Sunday, February 25, 2024

So Much Art!

I haven't decided whether to circle back and add some art to this post or do it properly with a post on each exhibit.  It would be better to take the second route, but that greatly increases the chances I won't get around to it for some time.  At any rate, as I described here, last weekend the trip to Buffalo ran pretty smoothly right up until the very end, when I got stuck in Buffalo for an extra 90 minutes.  This time around the very frustrating aspects of the trip had already been revealed when the Kronos Quartet concert was cancelled,* and I had to rearrange my plans earlier in the week.  But at least that meant I wasn't scrambling like the last time I was in Montreal.  I had managed to get the hotel stay down to one night and I had booked Megabus back from Montreal to Toronto (and I also had figured out where to catch Megabus!).

In general, the trip went very smoothly.  We got to Kingston a bit early and had time to stretch our legs, etc.  We got into Ottawa maybe 10 minutes ahead of schedule.  I managed to catch the LRT over to Rideau station and then ran over to the National Gallery.  I spent the first 30 minutes going through the Riopelle exhibit.  I liked it, especially the fact they delved a bit more into his early career and then had a few pieces from late in his career.  (The Mitchelle/Riopelle show at the AGO was almost entirely focused on the middle of his career.)  Then I went through the other parts of the museum, trying to ensure I still had 20 minutes at the end to go back through the Riopelle for a second time.  Then I met a guy I used to work with at HDR, and we grabbed tea and spent some time catching up.  He was able to drop me off at the Via station where I had a two hour ride up to Montreal.

It was pretty cold in Montreal, so I walked very quickly over to the hotel and checked in.  In the morning, I wrote down a completely wild dream (that was more or less about trying to get tickets to a Fringe show, but I think I must have been in Edinburgh, not Toronto).  I had my (free) breakfast at the hotel, and then walked over to the Museum of Fine Arts.  This time it was open when it was supposed to be open.  I talked very briefly with the guy at the counter about Mahfouz (he had seen my copy of Fountain and Tomb and wanted to know where to start with Mahfouz -- ultimately I recommended Midaq Alley).

Anyway, I headed straight up to the Georgia O'Keefe and Henry Moore exhibit.  I spent close to half an hour just in the first room, which had lots of small, very detailed paintings.  This was a very clever exhibit, even if the pairing was not immediately apparent, and I thought even the organization of the exhibit was very good.  My mother would have just loved it, especially the middle section where they had recreated both O'Keefe's and Moore's studios.  In the end I think I spent an hour and a half going through the exhibit carefully.  I think if there had been any more, I might have felt over-stuffed.  Then I had just about another hour and a half to look at all the other parts of the museum.  The Pop Art exhibit was still on in the basement, and I also had time to look at the Quebec artist wing (including a room dedicated to Riopelle!) and of course the gift shop.  I had been switching between English and my very limited French but was able to conduct the transaction in the gift shop completely in French.  I bought a copy of the O'Keefe-Moore catalogue and the clerk slipped in a booklet of the French translation of all the text in the catalogue.  (The exhibit was actually organized by a US museum, who also printed the books and did not create a French version, so I guess this was their workaround.)  The only really strange thing about the catalogue is that there isn't a checklist of the exhibition, and indeed I can tell that at least one Moore ink drawing wasn't on view, as well as one of O'Keefe's pueblo church paintings.  But I enjoyed my time there very much.

I didn't stumble across any good looking restaurants on my way over to Megabus, so I just ended up grabbing an egg and bagel sandwich, which I think is what I did last time as well, though I vaguely remember finding a hole-in-the-wall place that served pizza.  The bus left on time and got into Toronto roughly on time as well, so that was quite a relief, even though the food court pickings were pretty slim by the time I got there.

In terms of what I read on this long trip, I did get through about 400 pages of East of Eden.  While I think he is probably overdoing it in terms of two sets of brothers who both seem to be embodying the Cain and Abel dynamic, there are definitely some interesting sections.  It does make me a bit more likely to try to read The Grapes of Wrath next winter.  While I expect at some point I'll get to all his shorter novels, if I get through the door-stoppers East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, on top of the several shorter novels I already read, that covers all the essential Steinbeck, aside just possibly from The Winter of Our Discontent.

