Saturday, June 21, 2008

BIG and the underpass

just home from BIG, the Bloor Improvement Group's new street festival. i thought the name might be a titch overambitious, but in fact no, the festival IS really big, stretching from Christie Pits park all the way to Lansdowne, with shiatsu massage, art for kids, drumming circles, you name it...

i wanted to check out BIG because of a new art project just west of Lansdowne: the bleak south side of that underpass on Bloor is sporting a whole new look, thanks to Toronto artist Richard Mongiat. The Underpass Project is sponsored by the City of Toronto's Clean & Beautiful committee, but Mongiat's 400-foot minimalist mural is very different from the super-bright "cover-ups" i'm used to seeing in city murals.

Mongiat originally conceived the concept for the Dupont underpass, but he was convinced by local artist & activist Dyan Marie (of DIG IN) to connect with the BIG festival project. The change in location meant that Mongiat had to throw away his original idea. "These frames," he says, pointing to the raised rectangles within the wall, "set up the design elements. I needed a visual throughline, a thoroughfare." He found his inspiration in the barren trunks of winter trees. "Like this neighbourhood," he says, "dormant but coming to life. So I've included close-ups of buds and flowering."

There are four visual elements at play here: three from Mongiat--grey tree trunks, white wallpaper-style sworls, and close-ups of spring buds--and a fourth, surprisingly active element--the worn concrete of the underpass itself. "By keeping my work muted, black, white, grey, the wall really came through," says Mongiat with pride. "Now, the weather, the rain stains become part of the design. The wall comes alive." i think it's a fine metaphor for the place of artists in struggling parts of the city--not for art to paint over the history here, but to augment what's already in place, to contribute & open up further dialogue.

Friday, June 20, 2008

reading at Art Bar

the Art Bar series is the longest-continually-running poetry series in Toronto, and this week i was thrilled to read there alongside James Deahl, who read some truly heartbreakingly beautiful recent works, and Pier Georgio di Cicco, the city's current poet laureate. what's especially exciting about the Art Bar is that the writers present diverse approaches to poetry, there's no one type or genre, and the open mic is often quality stuff (a good place to strut stuff that's in progress, or generally warm up to the idea of taking poetry seriously.)
i was lucky to have a supportive crowd & a lovely host, Pauline. so thanks, Art Bar people, and cheers to all the friends & strangers who showed up to encourage me (& to buy books, which keeps my publisher happy...!)

Monday, June 16, 2008


June 16th is the day commemorated by James Joyce in his masterpiece Ulysses, and in odd pockets around the world, every year, on this date, there are excerpts read, interpretations discussed, drinks drunk, and offal eaten. in Toronto, it was a gorgeous morning at the Beaches--the Bloomsday Festival committee over here set up a wonderful series of locations, good actors, and they even loaned hats to ill-prepared audience members (like me).

why did Joyce choose June 16th for his character Leopold Bloom's peregrinations? apparently because that's the day that Joyce's muse & wife Nora Barnacle first agreed to meet for a date.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

ah, the weekend

the nice thing about living near the intersection of Queen West & Spadina is that you just never know what will happen next: for instance, Saturday's rather inexplicable naked bike ride. no idea what the purpose was, but it did make me think that bicycling might be one of those activities that just makes more sense with clothes on...

(for once, i was happy to take a photo with a mcdonald's as a backdrop!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

i want an accoustic cloak

it should look kind of like a Darth Vader cape...and whenever i'm stuck on a train or aeroplane, overhearing someone's really irritating/intimate conversation, i'll throw on my accoustic cloak with a flourish...i'm not making it up! really! the technology is coming! they haven't quite gotten it down to a cool black plastic cape yet...but i can dream, right?

Friday, June 06, 2008

bees on rooftops

just when all the news about bees seems focused on their declining numbers, there's a bright buzz newly-installed on the rooftop of the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. the hotel already has a well-established herb & vegetable garden up there on the 34th floor, but this week, executive chef David Garcelon added three beehives, in collaboration with the Toronto Beekeepers Cooperative.

urban living is no problem for bees--the bugs can forage over 6km in a single day, so they'll have lots of nourishing options along the waterfront & over on Toronto island. and by the autumn harvest, they're expected to have produced up to 1400 small jars (yes, 1400!)...which should be ample to drizzle into Garcelon's salads, soups, and sweets in the hotel restaurants downstairs.
(hotels, parks, and the opera house, have been hosting beehives for several years in Paris, but this is really great progress for Toronto!)

and in other buzz...Bremner Duthie has just launched his superb collection of Kurt Weill songs on CD Baby...check out details here

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Le Smoking Forever

another reason why i love Paris...because when Yves Saint Laurent, fashion maestro, died on Sunday at age 71 after a battle with brain cancer, tributes poured in from the president, and of course from Sarko's model wife Carla Bruni (who once catwalked for Saint Laurent), and from the Culture Minister...i love the fact that fashion is a crucial part of French culture, and that culture is recognized as a crucial aspect of life.

Saint Laurent was born in Algeria; when he was only 19, he was designing for the house of Dior & took over the house at 21, when his mentor suddenly died of a heart attack. soon Saint Laurent struck out on his own...creating perfumes, dressing 70s party people, & 80s power people, & 90s actresses, & on & on, generally being gorgeously difficult & very much himself.
Pierre Berge, his long-time business partner, called him a libertarian & an anarchist (another reason i love Paris: these terms are actually compliments). with Saint Laurent gone, it seems like the spirit of crazy party 70s are finally gone forever. the only answer is to put on our very best tuxedo suits & slink down Sherbrooke Street to Montreal's Museum of Fine Arts for the retrospective that runs until September...