Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Childe America

I'm not sure what moved me to pick up a copy of James Thurber stories during my last bout of thrifting. It certainly wasn't the 2013 movie tie-in cover, with the annoying-when-miscast Ben Stiller playing the subject of Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1939). For me, Walter Mitty will always be Danny Kaye, who shined in the 1947 version.

Between the publication of Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" and its first film adaptation came "The Secret Life of James Thurber" (1943), in which the author discusses a just-published Salvador Dali book ("paintings by Salvador Dali and photographs of Salvador Dali") relative to his own recent publication. Dali's book is priced at six dollars, Thurber's at $1.75 -- a difference that bothers Thurber enough to intrigue the reader, draw us into a story not of how different the two are from each other, as Thurber initially implies, but how similar.

Stuck as Thurber is in this injustice, he has "one escape": "my secret world of idiom." At this point the laughs come at both the expense and the appreciation of art, proving once more that in Childe America you can have it both ways. But as is often the case, to achieve this the humorist reverts to a younger, more innocent time: the "surrealist landscapes of my youth," when turns of phrase -- "the old lady who was always up in the air, the husband who did not seem to be able to put his foot down," etc. -- are pictured literally.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Marks & Gesture

"It’s like I’m having the most beautiful dream and the most terrible nightmare all at once."

Sunday, May 29, 2022


This week will feature a run of daily temperatures in the 20Cs. About time, right? Still, I'd much rather have it on the cool, wet side than too hot and too dry, especially at this time of year. No bar is "icy" enough to refresh me after last year's heat dome. I don't ever want to go near that again.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Rowed Well-Travelled: Past-Tense Verb Landscapes in Contemporary English Literature

The subject is introduced, followed by a paradox with a seahorse bobbing at the end of it (?), three discussion topics, before concluding with a heuristic.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Soccer Pitch

Picture-making has a way of tidying things up, making the world perfect, if symmetry is your idea of perfection. But it isn't, nor is tidiness cleanliness.

I forget when they tore down the Edwardian-era school that stood on this site for all those years. Tore it down to build a new school almost half the size of the old one. Smaller but safer, as the old school was made of non-reenforced brick -- apparently a terrible way to die if and when an earthquake happens.

This field, once done, was a gorgeous emerald blanket. Then, within a couple of months, two mud semi-circles formed in front of the goalposts at each end. The field was closed for a year while people in white coats studied it to understand how it could fall apart so quickly, get so messy.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1965)

Richard Burton is "Leamus" (right) and Cyril Cusak is "Control" (left) in director Martin Ritt's film adaptation of John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The conversation below is from the debriefing scene after one of Leamus's agents is shot while crossing a checkpoint from East to West Berlin.

Though classified as a "spy film", The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is in many ways a portrait of British class relations: the skilled and knowledgeable ploughman showing stiffness is offered a junior management position in the town granary, but is too proud (conflicted? Irish?) to take it.  

CONTROL: It's like metal fatigue. We have to live without sympathy, don't we. We can't do that forever. One can't stay out of doors all the time. One needs to come in. In from the cold.

LEAMUS: I'm an operator, Control. Just an operator.

CONTROL: There's a vacancy in Banking Section that might suit you--

LEAMUS: Sorry, I'm an operational man. I take my pension; I don't want at desk job.

CONROL: You don't know what's on the desk.

LEAMUS: Paper.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Terrorists (1974)

Many believe the word "terrorist" came from the Reign of Terror during and following the French Revolution of the 1790s, but it was the 1972 Munich Olympics that entered it into the lexicon. Hence it's no surprise that a film from that latter era should exploit it (The Terrorists was released as Ransom in the U.S.).

The Terrorists begins with stock and second unit footage of terrorist activities. Mostly explosions and the resultant carnage. From there, two dramatized terrorist acts: an airplane hijacking and a hostage taking at the home of the British Ambassador to Scandinavia (the film's Scandinavian locales are in Norway).  Soon enough the two events are related, and a hostage exchange is set up.

Of course the hostage exchange is manipulated by Scandinavia's Head of Security (played by Sean Connery), where the bus (above) filled with one group of hostages (in radio contact with the hijackers) is deliberately blocked in a tunnel and exchanged with a bus (below) of lookalikes. As for the airplane hi-jacking, that (we learn later) is also a manipulation (by the British Secret Service).

