The Armed Robbery

These days, I feel like writing and seem to enjoy it when I do so. As I don’t seem ready to tackle the larger writing projects, which float around like elusive butterflies in my subconscious, I’ve decided to “warm up” with some short stories – primarily personal anecdotes from the now distant past, or, journal-like entries from recent experience. Recent experience could include a story called “My Life in Coffee Shops” as this truly has become my preferred location for all of my writing activity and is where I am now…comfortably ensconced at a table surrounded by “the buzz” of a little grocery store/coffee shop hybrid called BeFresh, in Kitsilano. A store, not unlike the Herb & Spice Shop on Bank Street in Ottawa, where I apprehended an armed robber in the early 80’s.

 

I don’t recall exactly where I was headed, but it was a Friday night, I was in my mid 20’s, and I was walking north on Bank Street without a care in the world. I was, in all likelihood, going to a friend’s, to go to a pub, to try and meet girls.

 

The Herb & Spice Shop was our neighbourhood grocery store. This was the owner’s second location after his flagship store in the Glebe proved profitable. It was nearby and it was friendly, and I’d developed a first-name relationship with the staff. On this night, the sweet & bright Debbie T. was running the store and getting ready to close up to follow her own, youthful, Friday night pursuits.

 

As I approached the Herb & Spice, engrossed in my own plans for the evening, Debbie burst out the front door onto the sidewalk, scuffling with a rough-looking unshaven man in his mid to late 30’s. In the midst of their frantic dance he pushed her to the sidewalk and ran north on Bank – clutching a handful of money. “Stop that guy! He’s stolen our money”, she shouted.

 

I think a heroic act must involve some thought of the possible consequences of one’s actions – a conscious decision to act, despite foreknowledge that a threatening situation may contain risk of harm to self. That, is heroic and admirable. Often though, in the face of danger, when our reptilian brain is offering only limited choice: Door #1 labelled “Fight” or, Door #2 labelled “Flight”…we do not always have the metered luxury of thought. When friends or loved one’s are in peril, the rush of adrenaline shakes Mr. Lizard awake with the stark choice, “Are you going to run away, or are you going to step in? Feeling lucky?…punk?”

 

A small group, of maybe 2 or 3 individuals, who were slightly closer to the mayhem than I, gave chase. “Aaah…those three should be able to get that guy”, I thought, as my lizard slowly slunk back into it’s reptilian lair, “But this is exciting”, “And I like Debbie”, “And perhaps I can help”, “Safety in numbers”, “Maybe I’ll get free groceries”, “And it’s on my way”, I thought. All in a nanosecond. So I joined the pack, in hot pursuit of our prey – the evil-doer.

 

Not far from the Herb & Spice Store, on the next corner, was a pub called “The Hitching Post”, which I did not frequent. I was a Royal Oak guy with its lovely faux British pub feel (and Kilkenny on tap) so I had little reason to go to this watering hole, which catered to career alcoholics and the country music crowd. (I, and my friends, were – of course – too cool for that with our New Wave hair and obsessions). I don’t know what possessed the stick-up guy to enter this bar as a means to escape his pursuers but he did so by way of the side door – slipping into the dinghy, smoky, and noisy pub interior in a frantic bid for freedom. The 3 closest pursuers, who were hot on his trail, followed him doggedly into the bar, and I arrived, moments later, slightly out of breath as the Pub door closed.

 

“Those guys are bound to catch him inside the Pub”, I reasoned, “and, therefore, don’t need me to add to the pandemonium”…“I’d just get in the way”, “He’s probably already caught”, “I might unwittingly discover I like country music”…”Hmmm…I have an idea”, I thought, “I’ll go stand by the front door in case they don’t catch him – which is highly unlikely – and stop him there if he emerges, also, highly unlikely”. I strategically repositioned myself to the front door of the pub…and waited.

 

I didn’t have to wait long, and it wasn’t long enough to form any kind of coherent plan. The three pursuers had failed in their simple mission – catch the bad guy – and suddenly, here he was, bursting out of the pub, wild-eyed and breathless and clutching a handful of money. Mr. Lizard was abruptly & rudely awoken from his complacent slumber. “Fight or flight Georgie? What’s it going to be? C’mon…you’ve got…uh… less than a second to decide.” I pulled my right arm back, made an unaccustomed fist and punched the hold-up man squarely in the face.

 

Up to this point in life I’d never really had that all too common male experience of beating someone up. I was a skinny bespectacled New Wavish guy and this was the first time I’d struck somebody with force and intent in the face. My fleeting thought, for it wasn’t a plan, was that the criminal should somehow, easily and readily, succumb to my punches and crumple to the ground…unconscious. I just…wanted…to knock …him out.

