Sunday, October 28, 2007

I'll Sleep in a Haunted House for a Bathtub Like That

I spent Friday night in a haunted house.

And I didn't mind at all--Halloween is approaching and it's certainly a traditional holiday activity.

Besides, I was actually looking forward to the prospect of staying as a guest there. I'd admired the gorgeous clawfoot tub upstairs on previous visits... and no mere ghost was going to deter me from having a bath in the bathtub of my dreams.....

The haunted home I'm talking about actually bears no resemblance to the traditional looming Victorian kind with bat-filled turrets and gloomy cob-webbed corridors.

My haunted house is bright and airy and immaculate, with gorgeous waterfront views over Baynes Sound, high ceilings, polished wooden floors, stained-glass windows, and a 1600 square foot wraparound deck to die for. The bathroom in the master suite is heart-breakingly beautiful. It's currently on the market for one and a quarter million dollars and I'm having covetous thoughts.

My friend who once lived there for many years (a different friend than the one who is currently care-taking the property) tells me that the home's original look is almost unrecognizable now after extensive renovations. But it was built in the 1920's and has a colourful history, including once having an illegal still/speak-easy located in the basement.

And there's the ghost, of course, at no extra cost to any potential buyers.

The ghost's name is Jack and he has been seen and felt by many people over the years.

"He's not a mean ghost, at least I've never felt so", said my friend thoughtfully, after I asked about the house's history. "But he does seem to like to startle people. Maybe he's bored. I would be, if I were a ghost."

She looked at me quizzically and asked if I thought I might be nervous sleeping here. I assured her I was quite interested at the possibility of meeting a ghost.

"Well, he probably won't bother you then", came the reassuring reply. She added that the ghost seems to prefer appearing to prepubescent girls. Of course, I'm *cough cough* a little past that.

Jack has been known to move furniture, take small objects, and make a lot of noise. He is thought to be the spirit of a young man in his twenties who died of spinal meningitis in the nineteen fifties. The room he died in is now a small office.

The night I stayed, a group of friends and I stayed up till around two in the morning talking in the living-room.

We'd been warned that the fridge made a knocking noise occasionally and not to be alarmed. Sure enough, it did make a funny knocking sound at one point and we all laughed that if we had been alone in the house with that appliance we surely would've jumped to a non-scientific conclusion if we hadn't known that before.

But a little later there was a flurry of loud banging sounds that came from the general direction of the kitchen. "Hmmm", said my friend when we all looked expectantly at her. "Well, it wasn't the fridge..."

None of us got up to investigate.

That night it was myself in the magnificent bedroom at the top of the house and another woman who stayed at the opposite end of the house in a guest bedroom after everybody went home.

I wondered if I'd see or hear anything. Well, here is my experience:

A loud chorus of barking noises all night long.... AR AR ar ar ar ...AR AR AR ar ar....(Okay, that was from the sea-lions out in the nearby ocean. But, man, were they loud!)

Rustling coming from the bedroom closet. (I went over and opened the door and the noises stopped. It sounded suspiciously like mice, but wasn't that brave of me?)

Fitful sleep with strange dreams about the ghost. (Hmmm, dreams don't actually count as strange phenomena, do they? Oh least I can ask if the ghost has red hair because he did in my dream where he was showing me around the house.)

Whenever I sleep in a strange bed, I always wake early with an urge to prowl around. I tried to be quiet. Hopefully the other guest didn't hear me moving around at six in the morning and think I was a haunt.

I went and stood in the room where Jack had died. It was very peaceful. Lots of interesting books on the shelves. Nothing jumped out and yelled boo.

A French door downstairs that previously opened and shut without effort seemed to resist my efforts at closing it but perhaps it was just feeling irritable that one time. Let's try to be rational here... :)

I ended up curled up in a comfortable chair reading until breakfast time.

So, was there really a ghost? I dunno. My night here was inconclusive on that subject.

But before I went downstairs that morning I had my wonderful magical bath in that enormous tub overlooking the mountains and sea. And that was worth any amount of clanking chains and spooky stuff in this girl's opinion.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Child Haven Dinner

The Child Haven Fundraiser dinner my mother-in-law hosted this week was an enormous success!

Whew, I'm so relieved it's over....every year my fingers are crossed that people will turn out in droves and that the event will go off without a hitch. (Last year it was a bit of a gong show behind the scenes; we were better organized this year.)

And every year the Child Haven dinner project snowballs into a bigger event as Jeff's mom gets a little more ambitious. She spent three months volunteering in a Child Haven orphanage in Nepal so she feels a special connection to the children and women we are helping. (There are eight children's homes altogether in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Tibet. My pen-pal Ritika lives in the home outside Kathmandu.)

But all the scurrying around selling tickets, painting signs and posters, committee meetings, chaotic kitchen work, and the general stress and organization one might associate with putting on a huge Indian dinner for two hundred people was worth it---we raised over six thousand dollars for Child Haven International this year, almost doubling what we raised last year.

