Canada and America

While I was away in Canada I had this strange homesickness, mainly for my family and (weirdly) for how Australia smells. Now that I'm back home again, surrounded by all the Vegemite I can eat, as well as by my family, friends and that Australia smell that I can't describe (though if I tried it would have to be something to do with gum trees and water); I am feeling nostalgic for Canada and snow.

Perhaps this is because I have been away from it long enough that I can get a perspective on the whole experience.

I loved it.

It was difficult, I wasn't always sure what I was supposed to be doing, I was frequently freezing. I sometimes panicked and thought I had gotten frostbite in my toes, but it was just me being cold and waiting at the bus stop too long.

I marvelled at the snow. I never realised that there were so many different kinds! Sometimes it was perfect snowflakes that settled on your sleeve and you could see they were all different, other times the snow came down in giant spatters landing on your hair and face and blinding you; yet other times it was tiny and horrible, melting almost instantly on your face and making even colder, getting your face wet, making you feel as if you had been crying.

But somehow, after all that, I would still look out the window when the snow was coming down thick and fast and think about how beautiful it was and how I wanted to be out in it.

The three questions I got asked the most were:

Are you English?

Do all Australians sound like that!?

Why did you come here in Winter?!

To which the answers were:
No, in Sydney they do and, what's the point of travelling if the weather stays the same?

Because it's always good to answer a question with a question.

I loved Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD). I learnt so much there that I didn't know, but it's not really learning the things that I cherish. It's learning to think differently about your own ideas and about how to problem solve in a new way.

Sometimes this took longer than I expected. I didn't really get what I was supposed to be doing in my Ceramics class until about 2 weeks after the semester had ended and I was walking down the street in Chicago. But at least I got there in the end.

by Ariel Smith-Essers

Turning fabric into stone.

My current project is turning fabric origami lotuses into ceramic. I have to admit, it feels sort of magical to me to even think about it. Also it's quite a long process for me, but I'm enjoying the results so far.

fabric flowers

First I fold and iron the fabric into an origami lotus flower, then I dip it into the prepared slip, bending each petal into a desirable shape and fixing the gaps. Then they dry, then I bisque fire them. Then I hope they don't fall apart in the kiln and when they don't, I second fire them.

after the slip dip

And like magic they turn from fabric to stone. From something malleable into something hard and slightly rough.

after the bisque fire

As with all good ideas, I was watching Sherlock reruns when I thought of it. The Blind Banker to be exact, because tiny origami lotus flowers are given to victims in that episode and the thought just popped into my head, along with the image of Ophelia floating down a river surrounded by flowers by John Everett Milais.

The two things just seemed to fit so well together in my head. I sort of had this image of Ophelia as the perfect example of the abused woman, used by all of the men in her life for their own purposes and, eventually driven mad by it all, she falls in the river and drowns.

It got me thinking about abuse and recovery from abuse. How it is a slow and interesting process of renewal and sometimes rebirth, which is why I guess I thought of Ophelia.

Also I love the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Lotus flowers are a symbol of rebirth and renewal in both ancient Buddhist and Egyptian cultures. I'm turning one thing into another to make it stronger, to make it less malleable, to make it more structured.

I think you get the metaphor.

by Ariel Smith-Essers

Chapter Five

In which the first three weeks go by in a blur.

Two weeks worth of classes have happened and I feel like I'm settling into ACAD life. Finding my way around to classes has been relatively easy since the college is all in one building and classes are on one floor or another. Everyone has been lovely.

Ceramics class has been interesting. I'm not used to the tutors teaching style and almost everyone in the class is doing functional ware, not sculptural ceramics, which makes for a change. The focus seems to be on techniques rather than concepts. Other than this, the studio works much in the same way as my one back home in Sydney. Although I think ACAD is much more vigilant against clay dust than SCA, there is ventilation running at all times in the studio and the floors are very very clean. People come into the studio each day to clean the floor, it seems a lot more clean. It makes me nervous about the amount of dust I've breathed in at SCA. I must clean my studio space more often when I get back.


One of the most awesome things is: for my creative writing class we have to use typewriters. We've all just been loaned a typewriter that we must do all of our assignments on. The purpose of this is to try and make the writing process unfamiliar again by using a method of writing that is now defunct. Having just got my typewriter, I definitely understand why my teacher wants us to use them: It's bloody difficult. If you are used to typing on a laptop, it's such a different movement for your fingers to make. It's faster on the laptop and you don't have to push too hard. On the typewriter you have to push so hard with your pinkie finger to type "a" that it hurts. Also I keep missing the keys and putting my fingers into the gaps, which is rather painful.

I'm already getting a bit attached to my typewriter though. It's a Royal Quiet Deluxe Portable, made in the early fifties. It has lovely green keys and is in no way "Quiet". Thus far I have only had to do one assignment on it: type out a page from the manual, with no typos. The "no typos" is the hard part. I'm not used to writing on a keyboard where you have to use a lot of force. My Macbook Air is ridiculously easy to type on, you barely press the keys down, even compared to a desktop computer. Basically what I'm saying is: my pinkie finger is sore and the "a" comes out really faint because I can't press hard enough with my tiny little fingers! Eep!

bridge selfie

I have been to two ice hockey games and have (surprisingly) loved them. I don't usually like sport, especially not violent ones, but something about the crazy ice skating skills coupled with the furious fastness with which the players pass the puck, fills me with awe and enjoyment. Especially when they smash each other into the walls. They're wearing so much padding it can't hurt too much right? Right?

