Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts


our papyrus painting is finally on the wall

You can read the story of how we got these: here.

This, below, is the smaller painting that the salesman added to the pot after the price would budge no further. It is possibly painted on banana leaf, a cheaper and less durable papyrus substitute.

There is also a third, yet smaller painting, also "thrown in," but not display quality or worth framing.

The celery-looking stuff is fresh papyrus.
We watched Papyrus Guy make a small sheet.

That's our painting behind them!


vancouver, day four

Our last day in Vancouver was a full one. It included a library, great art, a meet-up with an activist-friend... and noodles!

I didn't want another breakfast at the hotel, so we poked around a bit online and found something nearby. This place didn't open til 10:00 (I guess hipsters don't wake up early) but we noticed the Acme Cafe next door. It looks like a diner - an authentic diner, not a fake retro ironic diner - but with a contemporary menu. The food was very good - I had a truly excellent frittata with portobello mushrooms - but the best treat came with the bill. We unintentionally qualified for the early-bird special: between 8 and 9:00, buy one breakfast, get another free. A BOGO breakfast? What fun! And an amazing deal, as the food is outstanding and not cheap..

After breakfast we walked to the Vancouver Public Library, the Central branch known for its distinctive look. The library hadn't opened yet and there was the usual crowd waiting to get in. Anyone who imagines that libraries are no longer needed should stop by right before one opens.

I'm not sure why a library should look like the Roman Colosseum, considering the original function of that ancient building (far more brutal and bloody than is commonly known). But it's an impressive and distinctive structure, and Vancouverites voted for it in a design competition. I like the inner concourse, which gives the feel of a city block across from a library, but within the library complex itself. I hope in the warmer months there is public seating on the huge open plaza in front of the building. If there isn't, it's a ridiculously wasted space.

We wandered a bit inside the library, which is very nice. I saw something I would love to emulate in Mississauga... more on that if I'm able to help make it happen.

After the library, I went to the Bill Reid Gallery, while Allan went to check out a bookstore. Bill Reid, for any readers who don't know him, was a Canadian aboriginal artist, writer, teacher, and spokesperson. His most famous work is the Spirit of Haida Gwaii, this sculpture, which lives at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC, and is pictured on the old (pre-Harper) Canadian $20 bill. The gallery is wonderful, a little gem of a museum. I enjoyed learning about Reid's life, although I could have used more context for some of the Haida modern cultural history. Of his own background, Reid (whose father was a white Canadian) said, "I am neither Haida nor non-Haida, neither white nor not-white. I am a person of the Haida Gwaii". I was also surprised to learn that before becoming a visual artist, Reid was a writer; I bought a beautiful book of his writing.

After meeting up again, with a few complications, we took a long train ride out to The Drive, a Vancouver neighbourhood with a counterculture flavour. We walked a lot, checked out a lot of used bookstores and a few oddball boutiques, and ate way too much excellent wood oven pizza. Eating too much was definitely a theme of this day. Unfortunately, The People's Co-op Bookstore, one of the places on The Drive we were most looking forward to, was closed because of fire damage.

From The Drive we took a B-line "99" bus to some other neighbourhood, transferred to another bus, all to pay a visit to this creatively-named store: The Regional Assembly of Text. Funny thing, Allan dragged us all over town to get there, and I was just humouring him. But as soon as we walked in, I was smitten and wanted to buy armloads of stuff. The store is full of beautiful hand-made cards with book, writing, and library themes. There are beautiful writing implements and blank books, stamps and buttons, pads and paper. The store displays a collection of old manual typewriters and file boxes, and a huge collection of zines that you can browse in a closet-sized reading room. It's an absolutely lovely store and worth a visit if you love print.

Then it was back on another bus to yet another used bookstore! When it comes to bookstores, the man is insatiable. I was way past my limit for both buses and bookstores, but my patience was less important than the payback I'd cash in later.

Our afternoon collapse was short, as I had my heart set on one more bowl of ramen before leaving Ramen City. We went back to Gyoza, the place from our first night, and I savoured yet another tomato-pork broth and noodley goodness.

After dinner, we met SB at a Gastown pub, the first time we met in person. S is a central person in the west coast branch of the War Resisters Support Campaign. She's also a CUPE activist and a librarian. We have a few things in common! None of other potential Vancouver meet-ups with internet friends worked out, but this one was really special.

* * * *

Waking up early as I do, I've been able to see Tala and Diego on the webcam every morning. I'm worry free, so happy to see them happy!


what i'm reading: fallingwater rising, biography of a building

In the prologue to Fallingwater Rising: Frank Lloyd Wright, E. J. Kaufmann, and America's Most Extraordinary House, author Franklin Toker writes, "Put this book down now if you can't live without the old myths about Fallingwater. But take comfort in the fact that a Fallingwater history shorn of miracles can still be thrilling."

Toker examines those old myths, and one by one, he uses his extensive and impeccable research to dismantle them. The truth, for me, was far more interesting.

I visited Fallingwater in 1999, and although I have a great interest in architecture and am captivated by that house, I thought a biography of a single building might be too detailed for my level of interest. I was wrong. The book does contain quite a lot of detail. But through that detail, and through his nearly palpable passion for his material, the author reveals the magnificence of Fallingwater and explicates the full depth of its meaning.

Toker weaves a social and cultural history of Fallingwater, placing it in context of Wright's career, Kaufmann's aspirations, the Depression, and the conflicting forces of architecture that were raging at the time. He shows how Fallingwater was sold to the American public, and how that hype permanently changed the country's perception of art and architecture. He analyzes what Fallingwater means in the context of art history and American identity. As Janet Maslin wrote in her review for The New York Times, "Nothing about the way Fallingwater was built, conceived, influenced or manipulated escapes the author's attention."

Some of Toker's claims border on the speculative, but he meticulously presents his evidence and makes his case, leaving the reader to decide if he's made too great a leap. Given that he spent nearly 20 years researching this book, the evidence is always substantial.

I was fascinated to learn that on the eve of Fallingwater's conception, the architecture community considered Wright washed up, a has-been. He had not completed a building in 13 years, and his work was thought to have become repetitive and - the worst insult possible - regressive. At almost 70 years old, Wright was living in relative isolation, both his personal life and his professional life mired in depression. Yet his two most famous, recognizable buildings - Fallingwater and the Guggenheim Museum - were still ahead of him. By the time he died in 1959 at age 91, Wright would be, without exaggeration, the most famous architect in the world, leaving behind an unrivaled body of work. How Wright transformed his career, his image, and the face of architecture through this one building is an amazing tale, and Toker tells it with the sparkling writing and wit.

Incidentally, this book is a great eye-opener for those who reject certain art based on the politics or personal life of the artist. Wright, it appears, was staunchly anti-Semitic, although his two most famous buildings were created for Jewish clients. He admired the Nazis and the Third Reich, and disliked that "the Jews" were leading the U.S. into war. (Anti-Semitism and fascist tendencies are one of the threads running through this book, and very relevant to Fallingwater's context.) Wright was also a raging egotist who abandoned his wife and six children to have an affair with a client's wife. Wright the man was not exactly an admirable character. Wright the architect was a visionary and a genius.

Another note: I highly recommend keeping some internet-enabled device on hand while you read Fallingwater Rising. Toker references dozens of buildings, and few readers will be able to conjure mental images of each one. I kept my tablet handy, and did an image search for every building mentioned. This provided me with a context I wouldn't have found in the book alone, plus I ended up with a new short-list of buildings I'd like to see on my travels.


dispatches from the community of readers' advisors: r.a. in a day 2014

Last week I attended "R.A. in a Day," an annual one-day mini-conference on readers' advisory - that is, finding books for readers.