I would almost certainly have gotten through all of East of Eden, but I actually read three other books as well!  I read William Trevor's Fools of Fortune.  The first half or so is pretty good, but then the resolution of the story is absolutely stupid.  I refuse to belief that a man driven into exile (and only to Italy, not across the world!) would not eventually have sent for his wife (or almost-wife) and daughter to join him.  In general, I don't ever seem to like William Trevor's longer works.  It remains to be seen if I like his short stories, but I am starting to think I won't care much for them, and the shelf space could be given over to any number of other authors...  I actually left Fools of Fortune in the Ottawa train station, though no idea if anyone will pick it up or not.  Had I been staying at a hostel, I would have left it in the common room.

I read Jeanette Winterson's Weight (a retelling of the myth of Atlas and Heracles) on the train to Montreal, and indeed I left this in the Montreal train station.  Given the time we came in, this is even less likely to have found a home.  C'est la vie.  I was pretty happy to have divested myself of two short books from my huge pile of books to read.

I finished up Mahfouz's Fountain and Tomb early on the bus ride back to Toronto.  I haven't entirely decided, but this is likely to end up in the Little Free Library out front, even though I did enjoy it a fair bit.  I just can't quite picture reading it a second time...

So all in all, quite a successful trip, and I just need to download (and back up!) all the photos from this weekend and then put some of the best up on the blog.

Edit (02/26): Not that it matters that much, but now my immediate next novels are a bit different.  I need to wrap up East of Eden (which despite its length is pretty darn readable), then Carol Shields's Swann, de Maistre's Journey Around My Room, Rushdie's Fury, Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time, and Zalika Reid-Benta's River Mumma.  I have a handful of poetry books to read in the next 10 days, and after that I'm not totally sure.  I am contemplating the newish novel about lockdown in Toronto, Rosenblum's These Days Are Numbered.  If I do read that, I'll probably also read Shteyngart's Our Country Friends.  (I'm hoping that in only a few more days the TPL website will be searchable again.  If not, I'll have to put River Mumma and Our Country Friends off to the side, unless they happen to be available at Robarts or at one of the college libraries.  I'll find out late next week I guess.

* I'm definitely having second and third thoughts about not travelling out to Berkeley for this amazing concert where they were doing Different Trains and possibly Black Angels (though I had seen them do Black Angels previously).  Had things moved a lot faster on getting hired at my new job, I would have been able to justify the trip.  Oh well.  I just wish I knew what they were going to perform in Toronto (aside from something with Tanya Tagaq).


Sunday, February 18, 2024

Bumps on the Way Back from Buffalo

I am going to try to put together a proper post on the Buffalo trip, focusing on how the Albright-Knox expansion has changed the overall experience, which indeed was the only reason I was down in Buffalo in the first place.  However, I want to use this post to talk about the times trips went wrong, sometimes disastrously so, though not catastrophically (so far).

Early on in my travelling career, I often managed to get home despite bad weather.  In one case (though I have forgotten the precise details), I had to sprint through the airport and just managed to board a connecting flight just as the gate was closing.  Then after moving to Toronto, I had a period where things started going wrong more often.  I got food poisoning, almost certainly from bad yogurt in the Regina airport, and ended up having to cancel a trip to NYC.  I had planned to visit my father with my children in tow, and some freak snowstorm forced a cancellation of that trip.  That was a pretty bad day, and I still to this day despise the school administrators that schedule "spring break" at such a stupid time at the beginning of March or even late Feb.!  When clearly it should be at the very tail end of March or early April.  Grumble, grumble, grumble.  While I am not (exactly) superstitious, that doesn't mean I don't make sure to seek out the statues of Ganesh (the patron saint of travellers) when I am in a museum with an Asian art wing (generally that would be Chicago's Art Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Fine Arts Museum or of course the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  I even have a small statuette of Ganesh on my desk at home (and a much smaller version that I have ironically misplaced for the moment...)

Thinking over some recent trips and the way things went wrong, in one case the blame fell on me, in one case the blame could be evenly split between me and Google, and the rest were clearly out of my control.  

The first case was going down to Cleveland in 2015 (not long after relocating to Toronto in fact) to see a blockbuster show about painters painting gardens.  I only hinted in this post at just how stressful it was after leaving the museum and realizing that the main bus line wasn't going to take me back to the Greyhound station.  What I really ought to have done was to get someone at the information desk to order me a cab, but they were a bit busy and I just figured it wouldn't be an issue.  I will not make this mistake again, and I was more than ready to ask for help in Buffalo yesterday, though in the end I didn't need it.  This was quite stressful, and I ended up getting a cab and getting to the station with only a relatively small margin of error.  The main issue was I needed to get back to Buffalo to catch another Greyhound bus to Toronto!

