Friday, July 22, 2011

The Treatise

So we left off at my sudden and burning desire to photograph the rural and the derelict. I wrote a letter to a friend of mine who, over the last eight years, I have only communicated with via letter. Yep, snail mail, the lost art of writing. My friend, whom I call Joe (the result of another story, which I shall tell another time) is a brilliant young, edgy, award-winning playwright who happens to be Australian and alas, in Australia. We've been exchanging letters since university. In any event, I think I will share the letter I sent to him with you, as it indeed paints our photographic tale of adventure in all the right colours.

I am considering, Joe, writing a treatise on the repelling of mosquitoes, which have effectively stolen what brief summer we have here, that and the incessant road work. Even the immigrants here know the half-joke that ~shire has the following seasons: winter, more winter, still winter, and construction. And this is how we teach them the meaning of the word sardonic.

Conspiracy theorist junkie husband believes that the government… yes, the mighty municipal government… is responsible for the mosquito invasion to distract from the fact that all of ~shire’s major roads have simultaneously been unearthed and are likely to stay that way for yet another summer, thus forcing traffic to constant apocalypse-esque city-evacuation levels of traffic jams. I suppose if hubby and I invested in a kayak, we could use the Saskatchewan River as a sort of shortcut through the city, except I’m afraid that if I got tired, I would be whisked away to Winnipeg, which might be a fate worse than death. 

Winnipeg, you see, used to hold the proud title of Canada’s mosquito capital. They have to regularly spray the city to make it habitable. (I am not sure what effect the spraying of mosquitoes has on the human population, but there must be some sort of chemical reaction in the brains, or else why would people voluntarily stay in Winnipeg during mozzie season?) In the Old Country, they have tales of babies being spirited away by fairies. In Australia, isn’t it the dingoes? Well, here in Canada, it’s mozzies that make off with the infants. I feel like Prime Minister Harper has missed out on a great natural resource, and he is so fond of stripping taking advantage of natural resources. You see, I feel as if Canada has access to a rather brilliant bio weapon. Perhaps that is why we are a peaceable country. No one has the stomach to piss us off for fear of a mosquito bombing. 

I would like to remind you of the tense I used in order to speak of Winnipeg’s mosquito status, its claim to fame: used to, as in, no longer. According to the reports (which remarkably sound like bragging), ~shire presently has six times the number of mosquitoes Winnipeg does. (They have determined this by counting the females. HOW does one DO this, count the females???) I understand that we are a competitive province, one that delights in competition against Winnipeg, but really, ~shire need not be number one in this thing. Being number one in catastrophic environmental destruction and number one in homicides is quite enough. But we are. Six times higher. And they say that this is “average” based on our historical record of mosquitoes, the years before the drought. (There is a historical record of mosquitoes?) Yes, the drought kept the mosquitoes away, but now that the rains have come back, so have the mozzies. In droves. In swarms. In clouds of black, oscillating orgies. They fling themselves at the car as you tear away from the park, bouncing off the windows and the hood, tires screeching, not unlike hapless zombies at the end of the chase scene.  Our walls were covered to them (mosquitoes, not zombies) to such a degree that dear husband lit the mosquito coils inside to smoke them out. I think he was willing to do a dozen loads of laundry to get the campfire smell out of every fabric thing indoors than be eaten alive in our sleep. 

In Newfoundland, at the wildlife museum, there is a rather substantial jar filled with red liquid (which I have told myself to this day is red-dyed maple syrup). The placard tells us that this is how much blood the mosquitoes can and will drain from a moose, ultimately killing it. People are wearing their mosquito bites like battle scars, and really, that’s what they are. People seem determined to tough it out, to go out of doors bundled like ninjas in winter, and run through the parks, arms flailing like madmen, chased by an almost cartoonish cloud of black mosquitoes. 

I myself made the mistake of going out of doors one afternoon sans chemical protection. Husband and I stumbled upon a canola field that played host to a row of derelict barns. I had to shoot it. I hopped the barbed wire fence and traipsed up the long unused dirt path through the trees, camera in hand, floral rain boots on, grass to my knees, butterflies flitting in the weeds and wildflowers, sunlight pouring through the birch and poplar. I felt like I should have been in some rustic Whitman poem and was feeling rather good about myself, trekking through nature to shoot the landscape. I felt very artistic, very idyllic indeed. Until I was swarmed and felt rather less idyllic as I ran, screaming like a banshee, back to the car. I should not have screamed, because I’m certain I swallowed enough mosquitoes in that instant to end the (slight) anemia I’ve suffered since Oliver’s birth—or, perhaps add to it. Is it a myth that the mozzies can bleed you from the inside out? Or does that go in the swallowing of watermelon seeds category of old wives’ tales? 

