Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Canuck Book 6 - This All Happened by Michael Winter

Another of my faves, This All Happened is a novel as journal chronicling 365 days in the life of Gabriel English, Michael Winter's fictional alter-ego. I must admit I have a thing for novels that tell their stories differently - from the epistolery novel (like Richard Wright's Clara Callan) to stranger works (like Leanne Shapton's Important Artifacts. . . ). As such, it should come as no surprise that I love this strange book.

The novel is exactly what I said - 365 journal entries following the life of Gabriel Winter. While the book does follow the disintegration of English's relationship with his girlfriend Lydia, it can't be said to have a plot as such. Things happen. Things don't happen. Friends get together. Friends break up. Some of the best passages of the book involve nothing more than English observing the world around him. I've read this book three times and I'm still finding things to love.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Because buskers are one of the joys of city living

I've been a very bad blogger of late. I'm not going to get much better right now as work and life are both a little hectic but at least I'll offer up this post.

Check out the link for a profile of one of my favourite buskers. I've talked to her a few times always enjoy listening to her in the Union subway station:

Bob Snider is a classic. I love to watch him when he takes to the sidewalks of Kensington Market:

Now it's time to head to bed. Good night all.

Monday, December 07, 2009

All Around These Northern Towns

It's easy to forget Toronto is a northern town. We do all we can to ignore the changing seasons. We shuffle across slippery sidewalks on sneakers and hang out on patios almost until the snow flies. When bad weather does hit we have to admit that it's nothing like they get up north or out west or face the ridicule of all those people who live in the 'real' north.

But the fact remains that Toronto is a northern town. I was reminded of this yesterday when I took the following pictures:

Not bad for 4:30 in the afternoon.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Canuck Book 5 - When I Was Young and In My Prime by Alayna Munce

Well, it's been a bit longer than I'd hoped since my last post. Between long stretches of work and technical difficulties (I wouldn't mind meeting the writers of a certain virus in a back alley, if you know what I mean), I'm just now getting back to the blog.

Well, there's also the fact that I spent a lot of my spare time plowing through Stephen King's latest, the amazingly good Under the Dome. It's not often one can say that a 1000+ page book moves quickly but this one does.

When I first thought of spending this Canuck book challenge revisiting old favourites, one of the books I was most looking forward to rereading was Alayna Munce's When I Was Young and In My Prime. I picked it up originally on a whim and was surprised by the beauty and truth it held.

This is a poet's novel. Or a novel poem. In a lot of ways, it seems more like a fictional journal than anything else. It's a book that tells its story through thoughts and feelings rather than action. I guess the best way to describe it is that it is a story that is told through the spaces between actions rather than through the actions themselves, if that makes any sense at all. It does to me, but that could just be because I've read this novel twice and been captivated by it both times.

The story weaves the tale of young married woman living in Parkdale with that of her grandparents, one-time farmers who moved into town. Perspectives shift. Narratives entwine as the story is told (and sometimes retold) by the protagonist and her grandparents.

This is a novel to sink into. It's not just the story it tells; it's the way Munce tells it. Beautiful sentences and images abound. I strongly recommend it.

I wasn't really sure what I was going to read next for the challenge until I started looking at this book more as a journal as novel. That sent me diving through the stacks of books to pull out Michael Winter's This All Happened, a most definite journal as novel following 365 days in the life of Winter alter-ego Gabriel English. At the same time, I found a nice hardcover copy of Morley Callaghan's That Summer In Paris at Ten Editions Books this afternoon so I think I'll give that a go, as well.

Seeing as I'm on the topic of re-reading Canuck books, I might as well put it to you, the readers: What one Canuck book do you most want to read? Why?

If you're interested, the National Post's book blog, The Afterword, is looking for suggestions for an alternative to this year's old and kind of dull Canada Reads selections. It's an interesting idea. The books need to be less than two years old, which sadly rules out the Munce book or Andrew Kaufman's All My Friends are Superheros. Intead, I suggested Maggie Helwig's Girls Fall Down.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Canuck Book 4 - Generation A by Douglas Coupland

I liked this book. I like pretty much anything by Coupland. I did not love this book. The ending was a cop-out or a strange digression or something else so I got to the end of the book and wound up with a certain Strokes song running through my head (Is this it?). The future is in much better hands when it is handled by Atwood.

For all its talk of being about Generation A, this is most definitely a Generation X book. People talking and telling stories and talking some more. You go along with it because that is what Coupland does so well. Only this time I think he just sort of ran out of steam. Maybe next time.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Because I spend so little time messing around on the internet. . .

Rather than doing something productive with my day, I am currently listening to Vinyl Cafe and looking up famous birthdays. Don't even ask me how I wound up doing this but I did find out that I was born on the same day (Sept. 23) as Mickey Rooney, John Coltrane, Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles. Kind of cool. Not so cool is the fact that I was also born on the same day as Julio Iglesias, Matt Hardy and George from Seinfeld. Win some, lose some.

