Sunday, May 31, 2020

"Compared to What" (1966)

Compared to What
Love the lie and lie the love
Hangin' on, with a push and shove
Possession is the motivation
That is hangin' up the whole damn nation
Looks like we always end up in a rut
Tryin' to make it real but compared to what?
Slaughterhouse is killin' hogs
Twisted children killin' frogs
Poor dumb rednecks rollin' logs
Tired old ladies are kissin' dogs
Hate the human, love that stinking mutt
Try to make it real but compared to what?
The President, he's got his war
Folks don't know just what it's for
No one gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
We're chicken-feathers, all without one gut
Tryin' to make it real but compared to what?
Church on Sunday, sleep and nod
Tryin' to duck the wrath of God
Preacher's fillin' us with fright
Tryin' to tell us what he thinks is right
He really got to be some kind of stupid nut
Tryin' to make it real
Tryin' to make it real
Tryin' to make it real
Tryin' to make it real
Real real
Tryin' to make it real
Real real real real
Tryin' to make it real
Tryin' to make it real

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Vernacular Architectures

I have been waiting. For years I have been waiting. Now I have found it -- an instance of Tudor Modern (above).

A few blocks east, on the other side of Knight Street in the lane north of Kingsway, an example of East Van Georgian Neo-Realism (Mama Roma):

And this marvel, just east of it, what I am calling Safdie Povera:

Friday, May 29, 2020

Separate but ...

The sign above sits in the window of a Kingsway medical clinic. I gasped when I saw it, reminded as I was of the U.S. American "separate but equal" legal (racial) doctrine that held that racial segregation did not necessarily violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Yes, social distancing is intended to save lives, but let's not forget that certain U.S. Americans believed "separate but equal" would do the same.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Neighbourhood Shrubbery

On the southwest corner of Sandra's lot, my favourite rhododendron, the late-blooming "Caractacus" -- "a strong grower with a wide habit," according to Van Den Berk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Press Conference

How many times have we heard The Current Pandemic (TCP) likened to "wartime". Limits on toilet paper (rationing), keeping indoors (curfews), covering our nose and mouth (gas masks). So what are we to make of the country's military called in to assess the health of Ontario care homes (geronticide)? Sounds pretty wartime to me. Now add to that the Union Jack (Is it not time to ditch this colonial emblem from our provincial flags?) and it's World War Two all over again!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020


I had to EDIT/CROP this picture twice. The content should tell you why. (One has to keep a distance from signs like these.) If I was to take it further I would change "ONLY" to "ALWAYS". Not that I care much for choppers. It's just that I find "ONLY" so limiting.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Kingsway Restaurant

Above is a decoration from a long-shuttered Kingsway restaurant, the site of a shooting some 20 years ago. One of these gunshots hit the window, leaving a small hole in it. Rather than replace the window, the owners covered it with a painted mural. The hole is behind the googly eye.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Bonnie Durward

Quentin Durward (1823) is a novel by the Scottish writer Walter Scott (1771-1832). Contrary to Vancouver is Awesome, Scott's protagonist is not the source of Vancouver's Durward Street; that distinction belongs to Elizabeth "Bonnie" Durward, who came to Canada from Scotland in 1894 to work as a maid for a family that shall remain nameless.

Shortly after her arrival, Durward fled her situation and took up with the McKinnon Sisters, who raised chickens at the edge of the Tea Swamp just east of what is now Fraser Street (at 27th Avenue). Durward made tinctures from the Labrador Tea plant (Rhododendron neoglandulosum) that thrived in the swamp's boggy soil. So effective was this plant in treating bronchitis that she came to the attention of Mayor Henry Collins, who recommended that a street be named after her.

In 1902 Durward returned to Scotland to marry a Major Clark Ross, and was never heard from again.

photo: Patrick Alexander

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Marlon Brando and Elia Kazan

A homoerotic passage from Manso's Brando: the Biography (1994):

... had Marlon known this, it would not have mattered. More than anyone in the cast, he was reluctant to let the short, determined director "sneak in." Kazan, though, had already picked up on this, and while the director's aim was to mine what was underneath the surface, to excavate what he later called Brando's "great underground," he knew he had to work the rim, to proceed "gently." (224)

Friday, May 22, 2020

The Art World

Crazy letter arrives last week with a numbered company UBS AG cheque post-dated June 30, 2020 and a typed letter informing me that I have until May 21 to submit by email a self-coined term pertinent to my "recent experiences in contemporary art." No definition needed -- just a term. Once submitted, the term will be reviewed and I will be told by the post-dated date "whether or not the cheque has been cancelled," and if it is un-cancelled, I will be "free to cash it."