There are some other interesting moments in this formulaic yet quirky film by Finnish director Caspar Wrede, but I will leave it at that for now. One thing worth noting is that The Terrorists, like a lot of British film and literature from this period (see the novels of John le Carré, but not the "Bond" films adapted from Ian Fleming's books), is one of a number examples of what by then was a growing mistrust of the Cold War British state.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Crypto Barbershop

Crypto. From the Greek kruptos or hidden. A buzzword used in relation to non-government issue currency -- as in, We have hacked into your provincial medical system, frozen its functions; any further correspondence will require a ransom paid in bitcoin. It is not a word I associate with getting my hair cut, but a word I associate with today, a ubiquitous word. As such, a word we trust. A word capable of turning heads.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Back Garden 2

It took a couple years, but the Brutalist pizza oven has finally taken its place alongside the bird bath and the grape arbor as a back garden mainstay. A shame I've lost my taste for pizza. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Back Garden

Yesterday was my first short pants day of the year. The day before that my flip flops broke, and rather than ride my bike to Hill's of Kerrisdale, where they sell nice pairs for $25, I thought I'd take my chances at the Dollar Tree eight blocks away (Gladstone and Kingsway), where I found a just-as-good pair for $2.50. I grew up with the Hill kids, and have a fondness for -- and loyalty to -- Ross and Nancy. But they know as well as I do that when you see a good deal, you jump on it.

The view above is from my reading chair in the back garden, looking west-north-west. The Miss Kim lilac is about to pop!

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Light Blue, Orange, Pink and Yellow

Drinking and dancing last night at the British Ex, which officially closes after last call on Monday. Not a good idea to walk backwards onto a busy street after an evening of drinking and dancing, trying to frame a sunset, half present because the other half is thinking, Like a Maxfield Parrish. Something about those colours together: light blue, orange, pink and yellow. Is he okay? someone asked after word got around. No, said another -- he perished. Sucked into a sunset.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Footsteps at an Exhibiton

I have to say, I was surprised by last week's B.C. NDP government announcement of a $800+ million investment in a new Royal B.C. Museum. The money, yes, but also the timing, with newly (by-)elected Liberal opposition leader Kevin Falcon entering the legislature. If ever a new opposition leader needed something to gnaw on, hold up in the face of a provincial 8-cent per litre gas tax at a time when Lower Mainland gas prices are at $2.40 per litre, this was it.

A more recent provincial government announcement was an overhaul of the province's thirty-year-old oil and gas royalty system, which includes the elimination of subsidy programs and raising the royalty rate from three- to five-percent. And before you wonder what difference two percentage points make, the 1972-1975 NDP government raised the tax on mining companies from one percent to three percent and invested the difference in the kinds of social programs most everyone else in the country was enjoying, except for those of us in B.C.

Is a museum a social program? Given that the image and the sign have bearing on our general health, I would say yes. Museums engaged in decolonization and anti-racism, like the Royal B.C. Museum, provide experiences that are essential to educating us as to the dangers our occasionally unhealthy minds are prone to obsess on, if not act on overtly. Evidence for this can be found on social media platforms, where people from across the spectrum think it's OK to act out because they're in pain, and because it's not "real life" -- when it is.

But do we need an expensive museum to remediate that? That was the question I asked myself yesterday morning while walking through the Polygon Art Gallery's display of 25 photographs by Alexander Glyadeylov shot and printed during the early days of Russia's unprovoked attack on Ukraine. Just before bed I heard from a friend (Jonathan Wells, Guest Services and Tours) who was present at the exhibition's opening reception:  

During the opening reception tonight everyone went upstairs into the Seaspan [Room] and [curator] Elliott [Ramsey] had Alexander on a Zoom call (at 5:30AM local Kyiv time) projected onto the large screen. It was very powerful listening to him in real time talk about the conditions there. At one point, Elliott was able to turn the computer around so that Alexander could see the room full of people who had come out to support his work. An audience member came up to the lectern and spoke to him in Ukrainian. I found it quite affecting. He is continuing to photograph daily, despite other photographers having been killed by Russian soldiers, one quite recently. 

Yes, we could have signed on for this event online, but there's something to be said about gathering in three-dimensional public space in place of doing so via the same devices many of us use for work. Not only do our public museums provide these spaces, they are there to help us process our experiences, remind us that we are not alone. Saving the planet is not simply a matter of changing the way we power our machines, making them cleaner and more efficient; it's changing the narratives that herald those who, when not "discovering" new fossil fuels sources, are invading sovereign countries in an effort to bolster their own. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Vancouver International Airport

Early as usual to pick up a friend at the airport. International Arrivals. Didn't even look to see how much parking is. Not like I can get street parking. The earlier I get there, the more expensive it is. 

