Thursday, December 17, 2009

How cold is cold?

Tuesday, the thing was solved. “It was a good day,” Gord said, upbeat. “As if everyone knew exactly what to do – we were a team.” And essentially, the ice set well. On the way home, everyone fell asleep in the car.

That night we went to see Musica Intima, in a show called Noel at the West Vancouver United Church.
Twelve performers with gorgeous voices singing ancient melodies and carols from different locations across the world. Poetry in voice. We closed our eyes in the warm church and let the melodies float over us.

It was absolutely refreshing to sit in the same room as an ephemeral art form and just be with it.

Then yesterday, Gord came back, exhausted, yet on edge. His eyeballs were hurting from the cold. We went out – he seemed driven to get to the store before it closed, resolutely determined to get some goggles for the next day’s work. How many different ways can you say it’s cold? It’s really cold, It’s super cold. Scary cold. How long can you work in minus 28 degrees? With fan-induced wind chill? So we stocked up on goggles – who knows how long it takes an eyeball to freeze?

And, unlike the one-day reprieve on Tuesday, yesterday the ice was brittle. 70 per cent broke when they pried it from the trays.

“On the first day I could be in that space without a hat. Yesterday, it was impossible.”

I consoled the crew that we’re still ahead of the game. For Turin, the other winter Olympics, it wasn’t until January 5th that we had ice. And Gord got reassurances from Scott that they would concentrate the cold at the back of the building, not in the studio. “They’ve been helpful in terms of everything,” he says. “They made a ballet of carrying the plates on those forklifts, with two of those things backing up and moving forward. I had to stop and watch.”

Becky brings Gord a sandwich and they spend the time it takes to eat the sandwich in the warm room before heading back to the cold studio. Jaz took pictures yesterday – they reminded me of the inside of the church at Fenestrelle, before they figured out how to get ice from bubbly water.

This morning, Gord drew the solution he free-associated yesterday: a different way to cut the ice prior to removing it from the tray.

We discussed the benefits of petting the cat for one minute, how the cold studio warehouse is Not a church! And how Sleep Won. Maybe we’ll see Becky tomorrow at the best ever place for coffee on the west coast of Canada.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's in the water

Countdown update: 12 days to Christmas, 60 days til the opening of the Olympics, as round tiny snow balls flurry past us.

World leaders meet in tension in Copenhagen, and a blizzard is expected to blanket the lower mainland for tomorrow. We are up at 5 for the first ferry into Vancouver. Early dawn stretches into darkness past 7:30. All weather stations predicting 10 centimetres of snow Monday afternoon and freezing rain on Tuesday for the rush hour drive home.The globe seems to be cooling on the West Coast. I say Let it Snow!

That was yesterday. A dusting of snow - then, nothing but rain since.

“Lots of things were happening today,” Gord reports at the end of Monday's work, “some of which were interesting, some of which were not. The process can be humbling; you’re at the mercy of unknown elements. I have to remind myself to be patient.” The ice isn’t coming out of the plastic trays cleanly; it’s sticking in certain areas. “I’ve never seen it before,” he said.

“It’s a lot colder in there than the other location ( in Chicago); there are technical differences. We did some tests on Thursday last week. Friday we poured a whole batch; only half were usable.”

At Artigiano, the day's work is laid out. Erik: “We ran into a few bumps; it’s really really cold in that space. We’re in the experimental stage, given the circumstances.”

“We know a lot about the variables that are at play,” Gord says. “the water on the site is unique to us; it’s mineral content; whatever is in it . That and the kind of freezing. This place uses air circulation to freeze, unlike Chicago." In Fenestrelle the water came down the mountain in streams, was very oxygen-rich, so it bubbled. Initially that slowed them down. (See

“It’s Improv, " I suggest. "Improv/Science,” Erik counters. It's the creative process, I think, confident in Gord's determination, the same he uses to excel in tennis, in hockey, in squash. Observe, be patient and disciplined. Because of intense cold, the plastic trays are super frozen when the liquid is poured, so that early liquid freezes too quickly. When the second layer is poured on top, it freezes more slowly. Both ices are different in structure and don’t adhere to each other effectively.

“You have to discover how to work with water – you might heat it before the pour to slow down the freezing. Or make sure the entire pour is done at the same time, so everything freezes uniformly.” Put the metal plates on the floor, so the freezing happens both from the air and from the plates. Put trays on pallets to see how that would change the consistency of the ice. It’s as unpredictable as the weather.

I sent them off to the gulag, this morning, all of them hopeful.

“We’ll see the results today.”