Life is strange and unpredictable. You never know what’s coming for ya. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. A few months ago, you’ll remember I was interviewed and photographed for a Toronto Life feature , which itself was a lot of fun. Well, more people saw that interview than I bargained for.
I was contacted by the good folks over at TFO 24.7, the Franco-Ontarian TV station here in Canada. They noticed that I speak French, and that many of my love letters are in French, and they asked if they could come over and film me for a Valentine’s Day segment.
They came over and interviewed me for 5 hours. The finished TV segment is less than 4 minutes, it’s a lot of work that goes into making a mere 4 minutes! They filmed me in my bedroom here in Toronto, which I have decorated with the letters, old photographs, antique furniture and typewriters, and then they filmed me at an antique shop and a café.
I really like the way this came out. The music they use is super sweet and it makes my 9 x 15 bedroom look much larger than it actually is! I’m also a little embarrassed, just because this is my bedroom and I’m inviting all of you strangers into my tiny little corner of the world, but hey…. I WOULD DOOOOO ANYTHING FOR LOVVVVVVVE. Har har.
I think this is my favourite shot in the entire segment.
Anyway, watch the entire segment below! It’s in French, of course, but you will probably still get the gist of it even if you don’t speak French. Enjoy! Savourez-le!
Last year when I was living in Brussels, I was frequenting my absolute favourite flea market in the world Jeu de Balle, buying photographs and love letters and other trinkets. As usual, when the flea market is over, the vendors usually leave a whole trove of junk just lying on the cobblestone grounds that either they couldn’t sell, that broke, that was damaged, that got soaked from the rain, or that they just don’t want to transport back to their warehouses. The thing is, the street cleaners come in very quickly after the market is over to pick up all the trash and wash the square clean! So if you’re crafty, quick, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you can get your hands on some amazing antique and vintage gems.
Seeing as how I’m an excellent scavenger (and I don’t like paying for things), I would always scour the cobbles (and in between the cobbles!), go through the piles of trash, kick over soaked boxes and rifle through all the discarded remains for whatever meant something to me. From my scavenges, I have procured monochrome photographs from the 1920s, gold-rimmed picture frames, and these two letters written in German in 1946.
As you can see from the very top picture, the stamps were ripped from the envelopes (probably because 1946 stamps are worth a lot!) but I was more interested in the contents of the letters!
Luckily, the internet loves to help! I tweeted out for help in translating them, and a wonderful follower of mine from Berlin, who wants to be referenced here as Resa Lamego, offered to help! She was able to translate the letters very quickly because her English is amazing, and even though she was busy travelling down to Heidelberg, she still did a fabulous job.
The letters mostly just contain mundane minutiae of these women’s lives from 1946, nothing mind-blowing or tragic or epic, but the language employed is quite nice!
Here’s an excerpt from the 1st letter (edited for content… really just the most interesting parts!)
Malmö, the 28-08-1946
My dear Mady,
Thank you so much for your lovely letter! I’m glad to hear you are in Switzerland. It is wonderful that they all who have been/ used to be in Germany gain such a trip. From the photo I can tell that the nature must be very beautiful. I hope you are completely recovered/healthy when you travel back home! Do you really believe you will be able to come to Sweden? I would be so happy if it was possible. Then you must come to Malmö. As before I got the children from (..)? Now we got the Karl-Jo-Haus-School back. Last year sick children from France and Austria were living there […] One always needs to be with the children, one needs to help them to eat, to play and to bathe. […] It is very hard to write in German and I make many mistakes. I hope you are able to read it? I have never been very good in German but maybe it is harder than usual because I was reading in English the whole winter long. I received my major and can now be a teacher of English. Half of my summer months this year I spent in an international school in Helsingor and there English was the conversational speech. Now my head is full of English words and phrases. So now I need to practice in this letter otherwise I will forget my German and that can’t be!
My dearest regards,
And here’s an excerpt from the 2nd letter, unedited because the whole thing was totally cool.
My dear Mady,
Thank you so much for your letter! From the date I can tell that it has been already over a month before I received your letter. I can’t really understand why. Time has passed so quickly. Now you probably are back in Belgium? If so, I send this to your home. Have you recovered dear Mady? Oh, I hope you are from the bottom of my heart!
So, Mady, you think I am chubby/big? Oh well, that is possible. I love to eat and maybe I do it too much. The photo was from summer and then I am always bigger because then I don’t have my work. So I think now it’s better. One doesn’t like to be big!
I got from your letter that you are glad to be back in Belgium. Here in Sweden we have a saying: Foreign countries are good, but home is always the best. And I believe that is very true. I haven’t been to foreign countries, you know, except Denmark and Norway and that for us aren’t really foreign countries. For the next summer I hope I will be allowed to travel to England. I am supposed to have English classes with children, you know and of course it should be very good for me to spend a few months in England. That way one learns the language much better.
Dear Mady, you say that maybe you will come back to Sweden. How happy I should be if that was possible. Will you come alone or with other people? Oh, it would be wonderful to meet you again. Please Mady, if you can, so come, come! I am telling you my dearest welcome!
