Living Below Ground – The Invisible Man

Jeff Wall, After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001.

Jeff Wall, After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, the Preface, 1999-2001.


“The point now is that I found a home—or a hole in the ground, as you will. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that because I call my home a “hole” it is damp and cold like a grave; there are cold holes and warm holes. Mine is a warm hole. . . . My hole is warm and full of light. Yes, full of light. I doubt if there is a brighter spot in all New York than this hole of mine, and I do not exclude Broadway. Or the Empire State Building on a photographer’s dream night. . . . And I love light. Perhaps you’ll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form.”

Condensed excerpt from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, first published 1952 (New York: Random House, 1982), pages 5-6.

In the summer of 2009, I took part in a school trip to Paris. On a visit to the Musée du Quai Branly I was fortunate to see an exhibition on the evolution of Jazz music. Jazz Century was a fantastic exhibition, full of art, artifacts, and music. One of the highlights was close to the end of the exhibition, Jeff Wall’s After Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (pictured above). Presented as a large scale backlit colour transparency the  joy of seeing this work in person is the amount of detail Wall packed into the image.

“Mine is a warm hole . . .” The narrator states discussing his basement dwelling. I have never read the book (it is on my list of books to read this summer) so I can’t speak to the importance of the basement within the larger arc of the story but the quote is lovely and deals with one of the major issues I will have to tackle once I move in – warmth and light.


Pros and Cons of Living Below Ground


PROS                                                                 CONS

Cheaper rent                                                  Creepy Crawlies

Cool temperatures in summer                    Cool temperatures in winter [?]

Downsizing                                                           No light

Getting to be creative                                     Having to be creative

Blogging about the experience                              The stigma attached

Out & About – The Lower Don Valley Trail

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Last weekend I hopped on my bike and explored a bit of the Don Valley Trails. I started at the Corktown Commons and what is known as the Lower Don Valley Trail. There was a construction sign saying the path was closed but there were enough riders coming down the trail that I took a chance, and I was glad that I did.

When I lived in Toronto before, I didn’t take advantage of all of the different green corridors that the city has to offer. The Don Valley is one of those spaces that I am sure I am going to make use of, especially since I’ll be living near the middle section of this trail.

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Parts of the trail are going through construction (hence the sign that everyone seems to ignore), but overall it was a lovely ride with mostly flat terrain. I made my way over the river (on the bridge above, left) and on the other side went under the Bloor Street viaduct (above, right) just as the subway was passing overhead. When I got to Pottery Road, I crossed over but got on to the road to make my way to Bayview Road so I could get to the Evergreen Brick Works and use the Beltline Trail to the David Balfour Park, where I then made my way back to where I am currently staying. It was a great ride and I hope to explore the upper parts of the trail when I move into my new place in July.

Things – Games in the Park


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Another thing I like to do in the summer is take games night outside. Games such as Bananagrams works well out-of-doors (see above). While there might be minor hiccups with playing board games outside (wind can be a hassle), the benefits are certainly worth any possible issues. For example, the picnic table was a bit of an obstacle (tiles kept falling down the slots) but I ran home and got a large scarf to cover the picnic table and we were able to play without anymore issues.

Other games I like to take outside:

Dutch Blitz



But really, the options are endless. Combine with a picnic and now your summer is really hitting its stride. What board games do you like to play? Do you ever take games night outside, I’d love to know.


Living Below Ground – Laura Ingalls Wilder Style

Since this blog is supposed to be primarily about basement living, I thought I could look at different ways of living below ground is found in literature and art. When I initially thought of doing this, my mind immediately went to the dugout in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book On the Banks of Plum Creek (the fourth book in the popular Little House on the Prairie series). Built by a Norwegian settler named Mr. Hanson, the dugout was located on the banks of Plum Creek, near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The Ingalls family lived there between 1874 and 1876, after moving away from the prairies and the dangers associated with their time there.



As a child, I remember being enchanted with the idea of living under a grassy knoll. From the description in the book the interior walls were whitewashed and the only natural light came from the one window that was set far into the earthen wall, as Wilder explains, “But the wall was so thick that the light from the window stayed near the window.” While I know my wee basement apartment will not have the charm of living as Laura Ingalls did in a handmade dugout, I like the idea of associating basement living to one of my favourite childhood books. Hopefully the lighting situation will be better in my new place . . .

Seating Situation

As the month of June wears on, I continue to think about my new apartment. And, more specifically, to seating. The challenge with my new space is going to be the lack of space. But I want to try to create a place I will want to come home to and part of that equation is creating a space that is comfortable and relaxing. In my last apartment I had a couch. I wasn’t too keen on initially having it, but I grew to love sitting there in the mornings with my cup of tea, a book, and She-beast resting on my lap. The couch was perfect because I could sit with my legs stretched out and rest my back against the side arm.

My seating situation in my last apartment (couch in the background).

My seating situation in my last apartment (couch in the background).

In my new space I will not have the room for a proper couch and my chair (both seen above) will probably take up too much room. So, I have been thinking about the possibility of building something sort of like this, a FOTM daybed (found on Design*Sponge). Wouldn’t that be a great alternative? Can I build things? Not really. But if I could have a place to read in the morning with my kitty on my lap, I would try my hand at DIY. I’ll keep you posted.


