Thursday, December 13, 2007

holiday lights

i had forgotten that people here decorate their construction sites with holiday lights. i particularly like the lopsided Charlie-Brown Christmas tree that is leaning on the second floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario's site on Dundas here in Toronto. this evening it surprised me nearly as much as my all-time favourite weird tree location: the completely-decorated & illuminated small tree in the tunnel in New York underneath the Hudson River...which you should be able to glimpse on the PATH train between Union Square and Jersey City.

Monday, December 10, 2007


recently, Toronto poet Kevin Irie invited me for a walk through one of Toronto's most exclusive neighbourhoods--the legendary Wychwood. he told me it was a 19th-century artists' enclave--so i wasn't expecting mansions, or private tennis courts. but anyone who has been to Wychwood knows that this place is a very unique take on the artist life, snuck into a woodsy hill near Bathurst and St-Claire. the park was founded by landscape painter Marmaduke Matthews in the 1870s, but most of the houses were built post-1907. many were designed by the architect Eden Smith, who saw himself as an upholder of the William Morris Arts and Crafts tradition. so the houses for the most part are timbered and many-gabled, and though they ought to be unbearably twee, they're actually marvellous. (Smith also built low-cost housing in a similar style...i'd love to see some of those, to compare.)

Marshall McLuhan lived here from 1968 until the end of his life (i wouldn't mind his house, near the pond...) and innumerable Toronto novels have been set here--i just read Russell Smith's very funny Muriella Pent. i hope the park is haunted by all sorts of artistic ghosts, even ones who never lived's certainly the most romantic place in Toronto, and despite its air of private property, anybody at all can wander through these winding streets, admiring the gardens and contemplating the illusive nature of fame.

Friday, December 07, 2007


no one likes to admit they're wrong...and i'm no exception. i hated the Royal Ontario Museum's crystal. i hated the sketches, i ridiculed the construction delays, i criticized the expense...and now that i've been to see the completed building? i have to admit that i really like it.

what made me change my mind is that just recently i was walking down Bloor. it was raining. it was twilight--that unattractive grey colour that Toronto does all-too-well. and there suddenly was the Crystal, illuminated, dramatic, and yes--really exciting. the sheer exhuberance of the angles made me want to go inside the building, even though i hadn't planned to make a stop at all. isn't that what architecture is supposed to do--make people want to walk into a building?
architect Daniel Libeskind has created someting beautiful and strange. it remains to be seen if the curatorial eye at the ROM can match the excitement of the new building (the current Canada Collects exhibit is fascinating but lacks coherence). but now i'm really looking forward to seeing what develops at the reinvigourated space.

if you haven't been by yet, you might want to schedule your visit for later in the month, when the dinosaur exhibit reopens...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Eaton Auditorium

i was planning to see american poet Susan Howe read this afternoon at the Eaton Auditorium. so much about this auditorium intrigues me--first, it was originally designed by a Parisian, Jacques Carlu; second, its art deco interior was completely restored in 2003, including its Lalique fountain; and third, Glenn Gould made his recital debut here and recorded here (as the only person using the nearly-abandoned auditorium) all through the 1970s. The accoustics have suffered from various modernisation schemes, and I'm sure Gould would eat his gloves at the corporate events now held here...but i was really looking forward to seeing the space.

Unfortunately, what i didn't realize is that the Eaton Auditorium isn't where it used to be...the auditorium now seems to be part of a new Ryerson building. And the original Eaton Auditorium is now called "Carlu" (after the architect--fair enough). I spent a while trying to get to "Carlu"--getting into & out of elegant Art Deco elevators that wouldn't go anywhere. And then I gave up. Now I'm home again...listening to Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Berton House Gala

the fundraiser for the Berton House in Dawson City is tonight. visit their recently-redone site to find out more about the amazing writer retreat...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hemingway the tutor

I’ve always been curious about where Hemingway actually lived in Toronto. Always assumed he'd come here as a journalist. But in fact, after World War I, while he was barely recovered from the injuries to his legs, he was sometimes hired by small civic organizations to give talks about the war. Visiting Torontonian Harriett Connable (whose husband was a Woolworth’s executive) saw one of these lectures in Michigan, and she hired the young Hem as a tutor for her invalid son. Hemingway lived in their house, above, on the edge of one of Toronto’s legendary ravines, and it was the boy’s father, Ralph Connable who introduced him to the editor of the Toronto Star Weekly. Which led to Hem’s meeting fellow-writer Morley Callaghan, and also gave him an excuse to move to Paris, to be the European correspondent for the Star. So really, you could argue the whole thing spirals out of this rather tony address, which has since been cut up into apartments…

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Psst...wanna buy the Eiffel Tower?

Okay, the strikes in Paris have gotten out of hand...part of the Eiffel Tower is going on the block.