 

“Not so quickly my effete friend,” spoke Mr. Reality, “The gentleman you’ve just assaulted has been in worse scuffles and received far more damaging blows from a life of petty crime and stints in the penal system. Your pitiful attempt at “punching” is likely just going to remind him of the injustices he suffered at the hands of a cruel father and will only serve to enrage him.” Stunned momentarily, Mr. Criminal leapt at me and grabbed my coat with his one free hand. We scuffled upright briefly but his unwillingness to let go of the cash and my height advantage gave me enough leverage to throw him to the ground, sit on his chest and punch him again – with the greater force of my now seasoned experience – directly in the face…twice.

 

While our scuffle was taking place, several things happened: the original pursuers exited the bar and now surrounded us as non-participatory onlookers, quite likely thinking, “Oh good…the skinny guy has him pinned…looks like he’s got it covered…what a great puncher…let’s just watch”; Debbie appeared out of the now-gathering crowd and grabbed the cash from the perps hand…freeing him up to fight back more effectively – which he did, and; a bunch of drunks, who had no idea what was actually going on spilled out of the bar and surrounded us while we fought. “Hey” said one of the Waylon & Willie listening bar patrons in his familiar beer-soaked slur, “Stop yer fightin’…get off that guy”, while “Mama’s Don’t Letcher Babies Grow up ta be Cowboys” emanated from the bar. Several sets of nicotine-stained hands reached down, grabbed me roughly from behind and pulled me away from “the guy”.

 

Pandemonium ensued as the original pursuers protested fruitlessly, Debbie shouted something inaudibly, and I stammered ineffectively to the alcoholic liberators. There was nary a hint of understanding or sympathy in their rheumy eyes – perhaps the robber was their friend and the stolen loot was intended to buy rounds at the pub. Recognizing an opportunity and without missing a beat, our street-smart hoodlum got up, glanced furtively around, and chose – unwisely – to run back into the bar through the open front door.

 

Like bloodhounds back in the chase, the original pursuers took off after their prey and ran into the bar in hot pursuit. The drunks, sensing that something exciting was unfolding, and likely feeling thirsty after all their strenuous activity poured themselves back into the bar to order more beer and obstruct justice. Debbie had disappeared, likely to return the $$ and get on with her evening, now that her role in this drama was over, and I, once again in very short order, found myself alone outside the pub as events were unfolding inside.

 

“They’re bound to catch him this time”, I thought, “no need for me to go in there…it’s a done deal…how could they miss him this time? That’d be crazy”…”But…if they do”, I thought, “I might as well go and stand guard by the back door as a highly unlikely and unnecessary, back-up plan.” I walked around to the side door and waited…again. I didn’t have to wait long.

 

I’m not sure if it was fear or surprise that I saw in his eyes when he burst, once again, out of the pub through the side door, but his internal Reptile was definitely giving him the “flight” command. His brief startled pause and the dismay of recognition made him attempt an evasive action but it was of no use. Once again, lacking any grand strategy or experience in the apprehension of evil-doers, I pulled my arm back, made a fist, and punched him square in the face. I was a one-trick pony who just wanted his opponent to succumb to the simple knock-out punch.

 

Panicky and enraged, and definitely not unconscious, he reached for my lapels while I put my violent “Plan B” into effect. “Perhaps if I just grab his head and repeatedly bash it against the brick wall he’ll crumple and I can sit on him until the police come…they will come won’t they?”

 

Plan B, on a determined, wily, motivated opponent was not having the desired effect. After four or five vigorous head smashings, he broke free of my grip and ran towards a cab, which had just pulled over to the curb to see what was going on. “Get me out of here!!”, he shouted to the bewildered cabbie, as he flung open the back door and threw himself into the cab.

 

I’m not sure, exactly, what script I was following then. It was all so primal, without a whiff of rationality or forethought. I was in the fight and was somehow still protecting my friend Debbie, my neighbourhood. Perhaps internal codes of conduct – good vs. evil – were playing out and directing my actions in this little street drama. Maybe I was just a young male jacked up on adrenaline and testosterone.

 

I reached into the cab, hauled my victim out, threw him to the ground, sat on his chest and punched him forcibly in the face. “Stop struggling or I’ll keep hitting you”, I said….“Where are those fucking police?”, I thought. Fearfully, eyes darting and weighing his options, he finally chose capitulation over struggle. I’m not sure who was most relieved that this ordeal was over. I sat on his chest…and waited. Fortunately, someone – maybe the cabbie – had finally contacted the cops…I could hear the sound of sirens approaching.

