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.

Practical beauty.

What, Thursday again?

That means doors are congregating over at Norm 2.0 for his weekly feature, aptly titled, Thursday Doors. This week, I’ll add to the collection, once again, from our Doors Open Hamilton excursion a few weeks back.

The Hamilton Museum of Steam and Technology is housed in the old Hamilton Waterworks, a National Historic Site (lucky for me, I keep running into those).

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Truth be told, we came here not to visit the museum but for the tour of the current water filtration building, which is on the same site.

The weather had been miserable that day. While we waited for the tour, the Mr. and I wandered round the exterior of the buildings for a minute or two, and I made a few photos.

I was struck by the attractive design and stonework of the oldest structures. Isn’t it a shame that fancy industrial buildings seem to have gone completely out of style?

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Later, once we’d returned home, Google told me that the many of the Victorian buildings were built in the 1850s and that the museum itself is well worth a visit due to a unique interior and engaging programming. Maybe another visit later this summer is called for, with kids in tow.

For now, I’ll just give you a couple more doors.

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My stock of doors from Doors Open Hamilton has dwindled. Watch out, various local communities, I plan to haunt another Doors Open event one of these upcoming weekends.

As always, I thank you for visiting 🙂

A simpler time.

Remember that time I accidentally visited a National Historic Site?

That day, the Joseph Schneider Haus had been closed, so I could only poke around the exterior of this living history museum.

Before Easter, I arranged for another visit to the restored 19th century Mennonite homestead, this time with the kids in tow.

We had the luck of being one of only a few families there, which meant no crowds (a sigh of relief from this introvert) and plenty of attention from the amazing costumed staff, who helped navigate, demonstrate and explain how life had been different in the region nearly two centuries ago.

We all loved it. We’re geeky that way.

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This visit really highlighted the fact that we’ve lost most of the basic skills that people needed to have mastered for survival and self-sufficiency up until the modern age. Most urban or suburban North Americans are helpless without electricity and wouldn’t know where to start to grow or hunt our own food.

(I barely kept our tomato plants alive last summer. Plus, I don’t usually kill insects – with the exception of mosquitoes – so I’d surely die of starvation if I somehow managed to survive the apocalypse).

Among the features at the Schneider house are a working culinary garden, a smoke- and bake-house, and a wood-stove kitchen where some of these skills and practices are kept alive as staff perform traditional household tasks with observation and participation from visitors.

If the Schneider family killed a goose to eat it, they used all of it – the feathers to stuff the pillows, the fat for moisturizing skin or soothing a sore throat, even the bones were made into toys for the children. In the pre-modern age, nothing went to waste. Now, we throw away everything with little regard for the consequences – out of sight, out of mind.

The kids loved exploring the house, which has been carefully researched and restored, with many original features still intact. On the way to the attic, we passed a little nook in the hallway as the sunlight streamed in through the warped glass of the window. A single wooden chair stood next to a table topped with a basket of needlework. I had to stop and make a picture.

I’m geeky that way.

Happy accidents.

I accidentally stumbled across a National Historic Site today.

I’d planned only a walk in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, not a museum outing. Somehow (but not surprisingly) I got lost and ended up on Queen Street, where I saw the sign for Joseph Schneider Haus. I’d never been there, though I’d heard of it. It’s a living history museum – costumed staff demonstrate traditional household tasks as they would’ve been performed on a 19th century Mennonite homestead.

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However, my accidental visit occurred two days before the museum opens for the season. I had to make do with nosing around the exterior.

The house is set back from the road, and a couple of massive conifers obscure what had been the front entrance (the current front door is handle-less because the museum entrance is now around the side), so I may have missed it entirely without the signage.

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In the early 1800s, the Schneider family, early Pennsylvania-German Mennonite settlers, built their home and a sawmill here. The two-storey frame house (considered Kitchener’s oldest dwelling) still survives and has been carefully restored. A number of outbuildings – a bake house, a wash house, a spring house – have been reconstructed based on archaeological evidence of this early Mennonite homestead.

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It’s probably a lovely site in the warm weather months, when the kitchen garden’s in full swing and there’s a buzz of activity. So I’ll be back later this year, with the family in tow, to explore the interior of the historic house, too.

If I can find my way back, of course.

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Thanks to Norm for hosting Thursday Doors. Thanks, too, for stopping by.