I don’t know why that Schubert piece made me think of Hanoch. That was a piano piece on the radio. He used to play the violin. I never heard him playing – I just saw the room where he played with his friends. It was in an addition he had designed for his 1950s bungalow. Hanoch was an architect, trained in Bucharest and immigrant to Canada via Israel. If I remember well, he had arrived in Montreal, like many other architects at the time of Expo 67, that phenomenal summer-long event which put Canada on the map. For some reason, he moved to Ottawa shortly after and then found employment with the young Carleton University, which sent him across the country. To collect ideas about architectural training at other schools, he explained. It was a marvelous time. They experimented a lot. There was money for travel, for studying, for free healthcare, for quite everything really. You’d think moving forward was the only natural thing to do, he added. It was disappointing to see that reformers were not exactly the gods they appeared to be, not even those architects. I’m speaking about Central Mortgage, of course – he clarifies – the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation. They had involved architects in designing houses, good move. Still, the official discourse had been a bit more pompous than the follow up. The houses were well-designed indeed, but once the progressive leadership was gone and their protégés scattered in the wind, the middle bureaucrats switched back from building standards to finance business. They weren’t interested in ideas, Hanoch remembered. I would sketch layers upon layers of façades or try tweaking some corner of a housing ensemble, and they would give my drawings a puzzled look – they’re beautiful, but why do you try so hard? It really is the same thing.
Hanoch laughed. We were sitting at his dining table, with our backs to the small kitchen and the cozy living room. He made a casual gesture towards the sunk-in music room across. Small minds, he said, or maybe scared, you know the builder wouldn’t make these stairs? They’re not to safety standards, he told me, you can’t have an open banister. It doesn’t matter, I said to him, it’s only us and my music friends. We know how to use stairs – and the children will learn too, don’t worry. He asked me to sign a paper stating that, so there would be no liability issues. My signature against his peace of mind. No big deal.
The room was beautiful. Simple. One wall to the end had bookshelves on, rows and rows of music sheets. The wall next to it was mostly glass, with a door leading to a stepped terrace. (Shadows, north exposure, cheap lot when they’d bought it. A few tall trees at the back gave the illusion of a forest. Peaceful, lovely part of the city. Rather expensive nowadays.) Four chairs were clustered in the middle of the music room, with old-fashioned staff-holders in front of each. Who do you play with? Oh, friends. Sometimes my granddaughters, when they’re in town. They study in Vancouver now. When they come to Ottawa in the summer, they go to the market, downtown – one plays the flute, the youngster plays the violin, and the eldest the cello. Does she bring her cello? Yes, she does. It’s fun. They sometimes make money. Not the kind that covers fees, of course. For clothes at the Rideau. It’s close-by – he laughs.
It must be nice to play with your granddaughters. It is, he says.
This is a beautiful room. Yes. Yes, it turned out well, he agrees. Not safe, but hey. He laughs again.
The only other thing that I remember about Hanoch was his way with compliments. He approached me after the lecture I’d given one Wednesday night at the National Archives. He had an amused look on his face. Well, you drew a real crowd tonight, impressive. Congratulations. It was the CBC radio interview earlier today, I explained – really, media does the trick. Ha-ha, our dear leftist force, his eyes twinkled. Publicity worked against them, then – I liked it when you told that guy that socialism is bad; I looked around the room and they were quite puzzled. I laughed – oh well, some of them will stay so. Indeed, he said. Great talk. Thank you.
That was four years ago. I spoke to his wife last month and she told me Hanoch had died sometime earlier. Very lovely lady, tried hard not to sound lost. She hasn’t sold the house yet, would I like to come for tea one day. Of course.
I wish I were a bit like Hanoch.
Schubert helps, to some extent.