Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Umbrellas: the ne plus ultra fashion accessory for those April showers…

I love umbrellas. Big umbrellas, small umbrellas, monochromatic umbrellas, patterned umbrellas. Even the ubiquitous, comparatively conservative black umbrella, which can be so chic when paired with a sophisticated trench coat and some nice Wellies (don’t get me started on how much I love these boots – and splashing in puddles with them! :-))… I especially love plaid umbrellas, though, with the traditional wooden stem and crook handle. (Must be my British heritage speaking.) I can remember how particularly excited I was to buy this beautiful, bright red and blue plaid Esprit umbrella (with Esprit engraved into the wooden stem, but no crook handle, sadly) from a tiny little boutique in a small university town back in the early 90s. What a find! A patterned umbrella was so fashion-forward back then, and I used to delight in rainy days as an opportunity to proudly showcase my coquette parapluie as I strolled the sidewalks (or more aptly, “catwalks”) across campus to class… Now, I own a decidedly more mature, brown, red, beige, and and black plaid umbrella complete with the requisite wooden stem and crook handle. Definitely looks Burberry or London Fog-inspired (see fun watercolor crayon sketch below left).

I think my love of umbrellas can be traced back to Mary Poppins – that classic (1964) Disney movie-musical starring Julie Andrews as a no-nonsense, but caring, magical nanny, who accumulated Air Miles points via domestic umbrella flights over the rooftops of London. (Mary’s umbrella also featured a rather opinionated parrot crook…)

So, it’s still unseasonably warm in Ottawa, and maybe it’s the unease I have about this premature, protracted heat wave that has me thinking (perhaps wishfully) about rain and cooler spring days – and umbrellas. I know, I’m sure there are many of you, who are thinking, ‘Is she crazy? This weather is fantastic!’ No, I’m clearly just a Nordic girl, who does better in cooler climes, and who admittedly would’ve revelled in another couple of weeks of snow, enjoying some thrilling spring xc-skiing (i.e., crust-cruising) on the hills and trails of Gatineau Park. Oh well, as much as I miss the snow – it is also wonderful to run on hard-packed snow in the woods or along the canal – Ottawa is truly beautiful in the springtime with the bursting of new leaves from buds in the trees, the thousands of colorful tulips that blossom along the canal and in several major parks in the city, and the return of all the songbirds (but not those pesky, aggressive red-winged blackbirds, who’ve dive-bombed me several times along the canal! Ouch!). There is also nothing like running in the woods after a fresh spring rain, which always leaves the air so fragrant and the vegetation looking all the more lush and green. One of my all-time favourite running routes, especially on grey-green spring days, was/is up to the summit of Mount Royal Park (a park landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, who famously designed New York City’s beloved Central Park) , then down the meandering, sloping road of Mount Royal Cemetary, and finally through the eclectic, vibrant, tree-lined burrough of Outremont in Montreal.  If you’re a runner and you’ve never run this route, you must the next time you’re in Montreal. It is almost a religious, Zen-like experience running the steady ascending serpentine trail to the peak of Mount Royal Park. (And what a sense of accomplishment and euphoria when you reach the top! :-)) It is an oasis of greenery and a temporary respite from the constant hum of the city that never sleeps. The views are absolutely spectacular, too. I used to live in that glorious city, and when I knew I’d be bidding farewell to my home of nearly 10 years, I made a point to spend some time just photographing and contemplating the Park and its many lovely vistas. It was my personal Elysium, enjoyed year-round, whatever the weather…

In keeping with the theme of rain and umbrellas, I decided to attempt another Crayola sketch from my much-loved, Style Book. This drawing is an interpretation of another vintage black and white photo shot in 1958 (location unspecified) of a woman modeling an oversized umbrella with matching cloche hat against a plain black shift – apparently a new trend for women’s accessories for the racetrack at that time. I should say that the original black & white photo features a check pattern to the umbrella and cloche hat, but because of my partiality for plaid, I thought I’d exercise artistic license and sketch a plaid pattern instead. Truthfully, I think I could’ve gone with less detail in the umbrella. Originally, I thought I’d just sketch in a bunch of rough, bare bones, curved black lines. I liked the effect, but was seduced by the idea of plaid and so pursued it. I also think I should’ve left the background grey rather than colorizing it in a greyish-purple. I still like the image, but I think it would’ve been stronger had I quit while I was ahead. Instead, I think I’ve created an edgy Disney movie poster of the wicked queen from Snow White taking Manhattan!? Oh well, as one of my handsome, free-spirited running friends once said, “Many artistic endeavors often end dramatically”. How true…

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2 thoughts on “Umbrellas: the ne plus ultra fashion accessory for those April showers…

  1. My husband had an ongoing feud with a RedWinged blackbird along the river in Ottawa. Those birds are pure evil.

    • It’s kind of Hitchcockian, isn’t it? I’ve never been attacked by birds until I moved to Ottawa. Maybe shielding oneself from vicious bird attacks is another potential untapped use for an umbrella?!? (Although not exactly aerodynamic for running, I realize…)

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