I will now push away from the computer desk and at least run a couple errands.

Hope your day is more interesting than mine.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

I can't believe I just spent 33 bucks. . .

. . . To go see Stephen King in an interview. . .

. . . with David Cronenberg and hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos next Thursday at the Pantages Canon Theatre.

If I hadn't already seen him a couple summers ago, I wouldn't have bothered. Having seen him give an interview I knew this was an event I couldn't pass up. He is funny and strange and a wonderful talker. Adding Cronenberg and Stroumboulopoulos to the mix is just icing on the cake.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woody Revisited

I love old folk stuff. Guitar and voice. Maybe a harmonica. Simple stuff. Nothing to get in the way of the words. Which always worked well for Woody Guthrie.

I left work last night and walked up to Little Italy to visit Soundscapes records. A week or so ago, I saw they finally had a copy of the new Guthrie boxset, My Dusty Road. Payday came and the set was mine. I guess the market for old folksingers isn't quite as robust as it once was.

The set is taken from a treasure trove of metal masters that Guthrie (sometimes with Sonny Terry and Cisco Houston) recorded for the Stinson label. They were given up for lost until recently when they were found in a storage bin in the basement of an apartment building in Brooklyn.

Rounder Records did a wonderful job with the set. The box is made up like an old time cardboard suitcase complete with metal hardware. Inside are such superfluous but welcome touches as a copy of a booking card, a postcard from Woody to his wife and a business card.

Of course, packaging doesn't mean much if the music isn't up to par. Thankfully, the music is spectacular. Sure, it's mostly songs you've heard before (if you're a folk music fan) but the sound quality is wonderful. Revelatory. Clear, full, with none of the hissing and popping you hear on most Guthrie discs.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the old recordings. The 4 disc Asch recordings set has a lot of great songs on it. The problem is it always sounded more like a historical artifact than a musical recording. You play the Asch stuff and it feels like you are listening to a bunch of well used 78s.

With the new stuff, it sounds more like what the musicians would have wanted you to hear. Rather than listening to history, the Dusty Road stuff is about listening to the musicians themselves.

For those of you who only know Woody through "This Land is Your Land", this set gives you a great version of the song with the verse that often gets forgotten, ignored or stifled:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said 'private property'
But on the back side it didn't say nothing
This land was made for you and me

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Weekend of Long Walks

I am fast approaching the end of a five day weekend. At one point, I had thought of going on a weekend getaway to Sarnia or perhaps down to the States to see a college football game. I do want to go to a US college football game at some point. It's not that I'm a huge football fan. I just want to see the spectacle of it all, where 80 or 90 or 100 thousand people show up to watch a game. Alas, reason overtook impulse and I stayed put. My wallet breathed a sigh of relief.

Instead, I stayed in the city and enjoyed some truly incredible weather. I took my cameras and went on some long walks down the belt line and downtown. Yesterday was far too nice a day for subways so I walked downtown, with a detour through Rosedale, and then back home. All told, it was a 9 mile day. If only we could keep this fall weather right through until May. . .

So today is another gem. While there are a number of things I want to do that would require staying indoors - reading Generation A, writing a story that's been brewing for far too long, waging war against the increasingly militant dust bunnies - I think I will sneak out for one more trek over to the belt line and down to Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Yesterday, I read on the sign outside his old apartment building that Glenn Gould is buried at Mount Pleasant so I think I shall try to find the grave.

Here are a few pics from the past few days:

ps - I've been listening to Gould's Goldberg Variations while I write this. It always amazes me how much music can come out of just two hands.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Canuck Book 3 - The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood

I'm sorry.

I know I said that I was going to spend this challenge rereading my favourite Canuck books but I can't resist. With new books by Atwood, Munro and Coupland not to mention the new Zoe Whittall book I want to read, I just can't keep that promise. I will get back to the rereading thing soon but for now you are going to have to put up with some new books.

And now onto the Atwood. . .

Um. . .

What can I say without gushing?

I remember first reading Atwood in university and how daunting a task that was. Here was this ultra-serious (by the look of her photos) woman with this almost ridiculously lofty reputation and I was faced with poems like "This is a Photograph of Me" and novels like The Edible Woman. Sure, I'd probably read The Handmaid's Tale at that point but that just kind of made things worse. I mean, did everything have to be so serious?

Late one night about that time, I remember watching the movie version of Surfacing on CBC. If you would have told me then that it was based on an Atwood book, I would have thought you were nuts. I mean, she is serious capital L literature. Not that the movie was a laugh riot or anything but it was just so strange, so absurd, that I wouldn't have been able to reconcile it with my vision of the great Atwood.

Turns out, she never really was that serious. Or she was but she also wasn't above seeing the humour in things. It's taken me a long time to get over that first faulty impression but I'm glad I have.