Well. Actually it's not that dire: 24 sections of staircase between the second & third levels were removed to create space for elevators in 1983, and this is the final section to be sold--I have no idea what it's been doing for all these years, in storage somewhere? Anyhow, there are 20 steps in this particular section, whichweighs 700kilos (so you better have that apartment reinforced before you buy it...). But think of the history here: Gustave Eiffel actually walked up this staircase during the inauguration of the Tower in 1889. And this is the last section...your last chance to own a piece of the Eiffel Tower. Come your opening bid at the Hotel Drouot--the most traditional auction house in Paris, where anyone can wander in off the street & peruse what's for sale.

The opening bid on the staircase is expected to be upwards of 20,000 euros.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Union Station Revitalization...again

i was in the Great Hall of Union Station, listening to Toronto Mayor David Miller talk about "Canada's most important transportation building." the station is certainly the country's busiest...more people go through here in a single day than go through Pearson airport. and yes, the station really needs a facelift. the plan sounds great--all the hallmarks that were such a success in New York's revitalization of Grand Central or in the Paris revamp of Gare du Nord. Access points are supposed to be improved, the station is supposed to connect to the new condos towards the lake, retail space will be opened up in a brand new underground concourse, GO transit will get some access through the beautiful upper hall, and most important (from a historical point of view) the station itself will be brought back to its former grandeur.

But...much as i want to believe Miller when he says the new plan will "bring life back to Union Station...get people out of their cars...[and form] the natural gateway between downtown Toronto and the waterfront" I just don't know if the City can do it. Last year, the City was going to sell the whole kit & kaboodle to the private sector; now, the City says that it will somehow find 180 million dollars (or 190 million, depending on which bureaucrat you listen to) over 20 years to develop the station into a more functional, more beautiful, retail & transport hub.

i really want to believe him, but i feel a bit like he's asking us all to click our little red shoes together & make a wish...

Sylvia Beach (1887-1962)

i made a pilgrimage recently to the grave of Sylvia Beach, founder of the famous Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris. Beach was the first publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses, and she’s the woman who introduced Ernest Hemingway to Gertrude Stein (she even managed to remain friends with all of these notoriously tempermental writers until their deaths). Some have argued that she made expat Modern literature possible in the City of Lights in the crazy 1920s. Beach wrote one heck of a memoir called (logically enough) Shakespeare & Co—pick yourself up a copy the next time you’re drifting by the shop of that name in Paris. Her sense of humour and appreciation for the bizarre flukes of life are as vivid today as when she wrote them.
She’s buried here in Princeton, in the family plot. And while it isn’t Paris, I like to think that Princeton is a sufficiently literary place that her ghost isn’t bored…

Thursday, November 01, 2007


All Saint's Day, one of the best days in Paris (when the weather's good, anyhow)...and I was missing the place a little this morning. So I took myself for a gorgeous walk through the Annex to find a cafe run by a guy named Ezra Braves. I'd run into him at dinner a little while ago, and found out that he makes croissants--real croissants--at 6 am every morning in his Toronto cafe on Dupont Street. Sounded too good to be true, but when I walked in--somewhat after 6am, i admit--there was Braves, with fresh croissants on the counter.
He opened the cafe not even a year ago, called the place Ezra's Pound, and included various scales & coffee-weighing contraptions in the decor, to round out the "pound" pun. And--most appropriately--the cafe is near a subway stop, to commemorate Pound's best-known poem (see below).
It's only a two-line poem, which apparently started out being more than a page long. Good lesson in editing. I spent a lovely half-hour drinking marvellous coffee--better than the coffee you get in most cafes in Paris, gotta say--and I decided to take a quick look at Pound's bio (to find the exact punctuation for the poem below). Discovered, strange serendipity, that today is actually the anniversary of Pound's death, in Venice, at age 87.

"In a Station of the Metro"

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Ezra's Pound [238 Dupont Street, just east of Spadina, open Tues-Sat]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Literary Booze Toronto

couldn't resist this Toronto beginning for literary booze...fortunately i did make a left turn, all the way to 136 Ossington avenue and the astonishing tequila selection of the Reposado . This was so encouraging that i'm nearly ready to check out the Roof, so that i can raise a glass to the (undoubtedly grouchy) shade of Mordecai Richler...just in time for the Day of the Dead.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

potty philosophy

it had to happen...the newspaper Liberation asked a French philosopher for his opinion about the Harry Potter phenomenon, now that the latest Potter is available in translation. Jean-Claude Milner assures readers: "Harry Potter is deeply political...So what appears as elitist is in fact real equality, as opposed to the false equality of the Muggles. In this, Harry Potter is a war machine against Thatchero-Blairism and the 'American way of life.' J.K. Rowling is a real libertarian motivated by a desire to conserve."
good to know that there are French philosophers worrying about such things...means i can relax.