My main job that night was to man the sales tables with assistance from my mom--brightly coloured Indian cushion covers and caftans, jewellery, prayer-flags, little purses sewn with mirrors, silk neckties with elephants, so many beautiful little things to buy. It was fabulously, marvellously busy and I saw so many people I knew there.

Bonnie and Fred Cappuccino, the directors of Child Haven seen in the video below, stayed with my mother-in-law while in town for the fund-raiser. The morning after our dinner they left to travel down island to the next fund-raiser in Qualicum. They just never stop! It's amazing--I've never seen such energetic senior citizens. Of course, having raised twenty-one children (nineteen of them adopted) you know they have to have a special sort of energy and dedication driving them.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spider Art

I can't help but think that my garden would be the talk of the town with THIS kind of garden sculture on the front lawn....

From a short article on Parisian artist Louise Bourgeois :

According to the artist, the spider is a feminine hero figure.
Bourgeois created the spider sculptures to honor her mother, who was her best friend and, like a spider, was deliberate, soothing, and patient.
Spiders also create webs which refer to Bourgeois’s early work with tapestries—her parents owned a tapestry restoration business—so the web is a metaphor for connection-making......
...While the spider’s body is above your head, (it is over 11 feet tall) you may examine its legs which are smooth bronze, yet with many different bumps and ridges to create the effect of a natural shape. Each leg is different. Here our giant spider is positioned to suggest that she is walking up the lawn to attend to her baby spider which is attached to the Museum’s facade....
Isn't that lovely? I've never heard of spiders described as "deliberate, soothing, and patient" before.
The article excerpt from above describes the sculpture in the upper left photo on this post. The other photo shows another two of Bourgeois's spider sculptures, these ones thirty feet tall and located in the garden of the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.
These scultures are from a series of six sculptures, some of them selling for several million dollars and one of them gracing the outside of the National Gallery in Ottawa.
One of the bronze arachnids is called Maman, after her own mother. And I'm glad she meant it in a nice way. :)
As some of you may know from my moniker (and some of you can confirm from knowing me), I have become fond of spiders both in actuality and in symbolism. But even though, I like them I don't collect spider things, persay.
Well, okay, I DO have one spider knick-knack. It actually reminds me a little of one of Louise Bourgeois's sculptures. Only it is only two inches high (and only cost me a dollar). And it's lying on its back on my living -room floor at the moment playing dead because my cat thought it might be interesting to eat.
But it wasn't.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Titanic Exhibit

The boarding pass I held in my hand gave me second-class passage aboard the fateful White Star Line ship the R.M.S. Titanic ...

My name was Mrs. Joseph Philippe Lemercier LaRoche, also known as Juliette Lafargue. I was 22 years old and sailing in the company of my husband Joseph, and my two young daughters Simonne (aged 3) and Louise (aged 1). My family was travelling to Haiti from Paris, France on the tenth of April, 1912.

Haiti was where Joseph's family lived. Due to racial discrimination in France, Joseph, an engineer and a person of color, had been unable to find a good-paying job. In Haiti, Joseph's family was very wealthy and my husband's prospects were better.

We switched our tickets from the steamship France at the last moment because the France would not allow children to dine with their parents and we didn't want the separation at mealtime to upset our daughters...

With Juliette LaRoche's biography in my hand (every visitor was given a boarding pass with a passenger's name and history on it when entering), I wandered through the Titanic Artifact Exhibition at the B.C. Provincial Museum in Victoria, now feeling a personal connection to the people on board the doomed ship.

Would "my" family survive? I would find out when I read through the lists of survivors at the end of the exhibit. Until then, I just didn't know....

I stopped short and exclaimed when I passed a large family photo of the LaRoche's on the wall during the exhibit.

There's something so compelling about history when you can see the human faces involved!
When I was a girl of about eleven, I read a paperback copy of A Night to Remember and have been fascinated by stories of the Titanic ever since. I remember poring over the passenger lists at the back of the book, morbidly curious about the fates of the children on board who were aged like me....

The museum in Victoria held many articles retrieved from the wreck at the bottom of the ocean floor. Clothes and jewelry retrieved from amazingly preserved leather suitcases and trunks. Even paper articles survived like money, tickets, menus, and letters survived. I was amazed that perfume samples carried on board by a travelling perfumier can still be smelled! ( We were able to smell them through a glass box with air holes).

(Although microorganisms in the sea will literally eat away the huge metal ship hull in time, converting it back to metal ore, items protected by inedible leather are relatively unscathed. I learned that the calcium in the human bones that went to the bottom with the ship would have very quickly been dissolved.)

The exhibit held pieces of the Titanic itself: metal doors, port-holes, railings, giant rivets, and a decorative metal cupid---after watching an IMAX film where some of these items are painstakingly retrieved by small three-manned submersible vehicles from two and a half miles under the ocean, after seeing the strange bleak landscape where strange bug-eyed fish and creepy white crabs scuttle--it feels like I am seeing human things that have been retrieved from another planet. It's like outer space down there.

