When I was a little kid, my mother's parents lived in Detroit, Michigan. Detroit is, of course, mere spitting distance from the Canadian border. I thought that was fascinating. There was sign: BRIDGE TO CANADA. Grandma's American television caught Canadian broadcast signals; I became quite a fan of "Mr Dress Up." In any handful of change, you were bound turn up a Canadian penny with a picture of an honest-to-goodness queen on it.*
It was all impossibly exotic and alluring and I wanted desperately to go visit the strange (and reputedly very tidy) country just a few minutes away. We never did.
I finally saw it in person for about an hour when I was sixteen. My family, including our dog, had been on the road in a van for a month, driving from California to our new Air Force assignment in upstate New York. We made a brief detour north to look at Niagara Falls. They were wet.
But now I've really been to Canada, and really met Canadians. All the good stuff you've heard is true. In fact, there's a lot of good stuff you haven't even heard about because the entire country is way too modest. Or maybe they just don't want the Americans to know, for fear we'll move up there en masse. Heaven knows I was tempted to stay.
I remarked several times that as an American I found it relaxing to spend a bit of time in a country that is not concerned with what Mrs McCain thinks, if she can be said to think, of Mrs Obama; that has long been accustomed to high gasoline prices; and that is not suffering what honestly feels like a new natural, political, or economic trauma on a daily basis.
I found it positively titillating to walk down the street in country where I could, theoretically, get married. Not domestically partnered or unionistically recognized or surreptitiously blessed but actually married. Mind you, my heart's rather spoken for at present and no proposals were forthcoming; but it was exciting to be so close to the action.
The reason for the visit was, of course, for a 1,000 Knitters shoot at Toronto's own, dear Lettuce Knit.
Lettuce Knit surprised me. It's located in Kensington Market, a divinely scruffy neighborhood full of artists who put their mark on everything in sight, from the sidewalks to the rooftops. The shop itself is tiny. Somehow, given the reputation, I'd expected room after room. No. Two tiny, packed show rooms in a Victorian row house, with gorgeous yarn spilling right over the threshold and onto the front steps. Behind these, a small kitchen/storage room with access to a back garden. Nothing more.
I had come to shoot in this remarkable location thanks to the creative thinking and beneficence of two right-on women, Rachel H and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. The latter writes a pretty good blog. You should check it out some time.
They enlisted the help of their friends to make everything work, and work it did. I owe enormous special thanks to these six folks.
Top row left to right: Rachel H, whose talent for planning is such that she could arrange world peace by next Tuesday, given the opportunity; Denny, who is...forget it, I'm not going to try to describe Denny; Megan, who owns Lettuce Knit but let us play with it for a whole day.
Bottom row left to right: Juno, whom I long have admired from afar and now know is even wiser and funnier in person; Ken, who kindly housed me during my visit and also made sure I got from Point A to Point B without wandering into the woods; and Stephanie, who as I mentioned before is a blogger of some note. [Note to self: I think she writes books, too. Double-check before posting.]
They had planned everything so well that all I had to do was show up. Ken understood my neurotic need to always arrive early and we got to Kensington Market in time to savor the local cocoa.
(I don't drink coffee, which puzzled the natives. When they found out I also don't drink beer, several heads exploded.) Ken's working with some of that new Noro sock yarn, which I have not yet tried but feel I soon must.
No sooner had we opened the doors than the knitters began arriving and the scarf, which already took up a quarter of my large suitcase, began growing again.
In this batch, there are a few folks you might know including Debbie New (second row, center) and Amy Singer (fourth row, right). Debbie, whose previous knitting projects include a lace boat (you don't believe me? read the book), spent the time before her portrait knitting a windmill. That's what she said, a windmill. Amy, who is famously allergic to wool, graciously donned gloves so that she could work with the same yarn as everybody else.
The steady stream of knitters never slowed. Stephanie made sure I paused between sitters to have a bite of this or that, knowing full well that left to my own devices I would eat nothing and die. Every so often, I would hear screams from the front of the store as Rachel and Denny drew the winners of hourly prizes. Two winners got sock yarn in a colorway I'm particularly excited about...more on that later, though.
In the sampling above, the second row from left to right shows Stephanie's daughters Sam and Meg, and their charming friend Maddie. Stephanie's friend Rams (third row, left) showed up all the way from America as a surprise, and brought along her lovely pal Vicki (third row, center). Just below Rams is the delightful Fiona Ellis, who I hear writes books. So prolific, these Canadians. Must be nothing else to do in the winter.
And we had an American writer on hand–Leigh Witchel, who took notes and is writing up the day for Vogue Knitting. Leigh is a friend of mine, based in New York, who has been trying to get into the series forever. But I was away when he came to Chicago; he was away when I came to the East Coast. We missed each other just slightly in California and Pennyslvania. Finally, we intersected in Toronto.
If that doesn't confirm Toronto's reputation as Knitting Crossroads of the World, I don't know what could.
By the end of the day I was flying on adrenaline and cupcakes, and got everybody who was still hanging around to do something I've not done before: try on the scarf. All at once.
How could I not have enjoyed a day with that lot?
Usually the morning after a shoot I fly home, but this time I got a bonus day to spend with Stephanie, Juno, Rams, and Vicki; and in the evening Ken, Rachel H, and Steph's whole family. Aside from getting hassled by a roving mariachi gang (I'm serious) it was a perfect way to ease down from the high and prepare myself for re-entry.
It's always good to come home, but part of my heart's up there in Canada. I think I left it behind the Chesterfield at Stephanie's hoose.
*American money has a portrait of a queen, too, but only on the ten dollar bill.