Odds and Sods Around Our House

In the last post I mentioned a weakness I had back for buying sprees in the days when Neiman-Marcus and Horchow catalogues would appear in the post. Often it involved silly fripperies that would find their way under the Christmas tree or wrapped as a birthday present. For example: an antique silver brush to clean champagne flutes, a 24k gold-plated toothbrush with whisky and scotch flavoured toothpaste, or a toilet brush from a design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Hey don’t judge – they seemed like good ideas at the time!

This 24l gold plated toothbrush was listed in their “GIFTS UNDER $25.00” in 1980 – so I bought two. Laurent still has his.

But it wasn’t just small items. Oh no! Amongst other things we had tiki torches (nobody had them in those days), a hanging flower basket from Java, and two extremely esoteric tables delivered from the mother-lode in Texas to our door in Ottawa. The torches and basket have long since gone the way of all wicker but the past 40-odd years the two tables have graced living rooms in Ottawa, Aylmer and Charlottetown.

Back in the mid-1970s China was opening for trade with the United States. The good buyers from N-M and Horchow went mad scooping up the bargains to be had and selling them to those of us interesting in being on the cutting edge of interior design. Aside from the porcelain stools and pseudo-Ming vases one item caught my eye. It purported to be a “Chinese Wedding Box” from an undefined period. An octagonal box covered with lacquered calligraphy paper* it is made of a wood – perhaps cedar? – that has remained fragrant to this day.

The lock is an interesting piece of simple technology involving a brass carp, a thin brass strip, and an ingenuous metal spring.


Rather than trying to explain it I thought I’d do a short 20 second video to show how it works.

Though I question its authenticity as a wedding box the canny marketing text suggested that it would make a great side table. And indeed over the years it has!

The word for October 28th is:
Esoteric /ˌesəˈterik/: [adjective]
Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.
Mid 17th century: from Greek esōterikos, from esōterō, comparative of esō ‘within’, from es, eis ‘into’.

*Though it was stated that the characters were wishes for health, wealth and happiness heaven only knows what it actually says. One N-M buyer was tricked into purchasing watches that had Chinese characters rather than our standard Arabic numbers. They were suppose to predict good fortune but when they appeared in the catalogue they heard back from a few highly amused customers who read Chinese. It actually said: “We shall take over America by force.” It was removed from sale.

Odds and Sods Around Our House

The town of Almonte, north-west of Ottawa has always been a bit of an artsy place but has now become a hotbed of boutiques, cunning little cafes and artisan workshops. I understand it has also become the fill-in for small town USA in many Hallmark Christmas movies. Never having had the pleasure (?) of viewing one I can’t actually vouch from that fact but apparently the town worthies are mightly pleased.

Looking towards the Old Post Office in Almonte.

One autumn day back in the early ’90s, when it was just becoming a bit of an attraction, we headed up that way for some lunch and a spot of window shopping. In one of the windows there was an interesting display of hand made throw cushions. They were fashioned of various leathers, patterned fabrics and braids, and resembled antique volumes in an old library. We were intrigued by both the designs and the craft involved in creating them. As we already had an end table that resemble an old library stack we thought they would be a good compliment and left with two of them elegantly wrapped in hand blocked paper. Talk about your actual *artisanal!

Of course once we got them home we realized that they weren’t exactly made for snuggling but they gave a certain air of studied elegance to our decor. And they do make for the occasional conversational gambit.

This weighty 15″x21″ tome purports to be volume XC (90) in what would appear to be a history – possibly of England. Given the 1066-and-all-that style boat and medieval script the previous volumes must go back to the Resurrection!

I remember at the time I was surprised at the fabrics – where on earth did the artist find them? Well apparently there is a thriving niche market for fabrics patterned with all manner of ephemera – musical, historical and cultural.


Given that Bach wrote over a 1000 compositions it’s not impossible that this could be volume CX. I have tried for ages – even before I needed progressives – to figure out the words on what appears to be a title page of a manuscript. Realizing that it is in German the only word I can make out is “cantata”.

Now Bach wrote over 150 cantatas, recycling existing pieces and inventing new music sometimes at the punishing rate of one a week. Perhaps that CX stands for No. 90 – Es reißet euch ein schrecklich Ende (A horrible end will carry you off).

Sadly I don’t remember the name of the artist who created the these two pieces of art – and I do honestly consider them art. I do recall that it was a lady in the area. There no sort of discernible signature and a Google search, using various combinations of key words, has revealed nothing. It is a shame as I would love to give recognition to the imagination and creativity that she put into them.

