About Ilya Sterie

I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I like to sing and dance, to read and write, to draw and paint. I also like kisses and hugs, coffee and chocolate, people and people, peaches and bread. I live in love and truth.

A city of patches

There are quite a few cities which I’ve visited in my travels and I certainly cannot make definitive statements. But it may be safe to say that Calgary is one post-modernist city par excellence

I’ve been here a week. I went out with friends in various parts of the city and I’ve spent the day walking the streets of its downtown today (remember, today is Tuesday and on Tuesdays we go out, right? Right.) Man, is this a patchwork! You can literally tell that people working at the municipality have friends and family working either in the oil industries or real estate. Apart from the Plus 15 (an extensive network of pedestrian skywalks suspended at 15 feet above street level, which link the main buildings downtown so one doesn’t have to go outside in the harsh winter), there’s nothing which provides urban coherence. Bits and pieces everywhere. Historical references without much substance (I honestly wonder if those who implemented them did so conscientiously, that’s how random most things look). Mismatched colours, opulent materials, decrepit houses next to conserved heritage. This is the epitome of postmodernism, without the slightest doubt.

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say – so I’m thinking what better essay than a visual one, see below. Enjoy!

Olympic plaza

Yes, those are colourful plastic squirrels sticking their heads out of the walls. Creepy.

Former headquarters of Alberta businesses on Stephen street.

A mechanic horse – after all, this is the country of ranchers (yeah, sorry, forgot to mention that besides the oil business.  I know, unforgivable.)

The Bow tower: opened windows in curtain wall, only in Alberta. 

The stenographer: a facade detail on Stephen street

Core Shopping Centre – Cultures bowls: all Made in China…

…and the good taste of Britain – an oxymoron at Eau Claire Market

More of Eau Claire’s… love the spatial and cultural associations

The “no minors beyond this point” sign is a real killer in the context, don’t ya think?

We’re talking technology here, you dumb robots!

The Card Cave – yep, still at Eau Claire … And…

… REALLY fancy oils and vinegar. Like really! Who would have thought?

Any respectable market has a psychic reader – at least in Calgary they do.

And an information board which has the aesthetics of the “Do and Don’t” propaganda panels in communist Romania (that’s pour les connoisseurs)

Speaking of communism – best mural in the city, in my humble opinion. At Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre.

Howdy Starbucks!

Howdy Casino! (Street ad)

Howdy cars! (City transit ads)

Howdy opera house! (Heritage Park Museum)

Wire art in a wireless city…

… And happy Giacometti (who the heck was that?)

Kurokawa’s Nagakin Capsule tower meet Goldberg’s Marina City. Modernism at its best, though not in a combination.

What, you thought the oilers and ranchers wouldn’t promote shipping container architecture? Think again:

(Open selectively, for the true hipsters out west)

Po-mo popular housing design – yep, it made it to Calgary!

Last but not least: Chinook centre, the po-mo masterpiece. I guess.

When you can’t get to NYC, pray to the lucky scarabee to bring the MET to you. After all, we’re all Egyptian, more or less… ’cause otherwise, the (multicultural) connotations beat me.

And for those of you familiar with turn-of-the-century Chicago and the story of Marshall having carriages waiting for the new middle-class customers to the train station to bring them to the store… well, Chinook centre has its shuttles! No kidding. From the train station two blocks away. 

….

I’ll say just this in the end: worth a visit, this Calgary. Now is the time and this is a place to first hand experience what a Middle-Age city on the brink of heavy industrialization might have looked like – if there ever were such a thing. No, really.

A note

We have chased one another for too long. It is time to stop running and arguing right or wrong. Life is not a game to be played. Life is a bleeding certainty, too important to be taken lightly. Life is a grand test. I want to pass It. And I want you to pass It. And everything that we built together needs to stand firm because, crippled as It is, it is true. It is time to make peace. It is time to forgive. It is time to love. I want you to hold my hand when I hand it to you. No questions asked, no debate whether we should. Yes. Let this be our word. You are far away, again. I miss you and want you near. Do you?

