.
French, from Old French beubelet, from a reduplication of bel, beautiful, from Latin bellus, handsome.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

A recent posting on the Tome of Faces reminded me of a hillside town in Lazio that we frequented on Sunday for pranzo (lunch) when we lived in Rome. A pleasant 90 minutes from Rome – well okay sometimes closer to two hours with the traffic – Sermoneta was always “worth the visit” for lunch at Il Giardino del Simposio, famous for its homemade bottarga seasoning, and a stroll around town.

One of those strolls took us by Uscio e Bottega, Laboratorio Ceramiche Artistiche*, a ceramic shop. Now to be honest these shops are ubiquitous in hilltop towns but there was something that caught Laurent’s eye as we walked passed it. And chances are if it catches his eye we will soon have it in our home.


And as a result this lemon bedecked jar sits in our living room. At the time the artist only had an example in the shop but took an order to create a version for us. It meant another trip back to pick it up but we didn’t mind that.

Though modelled after olive oil or water jars of the past it is meant solely as a decorative piece and we are happy to have it as such.


However we did not leave the shop empty handed. This decorative platter came with us and is now on a wall in our kitchen. It can be a pick-me-up in the dead of winter to look up and see those lemons, the blossoms and greenery


*I had forgotten and could not read the name however my friend Simonetta was able to work it out and it is now named. Thank you Simonetta.

The word for September 13th is:
Ceramic \sə-răm′ĭk\: [noun]
1.1 Any of various hard, brittle, heat-resistant and corrosion-resistant materials made by shaping and then firing a nonmetallic mineral, such as clay, at a high temperature.
1.2 An object, such as earthenware, porcelain, or tile, made of ceramic.
1.3 The art or technique of making objects of ceramic, especially from fired clay.
From Ancient Greek κεραμικός (keramikos, “potter’s”), from κέραμος (keramos, “potter’s clay”), perhaps from a pre-Hellenic word.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

If the foe shits ….

It has been suggested on more than one occasion by my faithful reader that I have an obsession with shoes. I will contest that based on the hard facts that are revealed when I check the number of posts tagged “Shoe” or variations thereof. In 3,164 posts there have only been 26 – 26! That is less than 1% and of those 26 only two indicated the shoes in question were for men. Okay so I’m about to bring that up t0 27 out of 3,165 but that is still less than 1%!

Below is a recent photo of “shoe tree” hanging in my closet. There are 12 pairs of dress or dress-casual shoes of various styles there and a miscellaneous collection of sandals, sneakers, slippers, and boat shoes on the closet floor.

Not all but a goodly number of my shoes all neat, tidy and, these days largely unworn.

Much of what hangs around in my closet does just that – hangs around unworn. Retirement and a more relaxed social scene here on the Island gives me few occasions to put on my best bib and tucker or shoes for that matter. And a little problem with my feet – which I must admit have been carrying me around pretty well for 27,617 days – many of them are too tight and uncomfortable. It has been suggested by a podiatrist that part of the problem may have been that they were too tight in the first place! But I digress.

I have decided to cull the lot and donate the unwearable to a local charity that helps helps new arrivals to our (and now their) Island. Most are in extremely good condition and in more than acceptable styles. However there are a few that I am reticent about giving away even though I doubt I will wear them again.

Case in point a pair of Mezlan dress shoes that I bought in Coral Gables back in 1996.

A combination of leather and linen they were made at the Mezlan facility in Almanza, the shoe making capital of Spain since the 14th century.

I was working on Air Canada’s US route expansion at the time and spent two months at Miami Airport training staff for several of the new airport offices. My colleague and good friend Frances and I would occasionally go out for dinner and one evening we went to her neighbourhood of Coral Gables. An after dinner stroll took us by this very upscale shoe store and in the window those beauties beckoned to me. Frances knew the salesman – they had gone to school together in Kingston, Jamaica – and very rapidly, and I do mean rapidly, in Patois negotiated a deal. I don’t recall what sort of deal it was but it must have been a good one as today the purchased of a pair of Mezlans require a bank loan secured by your first born.


