Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Word, Creole & Paul

Last Sunday morning, I was at Word on the Street, Toronto's yearly book fair, for only an hour and a half, and I managed to be filmed in a documentary on language, buy at least 50 lbs of books , and lose the friends I went with.

Well, it is easy to lose friends in that crowd. It's also easy to keep buying books and finding yourself weighed down in no time. But a documentary? What's the chance? Okay, maybe all you'll see of me is a close up of my lips saying ten words in Creole for five seconds. But I find chance events like this fascinating. Alright, the film director happens to be a parent of my child's classmate, but what was the chance of her seeing me in that crowd and remembering that I speak Creole? But at the same time, it felt as if it was the most natural thing to happen to me, as if I was expecting it.

It's like, how come Teri felt she would win the draw for a subscription to Descant and tickets to their fundraising ball, and then ... surprise, she really won it! Is there some kind of cosmic intelligence that picks particular people by design? Or maybe we have some kind of magnetic power in our brain that wills things to happen. Mysteries to ponder upon ...

But speaking of Creole, I met an artist from Mauritius last Saturday, and we had a chance to speak in our native language. He was exhibiting his watercolours at the Francophone Centre. Paul Comarmond lives in Toronto but paints the islands of Mauritius, Seychelles, and Madagascar with crisp colours, deft strokes, and the sensitivity of one living there. It was a pleasure to absorb the exotic sceneries he depicts, thinking, Wow, I actually grew up there. I will have to hang one of his paintings on my wall even though I can only afford a reproduction. I learned many things from him, that Creole is now taught in some schools on the island, that it is being accepted as a written language based on its phonetics, and that there is an international Creole week. It felt good to be reconnected to the island where I grew up.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Chanson d'Automne

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l'heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;

Et je m'en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m'emporte
Deça, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte

Poèmes saturniens - Paul Verlaine


Verlaine writes about melancholy like no one else can. On this gloomy fall day, rain relentlessly pouring, a day after a heart-warming reunion with long-lost Ryerson Fashion classmates for our 25th graduation anniversary, Verlaine keeps creeping in my mind. It's hard to translate in English the feelings in his poem but here is my version:

In autumn
Plaintive strings
Of violins
Tear my heart
With their dull
Sad langour.

I'm choking
Skin paling;
When time tolls,
I recall
The old days
And I cry.

As I leave,
A mean wind
Tosses me
Here and there,
Desolate,
Like shed leaves.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Russell, oh dear Russell!

Russell Smith is trying to defend his nattiness. He says that we are wrong to see fashion as superficial. He claims in today's Globe's Style section that, "If you must feel altruistic about everything you do, think of your appearance as a gift to others. Physically attractive people are pleasant to be around, just as beautiful buildings are pleasant to live in."

Dear Russell, you're missing something important here. I do agree that physically attractive people can be pleasant to be around, and you mention rightly that by dressing up, "You are making the world a more beautiful place. This is what art is about, and it is a serious thing to do. It will be, like art, at once pleasurable and intellectual." I enjoy looking beautiful, and giving the pleasure to others, as much as I enjoy looking at men and women who take care of their appearances, but I would say your generalization lacks depth.

I've been in the fashion world long enough to have seen all kinds, and let me tell you, there are many attractive people out there I don't want to be around at all. Guess what, Russell? There's a difference between buildings and people. We have feelings. Remember there is a heart that beats inside your body? If you could include that key ingredient in, we may have more faith in you. Fashion will always be superficial but fashionable people don't have to be - if they have a heart.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A bicyclette avec Harmonium

Il est entré
Sans rien me dire
L'encre s'est mise à couler
Dans ma tête et sur un vieux papier
Il m'a dit de vous dire
Qu'il n'y a plus rien à dire
Il m'a dit de vous dire
D'écouter.

D'écouter le silence
Qui voudrait bien reprendre
Sa place dans la balance

...

Harmonium - Paroles et musique: S. Fiori - M. Normandeau - 1974

He came in
Without saying a word
The ink started to flow
In my head, on an old paper
He told me to tell you
There is nothing more to say
He told me to tell you
To listen.

To listen to the silence
That wants its rightful place
For our balance

...


I've been listening to Harmonium since Saturday morning when Judy and I rode our bikes to our dance class. She was singing Pour un instant. There we were, cutting through the chilly fall air, the breeze brushing against our skin, muscles freshly charged, and this song. It went right to my soul. My dear friend Judy has the ability to release the bohemian in me. I suddenly forgot I had a family and mundane chores to attend to. I wanted to keep riding, riding and singing all the way to Montreal.

Pour un instant, j'ai oublié mon nom
Ça m'a permis enfin d'écrire cette chanson

Pour un instant, j'ai retourné mon miroir

Ça m'a permis enfin de mieux me voir

Sans m'arrêter, j'ai foncé dans le noir

Pris comme un loup qui n'a plus d'espoir

J'ai perdu mon temps à gagner du temps

J'ai besoin de me trouver une histoire à me conter.
...

Harmonium - Musique: S. Fiori & M. Normandeau - Paroles: M. Normandeau - 1974

For a moment I forgot my name
It allowed me to write this song

For a moment I turned my mirror
It allowed me to see myself better

Without stopping, I plunged in the dark
Lost like a wolf with no hope

I wasted my time looking for time
I need to find a story to tell myself.

...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Last Cowboy

Finished reading The Last Cowboy by Lee Gowan.

