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Moon + Jupiter + Toronto sky

September 24, 2010

Living in downtown Toronto, I can’t see much of the night sky… but Wednesday night, this pair managed to overpower the light pollution.


Recently read – The Savage Detectives

August 28, 2010

The Savage Detectives is a book written by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, published in 1998, written in Spanish and translated into English by Natasha Wimmer.

Bolaño, as you may, has rocketed into stardom in the past few years with the publication of two major novels and some short story collections. He’s also very dead, having passed away from liver disease in 2003. He’s also something of a mystery, having spent 30 years as a nomadic minor poet – finding success writing prose late in life, then dying just before he was discovered by the English-speaking world.

His death has perhaps helped his ascent to literary fame… but in any case, I’m happy to say I loved reading The Savage Detectives, and that it appears that Bolaño’s soaring reputation is justified. The book is partly autobiographical (one of the lead character’s name is “Arturo Belano”) but the story of the two nomadic young poets is not told by themselves, but by dozens of different characters whom they encounter over the years.

The range of different voices and personalities is quite astonishing, and as the book moves along it continues to introduce new and engaging characters. Many of them are quite eccentric or even deranged, and while it’s normally true that eccentric people aren’t nearly as interesting as they think they are, there’s enough of a solid grounding on the earth and in human nature to keep up interest.

My favourite voices are Joaquín Font, the father/architect/patron of young poets who starts out somewhat disturbed and ends up in an insane asylum, though it’s never clear how crazy he actually is; Amadeo Salvatierra, an aging poet who seems thrilled that two boys would seek him out to ask questions about his past, enough so that he breaks out a bottle of irreplaceable liquor; Heimito Künst, one of the more far-out voices in the book, but also strangely believable and thus scary; and of course Auxilio Lacouture, the poetess who spends two weeks alone in a university bathroom after the school is raided by the army.


“And I can’t say that Álamo was much of a critic either, even though he talked a lot about criticism. Really I think he just talked for the sake of talking. He knew what periphrasis was. Not very well, but he knew. But he didn’t know what pentapody was (a line of five feet in classical meter, as everybody knows), and he didn’t know what a nicharchean was either (a line something like the phalaecean), or what a tetrastich was (a four-line stanza). How do I know he didn’t know? Because on the first day of the workshop, I made the mistake of asking. I have no idea what I was thinking. The only Mexican poet who knows things like that by heart is Octavio Paz (our great enemy), the others are clueless, or at least that was what Ulises Lima told me minutes after I joined the visceral realists and they embraced me as one of their own.”

“By the feel of her breath I realized that I was only fractions of an inch from María’s face. Her fingers ran over my face, from my chin to my eyes, closing my eyes as if inviting me to sleep; her hand, a bony hand, unzipped my pants and felt for my cock. Why I don’ t know, maybe because I was so nervous, but I said I wasn’t sleepy. I know, said María, me neither. Then everything turned into a succession of concrete acts and proper nouns and verbs, or pages from an anatomy manual scattered like flower petals, chaotically linked.”

“And then I hit 1968. Or 1968 hit me. Now I can say that I felt it coming, that I smelled it in bars, in February or March of ’68 but before ’68 really became ’68. Oh, it makes me laugh to remember it. It makes me want to cry! Am I crying? I saw everything and at the same time I saw nothing. I was at the faculty when the army violated the university’s autonomy and came on campus to arrest or kill everybody. No. There weren’t many deaths at the university. That was Tlatelolco. May the name be forever etched on our memory!”

“But mostly I looked out the window. The gray sky. And sometimes I looked toward Israel. One night, as I was drawing in my notebook, my good friend Ulises asked me: what were you doing in Israel, Heimito? I told him. Searching, searching. The word searching alongside the house and the elephant that I had drawn. And what were you doing, my good friend Ulises? Nothing, he said.”