Starving, I went upstairs and could not believe the length of the security line-up. From the food court to ... as far as I could see. Which is always farther than you think.

The line-ups at the food counters were eight deep, so I went to the magazine shop and was shocked to see how few magazines and newspapers there were. In their place: chips, beef jerky, sweets. Camping food, but at Urban Fare prices. I wanted none of it.

Speaking of camping, there's a little nook at the southeast corner of the shop where you can find heavy, red-checked shirts, one of them with a t-shirt reading "CANADA" tucked inside. Water bottles, mugs, glasses, socks, slippers, all of them branded "CANADA", some of them sporting the maple leaf.

The last time I saw Canada represented like this at the airport was in the early-1970s. Fifty years of attempting a cosmopolitan Canada and now we are back to -- bush parties?

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Phone Says the Picture Was Made May 9th

The phone says the picture was made May 9th, a Monday (I had to look that up). I strung up the garden lights last spring. Around the apple tree, then the grape arbor, which it shares with the honeysuckle.

The first night of those lights brought out something otherworldly in the Piers japonica, now ghost-like in its shimmering stillness, an effect that enhances the trees around it -- the two tall cedars, the mountain ash, the balsam leaning in. They have gathered like crows to protect the simp after it is pushed from the nest and encouraged to fly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Sheila Watson

"How does one speak to a man sitting wrapped in the silence of a spring day -- sitting wrapped in the majesty of a plaid shirt on his own doorstep, Stella thought." (131)

A quote from Sheila Watson's Deep Hollow Creek (1992), a short novel she wrote before the publication of her best known and most influential novel, The Double Hook (1959). The quote comes late in the book, in the last ten pages, and they and the other ten before them depart from the more-or-less unresolved tensions that preceded them, making these last pages almost a misplaced prelude, and why I love this book so much; a book that, if it were published today, would be considered out of time, as it was when Watson wrote it -- in the 1930s. 

photo: Maurice Boote

Monday, May 16, 2022

Le Violin d'Ingres (1924)

With a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion on Roe v. Wade making headlines, someone paid $12.4M for an original photographic print of Man Ray's imposition of f-holes over a woman's body, as if she were no longer herself but an instrument to be bowed.

In other news, a Kentucky artist-run centre succeeded in its attempt to re-introduce the concept of Kunstfreiheit at a Jackson County community college after the school had banned its teaching in its introductory level visual art classes. From now on, the autonomy of art will taught alongside social justice, institutional critique and decoupage.   

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Modern Problems

From the historic administrations of Greenberg, Fried, Adorno: the integrity of materials, their objects and supports, our transcendence, their autonomy, not so much abstracting but in search of indetermination.

Palms on the clay, pressing down, rolling it finger thin, making patterns and motifs, dare I say it, suggestive of any number of practical objects. Some to be worn (sweaters), some to keep us in/out (chainlink fencing), some to be climbed (Juddian rungs), some simply to secure (knots) -- how making them from clay makes them none of them.

To add and not-add painting to that: flesh tones, a flood of colours, IKB(?), monochromatic, all towards that which it can't.

And the cube that is this space, lit large like I have never seen it before, painted a brightest white and threaded through it, its fabric breaking at right angles -- up, along, down, along, up, along, etc. And punctuation, inserted flush in some instances, proud in others (as support), made from more clay, like the fabric's (fabrics'?) broken-gridded stitching -- in and out of the walls.

Discrete works says the titled numbered floor plan, but it's always the exhibition, first, for me, the system so open its closing.

Which is not to lose sight of my feelings, which belong to this space and its quirk, where you enter a shop below to ask for its key, then turn around and walk out, along the street, up a flight of stairs, down a hall until you come to a door, a door with a window in it, the room dark, the door opened, the light switch to the right and flick -- boom! -- this feeling, which in this instance opened me up, filled me with joy, before the come-down reading of its codes.

Saturday, May 14, 2022


I'd been reading about this guy. Part of the invasive species invasion. Like those tropical fish people "set free" in urban lakes that eat everything except themselves.

The way things are going, we'll end up with one fish, one plant, one insect and one bird, which may well be a bat, with none of us around to argue that a bat is a mammal.

While I was looking at the sign a mom sidled up with her six-year-old. "See," she said to her son, pointing to the sign. "If you see one, tell me," and then she smiled at me, and the boy seemed confused. 

"Are you scared of this creature?" I asked the boy, and the boy trusted me enough to whisper yes, he was.