It happens that the manager of my own "Readers' Den" department is one of the principal hosts of the conference, and the Mississauga Library was well-represented in the audience. More than 100 people attended from libraries throughout southern Ontario.

It was a joy to spend the day focusing on the singular pleasures of reading and the experience of people who read. Part of what makes doing readers' advisory fun is that you're already talking to a reader. You're not trying to convince anyone to read; you're a bridge between a reader and books. There are more passive forms of RA, such as book displays. But the active, one-on-one RA that this conference focuses on is - as you know - a part of my job that I really enjoy.

I'll highlight three speakers from the event.

Catherine Sheldrick Ross, into the minds of readers

Making this day especially noteworthy to me, the keynote speaker was a library hero of mine: Catherine Sheldrick Ross, the name in research on reading.

Some years back, I blogged about a book she co-authored, Reading Matters: What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries and Community. A chapter had been assigned reading, and I enjoyed it so much that I hunted down the book and read the whole thing. Let me tell you, in library school, that was a rare experience for me! I was so pleased to meet Dr. Ross and tell her I had blogged about her book. I'm going to send her the post, and I'll also read her newest book, The Pleasures of Reading: a Booklover's Alphabet.

An excellent and engaging speaker, Ross highlighted some of the results of her thirty-year inquiry into the minds of avid readers. Ross' research - in-depth interviews about the reading experience - has formed the basis of RA practice. Indeed, understanding the reader's experience is the key to good RA.

And that understanding begins with reflecting on our own experience. As you read these questions, think of how you read.

Are you a selective reader, feeling your time is very limited and what you read must always be very good and worthwhile? Or are you an ominvorous reader, reading everything from quality literature to genre novels and books others dismiss as "trash"?

Do you read only fiction, only nonfiction, or both?

Do you re-read books, feeling that books are old friends who should be re-visited and re-understood? Or do you feel that there are so many books to read and so little time, that you never or rarely read a book more than once?

How do you find your books? Do you have an organized system that you employ, or do you find books more randomly and haphazardly from an eclectic group of sources?

Through questions like these, we in the audience began to reflect on our own reading practices. We then did an exercise, each table discussing a different dimension of reading, and then sharing with the group. I am pleased (and kind of amazed) to say it was one of the more useful library exercises I've done. We could have gone on for twice as much time.

Many insights into the reading experience are nearly universal. Our choice of reading varies not only at different times in our lives, but at different moments, depending on what's going on in our lives at any particular moment. And reading is an enduring paradox. It takes us away from our own lives, into another world - the infamous "escape" that is often denigrated. Yet at the same time, reading broadens our scope, enriches us, strengthens our connections with the world. (Did you know that people who read tend to have more empathy than non-readers?)

Ross has written about a phenonmenon that most readers will relate to: she calls it "finding without seeking". You are reading a book for pleasure. Perhaps you picked it up randomly or were drawn to its beautiful cover, or read a review. You're reading it for pleasure, not information. But as you read it, you recognize something of yourself in the book: a relationship, or a dilemma, a conflict. You reflect on your own experience, and you end up learning, and growing. Ross says:
Readers choose books for the pleasure anticipated in the reading itself but then, apparently serendipitously, they encounter material that helps them in the contex of their lives. (Ross, Finding Without Seeking, 1999)
Although learning about RA begins with reflecting on our own experience, the most important dictum of RA is four little words: It's Not About You. Keeping our own opinions and judgements out of the picture can be challenging! Dr. Ross says: "RA is a conversation, and the library is the place that fosters that conversation."

Claire Cameron, The Bear

Claire Cameron, a Canadian author, read from her current book The Bear, and talked about her sources and her writing process. She was a wonderful speaker and reader. I must confess that I began reading The Bear about a month ago, and put it down, feeling it wasn't for me. But after hearing Cameron read, I'm going to give the book a second chance.

The inspiration for The Bear was an actual bear attack that took place in Ontario's Algonquin Park in 1991. It was a very unusual attack that gave rise to a great deal of publicity: a healthy bear attacked and killed two people. The bear was not threatened, he was not starving - the couple was cooking dinner and the bear left the package of ground beef untouched. What's more, the couple were experienced campers who did everything right. It appears that the bear went out of its way to hunt and kill people.

Using this event as a jumping-off point, Cameron imagines the story from the point of view of a five-year-old girl, hiding with her younger brother - their father manages to hide them in a camping stove while trying to fend off the bear - then surviving in the woods, alone. (There were no children in the actual incident.) The story itself is gripping and suspenseful, and ultimately hopeful. Readers I speak to in the library are recommending it highly.

Cameron had a great deal of experience as a hiker, climber, canoer, and adventurer before becoming a writer. One of her best stories at RA in a Day was about her return to Algonquin Park, with her two sons, after the publication of The Bear. If you're intrigued, there's a good profile of her here.)

Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read and Cover

The final speaker of the day approaches the reading experience from an entirely different perspective. Peter Mendelsund is a book designer and art director for Alfred A. Knopf Publishers in New York. Check out the very impressive catalogue of book covers he has designed: Mendelsund.

Mendelsund has just published two books simultaneously: a coffee-table retrospective of his work, called Cover, and a meditation on what the experience of reading feels like, called What We See When We Read.

Mendelsund's talk was a departure and a great end to the day. A fast-talking, witty, literate New Yorker, he jolted us alert after a long, slow afternoon. Most of us love book covers, and Mendelsund's talk was a fascinating peek into the process of their creation.

In response to a question, Mendelsund mentioned that his least favourite projects are usually books expected to be very popular, where authors have earned huge advances. In those cases, there are a lot of stakeholders, high expectations, sales pressure, and many opinions to contend with... and thus much less creative control.

On the other hand, Mendelsund's favourite projects are usually classics that are being reprinted. The author is dead, the publishing house has little investment, and he gets to do pretty much whatever he wants. These books are often being published in a series, an authors' complete work, for which Mendelsund designs an overall concept, then variations for each book. With a slide show, he walked us through the process of designing this series of the work of Franz Kafka. Also, check out his designs for James Joyce, especially that most inspired Ulysses.

Mendelsund's references were more literary than those of most public library workers. He was name-dropping Melville, Joyce, Dostoyevsky, and Foucault, and I suspect that went over the heads of many people in the room. But his famous cover design of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo probably made up for it.

A final note about Peter Mendelsund. He mentioned that his first career was as a concert pianist. (His parents were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto, and playing classical music increased one's chance of survival.) After decades as a musician, now with a family, he needed to change careers to have a more stable income and health insurance. That's not uncommon, especially in New York. But how many people buy a book on how to become a graphic designer, create a portfolio, and leap into a job as a book designer at a major publishing house? Those are some impressive talents at work, and not only the artistic kind.


more art and culture in the suburbs: indian art activism and the baps mandir

In September my mother was here for her annual visit. I always plan some art or cultural attraction for us to take in. This time she was recovering from some knee surgery, so major walking in Toronto was out. On a previous visit, we had already done most of the cultural attractions in Mississauga - or so we thought. I'm pleased to say that the west-end suburbs was up to the challenge.

At the Art Gallery of Mississauga, we saw a fascinating exhibit on the Sahmat Collective, a group of artists in India who use street art to challenge religious and sectarian intolerance. The AGM itself is a small but lovely space housed in City Hall. 

A colleague suggested a fibre-art show at the Art Gallery of Burlington. My mom loves any kind of craft or handwork, so this was a great fit. The Burlington space has an excellent street presence near the waterfront, something the poor AGM can only dream of. 

