Saturday, December 31, 2011

Millard's Rat

a wonderful coincidence to end the year: I had no idea when I named my lead character Millard that there is an actual rodent named for her. The Millard's Rat, Dacnomys millardi, lives in Asia and is part of the rodent family Muridae. Like most rats, it is not currently endangered, but it is fairly rare to see one. All in all, highly appropriate for my Millard in Rats of Las Vegas.

Happy New Year...from all us rats!

(this rat is a detail from an art piece by Anthony Lister)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Marching bands

horns and drums coming down the street - a specifically New Orleans feeling

for a reminder of what these schools have gone through, to march again, read this

(the Christmas parade down Canal street last weekend)

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Confederacy of Dunces

i must reread the classic New Orleans novel by John Kennedy O'Toole. i even know where my copy France, beside a yellow sofa. meanwhile, i will have to toast O'Toole and Ignatius by eating a hotdog at one of the ubiquitous Lucky stands.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Message to the Muse

biking along Prytania thinking of a poem i heard last week at the Gold Mine's 17 Poets!
...nine muses,
all in all,
and four alone
are just for poetry.

The gods were telling us
it would be hard.
Or were they telling us
it would be hopeless?
from Daniel Reinhold's MESSAGE TO THE MUSE

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Who to trust in New Orleans

the tour guides are often looking in the wrong direction, reciting facts that tend more to creativity than history. i have more confidence in the mules, who seem to know what they're doing.

Monday, December 05, 2011

evening, New Orleans

rain and horseshoes on the wet pavement, trains and long long boat horns, shouts for the Saints game and sirens, always sirens, a passing car with bounce blaring, and a calliope disappearing against the wind.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Algiers bonfire - FLOODWALL

as the fire took hold last night of the cathartic bonfire installation by Jana Napoli - a structure of drawers retrieved from Katrina-decimated homes

Saturday, December 03, 2011

New Orleans vs the cockroach

winter or summer, the occasional bastard-bug pauses to adjust its top-hat and continue along a French Quarter sidewalk.

postcard by lee kyle

Friday, December 02, 2011

Cafe du Monde

after the beignets have disappeared - the tell-tale icing sugar trails out of the Cafe du Monde and into the night

Cafe du Monde, after the beignets

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Frenchmen Street

washboard percussion played with thimbles on all fingers - heading out into the cold night i couldn't resist taking a last photo

Wednesday night at The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November New Orleans

Only hours after I moved into this apartment on the edge of Tremé, a 'Second Line' marching band went past my door, taking flowers to the cemetery for All Saints' Day.

I feel a bit like Colette in her Palais Royal apartment--she called the place "the tunnel" because of its shotgun layout. I spread books and various cooking ingredients around the kitchen & work there, because the kitchen door gives onto a sunny courtyard.

The tattoo parlor down the street has its air conditioner running. Four entirely black feral kittens peer out from under the fence, tropical flowers are blooming, and the palm trees rattle in the wind.

I woke up to the roving fruit vendor who drives past every morning around 9am. Her megaphone makes her sound like a muezzin, except her call to prayer is "I have pine-apples, I have cante-lope, I have sat-sumas..."

Last week, the mayor finally reopened Louis Armstrong Park, with the Tremé Brass Band playing, Congo drumming, dancing, sacred smudging and Mardi Gras Indians in blindingly-bright embroidery & feathers.

Now, to cycle across town, avoiding the worst of the earthquake-fissures that linger six years after Katrina. Collecting details, trying to understand a little bit about this city so thoroughly inhabited and worn by its past but also determined to be present. I'm more awake here than in so many other cities where life is definitely easier (what a misnomer, 'the Big Easy') but less alive.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


RATS OF LAS VEGAS now exists in Hungarian, in real & virtual/e-book form. i wish i could read Hungarian, but maybe that's the mysterious beauty of the translator's art...the author will never know exactly what the book means in the new language. honestly, sometimes i think the author is the last person to understand what the book means, even in the original language.

so the Hungarian edition is now out in the world, with a cover that makes me feel like a Raymond Chandler-era pulp fiction writer...a great honour, as Chandler is one of my literary heroes.
at first, the Hungarian publishers considered a cover that seems closer to the Canadian concept for the book. the back image on this proposal delights me--the car, the flamingo neck--

but in the end, the Hungarian editors went with a more visceral look. and i admit, if i ever get a tattoo, it will probably be the upside-down Ace of Spades at the bottom of the current cover.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

dare your next mistake

i saw this at Mark Folse's blog Toulouse Street. some days, it's nice to know Ira's on your side... i also think this 'phase' happens every time I start a new project & i always need to fight my way through it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

a moment in Calgary

drove into Calgary for an excellent meeting with my editor extraordinaire, Rose Scollard, at Frontenac House, and wrapped up the day over BBQ, discussing the new Poet Laureate position that the City of Calgary has created.

how interesting: while Toronto's mayor is attacking libraries & literary culture, good ole' redneck Cowtown is funding a new literary position with pride.

The Mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi, says "I think that these things actually really do matter...It helps us think of better ways to tell our story. And telling our story has value in and of itself." A very articulate retort to the Fords' recent blathering.

am looking forward to hearing who becomes Calgary's official poet--the city has a surfeit of excellent contenders.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

"Toward the end of the book, Otto and Sophie, the central couple, go to stay in their holiday home. Sophie opens the door to the house, and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there; she thinks about him for a page or so. The reason she's thinking about him is that she's staring at something he loved, a vinegar bottle shaped like a bunch of grapes. The reason she's staring a the bottle is because it's in pieces. And the reason it's in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie. At this point, I realized with some regret that not only could I never write a literary novel, but I couldn't even be a character in a literary novel. I can only imagine myself, or any character I created, saying"Shit! Some bastard has trashed the house!" No rumination about artist friends--just a lot of cursing..." -Nick Hornby, in his collection of reviews & essays, THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE.
Initially, I'm distracted less by the house-break-in & more by the idea that any artist would love a bottle shaped like bunch of grapes. But probably I'm a snob about grape-shaped bottles.

I'm reading this book in my friend Mari-Lou's fantastic garden, over various meals while I'm in Saskatoon. I'm going back to doing book reviews, and Nick Horby's musings about books are just right--cool and slightly fizzy, like really nice not-too-strong ginger beer on a summer afternoon. So I'm hoping he gets me into the right headspace to write intelligent book reviews.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

the medium, the message, the McLuhan

100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan's birth. the man who essentially invented the field of Communications grew up in Winnipeg. today i went by & photographed his very nice childhood home with my cellphone--seems a most appropriate anniversary nod to the man who said:

"When you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body." - Marshall McLuhan

Which makes us all the more disembodied today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To tell you the truth... (the writer's equivalent of stage fright)

"To tell you the truth, though, I still haven't made up my mind whether I shall publish [Utopia] at all. Tastes differ so widely, and some people are so humourless, so uncharitable, and so absurdly wrong-headed, that one would probably do far better to relax and enjoy life than worry oneself to death trying to instruct or entertain a public which will only despise one's efforts, or at least feel no gratitude for them."
wrote Sir Thomas More in 1515 (translated by Paul Turner & quoted by Fay Weldon in her novel, Letters to Alice.)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Richler gazebo

SO impressed with Florence Richler's comments about the gazebo in Parc Mont Royal which is to be spruced up & dedicated to her late husband, Montreal's best-beloved literary curmudgeon, Mordecai Richler.

"Were the graffiti to be left, I think somehow that would have delighted Mordecai would be critical and that was his nature." - Florence Richler

true, his critical nature didn't make this founder of the "Impure Wool Society" particularly popular with Quebec's powers-that-be. and some other powers-that-be feel the gazebo is simply too small a gesture for such an important writer. but i like the idea.

as soon as i'm back in Montreal, i'm taking myself over there with a small appropriate bottle & a copy of Solomon Gursky Was Here (my fave of his novels). the gazebo makes such a toast feasible...if they named a street after Richler, one would get run over.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Strangers in Paris

am so pleased to be part of a new Paris anthology, edited by Megan Fernandes & the illustrious, frequently top-hatted David Barnes.
Strangers in Paris is a museum of experience and objects that is anything but iconic; the collection establishes a new hunt for language worthy of a changing city. It is possible to find Paris in these pages, but it is just as possible to find everything else.
Launches have been happening in Canada & Paris & New York, and i've somehow managed to be in the wrong city at the wrong time to miss each & every one of them so far...but hey, it's amazing technology, this book thing, possible to experience even if one misses the launch.

in the official blurb about the anthology, Tightrope says: The stunning variety of writing in this volume addresses the city of Paris in all its complexity, while challenging the mythology of expatriate Parisian literature. The anthology contains entries as diverse and disparate as an excerpt from John Berger’s novel, Here is Where We Meet; Suzanne Allen’s ekphrastic poetry, a tongue-in-cheek take on the nineteenth-century novel by Helen Cusack O’Keeffe; Canadian writer Lisa Pasold’s story of a forced extended stay in Paris; and an interview with the celebrated American poet Alice Notley.

i'm so pleased to be part of the book...and i'm particularly sorry i missed the KGB event, as it was one of my favourite literary booze locations when i lived in New York back in the dark ages (ie. the Giuliani years). i wonder if KGB (above) still has the series of Stalin's official photographs--where Stalin's colleagues were mysteriously air-brushed out over the years, very creepily.

