The now or never plan

Our new life in Florence had its beginnings after the death of Sandy’s mother in 2000. Sandy had been her mother’s major caregiver for many months so she knew she would need something to fill the void and help her deal with her grief. Art had always tugged at the hem of her life but there never seemed to be enough time available to nourish her talent.

Sandy had taken some lessons from watercolorist Pat Fairhead who praised her natural ability and urged her to enroll at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) in order to improve her drawing skills. The week after her mother’s funeral, Sandy presented herself at OCAD.

Entrance standards are high; you don’t just sign up and start. The rigorous process required five courses over two semesters followed by an appearance before a panel where Sandy’s portfolio passed muster. She was admitted to the four-year drawing and painting program that she planned to take over a more leisurely six or seven years. That way she could enjoy the journey, rather than just dash to the destination of a degree.

After a few years at OCAD Sandy heard about a program in which a small group of students spend the fall and winter semesters in Florence, Italy. Among the many applicants, she was one of nineteen picked to attend, beginning in September 2004. For me, the timing was perfect. I was just completing my book about Edgar Bronfman Jr., “The Icarus Factor,” for publication that fall. My next projects were eminently portable so we decided that the time was right for both of us to enjoy this fantasy adventure together.

But there were other reasons we decided to step outside our ordinary lives. We felt we had become possessed by our possessions, that it was time to cast off some material items, and travel more lightly. We sold our house in Toronto, banked the proceeds, and put our furniture in storage.

There was one final propellant. Bob and Heather, our oldest friends as a couple, went on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. Two days out, Bob suffered a heart attack. He was airlifted to New Orleans but died in hospital before they could operate. He was sixty. One of the last things we did before leaving Canada was to attend Bob’s funeral in Ancaster, Ont. “Florence,” announced Sandy, “is the now or never plan.”

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