Attic As Arctic

A home located in a cold climate is likely to have some dead space between the ceiling and roof.  Better known as an attic, this dead space has to do with the fact that in cold climates, a sloped roof is needed in order to allow for the run off of rain and snow.  Homes in warm, dry climates typically have a flat roof and therefore no attic.  So say the providers of insurance. 

The notion of attics existing more so in northern homes than southern ones, offers something of a play-on-words.  With a little imagination, an attic might be looked upon as a miniature Arctic, a remote landscape of its own, a place full of jagged corners, nooks and crannies and the perfect place for exploring the recesses of one’s own personal attic, otherwise known as the mind.  This is basically what Glenn Gould was aiming at when he created the first instalment of his Solitude Trilogy entitled, The Idea of North (1967).

All of this makes me wonder if Glenn ever read The Poetics of Space (1958) by the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard.  In the book, Bachelard discusses various types of architectural spaces, including attics, which he refers to as rational places, well suited for daydreaming and the exploration of the imagination.     

With world population at 7.7 billion, I wonder just how many of us have access to an attic.  According to an article published on The Conversation in December 2017, the cities of Moscow and Hong Kong were said to have 11,783 and 7,833 high-rises respectively, many of which are residential.  As of February 2018, the city of Toronto claimed 2,586 high-rises citywide and, judging by a Wikipedia list of buildings currently under construction, skyward lifestyles continue to be (pardon the pun) on the rise. 

All of this makes a person stop and think about the accessibility of high quality solitude.  Of course, Glenn was famous for having said that “I can be alone anywhere,” but even he needed his trips to Wawa and, at the very least, his own (pardon another pun) Bachelard-pad.  

In The Boy and the River (1945) a novel by Henri Bosco, which, admittedly I never finished reading, I happened to write down something about one of the characters.  As I recall, the Aunt in the story would go up to the attic to be alone for hours.  I just love coming across fictitious characters who need alone time.  The character, Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain (1924) by Thomas Mann (one of Glenn’s favourite books) is another of these characters.  

I might also include the three main characters in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) by Jules Verne.  Here, Professor Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew, Axel and their guide, Hans, seek their own version of solitude in the form of a sci-fi journey to the centre of the earth’s crust.  Incidentally, in order to begin their “descent”, the trio must first travel north to Iceland via Hamburg.

A book such as that by Bachelard makes a person think about the architectural spaces that they’ve inhabited.  Thinking about the places Glenn occupied, one realizes that he never lived in a mansion or any sizeable estate and, as an adult, had no yard, basement or attic.  Perhaps his childhood home had an attic.  

32 Southwood Drive in Toronto, Ontario.  Childhood home of Glenn Gould.  (Photo by Penny Johnson, 2011).
110 St. Clair Avenue, West in Toronto, Ontario.  As an adult, Glenn Gould occupied an apartment at this address.  (Photo by Penny Johnson, 2017).

Quoting Bachelard, “We must first look for centers of simplicity in houses with many rooms.  For as Baudelaire said, in a palace, ‘there is no place for intimacy.'”    

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