Monday, October 22, 2007

gearing up for Halloween

...i love this time of year...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Operation Cafe

this month is a good time to have a coffee in Paris...not only is it the last few weeks of terrasse weather (well, today's perfect, anyway!) but also there's OPERATION CAFE put on by the Action Contre La Faim network. for this whole month, when you order a coffee in participating cafes, 10 cents is donated to helping stop hunger. so you can sip coffee & feel helpful & very lucky, while watching all the Parisian wander by in the hazy October sunlight. and in case you think 10 cents isn't very much, consider that last year, the operation raised about 81 000 euros. the key is to get as many cafes participating as if you notice that your favourite cafe doesn't have the Action sign, go to the Action Contre La Faim website & get your cafe to sign up for next year.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Literary Booze #2

i went to Trieste specifically for its cafes: not only is Trieste a famous coffee importer (Illy coffee, anyone?) but the pastries are superb...anywhere that was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire has an enduring legacy of whipped cream, and i say that's a good thing.
Trieste is also famous because of James Joyce. there are carefully-numbered plaques anywhere he ever paused for a drink, and at the very windy but gorgeous Grand Canal, there's a statue of him (not life-sized, somewhat shorter, i don't understand why). appropriate that he's near the sea... "Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster, her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship."
first, i hit the Caffe Pasticceria Pirona (12 Largo Barriera Vecchia), where Joyce reputedly began outlining Ulysses. i was amazed to discover that the Pirona is tiny--there are no chairs, just a counter where you stand. i tried to picture Joyce at the counter; i had a marzipan pastry but wimp that i am, i couldn't face a glass of white wine for breakfast.
by noon, i was better prepared: i nabbed a table at the magnificent, immense Caffe San Marco (18 Via Battisti) which still holds literary and musical events and is generally the place to go if you want to talk with friends, read newspapers, and feel literary. there are carved oak leaves around the ceiling, there is an immense black bar, and there is excellent beer. i could have spent all day...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pont Neuf in Venice

I was in Venice to see the Biennale (and admire the pavillions used to display the art--the Canadian building is particularly wonderful)...but while I was there, I couldn't help making a detour to see how the new bridge is coming along. They don't built bridges over the Grand Canal very often. There's the famous 16th-century Rialto Bridge--most poetic to go under but I've never been that impressed walking across it. Then there's the marble bridge near the railway station (completed in 1932)--surrounded by a hubbub of vaporetti stops, gondolas, garbage boats, and deliveries being dragged up the bridge steps, dodging the tourists. And there is the wonderful wooden Accademia bridge (also built in the 1930s)--which I think has the best views and has a kind of thrown-together temporary look.

But now, there's a fourth pedestrian bridge, a new red steel arc at the top left-hand corner of the Grand Canal (imagine it on the space-photo of Venice, above).

The bridge is designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (he designed the Olympic sports complex in Athens & has built marvellous bridges around the world). His new project links the railway station with the bus and parking terminal. Not a very poetic task, since the parking lot is the ugliest thing in Venice, but the bridge looks good. It isn't finished yet--there are ducts and scaffolding obscuring the lines--but Calatrava's design is light, elegant, and an interesting contemporary addition. It relates well to the Accademia, I think, and is surprisingly unshocking to see. It should be open by December, though we're talking about Venice here, and construction delays & scandals are legendary.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Berton House Saved

Good news: the Berton House Writer's Retreat is being handed over today to the Writers' Trust of Canada. This is the perfect organization to maintain the House--Pierre Berton was one of the 5 founders of the non-profit trust back in 1976 and it's fitting that his childhood home be included in their programs. So despite the Canada Council's brutal funding cut for the House, writers will be able to continue visiting Dawson City, to write and enjoy the amazing community up there. The annual fundraising dinner for the Berton House is November 28th--held as usual at Berton's favourite Chinese restaurant in Toronto--and in the meantime, we can all raise a glass and twirl a bowtie in goodwill towards the Writers' Trust...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Citroen on the Champs

the new Citroen showcase officially opens tomorrow, but I got a sneak preview yesterday. If you were walking down the Champs last night, you probably noticed the fleet of Citroens and the spotlights. The building is on the same site that Andre Citroen bought back in 1927; in more recent memory, the showroom was also a Hippo restaurant. No loss, tearing that thing down.
For the past three years, while the construction site was under wraps, I've been wondering about the origami-inspired facade, trying to figure out if the building was going to be a success or not. And now? Well...I'm still deciding. I love the architect: Manuelle Gautrand's buildings are smart and quirky, and she deserves kudos for getting this "C42" built at all--construction was a logistical nightmare. They could only deliver structural elements between 1am and 6am, couldn't block traffic at any time, were building right beside a metro entrance...and the site doesn't have access to a back alley, so everything had to be done from the sidewalk of the most prestigious street in all of Paris. Amazing it ever got finished.
The pleated, multi-faceted draped glass facade she has created is appropriate in all sorts of ways--referencing the original glass vitrine building of the 1920s and 30s, taking the logo (that double chevron of Citroen) and abstracting it upwards, and playing with the idea of glass and movement--the way you glimpse different angles of the world as you're driving fast through city streets. But inside, the main body of the building bores me. It's very white, very red, with some reflective elements to show off the feels like the set for a gameshow.
The only interior part that delighted me was the very top floor. This is where C42 comes into its own: the kaleidescope effect of the facade (which extends right over the roof and down the back of the building), the feeling of light and freedom suspended above the busy Champs...superb. Worth visiting. But I'm not sure it's an enduring addition to the Champs. I'm going to have to go back and stare at it some more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Literary Booze #1

