Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer's Slow Hand

Early in the morning, in the quiet hour before the 7:00 o'clock radio news comes on, I set up my ironing board in the living room.  Four shirts - two of his, two of mine - lie folded in the laundry basket.  I fill the iron with water and plug it in, knowing that it will take some time to heat up to the highest setting, the one for linen.   I'm in no hurry.  I wait until the orange indicator light goes out and a puff of steam escapes the iron's flat face.  Gliding back and forth, the iron smooths wrinkled cloth while extracting a faint whiff of lavender from the pale linen. The weight of the appliance in my hand feels good as I slip into a gentle, pressing rhythm.  Summer is here!

The pleasure of ironing lies in the fact that it's most successfully done in slow motion. I only iron in the summer; during the other three Canadian seasons my wardrobe is dominated by wool sweaters and easy-care stretch turtle-necks.   Summer has its own relaxed pace, languid gestures and flowing drapery.  I linger over pleats, seams, darts, pocket flaps, giving extra nudges to the front placket, cuff edges and the neat fold of the collar.  Lingering is my summer mode, one that extends the nicest chores:  husking an ear of corn, rolling out pastry for a fruit pie, sewing on a button stitch-by-stitch.

In the novel "The Twin" author Gerbrand Bakker describes the satisfaction of a lingering task in two perfect sentences:

 "The broom is fairly new, its red nylon brush is still stiff and rings on the concrete floor.  No matter how much I dawdle, the sweeping is finished too soon."

Yesterday I came across a short video showing artist Gerhard Richter working in his Cologne studio, a segment that reveals the beauty of his unhurried process, as well as the stunning end result.   He is the subject of a documentary film "Gerhard Richter Painting" directed by Corinna Belz in which he reveals his method for producing large, abstract oil paintings.   Richter's layered works are created by dragging paint across the surface with a squeegee.  The amount of pressure exerted on the tool determines the thickness of the paint application, and the artist's gesture is consistently slow and steady as he pushes and pulls. He is quite literally drawing, just as a workhorse draws a plough across a field.   I am impressed with the comfortable way the tools are handled, the perfect fit of the custom-made squeegee to the canvas format, and the final "thunk" it makes when it arrives at the end of its course. There is no need for dialogue or voice-over narration, as the task itself is completely absorbing, authentic work.   I never get tired of watching this.


Here's another summer favourite, an audio recording of a brilliant poem by Vicki Feaver about slowing down to discover the joy of ironing. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Breaking Ground

The land in Cap-Pele has been cultivated for over two centuries by the same Acadian families, who generation after generation have planted vegetable gardens, tended fruit trees and harvested crops.  This is the beloved terroir of people with names like LeBlanc, Cormier, Doiron, Leger, Landry and Boudreau.   Land was and is a source of great pride in this region, after all, it was a hard-won fight to own a patch of ground for Acadians who suffered the loss of personal property to British forces during the grand derangement years (1755-1763).  When they were once again granted the right to own land, Acadians resettled here, along the eastern shore of NB, and began rebuilding a culture that had been thoroughly disrupted and altered.  In the introduction to the cookbook "A Taste of Acadie" Marielle Cormier-Boudreau writes:

"The period of resettlement coincided with war in Europe, and communication with France broke down as the priorities of the mother country were shifted elsewhere  Isolated culturally and politically, the Acadians were forced to respond quickly to new and difficult circumstances, making the most of what little they had. ...Such radical change - living by the sea with virtually no other resources - meant that the Acadians lost many of their agricultural and culinary traditions and put new ones in their place.  Over time, the constant struggle to put food on the table developed into a unique culinary tradition, an imaginative response to the land and the sea."

The nursery in Cap-Pele is run by Edgar LeBlanc.  He is also the man in charge of snow removal on our street and it is inconceivable to hire anyone else to clear a driveway in Edgar's territory (a faux pas we unwittingly made when we first moved in, but one that I'm certain won't be repeated.)   When I mentioned    that I wanted a section of the backyard prepared for a vegetable garden, Robert, who is quick to pick up on neighbourhood protocol,  immediately phoned Edgar.   An appointment for ploughing was set.  Like the adaptable Acadians, we are responding quickly to new circumstances.

Breaking ground

Using his heavy-duty tractor, Edgar carved a swath of ground out of the lawn, tilled the fine red soil and raked the surface smooth.  It was such a beautiful ribbon of earth, so full of potential,  that I couldn't wait to get started. The next day we visited Edgar's nursery - Serres LeBlanc - to purchase seeds.

Serres LeBlanc, 2439 Rue Acadie, Cap-Pele
Vesey's seeds in French and English
Bedding plants inside the LeBlanc greenhouse
Edgar LeBlanc

When I presented my packages of seeds at the cash register, Edgar was hesitant to ring up the order.  
"What kind of fertilizer are you putting on?" he asked. 
"Well, I really hadn't planned to use any extra additives," I replied.
"Do you think that any of these seeds will grow?"
Edgar watched as my face fell.  My wilting confidence opened the door for a sales opportunity.  
"You need sheep manure and 10-10-10.  I'm going to tell you how I plant a garden, and how my father and grandfather always did it."  Edgar proceeded to give me step-by-step instructions for successful Acadian-style gardening.  
  • Dig a trench.
  • Add a layer of sheep manure along the row. 
  • Sow the seeds.
  • Cover with earth.
  • Apply 10-10-10.  
  • Water and wait.  

Several bags of sheep manure, fertilizer and red seed potatoes (it's compulsory to grow potatoes here) were added to our purchases.  Robert had to collapse the back seats so that everything would fit into our car.

I followed Edgar's guidelines and I'm pleased to report that my garden is coming along nicely.  The peas are climbing, potatoes, spinach and corn are sprouting, and soon the radishes will be ready to pull up.  I have been advised that the tomatoes were set out far too early but I'm betting that despite the odds, these seedlings like the steadfast Acadians, will harden off, survive transplantation and go on to bear abundant fruit.