Tuesday, April 25, 2006

City council election

Can't I just vote for Dave Norris twice?

He says, in today's Cville, "[Charlottesville would be better if]: we had more affordable housing for the folks that do the hard work of making this city function (teachers, police officers, firefighters, retail/service workers, etc.)"

Thank you! I know, who am I to talk, a homeowner in the infamously overpriced Belmont-- and we're the ordinary working people Norris is talking about--my husband is a nurse and we lived on one income up until last November. But we moved to Charlottesville in 1998, when, if you mentioned Belmont to real estate agents, they'd respond with a shocked "NO!" (Although a neighbor of my brother-in-law, way back in 1998, told me that Belmont was the up-and-coming neighborhood. As I recall, she said, "That's the neighborhood where people our age are buying." And she was right.) So now we have this house, and are grateful for it, but what will we do if assessments go so high that we can't pay the taxes anymore? Sell it? And where would we live then? Kansas?

It's funny, because I come from Buffalo, NY, where there is, incredible as it may seem, a law that requires that all city employees--including public school teachers--live within the city limits. Police are exempt from this law, and possibly fire fighters as well, but it just blows the mind that there is a city that must actually pass a law forcing middle class workers to live there, when in C'ville, those same workers want to live here and can't afford it. And Buffalo, by the way, is a nice city to live in. There is a wealth of huge, gorgeous old houses going for prices that would make anyone used to this area tear their hair in frustration. Mixed comfortably among the houses are bars, restaurants and shops--at least on the west side, where we lived. It's a perfect urban environment. I wonder why Charlottesville is Charlottesville and Buffalo is Buffalo?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


More renovation pictures. We have also replaced the windows in our old sitting room, for taller ones that won't be too far below the new, higher ceiling. Before:


Saturday, April 15, 2006


We have windows! Real divided-light windows with real muntins (the strips of wood that divide the panes.) Those cheap windows with the fake, snap-in muntins are an abomination, in my opinion, especially in an old house.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Walls and thugs.

We have walls. Also pictured: some of our old clapboard, peeking out from behind the stucco. It looks like the house was originally white with black trim, which reminds me of summer cottages on the Lake Erie shore in Ontario. That big opening will be a window, but not a picture window. (No!) There'll be a bank of three two-over-two mullioned windows that match the windows in the old part of the house.

And now for something completely different.

A message to the feral kids out there: if you go breaking into cars at night, you may just find yourself getting chased down by a crazed man in a minivan, as happened to a group of local kids in my neighborhood this weekend. They're lucky he didn't catch them.

When we lived on the west side of Buffalo, NY (our hometown) my car was broken into at least twenty times. I never locked the doors, and so was spared a smashed windshield. The thieves would rifle my music collection--they never seemed to want my Tom Waits tapes--and otherwise leave my car unscathed. I never bothered to call the police and never got particularly upset. I decided I'd rather live in the city and have my car broken into every night of the week rather than live in the suburbs. Somehow it was different when it happened here in Charlottesville. Maybe it's because I drive a nicer car than I did in our Buffalo days, or maybe it's that the kids turned on J and moved to assault him when he confronted them. At any rate, it was all rather upsetting. The police came, but of course they didn't catch the kids, who had rifled our car as well as several others on our street. (Nothing was stolen from my car.) J swears he saw them at Stoney's the next day, paying for their purchases with large amounts of change.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In which I am taken aback

It is time for J and me to select lighting fixtures, so the other day we went to a local lighting showroom. We were the only customers, and if first it seemed like we were about to have the typical customer/clerk exchange: He asked if he could help us; we said we were in need of lighting. “Have you ever purchased a light fixture before?” the man demanded. His tone was pugnacious: Don't you dare think you can come around here and shop unless you've passed “Wall-Mounted Illumination 270”. We gaped at him.

“Yes, we've bought light fixtures before,” I said, a tad defensively, flashing back to the 8th grade playground. (Yes, I've kissed a boy before. Duh.)

“Because this isn't Lowe's!” the man said. “You can't just come in here and walk out with a light fixture!”

Whoa, Nellie! Who said anything about walking out with a light fixture? And I'd left my “I BUY LIGHTING AT LOWE'S” t-shirt at home in my drawer.

We managed to make the light store guardian understand that we just wanted to look, that we understood the concept of ordering lighting and waiting for it to arrive, that we had no immediate need for light fixtures, and so he directed us to a towering pile of catalogs. That semi-hostile exchange dampened my enthusiasm considerably and we flipped listlessly through the catalogs: page after page of hideous hotel-lobby-builder's-showcase-home-show lighting. Their ornate metal curlicues hooked themselves into my very soul, dragging it down into the dust. It was unthinkable that I should put one of those vulgar fixtures in my sweet little farmhouse.