 

Epilogue:

The police came, arrested the culprit, and took him away to be charged and sentenced. I wasn’t required to make a court appearance but I know from subsequent newspaper clippings that – W.S.T. as he shall be known – received a 3-year sentence. He was a 33 year-old guy from Hamilton, of no fixed address, with a history of recent hold-ups and break-ins and subsequent jail time. The day prior to robbing the Herb & Spice Store, he’d held up Hillary Cleaners on Alta Vista. Although he didn’t have a gun, he made the claim that he did while sticking his hand in his pocket and pointing it at the cashier…this is considered armed robbery.

 

…and for my efforts? I received thanks and a small bag of produce from the owner…and, perhaps, a slight elevation of esteem in the eyes of Debbie T., after all, I was her accidental hero.

Saved by da mizzles

It was late summer, 1973, and I was a long-haired 18 year old kid about to embark on my post high school round-the-world odyssey of personal discovery…and fun. In preparation for the cross-Canada train trip to Montreal – where my best pal Keith and I would catch our flight to Amsterdam – I decided to leave my parents home in Victoria and stay in Vancouver for a few weeks, where my brother-in-law had arranged shared accommodation for me at his secretary’s apartment.

Barb was a much older – she was 23 – single mother of one, and carries the distinction as being the woman to whom I lost my virginity in the days and weeks prior to my departure for distant lands. “Wow, this is great!”, I thought, “exotic travel and sex…I should’ve left Mom and Dad’s place years ago” …what the parental home may lack in terms of exotic and erotic freedom is oftentimes compensated for by its protective cocoon – my first sexual encounter would also be my first (but sadly not my last) encounter with venereal disease – young Georgie had “the clap”.

Aah, but I was not bitter or angry (after all, I’d finally had sex :), and the clinic loaded me up with enough pharmaceuticals to kill a horse and also ensure that I could catch my train on time. Thank God for antibiotics…and sex!

If you’ve ever caught the train across Canada you’ll know, but it bears repeating, it’s an absolutely gorgeous journey and a very leisurely and civilized way to travel. Grand Canadian vistas viewed from spacious seating areas through large picture windows. Because Keith and I were budget travelers we did not rent a stateroom choosing instead to spend the 4-day trip either wandering to the dining car or residing in our ample seats…this, of course, left us exposed to interactions with the other passengers. Late one evening, before we pulled into Montreal, a fellow, whom we’d never seen before,  approached us with an offer of free drugs – MDA I seem to recall – in powdered format. We ingested as much as his largesse would allow, after which time he promptly left, never to be seen again….We waited….Patiently. After a time, I said “I’m not feeling anything…you?”, “No” replied Keith, “I wonder what that shit was?” We remained in our seats with our advancing disappointment, and mild apprehension. “Maybe it was baking soda”, said Keith, “Or poison…rat poison” I countered. Either way, apprehension is not an ideal state from which to enjoy a good nights sleep. We arrived in Montreal feeling a little burnt out but eager to embark on the next stage of our journey – transatlantic flight! Europe! Yay!

By the time we were in the air, I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling so great. I had a mild headache, felt slightly feverish and had increasing difficulty swallowing. My throat felt constricted and scratchy…”I might be coming down with a cold”, I told my buddy, “That’s a drag man, why don’t you ask the stewardess if they have any pills for that?” Great idea. The ever obliging and helpful stewardess (in the days before flight attendants) hauled out her bag of pharmaceuticals and gave me two of something to ease my plight. Painstakingly I swallowed them, not thinking for a moment that perhaps, just perhaps, adding more chemicals into my system on top of the recent antibiotics and “mystery drug” might be unwise. I thanked her and smiled flirtatiously in my new role as a non-virgin.

Not surprisingly, the pills didn’t work and, by the time we landed in Amsterdam, on a Sunday,  I was feeling considerably worse and now had a noticeable rash on my torso comprising of small raised red spots. “Hey man, I don’t know what I’ve got, but I feel like shit and think I need to have this looked at…let’s ditch our backpacks at the Hostel and go find a doctor “, I said, “Where are we going to find a doctor on a Sunday…in a foreign country?”, replied Keith. Remember, it’s 1973…no internet…no smartphones or handy apps…we didn’t even have credit cards – Americans Express cheques, a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide and the optimism of youth were the tools with which all obstacles would be overcome. “We’ll ask the guy at the Hostel, c’mon”

”Red Light District”…”You can find anything you want in the Red Light District”, said the Hostel Guy, “Here” …he slid a piece of paper across the reception desk, with an address on it, making sure not to touch my hand for fear of infection.

God bless the Dutch…and their quintilingualism (Hostel Guy spoke impeccable English), and their progressive ways! “Anything we want”…on a Sunday no less, how civilized. We made our way into Amsterdam’s world-famous “Rosse Burt” seeking medical salvation.

