3.30.2011

VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA: TIME FOR TEA and ROSES


My Slow Love tour has wound its way to Victoria, British Columbia, where I am giving a lecture for the Art in Bloom festival sponsored by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. I've always wanted to visit this part of the world, and as usual, I have found myself with not enough time to take in all I want to see. But it's a beginning.

Last night I went to a lecture given by Belgian florist Tomas de Bruyne, charming, self-possessed wunderkind author of three books about flowers and emotions: Emotions, Wedding Emotions, and Christmas Emotions. A fourth, promised soon, is called Passionate Emotions (just in case all the previous emotions were a bit tepid.) The lecture caused a near-riot. It was difficult to appreciate the magnificently, elaborately tortured creations. de Bruyne and a team of patient Victoria volunteers had worked on them for the last three days; one came to dinner with her hands covered in bandages, shredded from stripping roses and bending wires and whatnot. de Bruyne did indeed wax eloquent about the emotional side of flower arranging, how we have lost that, and how we need to express our individuality rather than just plop the flowers into a vase. As if.

He showed us an elegant creamy white pinwheel arrangement he designed for a wedding, and then a cunning cage holding prisoner-flowers, and then a charming series of miniature birch bark pads that displayed little eggs, with the blooms erupting from tiny tubes. The whole thing reminded me of the incredible rococo hair structures created for the women of the royal court at Versailles. Then I had a private chuckle, thinking what Beverley Nichols would have made of the whole show; I loved his send-up of the flower arranging in his Merry Hall series. (I've linked you into one of my favorite garden sites, Garden Rant, for a description of the Nichols books.) de Bruyne went on to discuss how important emotions were in marketing, in selling one's arrangements. My neighbor and I in the back rows began to get the giggles.


Victoria is a very serious gardening town, full of passionate horticulturalists. de Bruyne's audience, at least in the front rows, was engaged and posed great questions. But there was a mutiny of the back half of the room; we couldn't see and we couldn't hear. Women began leaving their seats to go look at the work. I joined them to take pictures. I must say, it looked as if a madcap child had decorated his structures of Lincoln Logs and Pick up Stix and whirly gigs with yarns and eggs and blooms. The only emotion I could imagine was the panting desperation of the blossoms stuck in their tiny tubes wondering when their next cool drop of water might arrive. The whole thing was wildly entertaining. After the long, cold, grey winter we are still enduring, it is indeed an emotional--dare I say, a passionate emotion?--to get a glimpse of the blush on any flower, regardless if she is under seige.


Such a display of deliberately contorted wild abandon. I had spent the afternoon wandering Victoria, which was delightful. I am a person who takes her tea seriously. I had forgotten how lovely it is to be in a culture that feels the same way. We have been overtaken by coffee drinkers whose culture seems to revolve around, well, what does it revolve around? Starbucks marketing. We skipped having an American version of the Viennese coffee houses. Never mind.


Anyhoo, tea leads to tea things, and naturally (as I have an unerring instinct for such places) I discovered a fabulous linen shop, the kind of old-fashioned, genteel establishment in which passion simmers under discreet white, thick embroidery, or lurks behind the coarse weave of linen scrim. Be still, my heart. Irish Linen Stores, established 1910, sent me into a quiet place of profound bliss.

I stocked up on men's handkerchief, my supply having gotten ragged, and while I was at it I had my own moment of quiet abandon and did some damage in the tea towel department, so perhaps the shop no longer has Victoria's best selection. Some of the linen towels were so beautiful I could hang them on the wall. The flowers looked serene and graceful, rather unperturbed by emotion. Sometimes it is the little things in life that give great satisfaction.


Coincidentally, with all the hours I've been logging in airports, I've been on a great Maeve Binchy jag. She writes great warm romances about Irish country life, of houses in which tea is served, or pubs are managed, and lace is worked, and washed. There seems always to be a wealthy villain, and a hard-hearted, selfish, utterly charming bounder of a man. Having ripped through Circle of Friends, I'm now deep into Firefly Summer. I thought I would see if I could find another book for the flight home.


I wandered into what is surely one of the best bookstores on the continent, Munro's Books on Government Street. Quite apart from having a beautifully curated selection of everything you might want to read, the shop itself is beautiful to behold. I stood and wondered why it was so moving to me, and realized it was because it felt like a temple. The setting, architecturally, put books in their proper, honored, sacred place--and yet, made them accessible. You simply wanted to wander every aisle, pull things off the shelves, try pages by writers you had never heard of before--all the experiences that make the best independent bookstores life-altering, mind-bending, soul-stretching places. It doesn't matter whether you are reading on paper, iPad, Kindle, or a scroll. A book is in spirit still a book.