As for The Year of the Flood, I loved it. It is a companion piece to her last sci-fi novel (Oryx and Crake) and I found it worked really well. Whether she'll cop to it or not, Atwood does great sci-fi. Anyways, the esteemed Shelf Monkey does a far better job then I could of dispelling the myth that Atwood doesn't write sci-fi so I will leave it to him (

I was initially nervous about her inclusion of God's Gardeners Hymns and the sermons by Adam One. They definitely tiptoe the line between interesting device and overly cute distraction. As the novel progressed, though, I began to see it as a third narrative and, in that light, it worked well.

There's not much else I can say about it. If you have even a passing interest in sci-fi, you will probably love this book.

I initially planned to reread The Edible Woman for this challenge. Now, I'm going to reread Oryx and Crake instead.

Canuck Book 2 - The Watch That Ends The Night by Hugh MacLennan

I first read MacLennan's The Watch That Ends the Night in a first year Canuck Lit course back in university. It was a surprise, a Canadian response to that time (the thirties) that was covered by such heavyweights (and personal favourites) as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Orwell. No, it wasn't the greatest book I read that course - that honour would go to Laurence's The Diviners - but it was one that stuck with me over time.

Rereading this book, I went back and forth over how much I liked it. While it was a good read, there were only certain times when I felt the same magic that thrilled me the first time through. Perhaps, it's just that my tastes have changed. I don't know.

Don't get me wrong. It's still a book worth reading. I think I went back to it expecting it to be more about the times and the Spanish Civil War. What I found instead was a work that spent just as much time meditating of love and aging.

The story is written in flashbacks from the fifties. It revolves around George Stewart and his relationships with Catherine Carey, the girl and woman he grew up with and eventually married, and Jerome Martell, the doctor who married Catherine first and then followed his conscience to war in Spain. This triangle is complicated by the fact that Catherine has a rheumatic heart, a disability that both hinders and propels Catherine through life.

Over a decade after he has been reported dead in Nazi Germany, Jerome returns to Montreal. That's how the story starts. There is more - lots more - but that is for you to find out.

One thing I liked about this book the first time through and that I like even more now is that this is a book not of the ones who went to war, but of the ones who stayed home. The ones who could not or would not make the leap from rhetoric to action. We get so used to war novels being about great daring men and their battles that it's nice to see one that deals with the people who did not go.

But, as I said earlier, this is a book about love and loss more than one of war. It is also a very Canadian novel, painting a portrait of life in Montreal that is all but lost now.

I was reading an interesting interview with Barry Callaghan the other day and he said that MacLennan basically disappeared when he died. Sadly, he may be right. I mean, how many people really know about MacLennan aside from seeing his name in the title of a Tragically Hip song?

I hope not. He is far too good a writer to be forgotten so quickly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lou Dobbs is an Ass - Example #324

Or why I should really get rid of cable:

Embedded video from CNN Video

Follow the bouncing ball of illogic - Parents are fine with it. Kids are fine with it. The meat industry is not fine with it. Apparently, this spells controversy. Offer something one day a week that is both cheaper and healthier and all of a sudden Dobbs smells controversy. Argh.

Of course, the meat industry is just looking out for the kids that don't get enough protein. I guess they never heard of beans and the protein they pack. I don't know how the world ever survived without industry lobby groups to look out for our health.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What I Did On My Fall Vacation

I woke up.

Then I went downtown. To look for a job.

Then I hung out in front of the drugstore.

I guess that will only make sense if you, like me, were exposed to Cheech and Chong records at an early age. For those who grew up with less eclectic listening material just skip to the next sentence.

After spending the first couple days of vacation trying to shake a nasty cold (that is still not entirely shook), I flew off to Winnipeg for three days of wandering in the cold (snow in early autumn sucks) with my friend Sean. We did everything from seeing an AHL game (the Moose won) to wandering around the legislature (I love old buildings).

We even got a chance to pop into the railway museum in Winnipeg's Union Station. I recommend it to everyone. They have a large selection of railway equipment and related paraphernalia that you can wander around and often climb up onto. I think the main reason I go there, though, is that the staff of retired railroaders just seems so pleased to have people come up, look around and ask questions.

The highlight of the trip was probably the Assiniboine Park Zoo. It was a lot of fun to wander around and remarkably quiet for a holiday Monday. I was surprised by how large and varied an assortment of animals they have. Even better, we were there while one of the staff was feeding the tortoises. Ever since I read Jessica Grant's great novel Come, Thou Tortoise, I've had a soft spot for the creatures. Sadly, I forgot to take a photo while Lucy was out and wandering amongst our feet (apparently she has a sneaker fetish).

Wednesday night I went to see Wilco at Massey Hall. It was kind of a spur of the moment thing but well worth it. What a great live band.

Last night, I went a photography workshop run by Tanja-Tiziana ( It was great to spend time talking photography with one of my favourite photographers. It didn't hurt that I learned a bit more about what to do with all the manual settings on my camera.

