Archive for August, 2011

The black turban bobbed up and down through the pantechnicon window as the driver tried to reverse our container for the ninth time into our driveway. It had made the long journey from Lonehill across the ocean, landed at Halifax and journeyed by truck all the way up to Toronto. It bravely wore a battle scar in the form of a big scrape and a dent down the one side but at least it was here safely. As I gazed at this huge monstrosity in the driveway it evoked feelings of comfort and familiarity. As inside that container would be some of my familiar things like a soft chair, a mohair blanket and my favourite books.


I had spent hours trying to imagine the placement of the bigger items in our new house and thought that this was going to be a cinch. But nothing quite prepares you for this upheaval! The boxes were flying down the ramp and into the house, paper was being ripped off and objects going up to the bedrooms and down the basement. Quick decisions had to be made as once something had been carried up 2 flights of stairs, it was not about to be brought down 2 flights again. We kept up this pace for the whole day and continued well into the night just trying to unravel all the piles of THINGS!


Need I say that this went on for days, 7 to be precise. I dropped into bed at night convinced that my legs would fall off; they had climbed hundreds of stairs each day in pursuit of the placement of THINGS. On the sixth day I escaped out into the garden, I salvaged a few of my pots from the pile of broken terracotta, a bird bath and I included some local moraine pebbles. As I heaved this into place to create my focal point at the edge of the patio, I realized that the combination of THINGS that I had chosen for this feature was representative of the marrying of the 2 cultures, South African and Canadian. I do hope that my pots feel at home in that freezing snow!

Our precious cargo arrives

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The lawyer piled up the papers in front of us with the instructions to sign all of the sheets in the correct place. He studied the documents through his perched spectacles which he somehow managed to unclip at various intervals for emphasis. This modern day Scrooge look alike appeared as if he had just pulled himself away from a pile of law books. He meticulously flipped through all our paper work and patiently explained the legal jargon as we glanced through some of the daunting clauses. We drew the conclusion that it was definitely not advisable to default on this mortgage agreement!

We had hunted on line for the place that was going to be called home in Canada; this must have amounted to about 300 cyber visits. Our estate agent, Andrea, kept us fed with a daily update. There were short lists of the possibles depending on proximity to the school for David, Go -Train for Philip and Bryan and a bit of nature for me.

Many late nights were spent pouring over the specs of these properties and their placement on Google Maps. We eventually knew every school and ravine in the Oakville area! Philip saw our house on one of his trips over to Canada, It was perfect!

It even had a river flowing through the bottom of the property with a resident raccoon. Josh is going to have many hours of amusement as he watches his prey from the safety of the deck. No doubt he will strategize and hope that the techniques that were applied to dassies in South Africa will be just as successful in Canada with this local fauna.  

The hour of signing was up and as we put our pens down on the gleaming walnut boardroom table, I glanced down into the bustling street below. The reality set in! We had just bought our own little piece of Canadian soil and thus Maison de Morkel was born.

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The majestic Casa Loma suddenly appeared from behind the stone wall. We had traipsed up the long path from the station in the blazing sun and saw this grande dame nestling between the trees with her flags proudly flapping out her heritage. I had poured over the pictures in my guide book but this was her in the flesh, I had to pinch myself!

A piece of Scotland in Canada.

A piece of Scotland in Canada.

Sir Henry Pellatt began the building process in 1906 which included a team of 300 skilled artisans on the job for 3 years. What makes this whole building so amazing is some of the features and its sheer size. It has a typical castle vantage position perched on a ridge that looks out over the city of Toronto. I could see the CN Tower in the distance from the top turret window. We climbed this narrow staircase right to the top! Casa Loma lauds itself over any surrounding houses and even the condos cannot compete with its splendor! The Gothic revival style with the towers and turrets transports the observer back to a forgotten era when time was given to detail and this was reflected in the finishes which were spectacular. There was a free standing shower with 6 additional heads, overhead stained glass windows, wooden carved paneling, gleaming hard wood inlaid flooring to name but a few. A feeling of mystery had also been created with secret passages, hidden staircases and underground tunnels. I felt those chills when we ran through the narrow 800 foot slippery tunnel to get through to the stables. It was a gracious time and guests were taken between floors with an elevator and soothed with the sounds of an organ in the Great Hall.