The highlight of our cultural tour was a visit to the enormous mandir, or Hindu temple, that sits on the border of Toronto and Mississauga, full name BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto. Like everyone else, we've seen the giant white wedding-cake of a building from the highway, but had never thought of visiting before.

The building is extraordinary. It was built from 24,000 pieces of sandstone, carved in India, then assembled in Canada like a giant jigsaw puzzle, without a single screw, bolt, or nail. The temple portion is elaborately carved sandstone, and the adjacent community centre is equally elaborately carved wood. It is the largest temple of its kind, by far, in North America.

The mandir's unfortunate location near several major highways and the airport must ensure that the gleaming white stone is usually blackened, and in constant need of cleaning. It was being cleaned while we were there.

No photography is allowed inside, but there is an interesting video describing how the building was designed and constructed, and documenting its celebrated opening in 2007. Unfortunately, that last part includes Stephen Harper.

The unexpected Indian theme - both the AGM exhibit and the mandir - seemed fortuitous. The following week, one of our nieces was visiting, and she has lived and traveled extensively in India. With her, though, we went for dim sum, took the dogs to the beach, and wandered around the University of Toronto (St. George) campus.

With much of my family now living on the west coast, we're no longer having the big family gatherings for US Thanksgiving, and I rarely see my nieces and nephews. This would be the case even if we still lived in New York City. I don't miss the 11-hour drive, but I do miss seeing everyone.


libraries with pride of place

Central Library at National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City
While I wait impatiently to post some exciting news, please enjoy these photos of amazing libraries all over the world.

I've seen six on this list: New York Public Library, Butler Library at Columbia University, Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library at University of Toronto, Trinity College in Dublin, Central Library at University of Mexico (from the outside only), and Los Angeles Central Library.

Library photos from BuzzFeed.


charles barsotti, 1933-2014

Two obituary posts in a row, and I didn't even mention Tony Gwynn. My favourite cartoonist, Charles Barsotti, has died from cancer at the age of 80.

My favourite Barsotti character is, of course, The Pup.

The Pup often saw his therapist.

And sometimes lawyers were involved.

But Barsotti had a political side, too. This cartoon has pride of place on my desk, next to Mankoff's "...assuming the FBI is making copies."

Here's another great political cartoon.

I'm so pleased that I emailed with Charles Barsotti some years back, after ordering some goodies from his website. If you love someone's work, please let her or him know. You might imagine that successful artists or writers know how much we enjoy their work, but in my experience, people are so pleased to hear from fans.

Charles Barsotti's obituary in the New York Times and Robert Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, on Barsotti.


ruby dee, 1922-2014

Ruby Dee was a towering figure in the American theatre. She was a great actor, a poet, playwright, and screenwriter, and a steadfast voice for equality. Along with the actor Ossie Davis, her husband of nearly 60 years, Dee never stopped campaigning for full civil rights for all people.

Dee and Davis' marriage was something to marvel at and to emulate, a partnership, as the New York Times obit puts it, that was "romantic, familial, professional, artistic and political".

Dee grew up in Harlem, performed in many Broadway plays, and was a quintessential New Yorker. On Friday, the marquee lights on Broadway theatres were darkened for one minute in her honour.


"just because it's broken, doesn't mean it's not beautiful": ashlea brockway and brokenart mosaics

The Brockway family, 2013
I want to tell you about an exciting venture: an opportunity to help make art more accessible for all, to help a low-income woman start her own business, and to help the family of an Iraq War resister, all at the same time. I hope you'll read about BrokenArt Mosaics and share Ashlea Brockway's crowd-funding page.

Wmtc readers may remember my posts about the Brockway family. Jeremy Brockway is an Iraq War veteran with severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Denied medical leave and unable to return to combat, Jeremy and his family came to Canada. Wmtc and Joy of Sox helped raise funds for the Brockways to adopt a service dog. I've written about the Brockways several times: here, here, and here, among other posts.

You already know my feelings about war resisters and people who struggle with mental illness. But in my zeal to share those stories, I may have shortchanged the real hero of the Brockway story, the head of the family, Ashlea Brockway.

I admire Ashlea Brockway tremendously. Ashlea is raising three young children on her own, and also caring for her disabled husband, who cannot work, and who can help with the kids only in a very limited way. She is a patient, loving, meticulous mother. More than anything, though, Ashlea is a woman of action.

BrokenArt Mosaic magnet
Wherever she directs her energies, Ashlea is focused on others. I've never heard Ashlea speak about her husband's situation without raising awareness of the broader issue, the shameful way veterans are treated after military service. When she accessed the services of a local food bank, she became first a volunteer, and then an outspoken advocate for both the families who use social services and the workers who provide the services. Now Ashlea is using her own creative talents to make art and creativity more accessible for all.

Ashlea is starting her own art-focused business, called BrokenArt Mosaics. She recently told the Port Welland Tribune:
“Even though my life is not how I wanted it to be, it's still beautiful.”

That concept is mirrored in her mosaics, she says.

“Broken things most people throw away, but you can pick up the pieces and make something beautiful.”

Brockway first realized she had a passion for mosaics in high school and has since used the art form as a means of stress relief.

“It's therapeutic,” she says, calling it a challenge to try and find pieces that fit together harmoniously.
Grab a kit, make some art

It's a relaxing experience she wants to share with the community.

It's an activity people of all ages, with all levels of crafting experience, can take on, she says.

Brockway's focus is on ensuring her kits are accessible to people of all income levels.

“It's about making art accessible. Art is often out of the price range of everyday people.”

She not only sells kits but also plans to eventually host mosaic-making workshops.

Her long-term goal is to have a storefront to call her own.
Ashlea's BrokenArt mosaics are very reminiscent of Gaudi's trencadis mosaics that I fell in love with last year in Barcelona. Gaudi used shards of broken, discarded tiles, "upcycling" trash into art well ahead of the trend. Ashlea's art is all about searching the scrap heap to find the beauty within.

You can help fund Ashlea's venture through her GoFundMe campaign, and you can visit the BrokenArt Mosaic Facebook page. Whether or not you donate, I hope you will check out the site, and share it with your own network.


rouen and home

We slept wonderfully in our beautiful little cabin, and the following morning we waited to see the other Canadians emerge from breakfast before we ventured out. I was amazed that my mother also didn't like them: she is so much friendlier and less curmudgeonly than me.

We ran into them briefly, and we both had the distinct impression that they had been waiting to see us before they left. And there's Elisabeth, wearing a Maple Leaf pin! These people must travel with a bag of Maple Leaf pins to distribute! Yikes.

Breakfast was the usual deliciousness of mini baguettes, croissants, homemade jams, butter and cheese, and this one included apple cake and chocolate cake. I cut a slice of each for Connie and she did not protest!

We asked Elisabeth to take a picture of us together and I got a few of the garden and of our host. Elisabeth called a taxi and he took us right to the restaurant, where the polite and attentive Mathieu took our suitcases and said he would see us for lunch.

The restaurant was on the Place du Vieux Marche, the square where Jeanne D'Arc - known to us as Joan of Arc - was burned to death. In the square, there is a church built as a memorial and tribute to the Girl Who Saved France. It's a huge wood and glass structure that, depending on who you ask, looks either like a Viking ship turned upside down, or a burning flame. Throughout the unusual and asymmetrical architecture, there are references to flames and fire. The interior is very sparse and clean, with bright stained-glass windows.

We hung out there for quite a while. I'm sure my pictures of it will suck - it was so hard to break down into compositions.

