Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Good Morning, Midnight (1939)

In 1908 E.M. Forster published Room With a View, where the desired view is not of a courtyard but of a free and flowing river. Six years later Gertrude Stein published Tender Buttons (1914), a book that ends with "Rooms".

Another notable "room" writer is Jean Rhys, in particular her novel Good Morning, Midnight (1939). It opens with a room:

"Quite like old times," the rooms says. "Yes? No?"

There are two beds, a big one for madame and a smaller one on the opposite side for monsieur. The wash-basin is shut off by a curtain. It is a larger room, the smell of cheap hotels faint, almost imperceptible. The street outside is narrow, cobblestoned, going sharply uphill and ending in a flight of steps. What they call an impasse.

I have been here five days. I have decided on a place to eat in at midday, a place to eat in at night, a place to have my drink in after dinner. I have arranged my little life.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

Sei Shonagon was a 10th century Heian courtesan who kept a diary while serving the Empress Teishi (977-1000). A mix of "vignettes and opinions and anecdotes," according to her translator, Meredith McKinney. English readers know this diary as The Pillow Book (1001).

In 1996 Peter Greenaway made a film of it.

Here's something I fell asleep to last night:

[28] Things that make you feel cheerful -- A well-executed picture done in the female style,* with lots of beautifully written accompanying text around it.

* the female style: A painting done in the softer, sometimes tinted, "Japanese" style, as distinct from the bolder "Chinese" style known as the "male style". Here it is presumably part of an illustrated tale.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

PLAZA Projects

Made my first visit to Richmond's Aberdeen Centre mall last week to attend the opening of the New Collection group show at PLAZA Projects.

Fonder and director Steven Tong was there, of course, as were most of the artists and some of the mall's representatives.

I purchased a cotton abibas bag from Olga Abeleva and Shizen Jambor, saw the permanent installation of the latest version of Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson's The Night Times Press Bar (2016) and poked my head in on 7:30 Assemble's ongoing performance I didn't know the Blue Jays were from Mexico (2017).

But the biggest hit was the mall itself, with its many tiny shops, none of which were franchises. Amazing. Had me returning to the exhibition -- to look again.

Friday, May 19, 2017

History Painting

Allegory is not a problem. It has been with us, carried along with church and state, private and public capital, and the development of industrial processes. It has been readymade for some time. Suspended disbeliefs are fabricated and squeezed into tubular packaging, woven canvas pulled from looms of mass production, thin wood sheet layered, glued and heated together to form a rigid substrate for our pleasure. Allegory has history, a production value and the results are familiar.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Exiles (1961)

Sherman Alexie speaking on Kent Mackenzie's The Exiles (1961) at the 2008 Northwest Film Forum.

Here is a link to the L.A. Weekly article Alexie mentions concerning one of the film's stars, Yvonne Williams (Walker).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Miss Lonelyhearts

“Perhaps I can make you understand. Let’s start from the beginning. A man is hired to give advice to the readers of a newspaper. The job is a circulation stunt and the whole staff considers it a joke. He welcomes the job, for it might lead to a gossip column, and anyway he’s tired of being a leg man. He too considers the job a joke, but after several months at it, the joke begins to escape him. He sees that the majority of the letters are profoundly humble pleas for moral and spiritual advice, and they are inarticulate expressions of genuine suffering. He also discovers that his correspondents take him seriously. For the first time in his life, he is forced to examine the values by which he lives. This examination shows him that he is the victim of the joke and not its perpetrator.”
-- Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"Tahiti in urban form"

There were many Brits working in Hollywood in the 1930s and 40s, something Evelyn Waugh noted in his novel The Loved One: an Anglo-American Tragedy (1948), written after he, too, came west to make a buck.

But if the Brits descended on Hollywood for financial reasons, Germans were motivated by more immediate concerns: remaining in Nazi Germany had become a biological impossibility.

Thomas Mann loved Los Angeles, while others, such as Bertolt Brecht, loathed it. It was Brecht who described Los Angeles in 1940 as "Tahiti in urban form." Two years later, in a March diary entry, he writes: "extraordinary in these parts how universally demoralizing cheap prettiness stops one from leading anything like a cultivated, i.e., dignified life."

Brecht might be describing exterior architectures like the Brown Derby (above) when using words like "cheap prettiness," but is there a literary equivalent? Like the simile? Is not the conflation of "Tahiti" and the "urban" a kind of cheap (informational) prettiness?

In 1987, Peter Ustinov described Toronto as "New York run by the Swiss." He meant it as a compliment. But to those who feel their city is no longer the product of an equation but a variable independent of it ("No one runs us," I was once told by an art collecting landlord), the comment continues to burn. Raise it and you get freak-outs like this.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Canada 150 Heritage Moment

Seventy-two hundred and thirty-nine seconds of our current moment can be found in this CBC news item. And yes, while it is two men doing most of the talking, they are kept on course by a woman charged with moderating their "conversation".

More from Jesse Wente (this morning) can be found here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mother's Day Movie

This year's Mother's Day movie is Claudine (1974).

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Light and Space

In that kindly light the stained and blistered paint of the bungalow and the plot of weeds between the veranda and the dry water-hole lost their extreme shabbiness, and the two Englishmen, each in his rocking-chair, each with his whiskey and soda and his outdated magazine, the counterparts of numerous countrymen exiled in the barbarous regions of the world, shared in their brief illusory rehabilitation.