the literary booze entry is inspired by a weekly column in London's Time Out. there doesn't seem to be a similar column in Paris...and lord knows, there's no dearth of possibilities. to begin, here's Ernest Hemingway from A MOVEABLE FEAST: "I met Joyce who was walking along the Boulevard St.-Germain after having been to a matinee alone. He liked to listen to the actors, althought he could not see them. He asked me to have a drink with him and we went to the Deux-Magots and ordered dry sherry although you will always read that he drank only Swiss white wine." the Deux-Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Pres) has more than its fair share of other literary ghosts, from Oscar Wilde to Janet Flanner...i've never tried ordering sherry there, but i'll try it. see you there?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saint-Eustache with colour bars

the old Les Halles church of Saint-Eustache is one of my favourites--fabulous gothic-feeling Renaissance architecture, accoustics adored by composers, and the mightiest organ pipes in all of France (there are free recitals every Sunday at 17h30). But Saint-Eustache also has a great commitment to contemporary art--all kinds of artists have been invited to show work in the main church space.
So this weekend, I dropped in to check out the current installation by Kees Visser. I was dubious--Visser is known for his straight lines, and I wasn't sure how that would work in the entranceway of the church.
But the combination of Saint-Eustache's soaring architectural lines and the rows of organ pipes make a surprisingly perfect locale for Visser's metallic bars. The installation was first conceived for the Thouars Chapelle Jeanne d'Arc--the photo is from there, taken by Jean-Luc Dorchies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CITE de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine

on Monday, French President Sarkozy finally inaugurated the Cite de l'Architecture, which has been partially open since January. You've probably seen photographs of the location--the Cite is located inside the Palais de Chaillot, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It's the ultimate fashion shoot location.

The original Musée des Monuments français was founded in the late 1800s by Viollet-le-Duc. The museum survived until 1997, when the entire wing of the Palais de Chaillot closed for renovation for a decade. Plagued by scandal, the Cite is finally looking gorgeous again. Monday's official ceremony was attended by some of the biggest names in architecture, including Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, and Richard Rogers.

While the Minister of Culture should have had the prestige of opening this museum, Sarko is famous for leaping ahead of his ministers--making their announcements for them, appearing at their ceremonies to upstage them, and being generally lousy at delegating. But in this case, Sarko's presence wasn't inappropriate: most French presidents are obsessed with Paris architecture (think of Mitterand & his Grands Projets), and in June, Sarko announced that he was interested in a new Haussmann vision. What exactly that means remains to be seen...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eritrea, 6 years later

Shortly after 9/11--and conveniently ignored while the world press grappled with events--the media in Eritrea was essentially eliminated. Eritrea...not a country you hear much about in the news.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea became independent in 1993 & initially seemed to have amazing potential--its population was educated and committed to good government, there was a sudden flowering of the press, and strong Western support. And its capital, Asmara, is known for its incredible Art Deco architecture--legacy of its period as a colony of Italy.
But today Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately-owned news media, and has the worst freedom of expression record on the continent. It is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, most infamously because of the week of Sept 18-25, 2001, when at least 18 journalists were rounded up, all free media was banned (and remaining media workers fled or went into hiding). Since these mass arrests six long years ago, it is believed that at least four imprisoned journalists have died due to horrific conditions. Last year, ten state journalists were also arrested.
This month, the Bush administration decided that Eritrea is a state sponsor of terrorism for alleged links to Islamist militants in Somalia. This briefly brought the conditions in Eritrea to the front pages of world media, but it seems unlikely that the government's increasing isolation will change conditions for the surviving prisoners. See this link for details about the conditions of their imprisonment, and here for a sample petition letter for Eritrean president Issayas Afewerki.

Monday, September 17, 2007

gardener's London

spent the weekend in London, and managed to get up early enough on Sunday to visit the Columbia Flower Market...if I had a garden, a balcony, or even a windowsill in London, this is where I'd spend a lot of time. Azaleas to zinneas, tropical grasses and winding vines--you can buy just about anything for 5 pounds. Since my old fave market Spitalfields is currently being turned into an upgraded mall experience, I was happy to wander down Columbia road listening to the flower hawkers and admiring a truly fabulous straw cloche at the Fred Bare hat shop.

Appropriately, that night we stayed in the Pavilion Hotel's "flower power" room (floral wallpaper, wrought iron furniture, floral-painted antique headboard, floral bedspread, thistle-shaped lighting fixtures...ought to be hideous but in fact it's gorgeous) Unlike the thousands of deadly-boring, peeling-wallpaper hotel rooms across London, the Pavilion has personality to spare--which makes it a great place for decadent rock&roll photoshoots. But even with all the antique furniture, faux-marbling, and rock star lighting, it's inexpensive and quiet--not what you'd expect in a place with a purple Lamborghini parked outside.
this is the hallway's fainting couch...ideal for changing your shoes after a very long day of shopping & sightseeing...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

back in Paris

sunshine in Paris...but the streets are empty because everyone has suddenly become obsessed with rugby. did they put something in the water?? i swear a year ago, if you asked a Parisian about rugby, he would have simply shrugged and made that "boof" noise (indicating total dismissal). and yet now, i've even heard a French sports historian on the radio discussing the possible French origins of the game. there are fleets of kilt-wearing rugby tourists wandering the city (generally congregating in the sun, outside pubs) and arty posters (in odd locations) advertising both the rugby & football "Dieux du Stade" calendars. the rugby photos feature a lot of skin & chains--according to the press blurb, the chains symbolize the players' great commitment to the game. Uh-huh. Well anyhow they were photographed by Steven Klein in the former music pavillion of the Comtesse du Barry, out in Louveciennes. I hope her ghost was wandering around during the shoot, I'm sure she'd have been highly entertained.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Monday, August 20, 2007

