Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Les Deux Magots

while it remains at -40 over here, i've just learned from my friend Heather Stimmler-Hall that a major event in cafe life is taking place in Paris...i miss cafe life (though once i get back to Paris, i'm going to miss long walks along the frozen river...can't have everything in one place!)

the big news is that the famous literary cafe Les Deux Magots--favourite hang-out of Oscar Wilde, Picasso, Andre Breton, Janet Flanner-- is selling off the old chairs from the inside of the restaurant. these aren't the wicker chairs from the outside terrasse, no, these are the chairs that Sartre, Richard Wright, Hemingway and other 20th century literary figures actually sat on. and they're the chairs i've sat on, while drinking their superb hot chocolate. i won't be buying a chair-souvenir, but still, somehow the change is shocking to me. each chair has a number (corresponding to its location & table) and it's these chairs that are being sold off and replaced.

the cafe is now non-smoking (like other cafes in France, as of February 1st)...which means i have to forgive it for replacing its chairs.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

fireweed honey

one of the few foods i've been missing, while i'm living in Dawson instead of Paris, is NOT croissants but honey. the only honey i can find here is mass-produced and not very tasty, whereas in France, local honey is readily available (even in small towns). so i was wondering if there are honeybees in the Yukon. i don't know how the bee population up here is doing. there's a depressing downward trend in bee population across North America (see a recent BBC story here). and yet, in France there is an increasing push towards small bee-keepers, even keeping bees in the city. i used to be amazed to see bees that looked very much like honeybees up on my 6th-floor balcony, checking out the heather and miniature cherry tree i kept there.

so i did a bit of research...and it's encouraging to discover that the Yukon DOES have a healthy honeybee population. while i can't buy any local honey in Dawson, when i get to Whitehorse at the end of March, i can try wildflower honey from organic Yukon farms. i'm also going to keep an eye out for fireweed honey--because fireweed is the flower of the Yukon (& the Yukon Brewing Co. uses fireweed honey in its excellent Discovery Ale.) above, the fireweed image is a Yukon quilt design from Bear's Paw quilts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

frozen fur

the Canada Winter Games are going on in Whitehorse...and it's colder than ever over there. a few events have been delayed, including the speed skating (when you think about it, those poor skaters aren't wearing very much out there on the ice, and the windchill has been taking southern Yukon temperatures down below -30). luckily, in Dawson, there hasn't been too much wind--though by the end of a walk, the dog's fur has frozen into place.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


gorgeous day, walking on the river thinking about the way sound changes when the temperature gets low. the scrunching styrofoam noise of walking on really cold snow & how sound travels much more quickly & clearly in the freezing air. but once i get out of my snowsuit, i'll join the gazillion other north americans watching the oscars. i have to admit, i've hit a new low: i have seen only one of the contending movies, and that was by fluke. i am hoping al gore's An Inconvenient Truth wins something. curiously, along with best documentary, it's up for best music...versus Al Gore going to go to the Oscars? what will he wear? after all, so much of the oscars isn't about excellence in film-making but rather about fashion & the cult of celebrity. maybe i can pick up some hairdo ideas for my reading at the Dawson City public library on tuesday...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

floating world

the ODD gallery has unlocked the camera obscura, down on the river bank. though it's very chilly in there, once your eyes adjust to the dim light, the effect is beautiful: Dawson floating, upside-down, across three white walls of the small cabin. the snow is particularly beautiful on the ceiling, as it looks like a pale blue sky with clouds.
the "camera" is a box (in this case, the cabin) with a pinhole in one wall. with mirrors, you can create a camera obscura that projects the image right-way-up, though in Dawson the box is the simplest kind...apparently if you spend an hour or two in there looking at the walls, your mind will eventually flip the image for you. the technique was known in antiquity, described by Leonardo da Vinci, and some scholars argue that Dutch artists like Vermeer used such a camera to study detail.
i've read the explanation on how it works...but really i think the camera obscura is magic.