Image: Peter Alexander 7/18/11 (untitled blue diptych), 2011
Text: second paragraph from Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One: an Anglo-American Tragedy (1948)

Friday, May 12, 2017

A shíshálh Family

Reconstructed from bones by the Canadian Museum of History, this shíshálh family from B.C.'s Sunshine Coast is described by CMH president and CEO Mark O'Neill as "perhaps the wealthiest and most important family in North America 4,000 years ago that we've been able to identify."

For more on this ghastly action, click here.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Three Greenthorns

We are now eleven days away from tabulating the 179,100 absentee ballots cast during the 2017 B.C. provincial election. To put those numbers in perspective, there are 3,156,991 eligible voters in B.C., of which 57% cast a ballot.

With certain ridings close enough to be decided by absentee votes, the leaders of the three main parties are understandably cagey about what to say and do in the days leading up to May 22.

For those concerned that the three Green MLAs might form a coalition government with a 43 seat Liberal party willing to enact the Green's main election promise of proportional representation, rest assured -- it's not going to happen. The Liberals like the current first-past-the-post format, just as the Greens deplore the Liberals' indifference to the environmental consequences of oil, gas and hydro production.

But this is B.C politics. And in B.C. politics, anything can happen -- from a former premier who changed his name to Amor de Cosmos to an NDP candidate (Morgane Oger) who changed more than that and came within 561 votes of defeating the Liberal incumbent (Sam Sullivan) for the riding of Vancouver False-Creek.

Below are the email addresses of B.C.'s three Green MLAs. Write to them and let them know that a Green-Liberal coalition would be, in the words of the current U.S. President, "A bad -- a very bad -- a very, very bad idea."

SONIA FURSTENAU: Cowichan Valley cwv@bcgreens.ca

ADAM OLSEN: Saanich North and the Islandssan@bcgreens.ca

ANDREW WEAVER: Oak Bay-Gordon Headobg@bcgreens.ca

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


I have known Olive for most of her eight years. Her current interests include drawing.

Recently her father showed me some of her portraits and I was impressed enough to ask Olive if she would accept a commission.

"Let me practice on you first," she said, so I sat for a ten minute session, after which she said she would "colour it in" and get back to me.

Monday, May 8, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

I awake to the latest on that serial melodrama known as the French election and an update on our own provincial election (tomorrow), with the centrist Greens "surging," according to their haughty leader.

Following that -- floods. Not just in the Okanagan or the Fraser Canyon, where Cache Creek's fire chief was swept away last week, but in civilizations like Montreal.

"Après nous, le déluge," said Madame de Pompadour to her lover Louis XV, who, in keeping with the spirit of de Pompadour's declaration, revised it to "Après moi..."

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Live at the Malcolm Lowry Room (February 1994)

An opening night recording of cub (with guest) at the Malcolm Lowry Room in the fabulous North Burnaby Inn.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Final Frontier (1992)

The Georgia Straight is exactly 50 years old. That's a long time, especially these days.

To mark its anniversary the Straight published an annotated list of "50 albums that shaped Vancouver." Included is an album I helped to make with my old band, Hard Rock Miners.

Normally I would be flattered -- but there are too many omissions! (Remember, the Straight is talking albums that "shaped" the city, not our favourites.) For example, of the 50 albums selected (one for each year), only three are by solo women artists!

Ann Mortifee's recording of The Ecstasy of Rita Joe (1975) is an important record -- an original score from a play that everyone in Vancouver saw that year.

Same too for Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993), an album whose contribution to Kitsilano goddess culture is on par with Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark (1974) and Tracy Chapman's Tracy Chapman (1988).

Animal Slaves was an art band, a great band. What about Dog Eat Dog (1984)?

Spirit of the West's impact was huge and intergenerational. What about Labour Day (1988)?

No hip-hop? What about Rascalz's Really Livin' (1992)?

cub's Betti-Cola (1993)?

Kinnie Starr's Tidy (1996)?

Destroyer's We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge (1996)?

Oh yeah, and Louis Cyphre -- thanks for uploading this yesterday. That Circle C record is among my Top 50, everywhere.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


North Vancouver's Tomahawk Barbecue in 1936 -- or The Tomahawk as it is known today.

What to make of its sign? A clever (resourceful) use of a civic utility pole, or evidence of the state's role in the perpetuation of negative stereotypes?

What about the pairing of an indigenous signifier with one associated with the "Orient"?

Here is the Salada sign today:

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Cranes in the Sky

"Cities aren't always so popular with birds. Venice was once an area of marshland where migrating cranes could rest their feet. Now they have to keep on flying."

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Artist-run Cultured

Something that became apparent during Vancouver's Institutions by Artists conference of October 2012 was the growing relationship between state-sanctioned artist-run centres and the academy. I had to remind myself of this while waiting for my breath to return after reading ECUAD's typically proprietary April 30th announcement that had its Living Labs reifier and Prince George's civic art gallery (Two Rivers) "Partner[ing] to Launch a new Artist-run Centre in Prince George, B.C."

Monday, May 1, 2017

Gladstone Street

Last week Hannah and I drove southeast on Kingsway to New Westminster where we walked up and down Columbia Street, poked around the antique shops along the waterfront before a quick visit to the New Media Gallery at the Anvil Centre.

On our return we stopped at the Oasis Car Wash in Burnaby; and then, as we were nearing Gladstone  Street, I remembered that the City of Vancouver recently posted a "Literary Landmark" plaque to commemorate my book Kingsway (1995) and its mention of Kingsway's first settler-built structure, the Gladstone Inn, in 1865.

The two dots placed below my eyes are remnants of what Hannah said were "likely googly eyes." She tried to pick them off, but they were on there pretty good.