Also I had Poutine and it was glorious. It's chips, gravy and cheese curds.



by Ariel Smith-Essers

New things and blue things

New Things.

At the start of the film L'Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) the main character Xavier has just moved from France to Spain on university exchange and he says something that has always struck me "When you first arrive in a new city, nothing makes sense. Everything's unknown, virgin... After you've lived here, walked these streets, you'll know them inside out. You'll know these people. Once you've lived here, crossed this street 10, 20, 1000 times... it'll belong to you because you've lived there. That was about to happen to me, but I didn't know it yet."

I've always loved that quote because it holds true for any new thing. A new job, school, place, hobby. Each new thing is alien to you, but as you become accustomed to it, as you learn it, it becomes a part of you. It becomes part of who you are, your history and being. I feel this way about Calgary at the moment. I know that by the end of my exchange it will be a part of me, but right now it is still alien and unusual. I'm still getting used to the thousand tiny things that make it unique and unlike my home. Some of these things are exciting and some are frustrating.

Six things about Calgary that are new to me:

  • I love the way there is always snow outside, even when it is seemingly quite warm, like 10℃.

  • I love it when it's sunny, but it is confusing to see the sun shining in a blue sky and then realise that it's still very very cold outside and that the sun will not warm me.

  • It's strange that the sun is so low in the sky, it never gets right overhead, even at noon it stays at about a 45 degree angle, casting long shadows of you on the road.

  • It's irritating that the little green man that tells you it's safe to cross the road is silent. There is no noise telling you to walk so you have to be more watchful. But it's great that it lets you know how many seconds you have remaining to cross the street safely.

  • The money is stumping me. You get so accustomed to seeing your own country's currency that seeing another's is very confusing. the one dollar coin is the only easy one to recognise, 5 cents are larger than 10 cents and there are no fifties. But this is just a matter of acclimatisation.

  • I love jumping in the snow when it's really deep. It makes me feel like a little kid again.

Blue Things.

I'm not sure what it is that's making me do it, but I've been knitting a lot of blue things lately. I'm currently knitting a pair of socks for Lenny which are blue. I knitted two cardigans that were blue, one for me and one for my sister. I made a shawl/scarf for my best friend that was blue.

Blue blue blue blue blue blue blue.

If you say a word enough times it starts to lose all meaning. Try it.

Blue is one of those colours, like black or grey, that seems to go with everything. Blue is a safe bet. Blue will fit into almost every person's wardrobe with no problem. Blue is not my favourite colour. I love purple, yellow and grey. Especially yellow and grey in combination. I'm so sick of knitting blue things.

After I finish these socks for Lenny, I promise I will not knit another blue thing for at least 6 months. Even if someone begs me to knit something blue, I will refuse outright and ask them to pick a better colour, possibly something that hurts the eyes like fluoro pink or yellow.

I once wrote an essay on the soul sucking effects of beige and I'm close to writing one on the draining properties of blue when knit with for extended periods of time.

No more blue for me.

by Ariel Smith-Essers

I go to seek a Great Perhaps

François Rabelais' last words were "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." I've just finished reading Looking for Alaska by John Green, which is where I discovered this quote. The main character collects last words and this is his favourite, it's soon becoming my favourite too. In the book the main character Pudge decides to go to boarding school to seek his Great Perhaps, his great possibility. Perhaps I'm relating to this so much because I've just moved to Canada for 5 months on University exchange. I feel like I'm going to seek my own Great Perhaps, to immerse myself into another country and come back to Australia as a different person.

I've moved over here with my boyfriend, on the way here we had a 17 hour stop in Honolulu. Our last bit of sun before we got to "the great frozen wasteland of Canadia" as an American Centrelink employee called it. We got off our 9 hour flight from Sydney to Honolulu, with little to no sleep we traipsed around the city in a daze, it would have been 3 in the morning in Sydney, but it was day time in Hawaii. It was hot, but not burn your face off hot like it gets in Australia. The sun was a warm caress on the skin, not sudden scalding water thrown all over you. I see why Australians go there for Christmas, why not go to a place where the sun doesn't attack you?

We travelled back in time. It always screws with my head because we basically gained a day. We left Sydney at 6pm that night and landed in Honolulu at 6am in the morning of the day we left. Then we got on a flight at 11.30pm that night, travelled for 5 hours and landed in Vancouver at 7am, got on a flight to Calgary at 10.30am for an hour or so and got there at 1.45pm. My head was confused and my body even more so.

The good news was: it was really warm when we landed. Well, it was about 8℃ which is warm for Calgary. I mean, I didn't have to wear thermals! And I could wear the coat I brought from Sydney without freezing my arse off! I call that a win. If I was in Sydney I'd call it freezing cold, but I'm in Canada now, so I call it positively balmy.

I'm already getting used to the cold here. I've got my massive Canada coat, a pair of knee high boots, a long scarf and several hand knit hats. I went out today rugged up against the -15℃ weather, just for a quick jaunt up the road to get a sandwich, and I actually felt great. Me! The girl who hates the cold, the girl who loves summer and sun, floaty dresses and iced tea, I was happy in a massive coat all rugged up in the snow. Last night it was -27℃ and I we went out for dinner, up the road again, where all the shops are, and on the way back I was running in the snow and laughing, having a tiny snowball fight and it was exhilarating and fun.

Perhaps I'm changing already.

by Ariel Smith-Essers