And now, Mady, to a quick ‘hear-you-again’, I hope!
My dearest regards!
P.S. May I also send my regards to your family?
Oh Anna-Kerstin, you sweet Danish-living-English-teaching friend! How wonderful and sweet you were to your friend Mady! And such a shame that someone saw fit to discard your beautiful letters into a trash heap in Brussels. So glad I recovered them and saved them!
As I wrote about for VICE, the main reason why personal items like this end up on the fleas is because the owner passed away and their family just wanted to liquidate all the belongings. Why? They probably weren’t on very good terms.
So Mady, I hope you had a good life. Your surviving family is shit.
To the flea markets!!
As I hinted at last week, I was recently interviewed and photographed for fashion blog TorontoVerve and the post has gone live. I talk about my love of typewriters, and also about my writing philosophy: what motivates me, what I like to write about it, how it provides catharsis, and how all writers need to HUSTLE! And it features my beloved 91-year-old typewriter that I blogged about here.
The photographs are pretty punk-rock. I know I’m not perfect, but hey, LOOK AT ALL THE FUCKS I GIVE.
This is my Sitto & Jiddo (granny & gramps in Arabic) mucking about on their front porch on Rue Berri in Montreal, circa 1948. Lebanese: lovers, not fighters. They took many snaps from that porch, and I’ve always kept them near and dear to me.
Recently, I was in Montreal for an extended period of time, so I thought I would find that old house just around the corner from the Jean Talon market. When I arrived, I found the house, although it has had extensive renovations over the years, and the new owner was a delightful old retired Vietnamese man who only spoke French. He invited me inside the house so I could take snaps and send them to my family. But while I was there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little Dear Photograph.
I’m not very good at it, things are a bit off-kilter, but still, the results are pretty cool.
That little pipsqueak on the staircase? That’s only my Mum!
Not bad, right? And the original photographs really are something. I like to think that the snowy landscape indicates things have frozen over and died since my family left the area. With us, blooms and blossoms grow. Ha ha.
I once blogged about my writing practice and process, and I feel this is a nice dovetail: my writing desk and space. We all need to carve out our own little nooks in this world, and this tiny corner is mine.
This where I do all my writing: all my short stories, all my blogging, and all my freelance articles are done here, including a little doodling and reading now and then. I decorated it like this because I think it reflects me and my personality best. Some people prefer really modern, sleek, office-y, stainless-steel-type designs, and others prefer a kind of non-descript, antiseptic look. But I wanted my space to be peppered with all of the things that inspired me, visually and spatially, and all the things that really mean something to me.
For example, these are my Lebanese grandparents making-out on their front porch in Montreal circa 1948. I typed out that Bukowski quote on my typewriter. All the picture frames were bought from London flea markets, but a few I found discarded on the sidewalk. Who throws out gorgeous picture frames?!
That photograph in the foreground of the two 1920s women pushing the pram: I have no idea who they are. I found them discarded on the flea market grounds in Brussels right before the sky opened up and an incredible tempest washed everything away. I feel like I saved them.
Those are Belgian telegrams, and also some French postcards ad German letters, which I bought from their respective flea markets. I typed out the quote at the bottom, and I found the image of the typewritten quote at the top online and then printed it out on photographic paper at a pharmacy in London.
I got the antique iron keys from a friend who bought them for me when I was living in Copenhagen. I typed out the Dumas quote, and it sits on a small blue photo album from the 1940s that I bought in Paris. The vase & saucer I got at a London flea market, and the typewriter ribbon tin I bought at the Brooklyn flea.
The pill bottles in the foreground I got at a flea here in Toronto. The red-cover books in the background are all travel guidebooks from the 1920s, 30s, & 40s. It’s so interesting to read about “where to find a public bathhouse in London,” or about how many Francs you can get for your Crowns, Half-Crowns, Shillings, and Sovereigns. There’s even a section on why French customs strictly prohibits British matches from entering the country, but you can bring your own cigarettes. Also, air travel was so new, that they don’t really mention it. They only mention taking the ferry from Dover to Calais! The guidebooks have fold-out maps and even photographs. Looking at Amsterdam then and comparing it to now is such a mind-fuck.
That’s a Bukowski quote.
I bought that cigar box from a flea market in Düsseldorf. I put all of the small monochrome photographs that I bought from flea markets around Europe in there. A note about the photographs: I don’t know the people. I am assuming they’ve all passed, seeing as how their personal family photo albums were for sale on flea markets. I buy them because they look so happy. I like their faces. Also, sometimes going through private photos reveals some interesting secrets, as I wrote in an essay for VICE recently … And if they’re not in the cigar box….
… they’re hanging on my wall. From left to right, I bought him in Brussels, him in Copenhagen, and her in Paris.
That babe second-from-right is my Mum when she was 18. The rest, left to right, Brussels, Brussels, Berlin, and the child on the right is from Amsterdam.