Berton House under siege

Back from Champagne to discover that Berton House, the wonderful writers' retreat where I spent last winter, has had its funding application rejected by the Canada Council. This means the retreat will have to raise its entire budget (about $50,000.) through individual fundraising efforts--there's an annual fundraising dinner every November, so mark your calendars.

Until recently, the Council funded Berton House under a special grant program, but that's been cut. As of this year, each author needs to be individually funded by the Council. This makes for two problems--first, Berton House doesn't know from one season to the next what's happening with its funding, leading to the disaster we're currently looking at; and second, how can Berton House be an independent retreat, inviting the authors it feels most appropriate for Dawson City, when each author needs individual approval from the Council?

This is happening right when Prime Minister Harper is emphasizing the importance of the North for Canada (upping the military presence against international incursions, etc)--doesn't this include the North's phenomenal cultural & historical heritage? Will this unique Northern creation, the childhood home of Canadian extraordinaire, Pierre Berton, simply disappear? The current Berton writer-in-residence, Robert J. Sawyer, suggests that the newly-appointed Minister for Canadian Heritage Josee Verner take a stand on saving Berton House. A darn good idea.
(this is a photograph I took of the bookcase in Berton House, with some of Pierre Berton's 50 published books)

Sunday, August 19, 2007


a weekend in Reims...and though it seems to be raining everywhere in France right now, the sun made enough of an appearance for a champagne breakfast in a sidewalk cafe.
i visited champagne caves (of course!) but also spent time in the Cathedral, which has risen from the ashes twice, most impressively after World War I. these gargoyles were once on the cathedral...their lead lining melted during one of the conflagrations & they now lie, spitting solid lead, in the Palais du Tau, where the kings of France used to stay on the night of their coronation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

off to the Calgary Stampede!

Monday, July 09, 2007

this afternoon, between rainshowers, i was walking across the esplanade of the Invalides when two fighter planes went whipping across the sky, one trailing red exhaust & one blue. i suppose they're warming up for Bastille Day on Saturday. they were followed by several passenger-sized jets, each quite weird-looking & flying very low. maybe they're experimental jets? no idea, though one had a bizarre platform on top of it, another was trailing a huge antennae. and each was accompanied by an entourage of fighter jets, very impressive and noisy--even though most people didn't seem to notice, even when a distressed corgi being walked on the lawns barked valiantly, bouncing up and down on its short legs.

if it keeps raining, i'm going to start preparing for another flood like the one in 1910 (when even the esplanade of the Invalides looked like St. Mark's in Venice).

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Journalist Alan Johnson is back in Scotland, after being freed last week. The BBC Gaza correspondent (the only Gaza correspondent) said in a press conference after his release that it was "the strangest thing" to be the focus of a story. And that he's looking forward to getting back to journalism after a few months' roundly deserved rest. For once, a happy ending.

Friday, June 29, 2007

air orchids

a Zagat survey has named the Georges V Hotel in Paris as number one in the world--a good excuse to throw a party! so they did. i was lucky enough to be invited, and though i arrived too late to savour the savouries, i had lots of time to marvel at the desserts...which included freshly-made green apple & coca cola-flavoured marshmallows. easily the weirdest thing i've ever eaten--stranger even than Tibetan yak tea. trust me on this. amazingly it didn't rain, so we could stand out in the courtyard, surrounded by gorgeous purple air orchids that were suspended in a bondage trellis. if aliens appeared on earth as orchids (and decided to crash a party at the Georges V) this is how they would appear...teleporting down from the sky. difficult to photograph (or maybe we'd consumed too many strawberry champagne cocktails to get the angle right...)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

jazz fleas

after a great brunch with US authors Katy Yocom and Sena Jeter (in town for the Spalding University Creative Writing program), i headed over to the Picolo in the flea market near where i live. because it's in my 'hood, i'm biased in thinking that this is one of the best dives in town. today, David Enhco of Enhco&Co was playing in the back, as part of the Festival Jazz-Musette des Puces.
when the flea market really got going in the 1880s, there were already little dives in the neighborhood that served wine & welcomed musicians like Django Reinhardt. but it was Malik Harullak (for whom this part of the market is named) who bought the Picolo & made it what it is today. i first dropped by the Picolo over a decade ago, on the advice of a gypsy leather-maker who was working in the Malik of the best bits of advice i've ever had, because unless you know about it, you might just pass it by.
though this weekend, the Festival is making the Picolo a little more noticeable. yesterday, violinist Didier Lockwood & guitarist Serge Malik (who met playing 'round here back in the 70s) inaugurated "Place Django Reinhardt" right in the middle of the Puces, not far from the Picolo--a lasting tribute to gypsy jazz at the flea market. As is Serge's 82-year-old mother, who still lives across the street from the Picolo and remembers listening to Django play.