Today is kind of a blank slate. I think I'm going to gather up a couple of my cameras and go play for a bit. Later it will be laundry and other acts of domestic drudgery. Some things just can't be postponed even though you're on vacation.

Tomorrow, it's Stratford for the second time this year. This time, I'll be going with a couple of my sisters and a future brother in law to see West Side Story.

Putting it like that makes me sound a whole lot busier than I've really been. Before you get the idea that I've been spending all my time rushing about, realize that it is just about 1 pm and I'm just starting to get ready to go out and take on the world. I could really get used to this whole vacation thing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sometimes the better way. . .

. . . Still Leaves Something to be Desired

Transit Toronto (, one of the best resources for GTA based transit info. has a great write up on the shortcomings of the TTC's Nuit Blanche service ( While it was great to be able to take a subway to work at 5 in the morning on Sunday, I was disappointed to see just how bad a job the TTC did of letting people know about the increased service. If you were going to Nuit Blanche, then you knew. If you were a regular Blue Night user heading to work or to home, chances are you had no idea that you could take the subway instead of the bus. I know at Yonge and Eglinton there were no signs letting people know the subway was running. Either you knew or you didn't.

While Nuit Blanche is a once in a year thing and hiccups will occur, I was surprised and disturbed to hear about the turmoil on the 192 Airport Express ( What's the point of running an express service if you are not going to use the highway? It's ridiculous. If you live on the Bloor Danforth Line, especially in the west end, this was one of the best ways to get to the airport. Now, it's no better than the Lawrence or Eglinton buses that go to the airport - slow, winding trips that are only used by transit die-hards and those who can't afford to pay for a faster mode of transportation.

For those transit geeks that want more than just news, the Transit Toronto site also has lots of info and pics of old buses, streetcars and subways. Check it out. I know you want to.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Turns out the depression didn't just happen in B&W. . .

In some ways, I had a hard time believing these were depression era photos. We've become so conditioned to seeing the depression through black and white photos.

In other news, I am one 10 hour shift away from vacation. In the next 13 days, I will:

- go see The Sound of Music with my foster sister Jeanne. She may be blind but that has not stopped us from taking her to ball games and all sorts of things. A musical should be right up her alley.

- fly out to Winnipeg to spend the Thanksgiving weekend visiting my friend Sean. Winnipeg is one of my favourite cities.

- take a photography seminar run by Tanja-Tiziana, a great local photographer.

- go to Stratford with 2 sisters, 1 brother in law and 1 future brother in law to see West Side Story. I haven't been to a musical in years, not since I saw Mickey Rooney ham it up in Crazy For You. Now I'm going to two in a week and a half. Strange. Even stranger, I just found out Rooney has the same birthday as me. So does Bruce Springsteen, for that matter.

-spend at least a bit of time up at the parents' homestead. From what I hear, there garage is almost done and they still have lots of deer wandering around.

Right now, though, I'm going to take a nap. I've had a cold all weekend and I'm hoping to get rid of it soon.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Where are the leaders?

I'm watching Newsworld. Iggy is talking his non-confidence vote and I am thinking the Libs have finally found a leader who is almost as inexpressive as Harper. He did the whole press conference without really opening his mouth. More often then not, he almost seems to be smirking.

The scorecard now reads as this:

The cons have the sneer.

The libs have the smirk.

The ndp still has the used car salesman.

Makes me almost pine for the, uh, glory days of the 90s with Manning and Chretien and Bouchard. Not the best and brightest by any stretch but at least these men were willing to show a little passion.

What troubles me most is how weak everyone is. You have a conservative party that (thankfully) can't complete the job and get Harper his majority. That's fine. Except for the fact that you have a Liberal party that is doing two things at once - shifting to the right and not really moving at all. How's that for a conundrum. As for the NDP, even the Globe is admitting in editorials that Layton is actually right more often than not. Sadly, the conservative controlled media has done an effective job of marginalizing the left. Even worse, I'm not sure Layton is capable of doing anything to change that.

The way things are right now, I'm going to have to start investigating the fringe parties to find someone worthy of my vote the next time around.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ouch. . .

I'm just getting over the pain of a pulled wisdom tooth. It really wasn't as bad as I thought but still not something I would ever want to repeat. My dentist is pretty good but there is no way to hide the fact that tooth removal is more about brute force than anything else. I don't think I was able to hide the fact that I kind of get nervous when people want to exercise brute force anywhere near my mouth.

At least I had the Bidiniband's disc to listen to while I convalesced. Very good. Makes me kind of wistful for the Rheos but that's a good thing.

Anyways, my father came down last weekend bearing birthday gifts and cake. We went out to the islands on Saturday and spent three hours biking around in the glorious sunshine. I'm going to have to get out there again before the weather turns too cool.