Friday, February 23, 2007


no mosquitoes in -40 weather, but the skidoos are a weird annual event called Trek Over the Top, a whole slew of Alaskans put on their snowsuits and get on their snowmobiles (as they call 'em), to drive over to Dawson, where they spent a weekend dressing up in Hawaiian shirts, drinking Yukon beer, and gambling at Diamond Tooth Gertie's. as in the photo, these are shiny decal-loaded skidoos...good boost for the economy, but a strange noise to hear in the normally-deserted streets.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

letter I

still -40. while most Dawsonites are huddling in their houses (or running their pick-up trucks nonstop outside irritating local habit), visual artist & calligrapher Owen Williams is busy making giant ice "i"s. these are part of a project he's installing at the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, just down from where i'm living. using a cardboard frame, Owen is laboriously creating perfectly-straight icicle versions of the letter "i" --the capital upper case version, the lower-case dot being too irritating to suspend in ice. he says he wants to get at least one hundred installed out on the river (bear in mind that each icicle is about 8 feet high). initially, the icicles are white, then as they get colder, the ice gets clearer & clearer...fascinating to watch. when it gets sunny again, i'll head out & take a picture...i think it should be a very photogenic installation, with the ice glinting in the light. makes me think of the winter work of Andy Goldsworthy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Polished Hoe

in Dawson City it's -40 with an ice i'm staying inside and thinking about a great event going on elsewhere! my friend Colin Taylor's adaptation of The Polished Hoe opens tomorrow night at Harbourfront in Toronto (for some reason, Harbourfront is now being called Enwave Theatre, just to confuse everyone). Colin has spent years working on this play, spending hours talking with author Austin Clarke. The novel The Polished Hoe won the Giller Prize, the Trillium Prize, and the overall Commonwealth Prize for the Best Book in the British Commonwealth....and I think the play is going to be even better! when the run in Toronto finishes, the show is going to Barbados.
now that's a nice sunny thought for a day like today!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mackey wins 3rd Quest!

Lance Mackey and his dogs just pulled into Fairbanks...winning the Quest for the third time in a row AND making the best time ever. So Mackey gets the first prize money, and his lead dogs get gold harnesses (not sure they care too much about that) and an AAA-grade raw steak each. Well worth the effort! (photo is from the Quest website)
I've also been rooting for Michelle Phillips, who is still on the trail and may be 5th into Fairbanks (which would be an excellent placing for her record). Beautiful day out here...

Monday, February 19, 2007

piano bar #1

the bars in Dawson all have pianos, each with its own character. this one is from Bombay Peggy's, where Barnacle was playing last week. it can be played as a regular piano or set up as a player piano--though i'm not sure the player scroll is working anymore. there should be a tracker tube with a vacuum behind the music roll; then when the air comes in through the perforation in the roll, ruining this vacuum, the increased air pressure opens the valve & plays a note. very nifty...and popular during the Gold Rush era. weirdly enough the only player piano i've seen in action in the past few years was at EuroDisney, where there's one tinkling away in their Wild West Haunted House.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Mackey at Circle

the last dog handlers headed out today from Dawson City...they have a long drive ahead of them: dogsleds follow the frozen river into Alaska, but drivers have to take the highway back to Whitehorse, then go around to Fairbanks, then drive back down towards the border (the connecting roads just aren't passable in winter). the vets & officials (& the media, at least the ones smart enough to check their departure times) were flown to the next checkpoint...a lovely little runway was set up on the ice, just below the town of Dawson--the tiny planes are equipped with skis, of course.
meanwhile, Lance Mackey & his comeback kennel are still several hours in the lead. they left Circle this morning--which means there are two difficult mountains left on the trail before the home stretch. last year, Eagle Summit was particularly gruelling...hopefully this year conditions will be clear!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

ice walls

wrapping up at the Quest: a media dinner at The Drunken Goat, a Greek resto downtown...great food, if you're ever looking for a meal in winter in Dawson City, this is the place to go.
this is a photo of the entrance room, which Tony (owner of the Goat) has built as a seasonal mud room. it's entirely made of ice and snow, apart from the door--it took two guys three days to build it, using ice blocks they cut from a nearby pond. they built it in November, it should last until early April at least, and it's especially pretty at night, when it glows with the lights inside.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Quest heads out

on Thursday, we cheered Lance Mackey's lunch-time departure from Dawson...he was the first here and he's the first to leave. he looked relaxed & the dogs seemed happy to be heading out. gorgeous day to be heading down the frozen Yukon River.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