Monday, June 11, 2007


tonight i'm madly rewriting part of a story set in the Klondike, so that i can read it on Wednesday here in Paris. normally i would read something i'm more familiar with, a piece of writing that i was, say, finished writing (!) except that over the weekend, Justin Taylor convinced me that the reading would be an ideal place to try out the new fact, i got the feeling he was daring me come hear how it goes at 7pm the day after tomorrow, at WICE, 20 blvd de Montparnasse, metro Duroc. the evening also features readings from prose writers Justin Taylor (the daredevil who got me into this), Bonny Finberg (who i'm looking forward to meeting), and Jeffrey Greene (a wonderful poet who'll be reading from a new nonfiction book, just out, about a chicken farm. yep, that's what i'm told. a chicken farm. but i could be wrong--come by on wednesday and find out.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

the window swallow

the Grande Halle of La Villette is a gorgeous example of an iron-structured market building, but it has been under wraps for two years during a re-division of its performing space. though it's an important music & theatre space, the most frequent users of the Grande Halle have always been the swallows...there's a huge colony of 70-odd nests in the iron frets of the building, and i always enjoy watching the swallows swoop out of the eaves. but for the past two years, the swallows have been coping with serious construction, unable to access their usual perches. (this photo is pre-renovation)

fortunately...the "hirondelle de fenetre" is a protected species in Europe. during the Halle redo, the usual nests were carefully fenced off while artificial nests were hung on nearby buildings, to encourage the birds to hang around during the inconvenience. the Centre Ornithologique Ile-de-France thinks the plan has worked, so the swallows should be all set for the summer.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

at the Grand Palais

went to see Anselm Kiefer's exhibition at the Grand Palais--the kick-off show for a new annual series called MONUMENTA which invites a contemporary artist to grapple with the vast space that is the renovated Grand Palais. and Kiefer nearly succeeds. my only quibble is with his seven corrugated metal constructions, which house most of the work inside the palatial greenhouse space.

the metal boxes are intriguing with their tall narrow entrances. but once you get inside, the interior is very much like a room in the Pompidou: a pleasant white box, obliterating our response to the Grand Palais environment. a bit self-defeating, i think. each box contains a different variation of Kiefer's work--and the box-room dedicated to the work of Celine's Voyage au Bout de la Nuit is particularly evocative, with its storm-tossed paintings--but overall the constructions emphasize the literal, weigh down Kiefer's work with interpretation which he himself says is to be avoided.
"People mustn't try to understand what I am saying through my works. People...must see with their own way of thinking..." says Kiefer. "In a way, each viewer 'finishes' the work with their own vision, their own stance in relation to it." EXACTLY my complaint about the architecturally-exciting but otherwise failed corrugated metal spaces: they're interesting on the outside, contrast beautifully with the swirling metalwork and glass of the Grand Palais, but the boxes control the viewer's response to the artwork. i was happier outside in the great palatial space, appreciating the various concrete towers Kiefer has constructed--the photo above gives you an idea of how effective these half-ruined towers are (ok, also it's not a good ad for cellphone cameras)

Monday, June 04, 2007

refreshed Louise Weiss

the contemporary gallery strip of rue Louise Weiss in the 13th is a great idea--invigorate an under-served corner of the city with art--but since it first appeared at the end of the 90s, the art has never really worked for me. maybe i've missed the best shows or maybe i'm too fussy about what kind of video art i want to watch. but i keep going back, because i'm intrigued by how well Paris urban planners have managed to bring new energy into the previously lackluster area near the very large Mitterrand library.

And FINALLY my enthusiasm for the gallery row has been rewarded: this weekend, i dropped by a fantastic party thrown by Sara Guedj to celebrate the opening of her new (self-named) space at 11 rue Louise Weiss...lots of champagne, lots of nibblies, lots of people crammed in the gallery looking at the art & spilling into the street talking about the art. Two very different artists' works generating this energy: Genevieve Gauckler, known for her weirdly cuddly critters, as in the t-shirt above, in this show gets away from graphic design without losing her sense of social commentary. the first room of the gallery shows her new series of manipulated photographs--which i can only describe as digitally-composed piles of stuff that make you think. And in the second room, black & white graffiti-inspired work from Italian artist Stefano Pedrini (who challenges viewers by working not in Italian, or English, but in Latin.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

museum guide

since i started working on the Fodor's Paris Guide a couple of years ago, i've noticed a fair number of travellers wandering the city with the book tucked under their arm. but today, i was on the metro while a tourist actually read my museum reviews aloud to his friend. they were heading over to see Delacroix's studio, before taking a wander through Saint-Germain...good choice.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

manufactured landscapes

last night i was at the Canadian Cultural Centre here in Paris for the opening of a show of Edward Burtynsky's photographs. i've seen several of the photographs before, but i hadn't seen the Three Gorges series in full-size print--and like a lot of landscape & architecture photographers, Burtynsky's work loses its impact in tiny reproductions (i apologize for the little image here.) His series on what's currently the world's largest engineering and construction site, the Three Gorges Dam project along the Yangtze River, finally gives an understandable picture of the massive scale, and of the 1.2 million people displaced for the project. no editorializing, just brilliant photographs. the show is on all go!