As for the birthday day itself, I worked 15 hours. Even worse, I had to be back in to work again for 4 the next morning so there were no festivities to be had. Which is fine actually. I'm saving up for next year when my friend Ezio and I plan to take Manhatten again for the first time in a decade. Should be a nice way to mark my 35'th trip around the sun.

If anybody is looking for something good to read, check out Richard Russo's latest, That Old Cape Magic. A very good novel indeed.

Well, I think it I'm feeling well enough to start doing some cleaning. I'll leave you with some pics from last weekend:

Even the swans hang out at the Islands on a sunny day.

It's a dedicated grandfather that will sit down opposite a turtle statue to get a picture for his granddaughter.

Well into his sixth decade, my father still looks at all rope ladders and jungle gyms as challenges.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wandering the Islands

My sisters Charity and Nikki came down to the city for the night last week. It was a great time. They used hotwire and got a great rate on a really nice hotel that just happened to be next to the ferry docks. On Friday, we took the ferry across to the islands, rented some bikes and explored. It was their first time over there. Truly one of the Toronto's (not so) hidden gems.

(My sisters have final approval on all shots I took of them so no pics of them until (and if) they approve)

It sure is a lot quieter in the first week after Labour Day. I kind of like it that way.

My trusty rented steed. It's been so long since I had a bike with coaster brakes. Has me seriously thinking of getting a new bike by spring.

My sister Charity took this one. You do get a great view of the city from the islands.

No idea who these people are but it made for a nice shot.

The view from my sisters' hotel room. If they faced the other way, it would be endless condos for as far as the eye can see. Well, maybe not that far but you get the picture.

If they cut out Potter, Twilight, BrAngelina, Dan Brown and American Idol. . .

. . . it would be so much shorter:

In other news, for those of you looking for a good thriller to read on your commute, don't buy the latest Dan Brown tome. Pick up Andrew Pyper's The Killing Circle instead. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that a thrilling page turner can actually be well written. It's also unabashedly Canadian, which is a very good thing.

So it wasn't a perfect book season, after all. . .

With all the great books coming out this fall - Russo, Munro, Atwood, Irving, etc. etc. etc. - it really sucks to see Indigo employees out in Union Station selling the latest Dan Brown book. I mean, isn't he going to sell enough books as it is?

I do like the idea of booksellers in the concourse. It's a neat idea. Get to the commuters before they head for the train. I just wish they'd pick a better book the sell.

Argh. . .

Thursday, September 03, 2009

5 Bucks

I went to the CNE on Tuesday night. After 5 in the evening it is only 5 bucks to get in. Which worked perfectly for me because I really just wanted to photograph the midway in the evening.

I wasn't the only one with that idea. There was a photography club out with a bunch of really big expensive cameras and tripods. It was kind of interesting watching them set up for their perfect shots. Me, I just wandered and shot. No tripod (though I may bring one next year) but I was able to find enough fences and garbage cans to provide stability when I needed it.

Nothing says summer is ending like a midway on a clear evening:

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Basterd Does It Again

I went and saw Inglourious Basterds Thursday night and loved it. Funny, strange, dark, twisted - in other words it was standard Tarantino fare.

Tarantino seems to be making a career out of creating all the films he wanted to see as a 15 year old. This time around, it is the pulpy WWII flick. Like an idiot savant, he focuses his skills and abilities on products of sometimes dubious merit but he does it with such verve and originality that it leaves you wanting more.

The more I watch his flicks, though, the more I realize Tarantino's limits. I don't think we will ever see a mature, adult movie from him. While I can accept that - his work is so much fun that I will always make a point of watching it - I do wonder what would happen if he tackled a more adult storyline with actual characters instead of comic book archetypes. If only he used his talents for the forces of good and all that. . .

Of course, watching this movie reinforces all that is wrong with movie age rating systems. This movie is rated 14A, meaning anyone can go to it as long as they are accompanied by a guardian. This is a movie where people are scalped and swastikas are carved into people's foreheads (actually creepily funny in the context of the film). While there wasn't an overabundance of violence, what violence there was was graphic and nasty. Still, you can take your 6 year old to the film if you are so inclined.

Imagine if Tarantino focused on naked bodies rather than naked aggression. They'd immediately slap an 18A on his flick to keep impressionable minds from being corrupted by the naked body. Bizarre and hypocritical just don't go far enough to describe the current situation. We've created a system that rewards selling violence to children.

I'm not getting all prudish. I'm not saying Basterds should be kept from teenage eyes or anything. Far from it. Basterds is exactly the sort of movie I would have searched out as a teenager so how can I argue against teenagers today watching it? I'm just saying that something is seriously out of whack when this movie passes the censors without issue while other less violent fare has to jump through hoops only to get slapped with an 18A (even worse if you were in the States, the dreaded NC17).