He's currently the director of University of Toronto Continuing Education Creative Writing Department. He also teaches there. I took one of his courses and found him very thorough, knowledgeable, and to the point. He is also a very kind and supportive teacher who often goes beyond his duties in his effort to help students.

It's interesting reading the novel of someone you know. It sort of gives a new dimension to the book. I've read his previous novel, Make Believe Love and found it very engaging. But this one is a much stronger novel. It transports you immediately into the mind of Sam, a ranting old man but a colourful character. He reminds me a bit of King Lear in his tragic fate, especially when he gets lost in the snow and seems to lose his mind.

Lee interweaves a few stories which seem at first diconnected but eventually find their place in this tale set in the prairies. He covers the plight of farmers, the unfair treatment of natives, the dilemma of the modern prairie man with such powerfully descriptive flair that it's easy to imagine these people as very real. Saskatchewan is a picturesque background to this story and becomes a tangible place in our Canadian consciousness. It makes me want to go there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Playwright Morwyn Brebner

Just read an interview with playwright Morwyn Brebner in Toronto Life's October issue. I now want to see her play The Optimists at the Tarragon theatre.

It's not the fact that she's a winner of seven Dora Awards that hooked me. It's her wit. The first play she wrote was a monologue. Quote: I played both Mae West and an earwig. They were talking to each other and I rolled onstage singing "like a virgin."

About whether she wants to be produced in the States, whether she's envious of the theatre scene in New York: "Not really. The work there is no better than the work here - it's just in New York. And there's more of it. But there's more of everything in America. The people are fatter and there's more theatre."

With this kind of attitude, we'd keep more of our talented people here in Canada, and Toronto's already growing art culture could become even more exciting and viable on a larger scale, what with Americans flocking to enjoy our non-agressive or rather passive-aggressive culture and mordant wit. Who'll need to go to New York anymore?

Honestly, sarcasm aside, I do love Toronto even though I realize it will take time before it has the ingredients to attract people to the extent New York does. I wish there were more artists like Morwyn Brebner, who are not lured by the glitz and the $$$ in U.S., and who believe they can make a difference in Canada.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogs

BLog's Age by Robert Fulford in this October's issue of Toronto Life, is a thorough article about the cultural phenomenon of blogs.

He starts with the weaknesses of blogs, having to sift "through virtual reams of moronic musings" to get to interesting blogs. He also writes at length about Andrew Coyne's decision to stop running postings from the public on his blog because they "were both embarrassing and bothersome ... disgusting letters ..."

He then discusses with great insight the impact of blogs: "A.J. Liebling, the great press critic, once said that freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. Blogging has changed that. Freedom of the blogosphere is available to everyone who has something to say. If the knowledge society is indeed our future, blogging is surely a clear sign of it, a case of talent replacing capital as the crucial element in an information system."

He goes on about the speed of blogs, how they "collapse time. You can react in public to a big event within an hour or two, and you can put a thought in cyberspace as soon as you have one."

He reports that even professional writers like it because "you can say what you think without interference from editors." He quotes Teachout, a drama reviewer for The Wall Street Journal as saying blogs provide "immediacy, informality and independence that you can't find in the print media."

Very interesting article.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Constant Gardener

I'm scrambling to finish reading The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré. R told me I absolutely had to read it before we see the movie.

It's a fascinating book about a pharmaceutical company and its abuse of power: using Africa as its dumping ground, corrupting everyone in site from doctors to politicians, and eliminating anyone who tries to challenge its ethics.

Read in the Globe, September 3rd, page R4 that the story was probably inspired by a Canadian professor of pediatrics and medicine, Dr. Nancy Olivieri whose research led her to believe a new drug treatment posed dangers to patients.

Le Carré has a clear message in this book: to expose how pharmaceutical companies are purely profit based, to show how their financial power controls our lives, and to awaken our social conscience about unethical practices. It'll be interesting to see whether the movie hits the public with enough impact to demand changes in the way that industry operates.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dancing

Went to a wedding and danced the night away. Dancing is like giving your body a life of its own. You let the music seep through your veins, pulse in your heart. You loosen your feet, knees, hips, arms, hands, shoulders to the cadence of the beat. You forget everything as you let the energy of the rhythm take over.

The physical movements make you sweat, and the endorphin kicks in, relieves all pain, and puts you in a blissful state.

I can't get enough of it.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Photography

I want to thank my cousin and good friend Philip for sharing his passion for photography, and helping me with invaluable lessons on the art of taking photos.

Photography is a form of artistic expression that fascinates me. It appeals to my sense of efficiency. With one click, one can evoke an emotion, a mood, a new world in images.

But of course one needs a certain amount of artistic intuition and a lot of background work behind the click. To pursue this passion further, I'm following the advice of my dear friend and taking at least 50 photos a week. But I've also decided to read up on the subject to learn as much as I can.

I started with Freeman Patterson's book: Photography & the art of seeing.

I did the exercises he recommended. I locked myself in the bathroom for 45 minutes, and swung my camera around, and jumped up and down while clicking away. Tomorrow, before I get out of bed, I'll take five photos from the prone position and five more sitting on the edge of my bed, and ten more on my way to the bathroom while making sure I include part of my dishevelled self in the shots. I love this guy!!! While we go at it, I'm thinking of crawling under my bed, backing into a closet, digging into my garbage ...

Seriously, he is an amazing artist! It's an exercise to get out of the rut of using too much of the rational brain when taking photos.