To top it all off, the high walls were adorned with fabric hangings by Carole Sabiston. I asked about them, as otherwise there is nothing to indicate that there is anything out of the ordinary about dazzling needlework assemblages gracing the walls of a bookstore.

Later on I learned that the owner of Munro's had once been married to Alice Munro (a favorite author) and was now married to Carole Sabiston. I would say everyone had excellent taste.

23 comments:

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Tea towels, handiwork, books and flowers. A most appropriately named town. This post made my heart beat faster. Chock full of all my favourite things.
That bookstore! Sigh.

Ruth said...

I was just reading Alice Munro's 1994 Paris Review interview. "Going to Victoria and opening a bookstore was the most wonderful thing that ever happened. It was great because all the crazy people in town came into the bookstore and talked to us."

Bennie said...

Oh my, I love living through your blog stories.... Beverly Nichols and Alice Munro all in one story! Wow, that says it all. You are a gifted writer. Just saw that you will be interviewing photographer Jack Spencer - love his photography.... you are living large I would say ..enjoy!

Anonymous said...

I live up island from Victoria and must say it is one of my favourite places, too bad you were not there during the summer months, it is a floral buffet, so beautiful. Glad you enjoyed yourself. Sheila

Ella said...

I love old bookstores and Munro's seems very beautiful. Must tell you as you wrote about tea that I am reading a book right now called The Tea House on Mulberry Street.

Windlost said...

I adore Victoria. We have family there and my best friend too, and we are a 1.5h flight away, so we go out every spring and fall. You found my favorite places. Munro's is where I spend a good 2-3h every trip. Love the linen store. Some wonderful organic/local restaurants. Did you make it to Buchart gardens? A must see next time.

Glad you had fun. It is an optimistic little town and I love the flowers and the weather and the British influence. We are planning to retire there (in 20 years - groan).

xo Terri

Stan and Pat said...

Binchy has a new book out. I've forgotten the name---senior moment. Anyhow it's probably in the airport bookstore.

mumfypat said...

Wow! So many of my favorite things in this entry: Victoria, The Irish Linen Shop (both visited only once but still fresh in my memory), Beverley Nichols - so happy to hear you know his gardening books - Maeve Binchy (latest book is 'Minding Frankie') and Alice Munro.
Looking forward to your visit to Cincinnati in April!

Darci said...

I am not normally interested in flowers, linens or tea, but your beautifully-written posts give me cause for pause to enjoy them all vicariously. It sounds like a wonderful, entertaining adventure. Thanks for sharing!

Cristina said...

...I agree that the (poor) flowers held captive in the wooden cage are not very tempting , but the composition in your first photo is ravishing, with the mix of all those lovely flowers, the wood, the delicate eggs. I was sure it was a creation of yours, such was its chic beauty!
P.S. me too I've met Maeve Binchy (!!) for the first time through her "Circle of Friends" and from then on I 've read every other available book by her. nice choice. ...WHAT??? a brand new one??? that's good news!

SweetRetreat said...

Well, what a lovely post in the last days of March. I know spring has sprung in beautiful Victora and just looking at the photos of tea cozies, linens, flowers - I want to return.

I too am a serious tea drinker and have enjoyed high tea at the Empress Hotel several times. It is the 'idea' of high tea, as much as the occasion that makes it so special.

Lucky you.

Carla said...

I just want to tell you thank you for your wonderful book! Now I am enjoying reading through your past editorial letters from House & Garden. Thank you!

helen tilston said...

Happy you are enjoying Victoria. Maeve Binchy is a fellow Irish woman and I have read most of her books. I loved Firefly summer. The Lilac Bus is also a good read.
Like you, I collect linen tea towels.
Thanks for an uplifting post

TRISTA said...

I love Munro's! But I feel so dumb...Alice Munro the author started the store? I lover her writing but never made the connection.

Another coincidence, I just today wrote on my blog about a book I found at Munro's called _The Elegance of the Hedgehog_, which made me think of your blog (because it's partly about finding beauty in small things), AND it made me want to learn how to drink tea...the way it sounds you do... with ritual and grace.

Any advice? I've not yet read your book; do you talk about tea there?

Angie said...

I love your pictures...they always move me. I wish I was in Victoria in a cozy book store sitting for hours browsing though all the books. You also have me wanting to try hot tea, (I am a "Starbucks" freak). I am a southern girl and love iced tea. When you live in the south "hot" tea just was not something you wanted when it is 90 deg outside. I must admit reading your book and stories makes me want to try everything and slow my pace. Dominique you always inspire me...thank you.

