Itemizing essentials is a crude objective. It is not one to be undertaken frivolously. Not because it is rudimentary or possibly offensively coarse or explicit, but because the judgement is predictably raw and plain. In the result its vulgarity is not its indecency rather its basic nature. If one were to estimate what is essential the gauge would show little finesse and more blunt appeal. By its nature a list of essentials necessitates limitation and reserve, pointedly characteristics of such refinement as a good wine or a single malt whiskey.
So let’s begin.
1. Roses. Years ago while trolling a Dollar Store (it may even have been a Walmart but not a Costco because I’ve never had a membership) I was looking for something one could reliably find at any discount retailer such as facial tissues or toilet paper. In my methodical (and admittedly highly curious) investigation of each successive aisle I stumbled upon a collection of fake flowers. I would like to have said silk flowers but that may be pushing it. To my surprise the flowers were nonetheless quite extraordinary, deep red and astonishingly real. I bought at least three dozen of them. I probably bought all they had. They were only $1 each. And as you would expect each flower came with a long plastic stem within which appeared to be a bendable wire. Each was surrounded by a plausible collection of dark green leaves. Fortunately I had already in my possession a Lalique vase. I had bought the vase over 40 years ago to deposit a real rose which had been given me as a housewarming gift in a long white florist’s box by Jo Anne Trudeau. Her father had been the CEO of the company which at the time owned Holt Renfrew. Jo Anne lived in a 2-storey penthouse on St. Clair Avenue East, Toronto (from which I had watched the landing of the first man on the moon). She knew about nice things. In 1968 she had introduced me to a French press coffee maker. She had that critical eye by which I mean exact and perspicacious. I recognized that her gift of one long-stemmed rose required an appropriate vase. I purchased it the following day at an art gallery – I believe it was called Wallack’s Gallery – on Elgin Street, Ottawa across from the Lord Elgin Hotel and what is now the Ottawa No. 4 Land Registry Office (replacing the original historic office on Nicholas Street).
The City Registry Office formed part of the 19th-century judicial precinct, which included the Carleton County Courthouse, Registry Office and Gaol. The architect, recorded as “Mr. Hudson,” likely followed the prototypical building plan prepared in 1868 by Kivas Tully, Ontario’s first Provincial Architect and Engineer. Conveniently located across from the Courthouse, the Registry Office housed important property deeds, lot surveys, mortgages and land instruments, while providing retrieval and transcription services to the public. The Ottawa Registry Office’s classical temple massing gives the small-sized building its solid appearance. Pleasantly proportioned, the cut stone trimmed buff brick walls, round-headed windows and door arches with rusticated quoins and elaborate joined chimney stack (since partially removed and capped) contribute to its dignified presence.
2. Music. This is an essential too extensive to propose even one example. My object is not to delineate my personal essentials; rather, to list a general number of them. That target alone points to the need for abstraction and impartiality. Otherwise for example I would be inclined to suggest a piano (something which along with a fireplace – preferably a Vermont casting) I would consider essential for any home.
3. Books. No doubt this was already anticipated. In my experience books go with music. I listen and read contemporaneously. And once again there is no need to delineate which of the endless variety of books is imperative to complement the list of essentials. I have known people of vastly different persuasions who read books I wouldn’t have imagined. This is both a compliment and a disqualification; but I acknowledge the disparity of choice is irrelevant to the source of enjoyment.
4. Sherry. I no longer drink alcohol but this doesn’t diminish what I feel to be an essential. And if one were to limit the drink then sherry is the essential. There is a reason it is historically associated with elderly women. They know. And they know how to conceal a good thing.
5. Paperweight. These objects, like each of the other essentials, come in a wide variety. Some are made of crystal (such as millefiori), others brass, others pewter, whatever. They enhance any desk of serious application.
6. Clock. I use this essential to include grandfather clock, mantel clock, carriage clock or any other description, even a ship’s bell which strictly is not so much a clock as a bell. In this modern world of technological precision I find it comforting to engage in the weekly winding of a clock. There is enormous history associated with clocks surrounding their construction, material and appearance. The only qualification would be the exclusion of cuckoo clocks for obvious reasons.
7. Garlic. No matter the extent of one’s culinary talents there is nothing more essential in the kitchen than a bulb of garlic. And the alternative uses are limitless. Even for the most unqualified chef garlic is sure-fire.
8. Key Chain. I cannot imagine carrying about a key except on a chain. I favour the productions of Mont Blanc but once again that is an exhibition of my personal preference only. Key chains, like books and music, are common in innumerable forms, though customarily each has a private meaning and significance. Many of them are attributable to ancient correlations, inhabiting the strength of a family heirloom.
9. Umbrella. This is purely pragmatic, one of those rudimentary elements I previously alluded to. An umbrella admits to all types of innuendo and modification. Some are singularly utilitarian; others express mountains of personality and possible pretence. But if you’re caught without one, you’ll be sorry.
10. Painting. The only magazine to which I subscribe is Country Life. Every week it contains a section called “My favourite painting”. Considering the multitude of events and objects included in that magnificent publication, and the many years over which it has successfully endured (launched in 1897), this signals the last of my denominated essentials. The other rural pursuits and interests covered include hunting, shooting, farming, equestrian news and gardening and there are regular news and opinion pieces as well as rural politics. There are reviews of books, food and wine, art and architecture and antiques and crafts. Illustrative material includes the Tottering-by-Gently cartoon by Annie Tempest. We own by some standards a large collection of paintings. If however I were obliged to do so I would have no trouble whatsoever choosing one from the number as essential, perhaps the one I would fashion enigmatically to bring with me in my suitcase to wherever I were headed for my ultimate journey. I will not pretend that my essential painting is one which I recall from childhood (I was in a boarding school and afterwards moved about too much to cultivate such wistful familial alliance) but I most certainly have a current draw.