Saturday, February 28, 2009

the word in Paris

French writer Daniel Pennac is currently reading Herman Melville's Bartleby, nightly, on a little side-street not far from the Paris Opera. it's billed as a theatre piece, and it sort of is--the audience sits in the theatre, Pennac is on stage, he is beautifully lit, there is a backdrop of sorts (an elegantly evocative sail-cloth, hung from the wings). but really, Pennac simply reads the story to us.

story-telling isn't exactly trendy, but when it's well-done, a sold-out theatre of people hang on every word. i think Melville would be contented by Pennac's rendition of his story, assuming he could understand the French. the translation is elegant and sparse and forced me to focus on the story, the choice of words.

these photos are from last week's flash mob. it's rare in Paris to have a gathering that isn't patrolled by the rather frightening security police, but this event, organized largely through blogs & cellphones, swam under the police radar.

at noon exactly on February 18th, people gathered to read aloud for 5 minutes at Place St-Michel--a traditional mob gathering place, not far from the medieval origins of the Sorbonne. the flash-mob was organzied as a protest against cuts to funding for arts education. we need a similar protest in Canada...

first, imagine a great crowd of people, each of them holding a book. a whistle blows, and for five minutes, each of these people becomes deeply immersed in that book, reading aloud. imagine the muttering, declaiming, murmuring sound...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

something in my library to offend everyone

Freedom to Read Week 2009

in this bookcase alone, i have Margaret Atwood (whose Handmaid's Tale came under fire just last month in Ontario), Alice Walker (a group of California school trustees rejected The Colour Purple in 1984 on grounds of "troubling ideas" about race, sexuality, and god; the book continued to be in the top 10 censored books in 2007 in the US), Maya Angelou (I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is another top censored list, 2007 nominee), James Joyce (whose Ulysses may be the single most-censored book ever), and Ernest Hemingway (who Farewell to Arms was once banned as "a sex book").

Other books in the American top 10 of 2007's banned books? Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn (a longtime contender for most-read, most-loved banned book) and Philip Pullmann's The Golden Compass. And the award for the top number one position of most-banned & censored book in the US goes illustrated true story about two male penguins adopting a baby penguin, And Tango Makes Three. This is dangerous stuff, people. i think i'm going to buy a copy of the penguin book...i know several kids who would enjoy it.

that's the US list, but Canadians can't get too smug...Derek Finkle's article take a look at the past few years for journalists, this weekend in the Globe.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's birthday

raise a glass to Charles Darwin! everyone's favourite bearded evolutionist was born exactly 200 years ago, on February 12, 1809.

the NYTimes has a great series of articles in his honour this week, including this excellent summary of the great man's life by Olivia Judson, and a video of the singing Darwin scholar, Richard Milner. bizarrely, the Globe's business section has an article about Darwin's business acumen.

i was lucky to see the ROM's Darwin exhibit last year, and i'm now working my way through his famous journal, The Voyage of the Beagle; the book highlights his intelligence & curiosity, but also his consistent awe with the world. Darwin was a fantastic writer, overcoming his own debilitating fears to publish the truth. so a toast to Darwin, and his bravery, from all us chimps out here, 200 years later.

(HMS Beagle, cause of much seasickness for Charles Darwin)
"AFTER having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty's ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831." - the opening sentence of The Voyage of the Beagle.

Monday, February 02, 2009

snow in Montmartre

the snow is already melting from one of my favourite Paris streets. the domes of Sacre Coeur looked particularly eerie through this morning's snow.

same street, looking the other way across Place Dalida...i keep coming back to this corner & thinking about different ways to work it into a novel. obviously needs some more time to percolate...

good excuse to visit Le Refuge, a few blocks away, with its Art Deco interior & great people-watching perch. the walls are decorated with paintings & photos taken by patrons through all kinds of weather, including a great one of the cafe in an evening snowstorm.