For 500 CHF I gave them this:

belligerent diffidence

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Morning Walk

Getting up earlier than usual (6am), walking earlier than usual (9am), and for longer.

Yesterday I walked east on Kingsway and noticed another Pattison billboard that wasn't trying to sell me something. Could it be that no one wanted to rent it, and that rather than leave it blank, Pattison mounted a reproduced artwork instead? Something from his collection? Is Pattison trying to "sell" us on his collection? (Does he have a Ryman?) As an art critic I am prepared to respond. But not today.

I never know where I am going when I set out east on Kingsway, until I come to Victoria. At that point it's either further east (I have walked to Metrotown) or south. This time I walked south, but not for long. I turned right (west) at East 30th because I noticed that nothing seemed to impede it, that it ran without interruption until Knight Street. (Most east-west avenues between Victoria and Knight are blocked at some point by north-south streets.)

What I like about 30th, what I learned yesterday, is that some of its blocks are curbed and look to be regularly paved, while others look like back alleys. Street, alley, street, alley. Unusual for this city.

In one alley a cardboard box of electronic trash, including an old dial-up modem. Ba-ding, ba-ding, ba-ding! I would have taken its picture but I was being watched by a couple of guys in a car watching a guy in his backyard polishing his motorcycle, and he was watching me too.

Ah, the early days of the internet (1990s), when its web was a bunch of cute kids prone to snits; before its teenage years, when it knew everything (2000s); and now today, its social media platforms like battle stations people run to when feeling upset or righteous or both. Things were getting hairy online before the COVID-19 virus, and some reacted by going off of it. If I was the internet I could not think of a better way to return people to its rooms than the conditions set by this virus. I don't hear many people speaking of things going viral now that this virus -- and those managing it -- have us locked in, strapped down.

At Dumfries Street I turned right again and walked north. There is a brand new house on the northwest corner (Vina palatial, made of stucco and veneers), but it was the two war houses north of it that caught my eye. Both fall gently down a verdant slope and have lush, thoughtful gardens. With the sun on them, they look perfect. Find them, spend time with them. They might make you feel better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

"Nobody's" (1970)

Nothing at home left to hold me
City's just great and the world treats me fine

Monday, May 18, 2020

Apocalypse Noun Redux

Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) reading to Willard/the camera from Time Magazine. Look close and you will notice a variant (raised middle, ring and pinkie fingers) of Donald Trump's finger-to-thumb speaking gesture.

Here we are a few scenes later:

It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means.

Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies too be feared. They are truly enemies.

I remember I was with Special Forces. Seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we inoculated the children for polio. And this old man came running after us and he was crying; he couldn't say. We went back then and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile -- a pile of little arms. And I remember -- I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out. I didn't know what I wanted to do. And I wanna remember it -- I never wanna forget it -- I never want to forget. And then I realized, like I was shot. Like I was shot with a diamond, a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my god, the genius of that, the genius, the will to do that. Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. 

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Apocalypse Noun

[Vancouver]. Shit. I'm still only in [Vancouver].  Every time I think I'm gonna wake up back in the jungle.

[Marlon Brando] was one of the most outstanding [actors] this country has ever produced. He was brilliant, he was outstanding in [almost] every way. [But] he was a [troubled] man, too. A [complicated] man. A man of wit and humour.

He joined [with other human beings]. And after that his methods became unsound. Unsound.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Brando: the Biography (1994)

I am now 129 pages into Peter Manso's biography of Marlon Brando. The year is 1943. Brando is nineteen and living in New York City, a student at the Dramatic Workshop. He is the darling of Stella Adler, but not of her colleague, Erwin Piscator. As with most biographies, everything that happens in childhood anticipates the adult.