“A few days later, my daughter came to see me. Did you hear about the earthquake? she asked. Of course I did, I said. Have many people died? No, not many, said my daughter, but enough. Have many of our friends died? None, as far as I know, said my daughter. The few friends we have left don’t need the help of any Mexican earthquake to die, I said. Sometimes I think you aren’t crazy, said my daughter. I’m not crazy, I said, just confused. But you’ve been confused for a long time, said my daughter. Time is an illusion, I said, and I thought about people I hadn’t seen for a long time and even people I’d never seen. I’d get you out of here if I could, said my daughter. There’s no rush, I said, and I thought about the earthquakes of Mexico marching towards us out of the past, trudging on beggars’ feet, straight toward eternity or Mexican nothingness. If it were up to me, I’d get you out of here today, said my daughter. Don’t worry, I said, you must have problems enough of your own. My daughter just looked at me and didn’t say anything.”

“In a dream, said the boy, I couldn’t have been more than seven, and I had a fever. Cesárea Tinajero’s poem? Had he seen it when he was seven years old? And did he understand it? Did he know what it meant? Because it had to mean something, didn’t it? And the boys looked at me and said no, Amadeo, a poem doesn’t necessarily have to mean anything, except that it’s a poem, although this one, Cesárea’s, might not even be that. So I said let me see it and I reached out my hand like someone begging and they put the only issue of Caborca left in the world into my cramped fingers. And I saw the poem that I’d seen so many times:”

“The same way you see the night sky, I saw the 0, the 1, and the 2, but the sequence was different, the figures came faster, and when I passed the Liceo, a number appeared that I had never seen before: 3. I stopped agonizing over it and went to bed. That night, as I was undressing the dark room, listening to the snoring of the two bastards I had for roommates, it occurred to me that I was going crazy, which struck me as so funny that I had to sit down on the bed and cover my mouth to keep from laughing out loud.”

“One night, while we were making love, I told him. I told him that I thought I was going crazy, that I kept having the same symptoms. I talked for a long time. His response surprised me (it was the last time he surprised me). He said that if I was going crazy then he would go crazy too, that he didn’t mind going crazy with me. Do you like to tempt fate? I said. It’s not fate I’m tempting, he said. I searched for his eyes in the dark and asked whether he was serious. Of course I’m serious, he said, and he pressed his body close to mine. That night I slept peacefully. The next morning I knew I had to leave him, the sooner the better, and at noon I called my mother from Telefónica. In those days, Arturo and his friends didn’t pay for the international calls they made. I never knew how they did it. All I knew was that they had more than one method and they had to be swindling Telefónica out of thousands of millions of pesetas. They would find some telephone and hook up a few wires and that was it, they had a connection. The Argentinians were the best at it, hands down, and then the Chileans.”

“I think we make a wonderful couple: people look at us and nod their heads. We embody optimism and the future in a certain way, a way that’s pragmatic and thoughtful too. Some nights, though, when I’m in my office putting the final touches on my column or revising a few pages of my novel, I hear footsteps in the street, and I think, I could almost swear, that it’s the mailwoman out delivering mail at the wrong time of day. I go out onto the balcony and I don’t see anyone there or maybe I see some drunk on his way home, vanishing around a corner. Nothing’s wrong. There’s no one there. But when I go back to my desk, I hear the steps again, and then I know that the mailwoman is working, that even though I can’t see her she’s making her rounds and she couldn’t have picked a worse time. And then I stop working on my column or my chapter and I try to write a poem or spend the rest of the evening writing in my diary, but I can’t. The sound of her sensible shoes keeps echoing in my head.”

Sampling some (Saul) Bass

August 11, 2010

While browsing on iTunes, I noticed that they had added the soundtrack for Vertigo for $3.99. That was irresistible; I’ve always remembered Bernard Herrmann’s score as one of the greats in movie history, and, sure enough, the 16 tracks sound great by themselves as well.

I then started thinking that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the movie. I still haven’t watched it recently, but I searched for and found the opening sequence on YouTube. The sequence is designed by Saul Bass:

Saul Bass has a unique place in movie history. He was a graphic designer who designed title cards for movies. Not only was he the most famous person in his field, I would say that he’s the only famous title card designer in movie history.