I would love to say I have worn them often but honestly the last time I remember was for our wedding thirteen years ago this coming Thursday. This would suggest that I should either put them in the donation box or find a few occasions over the next few months to sport them. I am torn.

The expression for July 19th is:
Best bib and tucker
A very old phrase meaning: one’s best clothes.
A bib refers to both a gentleman’s frilly shirt front and a tucker is a lacy ornamental covering for a lady’s neck and shoulders.
It is an 18th century term, the first known citation of which is from a translation of the Marquis d’Argens’ ambitiously titled work New Memoirs establishing a True Knowledge of Mankind, 1747.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

I am pretty sure I speak for Laurent as well as myself when I say the four years we spent in Rome were a very special time in our lives. Yes it was the place and the opportunities it offered but more importantly it was the people we met, the people we came to know and care for over that time.

We only met Garth Speight on one or two occasion and didn’t speak to him that often but his work spoke to us. A Canadian artist, he has spent much of his creative life in Rome capturing the Rome, Italy and the world in his travels. And I’m happy to say we have two of his remarkable works to remind us

Our last Christmas in Rome (2010) Laurent gave me one of Garth’s oils to remind me of our time there. In his distinctive style he captures the lines and shifting tones of the 3rd century Amphitheatrum Castrense built as part of an Imperial Palace of the Severan Dynasty. Later it was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls that surrounded the city as a defence barrier. Animal skeletons uncovered during excavations suggest that it may have been used for spectacles that included the hunting of exotic wild beasts.

And as a gift when I said goodbye to Rome in June 2011 Laurent gave me one of Garth’s prints. I’m not sure where this street scene is in our beloved Rome but Laurent has suggested it is over on the Janiculum Hill near the Fontana dell’Acqua Paola. Located on the other side of the Tiber the Janiculum is considered by many to be the eighth hill of Rome. It is often neglected by visitors to the city but it should be noted that it has the most spectacular views of Rome. The site of a battle against the French during the Risorgimento the parkland and belvedere are dotted with memorials to the revolutionaries including the often overlooked woman who stood and fought beside her husband: Anita Garibaldi. (Left click for photos of the memorial and her incredible story.)

I treasure these two works as a memory of our time spent in Rome, our great love for the city, and of the remarkable people we met there. Thank you Garth for giving us something to keep Rome in our hearts.

More of Garth’s works can be found on his website: gspeight.com

The word for April 5th is:
Belvedere /ˈbelvəˌdir/: [noun]
A summerhouse or open-sided gallery, usually at rooftop level, commanding a fine view.
Late 16th century: from Italian, literally ‘fair sight’, from bel ‘beautiful’ + vedere ‘to see’.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

One of the sad facts that my generation has to face is that few people want any of the nick-knacks that we have acquired over the years. There is no market for chinaware, silver or crystal; those six sets of candle sticks or Iranian carpets will find very few buyers at the consignment auction; and who uses linen table cloths and napkins now? For many of us the contents of our china cabinets will merely be items at some garage or charity sale. I say that with perhaps a sense of melancholy but certainly no bitterness of scorn. Time passes and tastes change. But in the meantime let’s celebrate and enjoy those things we treasure – and perhaps more importantly use them.

This pressed glass dish was in my mother’s china cabinet for as long as I can remember. Where she got it or who may have given it to her I’ll never know. As a kid I was always fascinated by the colours that appeared in certain lights almost like a prism. We use it today as a candy dish at Christmas or Easter though one Christmas it was filled with miniature sugar plums as part of a centrepiece.

This glass cup is 121 years old and according to what I was told was given to my father on his first Christmas. There is a slight problem with that: my father was born on March 19th 1902 according to his Birth Certificate but the cup is engraved 1901?? It is a bit of a mystery – much like the train conductor’s watch I wrote about previously.

The word for March 4th is:
Pressed glass: /prɛst ɡlɑːs/: [compound noun]
A form of glass made by pressing molten glass into a mold using a plunger. It was first patented by American inventor John P. Bakewell in 1825 to make knobs for furniture.

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