order info for the book here...or find it at Shakespeare & Co in Paris.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Montreal street corner

standing at the corner of Saint-Laurent & Laurier, i notice this plaque by Gilbert Boyer. i've only walked past this corner a thousand or so times since this was installed in 1988, to notice it for the first time on this appropriately hot lazy Montreal day. perhaps i've just never before waited for the light to change...

this corner is part of a larger project--the whole layout of the art piece is here, but i'm going to keep Boyer's words in reserve, to stumble across serendipitously when the weather's just right.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

eating & reading Savannah

The sidewalk in Savannah, Georgia, shines with mother-of-pearl from the old oyster shells buried in the concrete. Forget streets paved with gold...i'll take oyster shells any day. Mostly to eat (because there is no better town for food in the whole USofA). But the streets are also wonderful for book-browsing, as i discovered when i stumbled upon the marvellous indie bookshop E. Shaver Booksellers, which nestles beneath the Spanish moss of a live oak.

I expected a shop dedicated to tourist books & innumerable editions of Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil (which kicked off the historical district's relentless walking tours). But Esther Shaver's bookshop is much much more, a real resource for readers and writers. See what i mean by checking out their current recommended reading list--the kind of bookshop where you can throw a dart & know you'll hit something interesting. (no, don't actually DO this or you'll stab the bookseller.)

After Shaver's, i walked around wondering what Midnight author John Berendt is working on these days. His follow-up to Midnight was a book about Venice, which didn't suit him so well as the lazy hot streets of Savannah. I tried to be positive when i reviewed his City of Falling Angels for The Globe & Mail in 2005: 'Berendt's charm as a raconteur suits the narrow Venetian streets, but some of his stories lead straight into a dead-end calle.'

Later, i read an even more cutting review by Jan Morris, travel writer & Venice expert extraordinaire. Reviews are hard...should you always be honest? Well, yes... But i still love Midnight in the Garden. And wandering around Savannah as a tourist, it's hard to imagine the city without Berendt's book.

ps. here's a full list of bookshops in Savannah, including Shaver's address

Sunday, May 22, 2011

inspired Orlando

a big thank you to everyone who made the 'Don't Just Sit There' workshop happen in Orlando! i had a wonderful time talking writing with people today. such a gorgeous day, too...i felt honoured that people spent their beautiful Saturday cloistered in a room with me, discussing the writing life. it was especially interesting talking about WHERE we write best...and it's not always the most beautiful and comfortable chair in the house...

Monday, April 25, 2011

taking a bite out of malaria

today is the 4th annual World Malaria Day. for the first time in 50 years, we might actually be able to defeat malaria--which killed 781 000 people in 2009. take a second to digest that number. it's a crazy number, especially when a simple mosquito net can vastly cut the infection rate.

what's inspiring about this? we're actually making progress--a rare & wonderful reason to celebrate this day.

Roll Back Malaria
World Malaria Day 2009

Friday, April 08, 2011

hot chocolate, writing, and Belarus

very flattered to be included in Janet Skeslien Charles' interview series with writers in Paris. with the gorgeous weather, we sat outside at Place Colette & talked writing... check out Janet's blog here

weirdly, we realized that we've both been escorted from a train in Belarus at gun-point. Janet managed to get a temporary visa, whereas i got sent back to Warsaw--perhaps the regime had simply gotten harsher over time. my original goal was Moscow, where i was hoping to arrive at this lovely train station.
i did eventually get to Moscow, and ate a memorable breakfast across from the train station. but i wonder if either of us will ever really visit Belarus? the new national library is vast and sparkling. very Orwellian--a huge symbol of freedom of expression in a country known for censorship.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

zeppelin over Paris

now i know i wasn't hallucinating when i saw a huge football-shaped airship hovering over Gare du Nord. there really was a 75-metre long zeppelin floating around Paris last week.

normally, massive zeppelins do not crisscross the sky above the Paris train stations--though they have been seen, historically (the Prussians used one to bomb the city in 1916 & killed 17 people).

last week, there were sightings all across Paris as the airship cruised around measuring the radiation in our skies. this wasn't because of the tragedy in Japan, but simply a routine annual operation, to keep tabs on normal air quality and radioactivity in the French capital--or at least that's the government line, and they're sticking to it. the zeppelin hovered at around 100 metres up--roughly the 2nd floor of the Eiffel Tower, so really not very high. other cities have apartments with balconies higher than this zeppelin.

the zeppelin over Paris was very plain & utilitarian-looking. [take a look, here] but since spotting it, i've been thinking of Thomas Pynchon's novel, Against the Day. i really admire Pynchon--I especially loved Mason & Dixon, and i wanted to love this hodgepodge airship crew, but by the end i just felt annoyed, as if five different novels had jumped into my head at once, with all the characters running around waving their arms in the air yelling 'look at me! look at me!'

and yet it starts so promisingly... (excerpts from the first pages of the 1120-page novel):

“Hurrah! Up we go!”

