Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Busy weekend

I spent most of Saturday at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which wound up being not quite what I was expecting. The first Festival, two years ago, consisted of a lot of excellent panels, readings, multimedia presentations, etc. It was a tightly run show, too: I remember thinking, "Wow, this is a really well-organized festival." At this year's festival, the events were ludicrously disorganized; readings started late or (on at least two occasions) not at all, the Comics Jam mural never happened, there was confusion about admission prices, the box of day-pass wristbands was not found until the middle of the afternoon. One of the performances that actually went ahead turned out to be a novelty musical act that was only tenuously connected with comics, and was just unendurably bad -- what was entertaining was standing outside the venue and watching audience members escape one by one, with sheepish looks on their faces. However, this year there was a massive exhibitor tent, where all the local and visiting artists had tables set up. Right from the beginning of the day it was crammed with people, meeting, schmoozing, buying, selling and trading. So it's not that the Festival sucked this year; it's just that it was all about the tent. I only wish I'd figured this out earlier and spent more time in the tent.

I did get to visit with m@b in the tent. He was sitting behind his table when I walked over, but then he stood up. He explained that he'd been taking a "sitting break," but that he feels it's important to stand up at these things, because then you look more alert and welcoming and people are more likely to want to come over to your table. I bought a copy of his book, which he was selling for half price (I've now already read the whole thing & highly recommend it). Then I wandered back to the Victory, where I ran into Marlena and Jesse. Jesse said, "Oh, you went to Matt's table. Was he standing up?"

On Sunday, I met up with Chrystl Rijkeboer, an artist visiting from the Netherlands. She had been staying in Ottawa; she has some work in a group show in the Gatineau which was curated by my mom. Now she's preparing a solo show at offthemapgallery, which will open on Saturday.

Doors Open was on, and we explored the participating buildings on Queen West: Camera, the Great Hall, and the Gladstone Hotel, which is preparing for a grand re-opening soon, following a massive renovation in which all the individual rooms have been redecorated by artists. The best thing about the Gladstone was the suite with the turret. There's a living room with a kitchenette, and curving stairs leading up to the tower room, with its 360-degree view:

Railway bridge

I totally want to live there.

It was a good day for walking around Toronto with a visitor, as the city was really showing off. At Trinity Bellwoods Park, we saw a film shoot in progress. This production was considerably lower budget than the one I saw on Friday. Zombies!


A bit farther west, we encountered a Guerilla Gardening planting in progress:

Guerilla gardening 1

You, too, can be a Guerilla Gardener, if you like -- check out their website. "Without permit or license, we plant seeds and seedlings in all those neglected corners of public space. Join us as we vandalise the city with nature!"

Chrystl was so much fun to hang out with. I foolishly didn't get a photo of her, but maybe on Saturday. Her photos from Sunday are here.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Lights, cameras, and even action

Four Minutes 1
Despite the strong Canadian dollar and rumours that the new Hollywood North is somewhere in Eastern Europe, on a bright day you still can't walk through downtown Toronto without stumbling across a film set or three. I was very impressed with this when I first moved here, but my excitement dimmed when I realized that 1) there is almost never anything actually happening on sets when you walk past them -- 99% of shooting a film consists of tech people standing around or adjusting equipment, the filming of establishing shots of streetscapes, the recording of ambient sound, etc., and 2) it's often impossible to figure out what's being filmed, and if you do find a helpful crew member or security guard who will actually tell you, nine times out of ten it turns out to be a cereal commercial or something equally uninspiring.

So I was pleased to discover this scene when walking across U of T campus on Friday. The lawn to the west of University College was milling with dozens of extras dressed like Brits from the 1950s: men in suits, women in calico dresses, a little girl with her hair up in elaborate braids. There were tents, and a lot of black and orange balloons. And an actual scene was being shot, with actors speaking under boom microphones. A police officer told me the movie was called Four Minutes; I looked it up when I got home & learned that the actor at the centre of this shot is Jamie Machlachlan, who plays Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. The movie also stars Christopher Plummer, and is scheduled for release in 2006.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Barlow at The Bagel

John Barlow reads at the Bagel

John Barlow is the ... what of the Toronto poetry scene? The Captain Beefheart? The Dennis Kucinich? Help me out here, those of you who know him. He's a fixture, anyway. He regularly puts out eclectic photocopied zines crammed with bits and pieces from unknowns and from established poets. If he's got your e-mail address, you already know about his ability to generate endless streams of text, rambling and frequently indecipherable but studded with gleaming nonsequiturs that stick in your head for days. At a party last week, apropos of not very much, John said, "The philosophy of Hegel is a giant Slinky through time," and I thought: Of course! The 'world-spirit' is a Slinky, time is the staircase! Finally I understand the dialectic!

Here he is, reading at the Bagel on College St. from a selection of his own poems and from some manuscripts written by his father in the 1950s.