One image that sticks with me is a set of white dishes that was found stacked neatly in rows upon the sandy ocean floor. The wooden cabinet that came with them to the bottom had long since rotted away, leaving them in eerie geometry. Brought to the surface, they look white and pristine as the day they served in the Titanic's opulent dining-rooms.

The exhibit showed us like-size recreations of what the cabins on board looked like. If you were REALLY rich, (like a woman called Charlotte Drake Cardeza that Jeff's boarding pass described), you could have reserved a very, very nice first class cabin.

In fact, the Carteza entourage brought fourteen trunks, four suitcases, and three crates of baggage along. They stayed in the most expensive suite on Titanic (B-51-53-55), featuring two bedrooms, a sitting-room, and a private fifty-foot promenade.

What did a first-class one way ticket cost for this supposed one-week ride? In 1912 dollars, it was the sum of $4500, an incredible sum when you consider that in today's money that would be just under seventy-nine thousand dollars!

A third-class passenger (most likely the many new immigrants aboard seeking a new life in North America) bunked with other folks in considerably more humble quarters. (Though there are tales of passengers registering as third-class to disguise the fact that there luggage contained diamonds....)

I'm dwelling more on the physical things I saw in this post rather than the enormity of the disaster that occurred for the most part, but I want to say I couldn't help shivering with horror and empathy after touching a small man-made iceberg in this gallery and realizing that the water that the ship sank in was four degrees colder than the ice I was touching. It was so cold it felt like it burned my hand. Most of the 1500 or so people who died in this wreck did not drown; they died of hypothermia. *shivers*

The family standing behind us in the line-up as we waited to enter this exhibit had a personal connection. The older woman's grandfather had been a fifteen-year-old lad with a third-class boarding pass for the doomed shipin his hand. He got an awful feeling in his gut about the ship, strong enough that he decided the morning of the sailing not to board.

I looked at this man's great grand children and wondered if they would exist today if not for that decision. If you were a man, and even more so a third-class passenger, the odds of boarding one of the criminally- few lifeboats aboard would not have been in your favour.
One of my favourite stories about surviving the Titanic is about a man who also never made it aboard, although his luggage did. He was literally shang-haied, kidnapped and bundled away to the Far East just before boarding. The friend travelling with him figured his buddy was just being late as usual and brought his suitcases on (which were retrieved from the ocean in 1993). The fortunate victim of kidnapping escaped later and one can only imagine that he counted his lucky stars. His friend on the ship perished.

As for my family, the LaRoches? Juliette and her daughters survived. But sadly her husband did not.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Rocky Horror Picture Show

I remember when I was about twelve years old and over at Ara's house for her birthday party.

Her mom had rented a movie for us, and, rather inexplicably considering our age group, that movie turned out to be The Rocky Horror Picture Show which follows the flamboyant sexual adventures of a lingerie-wearing alien called Dr. Frankenfurter from the planet Trans-sexual in the galaxy of Transylvania.

There is a Frankenstein monster who looks a lot like a surfer-dude in gold lame shorts. There is Meatloaf served for dinner in more ways than one. There is a very young Susan Sarandon dancing around in her underwear. There are more corsets and fishnet stockings than you can shake a stick at. Plus *gasp* it's a musical.

Yes, my mom wasn't very pleased at the time when she found out what Ara's mom had provided for entertainment. But I can honestly say my twelve year old self wasn't at all corrupted by the experience. The sexual innuendo went way over my head (yes, perhaps unlike twelve year olds nowadays) and I thought the dance numbers were hilarious.

(My mom has since admitted that the song "Let's Do the Time Warp Again" is rather catchy after all.)

Anyway, this past weekend I had the opportunity to take in the musical mayhem that is the Rocky Horror Picture Show once again. This time, at the UVic student theatre in the company of Jeff, Tai (dragged somewhat under protest) and Chris, and with only an hour's notice. (One of those spontaneous evening entertainment choices that Christopher so delightfully comes up with.)

So this Rocky Horror virgin didn't really have a chance to dress up for the experience, you see. Drat. I felt quite under-dressed for the occasion. Or is that OVER-dressed? I wasn't wearing a single item of kinky lingerie. Oh, the embarrassment!

Because that's what you do when you go to a late-night screening of the Rocky Horror apparently. It's quite an exercise in audience participation.

You can dress up like a French maid like the character of Magenta. You could dress in gold-sequined coat-tails like Columbia. You could put on your pearls and vamp like Tim Curry's mad scientist.

In fact, looking around the theatre, this is probably the best opportunity to use that push-up bra/corset/pair of thigh-high boots, etc. that's been languishing at the back of your closet since who knows when.

Yes! come and wear your underwear in public! It'll be fun!


You can dance around in front of the movie screen, shout out the rude and traditional additions to the script with the rest of the audience, throw rice and toilet-paper streamers, shoot off water pistols, and learn how to dance the Time Warp . You should also bring a noise-maker, a lighter, a newspaper to cover your head, a pointy party-hat...oh, I'm probably forgetting some of the other things you should bring....

Oh yeah, most importantly, bring a sense of fun and a love for really really bad alien-horror-musical movies.

Fabulous, darling!