We walked around a bit more, ducking into a few stores. We used a toilette in a McDonald's, and learned the code for access to the washroom is printed on customers' receipts. I asked to see someone's receipt. Catching the door before it shuts is another method.

When it was time for lunch, our friend Mathieu treated us like visiting celebrities. For starters, Connie had large shrimps with an avocado sauce, and I had a proscuitto, parmigianno, and arugula concoction on mille feuille. Then Connie had le lapin and I had gigot d'angeau with fresh peas. And this was the best meal of the trip. The lamb might have been the best I've ever eaten. Literally literally.

Connie had riz au lait (rice pudding, kind of) for dessert and I opted for cheese: a selection of rich, smelly cheeses with quite a bit of red wine.

Mathieu offered to call us a taxi and retrieved our bags. Of course I tipped him for his trouble and attention, then wondered if I should have tipped more. I gave him 10 euros. This is a country where you don't usually tip. 20 euros seemed a little crazy, but was 10 enough?

Because we didn't have to spend time retrieving our bags, we decided to take an earlier train back to Paris. Good decision (and it was the same deal with tickets: no questions, no problem). We also decided to take the RER (commuter trains) to the airport. I've read that traffic to the Paris airports is often impossible. We didn't want to sit in a cab in traffic and stress about missing our flight. My only concern was that our train from Rouen would get into Gare St. Lazare and the train to the airport leaves from Gare du Nord. We needed two different RER lines, and would the transfer between them be accessible? I wasn't able to determine that before we left, but while there, I confirmed that the only fully accessible RER lines are the ones we needed, E and B. Amazingly and horribly, many of the stations are accessible, but the trains are not! Very few cars have roll-on/roll-off capability.

Our original train from Rouen to Paris left us with two hours to get to our flight. We thought that was plenty of time, but we took a train that left 40 minutes earlier and just made it! What I read online and in the guide book totally under-estimated the time required to take the RER to CDG. There were so many corridors, escalators, and elevators as we made our way from the intercities train from Rouen to RER E to Gare du Nord to RER B. One elevator was out of service and I carried all our luggage down a large flight of stairs. We were on RER B for a long time, then had a very long and circuitous walk (although fully accessible) to our terminal. It was a very long trip amd I ended up sorry to have put my mom through it.  We got to our gate a few moments before boarding began.

Boarding was delayed, then we were none too pleased to see ourselves squished into a three-seater row, in a row with no leg room and almost no foot room. When I saw the flight was not full, I asked to change seats, and a very kind flight attendant gave us our own three-seater. Much better!

Photos of the Church of St. Joan of Arc and the surrounding area are here.


My plan for Rouen was a bit more complicated than it had to be. I was reasonably certain it would prove well worth it.

There are many hotel options in Rouen, but they all left me unimpressed, mostly chain hotels or what sounded like dumps. I thought for the final night of our trip, we should do something special. I booked a room and dinner at a French country home about 25 minutes out of Rouen. My experience staying at French country homes has been very special, and I knew my mother would love it. I prepared her for the transportation issues, and hoped for the best.

Our plan upon arriving in Rouen was to see if there is a consigne in the train station - a place where we could check our luggage while we enjoyed Rouen on our last day (which is tomorrow). No bag check. Amazingly, some of the Paris stations still have them, but many cities no longer do, for "security" reasons.

We took a cab from the station to La Parenthese Normand, exactly as long (25 minutes) and at exactly the price (35 euros) our host had told me by email. When we saw the place, my mom and I were blown away. Our family suite is one of two suites in a small brick house off the main house. Exposed brick walls and timbers mix with sleek glass and blond wood design. It is somehow sleek and rustic at the same time. Downstairs, a big, comfy bed faces glass doors, a wall of glass, which looks out onto a lush flower garden and farmland beyond. The washroom and shower are downstairs, too, all sleek stainless steel. Up shiny wooden steps, there is a loft with two single beds, exposed bricks and beams, and a stunning view of the countryside.

Elisabeth, our host, has less English than Sandrine, although, like me with French, she can understand more than she can communicate. She gave us a tourist map of Rouen and pointed out the major attractions. The bus that I thought stopped right outside her home actually has to be reserved two days in advance. It must be some kind of paratransit, as it takes you to the regular public bus. That bus, into Rouen, is 6 kms (3.7 miles) away; Elisabeth would drive us and pick us up. She went off to organize for us and we decided how we would work everything with the bus and taxis.

Soon after, Elisabeth came back with the bus schedule. We decided which bus we would take, what time to have dinner, and such. The plan was bus back and forth today, bus onto Rouen tomorrow, but leaving our luggage at the house, then a round-trip cab ride to pick up our things and go to the station. Elisabeth was not too happy - she felt it was a waste of our money and time - but Connie and I were fine with it. The alternatives were keeping our bags with us for the day (impossible) or taking an early train back and losing a day of the trip (unacceptable!). We made plans for when to meet and when to have dinner. We assured her it was no problem...although I could tell she didn't believe us.

Elisabeth drove us to the bus and explained in detail where and how to go. The bus took us straight into town, leaving us by the river (the Seine) and very nearby all the sights. When we arrived it was raining too hard to go anywhere and we took shelter under a bus stop until it let up, for the second time in two days.

Before the cathedral we needed lunch. We stopped at an ordinary-looking place, like a place working people go for lunch, except everyone is eating three courses and no one is in a rush. We both had poulet et frites, then I talked Connie into a tartes aux framboise. (Not that I talked her into dessert, just which one.) I saw it go by and it looked so beautiful and delicious. Surprise: it was the most wonderful tart she ever had in her life.

After lunch we walked a few blocks to the Cathedral, the one Monet made famous. I love Gothic cathedrals, although I don't get the crazy rush of awe that I did when I saw them for the first time. Notre Dame de Rouen is being restored and cleaned right now, so part of the front is under wraps. Even so, it is truly awesome in its height, its stone lacework, the stained glass, and the sheer verticality of the building. We were totally wowed.

From there we walked through the pedestrian-only area in the oldest part of town. The streets are stone and cobblestone, and most of the stores are large international chains. The cafes and boulangeries appear to be local, and there aren't many schlocky souvenir stores, so that's nice.

While walking there, we passed one of Rouen's other big attractions, a big astronomical clock known as... le gros reloj (or le gros horloge). The movement dates to the 14th Century and the rest of it from the 1600s. It's part of an impressive old archway: you can see it here.

We made our way to Rue Jeanne D'Arc, first to a post office to buy stamps for Connie's postcards, and next to look for a bookstore recommended by Sandrine, our host from Giverny. (There are so many things I forgot to mention about Sandrine and that B&B that I will write a separate post on both places.) L'Armitiere has two stores, one general and one for children and youth. We found the regular one first, a big, well-lit, serious bookstore more interested in books than gifts and coffee. I asked about the children's store and was sent a bas, meaning lower down on the street, towards the river.

From the outside it appeared simply to be housed in an old building, with huge wooden doors that must date back centuries. But when we walked in, I truly gasped. A huge open space is carved out of wood and exposed brick, giving you the sense of being in an open courtyard, although you are inside, almost like a Spanish patio. The upstairs rings the ground floor like a balcony. And it's not just the architecture, it's one of the best bookstores for young people I've ever seen. The same bookstore has a separate papierie with beautiful blank books and writing materials of every description. I made Connie very happy by letting her buy me something!

We had a tea in front of the huge Palais de Justice, a pre-revolution building that once housed a Duke. Then we made our way back to the bus which would take us to La Neuville-Chant-d'Oisel. Between Elisabeth's great instructions and perfect signage, including a digital readout on the bus, it was very easy. When we came off the bus, Elisabeth was waiting for us. Happiness all around.