Beautiful stained glass windows overhead.....

Beautiful stained glass windows overhead…..


Sir Henry was larger than life itself and although he had made his fortune in hydroelectric power, he lost his beloved castle after less than 10 years when the government seized it to pay for outstanding property taxes. The Great Depression left its mark on this gracious building and the years eroded away its splendor. The castle then had a chequered life for a while and was run as a hotel and then as a jazz night club. But this stately home was to redeem itself during World War 11, it served to conceal research that was being conducted on sonar. These sonar devices were built way down in the tunnels under the castle and were used to detect U-boats during World War 11. What a claim to fame that was!

But the best I have left for last, the 5 acres of garden with rolling green lawns, formal laid out terraces, sparkling fountains framed with majestic Elm trees. We ambled through the cascades of the soft blues,  purples and pinks  and enjoyed the irises, azaleas and roses. It was music to my soul!


The city of Toronto in the distance...

The city of Toronto in the distance…

The bells rang out their dreaded knell and it was time to make our way back. We looked over our shoulders and through the trees and caught a final glimpse of ‘The Hill House.’

It was a day to remember.

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I love Pasta!

The old men huddle around the water fountain and some sit sprawled on the wooden bench. There is a glint in their eyes as they gaze over the street and one leans in to his friend and whispers as a young girl swishes by. The aroma of fresh garlic permeates the air and stiff white table clothes reflect through the restaurant windows. The traditional colours of green, red and white can be seen on the shop doorways and the words pizza, gelato and espresso flutter on the adverts as we walk by. The café culture prevails on this warm summer’s day and the locals soak up the sun on the patios that line the walkways. Although the buildings are not as stately and as grandiose, they still manage to create the ambiance and warmth of the Mediterranean culture.


This is ‘Little Italy’, reputed to be the largest Italian community, half a million to be exact, living outside of Italy itself. We amble through the streets and enjoy the colourful gardens with the cascading geraniums falling from balconies overhead. As the streets fill up with people on their way home from work, we are reminded that it is time to make our way back to the apartment. The trams trundle past but the spirit of Little Italy lingers as we stop and savour a beer under a canopy of green umbrellas.

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Moved by Music

The excitement in the air was tangible as we ventured out for a night on the town. It was Friday evening and the streets in the Entertainment District in Toronto were abuzz with people. The anticipation of being able to relax and kick back after a long week added to the pure pleasure of the moment. The stressed faces that walked the same crossings that morning were now beaming with the expectation of the weekend ahead.


There seemed to be many newcomers in town as there was a Caribbean Carnival that was going to take place on Lakeshore the next day.  It is usually a colourful event with many floats, dancers and plenty of music. Guitars, kettle drums and whistles pulsate as the dancers flaunt their bikini costumes. Brightly coloured feathers fly as hips sway and they dance their way along the lake to the delight of all the onlookers.

We weaved our way down King Street and pushed through a narrow doorway into our own bit of rhythm for the evening, a New Orleans jazz bar.

All the great jazz musicians looked down on us from the black and white photographs that donned the walls. There was Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino to name a few and they were surrounded by the tools of their trade. Shiny trumpets, clarinets and saxophones were proudly mounted above on shelves void of the Dixieland notes that had once echoed through their chambers. The piano waited patiently against the wall as the patrons were offered a selection of southern fare from blackened salmon to Cajun mussels.


Our jazz pianist had us swaying in our chairs as his fingers expertly traced the notes from memory up and down the ivory keyboard. His checkered hat fell across his forehead as he expertly belted out the sweet

 notes of New Orleans and a Mamma Cass reincarnate accompanied him with her mellow voice. It was true blue jazz in all its authenticity. We were transported to another world and time as we savoured the sounds and flavours of New Orleans.

Savouring the delights of the city.

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