I'm thinking there should really be two ratings - 14A and G. The 14A would be restricted to people 14 and above. The G would be open to everyone. Simple as that (well, I guess you can keep another rating around, like X, for the outright pornographic stuff). Not only would it be more honest - teens are going to find this stuff anyways - it would be easier to regulate. I don't see what we gain by creating these arbitrary layers for teenagers (14A, 18A, R). All it really does is make stuff seem more exotic (and attractive) than it really needs to be. Have some faith in these kids to make decisions. They might not always make good ones but with practise they will make better ones. Right now, we don't allow them the chance to make decisions. We keep everything away from them and then, at some arbitrary point (like an 18'th birthday) we tell them to go nuts. It's a wonder they don't turn out worse.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A new Elliott Smith tune!!!

I've been on a bit of an Elliott Smith kick lately so I was glad to check this out. It's pretty good.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Reason #153 why Toronto is a cool place to live. . .

The carillon at Metropolitan United Church:
If the church is open and you hear the bells, go up and see the carilloneur. He'll talk to you about the instrument, let you ring a few bells and then take you up to see the actual bells. It's amazing and well worth the long climb up a very narrow spiral staircase.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Photography / No More Boring Rocks

I like to play around with cameras. Yet another surprising revelation, I know. Would you also believe that I kind of like books?

I never really did much with cameras until I was in my early twenties. I don't really know why. It just wasn't my thing. Then, sometime around 1998, I picked up a nice Olympus point and shoot to take with me on my first big trip outside of Canada and the United States. I loaded up on lots of film, poured over my Lonely Planet guidebook and headed off for 9 days in Mexico City and Oaxaca.

The trip was amazing. It was the gateway drug that has kept me wandering around and around. The pictures? Uh. Um.

Let's see, it went kind of like this. I took 9 rolls of film down there and pretty much filled them. I got them developed as soon as I got back and started showing them to my parents and sisters. First up was a boring picture of old rocks. Next up was another boring picture of old rocks. With the pattern set, I continued through 9 rolls of really boring pictures. Kudos to my parents for not falling asleep halfway through.

What did I do wrong? No people. No action. No thought given to composition. No thought given to much other than a lot of thoughtless snapping. I guess I figured having a nice camera would automatically equal nice shots.

It doesn't.

So, I worked at it a bit. My next big trip was to India and Nepal and I made a point of trying to do a better job. I tried to overcome my fear of shooting people (something I still haven't cured myself of, but more on that later) and I came back with some nice shots. Sure, there were still issues but this time I took some shots I actually liked. Actually, I just found the box where I stuffed all those pics and now I'm dying to get a good scanner to digitize them.

After that, I made the move to an slr camera and took an introductory photography course. That's when I realized there was a whole lot more to this photography thing than seeing something nice and pressing a button. I'm not saying I use the rules of composition all the time, but at least I have an idea of what should be done.

As I said, I still have a bit of a problem with taking shots of people or, more specifically, taking shots of people I don't know. I was thinking about this the other day when I chanced upon WNYC radio's street photography contest ( Going through all the entries made me wish I was more comfortable taking shots of people. I love the spontaneous nature of a lot of this work. There's a vibrancy there I'd love to capture. Check out the site. All the videos are short and I think there's a lot to learn. If you only watch one, watch the winner, Joe Wigfall. His thoughts on art are pretty inspiring. If you watch a second, watch Bruce Gilden's and tell me what you think. I'm caught between being creeped out (popping a flash in people's faces just seems wrong) and a strange sense of appreciation (he is chasing his vision and doesn't seem to get beat up for it).

Anyways, watching these videos makes me want to try some candid street shots. Actually, this takes me back to the photography course I took. One of the assignments we had was to wander around downtown Toronto in the evening and take pictures of various street scenes we chanced upon. No one passed the assignment. We were all too timid and wound up doing everything possible to avoid taking pics of people, missing the whole point of the assignment. I'm thinking a do-over may be in the works.

In other camera news, I've begun to covet old soviet rangefinder cameras. I started looking at them on the lomo website ( and I'm intrigued. Almost enough to make me consider playing with film again. Almost.

(While we're talking about photography, check out to see how good photography is done. I bought a couple of prints from her at last year's Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibtion.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One thing that puzzles me. . .

It is kind of funny. The thing that amazes me, though, is that the Inuit have a word for people with unwiped bums. That kind of implies that this unwiped bum thing happens quite often. I guess in a land with no trees, it's hard to find some good two-ply.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Weekend in Sarnia - music, friends and chess

I spent a great but far too short weekend in Sarnia. Lots of visiting, some chess and some great music. Next time, I need to stay longer.

Ezio, one of my oldest friends and one of the most talented musicians / painters / artists I know.

My friend Adam got some local students to paint the wall out back of his music studio.

Ezio's cat will only drink out of a mug.
Did I mention that I love my new camera?

Canuck Book Revisitation 1 - Generation X by Douglas Coupland

You know what? I don't remember actually loving this book when I first read it. I liked it a lot and tore through it quickly but I didn't love it. I think it was just too dry, too mannered. I mean, all it is is a few people hanging out telling stories to each other.