The unabashed display of prostitution and open accessibility of soft drugs made me forget – momentarily – that I was dying of an unnamed illness. For two parochial lads from the repressive Social Credit province of British Columbia, seeing bars open – and serving alcohol – on a Sunday was perhaps even more of a revelation to the permissive wonderland of vice that the Dutch had created. I knew I was going to like it here – if I survived my plague.

The bar looked seedy and non-descript. An open doorway into darkness with early 70’s era rock pounding from within. As we attempted to pass, a half dozen smallish, brown-skinned young Moluccan* males – some with knives hanging from their belts – exited the bar and surrounded us in a circle. “‘Ey man, where you boys be goin?”, “You got no need to be runnin’ off…why don’ choo c’mon into da bar an buy us a drink man”

Parochial or otherwise, Keith and I both knew what it meant to be surrounded by a slightly intimidating pack of males. This kind of threat plays out in schoolyards around the world and is not an uncommon experience of young males everywhere – the knives were an unfamiliar twist. “My friend is sick and needs to see a doctor” said Keith – going for the sympathy play. Unconvinced, our “new best drinking buddies” shuffled a bit and looked slyly at each other, without any sign of backing down. Realizing that they needed further convincing, and in one momentarily clever strategic move, I lifted my t-shirt up to my chest to expose my torso covered in bright red spots.

“Whoa man, you gots da mizzles” said the ringleader, now with a tone of fear and dread. He and his cronies had all immediately taken about 5 steps backwards when they saw me covered with an apparent communicable illness. “You gonna need a doctor…go dat way” he pointed further down the street, as he and his mates slunk back into the bar – defeated by mizzles.

Feeling relieved by this narrow escape, we carried on with our medical mission of mercy. “How’re you feeling man?”, asked Keith, “Shitty”, I replied, “I think we’ve strayed from the recommended sites of the Official Tourist Guide…are we almost there?”, “I think so, according to Hostel Guys instructions it’s just a bit further up Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal …c’mon”

The doctor’s office was on the second floor of a 3 storey brick and stone walk up. Down a poorly lit hallway, the wooden door with the frosted pane read: Dr.Willem de Ridder Room 216. I knocked. A gravely male voice said, “Kom Binnen”. Inside the room, sitting behind a wooden office desk with a cigarette in his mouth, sat the Doctor, languidly petting the head of a Red Setter. The room was stale with cigarette smoke and on the desk sat an ashtray full of cigarette butts. Between cigarettes and strokes of his faithful pets head, the doctor explored my throat and infected torso with his nicotine stained fingers. “ I sink you haff an infection”, he said, “I vill give you some pills – antibiotica – which vill clear up your problem in a few days”. Being the trusting sort: of older, more experienced women; of strangers on a train; of the medical acumen of stewardesses; and of Doctors in Red Light Districts…on a Sunday – I took the pills.

Later that night, back at the Youth Hostel, I lay in my bunk, wrapped in my sleeping bag, shivering, shaking, and bathed in sweat from fever and mild delirium. The red spots had now spread to my groin, upper arms and back. The first day of my overseas adventure had taken some unexpected twists.

It would be a few years before I made the connection between my pharmaceutical overdose – too many drugs in too short a time –  and my “mystery illness”, longer still before I understood the political plight of young Moluccan* men in the Netherlands. Despite my near-death pharmaceutical misadventure, we got lucky on this day and  may have accidentally been saved by ‘da mizzles’…more reliable street smarts would definitely be required to get us safely through the rest of this trip.

*(The Moluccans are a people from the Maluku Islands, an archipelago in Eastern Indonesia. When Indonesia gained independence from the Dutch in 1950, The Republic of Maluku tried to secede, supported by the Netherlands. When the movement was defeated, 12,000 Moluccans were transported to Holland where “They were then discharged on arrival, not allowed to work, given pocket money and ‘temporarily’ housed in camps.”. Because “the Dutch government, never made any effort to help the Moluccans establish their Republik”, this marginalization “radicalised young Moluccans during the ’70s in the Netherlands, including a train hijacking in 1975, taking hostages at De Punt in Groningen and at a school in Bovensmilde.“

 

Sudden Blue Sky – Hornby Island

I’ve been meaning to write a story about our trip to Hornby Island in June of this year to celebrate the life of our friend Ben Banky who died tragically in 2008, but the summer turned out to be exceedingly busy at my Gallery on Mayne so I’ve not had the chance. Now, we are just a week away from a second event to honour the 10 year anniversary of his passing on December the 12th (at the Anza Club with Big Head Project & Snass) so I’m buckling down to capture memories of summer before they fade.