Still smiling, the mother nodded for me to continue.

"Well, don't be too scared," I added, "because the real beetle -- the real beetle is only half that size." 

Friday, May 13, 2022

Field Toil

Tuesday's walk around Kerrisdale had me stopping at the hobby shop at 37th and Arbutus, where some of the finest plastic models ever made await assembly by those patient enough to take them on. Unfortunately the Handley Page 0/400 biplane is currently out of production, and therefore unavailable, else I would have brought one home. A model that was available responded oddly to my phone's camera and recorded some of the title-shortening, landscape-enhancing glare from the shop's lights above.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Sky Over Kerrisdale, May 11, 12:57 PM

I was born and raised in the soon-to-be-dead-name town of Vancouver. At no time have I ever seen clouds in this town as strange as those that have appeared before me these past couple of years.

These are foreboding formations, as if at any moment they might morph into a chariot-riding, sword-swingng titan, or more apropos of our current moment: a pissed off, supersonic thunderbird.

I believe the end will come not from war or pestilence or Kool-Aid, but from something so otherworldly that in the seconds before our annihilation we will forget the Putins, Trumps and Musks and pass into the next world happily, cradled by an overwhelming sense of relief.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Jeff Wall School of Mistaken Evocation

With my work for Preview re-read, revised and submitted, I made and ate a small pasta dish then set out for a walk in the nabe, returning a half-hour later to finish Sheila Watson's intoxicating Deep Hollow Creek (1992). In the lane just south of the 1300 block Kingsway, all I ever want in life: a bed with a roof overhead.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

The Arbutus at the North-East Corner of Clark Drive and East 18th

The arbutus has lost its lustre. Planted seven years ago by Terry, the occupant of the house torn down to make way for the one that now stands in its place (completed last year), it was his third attempt. "The key to growing an arbutus from a seedling," he told me, "is to keep water off the roots; that's why you see them growing out of rock crevices," and why Terry planted his at the crest of a rise.

As construction of the new house neared completion, I noticed the contractor was indenting the corner of the retaining wall, to accommodate the arbutus. A noble gesture, I thought, one that the City of Vancouver very likely insisted on. But when I told the contractor the retaining wall would only do its job and keep the arbutus's roots in water, thus killing it, he told me it wouldn't.

Now here we are, with the house sold, the new homeowners happy and the contractor richer for his efforts. If anyone is to blame for the imminent death of this arbutus, it won't be the contractor, because he fulfilled his obligation. Nor will it be the City, because the City is never wrong -- and employs people to maintain that fact. So what am I to do? Add this tree to my growing grief bundle, or do I plant my own in protest? My next door neighbour planted an arbutus two years ago and I watch over it like a hawk.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Arena Waste

Daily "snowfall" from the rink's Zamboni. It's always been this way. Suddenly the rear doors swing open and the machine comes out and defecates.

I loved seeing the snow behind the arena as a kid, especially in the spring and summer. Now they put a frame around it, pylons, and apply a de-icing compound. Why? Because someone might think it is related to climate change?

Sunday, May 8, 2022

In a Monetized Society, Everything's an Ad

Hal Riney was an advertising executive. He worked on hundreds of campaigns: some you have seen, some you have heard, some you have sung along with. When a bank had an aging clientele, and wanted to get it younger, Riney hired Paul Williams to write a song to accompany moving images of a couple getting married, their lives ahead of them. When a company wanted to popularize mineral water in the North American market, he mythologized the town where it came from. When a U.S. president wanted to get re-elected in 1984, not only did Riley write and produce the ad, he did the voice-over, as he did for many ads before and since. 

Here is Riney on what it is to do business in advertising:

"I would rather deal wth a tyrant any day than with a committee. Committees, as a general rule, aren't willing to take chances, which is why you have a committee in the first place -- so you can share the blame."

Saturday, May 7, 2022

My First Strawberry of the Year

There it is. The first strawberry of the year. All the way from California, brought to life through the magic of hydroponics, or whatever the heck goes on inside those Oxnard greenhouses.

So beautiful, I thought, as I took it between my thumb and middle finger, turning it slowly. I knew it would taste like nothing, and it did. But it was nice to look at. While it lasted.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Footsteps at an Exhibition

We visited the VAG's Imitation Game: Visual Culture in the Age of Artificial Intelligence exhibition earlier this week. Those who were there to learn something likely did, certainly on the topic of artificial intelligence and its myriad uses and abuses. As for those keen on seeing some art, the Kids Take Over exhibition had works from old school analogue types Michael Morris (b.1942), Gathie Falk (b. 1928) and Audrey Capel Doray (b.1931). Also included are three works with "Redacted" in their titles, by Chantal Gibson.

