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.
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.
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.