The image above plays against all those wintery-white Canadian landscapes...this is "Uranium Tailings #7" (1995) from Elliot Lake, Ontario.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

pirate boat

when i lived near the MK2 cinema complex on the Bassin de la Villette, the movie theatres only took up one side of the quay....but you could see the blue glow all the way up the canal. then in 2003, they began tearing down the old warehouse building opposite, in order to build a matching complex on the east quay...the pink one in the photo. i regretted the old brick & iron-girder warehouses (left-over from the canal's industrial days 100 years ago), but as usual MK2 recreated some of the old ambiance in their rebuild, and the matching cinemas have really helped revitalize the neighborhood. last night, both quays were humming with activity--opening night of Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with boys in pirate hats--and i finally had a chance to take the tiny electric boat that muddles across the bassin. the ferry is included with the price of a movie ticket; for some reason, last night, the boat was travelling backwards across the canal. inelegant, but fun.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


last week was Cecilia Woloch's Paris Poetry Workshop--and like the previous years, I was so happy to be part of the team. it's lovely to have an excuse to devote a week to poetry, leading an afternoon workshop is always interesting...and as an added bonus I got to read at a wonderful new bookshop: Berkeley Books, along with Cecilia & Kathleen Spivack (who has done some amazing collaborations with jazz musicians).
the shop has been open for a year or so, but i only just got there, because i've been out of it's new to me. Berkeley Books is on 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, one of the angular little streets between the Odéon Theatre and rue Monsieur le Prince, heading towards the Luxembourg Gardens. great used book selection, and Tex & Phyllis have wonderful recommendations if you can't decide what to get. and i can't think of a better stop en route to picnic in the Gardens: get off the metro, pick up a perfect sandwich on rue de Buci, then stop by here for some poetry books. i can't wait to install myself in front of the Medici Fountain in the Gardens and read all afternoon...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


i visited this squat eons ago when i first arrived in that time, this old refridgeration building (owned by the SNCF train company) was located in the midst of ruined buildings and empty construction sites-to-be.
more than a decade later, the neighborhood is filled with chic new apartment buildings, the Very Big Library has been renamed for Mitterand, barges moored at the quai have become chic nightclubs, and I was worried the Frigos might have lost their anarchic appeal as they became an official artist residence. but paying rent hasn't changed the Frigos very much: the hallways are still covered in graffitti, the secret garden has grown into a great place for a glass of wine, and last weekend's open studios were a jolt of great art, terrible art, and a fabulous, chaotic sense of welcome.
the building itself was built in 1921; it contained a vast ice machine and was big enough to warehouse entire trains. huge pipes run through the Frigos, which once kept all kinds of food products chilled. but when Les Halles in central Paris was closed, the Frigos were no longer needed: food was shipped directly to Rungis, and the building was abandoned. then it waited...slowly crumbling and being walled-off...until the artists began to arrive in the 1980s.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

the hand

a new graffitti has appeared all over the city...and i approve, because it's drawing attention to the plainest of urban "furnishings", the manhole covers of Paris. there are some cities which have invited artists to redesign manhole covers (Seattle, for example) and other places where the manhole covers are totemic (New York). but in Paris, they're often pretty dull. a lot of our urban furnishings here were designed back in the mid-1800s under the omnipotent eye of Haussmann...his era saw the installation of our blue street signs, distinctive garden benches and "Morris" poster columns. but Haussmann doesn't seem to have extended his design decrees to the bland sewer covers (even though the sewers of Paris were renovated & essentially created under his watch). but this new graffitti artist seems to be making a cry for help...reminds me of the closing moments of an Orson Welles movie, The Third Man.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

in the Palais

yesterday evening i took a shortcut through the gardens of the Palais Royal and was surprised to see these, inflating & deflating, installed what i like to think of as Colette's garden. if she were still looking out her window, the French writer would no doubt have had something sly to say about them.i think this is part of the installation by Shim Moon Seup--being in front of the Ministry of Culture, the Palais gets a rotating series of public artworks throughout the year--and right now, it's Shim's work, titled VERS UNE ILE. not sure how the island fits in, but the toppling balloons were really entertaining...though with typical Parisian hauteur, no one else walking by seemed to pay the slightest attention to them, and there's no information actually near the installation.