I do. Always and forever. I do.

Victorian Tea

This past Sunday I was asked to volunteer for an organisation called Friends of the Farm. These are the people who help with keeping up the ornamental gardens at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa and I had helped them in the past in the peonies and rose gardens. 

They also organize quite a few fundraising events during the year. One of them is the Victorian Tea, which is a two hour affair where anybody in town can come and have afternoon tea and snacks while listening to live music. Here is the print-out of a little history of the afternoon tea, which the volunteers left on the tables:

“Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is often credited with the invention of the tradition of the afternoon tea in the early 1840s. In those days, dinner was usually not served until 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening and even later in the summer. Anna would become hungry by mid-afternoon and so would sneak small cakes and biscuits and other niceties to her room where she would indulge herself in secret. Once found out, she was surprised to learn that rather than being upbraided for her unladylike behaviour, she was applauded for her ingenuity.

It seems she wasn’t always the only lady to crave sustenance in the afternoon. Long before this, tea gardens were introduced in London. Women were allowed to gather in these places, often outdoors, with a male escort where they could relax and chat among themselves while enjoying delicate foods. In the early 1700s tea was an expensive indulgence and so these tea gardens were frequented by the upper classes only.

The Tea Garden engraved 1790 by George Morland 1763-1804

(George Morland – The Tea Garden, 1790 – source: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum)

It was common for the lady of the house to serve the tea herself since it was such an expensive commodity not to be trusted in the care of servants. And, she alone would hold the keys to to tea cupboard. Today, we take tea for granted but we do enjoy it so.”

The Victorian Tea at the Farm is a nice reminder that heritage events of leisure are still possible in a world full of haste. Initially, only the servers dressed up in period costumes.

More recently, people have started to show up with amazing hats and fascinators, and even dressed up in 1890s original costumes. 

The event is a joy and the weather this year truly cooperated.

Some might be quick to say that this tradition of the afternoon tea is a British colonial reminder which many would like to put behind. However, one cannot disregard the sensible nature of the British: tea is tea and an afternoon snack makes sense. Plus, these events have always had a very clear healthy role in socializing. So today, being Thursday, I urge you to try find the spots in your part of the world which give a glimpse of a past worth remembering in some respects. Go out and enjoy!

Happy Thursday!

Summer Pasta

Wednesday morning. August is here. Feel like eating much in the heat? No, I didn’t think so. Still, we need to give this body some light energy. So here’s one of the best recipes I know of which does the trick for summer months.

Pasta with carrots and zucchini

450 grams fettuccine 

2 big carrots

2 zucchini 

Olive oil

Fresh basil

Salt

In a big pot, bring water to boil and add pasta and some salt. Stir immediately so fettuccine don’t stick to each other.

Remove peel from carrots and zucchini.

In a pan, heat up some oil. Using the peeler, slice up the carrots in long peels directly in the pan. Stir so they get cooked evenly. Do the same with the zucchini. The vegetables need to be mildly fried, don’t overcook.

Drain pasta and add cold water – this will cool the fettuccine off quickly and prevent them from sticking to the vegetables. Mix with the cooked vegetables. 

Separately, make a dressing from olive oil, chopped fresh basil and salt.  Add a bit of water if it looks too thick. Mix and shake in a jar so all combine thoroughly. Pour dressing over pasta and vegetables. 

Bon apetit! Happy Wednesday!

CAN touch THIS!

Tuesday morning. Hi there! Back in the body business today. Sticking to that morning walk? Excellent. If you discover any fun stuff along the way, drop me a line. And if you don’t feel like walking, we’re gonna…

… dance – that’s great for your body. If you’re like me, you can easily replace gym with a dance session for day. When I was a student, I tried aerobics. It worked for a bit but I got bored with dancing on the same music just because it fit the exercises for the various muscles. Good thing I didn’t give up the parties. And man, in those days did we dance at parties… There wasn’t much booze available in the communist stores, not to mention drugs. Just before I was born, an anti-abortion law had been passed which stayed in place until 1990 – you got it, no contraceptives of any kind, sex was a tricky affair, better not. So what could you do at parties? Play the philosopher guy and hope you’ll bewitch the (more intellectual) girls, or dance. Which is why people in my generation are not only pretty good dancers and sophisticated philosophers (yes, of course they don’t say anything), but have also stayed relatively slim into old(er) age.