The Bagel's been there, on College just west of Spadina, since 1950, and for as long as I've lived in this neighbourhood it's been just what it looks like from the outside: a diner where you can sit on vinyl chairs and get an all-day breakfast till it closes at 5. But recently I started to notice bands listed as playing there, and then John's reading happened there. Turns out the place is under new management, is often open nights now, and is rapidly becoming a hive of indie-rock activity -- it's even a NXNE venue. It's a great location and a nice, intimate space for music and readings, and the beer's cheap. Worth checking out.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Un chien, mais pas du porte

Pas du porte

Just off U of T campus, on Saturday.

I finally added some links to my sidebar: a short list of sites worth looking at. More will probably appear in the future.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Another Flickr meetup

Striatic and... Striatic
This is Bryan, or striatic as he's known on Flickr. He's been on Flickr since its inception -- in fact, since before its inception. At the meetup last Thursday, he gave me a long and interesting account of Flickr's history. Some of the pages, such as the login page, have a .gne suffix; I had thought that stood for something deeply technical. Turns out it stands for Game Never Ending. That's the original name of the Flickr site, and back then it was a kind of MUD, with no photos in sight. After that it was a chatroom site -- still no photos -- then the developers came up with the bright idea of creating an application that would allow quick & easy uploading of images into chat messages. Then the image thing completely took over.

Bryan takes terrific pictures, and is an enthusiastic ringleader of the Flickr community -- administering numerous groups, suggesting new interfaces, etc. (He organizes the Toronto meetups, as well.) He's become something of a Flickr celebrity. A friend of Stefan's painted the above picture -- based on Bryan's distinctive icon -- and sent it to him. (Bryan actually does wear that bowler hat much of the time.) And in June, he's embarking on an epic trip round the US, where he'll be meeting and staying with dozens of people he's met through Flickr.

I also got to meet the equally interesting Erin, Bryan's girlfriend. She just graduated from a film production program, for which her thesis project was a five-minute stop-motion animated film called "The Frog and the Faery." Bryan took a lot of photos of the film's production, and the level of detail looks just amazing.

At one point during our meetup at Supermarket (the restaurant, not the nearby Freshmart), someone noticed that there was a dance rehearsal taking place in Xspace across the street, and some of us went over and tried to surreptitiously take photos. Here's my peering-around-the-curtain shot:
Dancing with buckethead
I have no idea what they were practicing for, but I sure want to see it when it's ready.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Toronto the Good

If you hate parties, and especially parties that feature large quantities of delicious free food, wine and microbrewed beer, are attended by hundreds of good-looking and interesting people, and are thrown in gorgeous reclaimed Victorian industrial spaces, then count yourself lucky if you missed the Spacing/[murmur] fundraiser on Tuesday, because -- whew! -- you would've been miserable.

Toronto map

The event was enlivened by a number of little features and activities that people seemed to genuinely enjoy, and that allowed guests to strike up conversations with total strangers without feeling awkward or put on the spot. For one thing, there was the giant city map that took up most of one wall. There was a basket of stickers next to it, and guests were instructed to place a blue sticker where they lived, a yellow one where they worked, and a red one where they felt "the heart of the city" was located. It generated tons of discussion and, as you can see in this photo, people were clustered around it all evening.

Also, guests were issued nametags when they arrived, and asked to write the name of their favourite Toronto building beneath their own name. (I wrote "Coach House Books." Yay, the Coach House!) I was working the door for much of the evening & had fun seeing how people reacted to this question. Some froze up, some put "my house," or the name of their favourite pub. Many people put down the names of U of T buildings, prompting a lot of "Oh, are you a U of T grad? Me too!" exchanges. The new OCAD building was a popular choice. A man who arrived with his very cute toddler in tow (the kid seemed deeply worried about the size of the crowd, but didn't fuss, just stared in solemn fascination) wrote in the name of his local community centre. My favourite was the guy who wrote, "YOU."


I met several interesting people, including Dale's friend Mark, the infamous pickle-dropper. He's a funny guy, and it was great to meet him face-to-face & get the story of the pickles first-hand.