When we got home from this ordeal, I lay on my bed reading and I noticed my bedroom light fixture, as if for the first time. I'd always considered it ugly, but suddenly it seemed sweetly simple: the glass shade, knocked askew by too many children jumping on the bed was charming. The pull string? How gloriously inconvenient! You have to grope your way through the dark bedroom, and climb onto the bed to get to the string. Not that it matters: the light doesn't even work; has never worked.

We will probably end up buying our light fixtures from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Call me bourgeois, but at least I can call Pottery Barn and not be challenged to provide my light-fixture buying credentials.

After we left the lighting store, we realized that J had neglected to remove the paint-splattered tool belt he'd been wearing while doing demo on our house and that it was this and his somewhat work-roughened appearance that probably prompted the lighting man to challenge us. It's his loss. We have money to spend, and we'll be spending it elsewhere.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Iris Murdoch

Why did I not discover Iris Murdoch until the age of thirty-seven? Iris Murdoch is the bomb! (Stop wincing. This site is titled “Fatuous Observations,” is it not?) Nancy Pearl, in Booklust, categorizes all of Iris Murdoch's novels as “Books I wish I had not read yet so I could have the joy of reading them for the first time.” I see what she means. You sink into an Iris Murdoch novel the same way you sink into a comfortable armchair.

I started with The Bell, a gently funny novel about a group of eccentrics living in a lay religious community. Then I read The Sandcastle, which is probably not considered her best, but I enjoyed it, and since my copy was a library bound edition with no blurb or any indication whatsoever of what the book was about, reading it was like a voyage of discovery. I like going into books blind like that, and I learned long ago that a book's plot or subject matter has absolutely nothing to do with whether it is a good book or not. Yesterday I went to Alderman and successfully scored Murdoch's first novel, Under the Net, which is not available at the public library.

One of my all-time favorite authors is Barbara Pym, and Murdoch's writing reminds me a little bit of Pym's. I think it's safe to assume that Barbara Pym read Iris Murdoch,--they were contemporaries, more or less-- but I wonder if Murdoch read Pym?

And no, I haven't seen the movie about her—the one with Kate Winslet as the young Iris, but I did rent Antonia and Jane from Sneak Reviews, specifically because a friend told me that it has a character who can only perform sexually when Iris Murdoch novels are read aloud to him. It's a good movie, with the fabulous Imelda Staunton in the role of “Jane.”

Speaking of Alderman Library, I also picked up Flight from the Enchanter—Iris Murdoch's second novel, as well as A Beautiful Visit by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers and Unpopular Opinions, also by Sayers. These last two titles I had scribbled on a grocery list that has been in my purse for nearly two years and I checked them out so that I could finally throw away that grocery list. Both books are collections of essays, and I feel a future entry coming out of Sayer's essay, “Are Women Human?” (Don't worry, they are.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Belmont Stucco Monster

You've probably noticed that a lot of Charlottesville houses, particularly older houses in Belmont, are covered with stucco. My own house has been stuccoed. Alas! There is wood clapboard imprisoned underneath. A neighbor who has lived on our street for over fifty years says he remembers the stucco salesman coming to town. He certainly did a brisk business in Belmont, and I used to say that I was glad he got to our house ahead of the aluminum siding salesman. Now I'm not so sure.

To help defray costs on our renovation, we're doing some of the demolition ourselves. Today I demolished the stucco off part of a small wall. Stucco, I discovered, is very very heavy indeed. It consists of four components: a fibrous underlayer to which is nailed chicken wire. The first coat of stucco is applied to the chicken wire, and the top coat is applied over that. I managed to hook my fingers into some of the chicken wire and I pulled. Stucco rained down around me—the outer coat in large chunks, and the under coat in thousands of small octagonal fragments. This was hard work, and I worried I might get my fingers caught and degloved in the chicken wire, but as hard as this was, hauling all that rubble to the dumpster was worse. Since the house is surrounded by scaffolding, there isn't room to get a wheelbarrow to the back. I had to dump the rubbled into a trash can, maneuver the heavy can down the steps of the deck (Did it tip over? Of course it did!) and squeeze it through the tiny opening between the scaffolding and the fence and finally heave the whole load into a wheelbarrow, take it to the dumpster and then hurl scoops of heavy stucco—it is very much like concrete—into the dumpster, the top of which stands a couple feet above my head. I demolished just half of this small wall, and I threw away hundreds of pounds of stucco rubble--and I made many trips to the dumpster.

I used to cherish a fantasy of taking the stucco off our house and restoring the original clapboard, but now I realize that this would be impossible. Pictured below: the empty space where the old porch was and the new roof. That stucco wall under the roof is the one I was demolishing today.