29 October 2006

it's the most wonderful time of the year...


i love telling people that when i was a child, i used to play in the graveyard behind our house. i occasionally gathered up bouquets of flowers (including those plastic ones that people leave when they can't visit very often) from the graves and bring them home to my mother. i love telling this story because it's so apt that people don't believe that it's true. (it's much more effective when my mother is around to add a chorus of "no, really, she did".) it's as if an author with a great sense of foresight and irony was actually writing my life for me. (although, if that were the case, i'd like to have a few words with him about some of the plotting.)

when i was a kid, i also loved halloween. it was a big deal for me, deciding what to dress up as. i never found it frightening, although the attendant magic of the season did tend to give me little chills. my grandmother was always surprised that i would get more excited about halloween than i did about christmas. but that was what i enjoyed and there was no convincing me that there was any holiday more enjoyable than all hallows.

this preference, established early, is one that has stayed with me well beyond the years when i foraged door to door in search of sugar. it helps that the holiday happens in the autumn, which is already my favourite time of the year. but more importantly, the whole concept for the holiday seems based on mystery and hedonism, things that are normally bleached from the surface of everyday life, meaning that it's the one period where the weird rule the world. even the varnish of pop culture camp that has been layered over the holiday for the last thirty years doesn't detract from its appeal. (in fact, a little camp only seems to add to the experience.)

so if, like me, you're one of those people who tends to feel more than a little alienated from "the normals", kick back, drink some of the punch with the eyeballs in it, tell ghost stories by flashlight and rejoice. in a short time, the orgy of mass consumerism known as the holiday season starts, and we will be inundated by sentiments more sickening than anything you ever collected going door to door on halloween. but no matter how hard they try to make everyone think that christmas is an enjoyable experience, we know what the cool holiday is.

21 October 2006

failing target practice

i've been wracking my brain, because i wanted to submit one of my short stories to a contest and it's not working. there is a deadline fast approaching and i'm struggling to come up with an entry.

it's not a matter of not having stories to submit. there are a couple i would consider entering, because i think that they're indicative of my better work. the problem is that i can't find anything that fits within the specified guidelines for length.

normally, there is (for obvious reasons) an upper limit set on word count- in my experience, about 5000 words, although there is some variance. a few have lower limits as well, but i've never seen anything quite like this one. the story has to be between 2000 and 2500 words. you have a wiggle room roughly equivalent to a typed, single-spaced page, or else your submission is disqualified.

it's hard enough coming up with writing that is worthwhile, that communicates what i want it to, that has good characters and atmosphere and flows naturally, without having to worry about hitting this ridiculously narrow target. the fact is that i have nothing that fits within the limit and i don't feel like trimming 400 words out of a story i'm happy with just to make it fit into this mold.

i can start from scratch, but if i'm always cognizant of the fact that i'm running out of letters with every pronoun i type, i have the feeling that the result is not necessarily going to be what i want it to be. and if i don't like it, i don't very well see how anyone else is going to.

my project for this weekend is to figure a way out of this conundrum. apparently, not only my body, but also my writing, needs to drop some extra weight.

20 October 2006

brrraaaaiinnnssss... with sauce


the last few years has seen a flood of gourmet-style spicy cooking sauces and marinades to satisfy any taste. i guess it was just a matter of time before someone went after the neglected zombie market

15 October 2006

not so down and out in paris and london


just returned from a proper (i.e., longer than a couple of days) vacation in paris, where i had never been and london, where i had visited but did not remember that well. yes, that's yours truly standing on a postcard-worthy little street in monmartre.

both cities are remarkable and not just a little overwhelming.

my first reaction paris, as well as i can recall it (not counting the reaction at the airport, which is really, really, underwhelming) was that i needed larger eyes. because, no matter how much i stretched, how high i raised my eyebrows, my eyes would never be large enough to take in all of the intricate detail of paris. geograhically small, it looks like every square inch of the place was designed with the sole aim of making the hearts of those not fortunate enough to live there flutter with joy and envy.

this sounds like a cliche. it is a cliche. the whole city is a beautiful, romantic, artistic, gastronomic cliche and every year, double the population of canada descends on the city to see what all the fuss is about.

and what is the fuss about? here's a few things that struck me.

1. the gothic spledour of the city's architecture, in particular its churches. i took so many shots of church facades, fountains and the like that i can barely remember which ones correspond to which location.