St. Valentine

spent the later part of last night at Bombay Peggy's "Night of Northern Naughtiness" in honour of Valentine's Day. i was one of the judges for the poetry contest...and my co-judge Al of CBC & i have to say the evening veered more towards the vulgar than the naughty. but hey, it's no doubt a fine line, and perhaps most appropriate for a bar that's in a former brothel. lots of chocolate to give out as prizes, accompanied by great piano-playing by Barnacle Bob, and many "Little Bo Peep" martinis...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Quest gets here

long day at the Quest check-in desk...beautiful weather, lots of dogs--ten sleds have gotten to Dawson so far. most exciting last night: just a bit before midnight, Lance was first into Dawson, with a 12-dog team, everyone in fantastic shape. the dogs were still energetic (unlike some today, who arrived & lay down, quite pooped by the 99-mile haul from Scroggie, the previous check-in.) photo tomorrow...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Almost here

the teams are getting closer...the four front-runners, including defending champion Mackey & his comeback huskies, are en route to Dawson now. they left the previous point this morning and rumours are circulating that the first dog into Dawson might make it tonight--which would be a record speed from Whitehorse to here. i'm heading downtown in a little while to visit the check-in site and look at the track. it's cloudy and a little windy today, which will make the 4,002-foot King Solomon's Dome a breezy ride into Dawson.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

THE MITTEN REGISTRY...doesn't it sound Canadian by definition? i thought of The National Post's mitten registry yesterday, when i nearly lost one of my mittens (it's cold enough here that i noticed in time to save the mitten...but while in Toronto i managed to lose three the mitten registry makes sense.)

it was started by the paper three years ago, and if you participate by sending in a mystery mitten that you find on the street, you get a tote bag and a free pair of gloves. here are their rules:

- Does the found mitt look too gross to touch? Has it been repeatedly run over? Is it submerged in slush? Leave it be!
- Is it propped up on a fence post? Again, leave it be! While we'd like everyone to participate in the National Mitten Registry, the greater goal is recovery.
- While we sympathize with the plight of lost earrings, socks, keys, laptops, umbrellas and pets, they are more than we can handle here at the Mitten Registry offices. Handwear only, please!
- An online gallery of all registered mitts will be maintained at
- Please direct mittens with your coordinates and the mitten's coordinates to National Mitten Registry c/o Benjamin Errett, 300-1450 Don Mills Rd., Toronto, Ont., M3B 3R5.

Diamond Tooth Gertie's

the casino is open on weekends of course we went! Diamond Tooth Gertie's is Canada's oldest legal casino, housed in the old Arctic Brotherhood Hall built in 1901. it's a great old music-hall, inside, with an upstairs balcony (that's how we got this great shot of the roulette wheel). it's a very calm casino, almost no pit bosses glaring at you, and each roulette player has a different colour of chip, which means no arguments about who placed what on which number. very civilized!
Gertie really did exist, she ran a dancehall in Dawson and had a diamond wedged between her two front teeth. her dancehall girls weren't nearly as raucous as you might think: miners paid a dollar to dance a waltz or polka for a minute (the musicians played fast in those days).

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Common Redpoll

as soon as i arrived in Dawson, i was surprised to see that sparrows were happily spending the winter here. now that i've had more time to look at the little critters, i've discovered they aren't exactly sparrows: they're common redpolls. nifty looking, aren't they? tough little guys too...they spend their summers further north and come down to comparatively balmy Dawson for the winter (though some years, searching for a new vacation spot, they head for the middle of the continent). sensibly, these days they're spending a lot of time on Sz's veranda, where they dine on a constant buffet of niger seeds that she has kindly provided...

Friday, February 09, 2007


norther lights are unpredictable...but when they do appear, they are spectacular. so far, i've seen great green and blue fast-moving patterns across the night sky. there's an "aurora forecast" site...featuring sentences such as "A recurrent high speed coronal hole stream is expected to become geoeffective late on 11 February." translation? Sunday night should be good for northern lights over Dawson.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


one theory about the origin of the word "mush", for getting dogs to pull a dogsled: it might be a corruption of the French word "marche" in, "en marche" or let's get going, from "marcher", to walk. that's on the theory that the first Europeans to try dogsledding were probably French coureurs-de-bois, and the anglos arriving later decided that "marche" was a Native word.
so there...a connection between Paris and Dawson City...which during the Gold Rush was called "the Paris of the North". I'm still looking for a cafe.