Back at the room, we changed and briefly relaxed before dinner: the table d'hotes I had reserved. If you ever have an opportunity to do a table d'hotes, I highly recommend it. You eat a home-cooked meal with your hosts, typically made from local ingredients, often a simple regional meal of the highest quality. We sat at a big wooden table in an open-concept kitchen, with Elisabeth and Christophe. Christophe had done the cooking, and his English is better, so he narrated the meal. He said for our last night in France they wanted to prepare something typically French, and typically Normand.

We started with tender white asparagus in a delicate Normandie sauce, which means cream. Note that I cannot eat cream at home; there aren't enough Lactaids in the world. But in France, cream has no negative effect. (Well, other than cholesterol!) With the asparagus, they served a Reisling from a local organic vineyard. They were a little confused by Connie not drinking wine, as if they did not know such a thing was possible.

After the asparagus, Christophe showed us his cookpot before he added the sauce, an almost unbelievably fragrant mix of veal medallions, carrots, mushrooms, and tiny onions. Then he added a light cream sauce, saying, "We are in Normandie, after all!" and served it over plain and perfect white rice. My mother does not usually eat rice and I do not eat veal, but we both cleaned our plates. It was incredibly flavourful and the perfect degree of tenderness. I had a small second helping which I would soon regret. I've read that the hideous practice of crating calves to make the meat more tender is not practiced in France; meat becomes tender through cooking. I hope that is true.

When the main dish was served, Christophe and Elisabeth were discussing something in French, and I caught two words: vin rouge. I said, "Oh, du vin rouge, oui merci." We all laughed. It was like a dog cartoon: blah blah blah blah vin rouge blah blah blah. Out came the red wine (I don't remember what it was, possibly a beaujolais).

And here's why I ended up sorry to have eaten more of the main course: out came the cheese. A cheese course! If only I had known! There were three kinds of cheese: a goat brie, a goat Camembert, and something made with raw cow's milk (take that, Canada!). I cut some for Connie, but I apparently did it wrong. They tossed the piece and started over!

They served the cheese course with a green salad, something I had never seen done. The salad was only lettuce, dressed in oil and herbs.

After cheese came a crumble, a typical Normande dessert. This was a dish of apple and rhubarb topped with a crumb mix and baked til it is gooey, almost but not quite burnt. Coincidentally, the crappy meal in Giverny ended with a crumble; Connie picked it apart looking for an edible bit but never found one. This one was sooooo good! This was definitely the best meal of the trip (to that point), and a very special experience for my mother, which is exactly what I hoped and intended it would be.

The meal was also lovely for the company. We learned a little about them, they a little about us. We talked about bookstores and libraries, our family backgrounds, places we have traveled... a bit of everything, helping each other over the language gap.

At dinner, Elisabeth and Christophe brought up the topic of our luggage for the next day. They could not let us take the round-trip cab, no matter how we insisted that it was fine. At one point, Elisabeth said she would drive our luggage to the station and we could meet her there! I told her she was too generous and we could not accept. When I translated for Connie, she had the same immediate reaction.

Christophe said he had another idea and excused himself to make a phone call. He came back with a business card from a restaurant where his friend works (maybe he is part owner). Christophe said we are to take our luggage there, leave it at the restaurant for the day, and retrieve it when we are ready. And the restaurant is the only one in the old part of town to serve Normande food made with only local ingredients. We instantly decided that instead of riding back and forth in a cab, we would eat lunch there.

We had heard that the suite connected to ours was occupied by a Canadian couple. I assumed they were francophones, but Elisabeth said no, they spoke English. And wouldn't you know it, when we walked back to our little house, there they were, finishing a pizza and drinking wine and beer. They practically pounced on us, introducing themselves, pulling over chairs from our patio to theirs, and pouring wine. I'm not known to turn down wine, and as Allan and I like to say, "That's how they get ya!"

They're originally from Mississauga, now retired in Barrie, and who the hell cares. I give them great credit for spending a month in France, but I could have lived without the details of their World War I and World War II pilgrimages. The self-congratulatory smugness was off the charts. What good Canadians you are, visiting both Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach! Let's put it this way: even Connie thought they talked too much. A full moon was rising and I was remembering that I had wanted to take pictures of the grounds and now had lost the light. Finally it got too cold and dark and we made our escape. The last frightening words we heard were... "See you at breakfast!"

Photos of Rouen are here. Some photos of the children's bookstore are here.


giverny, plus tablet and ptsd updates


I love my Nexus 7. I hate the Minisuit keyboard, although the problem might be Bluetooth.

To blog, I need a keyboard, and I need to use Blogger via the website, as the Android app is too limited. (That seems silly, since Blogger is a Google product.) Using Blogger online with the onscreen keyboard is very inconvenient. I can't select, can't easily make links, and can barely see where I'm typing. 

I've adjusted to the tiny Minisuit keyboard. I dislike typing with two fingers, but I can do it. But I will never adjust to the cursor suddenly moving into a different paragraph, or characters not appearing onscreen for two minutes, then appearing all at once. 

What to do?


This afternoon my mother confessed that the reason she didn't sleep last night is because she was worried about the strange noises I was making in my sleep. She won't say what she thought was happening (superstition) but I think she was worried that I was having a heart attack or some other medical emergency. Strangely, she never thought to wake me or to seek help. 

I told her the noises she heard were the sounds of PTSD. My mother and I never talk about my issues. I learned early on that she runs away from them (as she does from anything painful or scary), and since I found her denial painful in itself, I didn't talk about stuff, which suited her fine. So it was a bit strange to talk about my PTSD and night terrors, now, with my Mom. But we did, a bit. I feel really bad that she was worried and that I disturbed her sleep!

And now back to our show

So Connie and I both had crappy nights, for reasons known and unknown. I think she is getting anxious as the end of the trip nears.

The bright side of insomnia is that it was no problem getting out very early. By 6:30 a.m., we were in a cab bound for Gare St. Lazare; we had a coffee at the station, and took the 7:20 train for Vernon. I arranged our tickets in advance, but no one ever asked to see them!

In Vernon, only 40 minutes from Paris, we caught another cab to Giverny. We expected to stow our bags and settle in later, but some guests had cancelled their booking, so our room was ready despite the early hour. 

Les Jardins d'Helene is a beautiful B&B, a lovely mix of traditional and contemporary. In order to get a room with two beds, I booked a family suite both here in Giverny and tomorrow outside Rouen. Our suite door opens on a long hallway. At one end, there is a bedroom with a double bed (Connie's), and at the other, a room with two single beds for me. In the middle is the bath and toilette. It's so spacious, and the same price as our Paris room. 

Our host brought us coffee and we hung out in a funky sitting area while guests from the previous night had breakfast. (What we really need is breakfast-and-bed, rather than the usual order.) The sitting room has a vintage radio and record player, a collection of vintage cameras and light meters, and a collection of photography books, books about jazz, and jazz LPs. My room, meant for kids, has a huge selection of Asterix, Tintin, and Gaston graphic novels.

Connie and I set off down Rue Claude Monet, the main drag, such as it is, of Giverny. The road is narrow and rutted, and lined with stone walls and stone houses, many of which are B&Bs. Flowers are in bloom everywhere, often spilling over the stone walls. Rue Claude Monet is flat, but both above and below it are steep hills.

We bought tickets for the Monet house and gardens, then, still without breakfast, waited for a cafe to open. When it did, they weren't serving breakfast, which seems strange at 10 a.m. They were willing to serve us anything cold on the menu, so we had salads with egg and cheese in them. It was our first mediocre and overpriced meal of the trip. Which is pretty good, considering how much we've been eating!