Out & About – Distillery District


When I was doing my MA I worked at the Distillery District  in the archive of a small photographic collection. I got to know the area quite well. I would frequent Balzac’s for my tea fix (back when they served Mariage Frères tea) and Brick Street Bakery for various nosh needs (they make amazing baked goods and their sandwiches are so tasty). So I was excited to head down to check out the area.


Shopping (or window shopping in my case)

Blackbird Vintage is a treasure trove of interesting items, I especially like their take on vintage and adore their selection of cards and candles.

Distill Gallery is a smartly curated shop that carries “well crafted design” in various forms, from clothing, books, and the home. I was smitten by a selection of plant hangers (I’ll return to this topic in the near future).

Bergo Designs is a feast for those interested in great design in home products. Looking for those stylish Scandinavian salt and pepper grinders you ALWAYS see on Instagram, look no further. They have expanded since my last time visiting and now include children’s toys and games.

SOMA Chocolates is a place I always visit when I am at the Distillery. I love the look of the shop and the people who work there are so nice and helpful. But what keeps me coming back . . . their amazing products.  I like to buy their chocolates for special gifts and I love that some of the bars are imprinted with maps of Toronto. How great is that?

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Soma prepares their chocolate on site and there are windows that allow you to see the machines they use. I treated myself to my favourite “Old School” chocolate made up the old fashioned way with two ingredients – “partially ground Papua New Guinea cacao nibs and whole crystals of organic cane sugar.”

The Sports Gallery is a great shop for those sports fans out there. I am not really what one would call a sports fan, but I used to work in their archive so I have a soft spot for this place. Plus, who doesn’t love vintage prints of sports? I know I do.



When I was a grad student, one of the major regular draws to the Distillery was for the various art galleries. That seems to have changed, with galleries moving to other areas of the city. I was pleased that Corkin Gallery was still there. When I was an undergraduate this commercial gallery was located on John Street and was called the Jane Corkin Gallery. I would religiously go to see her exhibitions, getting my first real taste for Canadian photography. Her current exhibition, on Barbara Astman, did not disappoint with a variety of Astman’s work from different periods in her career.


Eats and Treats

After taking in some Canadian content, I was a bit peckish so I headed over to Brick Street Bakery for a nosh. While I stuck to a cheaper (but oh so yummy) option of a sausage roll warmed up to perfection (and at a reasonable price point of $3.40 tax included), they have great homemade sandwiches that are so big you can either share them, or have a small dinner.

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While, I stuck to my tried and true, getting a bite to eat at the Brick Street Bakery and a lemonade at Balzac’s, there are heaps of restaurants I would love to try, including:

Boku Sushi

El Catrin (the patio was hopping when I walked by)


Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill



The area comprising the Distillery District is quite big and goes from Parliament Street on the west, Mill Street on the north, and Cherry Street on the east (the train tracks make up the southern edge). They have various festivals during the summer and a great Christmas Market come winter.


Shelves – I dream of Ivar

As I mentioned last week in my Ikea wish list post, I have Ivar shelving. The plan is to add to my existing system to accommodate my growing book collection (you can never have too many books, right?). When I was going through different websites I came across several great ideas but the one that stuck out to me is from the Ikea website (see below). In one section a wee desk area is set-up. I want to try this out when I set up my shelves but I worry that it may be a waste of valuable book space. In another way, though, this is a compact way of creating a desk in a small space.

Part of the appeal of this set up is separating my “eating” area from my “working” area. I am planning on having my Norbo wall-mounted drop leaf table on the opposite wall as my kitchen table, where the plan is to actually eat all my meals sitting down and not in front of my computer or standing up as I rush out the door. I have a small laptop, so incorporating a desk into the bookcase might just be the answer. I’ll keep you posted. But I am interested, what are your thoughts?


If I go this route it will be quite a change from the desk I used to write my Ph.D. (see below). But what can you do when you have limited space? I say, get creative!



*First image from the Ikea website


Things – Picnics


Summer is all about picnics. When I lived in Australia I came to truly understand the joy of eating al fresco. You don’t need much, a blanket, some food and something to drink, and throw in some friends and you have the making of a great meal and a nice time.

So, what makes good picnic fare? Simplicity, I say. No need to go overboard. Cheese, baguette, olives, avocado, nuts, fruit, and lemonade. Done. Use the lids of Tupperware as plates, pack cutlery, bring a cup, and voila, you don’t have to throw away anything (I tend to go with the pack in, pack out mentality).


Picnic facts from living abroad:

In South Korea you can order take out to be delivered practically anywhere.  I’ve seen pizza delivered to picnickers in a downtown Seoul park. How does one even place that order. “Please deliver the food to the third tree down from the bench, by the entrance.”

In Sydney, Australia picknickers will put up wee fences, staking out their area in a large picnic area when there are large events going on.

When having a picnic, Australians also know how to protect their wine glasses from tipping over. You can buy wine glass holders that are staked into the ground (genius, really) and hold the stemmed glass upright, away from accidental knocks.

In Paris, I you can picnic pretty much anywhere. My favourite was on the Pont des Arts bridge.


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But, the best picnics are those where it is a potluck kind of situation. Invite a bunch of friends, find a piece of grass, preferably with a bit of shade, and bring out the food and share in the joys of eating with friends outside while we still can. Summer is way too short in Canada.