More pix on flickr, including these pictures of Dale and Matt B. Out of context these photos look very sinister & mysterious, and I have made up alternate explanations for what is happening in them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


Reflection, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

This is an installation piece called Reflection, the current exhibition at off the map gallery. If you look closely you can see artist Clarissa Lewis & curator Antonia Lancaster reflected in the mirrors. It's a striking piece; you walk into the tiny gallery to find the walls painted black and a cluster of white tree branches taking up most of the space. It's about "thinking," and the branches reminded me of dendrites, or neural networks, but with the mirrors on the ground, also of the way trees have as many roots below ground as branches above; or maybe the tree and its reflection are the two halves of the brain...Go look, if you get a chance, and decide for yourself.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The view from Mimico

Matt and Chloe

If you get on the westbound 501 Queen streetcar downtown, and you stay on it, past the Cameron House and the psychiatric hospital, past the Drake Hotel and Stones Place and all the small Parkdale galleries, presently you'll find you're not on Queen St. anymore, you're on Lakeshore Blvd. If you sit on the left-hand side of the streetcar, you'll be able to see the lake between the buildings. You'll pass a strip of well-preserved 60s-style motels, and then a strip of posh houses and consulates, the cars parked in front of them bearing red diplomatic plates. On and on the streetcar goes. Get off at Islington, and you can have a coffee at Rocket Fuel, the far-west sibling of Cabbagetown's beloved Jet Fuel Cafe. In the women's washroom at Rocket Fuel there's a large, heavy wooden desk and a wooden school chair; you could sit down there & work on your novel, I guess, if you really wanted peace and quiet, until someone else had to pee.

On Thursday evening, a group of psychogeographers congregated at Rocket Fuel and then walked down to Cliff Lumsden Park. This area, at the edge of Etobicoke, is called New Toronto. From the shore, there's an amazing view of downtown. We were there right at dusk, and the sky over the lake was a soft shade of pink.

We were joined by another streetcar-load of people, so there were about 24 of us, and we trooped off to explore New Toronto and adjacent Mimico. We walked through a lot of housing co-op complexes, past some factories, and back along that consulate row, to the motel strip and Casa Mendoza, the Piano Bar at the End of the Universe. You'd really never guess you were a streetcar ride away from downtown Toronto; it's like an off-season, low-end resort somewhere far, far away.

Tomanel entertains
Piano man Tomanel kept the room entertained with a smooth selection of classic-rock hits from the 60s and 70s. At one point he took a break, and as he wandered back to the piano I observed to the person next to me, "Aha, time for more Van Morrison covers," and he sat down & launched into "Brown-Eyed Girl." Casa Mendoza is at 2161 Lakeshore and is the perfect place to enjoy a highball or a manhattan while wearing a vintage Hawaiian shirt, or carrying a clutch-purse. There's a big patio that's open when it's warmer, and I'm told that in the summer a crowd of raccoons hangs out there, adding to the overall amusement value. And did I mention there's a steak'n'lobster restaurant downstairs? Of course there is.

A whole lot more photos here.

And speaking of getting around on Toronto's public transit system, check out the TTC Rider Efficiency Guide. Some lovely transit enthusiasts have gone to each subway station and figured out where on the train you'd have to be to minimize the length of platform you'll have to walk along when you get out. They've compiled the results in a PDF which you can download, print and make into a handy-dandy little booklet. Keep it in your purse or backpack for quick reference and shave seconds, even minutes, off your next subway journey. Progress!

Update (June 22): I haven't been back to the Mendoza since writing this, but have heard disturbing things. It was apparently closed for awhile for renovations, then it reopened, and people who have visited since have informed me that it is, um, no longer charming. I was worried that after the makeover it would just be kind of bland, but from what I've heard it's not so much bland as scary. I just thought I should make a note of this, in case anyone who read this post was thinking of going! If you visit, do leave a comment and let me know how it went.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Discarded pickles

Discarded pickles, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

The pathos, the poignancy, of the unloved pickle! When will the tragedy end?

Actually, those are pretty scary-looking pickles, I would have tossed them too.

I have finished my Philosophy of History paper, about which the less said the better, and so hopefully there will be more blog action in the days to come.

Starting tomorrow there's a conference at U of T on Value & Inquiry. The keynote speaker is Simon Blackburn. I am sure none of you are as excited about this as I am.

The Mike Doughty show on Tuesday was terrific, and I am serious when I say you all need to get Haughty Melodic. Here is an indicator of how awesome Doughty is: Sometime in the late 90s (I read this somewhere, I think on his website) he decided he had some kind of substance abuse problem, went through a 12-step program, had a conversion experience and became a Christian, and now he sometimes writes songs about God, and these songs are actually good. There's a song on his last disc called "Thank You, Lord, for Sending Me the F-Train." The world could use more devotional pop songs about public transit.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Margaret Atwood playing the theremin

Yes, this is a picture of Margaret Atwood playing a theremin. And it's Margaret Atwood! And she's playing a theremin!

I took this last summer at Harbourfront. The band is from Brooklyn and is called One Ring Zero. They solicit lyrics from well-known novelists and then write songs around them. The song Ms. Atwood was soloing on was in fact co-written by her.

Atwood. Theremin.

