Ship in a bottle.

I tried a bit of night-time photo-making for this week’s Thursday Doors contribution:

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The public library (branded as Idea Exchange) in the Hespeler community of Cambridge, Ontario currently stands as an uncommon blend of old and new – the outer shell of this structure is constructed with glass, encasing the historic brick building within while also housing the modern extension.

The renovations, completed in 2007, received mixed reviews from locals, even though the design was granted an Award of Excellence by Canadian Architect magazine, among other honours.

As you may know, I’m a sucker for historic buildings, and part of me would’ve liked better exterior visibility of the original structure. However, I’m also a sucker for bright, airy interiors (and libraries in general, of course). The glass, the height, and the clean modern lines create a unique and comfortable indoor space. When inside, being able to circle the original building – to view and touch and appreciate the exposed brick up close – provides an odd but pleasant feeling of being both indoors and outdoors at once.

Today’s main entrance is located on the northeast side of the building:

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If you squint through this sheet of glass, you’ll be able to view the location of the original entryway, round the southeast side:

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It looks a tad different than it did back in 1923:

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Photo courtesy Law Photography via Cambridge Archives, c. 1923.

Idea Exchange is currently working on another overhaul of a historic structure in the Galt area of Cambridge – the old Post Office – and I understand there’s also a fair amount of glass involved in this particular re-imagination. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

 

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Something to justify your existence.

A couple of days ago I wrote about a visit to Toronto in which I nearly fell off the CN Tower. Okay, not really. It just felt like I was going to fall off the CN Tower because evidently I’ve developed a hefty case of acrophobia in my middle-years.

While in the city, the Mr. and I spent hours roaming the Royal Ontario Museum – a magical, wondrous place I haven’t visited for years. It’s easy to get lost there. Lost in a physical sense, because besides my fear of heights, I also seem to be becoming navigationally challenged. Several times during our visit I wished that the building, though beautiful, had been designed in a one-way only fashion.

Anyway, it’s also easy to get lost in a philosophical sense. Working our way through the exhibits, my husband and I couldn’t help but feel a bit dumbstruck at the tiny amount of space and time we occupy in this wide, wide world. It’s astonishing to be able to contemplate the dents in medieval-era English wooden furniture, or the paper-thin skin of a 3000 year-old Egyptian mummy, or the limitless variety of shapes and colours of naturally occurring rocks and minerals, many of which take millions of years to form under the most rare and specific conditions. Culturally, learning a little about what life was like for medieval society in Europe, or Canada’s First Peoples, or the victims of the Holocaust, is very humbling.

The exhibit titled The Evidence Room explores “the chilling role architecture played in constructing Auschwitz.” There are blueprints, plaster casts, and reconstructions of areas of this death factory, presented as evidence that Auschwitz-Birkenau was constructed with the purpose of committing genocide. It is heartbreaking. Oh, how very cruel we can be to one another.

On one wall in the gallery is this excerpt from Auschwitz and After, a memoir by French prisoner Charlotte Delbo:

You who are passing by
I beg you
Do something
Learn a dance step
Something to justify your existence
Something that gives you the right
To be dressed in your skin in your body hair
Learn to walk and to laugh
Because it would be too senseless
After all
For so many to have died
While you live
Doing nothing with your life.

Let that sink in for a while.

Our little problems seem so insignificant compared to what nature and humanity have faced during Earth’s existence. My acrophobia, for example. SMALL POTATOES.

But it wasn’t all so heavy. There was much beauty to note. I took it easy on the photo-making, since I wanted to be fully present for the browsing experience (and there was a LOT to see), but here are a few shots:

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Ancient Roman marble sculptures, with youthful, idealized features (ideal, except for the lack of irises, in my opinion).

 

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Geometric seating.

 

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Geometric stairwell.

 

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The Rotunda – a golden mosaic-domed ceiling of more than a million pieces of Venetian glass. Plus, a nice window.

 

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Some minerals look so fantastical and unreal. I forgot to note the name of this spiky crystal one, but I like the way the lights of the display case shine in the background.

 

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A through-the-hole-in-the-wall portrait of a guy trying not to look like his wife just asked him to pose for a portrait.

 

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Golden grace in the Matthews Family Court of Chinese Sculpture.

 

I highly recommend this world-class museum. You’ll probably walk out of there feeling a little bit smarter, with an appreciation of artistry, a new sense of perspective, and a boggled mind. Not bad for the price of admission.

No backing out.

Oh. Hello. It seems I couldn’t stay away for long. I’m back to haunt you after my first day off in a year so I can tell you a bit about last weekend’s birthday trip to Toronto.

When a suburban girl like me goes to the big city, she spends most of her time looking up and gawking.

The gawking began nearly immediately upon arrival by train, in the Great Hall at Union Station.

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The morning was mild but foggy, so when we exited the station, the most celebrated landmark downtown was in a mysterious, partially-clad state:

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We hiked for blocks and blocks until we reached our destination, the Royal Ontario Museum, where we lingered for hours because we were unencumbered by our children. It’s worth stating that I love my kids very much, more than life itself, in fact. But I also love going to museums without them. Last Saturday at the museum, I saw a lot of toddlers pre-, mid- and post-meltdown, and a lot of exasperated-looking moms and dads. We gave them sympathetic smiles and strolled on, relishing the time and space to gawk as we pleased. (I’ll share a few shots from the ROM tomorrow).

After a great dinner at 7 West, recommended to us by the delightful Ms. Taylor of the delightful blog One Gal’s Toronto, we walked back down to that famous tower because it had been my brilliant idea to go up it. For fun. On my birthday. Because that had seemed like a good idea back when I’d been sitting on my suburban couch in my housecoat.

My steadily increasing level of chickening-out seemed to be directly tied to our steadily diminishing proximity to the tower.

Here it is, less obscured than before but more, shall we say, reflective:

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Then it started to rain. So on top of trying to prevent an anxiety attack (remember my acrophobic episode at the Pioneer Tower in Kitchener? It’s 62 feet tall. The CN Tower is 1815 feet tall), I was wet and my glasses were all spotty. I hate it when my glasses are spotty. And also when my jeans get wet. And also when I said I’d go up a giant tower but now I’m regretting it.

Well, luckily I had the Mr. with me, who talked me through it and held my hand. He even used his body to block my view of the rapidly retreating ground during the 58-second trip up the elevator, because I was busy clinging to the handrail, trying to disappear into the corner and wishing I were back on the couch in my housecoat.

Once we were up, though, it was pretty amazing. There was much gawking. Even in the dark, and even in the rain. We circled the entire outdoor observation area, lit up in bright colours that could surely be seen for miles. This deck was, thankfully, encased in a sturdy barrier (it doesn’t seem safe enough to call it “mesh”), with a very helpful “do not climb” sign attached:

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It took me a while to dare stepping on the glass floor, though. That was an accomplishment, in my books. (Again, the Mr. had to hold my hand).

Sadly, I don’t have any good shots of the view. The darkness, the glare of the indoor lights on the glass, the mist, and my inability to know how to deal with those photographically, prevented any salvageable photos. But I did get this photo of my hero of the evening, standing on the outdoor observation deck, looking a bit like he might be a lonely prisoner in a creepy radioactive prison (I don’t think the CN Tower people will want this one for their marketing efforts).

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Thanks, love. It was a beautiful birthday. There’s no one else I’d rather gawk and panic with than you.

But it sure was nice to get back into my housecoat.