I love dancing. As a kid I had asked my mom to put me in ballet lessons. At the end of the first one, she excitedly asked: “so how did you like it?” “I didn’t” – I said. “Why?” came mom’s surprised voice. “Well, they asked me to stretch and stretch and to just go around the room.” “Oh, honey, it takes some time and exercise to get into the ballerina moves…” “But I don’t want to learn those moves – I just want to wear the pretty dresses and dance.” That was my first realization that sometimes you gotta work hard for a pretty dress. So I dropped the ballerina thing, absolutely no regrets – and later on became one of those rare architects who also wear colours besides black.

Anyway, no big deal. I continued to dance whenever the occasion arose. Not to brag, but I was the soul of the parties and I did dance almost all night long. I remember once we returned home at 5 am – it would have taken forever to get the buses, so we had to go through a park. My feet were hurting so bad, I removed my white shoes and walked home barefoot. Liberating. (I probably would have done it at 1 pm, too. I’m just that kind of person.) Oh, and I danced a bit more on the way. You see, I was in love.

Dance has the amazing ability to put you in a good mood. A loving mood. And if you don’t have somebody specific in mind, how about loving yourself? Swing, baby, swing. You can put on Swan Lake and twirl through the house, or a waltz and go one-two-three, one-two-three… Or go easy with Ella & Louis and don’t wake up just yet, keep dreaming … And when you’re quite ready to start your day… full steam with M.C.Hammer – trust me on this!

Let’s dance! Happy Tuesday!

I am grateful for…

…Monday morning.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was not grateful for any morning, let alone Mondays. A new beginning, a new day, a new opportunity. Whenever I heard or read any of this, I rolled my eyes and went back to hide under the covers. Yes, I was depressed and yes, I hadn’t yet hit the bottom.

And there was another time, even longer ago, when Monday was just another day feeding into another week which was part of another month of an infinite row of years. Yes, that’s how we think when we are young: that we are eternal and time will always be on our side, aren’t we stupid. A good number of years in that – now I know it’s rather finite – row passed before I got to the bottom of that depression valley, and all the Mondays – slowly but surely – lost their flavour and excitement and joy.

Until one day. I don’t even remember if it was a Monday – probably not. It doesn’t matter. Out of the blue came the memory of another day from that forgotten youth when a nice kind man had woken me up to say “I have news for you.” (We had had a conversation the previous night and I had confessed to him that sunny mornings were not giving me joy any longer). So I said: “Yeah, what kind of news?”

“Well, mixed really. The bad news is that it’s sunny outside…” – he said seriously.

I smiled thinking of our talk. “Oh yeah?”

“… and the good news is that it’s sunny outside.” – he smiled back at me.

I didn’t get it then, I thought he was just trying to look smart to impress me. He was, in a way (long story short, he’s my husband of twenty years now). I got out of bed, had breakfast with him, and then we walked through sparkling snow for about 4 hours. He was courting me, it was lovely.

Six years ago, he watched me helplessly while I drowned in my own sorrows. Then, as I was saying, that memory came back and I got it: it was all about perspective. You’d think I’m pretty obtuse, how could I not get that in the first place? Oh, but I did: in my head. It sounded like a joke then. And suddenly, so many years later, it sank into my heart and it became reality.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is shining. What? It’s cloudy? So? The sun is still there, above the clouds, and your brain knows it. Now let your heart be flooded with its warmth. Feel the new beginning, the new day, the new opportunity. Life is yours to live it. You gotta want it – and why wouldn’t you? It’s in your power to change everything. Yes, gradually – you know, they say Rome wasn’t built in a day either, and that’s one true saying. So start with that step you don’t want to take and just be grateful for today.

Happy Monday!