When we received word that a weekend celebration was being planned in June on Hornby Island to honour – what would have been – the 50th birthday of our dearly departed friend – Ben Banky – we embraced the thought wholeheartedly. An opportunity to honour our dear friend Ben, and pay a long overdue visit to his parents, extended family and friends seemed like such a fabulous idea that we accepted the invitation without delay. I was grateful to Ben’s widow Linda, and his parents Jake and Kathy for spearheading the idea – grateful too that a trip to one of my favourite Gulf Islands – Hornby, in late Spring – was now in the cards. It would be sublime.

A subsequent email from Jake in early April – via Linda – almost unbelievable in it’s tragic content, cast immediate uncertainty upon all of our community’s celebratory plans for Ben. His brother John was missing and presumed dead – the result of foul play in Northern B.C. Fairness, evidently, is just a concept – lightning can, and has tragically, struck twice.

The desire for all of us  – friends and family of the Banky’s – to assemble on Hornby Island was made more acute by John’s passing. Now we would come to honour the lives of both of their sons. We would bring our support and love and hugs, and would receive the same in return.  We would bring food and drink and music and bonhomie – the key ingredients of any good gathering which are always so plentiful at Banky events.

Driving up the inner coast of Vancouver Island on the slower oceanside routes under full sun and warmth in mid-June before tourist season, is blissful. Many of us were making the trek to Hornby on the Friday night to settle in before Ben’s 50th Birthday Bash on Saturday. Cathy and I shared a cottage with our good friend Craig on Anderson Drive  – just a short walk from the Banky’s home on Oyster Place, and Ben’s business partner Matt, and his wife Shino & daughter Emma rented a waterfront house – also on Oyster – which created a private enclave where the events of the weekend would unfold.

Friday night was BBQ and potluck at the Breech’s, and was reserved primarily for off-island friends and family who’d travelled great distances – some coming in from as far away as Toronto and Boston – to be there. The above picture was taken from their deck looking east towards Texada Island and the Coastal mountains of the Mainland, and, luckily for all attending, the blue skies and warm weather stayed with us all weekend.

Hornby Island is – without a doubt – one of the loveliest of all of the Gulf Islands, and might arguably be the most beautiful spot in BC. I fell in love with this place when I first hitchhiked here at the age of 14 with two highschool chums, and have been coming back as often as I could ever since. It was here that I met Ben at the first annual Hornby Island Blues workshop in 2000, and here that I would stand as his Best Man and MC at his wedding, and here where we would lay his ashes to rest at the “Ben-der” in 2010.

We awoke on June 16 – the day of Ben’s celebration – with a mind to explore some of the cherished places that Hornby has to offer. For me, any trip to Hornby must include a walk on Tribune Bay, a hike at Helliwell Park, a visit to the Ringside market & Farmer’s Market, and a trip to Ford’s Cove. Luckily we were able to do all of these things – here’s a picture of Cathy & I at Tribune Bay.

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Saturday’s celebration of life – of Ben’s 50th Birthday – was being held at the Banky’s home, commencing in the early evening with a sizeable crowd expected to turnout. Jake & Kathy are long-term and well-loved stalwarts of Hornby’s community. Their active involvement in island culture, Jake’s legendary Apple Snake hooch and Kathy’s renowned cooking have earned them well-deserved reputations as warm and inviting hosts. Off islanders have gathered and locals will arrive to contribute food, drink and camaraderie to the festivities. Old friends were reunited, tables creaked under the weight of food, the outdoor bar was well-stocked (until it wasn’t), instruments appeared, singing followed, and maybe, in the midst of the gaiety, tears were shed…how could it be otherwise?

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Craig with Ron & Karen Doucette against the backdrop of Texada and the Coast Mountains

If Ben were still with us and if I were still drinking the party would have been noisier and gone later, and maybe some form of mischief might have ensued. Despite this, the rest of the celebrants did an admirable job 🙂 It was a bittersweet and magnificent event.

Sunday morning, early,  after a party at the Banky’s – one of those moments where 6 years of sobriety pays off :). Our day would unfold very much like Saturday…breakfast at the Ringside Market, exploring, enjoying and absorbing the natural beauty of this place – and we found time for an additional trip to Whaling Station Bay and a little spelunking of tidal pools and driftwood. Tonight’s wrap up to this glorious weekend would be hanging out on the Breech’s deck for leftovers and BBQ, while the Banky’s gathered their clan next door for a more intimate – and sedate – family get-together.

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Our Sunday night gathering at Matt & Shino’s was a much smaller group, as many friends and family had to return to their Monday morning off-island lives…mellow and conversational…a sweet meditation on a busy emotionally conflicting weekend. Here’s a little video of our amphitheatre of bliss with Cathy, Shino, Nick, Craig, Matt, Emma & Cam present.