Well, regardless of the insect protein I ingested, in that moment, I sustained fifty bites from shoulder to elbow on my left arm alone. To add insult to injury, as I was later examining my swollen face in the bathroom mirror, I could not tear my eyes away from the grotesque sight (they say the same thing of horrific car accidents), and smashed my face into the door, squirting a stream of blood from my left nostril all over our Ikea bath carpet and orange Ikea bath towel. Husband o' mine swears I did it in purpose. I’ve wanted to replace that bathmat for months, and I’ve left it there, bloodstain and all, to prove to him that I did not intentionally inflict a nosebleed on myself. He forgets that, graceful as I am, I once gave myself a black eye on the folding closet door, which, by the by, does not make for a sturdy prop when one is trying to wiggle one’s legs into skinny jeans while pregnant. Words to the wise, should you ever try to wiggle into skinny jeans while pregnant.

I wrote an e mail to the mayor. He has ignored my invitation to partake of a walk through the park with schnauzer Stanley some evening. Nor has he decided to fix the plane that, once upon a time, before the time of the decade-long drought, sprayed our fair city with mozzie-killing pesticide.

But I have also considered the alternative (the alternative to what? To becoming a shut-in). Would repelling the mosquitoes through natural means make summer in ~shire any more tolerable? Here is, in no particular order, the list of ways one can naturally repel mosquitoes. I shall leave the inevitable conclusion to you.

The List

  • ·         Wear bright colours, such as traffic cone orange and day-glo yellow
  • ·         Duct tape your pant legs and your long-sleeved shirts down, even in 35C heat waves
  • ·         Wear many loose layers, even in 35C heat waves
  • ·         Refrain from perspiring 
  • ·         Avoid activities that involve CO2, such as exhaling
  • ·         Eat lots of raw garlic or ingest garlic tablets so that your skin secretes a garlicky odor
  • ·         Douse yourself in citronella, geranium, and soybean oil
  • ·         Rub yourself with fennel, thyme, clove oil, and celery extract
  • ·         Bake at 350 for 25 minutes
  • ·         Refrain from using shampoos and soaps, particularly ones with a floral scent or ones that eliminate your own scent
  • ·         Do not mask your natural body odors
  • ·         Slather your body with bear fat/grease that has been infused with castor oil or cloves or cedar
  • ·         Spritz yourself with the urine or musk of bears, deer, or other various animals. If deer or bear are unavailable, cow urine and cow dung are effective alternatives
  • ·         Smoke, or burn something indoors when you are not at home
  • ·         Do not wear sunscreen

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Old and Dusty

While at the farmer's market, I met a photographer who has an eye for the kind of things I'd like to shoot... that is, if I could just pip off to <insert exotic country here> whenever I felt like it. In fact, she is in Borneo at the moment on a photo shoot. I sigh in green, frothy jealousy. But it was not her exotic shots that caught my eye but her local ones.

Yes, she had a rather impressive, textural and rich collection of the rural and the derelict. I have no idea where she found the house? barn? that she shot in, but I want to find one like it, too.

When I was a child growing up in Newfoundland, just up the highway from my grandparents' cabin in Holyrood, there was an abandoned house. Salt box house, in retrospect, and it still had all the fixings-- old furniture, old stove, the kind you have to put wood inside to get hot... at least, that's what I could glean from peeking in the window and the open door. My father would never let us go inside. He went inside once and left me outside, just burning up. I never wanted to disobey him more in my life than at that moment. I never wanted to explore a place more than this old, abandoned property with the clover and the thistle and the grass growing as high as my waist, the pieces of somebody's life left behind, perhaps the magazine left on the table where someone had been flipping through it, dishes left in the sink to dry, never put away, moldy linens still in the closet and on the iron beds...

I was experiencing my first pang of nostalgic curiosity, a haunting feeling I experience whenever I saw a place like this, or watch Titanic or Schindler's List, or hold an artifact from a museum (you're allowed to do that, right? touch the old stuff?), put my grandmother's dainty gloves on my own hand or go through her purse and find a 80-year-old shopping list. It's the feeling I had when walking through the halls of Versailles and marveled that once upon a time, it too was a house and not a museum, that people looked out those windows on their drive and on their yard, or sat in those chairs, now forbidden, and stoked the now empty fireplaces. The idea of ghosts was fascinating to me, romantic, that the shades of the past could still be creeping about. I was never afraid of ghosts, just the dark Shadow Man I was convinced lurked outside my bedroom door in the hallway. But he was not a ghost.