Here is Brando's brother-in-law, Dick Loving:

Bud [Brando's nickname] conquers through withholding. It's what his father did, too. Marlon, Sr. was much less imaginative about the whole process and used it maybe in a more brutal, one-track kind of way, but the tendency was there. (121)

A few pages earlier, in a discussion of genius and acting, Manso gives us this:

It is impossible to analyze the ingredients that make for genius, yet a few qualities seem to be dominant: instinct, unswayable personal standards, and what Bobby Lewis calls "a profound ambivalence." Lewis, who later trained Brando at the Actor's Studo, says he was "like an animal. He wasn't always able to put things into words, but at any given moment he could sniff out everything." Maureen Stapleton  sees it as an extraordinary type of intelligence:"I think that he knows things that are deeply rooted, maybe what you have to describe as the pain.... I don't think anybody could fool him." Dick Loving suggests yet another component, "a certain kind of consciousness about the importance of sexuality in life and art." (116)

Lewis's comments -- about not being able to put words to what one does -- reminds me of another artist living in New York at this time, the painter Jackson Pollock. So far, Manso makes no mention of anything else going on in New York; but then, this doesn't appear to be that kind of biography.

Here is an excerpt from a June, 1943 letter Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko (and Barnett Newman) wrote to the New York Times:

To us, art is an adventure into the unknown world of the imagination which is fancy-free and violently opposed to common sense. There is no such thing as a good painting about nothing. We assert that the subject is critical.

Now here is the oft-referenced Seinfeld episode (Season 4, Episode 3) where, almost fifty years after Pollock, et al.'s letter, "George" winds up and delivers his pitch:

Friday, May 15, 2020

Two Books, Two Dollars

Walking back from the Save-On with my weekly groceries I noticed on top of A&A Furniture and Appliance's book box Peter Manso's 1000+ page Brando: the Biography (1994), and underneath that, Ronald A. Wells's beautifully introduced America Observed: the Newspaper Years of Alistair Cooke (1988), a selection of the ex-Brit's mostly Guardian articles from 1947-1972 (plus a few add-ons).

The Brando book is exactly what I need for summer reading ("His determination to prosper, even as a young man, had schooled him in the advantages of silence ..."), while the Cooke book, for all its swirling yet nuanced prose, provides evidence of what it looks like to write and publish daily, like I used to do with this blog.

Here is Cooke speaking in the "Introduction":

I suppose, not to beat around the bush, that much of what I take to be the social sickness of the time -- beginning in the Sixties and exacerbated in the Eighties -- could be attributed by a moralist to a clutch of certain deadly sins: namely, greed, envy, lust, covetousness [Ed. Note: Is "namely" a sin?]. Not to leave anyone with the pious feeling that he/she is out of "the mainstream," I'd say that the conservative sin is secret greed (holding on to what you've got); whereas the liberal sin is self-righteousness ("Why aren't you more like me?"). I guess lust is no respecter of class, gender, colour, or party -- just epidemic. (15)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Almost, Always

so near, forever, to cross is to pass into, and I would like to die one day, nowhere in particular, nowhere I would not want to leave, though I doubt by then the "where" will matter much -- most of what remains is inside us by then, loved ones, if they are there for me, ghosts in my head by then, and I would talk to them as such, and they would convey the strangeness of my last words to others, my "rosebuds", if I were to utter any, so maybe I can add that to my list of things to do, because it is a beach thing to think about and things are warming up -- an object I was parted from when I was eight-years-old, like Kane's sled, a medium of travel, something to lie down on, ride into the darkness with, forever

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Touch the Donkey, No. 25

A lot of poems these days as lineless blocks and those with lines that break for no reason, as if their authors take their cues from pictures, which is fine, we're a visual culture.

The current issue of Touch the Donkey features nine poets, three of whom are women. Of these three, all favour long lines, if not the block or a single stanza.

One poet, émilie kneifel, provides little biographical information, apart from collecting lost teeth and directing us to

Here is the opening of kneifel's atmospheric poem "two siblings visit the third in toronto":

a honk is a person, two at least, colliding or almost. it's them in that
whoosh, the cars and cars and cars commuting, the always lights
with which to see.

A shimmering image for this reader. But two words stand out: "almost" and "always".

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Green Shadow (1994)

The cover of Andrew Struthers's first book suggests a graphic novel, but crack its spine and its mostly paragraphs animated by Struther's early-Crumb-like b&w style. Carried in these 'graphs is Struther's life and times in Tofino in the 1980s and 90s, where we hear tales of the town's environmentalists, loggers, entrepreneurs and politicians.

