Monday, August 25, 2008

Dark water walk

On Thursday, I got a new camera (my brother gave me a gift certificate from Henry's for my birthday!), and then took it on a psychogeography walk, my first in ages. I didn't use the camera for much of the walk, because we went into some dark, dark places. We gathered at Warden Station, and the sun had gone down by the time we started out. We went into the Warden Woods and headed south, in the direction of the Harris filtration plant.

We came out of the woods to troop along Victoria Park Avenue, where we stopped briefly for soft-serve ice cream at a McDonalds. Then onto Kingston Road, where presently we came to the densely wooded Glen Stewart Park. There was a sign saying Eastern Ravine, and a wooden staircase leading down into the forest. We started down the stairs. The trees immediately swallowed up the light from the street, and the further down we went, the darker it got. The stairs seemed to go on and on, turning this way and that. Some of us took out cellphones and held them up to try and light the way; they looked like blue fireflies in the blackness. When we finally reached the ground, it was so dark we could barely see the trail. We moved along it, feeling as much as seeing our way, the ones in front yelling out a warning to the others when they hit a tree root or a mud puddle. As we walked, Eric told me about a restaurant he went to in Montreal last week, called Eau Noir, where diners sat and ate in a room that was completely dark. You read a menu before you went into the dark room; you could choose from a selection of appetizers and entrees, or ask to be surprised. Dinner was served by a waiter named Mathieu, who was perfectly comfortable working in the dark room, because he was blind.

Black water gurgled and splashed in the creek that ran alongside the path. For some reason, the ravine smelled faintly and pleasantly of cucumber. We all noticed this.

We reached the water filtration plant, which is finally accessible again after months of construction work. A big waning moon hung over it. We walked through the grounds and down to the inky lake, and threw rocks in. I took photos; I have not yet figured out all the available settings on my new camera, so there's an odd painterly effect in a lot of the photos, like we're wandering around in a de Chirico picture, which is actually what it was like.

Moon over filtration plant

More photos here.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Swallow swarm on the Islands

I was out on the Islands again on Wednesday, and I walked from the Ward's Island ferry docks all the way to the snack bar at Hanlan's Point, then back again. The weather was about as beautiful as it could possibly be. On the rocky southwest shore, I found the carcass of a fish as big as my thigh. I investigated Gibraltar Point Beach, the one I hadn't been to before, and found it to be smaller than Hanlan's, quiet and shady.

Walking back, I found myself in a clearing on the south shore, near where the boardwalk begins, late in the afternoon. There were a lot of tiny gnats in the air, and these had attracted dozens of swallows, which were all darting and swooping and chirping madly. I stood in the middle of the clearing and they flew all around me, and just above my head: I was standing in a cloud of swallows. It was impossible to photograph, since they moved so quickly, but I shot a video that maybe gives you some idea:

Photo set here.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Jesse and the Curta Calculator

At Monday's Trampoline Hall, after Jesse's lecture on The Curta Calculator: Its Construction, History and Aura, audience members cluster round for a closer look at the amazing artifact from some alternate-universe twentieth century.

Hilary and the cicada

Hilary ponders a dead cicada she found. She took it with her, to show her nephews, when she went home to Newfoundland this weekend.

More photos from Friday afternoon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Rainbows, butterflies, and tacky souvenirs: this must be Niagara Falls


On Thursday, Maggie and Stuart read as part of the Virus Readings series, in the Book Nook at 4555 Queen St, Niagara Falls. Stuart's friend Heather and I came along, and we made a day trip out of it.

We stopped in Grimsby to eat lunch and check out a nifty thrift shop Stuart knew about, and got to Niagara Falls sometime early in the afternoon. Heather went off on a bike ride, and Stuart, Maggie & I went looking for the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory.

Now, Niagara Falls is the kind of town where there are a lot of tourist attractions of dubious interest, with long lineups and inflated ticket prices. The Butterfly Conservatory, on the other hand, is totally worth your 12 bucks. It's a huge greenhouse filled with lush, blooming tropical plants, and giant, drifting, fluttering, jewel-coloured butterflies. There's a hatchery where you can see chrysalids (above), and watch butterflies crawl out of them and spread their damp new wings.

There's also, as you might guess, a hideously tacky souvenir shop, where these magnets seem to be popular:

In the gift shop

That's a found poem, right there.

Then we went and looked at the Falls themselves, which are of course beautiful, and are also a Baudrillardian essay in hyperreality, the real thing being effaced and superseded by its signs, the mediation of experience through technology, etc. Maggie said, "You can tell we're the intellectuals because we're the ones taking pictures of the coin-operated binoculars."

Coin-operated binoculars

The cultural-theory field trip continued as we ventured into the Clifton Hill tourist area, which is a kind of insane, disorienting sensory-overload environment, like a mini Las Vegas. There are a lot of wax museums, and a lot of attractions advertised as "4-D", as if the same old 3 physical dimensions were just not exciting enough anymore & a new one has been added to jazz up the carnival rides. Seriously, we have no idea what "4-D" was supposed to mean. Also, the Tourist Area is just crawling with robots. There are animatronic figures rappelling up the sides of buildings; disembodied voices boom from every storefront, hyping the wonders within; and sometimes the animatronic figures speak in recorded voices, trying to entice you inside. Robot barkers! Impervious to boredom, heatstroke or laryngitis! Also, you see the word FUN a lot.


Tired out by the heat, loud noises & flashing lights, we met up with Heather and were happy to stumble upon Basell's Diner, where we had classic diner food and beers and I GOT CARDED, much to my delight and the astonishment of everyone else. (Maggie: "I can vouch for her being really, really old.") Someday I want to have breakfast at Basell's; they have those little single-serving cardboard boxes of Kellogg's cereals, and they also have three kinds of pancakes:

3 kinds of pancakes

Then on to the reading. We had been speculating all day about what kind of arts community or neighbourhood Niagara Falls might have: it's a pretty small city, built around tourism, with no universities, though I'm told it does have some good community colleges. Who would show up to a literary reading?

It turns out that much of the arts community in Niagara Falls (as far as we could make out) revolves around one nifty building, 4555 Queen St., affectionately known as The Four-Triple-Five. A former nightclub, it's got a cafe, an art gallery, a music performance space, and -- up a flight of stairs, in what was once the VIP lounge -- an adorably cozy little second-hand bookstore, which is where the reading took place.

If you're ever in Niagara Falls, and if you're the kind of person who gets migraines in Tourist Areas, escape from Clifton Hill and check this place out.

The reading was intimate, the small audience attentive. Maggie and Stuart both read substantial, sometimes intense sets, impressive given how wiped out they were feeling in the late afternoon. I was intrigued by Tanis Rideout's work-in-progress, a nearly-completed novel based on the true story of a failed attempt to climb Everest 30 years before the Hillary expedition.

All my Niagara Falls photos here.

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