Up to this point in the weekend, I can’t say that there was anything noticeable missing from an otherwise perfect celebration of Ben’s – and his brother John’s – lives. At least not until the sound of Ben’s deep baritone came to us via Matt’s sound system – it was Ben, singing our dear friend Lolly’s song “Shana Na” backed up by Big Head Project. This song was recorded on a CD called “Great Stuff”…a collection of tunes written by Lolly and recorded by his friends after his untimely demise in 2005. We all paused to soak in the moment…the warm embrace of Ben’s voice like an audible hug.  Here’s the tune – have a listen:

As the song was ending, and we were all sitting in quiet contemplation or murmuring appreciatively, I remembered that I had Doug Mollenhauer’s song “Sudden Blue Sky” on my iPhone – a song Doug wrote in honour of Ben after Ben’s passing. It’s a beautiful and powerful song – haunting and poignant – and seemed absolutely fitting for the moment that we were in. As some present had not heard it before I suggested that we play it and everyone heartily agreed…here it is:

With the setting of the evening sun on the shores of the Salish Sea, with full bellies, surrounded by good friends and partners, and feeling connected to Ben through song, we were in a very mellow blissful state – it was quite grand. Then Matt remembered that he had brought a video – the video – of Ben & Lolly playing bongos & guitar on Doug Mollenhauer’s recording of “50 Something Blues”, a song which Doug had written for his brother John’s 50th…videotaped by Linda in my bedroom circa 2002-03. We all convened around the flatscreen for a viewing:

The beauty and serendipity of this moment was not lost on anyone present. The unexpected arrival of Ben – through music – was sweet synchronicity. Watching Ben, Lolly and Doug toast Doug’s brother John at the end of the video – the same name as Ben’s brother who had also recently passed, was one of those Jungian “meaningful coincidences” that cross our paths.  I am always grateful when such moments appear, for they are rare  – it was a perfect denouement for our weekend of remembrance – it was sublime…

 

The Mixed Blessing of Selling your own Artwork

I wear several hats currently. I am a Curator at Shavasana Gallery & Café                             ( http://www.shavasana.ca ) where I curate the artwork of other artists who have chosen to exhibit here; I double as the proprietor/barista guy at the very same Café…selling a few cookies and squares, making a mean cup of daily Saltspring Dark & well-received espresso drinks; and, when time permits, I wear a three-pointed creative hat, or Tricorne, which comprises my efforts as a writer, musician and artist.

I’ve always had some trepidation giving myself any one of these three creative titles, and am not completely clear what it takes to make it so – public appreciation? having income from one’s efforts? If so, I guess I can now make a legitimate claim – I’ve made a few sales of my own artwork lately which – as I have discovered – can be a mixed blessing.

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(Cernunnos  – https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/cernunnos/ made his way to an appreciative home this past summer)

When one writes or makes music, it is usually a product for mass consumption. You don’t write a book or create a song for one person (hopefully) and it is, therefore, not quite as personal as when you sell a piece of your own art. Art is truly unique in nature and is almost always one-of-a-kind – when it leaves your studio, home or personal collection it is truly gone. That piece of you, that thing which you have attempted to express…is gone, and it can be truly bittersweet.

This is one reason why establishing a fair price for a piece of art can be so difficult – the selling price should compensate for the loss the artist feels and should not be sold for less. fullsizeoutput_1154

(Although I have not included my line of necklaces on the Clay and Bone website, I have a series of them which I hope to make room for soon – this piece, which was made from beads used by “Bear” – a pipe-carrier following the shamanic path. It was my personal favourite and it too departed this summer)

The third piece which sold this summer – to a dear friend visiting from the Gatineau – was a departure from my usual mask & necklace making activities. The local Mayne Island Arts Council came up with a concept for a community Art Show – titled “Art in a Book” (or some such thing) which involved either making an art booklet, or, in my case, making art inside a hollowed out book which I had in my possession. Check it out:

( All Roads At Any Time, art in a book… All Roads at any Time

This particular piece has significance for me as I have an intention to work further with the message: “All Roads at Any Time” which I find -from personal experience – to be an apt metaphor for life…

 

 

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

When I first saw his face my immediate thought was – I must tackle this as a mask project. Look at that moustache, those steely dispassionate eyes and puffy dissolute face. For me there was something compelling about his face and I felt a need to try and recreate that in clay. Certain aspects of  “The Archdukes” lifestyle though, provided an ironic justification for wanting to see his head mounted on my wall sporting a set of Fallow Deer antlers…

If not for the widely-accepted thought that his very public assassination by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip precipitated the start of World War 1, he may have remained a more obscure footnote in history – carrying on with the self-indulgent life of a member of the Austro-Hungarian royal family. That all changed on June 28, 1914 when he was assassinated, with his wife Sophie by his side, as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo in an open and unprotected sedan.