2. the omnipresence of cafes and cafe culture. every street is littered with them, spilling out onto the sidewalk, offering the opportunity to relax for a few minutes (or a few hours) and watch the effortlessly elegant (and painfully thin) multitudes wander by.

3. best bread in the world, bar none.

4. the world's most famous painting (you know, that one from the da vinci code) is pretty damn cool in person. i really wanted to see madonna of the rocks, which is still my favourite of his, but THE painting is just eerie when you see it in person.

london is awe-inspiring in a different way. everything about the city is on a massive scale and runs at a frenetic pace, at least until you get well outside the city core. i kept getting possessed with the insane urge to start running, because it seemed to be the only way to keep up. this can become exhausting, but also exilihirating. unlike paris, which is still largely in tact, large sections of london, are very modern, many of the older buildings having been destroyed in the blitz. some of the modern touches are eyesores, but some of them are fascinating (such as the building known in local parlance as "the gherkin" for reasons that are obvious once you see it).

some of the things i'll remember from london...

1. the whole thing about how bad london food is has been greatly exaggerated. pub food is fine, but london also has great food from the former colonies, particularly indian. i would like to call particular attention to preem's bengali restaurant on brick lane (corner of hanbury).

2. related to the above, discovering brick lane (centre of the city's bengali community) and the impressive whitechapel art gallery, was a surprise. these aren't places that are on a lot of tourist guides, so the only others travelers you're likely to run into are going to be either a) lost or b) jack the ripper afficionandoes.

3. the museums and galleries in the city overall take a back seat to no one. they are awesome and, best of all, they are free.

so nine days, three time changes, many walks, a lot of flight time and an assload of photos later, i am ready to sleep and sleep and sleep... i feel like i need a vacation.

01 October 2006

night of the living hipsters


one of the reasons i choose to live in cities rather than the country is because of the easy access to art. being creastively inclined myself, i enjoy the feeling of proximity to other creative folk, even though i don't always understandwhat it is they're trying to do. so i was pretty excited (as both an art fan and a night owl) last night to partake in toronto's first nuit blanche, an all night celebration of contemporary art, with installations spread over three zones of the city.

as with the most things, the first time you try something is going to be a little awkward. i hadn't done a lot of planning beforehand and figured i would want to stop in at a couple of events, rather than spending an entire night looking at the art. in fact, there were so many events that i realised the second i got my hands on a program that seeing everything i wanted was going to be an impossible proposition. because i had been under the impression that i wouldn't be spending the night, my choice of attire was not entirely appropriate for the damp weather. my sweater had a hood to protect me when the rain became heavy-ish, but it did not take me long to determine that there is nothing attractive about a woman who smells like a wet sheep.

aside from my own sartorial choices, there were a few problems with enjoying the evening. the venues were incapable of holding the overflow crowds of downtown hipsters in skinny jeans and there were crowds well into the middle of the night. this is going to be an issue wherever you are, but it was particularly acute because the crowds really seemed to be lacking in manners. bringing a line of people to a dead halt so that you can take pictures or arrange to meet your friends via cell phone is not cool. responding to stoppages in said lines by pushing the person in front of you is likewise not cool. snack vendors had only pure junk- bags of cheetos and chocolate bars. given the nature of the event, it would have made more sense to recruit folks from local restaurants with healthy fare and... for the love of god... MORE OF THEM, especially more of them who serve coffee. ah well, it's toronto, there's always street meat (assuming that you wanted to stand in the line).

but it's really hard to take issue with the event overall. the art was not only engaging, but fun. there were even some crucial opportunities (particularly if, like me, you weren't smart enough to take a nap earlier) to rest, like watching a series of dada and surrealist-influenced films at the cinematheque ontario, or enjoying the shadow magic of finnbogi petursson's hypnotic light, water and sound piece sphere at the prefix institute of contemporary art (part of the 401 richmond gallery complex). there was so much to see and do that it was intimidating. in fact, i eventually had to admit defeat and started home at about three-thirty, having made it as far west as the tent ancampment (thom soloski's confinement of the intellect) at trinity bellwoods park.

i woke up this morning with sore feet and a sense of exhiliration. already, i'm thinking of the things i'll do better next year: i'll wear the most comfortable shoes i own, i'll take a nap, i'll check the weather, i'll have a plan to see everything that i want made up in advance... or maybe i'll just do exactly what i did this year and see what happens. if there's one thing that contemporary art teaches you, it's that there are no rules.
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