Equal parts Erma Bombeck and Hunter S. Thompson, The Green Shadow is a rollicking read by a well-read, hyper-self-reflexive bro out to understand the world and his place in it. For those interested in Strutters's more recent YouTube juggernaut, click here. In the meantime, a nice paragraph from Chapter 5, where Struthers goes shrimping with Captain Bob:

We had another beer and pretty soon we were talking about death.  Then about ghosts. Then about those circles in wheat fields. Then about pyramids. Bob was Mr. Rational. He figured ghosts were a kind of mirage.  Those crop circles were made by two old farmers with a log.  Pyramids were smaller at the top because the Egyptians ran out of slaves. And so on. He figured it was kind of mental illness to believe in something when you had no proof. A few more beers and we were talking about mental illness. Then about how Bob was mentally ill, and had been for many years. (59)

Monday, May 11, 2020


Pandemic of 2020 

Still got that nagging dry cough
My head’s being mean to me
Fever reads a hundred-and-somethin’
The pandemic of 2020

You and your West Van buddies
Love to jump with the London crowd
You lose your “tenancy of gigs” and
You post some hatred ‘cause you’re feeling down

Oh, when I think ahead now
This pandemic will surely ease off
But only if we pay attention
Yes, I wanna live to say it
Cuts to your gigs have saved some lives

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Army & Navy

After 101 years in business, Army & Navy announced yesterday that it has permanently closed its retail stores. Included is the flagship building complex on Hastings and Cordova Streets (where my father bought me my first suit, when they sold suits). No mention of what is to become of these buildings, but speculation is rampant. One strand groans "Market housing," another (more optimistically) "Social housing!" Either way, it's an Alamo. Like Woodward's after it closed (in 1993).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Chiwid (1994)

When I first came out from England in 1920, the attitude toward native people was very bad. They were frightfully poor and badly diseased. They were just getting over the flu of 1918 that killed at least half them. Then the winter before I was here, they got the measles. And that killed them off just like flies. They couldn't fight it at all. They just laid down and died, you might say. It was very tough. (55)

So says Tom Chignell, who "preempted the Halfway Ranch near Tatla Lake, halfway between Williams Lake and Bella Coola," according to Sage Birchwater, whose Chiwid (Transmontanus/New Star, 1994) is an oral history centred on the life of Louise Skinner (b. 1904, aka Chiwid), a remarkable woman of Tsilhqot'in (mother) and English (father) descent who survived domestic abuse and lived most of her life outdoors, hunting, trapping and shepherding.

Chiwid is the second in the 23 volume Transmontanus series, edited by Terry Glavin in conjunction with New Star. The intent of the series is to present a history of British Columbia with sharper teeth than the more romantic, or indeed ethnocentric, versions we have come to know.

It is my intention to read (and in some cases, re-read) the series towards a volume of excerpts, similar to how Birchwater and Glavin composed the oral contributions that make up Chiwid. In my case, I am more interested in (off-centred) stories within the main story. In the first volume, Glavin's A Ghost in the Water (1994), it is not the Fraser River sturgeon that interests me but a story told to Glavin by Katzie chief Carl Leon about Thunderbird Hole, "a cave halfway up a sheer wall of rock above the east bank of Pitt Lake."

Friday, May 8, 2020

One Lounge, One-Third of a Year Apart

The last snowfall of winter.

The first unseasonably hot day of spring.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

One and Less-Than-One Chairs

Nothing says "I'm waiting" like a chair. Unless "I'm resting, give me a minute." Or unless it is this chair, which is missing a piece so rectangular you wouldn't think it was part of it. I defy anyone who hasn't seen this chair to find its "missing" piece and say, "Ah, I know what this belongs to."

Hard not to see the guitar(s) in this chair. Or not consider the carpentry that has the centre spindles held so firmly in the chair's upper rail. I see a lyre in these spindles, not to mention the entire reorientation of this chair above a hole in a forest. A place to think about these things with our pants down while waiting for something to leave us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Hate Sticker

A bank line-up in Vancouver's Collingwood neighbourhood last month. The white "dot" on the fence to the left of the woman (above) is a sticker. Every section had one, placed at "eye level".  This is what they said:

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Terrazza del Garage

New teeth added. (Still some flossing to do.)