After our funky breakfast, we went back to the Monet house. We are super lucky to be here on a Monday. Until this year, the house and gardens were closed Mondays, and the tour groups have not made the adjustment - that is, Monday is the only day without enormous crowds of day-trippers from Paris. I have heard that the crowds can be so thick that you can barely move! The moderate numbers of people there today were enough for me.

The gardens themselves are beautiful, but I guess I am just not that interested in gardens. I have heard such raves about this place; many people told me it is a must-see. Meh. Not that I'm sorry we came, but I was pretty underwhelmed. There are lots and lots and lots of flowers, in a huge array of colours and varieties, and the lily ponds where all those famous paintings were created. Monet's house is filled with his furniture and photographs, and his studio is filled with copies of his paintings.  I do enjoy taking close-up photos, so I took a lot of photos of flowers. The most important thing is that my mom loved it. This was her second or possibly third time here, and she very much wanted to visit again. So it's all good.

We had little sandwiches for lunch, and talked about why Connie had trouble sleeping. On the walk back to the B&B, we made a dinner reservation, which our host said was important. Then we got caught in a huge downpour. We had umbrellas this time but it hardly mattered. The rain and wind were torrential. I spotted some kind of shelter - like a bus shelter built by Theodoric of York - and we waited it out there. A few minutes later, the sun was shining. The whole trip, the weather has alternated between gorgeous and miserable.

Now we are relaxing in the B&B, writing and gabbing.

Photos of Giverny and Monet's gardens are here.


paris, day four

We had quite a big day today! Most of it was completely wonderful.

I woke up kicking myself that I forgot to take pictures of R and Connie and me. I had the camera with me precisely for that reason and never even thought of it. And by the way, R emailed from the Eurostar. They very nearly didn't let her on the train, but she did prevail.

Connie and I didn't set our alarm this morning and slept until 8:40, which is like noon for non-morning people. We had one last breakfast at Au Tramway, but since today is Sunday, the bistro was well stocked with locals. There were young families and older men and small groups of friends. We were the only tourists.

When we came out, the sidewalk in front of our hotel had been transformed into a market! When we arrived on Thursday we saw the tail-end of a market, but we had no idea when it would return or how extensive it would be.

It was blocks and blocks long - stalls of vegetables and smelly cheeses and breads and seafood on ice, dozens of varieties of olives, chickens sizzling on outdoor rotisseries, charcuterie - all manner of French deliciousness. One stall had a huge cast-iron skillet - maybe someone knows the name for this? (Stephanie?) - in which a vast quantity of new potatoes were sizzling with garlic and onions.

You know I love markets, and so does Connie, and the surprise of finding this on our street after breakfast was such a delight.

We didn't get on the metro until almost 11:00, so I was a little skeptical about how much we would get to. Our first metro ride seemed long on the map, but the trains arrive so frequently - a three-minute wait at most - and then zip so quickly from stop to stop, that there really are no long train rides.

Our first stop was the Musee Marmottan Monet, just inside the beautiful Bois de Boulogne, a huge city park. There was a line to get in, and the museum limits the number of visitors allowed in at any given time, generally a good thing. Unfortunately it started to rain while we were waiting, and our umbrellas were at the hotel. Not because I forgot them, but because I left them there on purpose. Typical of me. My mom had her hoodie, and a nice solo (French) visitor shared her umbrella with Connie while I took shelter under a tree. A few minutes later, the sky was beautiful clear blue. That's the kind of day it was.

The Marmottan is the largest collection of Monet's work, bequeathed by a family who were great supporters of the artist. I thought we were only there for the permanent Monet collection on the lower level, but it turned out to be much more. There was a special exhibit in celebration of the museum's 80th anniversary: 100 Impressionist masterpieces held in private collections - and thus rarely seen - assembled for public viewing.

In addition, the Marmottan has a permanent collection of works by and about Berthe Morisot, a female Impressionist pioneer, who was also married to Eduard Manet's brother Eugene Manet. And they own an impressive collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts, which I love.

It was all wonderful, although the Monet collection blows the rest away. It features much of his later work, which is more properly thought of as post-Impressionist or even proto-Modern. In that vein, a circular room is filled with a series of wildly colourful, almost completely abstract water lilly paintings - paintings that were never shown in the artist's lifetime.

This visit came at a great time for me, too. The Impressionists were the first art I was exposed to, and I was mad for them as a child and young teenager. But I OD'd on them, and came to see much Impressionism as saccharine and cliched. Once I found Picasso and other Modernists, I couldn't see the Impressionists with the same eyes again. (Picasso would have approved! He hated them.)

But, after a long period of not looking at Impressionist paintings, I can now appreciate them again. (That happens with all kinds of art, doesn't it?) I still strongly prefer the later, post-Impressionist paintings that prefigure Cubism, but I do appreciate Monet again.

All in all, the Marmottan was terrific. Connie was quite over the moon.

After the Marmottan, we decided to continue to our next stop and eat lunch there. That proved to be a mistake. Walking away from the museum, back through the Bois de Boulogne, we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It thrills us every time! I feel the same way when I see the Empire State Building in New York.

We had another easy and fun metro ride (our last!) to the 7th Arrondissement, exiting at the Varenne stop, right in front of the Musee National Rodin. Also right in front of a brasserie... that was closed. And so was the next one, and the one after that. And it periodically started to rain in sudden cloudbursts, and we'd have to duck under an awning. There seemed to be no open restaurants near the Rodin Museum.

I would not have minded for myself, but I am responsible for my mother's comfort on this trip, and I was afraid she would be tired and hungry, and possibly wet. I was brainstorming backup plans, while keeping up an optimistic, non-frustrated front. I've noticed that if I show the slightest bit of fatigue or dismay at anything, my mother says, "Oh my god oh my god," and seems very worried. Perhaps we are several steps outside her usual comfort zone, and she relies on my direction to ward off anxiety? Or perhaps I'm misinterpreting the "oh my god"s? I don't know. All I know is that we needed lunch, the restaurants were all closed, and it was periodically raining!

At last a cafe appeared, as it always somehow does. Although this one took quite a while and we were several blocks away from the museum. Cafe au lait never tasted so good. Connie had a seafood salad and I had a salade nicoise. She was ready to order dessert when I wondered what time the museum closed. We had a good laugh over the thought of the museum closing while Connie devoured a tarte aux peches.

We hiked back to the Rodin Museum, and strolled through the magnificent gardens and most of the rooms in the small museum. The gardens are particularly wonderful, with unexpected views of you-know-what. I love Rodin, and have visited this museum before, as well as the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. We did this one at a more relaxed pace, less closely observed than the Marmottan, and that was fine with me!

At this point I expected Connie to want to go home, and thought we would skip the third site on our list, especially since we started the day unexpectedly at a market. But no, Connie was up for one more stop, as long as we took a cab. We did, and enjoyed the city scenery en route to the Pantheon.

I don't know why, but I wanted to see the Paris Pantheon again, and I thought my mom would enjoy it. Understatement! She totally flipped.

It is a most impressive monumental building, with a crazy number of huge Corinthian columns, multiple coffereed domes, and enormous open space - way too much for any one building. Plus it's all meant to be a temple to reason and humanism. Many French greats are buried there: Rousseau, Diderot, Dumas, Hugo, the Curies. It was a fun stop, and brief.

The Pantheon is undergoing a huge facelift; right now the centre dome is under wraps. You can follow the progress at #AuPantheon. I'm loving the Pantheon having its own hashtag.