The second case was a relatively recent trip to New York.  This trip in general was a bit cursed.  I went there specifically to see The Fixx in concert.  The keyboard player broke his hand, and the concert was cancelled the day of.  I was not notified through a really strange series of issues, starting with the way that the Newark Airport was incredibly stingy about wi-fi for passengers that had already arrived and were waiting in the luggage area.  Then I couldn't get the free wi-fi in Times Square to work.  And absolutely shamefully, no one at the concert hall could be bothered to stick up a paper sign on the door that the concert was called off (and indeed their electronic marquee kept saying The Fixx was on that evening)!  It was incredibly frustrating.  Then I saw Stoppard's Arcadia the next evening.  It was ok, but not an amazing production, and, had I known everything, I wouldn't have made the trip, despite enjoying the museums and picking up some great books at the Strand.  At any rate, on my last morning in NYC, I decided I wanted to start at Grand Central, then do a bit of an architecture tour, walking all the way down to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village and then walking back up to Penn Station.  I suppose if I had another dollar on my transit card, I would have taken the subway for at least one of the legs.  All of this would have been fine, but when I got over to Penn Station, I had missed one of the NJ Transit trains to Newark Airport by 5 minutes and then the next one was about a 40 minute wait!  Google had given me the weekday schedule, but the weekend schedule was quite different!  I was absolutely livid, but really didn't have any alternative but to wait.  The only saving grace was that Porter was all by itself in a separate part of Newark Airport and the security line was very short.  Otherwise, I might well have missed my flight.  Or rather I might have if the flight left on time, but there was a problem with the airplane and a replacement jet had to be found, and I think in the end, we left close to 2 or even 3 hours late.  So definitely not the best trip on many levels.

Now I'll move on to some examples of things that were far outside my control.

When I went to Detroit last Oct. (and it appears I have not done a good job at all of posting anything from the visit to the DIA and only just hint at the outlines of the trip here), the gypsy cab I picked up at the Greyhound station didn't take me to the correct destination.  I wanted to go to the Detroit Museum of Contemporary Art first and then would walk up to the DIA.  The "cabbie" dropped me off at the wrong one, and the contemporary art museum, while it was supposed to be open late, actually was closed to the public and was throwing a members' gala, which pissed me off.  Getting to the hotel after wrapping up the DIA visit was quite a struggle.  I had checked the website for where to get transit passes.  One of the stores no longer existed and the other one said that they absolutely did not sell day passes there.  So that was a major issue.  I ended up on this LRT that ran down Woodward Ave., and I only finally figured out that it was free (whether it is always free or this is a temporary promotion isn't clear), so this is another area where the city of Detroit is not doing itself any favors with such poor/flawed communication on the internet.  I made it downtown, and then just missed another bus and so walked to the hotel.  I arranged for a cab in the morning, since I wasn't staying particularly close to the Greyhound station, and the bus was leaving fairly early.  I definitely did not want to spend an extra day in Detroit!  Anyway, the cab simply never showed up.  I asked a few people pulling up into the parking lot whether they were the driver, but none of them were.  In fact, one of them was a hotel employee.  So I went back to the front desk, and they called around, trying to find the missing cab, and finally ordered up another gypsy cab.  Again, I made it back to Greyhound but not by very much.  I'm simply not going to go back to Detroit unless I have access to a car, and most likely I won't be going back at all.  Maybe if the train between Detroit and Toronto is restarted I would consider it again.  At the moment, you have to get back over to Windsor, and, quite stupidly, the Windsor-Detroit tunnel bus doesn't actually make a stop at the Windsor Via station.

