Thursday, June 29, 2017

Lightsabers and Banana Splits and Virtual Reality Family Stories.

My living room, 1964. The marble bust of three kids on the right was the only 'art' in our plain duplex apartment,  if you don't count ashtrays.  My mom had inherited it from her parents, who had been wealthy -or at least wealthier. She later sold it to a friend. Our TV was a 20 inch black and white Westinghouse.

The other day I had my very first virtual reality experience at a place called ColonyVR in Ottawa. My son took me and my husband.

While my hubby played with lightsabers, I immersed myself in Night Cafe, a tribute to Van Gogh, an experience that was simply mesmerizing.

This week, I was inspired to create my own work, by placing a picture of the 10 year old me  in the living room of the upper duplex apartment where we lived  in 1965. (It's for sale). As you can see, I'm no Van Gogh.

The living-room window above looked out on a sunny maple-lined street in the Snowdon area of Montreal.

Our white polyester curtains were always greyish, though, from the lead-laced exhaust of the pink Thunderbirds and red Mustangs idling below.

In the afternoon, you could see a thick cloud of dust in the sun's buttery rays.

(Remember, air in the big cities was very polluted in the 1960's, although there was still plenty of fish in the oceans back then and you couldn't walk from Newfoundland to the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, balancing on plastic water bottles.)

Thanks to the late day sun, there was always an  African violet, purchased from the Woolworth's on Queen Mary Road, on the sill over the radiator.

It was a five room upper duplex, built in the 1930's, with super thick walls that couldn't take a nail, so no pretty pictures graced our messy over-crowded  family home.

(Well, maybe there was a Turner - also from Woolworth's - in the living room.) We had lots of ashtrays, though, of all shapes, colours and all sizes.

I wrote about it in my book Looking for Mrs. Peel.

Most of the duplexes along this stretch of  Coolbrook in the 1960's had brown doors and grey porches, because the same penny-pinching man owned them all and purchased the paint in big industrial batches.

Only a few homes had flowers, let alone gardens, in the front. Indeed, one home, up near Queen Mary had a beautiful, abundant garden that stood in startling contrast to the other homes on the street.

I admired it everytime I passed on the sidewalk, on my way to the Woolworth's, where I wished I had the 39 cents to buy a Banana Split.

The Italian family, a few doors down from us, also put out a few potted plants he likely planted and nurtured himself. No wonder he was furious when my brother knocked one over with a soccer ball.

There was no Costco to buy Frankenflowers back then in the 1960's.

Our one-way street, even back then in 1965, was multi-cultural. My school textbooks may have been all "Dick and Jane" and whitebread but my neighbours were originally from Jamaica, Venezuela, India, Greece, Poland, etc.

Today, these same duplex apartments on it go for half a million dollars - despite the fact they back onto the filthy, loud Decarie Expressway, built in 1965/66.

My old duplex apartment is going for a bit less. It hasn't been renovated like the others.

Despite the lack of beauty in my childhood, or perhaps because of it, I'm a huge fan of the Impressionists (and Post-Impressionists).

I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam about one year ago, where they do not let you snap pictures of the works.  Still, it's a great museum, that tells Van Gogh's story with clarity and  panache.

Right now, I'm also listening to Zola's Oeuvre on  Oeuvre, or Masterpiece, is based on the author's relationship with the artist Cezanne.

Of course, Cezanne, the father of modern art and  a manic-depressive, struggled to get his artwork recognized. He even had problems getting his paintings into the "Salon of the Rejected."

This makes me wonder, "What's the equivalent, today?" What great art of the future is being downplayed by the Bourg..ious..oeus, (I can't EVER spell that word.)

The middle class.

Video games? My son, of course, loves his video games and I, of course, have always found them too violent - and silly and a waste of time.

Last year, though, I asked my boy to dig me out a few non-violent ones so that I could try them out on the PlayStation. I no longer wanted to be a smug Philistine. I also was in in search of some brain-sersize.

He lent me Rayman and Assassin's Creed and Christine and Dark Rain.

It is difficult developing this video game 'literacy' when you are much older. I was all fumble-fingered - so I gave up.

But, now, after this wonderful VR experience in Ottawa, one that made me realize that this medium is supposed to be pleasurable, I can see the future of video games and VR and I want to be prepared for it.

I pulled out my son's video games, which are still in my home, and tried again. And I was a little bit better at it.

No, I don't want to be like those short-sighted Paris critics, who said Cezanne's paintings looked as if a monkey had thrown poop at a canvas.

(Hey, aren't monkeys throwing poop BIG on YouTube? That's what my son tells me.)

 OK. I clearly deserve kudos for being so open-minded ;) I'm also a typical older person who is into genealogy. I belong to a genealogical writing group that meets once a month to write down our family stories.

We've compiled our best stories in a book, Beads in a Necklace: family stories from Genealogy Ensemble, to be published in autumn, 1917.

I was re-reading some of these stories today. If I say so myself, they are pretty amazing, a genuine chronicle of Canadian social history, with a focus on Montreal history.

These family stories are in essay form, combining fiction and non-fiction techniques - as well as photos.

This makes me  wonder whether future genealogists will be taking their family photos and films and videos and turning them into, yes, virtual reality presentations!

OK. Slow down, Dorothy.  One step at a time.