Everywhere we go, I have to pull Connie away from the gift shop. Not because she wants to buy herself things - that would be great - but because she feels she must bring gifts back for her grandchildren. Her grandchildren do not want or need the crap she would buy them and I'm sure they would prefer she didn't waste her money on trinkets. R was very helpful in this regard. Now I'm all that stands between us and a suitcase full of made-in-China.

We took another cab back to the hotel. Before heading upstairs, we stopped to go to a bank machine and buy water, and the only store open nearby was a patisserie! So we bought water and two desserts! Then we promptly collapsed on our beds, and Connie was almost instantly snoring. There were Happy Mother's Day messages from my sibs waiting. This was kind of a special Mother's Day!

I started writing this post, but put it down to go to dinner. Yes, more lamb at Au Tramway! Tonight the potatoes were even better - more crispier and more garlic-drenched. I had a quarter-litre of bad red wine and we  reminded each other that we had dessert waiting in the room!

Also at Au Tramway, there is an enormous shaggy cat that sprawls out on the banquettes, forcing customers to choose other tables.

Tomorrow morning we take a very early train to Giverny. My mom is anxious about it, I can tell. There are several trains we can take, and I paid extra for flexible tickets, so there is truly no cause for concern. But this is her. She is already getting anxious about the cab home from the airport in New York, and how our luggage will get downstairs here at the hotel. (Answer: by elevator.) I wish I could reassure her but it's beyond reason.


paris, day two

Connie and I were both dead to the world by 9:00 p.m., and when I next opened my eyes, it was 8:30 a.m. Yes! That's an unheard of amount of sleep for me, and I needed it. We had breakfast in the hotel and were soon back on the Metro.

Since we didn't get the earliest of starts, by the time we got to the Musee D'Orsay, the queue/line/lineup (UK/US/Cda) was very long, snaking around a good eight or ten times. But no bother, we were patient and made our way in. The D'Orsay was Connie's number one site - as it had been mine on my last two trips to Paris - so we planned to spend the day there.

We saw about half the museum, then had lunch at the restaurant, as opposed to the cafe. The menu (i.e. prix fixe) no longer includes a quarter-litre of wine as it once did, but it was a full and wonderful meal... and I drank wine anyway. I notice Connie generally speaks English as if she's home, as if she expects everyone to speak her language. But my mom is not an "ugly American" by any means, and an extremely friendly and pleasant person, and so far everyone very nicely uses English in return. And by the way, Connie says this was the greatest lunch ever. "This is the most scrumptious chocolate cake I have ever tasted."

After lunch I was ready to call it a day at the D'Orsay but I didn't say that. In fact, I think the gateau must have gone to Connie's head because I had to ask her to enjoy the paintings without tugging on my sleeve and narrating and telling me stories. I did - I think - convince her to enjoy the remainder of the museum at her own pace and leave me to mine. I still think she was rushing at the end, but maybe she had had her fill, too.

One of the coolest things about the remodeled D'Orsay is the colour of the gallery walls. Guy Cogeval, the museum's director, eschews the standard whitewash for deep burgundy, eggplant, indigo, and such. The effect is like seeing paintings for the first time. But the very best thing about that museum is simply the physical space. No matter what's on display, it can't compete with the remodeled train station.

We took the metro back - rush-hour crowds this time - and in short order were lying on our beds resting. Coming back to this neighbourhood is wonderful. It's so lovely and looks and feels so Parisian.

Eventually lunch faded away enough to think about eating dinner. We went back to Au Tramway, and had a perfect meal of lamb chops, roasted potatoes, and green beans. [Allan: I miss you. You would love this place and you belong here with me!] Connie had the world's most delicious tarte au pomme while I had more vin rouge. I told my mom that Allan says she is always eating the most delicious [whatever] she has ever had in her life. We had a good laugh over it. 

Talking over lunch and dinner, we realized that even our modest and restrained sightseeing wish-list must be cut back. The toughest part of travel, for me, is always what to leave out.

Tomorrow we are spending the day with R from London! Can't wait.


dispatches from ola 2014, part 3: hip-hop programming in the library

My final post about the OLA Super Conference sessions I attended saves the best for last. "Sub-Urban Beats: Hip-Hop Programming in the Library" thrilled me with possibilities. Even more exciting, it was co-presented by two librarians from the Mississauga Library System who are youth specialists, Erica Conly and James Dekens. They worked with Damon Pfaff, of the Now Creative Group and Marcel DaCosta, a street dancer, community artist, and arts educator whose performance name is Frost Flow. Frost Flow is part of the Mississauga hip-hop collective Ground Illusionz; you can see some of his work here on YouTube.

The presentation began with two points of theory: an introduction to hip-hop culture, and to the concept of transliteracy. Transliteracy is a current buzzword meaning:
...the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.
This covers the now-aging buzzwords media literacy and digital literacy, but also takes in visual literacy (you remember our comics and graphic novels discussions), sign language, music, dance, and any number of other forms of communication. Transliteracy promotes the idea that all forms of communication are valid, and that we communicate best when we are able to move across and between different communication platforms. For the theoretical minded - which does not include me - there's some good information on the site Libraries and Transliteracy.

[An aside. As I read about transliteracy, I see that some of my best successes at the library (so far) have involved this concept. I created and am promoting book lists that use colourful images of book covers, for use by both customers and staff . They are eye-catching, but more than that, they're designed for people who learn and remember more through images than through words. Our posters, handouts, and tickets for teen programming are also transliterate, associating each event with a graphic icon. I'll show some examples in a future post.]

The brief history of hip-hop culture in the presentation was fascinating and one I hadn't heard before. By now I've run into at least four or five different versions of the origins of rap, break-dancing, and hip-hop culture. I used to protest - "That's not true! I read that it began..." - but now I realize that the differing stories are all true, to some extent. The histories of cultures and countercultures are not linear and directly traceable back to point A and point B. Histories - perhaps especially histories of counterculture movements - are multifarious and diverse, and hip-hop is no exception. I like the way this is expressed on the website Global Awareness Through Hip Hop:
Hip Hop is the constantly evolving spirit and consciousness of urban youth that keeps recreating itself in a never-ending cycle.
The definition of hip-hop culture at this session had, for me, obvious parallels to the punk movement: the stripped-down, DIY culture, the raw immediacy, stories of lived experience, stories that speak to the need for self-expression, performer and audience as community and quite literally interchangeable. Both hip-hop and punk are countercultures that have been co-opted into the profit-making mainstream, but even capitalism can't kill them. The true expression of these cultures die the moment they are commercialized, but other expressions are simultaneously kept alive - on the street, in tiny clubs, on the internet. For a view to how hip-hop culture is being successfully used in education, see Hip Hop Genius.

So now take hip-hop culture, view it through the lens of transliteracy, and mix it with our library mission: life-long learning, community engagement, creativity, and innovation. Throw in a heavy dose of the core values that we bring to all our services: communication, empathy, understanding, and collaboration. A librarian who is an advocate for youth, a suburban break-dance performer, an arts educator, a large open space, some vigorous community outreach... and hip-hop programming in the library is born.

The result is a heady mix that has the potential to engage young people who may not normally see themselves represented in the library.

Photo: James Dekens, Mississauga Library

Photo: James Dekens, Mississauga Library

Photo: Erin Baker, Mississauga Library

Hip Hop Evolution - the program that Erica, James, and others at our library have presented - is a dance program that's not about the dancing. James emphasized: "It's about the ideas, the background, the creativity, the learning, the storytelling. And the program will be different depending on who's involved and where it's held."