So the photograph I saw that really captured my attention was one of a bouncy horse, a toy that I'd had as a child. It sat in the ruins of whatever place she was photographing, this symbol of innocence and childhood just cast aside. Why was it left there among the bottles and the cans and the other remnants of desertion?

I've been trying to convince my husband to take me on an excursion into the deep, red-neck countryside of this province so I can trespass or creep into the derelict and abandoned barns along the way... The best he's done so far is take me a 20-minute jaunt to the outskirts of town, where our adventure will continue next time.

Until then, I highly encourage you to visit her site and to take a look through the galleries. You may wonder why I am promoting another photographer's site, that it will hurt my own business, but to summarize one of Ayn Rand's philosophies rather crudely, we should not be afraid of others' greatness or attempt to squash it. It is a small person who fears the accomplishments of others. We do not fail because others are successful. We fail because we ourselves have not achieved success or greatness. So, waxing philosophical aside, check out her galleries. They're great. And visit mine while you're at it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


For those who haven't the time or energy to view our full gallery, you can visit our kiosk if you're looking to make a quick purchase! We've included a sampling of our most popular images (by sales) and are making them available in 5x7 prints. Of course, we do sell other sizes and other images which are available through our webstore, but if you just want a nibble, check out the kiosk here.

Just Beet It

Farmer's markets are fabulous. Anywhere. One of my favourite markets is in Seattle (the Pike Place Market, where they have the first ever Starbucks), but there is always such a crowd I find it difficult to shoot over or through people. I am short and not exactly what you'd call imposing. Lord help me if I don't get front row at a busking event. I always end up with  somebody's bald spot.

But what a great way to get some really colourful photos, right? (At the farmer's market, not some dude's bald spot.) Clusters of vegetables, beans, pastas, flowers, fruits, candies, fabrics, soaps. Oh, the textures. A friend of mine has the most amazing shot of chilies from the Seattle market. I would really love to hit someplace with spices, like India or Morocco, and get some of that on film. If I used film. However, I don't know how plausible or practical it would be to push our giant plastic North American stroller through a sweaty, spicy, vibrant Middle Eastern market and try to take a decent shot. I may be an old woman before I get to explore the off-the-beaten-paths (and even some of the well-worn roads) of the world.

So I went to our downtown farmer's market to grab a few snaps. It's no Morocco, but if you're lucky, there's a really fun candy display or heaps of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, due to the weather we've been having, there wasn't what you'd call a wide variety of veg. (Or, for some reason, candy. None to be seen. Perhaps next week we'll see candied mosquitoes? More on this later.) In fact, root vegetables seemed to be the only thing available. Beets. LOTS OF BEETS. And parsnips. Time for a good old-fashioned Newfoundland vegetable boil with that much to choose from. So I shot the beets.

And then it got me wondering if it were true if beets make you pee red. Does anybody know? I had a roommate in university who decided to test this to see if it were in fact fact, but he never told me the results of his experiment. Probably a good thing. A friendship has to have boundaries. I have also heard you can time how long it takes your food to go in one end and come out the other by eating beets. I don't know why one would need to know how long their digestive process takes, but it's good to know that there are simple and natural ways to explore this miracle of nature.

In the end, we bought an artichoke. No, not a beet. Being originally from Newfoundland, it was my first non-canned artichoke, and I wanted to cook it. Supposedly, you have to boil them for a heinous amount of time, which, by the by, is the quintessential Newfie cooking technique... I wondered if I had inadvertently come full circle... In any event, after boiling my artichoke in water, lemon, butter, and pepper for about an hour and a half, it disappeared. A few flakes of artichoke heart, not even a mouthful, appeared on my plate when my husband proudly emerged from the kitchen. Alas, after all that wait, he had prematurely removed the artichoke from the burner, deemed it too tough to eat, and chucked the whole thing, save for scraping out a wee bit of the heart. So I still do not know if canned artichoke is superior or inferior to freshly boiled artichoke. Maybe we should have gone with the beets? Again, gentle readers, you will have to let me know.  Or, if you have better artichoke recipes. That, and the beet thing.

But our market adventure does not end here, for it was the innocent, innocuous beginning to a much less enjoyable journey. Stay tuned.