Bass is best known for his work he did with Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo was followed by North By Northwest and Psycho) and for Otto Preminger. For the latter, here is Anatomy Of A Murder, 1959:

Famous may not be the right word; he’s not James Dean-famous, but his worked has endured to an incredible extent. There are roughly a BILLION tributes/parodies on YouTube. Here is one of the best known:

I was little surprised by how much of his work was on YouTube, but I shouldn’t be; his title card sequences were 2-3 minutes long, are their own self-contained pieces of art, and are perfect for sites like YouTube. Here is the sequence for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, 1960:

The internet has, of course, become a perfect medium for movie trailers. Saul Bass’ title card sequences are similar, except that they’re way better. Will title cards make a comeback? If I were trying to use social media to promote my film, I’d much rather use one of Saul Bass’ works than a movie trailer, which all seem the same and rarely generate much buzz.

Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, 1991:

Don’t leave home without it

August 8, 2010

I did something today I had never done before – I took my cellphone to the theatre. Many times in the past a play/movie/concert has been interrupted by a ringing phone, and to me the easiest solution was to leave it at home. I don’t mind being disconnected from the world for a couple of hours.

But since I got my Droid a couple of months ago, I’ve been thinking more that soon we’ll have no choice but to take them everywhere. Apart from convenient features – like a map to help find the theatre – I really think that within a decade smartphones could replace debit cards or credit cards as our means of payment.

They can also be a bunch of other things; iPhones/Androids/BlackBerrys etc. have received plenty of hype in recent months and I don’t need to add to it, but we’ll really have no choice but to take them everywhere. And take care of them. So I took extra precautions to keep mine quiet. I turned it into a brick; and though I worried about it throughout the performance it behaved itself.

It seems a ridiculously minor thing to be proud of, but living in the city there is already enough frustration with people who can’t control their pets, or their children, and now are unable to control their phones – which for some people might as well be a pet or a child.

(as for the play, the cast was energetic, the script was weak, the theatre was hotter than hell – it was Summerworks, it is what it was)

Living the past and letting it go

August 3, 2010

My parents appear ready to sell the house where they have lived for 35 years, and where I grew up. They almost sold four years ago and it didn’t happen, but this time events seem to be coming together to force the issue.


This headboard above my old bed is about 30 years old, has outlasted the original frame and mattress. I wish it had all sorts of wild and interesting tales to tell of my youth, but mostly I connect it with 5 incredibly dull, disappointing years of high school.

The most positive memories are baseball-related – many years listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth… the heartbreak of Dave Stieb’s back-to-back 1-hitters in 1988… turning off Game 4 of the 1993 World Series, then being woken up the next morning by the news the Jayson had come back and won.

My mother asked me to pick through things to either toss out or keep in storage. Lots of useless stuff, but also nostalgia. The first copy of The Lord Of The Rings I ever read, about 25 years ago:

The Fellowship was lost long ago, the others aren’t really worth keeping. But there is something quaint about the “Authorized Canadian Edition”, including J.R.R.’s welcome of it.

Also, a gift from 1987:

I won’t give it away, as the names of the people who gave it to me are inside. Still, it has to go – the text is Kindle-material, while the gawdawful-ugly cover limits its keepsake value.

Still, books are – tangible. And once they’re gone, they’re gone. I have a perfectly good Lord of the Rings trilogy, with all three books; that Canadian edition was printed in 1972, and I don’t think I nor anyone else will miss it. But there is something strangely attractive about it – I can tell myself that it’s the text inside that counts, but those nine characters on the front cover (w. horse) were the ones I grew up with, long before the movies came along (though I’m not sure what those keys represent).

Stay Clear Stay Safe

July 11, 2010

There’s something about this PSA which intrigues me:

At first glance it appears to be a typical bland government public service message that is forgotten seconds afterwards. But I haven’t forgotten it – I think it’s a combination of the unexpected and effective “snap”, the genuine look of concern on the dude’s face, and the fact that people keep drowning.