But it wasn’t this pivotal historical event that compelled me to proceed with my mask project. While doing a little research into other aspects of his life I came across this tidbit in Wikipedia:

“Franz Ferdinand had a fondness for trophy hunting that was excessive even by the standards of European nobility of this time.[11] In his diaries he kept track of an estimated 300,000 game kills, 5,000 of which were deer. About 100,000 trophies were on exhibit at his Bohemian castle at Konopištē…”

How is it even humanly possible to kill 300,000 animals in one lifetime? Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria was evidently a pathological one-man extinction event and he deserved to be mounted on a wall with  sporting a beautiful pair of antlers in honour of the unlucky 5,000 deer that fell prey to his insatiable murderous hobby. I began to draw, prepare the clay and commence adding facial details:

 

Once the facial details bore an acceptable likeness to my subject I allowed the clay to cure for a week or so

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Following successful firing in the kiln (always a bit nerve wracking before it comes out in one piece) I began the process of painting The Archduke – layering shade and shadow:

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Until I felt pleased with the final outcome.

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Personally, I think that this may be my best creation to date. There is a definite evolution in my skill level and attention to detail. Not that detail and lifelike realism need to denote higher quality in a piece of art. Creativity and expression can take us down many roads, but I am pleased with this effort as it does reflect – quite closely – what I was setting out to achieve. 🙂

If you are interested in purchasing “The Archduke” it can be yours for $685.00, by ordering online through the Mask Gallery (on this website) or by visiting my studio at: www.shavasana.ca

 

Mujica – Latin American Mandela

I don’t recall what led me to Mujica. The flow of information in the current era is deep and wide so my awareness of him could have come from any one of a myriad of sources. I think what impacted me the most though, about “José Alberto “Pepe” Mujica Cordano” were his heroic qualities, his remarkable story, and his relative obscurity – being all but unknown outside of Latin America.

Here is a man who – in my estimation – should be celebrated as a “Latin American Mandela” – a courageous warrior for justice who languished in squalid prisons, ultimately to be released, vindicated, and elected to the highest position in his country – Uruguay. And it is here – in a position of power – that he exhibited some of his most heroic qualities as a leader. He eschewed wealth and fame – giving most of his money to the poor; he forgave those who had oppressed him, and ultimately led by example, choosing to unite his people, by building bridges that connect rather than walls which divide – qualities of leadership which seem to be in such short supply nowadays.

As it is not my intention to write a lengthy dissertation about Mujica, I’d recommend this concise bio about his life in Wikipedia if you are interested:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jos%C3%A9_Mujica .

Although José Mujica is unaware of this, I decided to create a mask in his honour 🙂

It’s March 13, 2016 and I am finally ending the creative drought which has beset me this past year. A full 14 months has elapsed since Alan Turing’s mask and I finally feel inspired enough by the story of José Mujica to put form to clay. My friend “Hunter Bob” has kindly offered to keep me supplied with antlers as he is – quite likely – the most prolific hunter on Mayne Island**.

(**A brief word on hunting on Mayne Island…Mayne Island is in the unique position of having 2 kinds of deer to grace our little island. The black-tailed deer are one species – indigenous to the Pacific Northwest  – which have been grazing the forests and fields of this region for thousands of years. On Mayne Island they are a protected species and it is illegal to hunt them. The other species we have are Fallow Deer – which are not a native species – and were introduced some years ago by a woman wanting to raise them for commercial purposes on her farm. There is disagreement – and much debate – among islanders as to how the Fallow deer came to flee captivity. Whether they used wire cutters to get through the fencing or overpowered the guards is a topic of conversation which can lead to much consternation among longer-term residents. However their methods though, we have been left with a very prolific and omnivorous beast which is persistently and inexorably eating its way through the decorative flowerbeds of the other invasive species – humans – which reside here. It is not illegal to hunt Fallow Deer and indeed is encouraged by the local conservation society…..enter Hunter Bob. Bob loves his job. Due to the randy nature of the Fallow fellows, the rarely fallow nature of the Fallow females, and the percentage of the island which cannot be hunted – Bob knows that he will never be in short supply of targets…and I will consequently never be without antlers for art 🙂

Mujica’s face exudes character, despite his 13 years in squalid conditions in prison he gives off the air of a congenial avuncular patriarch of his people. I worked from several images that I found online…

and proceeded to create a rough sketch to work from while I sculpted. (I usually have my computer screen on as well so I can refer to the subjects facial features in greater detail – the sketch is just a general guide)

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I always pound and kneed my clay to get rid of any potential air bubbles which can – if left undetected – explode your sculpture while firing in the kiln. (I discovered this the hard way : https://clayandbone.com/2017/04/30/mask-making-abraham-maslows-exploding-head/ ) After this initial work I roll it out and flatten it – like a piece of pie dough – before I form it around one of several hand-created molds that I have made out of compacted paper. Then it’s a matter of trimming excess clay, and slowly forming your image through the addition or removal of extra pieces of clay. Eyes, nose, brows and lips and the beginnings of the contours of the face start to take shape.

