As for me, in addition to my usual duties (regular maintenance chores, landscape and construction tasks, assembling bells, greeting visitors and guiding them around the compound, explaining what was going on), I fulfilled a local project, lettering a metal sign that was supposed to keep visitors from inadvertently walking into areas considered private at Cosanti.
Not surprising such a sign was needed. Starting in the late '50s and early '60s, Cosanti had become a kind of Mecca for architects, planners, artists and craftspeople as well as seekers and sooth-sayers. By 1968, Paolo's reputation had already curled around the globe a few times. People came from every continent (other than Antarctica - at least I don't recall anyone coming from there) to see the unusual earth-cast constructions, enjoy the bells, ponder the implications of cities meant for life without cars.
job selling fabric at what was at the time quite an exclusive, high-end yard goods store on St. Catherine Street.
One day a woman came into the store to buy a yard or so of printed cotton. We got to talking as she pored over fabric. Her name was Carolyn Cordeaux and she'd come to Montreal from Australia with her husband, who was on loan from the Australian Film Board to the NFB to edit NFB's first full-length feature film. Carolyn and I continued talking as she stood by the fabric store's counter top while I snipped off her piece (too generously, I found out when the boss called me into his office some time later, told me I wasn't "cut out for retailing" and ended my career there). Caroline invited me to visit them at their place on DeCarie.
This was before DeCarie was transformed into a speed-defying car thingamajig. When I got there, I knew I'd found people I'd be wanting to keep as friends for life. Carolyn's husband Christopher was a genuine eccentric. After he'd gotten highly irritated with their TV one day, thrown something rigid (his boot, I think) at it, he replaced the screen with an album cover. I guess in his mind, the Beatles, or at least Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band, ruled television. Whatever.
Moreover, whatever had been the usual '60s-type refrigerator that had come with the apartment, Christopher replaced it with an old fashioned icebox. Where and how he found ice in blocks to fill it, in the swelter of a Montreal summer, I do not recall but I was charmed; remained charmed. It still makes me guffaw to recall Carolyn's tale about how when she and Christopher were caretaking an aardvark for some friend of theirs, she'd tuck it into the old-fashioned wicker pram she'd found, go out for a stroll in warm and humid Montreal, wheel it up the sidewalk on a pleasant summer afternoon. She was pregnant with Daniel, their firstborn: I can only imagine the faces of the good ladies on deCarie who peered at her and then into the delectable old wicker machine, expecting to coo and gaga over a charming infant, confronting the specter of C&C's borrowed anteater. Ha!
Life, however, can be complex. Carolyn went home to Australia. Alone. Christopher quit DeCarie Blvd., found himself a small apartment on St. Norbert on the edge of Old Montreal, a place so ancient no-one minded when he ripped out the back wall of the place, replaced it with clear plastic, a greenhouse-like membrane so his kitchen was filled with light in which he managed to grow a barrage of plants. He'd pull on hip-waders, spray his greenery with water using a garden hose he'd screw onto the tap at the kitchen sink. He replaced the electric lights with gas lamps, tapping into the gas lines of the old building. Somehow, he was able to rig the phone so that instead of it ringing, a light-bulb the size of a Christmas-type lamp flashed when anyone phoned. It kind of pulsated at you but there was no sound, no sound at all.
So there I am, assembling bells at Cosanti, two years after meeting Carolyn and Chris in Montreal, and I'm so amazed by my encounter with the woman from Australia that I phone Chris to tell him about it. He doesn't seem very surprised; but maybe he has other things on his mind...
By the time I saw him in Montreal in September of 1969, having left Cosanti to go back east that summer, Carolyn had gone back to Australia - by herself. After she left, Chris had gotten himself a girlfriend, Madeline by name, with whom he had driven across Canada. Montreal to Vancouver and back in a Deux Chevaux. Good on gas, likely a fine promoter of intimacy. At least the impression I received from Chris right then (and later from Madeline) was that they'd enjoyed the experience. When I moved to Montreal myself, 20 years later, I learned that Christopher and the woman with the two lovely children were cousins, had lost touch with each other but reconnected after he went back to Australia...
Cosanti, Mecca for architectural pilgrims. Cosanti, ideological oasis in the wilderness of suburban sprawl. Cosanti, where six degrees of separation regularly get shortened by several degrees...