It was amid such lively exclamation that the hydrogen skyship Inconvenience, its gondola draped with patriotic bunting, carrying a five-lad crew belonging to that celebrated aeronautics club known as the Chums of Chance, ascended briskly into the morning, and soon caught the southerly wind. […]

At one end of the gondola, largely oblivious to the coming and going on deck, with his tail thumping expressively now and then against the planking, and his nose among the pages of a volume by Mr. Henry James, lay a dog of no particular breed, to all appearances absorbed by the text before him.”

[intrigued by Against the Day? visit its wiki. And don't say I didn't warn you.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

if i ever get an iPad or kindle, i’m making it a cover that says DON’T PANIC. there's even a site with instructions for various designs.
“...he also had a device which looked rather like a largish electronic calculator. This had about a hundred tiny flat press buttons and a screen about four inches square on which any one of a million ‘pages’ could be summoned at a moment’s notice. It looked insanely complicated, and this was one of the reasons why the snug plastic cover it fitted into had the words DON’T PANIC printed on it in large friendly letters.

Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands. ‘I like the cover,’ he said. ‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.’”

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

book covers, according to Chandler

"Some day someone ought to explain to me the theory behind dust jacket designs. I assume they are meant to catch the eye without offering any complicated problems to the mind, but they do present problems of symbolism that are too deep for me. Why is there blood on the little idol? Why is the idol there at all? What is the significance of the hair? Why is the iris of the eye green? Don't answer. You probably don't know either."
- Raymond Chandler, writing to his editor Paul Brooks in 1954

for the record, i like the cover, though it has pretty well nothing to do with Chandler's storyline. i can't decide if a cover is obliged to relate closely to the contents.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Happy Groundhog Day!

waiting to see if the groundhog sees his shadow in North America...i've been watching the mice in Paris metros & they seem to think it is @*#$& cold.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

happy endings

now this is a great honest way to wrap up a novel, i say...
"But, truthfully, these glorious pauses do, sometimes, occur in the discordant but complementary narratives of our lives and if you choose to stop the story there, at such a pause, and refuse to take it any further, then you can call it a happy ending."
from the last pages of Angela Carter's fabulous (and tragically, last) novel, Wise Children

(cover illustration by Roxanna Bikadoroff)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

the riotous Theatre des Champs-Elysees

went out last night into rainy Paris to see Robert Lepage's Eonnagata...the show was very flawed, but it was a wonderful excuse to visit the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, built by one of my favourite French architects, the often-radical August Perret.

in 1913, his newly-opened theatre was the site of one of the more interesting riots in Parisian history...because this is where Stravinsky's Rites of Spring was first performed.

Stravinsky's music was booed, and Nijinsky's choreography infuriated the crowd--one elderly Duchess apparently thought the whole thing was some kind of hoax. (here's a great description) But the producer, Diaghilev, was serene... Stravinsky later wrote:
"After the 'performance' we were excited, angry, disgusted, and . . . happy. I went with Diaghilev and Nijinsky to a restaurant... Diaghilev's only comment was 'Exactly what I wanted.' He certainly looked contented. No one could have been quicker to understand the publicity value, and he immediately understood the good thing that had happened in that respect. Quite probably he had already thought about the possibility of such a scandal when I first played him the score, months before, in the east corner ground room of the Grand Hotel in Venice.”

for a great recreation of this moment, there's the film 'Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky' --check out the first 27 seconds of this promo video, below (and then go see the movie! it's gorgeous.)

last night, it was a thrill to look down from my seat in the gods, to see the old fauteuils--because this theatre has small armchairs on its main floor, not fixed theatre seats. And whenever my interest in Lepage's performance waned, i thought about Josephine Baker, who made her premiere here with the Revue Negre in 1925. Baker took Paris by storm, from this very stage. showered with jewelry & marriage proposals after every performance. she wryly said, "Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest...beautiful, no. Amusing, yes."
interesting quote--because watching the few remaining early clips of her Revue dances, what's really surprising is her great comedic timing. she's a real live wire on stage--making crazy faces, laughing at herself, goofing around--and yes, dancing & singing. no wonder Paris was amazed.

so, yes, Eonnagata was disappointing (Lepage was interesting on stage, as were the two dancers, but the overall concept just didn't work. everyone seemed under-utilized, the movements were predictable, and even the late Alexander McQueen's costumes were dull), BUT i still had a great evening thinking about performance & art. maybe part of the point of performance is to risk failure--or at least, to risk being ridiculous, at least some of the time.