The word for October 21st is:
Artisanal /ärˈtēzən(ə)l/: [adjective]
1. Pertaining to or noting a person skilled in a utilitarian art, trade, or craft, especially one requiring manual skill.
2. Pertaining to or noting a high-quality or distinctive product made in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.
Mid 16th century: from French, from Italian artigiano, based on Latin artitus, past participle of artire ‘instruct in the arts’, from ars, art- ‘art’ + adjectival suffix –al.
*And before the grammar police get the laces of their bustiers into a knot – yes I used it incorrectly as a noun.

Odds and Sods Around Our Home

Anyone who has followed my blog over the past 14 years knows that I am a fan of the late and, need I say, great Josephine Baker. Frequent posts have featured her performing, and in at least one I reminisced about My Night with Josephine. I’ve also mentioned the Hirschfeld drawing that has found a place in every home we’ve lived in. The famed caricaturist lined her on the occasion of her return to Broadway in February of 1964 and I bought it in Provincetown sometime in the 1980s. Then there are the books, the clippings from her final triumph and sudden death in 1975 preserved between their pages. Yes I am a big fan of La Baker.

Josephine at the Casino de Paris 1930 (?) – William McCaffery used a negative of this photo in his poster.

But there is another Josephine momento I’ve overlooked mentioning. Though how you can overlook a 2 ft by 3 ft poster on copper foil I don’t really know. Again its one of those things that have hung on walls of all our homes. I found it in a poster shop – long since gone – on Front Street on a trip to Toronto in 1977. In 1976 William McCaffery created it for a Variety Club benefit celebrating Josephine’s life and legacy. The image is a reverse negative of a photograph of Josephine in costume for Paris Que Remue, her first big revue at the Casino de Paris in 1930. The one-night only gala on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House featured appearances by Alvin Ailey’s dance company, Eubie Blake, Jeanne Moreau, Jacques d’Amboise, Ingrid Bergman, Ossie Davis, Patti Labelle Mohamed Ali, and a host of others.

Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph anything framed behind glass and this photo does do the gleaming copper justice.

I was overjoyed to see that on November 30th Josephine will be given the honour of being reinterred at the Panthéon in Paris. After her state funeral in 1975 she was buried, in full military uniform and medals, in Monaco. She is being recognized primarily for her activities with the French Resistance as an ambulance driver and a spy during the Second World War. She will be the first entertainer and first black woman to be buried amongst the greats of France. There are only four other women buried at the Pantheon: Holocaust survivor Simone Veil, one of France’s most revered politicians; Resistance fighters Germaine Tillion and Genevieve de Gaulle-Anthonioz; and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Marie Curie.

The word for September 5th is:
Pantheon /ˈpanTHēˌän,ˈpanTHēən/: [noun]
1. A group of particularly respected, famous, or important people.
2. All the gods of a people or religion collectively.
Late Middle English (referring especially to the Pantheon, a large circular temple in Rome): via Latin from Greek pantheion, from pan ‘all’ + theion ‘holy’ (from theos ‘god’).

Lunedi Lunacy

I thought for a bit of Monday morning lunacy I’d post a few photos from the trip that really don’t fit into any particular category except perhaps a touch of the lunatic.

First let’s start the morning off with a scattering of clouds. Not those beastly ones that followed us on the cruise but the way we wanted them to be: fluffy, light, and cheerful.

The hierarchy of the streets in Amsterdam are: first – bikes, second – pedestrians, and finally cars. And one thing that became apparent were the very creative parking spots for bikes in Amsterdam and Utrecht. And we can’t even manage a bike lane in Charlottetown – it would be too disruptive!

Oh come on we’re talking Amsterdam here! Of course there was going to be a photo like this. Though I was happy to hear that the Mayor is working to get rid of the “window shopping” aspect of the Red Light District.

And this monument in Bergen was a tribute to the enterprising seafaring men and merchants of Norway. Perhaps I’m just imagining it but I think I know what the young sailor’s enterprise is! And what commodity the older entrepreneur was seeking. Tom of Norway anyone?

You ever been blow ashore Billy?

I’d recognize an image of Josephine Baker from 100 feet away – I just didn’t expect to see one on a canal barge AirBnB in Amsterdam!!!!!

Even muttering “pigeon pie” didn’t make this kit of the feathered rats move!

And to close the post an inscription on a bench in the Italian Garden that Prince Albert had created as a tribute to his wife Victoria. It brought a smile to my face. A left click will enlarge it.

September 23 is Celebrate Bisexuality Day and I’ll just let each of you celebrate in your own way!