Monday, May 07, 2007

in the carpark

today i'm meeting someone on rue dauphine, which is conveniently near my favourite parking lot. not that i have a car...but i like this carpark because on the second level below ground, there's a long surviving section of the medieval wall of Paris, built by Philip Augustus in 1190. (photo to follow) Eric Hazan argues in L'Invention de Paris that the city is still walled...but today the wall is the "peripherique" highway that circles Paris. so maybe it's appropriate to find one of the oldest city walls far underground in a downtown carpark.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

France votes again

I am intrigued by an article in the Figaro last week which describes how the new President of the French Republic (whoever it turns out to be) will be able to redecorate the presidential palace according to whim--there's a vast repository of antique furniture and objets-d'arts, and a massive redecorating budget set aside for every change of government.
it turns out though French presidents have fairly predictable whims: most have stuck with the Louis XV desk selected by General de Gaulle--though Georges Pompidou daringly hung a black abstract Soulanges painting behind the desk. apparently he liked watching people's reactions to a painting that was shockingly contemporary for the otherwise 18th and 19th-century room. I wonder if the Chiracs have finished packing their bags (photo is younger Chirac at the famous desk)...and if they're going to miss the building. the Elysee is a marvellous "hotel particulier" from 1718, rarely glimpsed behind its elegant gates. it's remembered as the mansion of Jeanne Poisson, la Marquise de Pompadour; as far as I know, it's the only presidential palace in the world that was once the home of the king's mistress. but "La Pompadour" was one of the most brilliant women of her time and advised Louis XV on everything from international battles to interior decor...i imagine she would have been fascinated by the recent round of debates and interviews concerning the current contenders for her old home.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dawson break

the ice has finally broken on the Yukon River! this great photo thanks to the intrepid K. Lachkar--who walked across the ice bridge on the river as it got slushier and slushier...
(i think that huge piece of ice puts today's Paris wind into perspective!)

Friday, May 04, 2007

after the villa Savoye

i'm already planning a 2008 trip out to Yvelines (not far from Paris), because a new house project is coming to this area...not a housing project (though several Paris suburbs are taking new steps on that, too). no, this is a sort of companion to the radical Modern villa built by Le Corbusier out in the same Yvelines area. the project is a brand new architectural prize, the Prix International D'Architecutre Durable, which plans to build a series of 21st century houses in the Seine Aval area--one per year from 2008 until 2058.

it's an exemplary idea but I'm always leary of houses that aren't meant to be lived in. Le Corbusier's 1930s villa Savoye is a masterpiece of modern architecture & exists as a sculptural example of what a building can do...but it was originally designed as a house, to be inhabited by Savoye and his wife. so while I like the principle of the prize, i'm more interested in finding out exactly what each house will be used for--and that apparently will be left up to the locality where each house is built.

once this year's winner is chosen, the first house of the project is due to be completed in fall '08 in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. it's slated to be a "house manifesto", open to visitors. and the shape of the house will very much depend on who wins--the first round of nominees includes Balkrishna Doshi, the Indian architect who once worked with Corbu, the French architect Francoise-Helene Jourda, and Wang Shu, the Chinese architect whose recent construction in Hangzhou used tiles from demolished buildings. we'll have to wait & see...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

a letter from Henri IV

dropped by the MUSEE DES LETTRES ET MANUSCRITS yesterday in the quirky little rue de Nesle. i went to see an exhibit organized around the journal of Calamity Jane--only to discover that the journal itself has a dubious provenance and may or may not have been written by the Wild West icon. However, the museum's permanent collection more than made up for the quirky Calamity exhibition...i spent time gazing at letters by Henry IV (my favourite of the French kings--after all, he was responsible for Place des Vosges), a military memo from Cardinal Mazarin, and a polite note from Anne of Austria. i admired the very nice handwriting of Gustave Eiffel and the careful yet messy calculations of Marie Curie, and i wondering how anyone managed to read the skinny flat letters written by Charles de Gaulle. Graphologists would have a field day with him! i have no idea what it means that Isaac Newton had very small slanted handwriting, or that Albert Einstein's scientific notes are much neater than his hair...but it was quite amazing to see the original letters on display.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

rockin' the Horse

i'm impressed with The White Stripes' upcoming tour plans...they're going to include three dates in Northern Canada, one in each territory, including a stop June 25th in Whitehorse. on the band's website, Jack White writes: "Having never done a full tour of Canada, Meg & I thought it was high time to go whole hog. We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost."
i saw them in Paris a couple of years ago, when they were promoting Elephant--great live show. too bad they can't make it to Dawson City...

Friday, April 27, 2007

Art process at Flateurville

Flateurville...a real but imaginary installation you can visit every Thursday night, created by artist/story-teller Laurent Godard. I was invited by the organizers of the Art Bus--a monthly tour through the most interesting contemporary art in Paris (next one is May 26th, find out about it here). Godard uses donated temporary spaces for Flateurville (he's starting to work on one in New York, apparently on Mott Street). in Paris, the space is an old print shop on a crooked lost street near Saint-Denis, transformed into story-teller's rabbit warren of paintings, furniture, and objets trouves, creatively inhabited by an entire village. This virtual village is Flateurville (the walls are filled with portraits of its citizens), invented by Godard. It's a kind of Micronation--you can have an ID card made for you in Flateurville, if you choose to believe in the place, and last night's crowd seemed willing...