Two more today:

2 Toronto men die in separate drownings

And then this last week:

Mississauga teen drowns in Trent River

And this, one of the worst stories you will ever read:

Separate drownings claim lives of 3 people

Which have all happened despite this well-publicized tragedy last year:

Third drowning victim recovered from Moon River Falls

The OPP/OPG appear to be pushing “Don’t be fooled by calm waters” angle. Will it help? If not, then what would?

Fire in the City

June 27, 2010
tags: ,

This blog hasn’t been updated a great deal recently, partly because life has been pretty crazy, partly because I wasn’t happy with what I was writing, and have been procrastinating about making changes, and partly because I just haven’t got around to doing it.

I noticed that WordPress recently bought something called Plinky to help with writer’s block. That could be helpful, except that I’m currently living through a blogger’s nirvana – a fucking riot breaking outside of my apartment – and have yet to write about it.

I didn’t venture outside at all yesterday to check it out. Partly because I’m a wimp – it was RAINING all day, and I hate the rain, and I especially hate getting my head cracked open in the rain. Partly because there are others who chronicle this stuff much better than I can – I still don’t know what this blog is supposed to be, but it’s not a breaking news site.

And partly because there was nowhere to go – the Eaton Centre closed down, then the local shops, and then the local subway station was shut down. As the saying goes: when the going gets tough, the TTC stops going.

The weird thing was, the relatively peaceful protest on Friday afternoon was a lot more annoying than the mayhem of Saturday. Hundreds of protesters parked themselves outside my balcony, and a woman with a voice like a broken vuvuzela started screaming,

1! 2! 3! 4!

We won’t take this shit no more!

Over and over again for about 30 minutes, and I thought, that’s it? You’ve had a full year to plan for this, and that’s all you can come up with? The next day, I didn’t hear anything except the odd helicopter or distant siren, and was surprised to read that the shops around the corner were being smashed apart.

(and then, once they had finished with their non-message, the anarchists took over and started smashing things and setting police cars on fire. The protesters complained bitterly that their peaceful message had been overshadowed by the violence, and they may have a case – but this weekend really exposed who the pros and who the amateurs are)

I could join in the condemnation of the vandals for their violence and mayhem, but that seems a little like criticizing Decepticons for being dastardly. They are what they are. Apparently, they are always present at these summits – which means that either they have the means to travel around the world, or there pockets of them on every continent.

Strikingly little seems to be known about them – I’ve read rumours that the G20 hired them to give the protesters a bad name – which reminds me of the former CEO of Coke, who when asked if the “New Coke” fiasco was a plot to boost the sales of old Coke, responded that “we’re not that stupid and we’re not that smart”. There are also rumours that they are funded by some renegade billionaire, George Soros or Warren Buffett or Auric Goldfinger or somebody.

Anyways – I ventured outside on Sunday, but only to go to work and spend the whole day in the office. There was some potential for violence this evening, but a torrential rain storm of Biblical proportions seems to have dampened things. The leaders are heading home, and that’s probably the end of things – though you never know, if the rain ever stops, the anarchists might leave a farewell gift.

The debate now is over the summit’s $1 billion cost, almost all of which was spent on security; Conservatives are pointing to the riots as evidence that the costs were necessary, while critics claim that we could have allowed to the anarchists to trash our city for much less (Sarkozy is claiming that the trashing of Nice will cost only $100 million next year).

And for those of us who watched this all happen in and around our homes – this week has been a bit of an eye-opener, hopefully a healthy one. As I’ve written before, we are incredibly insulated here in Toronto – but on Wednesday we had an earthquake and a tornado on the same day, the odds of which are astronomical, and now we’ve invaded by anarchists. Folks in Los Angeles are teasing us because of our earthquake freakout, while Pittsburgh had to deal with the anarchists last year and survive intact. It hasn’t been a pleasant weekend, but a little dose of the unordinary will hopefully lead to a stronger city.