Art museum stupidities were behind problems with my last trip to Montreal.  I had everything worked out for an overnight visit to see the Marisol exhibit at the Montreal Fine Arts Museum and then to see a Shostakovich concert that evening.  By the time I showed up (but not when I had booked everything), the museum decided to have their fund raising gala on the Sat. and the entire museum was closed off.  (Honestly, I find this completely inexcusable to not have this in the middle of the week and to disrupt the tourist trade so much...)  That was bad enough, but then they weren't going to reopen until Sunday around noon.  I can't remember all the details, but my train back was 11:30 or noon, so that meant I would miss the Marisol.  As if that weren't bad enough, Via picked that weekend to upgrade its booking software, so it was literally impossible to get through and change reservations!  After the concert (which itself was stressful as the proper venue address wasn't on the tickets), I called and the upgrades still hadn't been completed.  At one point, I was on hold for over an hour only to find that they still couldn't fix my booking as the upgrades still hadn't been completed.  When I finally did get through, the price they wanted for a 1 pm or 4 pm train back to Toronto was ridiculous.  Ultimately, I booked a bus ride back and tried to switch the ticket to a date in February, losing quite a bit of money in the process.*  I enjoyed the Marisol show (and indeed there were a couple of pieces that weren't going to be in the Buffalo edition of the show oddly enough), but the whole thing was annoying and down to the very poor decision making on the part of the museum.

Which brings me to the recent trip down to Buffalo.  In general, it went quite smoothly until the very end.  We actually got down to border and through immigrations a little early, and I had time to catch the local bus up to the Albright-Knox.  I'll write about that part of the trip a little later.  At any rate, it only took 2.5 hours to see everything in the museum, while I had mentally budgeted 4 or 5 hours, so I decided I probably didn't need to cab it back to the Greyhound station and could save money on cab fare.  I actually slipped across the road to check out a small art museum, called the Burchfield Penney, connected to Buffalo State University.  I'd never been in before, so checked that out for a bit over a half hour.  I had planned to eat a late lunch, and in fact the cafe at the Burchfield Penney looked pretty good but was overcrowded.  The Subway where I usually ate before or after visiting the Albright-Knox was gone and the restaurant next to that was also permanently closed, so I ended up walking down Elmwood Ave. for a few blocks.  I found a decent-looking Greek place that also had falafel wraps, so I got one of those.  While I still had quite a bit of time, the bus schedule is particularly crap on the weekends.  The bus only runs ever 40 minutes on Sat., and every 50 minutes on Sun.  If you miss the bus, it is really quite a tragedy.  Even weekday service isn't much better (every 20 minutes), but at that frequency, I would have gone a few more blocks (and run into a few more interesting restaurants) and probably popped into a record store I had seen on the trip up.  Fortunately, once my wrap was ready I ran over to the bus stop, and the bus pulled up in about 2 more minutes, so that was lucky timing.  I got back to the Greyhound station and had basically an hour to kill.  The station was always a bit rundown, but it is considerably worse since COVID hit.  The Tim Horton's has closed, and nothing has replaced it.  

The bathrooms really do appear to be outfitted with prison-style facilities.  The number of street people with nothing better to do than hang out at the station and beg has swelled.  As I was waiting, there was some huge argument, leading to a fight, and the cops finally chased everyone without a ticket out of the station.  At this point, the delays kicked in because the bus back to Toronto had broken down, and they were waiting on another bus from somewhere else before we could leave.  In the end, I think the bus left Buffalo 90 minutes late, and the driver made up about 30 minutes, assisted greatly by the fact that there are no stops on the route after getting through Canadian customs!  So certainly not a major disruption compared to these other disruptions, but still a bit annoying and certainly out of my control.  I spent just a short time walking around downtown Buffalo (it was quite frigid that day), and it seems even more desolate than before, with that rundown mall from previous trips (see the tail end of this post) completely closed and even the Rite Aid near the public library having vanished.  Perhaps surprisingly, I did see one sign of gentrification, as there was a slightly upscale grocery store just a few blocks from the Greyhound station, but overall, Buffalo just feels very rundown and deserted.  I really can't imagine spending the night there, and I was quite happy to get out of Buffalo, even if over an hour late.

I've certainly had my share of airplane troubles recently.  In addition to the problem of getting back from Newark, I was on a flight that tried to take off twice and simply couldn't make it off the ground!  I'm blanking on the exact details, but I think that may have been leaving Boston and heading to New York.  Obviously, I eventually made it wherever I was headed.  In general, these all rank as minor or major annoyances, but so far, knock wood, nothing truly disastrous has occurred during my travels.


* Sadly, lightning is about to strike twice, because I got word a while back that the Kronos Quartet concert in February was cancelled (probably due to low ticket sales astonishingly enough).  There is no point in staying over two nights in Montreal, so I need to cancel one night in the hotel, and then see what Via charges for a late afternoon train (instead of a Monday morning train I have booked).  But I expect at this point, after the change fees, the ticket will have no value, and I'll end up busing it back again.  I need to try to deal with this on Monday (or Tuesday if it is impossible to get anything done on Family Day).