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Here’s a little detail of how I attach the antlers. I drill a hole through the base of the antler and feed a copper wire through which I eventually feed through holes in the skull of the mask and “tie off” inside the cavity of the mask.

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Here’s a picture of the mask with a few of the typical tools I use to do some of the detail work…getting near completion and ready to let Mujica cure, or dry out, for a few weeks before firing

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Following drying time and successful kiln outcome, I spend some time painting the image to duplicate – as best as I can – the subjects shading & skin tone which – in this case, (unlike the black and white of Oppenheimer & Turing) is an attempt at natural colouring.

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Mujica is available for purchase from my Studio/Gallery on Mayne Island, or, online via this website:

https://clayandbone.com/portfolio/jose-mujica/

 

 

 

Garfield the One-Eyed Beach Cat

It’s a Sunday evening in late February in the fishing village of La Manzanilla and I have returned to my Hotel to escape the din of the village. I am sitting at a table in the relative cool of the outdoor foyer/patio at Puesta del Sol attempting to cobble together some thoughts. This activity – which is rather solitary – can be challenging in this sociable little family-run establishment. Guests are constantly coming and going, and Loreena the owner and her extended family are always busy running the place or contributing several generations of family activity into the lively mix. And dreams of escaping the noise are futile as there is a Latin band playing at Martin’s Restaurant next door, and EdelMira’s 4 year old daughter Aurora is cranky and letting us all know that her needs must be met. The cicadas will eventually win out with their rhythmic nighttime music, but for now at least, the band sounds just fine, and Garfield the one-eyed alley cat is nowhere in sight.

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Garfield is quite skittish, having lost a street fight with another cat which has left him with his cyclopean look. He is also farther down the pecking order than Soul – the little orange kitty who seems to run this place. I am slowly winning his affection with carefully proffered treats and kibble. Perhaps this kindness will help to diminish his fear – it’s not easy being a one-eyed cat in a beach town in Mexico.

it’s now Thursday afternoon, five days later, Aurora is happily engaged in an art project that Christine from Gabriola has put together for the kids, and Garfield is asleep in the sun

The Puesta del Sol is a small hotel of perhaps a dozen rooms on two floors surrounding an outdoor courtyard full of local tropical greenery. For some reason, the place has attracted residents from small islands off the coast of BC. At one time we had 5 Gabriolans, 2 Lasquetians, and 2 Mayne Islanders – many of whom have brought serious artistic and musical talent to this place. Foremost among these is Rick from Gabriola

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who is a wood carver by trade, and has now been commissioned by several local establishments to paint murals on their buildings. Loreena has him creating colourful  murals around the doors of the hotel rooms which Is turning this casual little hotel into a playful artistic statement…

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…and he has created a series of wall planters and colourful dioramas out of the dried leaves of coconut palms. When not making art he can be found playing guitar and singing at the hotel with other musical guests or at local restaurants – I’ve brought some blues harps and have been accompanying him on occasion. Fred from Gabriola is here with his ukulele and his daughter who is also a great violin player. Christine is making her own art and is also scoring some music to several poems that have been written by another woman in the village, and Darzo from Lasqueti was here with her intriguing voice and guitar, jamming at the hotel or performing at local open mikes. It’s a place full of music, art, the chatter of young Mexican children – and the furtive scavenging of Garfield the one-eyed beach cat.

It is now Sunday, late afternoon and I am back in the cool of the courtyard. EdelMira has stepped away from the Hotel for five minutes with her two children to feed carrots to some goats and I have – briefly – been left in charge of  the Hotel. With the children gone I can actually hear the sounds of the village and the birds chirping in the trees. As this is my second year of wintering in La Manzanilla, I have developed a small community of friends and nodding acquaintances who might pass by and say ‘Hola’ on their way to the beach or back to their homes beyond the arroyo.

It seems to be taking a long time to complete this little story. My days are full, distractions are plentiful, and the lure of sitting and writing while sunshine and beaches beckon is sporadic at best. I enjoy keeping a little journal when I travel, unfortunately the app I was using – Day One – lost all my writing from last year so I am reluctant to use it again, and have switched to paper. This WordPress effort at least allows me to post a few photos as well and to share it on Facebook – for whatever that is worth. If reading about Garfield the one-eyed cat, or the creative activities of my artistic compatriots doesn’t satisfy your need for appropriate travel commentary, here’s a pretty sunset…       🙂

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