Warren said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Warren said...

Perhaps it's the rain here in Seattle but flowers and food have gotten me thinking about the global supply chain. When the flowers in cozy Victoria probably came through Amsterdam, when NYC chefs are buying clams from New Zealand rather than their neighbors, and the fruit in Whole Foods came from God knows where, I just wonder how sustainable and proper is all this?

I got talking with Chef/owner Matt Dillon of Seattle's Corson Building and Sitka and Spruce restaurants after dinner Sunday. He is embarking on a radically local approach. He's gotten his hands in dirt and is growing his own produce and raising his own critters to serve. Rather than open a dozen restaurants, he is 'localizing' his supply chain.

Imagine arriving at a 19th country inn, getting off your stage coach and wanting a hearty meal. Matt is cooking 'pre-industrial', cottage style food, localing grown or gathered. But elevated to a level of play most chefs won't touch. Matt and team will buy and break down whole pigs, conserve, smoke and can in rhythm with the seasons. (This past Sunday they served locally foraged nettles as greens with a stupifying smoked cod. And the pork roast was cooked in hay).

In our time 'gourmet' fine dining is more likely to include 'de-constructed' presentations, foams and extractions. It may be theatrical. It probably shows off the talents of the chef. But it
may serve to remove us from honoring the very living ingredients and critters we invite to the table.

Matt's food respects the ingredients and moves with the seasons. Each menu is different. I've never had a recipe repeated over three years. Not only do the ingredients in a portion compliment each other; each platter and wine pairing in their communal meals build and compliments the next.

I am not sure where this rant is going. But if you come to Seattle, you owe it to try dining with Matt (thecorsonbuilding.com and sitkaandspruce.com.) Be sure to eat all the fat on the pig. It is incredible.

I also encourage you to find chefs as committed to 'local' where you live. In the end that may be the best solution for the planet. That and canning.

Serious foodies may also enjoy reading the Art of Eating, a quarterly available at artofeating.com.

karensandburg said...

speaking of tea ... there is a wonderful place here in boulder, located next to the boulder creek, where in the summer tea and brunch outside by the river is a deeply satisfying ritual. the place is Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse and is elaborately decorated with hand carved columns and ceiling, hammered copper sculptures and the most striking ceramic panels of blues and greens covering the outside of the building, all created by artisans from Tajikistan.

i enjoyed your post for the little comforts we build into our lives -- the linen tea towels and flowers, but as far as flowers go, i'm definately from the plop-the-flowers-in-the-vase school... i would never cage the poor things -- ouch.

Sharen said...

How lovely it is for us to follow you on your journeys! So interesting and so much fun! Victoria is a beautiful city and it is wonderful to learn that you enjoyed your visit to Canada. Isn't Munro's wonderful? Much nicer as a treasure house of books than as a solemn bank, don't you think?

david terry said...

Dear "William",

Glad to hear that someone's doing pork-in-hay.

There's a very useful "recipe" (actually, it's just a technique) in Stephane Reynauld's fine&funny book "Pork & Sons" (Phaedon, 2007).

I just pulled out the book....

"A Reminiscence: this recipe has something special about it because it takes me back to the end of Summer, during the vacation, when the whole countryside was scented with dry grass...You are wlecome to adapt it using a type of hay redolent of your past, from a farm you knew in a place you loved. and let the magic weave its spell...."

email me at the following address, and I'll send you the recipe, which is appropriate for a "rack" or "roast" of pork (I have no idea what Seattle butchers call these cuts).

sincerely,

David Terry
www.davidterryart.com
email: dterrydraw@aol.com

resorts in Gran Canaria said...

Great post. You have shared nice photos of Tea towels, handiwork, books and flowers. You have best collection. You have done nice work.

Dominique said...

Warren, I'm going to follow up on your local food rant soon--starting with drinks, and moving on to slow food....Karen, hoping to get to Boulder in the not too distant future if my son is accepted as a student at Naropa Institute...Trista, I think perhaps MR. Munro started the bookstore, but I'm not sure about that....I'll have to think about my tea "rituals"--all these creature habits are so comforting. Glad to have all your company on this journey! d

Anonymous said...

I am bummed out to find that your blog is really all about "stuff." Fancy seeds, rich people's houses, china, opulent fields of daffodils. I was hoping that this blog would be about finding peace and meaning and love without materialism.