What struck me most this time around, with a decade and a half of separation is how much this book is a product of its time. This book is the literary equivalent of all those jaded, talky GenX movies I once loved - Slacker, Before Sunrise, Clerks. Young people talking. And talking. And talking. Some coupling, but that just fuels more talking.

The second time around? I think I like it even more. It's a strange book - one that is almost too cute with it's constant slogans and definitions in the margins - but it works. Maybe it's just me. As I mentioned, I do have a weakness for all things talky and nineties.

Of course, there is an irony here because, while Coupland got so much right in his book, the reality of the X generation didn't play out the way he envisioned. Instead of backing away from consumer society, the X generation wound up embracing it with gusto. They may have tried to dress up their consumerism in layers of irony and detachment but it didn't keep them out of the malls. Sigh. . .

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A plan is hatched. . .

I've been thinking about how to approach the 3'rd Edition of Mr. Mutford's wonderful Canuck book challenge. As before, it is 13 Canuck books in a year.

Usually, I take the piecemeal approach, going from book to book on whims and flights of fancy with no though really given to common themes or ideas. Canadian literature is such a varied beast that I could take this approach again without fear of overlap or repetition.

This time, though, I want to take at least a little bit more disciplined approach. Nothing too rigid - I'm still not up to doing one from each province and territory as a number of people have done - but I do want to give my attempt at the challenge a little more shape and substance.

I'd originally thought of doing a short story collection theme. I love short stories. Canadians tend to write great short stories. It almost seemed like a perfect plan until I remembered one small detail - I have a hard time reading a story collection cover to cover. I find it easier to do than reading a poetry collection but it's still not something I look forward to. Sure, sometimes a collection will strike me the right way and I will tear through it (Alissa York's Any Given Power and David Bezmosgis' Natasha and Other Stories are two books that I raced through) but they are the rare exceptions. Right now, for instance, I've been rotating through short story collections by Alice Munro, Annie Proulx and Flannery O'Connor.

Instead, I've come up with a better plan, one that expands my horizons in an entirely different way. I'm going reread 13 of my favourite Canuck books.

I know what you're thinking - how does rereading books expand my horizons? Isn't that kind of a cop out? Well, no. You see, I almost never reread books. I have this compulsion that I must always search out something new. I just don't have time to go back over books I've already read. So I fill my shelves with new conquests while my old favourites sit around neglected.

Going back to 13 of my favourites should be eye opening. Will I like The Watch That Ends the Night as much as I did in university? Do Russell Smith's novels hold up over time? Will I fall in love again with Alayna Munce's When I Was Young and In My Prime?

I'm actually quite excited about this. I keep thinking of books I need to add to the list. So many possible books are out there - Clara Callan, A Fine Balance, The Edible Woman, Turvey. I could go on and on if it weren't so late and I weren't so tired.

First up is Douglas Coupland's Generation X. Oddly enough, this isn't a book I remember falling in love with. I liked it, sure, but it certainly didn't knock my socks off. That said, it is a book that intrigues me greatly. I'm curious to see how it holds up nearly two decades later.
(I came close enough to doing the short story thing, that I even started making a stack of books for the challenge.)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A real smrt teechur

Ok, one last kick at the cat. I couldn't pass up watching Arlen Specter's town hall meeting (if you don't know or don't care why this is interesting, I envy you. Sadly, my OCD works against me). My favourite moment was when a teacher got up and demanded that Specter move to have all bills and laws written in a language that is at a junior high school level. As if multi-billion dollar laws concerning the lives of over 300 million people can all be written with the simplicity of a Dick and Jane book.

. . .

Actually, I was going to spew and sputter but I just don't have the heart. When the teachers start asking for us to dumb things down, I give up.

NEWS! - Americans Already Have Socialized Medical Care!

(Take that Sarah Palin and your insidious wink!)

So I'm watching CNN (a really bad morning habit) waiting for my blood pressure to reach a suitable boil. I used to think CNN was a great network. To put things in perspective, I also used to think Kiss was one of the greatest bands going. Oh, my prepubescent self, where have you gone?

So, I'm watching CNN and trying to keep from screaming while the American people fritter away any chance of having a more fair health care system because they would prefer to repeat slogans and talking points than doing anything so old fashioned as actually thinking.

Anyways, I'm watching CNN and watching people stifle debate in the name of freedom. Wrap your mind around that, why don't you. Nothing has changed. Much like the McCarthy infected 50's we are quickly learning that, while America talks about all sorts of freedoms, they still aren't ready for free thought.

As I said, I'm watching CNN and it hits me! Right in the middle of a segment about how expensive a hospital visit can be, I'm confronted with the reality that Americans already have a socialized medical system.

What? How can this be?