These ladies are so old, they’re beginning to fade, but I love them all the more because they’re so bad-ass. On the left, I bought them in Paris and on the back it’s dated June 18, 1929. On the right, I bough her in Brussels, it’s dated August 18, 1922. She’s so fucking cool, I can’t even. I’m all out of evens.
Bought both from Brussels. Street scenes and street photography from the early 20th century are so amazing to me. I love the composition of the left photo! Right photo on the back is dated May 1942 and it says they just returned from shopping.
There’s my gorgeous bee-yooot. Read this for the story behind the provenance of this baby.
Some of the books that really moved me that are resting on my desk are All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert, and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières.
I feel like I become a different person when I sit down at this desk. Outside, I’m gregarious and silly and hungry and moving and yelling and dancing and what not… but here, I am something else.
I have a lot more upcoming publications yet-to-be-announced, but now you know where I was when I wrote them.
Remember to update your links and visit the new home of ChristineEstima.com!
Another ghost sign! I found this beauty in Peckham on Chadwick Road.
Look at this gorgeous thing. Established in 1884, they knew them that for ‘business building’ you needed to print stuff! Flyers, releases, cards, documents! Why not print them all fancy-like! I WANT TO BE ESTABLISHED IN 1884. You guys know that I love typewriters and antique modes of communication and writing, so I’m literally aching with jealousy that I wasn’t around in 1884 to check out the machines and mechanisms involved in printing back them. I want to see men in suspenders stained with ink and with paper cuts using big iron machines to print on delicate pieces of paper! THINK OF THE TYPEWRITERS.
I wonder why they went over this with that black shadow? Or was the shadow there first?
I can’t make out what it says on the right. Any ideas?
Check out my Ghost Signs category for more ghost signs I’ve photographed.
Amsterdam is a magical city. Modern and inviting, yet also capable of transporting you into time lost to the ages.
First of all: TYPEWRITER PORNOGRAPHY!
They wouldn’t let me touch it. I WAS DYING TO TOUCH IT.
It even had that old-book smell. They really should bottle that smell and market it to people who are secretly old ladies . . . like me.
I want to put this one on a chain and hang it around my neck.
FONT-SPLOSION! Look at that gorgeous typeface.
This Smith-Premiere was so badly damaged, I think some of the keys had capsized. Also, someone dust that thing, for the love of Gawd!
Speaking of old-book smell…
I found these at the Boekenmarkt that is held once a week near Het Spui in Amsterdam.
Haha, oh the funny things people used to write about.
Best-seller, no doubt.
*Slowly backs away*
GASP! Weird postal crayons made in Czechoslovakia that I have no idea what to use them for! MUST HAVE!
I’m being serious.
I’m sorry, did I just walk into a screensaver?
Back to typewriters! I found this hanging on the wall at Bar Bukowski, which I also visited last year.
I think Bukowski’s books in general are misogynistic, male-bravado, wank-fests, but his quotes taken out of context are damned good.
This reminds me of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”
I actually photographed this little red building back in 2006 but I didn’t record its location back then, so I had no idea how to find it again. I just used my directionally-adept nose and some intuition, wandered around for 2 weeks until I finally found it again. If you don’t know why this building is important, take ANY WALKING TOUR in Amsterdam and they’ll tell you. It’s the smallest building in the entire city.
It has the same depth as other buildings, but it’s only a metre and a half wide. Just long enough for me to lie down in. Someone was working at their laptop there…so yes, people live there.
This wasn’t Amsterdam, it was the Delft… but holy gorgeous amazeballs postcard idyllic nostalgia-ultra-acolyte!
That’s it, I’m moving to Holland. Us old-lady-grannies-in-young-lady-bodies gotta stick together.
I am now the proud owner of this BEE-YOOOT. This is a Remington Portable that I bought for £10! SCORE! I’ve seen typewriters like this on eBay for £600!
So, after finding it’s serial number, my friend Paul was able to track down it’s manufacture date – it was made sometime in August 1924. THIS THING IS 89 YEARS OLD!
Upon first glance, I figured this was a British typewriter because of the Pound Symbol above the 5 key there. But there were all these clues on the typewriter and on the carrying case which suggested otherwise.
See that sticker above the keyboard that says Chartres Business Service? We googled that, and it’s Australian. Then there was a sticker inside the carrying case that said it was allowed to be displayed in Sydney.
Now if you look closely at the top of the carrying case here, you can vaguely make out the words, “The Pastoral Review.” Google says that was a publication in Australia from 1913-1977. So apparently I have a typewriter that used to be used in the office of a magazine! Cool! But what about the Pound Symbol? They use dollars in Australia! Well apparently, in 1924, they actually used Pounds! They only switched to dollars in 1966!
So my typewriter has crossed many oceans and passed through many hands, traversed time and space, and is now MINE MINE MINE!
It’s currently in the shop being serviced (you shoulda seen the layer of dust inside the parts!), but when it’s out of that shop, it will grace the desktop in my new flat.
Oh did I mention I am no longer homeless? After three and a half months, I am no longer a waif.
Thank you London.