I recently saw the documentary "Brooklyn Castle," about a Brooklyn, New York junior high school with a world-class competitive chess program. It ties in nicely with this quote by the hip-hop artist RZA, who is also a competitive chess player, and who compares hip-hop to chess. (No link available.)
Chess is like hip hop. Hip hop is a way we found to express aggression and even violence without having to physically perform it. Chess is like a duel. It's like a swordfight but it's all done on 64 squares on the board. All your aggression, strategy, cunning is left into a game. To me, it's a way to get that energy out.


on the internet, everybody knows you're a dog (the story behind the iconic cartoon)

We all know the iconic cartoon the title of this post refers to. Boing Boing has republished a story about it, originally run in The Magazine, an ad-free, reader-supported magazine that looks really interesting.

It's a wonderful little piece: the story behind the story, a glimpse into the life of people who try to earn a living from their own considerable talents, and a look back at the early days of the internet, and how things have changed, before tinfoil-hat predictions were proven to be not paranoia, but prescience.

Go here to read the story (really, it's fun), and here to see the rest of this cartoon. Please click through. The talented people at Joy of Tech get paid by clicks.


And now...


watch the future unfold: gaudi's masterpiece to be completed in 2026

This post on the design blog Core77 brought back so many wonderful memories of our recent trip to Spain, especially my total infatuation with the city of Barcelona, and the wildly beautiful architecture of Antoni Gaudí.

Click here to see a wonderful animation of the projected completion of La Sagrada Familia in 2026.

Thanks, James!


a people's history of british columbia, and a chance to preserve it for the future

Here's a chance to preserve Canadian history - the real history, not the government-approved kind - and to preserve art and creativity and alternative media, all at the same time.

Please consider giving $7.00 - or any amount - and sharing this excellent campaign with your friends and on social media. More info:
Hi! My name is Nicole Marie Guiniling and I’m the founder of Ad Astra Comix.

Ad Astra is a website that promotes political and historical comic books, and has recently stepped, albeit with shakey legs, into production, distribution, and publishing.

Over the next 40 days, I'm here on IndieGoGo to promote the re-mastering of "100 Year Rip-Off: The Real History of British Columbia." It’s a graphic history of the province that was first published in 1971. That makes it the oldest "Graphic History" on record in Canada.

100 Year Rip-Off

In July 1971, 100 Year Rip-Off was printed as an 8-page tabloid-sized insert in the counter-culture newspaper, Socialist Youth. It was produced in response to festivities celebrating 100 years of British Columbia's time as a Canadian province. When I first looked through it 40 years later, I was holding a photocopy of a photocopy--after four decades out of print, it was unlikely that too many originals were still around.

Pages were creased, graphics were scarred, and the text was messy, but I loved it. What a wonderful documentation--and piece, in and of itself--of B.C. history! I just knew that if the work were re-issued, there would be others like me who would want to see it.

In cooperation with the original artist, Bob Altwein, Ad Astra Comix is re-releasing 100 Year Rip-Off for a new generation of readers. The original work has been re-mastered and re-formatted into a black-and-white, 30-page comic book--the same size as your garden-variety Marvel or DC comic.

Ad Astra Comix is already at the presses, ready to begin printing.... but in order to get 100 Year Rip-Off into comic shops across Canada, we need costs to be as low as possible.


cantabria to gernika and bilbao, part 2

In the Guggenheim, we took audioguides as a substitute for a tour of the building, which in this season are only in Spanish. The audioguide is included with admission, and available in a huge range of languages, including Catalan - clearly a political statement from Basque Bilbao.

We joined many other people standing in the atrium, the focal point of the interior, listening to the audioguide and looking around at the dizzying curves and cubes and ramps. The atrium is strange and wonderful. Outside on the patio, you are suddenly on the prow of a ship, a theme that is echoed many times in the building.

The narration describes Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim as a sculpture, and it does look and feel more important (and, in my opinion, better) than any of the art it houses. I know this bothers some people, who believe that a museum should be neutral and disappear behind the art it contains. I don't see why that should be. Surely Frank Lloyd Wright's original Guggenheim Museum upstages almost any art that is displayed there, and is the more important and durable art itself. But obviously I care more about architecture than I do about postmodern art.

For our part, we weren't particularly excited to see any of the art in the Bilbao Guggenheim. Perhaps if we had started in the morning, we might have spent more time with the exhibits, but I'm glad we chose Gernika. We looked briefly at interesting permanent works by Jenny Holzer and Frank Serra, and very briefly at a temporary exhibit about art and resistance in Nazi-occupied France. And very very briefly at work by Alex Katz, Basquiat, Warhol, and others along those lines.

Mostly we explored the building itself, which is what we came to see. It did not disappoint. It is really a knock-out.

When we were museumed out, we walked back to where the car was parked and easily found the hotel on a small, pedestrian-only street. I cannot imagine how we would have found it while driving.

The Hostal Begonia, like our hostal in Barcelona, is on the second floor of an old apartment building. There are funky paintings and tile everywhere, and an enormous library, hundreds and hundreds of books spanning a wide range of classics, politics, lit crit, biography, and history.

Our room was a "mini suite," all they had available that night, and it was enormous, four times the size of any other room on this trip (66 euros, our most expensive room since leaving Barcelona). We collapsed for a while, then set out in search of pintxos. We walked over to the oldest part of the city (dating back to the 1400s), a short walk over a bridge. We stopped at an outdoor market and bought some cheap jewelry and some sweets. Many stalls were selling local cheese that you could smell when the wind blew.

We spent the evening going to several different pintxos places. It's a fun routine. You ask what things are (you usually can't tell), and the bar person points to different things reciting in either English or Spanish, "Pulpo, Calamari, Chicken, Meat...". We saw a lot of people drinking white wine, the first we've seen on this trip, so we ordered it too, having a couple of glasses of wine and three or four pintxos at each stop. The food was amazing, and it's so much fun to have these wonderful little bites. Anything you like, you can order another. Anything you're not crazy about, it's a low commitment.

Many places were closed, Sunday night probably not being prime time, but enough places were open on the Plaza and another street Allan wanted to try (from the guidebook) that we had a good sampling.

For our last stop, we returned to where we started. Good timing. A group of Dutch people who (I overheard) had been there four nights in a row were shaking hands and saying goodbye to their host. He scooted off and returned with an unusual pitcher, shaped something like an old oil can, or an odd salad-dressing cruet. He said, "Here is special Basque thing!" and demonstrated: holding one side and streaming the liquid into his mouth from a distance. He offered it to one of the Dutch guests, holding it aloft so the Dutch guy had to either drink or be doused in purple liquid. Dutch guy was able to drink an amazing amount in one go. Everyone else was too scared. I would have done it, but I'm too uncoordinated and surely would have been wearing it or choking. I did try some in my glass: it tasted something like cough medicine. I later learned it's made from blueberries. The whole thing was a riot. As we were leaving, more people were streaming in and the place was picking up steam all over again.

We had a lovely day in Euskadi/Basque Country. I'd love to explore further, although I highly doubt we will return. If you go, you might also want to check out this transporter bridge, the oldest one in existence, and the first industrial object to be named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The other hugely popular thing to do along with visiting the Bilbao Guggenheim is to drive the San Sebastian coast and eat San Sebastian cuisine, both said to be unparalleled. We opted out of both of those in favour of paleolithic cave paintings, and were very happy with our choice.

As we went to bed that night, the big question was, will we visit Toledo on our last day, or just go to the hotel airport?

Photos of the Bilbao Guggenheim are here.