I was reminded of this picture, and inspired to post it, when I discovered that fellow Flickrnaut Ranjit has invented a theremin-playing robot named Lev. "Lev is made out of an old floor lamp, some plumbing supplies, a few empty mint tins, and some microprocessors." Go look. I'm getting back to my essay now.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Link day

Things have been a little quiet around here, I know. I'm trying to finish a paper for next week and it's eating my brain. Here are a couple of truly awesome things for you to look at elsewhere on the WWW:

~ I just discovered Cabinet Magazine via Caterina Fake's blog, and if you haven't seen it, you should check it out -- especially this article on hermit crabs. Hermit crabs are cool. I had one as a pet once, when I was little, but it didn't live very long. Today, apparently, there is a serious hermit-crab housing shortage; there just aren't enough empty shells to go around. The Hand Up Project has designed perfect little tiny plastic homes for hermit crabs, and is in the process of garnering corporate funding to mass-produce them. I love this bit:
"We acknowledge that such trans-species caregiving may in fact be a form of control. In recognition of this paradox, the new structures are aesthetically based on the architecture of Giuseppe Terragni, an Italian Fascist active in the 1930s."
And there are pictures. You have to see the pictures. The whole thing reminds me of that They Might Be Giants song:
Sir Hand
(Or is it Ma'am?)
I fell out of my right place again.
But you considered me
And now I'm where a snail has to be.

I want to thank you
for putting me back in my snail shell!
I want to thank you for putting me back in my snail shell!

Also in Cabinet: an article on ectoplasm!

~ Brian Joseph Davis's latest project is genius:
"Invasion USA": A completely modular and portable version of the Presidential Press Conference Stage. During the spring and summer of 2005, this set will be installed in various public locations where anyone interested can audition as a new president. Complete wish fulfillment for the applicants, the audience and artist guaranteed.
Here, also, you must check out the pictures. I'd vote for the dog.

Brian tells me auditions will be held again "whenever an organization rents a van for us. I am so not carrying that podium for three blocks ever again!" Anybody got a van?

Super-special bonus link:

~ Know anybody who might be interested in dating Brett Lamb?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Upcoming events

Over the weekend, Kim remarked that it's a bit frustrating that I only blog about events when they're over, and I remembered that part of the original plan for this blog was to notify people about happenings that they might enjoy. So here's a small list of what's up this month. If more things come to my attention, I'll add them later.

~ Tuesday, May 10: Mike Doughty at the Rivoli. MIKE DOUGHTY, PEOPLE! YEAH! I don't get out to nearly as much live music as I'd like to, but there's no way I'm missing this one. Doughty was formerly the singer/songwriter for Soul Coughing, and is now a solo guy with a guitar who does not sound like every other solo guy with a guitar. I'll be there, you should come. Tickets $16 all-inclusive at Soundscapes.

~ Wednesday, May 11: First Scream In High Park volunteer get-together of the year. If you enjoy the Scream and have thought about helping at some events, e-mail the Volunteer Coordinator, Daccia Bloomfield, for details. Helping out at the Scream is generally fun (this will be my fourth year volunteering), and it's going to be a huge festival this year -- they'll need all the volunteers they can get.

~ Sunday, May 15: Room 101 Games at the Drake Hotel. You've heard me go on about this before.

~ Tuesday, May 17: Aaaagh, a conflict! At the Cameron House, Lexiconjury will be on, with a super-special lineup guest curated by Mark Truscott: Gregory Betts, Derek McCormack, and Calgary performance-poetry group TEAM. But sadly, I'll probably miss it (sorry, Mark!). I'll be over in the Distillery District, at Toronto the Good, a fundraiser for Spacing and [murmur]. Toronto's poet laureate will be there! And, rumour has it, possibly the mayor! I'll likely be volunteering. Swing by and buy a button from me, or something.

~ Saturday, May 21st:Toronto Small Press Book Fair. Trinity-St Paul's Centre, 427 Bloor St W. 11 am - 5 pm. Bring a shopping bag and a pocketful of small bills, loonies and toonies... you'll need 'em.

~ Monday, May 23: Trampoline Hall, at Sneaky Dee's. This might be the one guest curated by Alex Pugsley and featuring my brother's girlfriend, I'll have to find out.

~ May 27-29: The 2005 Toronto Comic Arts Festival. In Mirvish Village. Don't know many details about this one yet, but the last one, which happened two years ago, was excellent.

(Edited to add stuff that had slipped my mind)

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Buddha's bargain basement

buddhist rummage sale. Image hosted on my Flickr site.

Tell people that the Zen Buddhist Temple is holding a rummage sale, and the jokes pretty much write themselves. I overheard a woman say to her boyfriend, who was checking out the stuffed animals, "Do you really need that? Unburden yourself." But as a connoisseur of thrift shops and rummage sales of all kinds, I can tell you that the College St. temple's regular sale (I think it's annual) is one of the best in the city. I picked up a nice leather jacket there yesterday. Come for the novelty, stay for the bargains, leave with a nugget of timeless wisdom:

watch your step. Image hosted on my Flickr site.