David and I took a vacation recently – yeah, I know, getting to be a habit. We wanted to spend a couple of days at the Metro Zoo and one at Ripley’s Aquarium. David has perhaps not the nth degree in camera equipment, but he’s not far off it. Me? I planned to draw and paint. On our last day in Toronto, the plan was to go book shopping on Queen Street.
With that in mind, I started looking some months ago for a portable easel, something lightweight with adjustable legs. I have a wooden folding stool and we bought a wheeled carrier that everything could be bungee-corded to for easy haulage.
I will spare you all the details, but eventually we found a lovely French box easel, exactly what I needed, on sale at Curry’s in Barrie. They agreed to put my name on one, without so much as taking my Visa number, and trusted me to come pick it up on the day appointed.
Now, the sale price of this easel was about $60 less than the best price I’d seen anywhere else. Theoretically I’d be saving money, especially as we driving by on the way down to Toronto. Theoretically. In fact, what happens when you put me into a real art supply store is the antithesis of saving money, and the pop into Curry’s to pick up a sale-priced easel was no exception. I bought more than enough to wipe out the savings on the easel, and those who know me will say, “Well, quel surprise!”
Of course I enjoyed every cent, and all the more because this was money I’d earned by writing. Art in, money out – money in, art supplies out. It’s a pleasant symmetry.
If that had been my sole time in a real art store this trip, I’d have been more than satisfied. But no – before we left home, I had, in a fit of nostalgia, looked up the art store I had frequented, and that is the correct word, during my university art student days, forty years ago now. I fully expected it to have gone the way of other beloved landmarks of my student days – Mother’s Sandwich Shop, Abelard Books, the repertory movie theatre I used to go to, the Old Fish Market. You know how it is. Things change, dammit. Shouldn’t be allowed, grumble, grouch, moan.
So imagine my delight when I found that Gwartzman’s still existed, yes it did. With all the bookstores we’d planned to visit on Queen having done a runner, we swapped a morning book-shopping for one on Spadina. I hoped to score some art stuff, and we planned to find somewhere to eat dim sum, and maybe even find some dragon-patterned plates to match one that we’d bought a mere thirty years ago. Look, hope springs eternal, and, besides, Gwartzman’s was there, so what’s three decades between dragon plates?
Well, we didn’t find the dragon pattern we were looking for, but we did have a delightful lunch at an all-day dim sum restaurant. And when I stepped into Gwartzman’s, I found that the store was not all that was still there.
There, behind the counter, was Mr Gwartzman himself. I’m not sure he has a first name – if he does, it’s probably “Mister”. Never mind – I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “You’re still here!”
“Yes, I am,” he replied. And after giving him a big hug – which I’m pretty sure doesn’t happen often in Gwartzman’s – I proceeded to spend the other half of my art money in a happy blitz.
Now, here’s the thing. I’d hurt my knee a couple of weeks before, and I was still in considerable pain, but for an hour or so after that instant when I stepped into Gwartzman’s and was catapulted back to my student days, I didn’t have a scrap of pain. There’s a lot to be said for the endorphin rush that accompanies the purchase of art supplies.
It may never be an economical alternative to more conventional analgesics, but I could be persuaded to try it again.