Sunday, July 17, 2011
The Smell of Fire - Part Three
See Part One HERE
See Part Two HERE
How on earth could a vibrancy such as Martha give birth to the carefulness and hesitancy that was Ian?
She must have seen my glance go back and forth between them while we were standing in her vast studio off King Street. You'd never think to look in an area like that for artists. I'd often rushed through it as I drove by. Decrepit, run down, full of rats and criminals and druggies, I'd always surmised.
The soft Irish mist of her voice assured me when I had shared this that of course: this was the whole idea. A secret enclave of studios and galleries hidden away, safe from intrusive eyes in a seedy section of the city.
Her speciality was black and white photography capturing the entrails of the city. Often featuring the beautiful and prominent. The mayor himself cast upon the detritus of his metropolis: sitting, ill at ease, on a blanket on an overloaded skip outside of a demolished building.
It's easy to convince them, she said in answer to my unspoken quizzical look, I tell them it's the only shot of them I'll consider and they all want a Martha.
Her unusual silver grey eyes evaluated me. Her heavy, black (assisted?) hair tumbled around her face. The woman must be near seventy, I thought. I, at 48, felt my own life, as yet completely unlived, heavy on my bones, with my drab grey flannel skirt and tweedy jacket underlying my own sartorial timidity.
Sixty-eight, she said, as if reading my thoughts. It was a month before my 18th birthday when I gave birth to Ian.
She was dressed in a bright yellow pantsuit, with the jacket cut in Nehru style, covering any sins on her neck. Her sleeves were rolled up displaying the hands I had seen on her son. Ian was deferential. I had never seen a son so attentive and admiring of his own mother. She on the other hand, bestowed a careless affection upon him, evidenced by an occasional detached glance in his direction or a soothing “Do you think so, dear?” when he assessed one of the enormous black and white prints hanging from the high ceiling of the studio. It was like walking through a maze to see them all, hung as they were on hooks on the rafters twenty feet above our heads, descending to a few inches above us on black silk ropes, and scattered (as I thought) haphazardly throughout the vast space.
Oh no, dear, she said to me when I mentioned this. There is a plan and a plot to it all.
We went from photos of the tent city on the shores of Lake Ontario to the obscene enclaves of the wealthy in Rosedale as we wended our way from left to right along the pathways of the huge photographs. A journey, for me, through a city I had never seen so intimately.
She gave us green tea in tiny Chinese bowls and kept up a conversation that landed on whatever took her fancy. My career, Ian's upcoming holiday to Ireland to trace his roots (“Whatever for, dear?”), Courtney, her Italian granddaughter (“Is she free of that poisonous man, yet dear?”) all said in that hypnotizing voice of low hills, shallow valleys: tiny inflections, as if all ordinary curiosity had abandoned her years ago, leaving her with only this passion for her art.
I fell in love.