Mineral glacier

couldn't resist checking out the glacier today...fed by an underground mineral spring, the ice sheet has been growing visibly in the month since i first saw it. but it's surprisingly difficult to get a good photograph of it...partly because it's really slippery, being sheer ice, so most positions don't give me enough stability to take off my mittens, dig the camera out of my pocket, and shoot before the battery or my fingers freeze.

it looks like muddy water in the photo, but it's frozen solid...and moves very very slowly when nobody's looking. further down the hill, below this overwhelmed little bridge, there's a car that was parked for the winter, which is now completely surrounded by the glacier.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Yukon Quest

this Saturday, Yukon Quest dogsled mushers leave Whitehorse for their1000-mile race to Fairbanks, Alaska. it's a 2-week race, open to both men and women, that comes right through Dawson.

lots of discussion here about the Jamaican musher, Devon Anderson, who's being sponsored by Yukon Tourism...people aren't too optimistic about his chances (this being his first visit to the north) but supporters remember the Jamaican Bobsled Team from the 1988 Winter Olympics, so ya never know. on the Quest site, Anderson isn't officially listed as a racer, so i'm not sure if he's planning to get to Dawson City.

however, i'm hoping to see defending champion Lance Mackey (he's a cancer survivor, like another popular American athlete named it mere coincidence that the Tour de France is the only other international sport i've actually watched live?) this file photo shows Mackey's super-light racing sleds and travel-hutches for his "Comeback Kennel" huskies. during the Quest, i'll try to get a photo of the huskies inside their hutches, with their heads sticking out. it's quite a sight.

Monday, February 05, 2007


i'm getting used to the ravens. they're all over town, sitting in trees, on buildings, and flying around, often swooping very low down the alleys. ravens are more than just big crows; they make more interesting sounds (including a beautiful surprising watery cooing noise). they can live to be 50 years old--though many of the birds in Dawson are missing tail and wing feathers, so i suspect kids take pot shots at them, which might interfere with their longevity. raven claws aren't equipped to actually tear up an animal (which is why all the Corvidae birds are gruesomely famous for eating eyeballs), so they scavenge. stories abound of ravens following wolves & hunters; some stories argue that ravens will even lead wolves to game, in order to eat.
a few years ago, i watched ravens teasing a few dozen sled huskies--the huskies had just been fed their daily meal of frozen fish. a raven flew in and grabbed one small piece of fish, dropping it carefully between two husky doghouses. the two huskies immediately rushed for that piece of fish, then got into an argument with each other. meanwhile, the ravens descended and ate the other fish the dogs had abandoned. you'd think the huskies would eventually figure this out--the owner said it happened almost every day to one dog or another.
we've put out stale bread for the ravens, just to watch them; they're very wily, sitting on nearby posts to make sure it isn't a trap, swooping very close to our windows to see if we're watching them, and putting out the message to other ravens so that a half-dozen eventually turn up to eat together.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Ice bike

now it doesn't look much like bicycle weather, i know, but i've seen a few people riding bicycles around town. i've marvelled at their bravery/insanity. but while walking the dog, i met Tim, who runs the local bike shop--isn't his sign great?-- and he explained that he customizes tires for the winter by carefully driving screws into the rubber. this actually works, and the screws create spikes that bite into the ice, which means he can cycle along skidoo tracks and take off on long rides across the frozen river. i'm impressed, though i think i'll stick with my sled...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The King

for anyone wondering if Elvis is really dead, i bring you news: he's actually living in the Yukon. not only does he perform --recently a friend spotted him playing in a bar in Whitehorse-- he also runs for office. this photo is from his Oct. 2006 campaign for the Yukon Legislative Assembly--Pelly-Nisutlin riding; unfortunately he didn't win, and he had a heck of a time keeping people from stealing his fabulous signs.

known as "Tagish Elvis", Gilbert Nelles legally changed his name to Elvis Aaron Presley years ago, saying that he became the true reincarnation of the King after being hit by a UFO beam.

hey, don't scoff...anything's possible...including his pink cadillac and documentary film.

Friday, February 02, 2007


last night, went to the new show opening of the ODD gallery downtown--members of KIAC showing their work. lots of people, also food (fudge & chicken wings, classier than some of the food offered at New York gallery openings...) LOTS of good work, including a painting by Michael Mason, whose does "continuous line" works. he might be giving a talk at the Tr'ondeck Hwech'in community centre here later in the month.
there was also a great spoof of Yukon gov't and mining companies by gallery curator Mike Yuhasz

Thursday, February 01, 2007

sled success

total success! i pulled the fully-loaded new sled up the hill...though the dog seems dubious of my future plans.
the photo was taken during a spectacular sunset, while the moon was rising. these days, the full moon reflecting off the snow has been making the long nights bright enough to read by.