What distinguishes Gibson's redactions from the many artists, writers and public and private administrators working in this vein is that we don't see the redactions so much as the material used to make them (the titles tell us what we are looking at). The material in this instance is more ink than the book itself agreed to for publication (though Gibson cast liquid rubber in that role, to give the "ink" greater resonance). The book is expelling the excess ink, as if the book was made by its author and the author no like it. But books are generally made by publishers, busineses that assume the risk in making them and, if that risk pays off, profit at a greater rate than their authors.   

One of the great works of the 20th century is Robert Morris's Box With the Sound of Its Own Making (1961). Unlike Gibson's entitled redactions, where seeing is believing, Morris's self-mythologizing sculpture asks that we be there to hear, both literally and humorously, what it makes of itself.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Zero Hour (1991)

Grief might be the prevailing condition of the 21st century. Or maybe it has always prevailed, going by a different name, subsumed by other names like melancholy, malaise, ennui. Was it that great critic of the Enlightenment Friedrich Nietzsche who predicted despair would come for us before Death does?

Much of what we call grief is related to death -- or in Nietszsche's case, what happens to us when our values die on the vine. Trauma is another kind of death. A living death that, we have come to understand, can be inherited.

More than landscape, language and identity, grief is the great unifier in this country's literature, and there is something suspicious about the writer (at least those interviewed on the CBC) who do not step naked from bed each morning and walk directly to the cafe in tears, stopping only to talk -- to confess -- to whomever might listen. (To extend the fantasy: if Cafe Grief has a boss barista, her name is Shelagh Rogers.)

Nordic people are often characterized as emotionally cool sorts. Cool without the neurosis of the English. Björk makes a burlesque of this. But Björk (b. 1965) has transcended the human and appears to most of us in spirit form, a visitor from Helheim.

Like Björk, Kristjana Gunnars (b. 1948) was also born in Iceland, but she seems closer to an emotionally cool sort, and I think that's why I have such a fondness for her lyric memoir Zero Hour, which unfolds in its time-shifting, braided way to tell of her father's passing and of her own life changes as she enters her forties -- a book as much about writing as the truth-to-emotions carried within it.

I was prepared to say more about Zero Hour, when out of nowhere I was hit with a heaviness I have come to associate with -- despair. So let me leave you with this, an excerpt from Zero Hour:

"The hospice people left a sheet of paper with us when they visited my father one day. The sheet said Symptoms of Grief. Do not be alarmed if the following conditions occur, it is normal when a person experiences grief: excessive fatigue, inability to cope with noise; severe changes in sexual habits; depression; development of the symptoms of the deceased; lethargy; fear of people; a desire to hide; excessive weight on symbolism; a need for ritual; bouts of weeping; hot flashes; inability to cope wth everyday details. Do not try to hurry the process. Understand what is happening." (p. 108)

Wednesday, May 4, 2022


Is there ever a good reason to board over a window? I can't think of one. But to board over a window from the inside, using nails longer than the width of the wood?

I imagine the paint brush approaching these nails, the painter thinking, Can't be drifting off here. Have to pay attention. Might be okay if it was red paint I was painting with. Not white paint, where an accident might show. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Kingsway and Windsor

Apropos of yesterday's post: a more recent example. An implant of sorts. Then, after crossing Kingsway (heading north), this bit of artistry:

I had never noticed this zig-zag before. An instance of sticking to the letter of the provincial building code? This is City-owned property, after all; the future home of 80+ social housing units.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Broken Glass

The West Broadway Sally Anne opens at 10am. A number of us converged there shortly after that, on Friday, and found a store worker sweeping up broken glass. "Come back at noon," she said.

Another glass panel kicked in.

Glass is taking a beating in Vancouver. People are frustrated, angry. Glass produces dramatic lines when kicked, and a sound frequency that says, through clenched teeth, "I'm giving way."

If the glass doesn't fall from its frame, it is sometimes taped over. Sometimes plywood is added, and that's an ugly sight, one I am seeing more of these days.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Laurel Is Hardy

Scott told me the winter of 1969 was so cold the laurel lost their leaves. Assuming they were dead, many Vancouverites cut down their hedges in February. Those who didn't found them sprouting leaves in March -- and then, miraculously, flowering in April. Last year I noticed a few instances of flowering laurel. This year, many more.