Well, the head of the hospital was quite up front in saying that those $200 000 medical bills you hear about contain a number of hidden costs that go into running a hospital. One of the biggest costs? Covering the costs of the uninsured and the underinsured. That's right, the ones with health care are being forced to pay for the care of those without health care. Almost sounds like socialism. The only difference is that it is the hospital deciding how much to charge and not the government.

Of course, the head of the hospital was much less up front about what part of the bill was profit. I guess those sorts of details don't show up well on the tv screen.

ps - Anyone else mystified by the Americans that are protesting against government run health care while taking advantage of a government run health care program, like those for seniors or veterans? The head spins.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

It worked!

Finally got blogger to cooperate.

These ladies were feeding the pigeons. I've had a hard time disliking pigeons ever since I read Superdove.

This is all that's left of Sam's. Sigh.

Such a great venue.

No Pics for You

I was going to offer up some pics I took yesterday with my new toy camera but blogger seems to be acting up. I really love this camera. I went for a wander downtown and took a bunch of photos using its manual settings. Very fun.

In lieu of pics, I will offer up this link:,,20295839,00.html

For some reason, the Canuck brain tumour lady didn't mention this benefit of American health care. Go figure.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Perplexing News Tidbits

According to a news headline, the North Korean captives were fed bad food. First, you are a captive. Second, you are in a country that exists in a state of perpetual famine. For some reason, I don't think foie gras was in the cards.

As for the tragedy in Pennsylvania, the winner for most ridiculously obvious interview quote goes to Police Superintendent Charles Moffatt, who said "I think he went in with the idea of doing what he did." Maybe I'm a naive Canuck, but I kind of figure if a guy goes into a gym with a bag full of guns, it's not likely he's there just for the pilates.

I think the 24 hour tv news cycle, with it's need for constant drama and headlines, is actually making us dumber.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Dance of the Happy Shades

Is there anything better than waking up late, stretching and then lying in bed reading for a while? I don't think so. Especially today while I unwind from last night's shift. While nothing catastrophic happened, the shift was one of the busiest weekend shifts I've ever worked. Huge crowds all day (and evening) from Caribana combined with construction related delays made for a draining stretch of continual motion and scrambling. The only benefit was that time really flew. I just had no time to watch the clock.

Anyways, back to the reading. It's probably no surprise I have a teetering pile of books on top of my bedside table bookshelf. Today I pulled out a nice old edition of Alice Munro's Dance of the Happy Shades and read the stories "The Office" and "An Ounce of Cure".

The stress seeped out and was replaced by awe. I know. I know. It's almost a cliche to marvel at Munro's stories. Her work has been canonized and so lauded that to say anything other than "Alice Munro is a great story writer" would seem almost sacriligous. Inevitably, one has to wonder if she is really that good? Or is she getting a free pass because of her reputation?

We have this tendancy to elevate certain books and writers to positions that become almost untouchable. Often, this is earned - there are writers who deserve to be looked upon as masters in the same light that we look upon masters of music or the visual arts. The problem is that when this happens, many readers start to turn away. You hear so much about how great these books are that they become a chore more than a pleasure. How often does one really pick up Ulysses for fun?

Some of it goes back to school and the books we were taught. Often books seem to be taught because they are ostensibly "great" with little thought given to whether they would interest the young reader. Do that enough times to young readers and they soon develop a conditioned reluctance to reading the greats.

I'm not suggesting dumbing down the reading list. To the contrary, I think people should be taught good books as soon as possible so that they start to expect and even search out good books. It's just that more attention should be paid to which books are selected. My favourite example is Laurence's The Stone Angel. I'm still trying to understand the logic behind putting that book on the curriculum. I mean, I guess it counts as CanCon and maybe the school boards get a good discount from McStew but come on! How many teenagers are really that concerned with the recollections and ruminations of an old woman? Teach the Diviners if you want to teach Laurence. Teach Richler, Atwood, Cohen, Birney, Callaghan, MacLennan. Teach younger Canadian writers like Lynn Coady or Michael Redhill or Lisa Moore or Douglas Coupland. Teach books that will inspire and excite. Teach books with bad words and grand ideas. Teach books that were banned for bad reasons. Teach books that will captivate - offer up the gateway drug to a lifetime of reading. Teach anything but The Stone Angel.

. . .

Um. . .

I think I might have slipped off topic. I rant therefore I am.

Reading Munro this morning was a great way to start the day. Each story is a gem but to describe them would require delving into all the cliches about her work that we all know by now. She is truly a master. Just don't tell anyone, lest it scare them away.

(For any fans of The Stone Angel out there, don't take offense. I think it is a very good book. It's just not a book that should be taught in high school.)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

A quick test of a new toy

I bought a new point and shoot camera yesterday. I wanted something more advanced then the 5mp Nikon I've had for a long time. I looked at a few options but settled on the Panasonic DMC-LX3, a p&s that has a wide range of manual functions and a really nice wide angle lens.

I snuck out of work for a short walk around downtown last night and took a few pics to get a feel for it. I don't think they turned out too bad.