Monday, May 4, 2020

200 Block Alexander Street, North Side

Photo-based artists Roy Arden and Kelly Wood have made better use of "garbage" than I ever will. (Recall what Stan Douglas once said of the photography of Wolfgang Tillmans -- how he didn't realize how great Tillmans was until he was barraged by Tillmans's imitators.) But if the still-lifes of an art critic only bring to mind the acuity of artists Arden and Wood, so be it! They are among its better exemplars.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon

Every now and then an unidentified flying object (UFO) is sighted and it is the nature of its media coverage (and our response to it) that tells us who we are and where we are at. The most recent coverage, which includes the U.S. Navy's decision to re-brand that which is unknown and travels by air as an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP), comes at a time when our collective minds are pre-occupied, much like they were in 1938, when the world stood by and watched as Nazi Germany gobbled up parts of Czechoslovakia and all of Austria, and in October of that year Orson Wells broadcast his fake-umentary adaptation of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds (1898), an event so convincing that some jumped out their windows to their death.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Wait Until Dark

February 2020. A simpler time. Or an increasingly complicated time made simpler through our familiarity with it. Not the time itself but its associated attitudes, gadgets. Today, the times are neither simple nor complicated. We are numbed by subtraction, lost in new spaces both vast (why are there no other cars on the road?) and minuscule (half my day is spent at the kitchen table). I miss the hugs, the occasional restaurant dinner, going to art galleries ...

Back in February art advisor Krista Howard opened Howard 495 at 495 Railway Street (2nd Floor). I was not there for the opening, but I was there yesterday with Reid to walk through its current exhibition, held in conjunction with the Capture Photography Festival.

Curated by artist Stephen Waddell, Wait Until Dark features eleven works by eight artists -- Hannah Collins, Wols, Miroslav Tichy,  Giulio Paolini, Jacqueline De Jong, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Rineke Dijkstra and Thomas Ruff. All but one work offer evidence of the figure, though to be fair Collins's In the Course of Time 12 (Small Fire) (1988) contains within its burn what looks to be a printed budget, as evidenced by its column of figures.

Columns are also evoked in Paolini's gridded quartet Ritratto Dell'Artista Come Modella (Portrait of the Artist as a Model) (1980), where imposed over/montaged onto a photo of a statue is a slightly smaller vertical rectangle, inside which the statue is reproduced, redrawn, redesigned or voided (white). In addition to the backgrounded statue's head are its feet, bringing to mind Shelley's as-told-to poem "Ozymandias" (1818) -- "'Two vast and trunkless legs of stone/ Stand in the desert ...'" So more spaces to explore, negotiate, contend with.

(Was this a dream -- that I went to a gallery yesterday? I look at my notes again, the pictures I took. I was there, wasn't I? Krista was dressed in black, and Stephen told us how he cold-called Collins to ask her for some work -- "and she said yes!")

Friday, May 1, 2020

Some People's Teens

I am doing my best to make each day different from the day before it, otherwise it all turns into a pre-Expo '86 Sunday, where everything is closed and everyone is mopey. My only constant is my after-supper walk: out the back up the lane through the park to Kingsway east to Clark up the alley and home again. There are stops along the way -- a friendly neighbour, a curious gardening decision, the cat who darts from a bush and rolls on the sidewalk before me -- but all told it never takes more than thirty minutes -- enough to put some distance between me and the computer.

The park tends to have more people in it than usual, with most everyone obeying the distancing regulations (despite disobeying the open consumption of alcohol by-law). Couples are obvious because they sit closest to each other; with certain younger groupings it is harder to tell. Surely these teenagers don't all live together, I think to myself as I near a particularly vocal group, one of whom is performing that cliche known as drinking from a brown paper bag.

I don't get much exposure to teenagers anymore, so when I am walking near them I tend to take my time. A group from the other night has stayed with me.

Their conversation, if you could call it that, was a hissing match between those defending social distancing and those opposed. The death blow came not from a point of reason but from an attitude mistaken for an idea: "I don't care about social distancing because I'm too young and too healthy to die from it." When asked by the brown bagger how they felt about unknowingly passing on the virus to someone older or more susceptible, the death blower boasted: "I'm allergic to old people -- there's no way I could get that close to one." At which point a soccer ball rolled towards the group. Who should jump up and kick it back to grandpa but the death blower.