Edit (02-20): I was fortunately able to drop down from two nights to only one night in the hotel in Montreal, even though technically the hotel didn't need to make the change.  Sadly, Via was not as accommodating, and my Monday morning ticket is now completely worthless.  The fare for different trips between Montreal and Toronto on Sunday were all generally over $150, and the ones that meshed with my schedule the best were $200.  (Just not a fan of the variable pricing that Via gets up to!)  So I will end up busing it to Ottawa, taking a very short Via trip to Montreal and then busing it back the next day after seeing the museum.  That is a lot of time spent on buses, so I will bring a particularly long book for the rides (probably Steinbeck's East of Eden) and try to remember to bring a power adapter for my iPod.  Not that I expect to make this exact trip any time soon, but the next really long train or bus ride I will probably take a Dickens novel (possibly Dombey and Son) and the one after that might be Mutis's Maqroll series.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Moving On

I believe I hinted at this in previous posts, but I had been looking to switch jobs for quite some time.  More than anything, I think it came down to disagreements with senior management, which was vastly compounded by the steady degradation of the working environment.  It took a very long time, principally because most Canadian consultancies are pretty risk-adverse and didn't want to make senior hires unless they had oodles and oodles of work lined up.  Of course, now I have to help win new work, though I do have the advantage that this firm is truly organized internationally, so there is no issue of putting a Canadian on a U.S. project and vice versa.  Other companies claim that this is possible, but the reality is that there are massive challenges of working across borders.  So that's quite exciting.  

While the first week has been almost entirely devoted to training and just getting set up with new equipment, I have put in my input on a few leads already and "added value" in raising a few issues that I thought would be important to show the client we had sufficient understanding of the project.  Hopefully, we will win at least a few of these jobs and things will continue to go well.  There are always quirks at new places.  I find it rather annoying that they don't allow transferring files from any USB device, as I have a lot of large, critical files that I do need to transfer over.  There is an IT policy on how to get an exception, so I am following that.  It does, however, mean that I can't rely on listening to music off of a USB, and I also don't want to upload everything onto the share drive, as I am quite sure they have a policy against that.  At some point, I may start trying to listen in to Youtube (and restore my playlists yet again), but for the moment, I am compromising and listening to the many albums I've purchased through Bandcamp.  The silver lining is I hadn't listened to a lot of this music more than once or twice, so it all feels pretty new to me.  I also really hate the whole hot-desking concept.  I have a lot of reference material (books and journals) and there is nowhere to store them, since we are expected to just put our stuff in a tiny locker.  This whole concept just cuts against the idea of deep rootedness that I think is actually essential to succeed, and at some point the organizational experts will realize what a huge mistake they have made, but the damage has been done.  I'm going to keep pushing for a permanent space, i.e. to be an exception to the rule, but it will probably take a couple of months before I can make this happen.  At any rate, the good outweighs the bad, and I hope it stays that way for many years to come.

I did have to stay quite late at my last week of work.  Even now I have a few outstanding items, but I think in general the transition wasn't so bad, at least from my perspective.

I was able to go swimming twice this week, and I actually biked a couple of times (and maybe two or three times the previous week as I was winding things down at my former job), which is pretty incredible, considering it is the middle of February!  Now, we have gotten snow.  Not a lot in the grand scheme of things, but enough to be uncomfortable when you are no longer used to it.  One small irony is that I had left my bike at the bike shop for a minor adjustment to stop the brakes from squealing.  I had planned on picking it up after work on Thurs., but clearly wasn't interested in trying to ride home in the super snowy conditions.  I think I will just need to pick it up no matter what Friday after work, even if I just have to walk it home.

I've continued seeing movies on a regular basis.  Frustratingly, I am being shut out of TIFF screenings all the time, and just in general am not impressed at how few older films they show compared to the past.  Being a member does not seem worth it, and I cannot see renewing my membership next year.  Instead, I go to The Paradise a fair bit, though I wish they showed even more movies, and Carlton Cinema for their $5 retro movies.  I don't go to The Fox that often, as it really feels too far out of the way, but I did catch The Holdovers there around the holidays.  I almost never check The Revue website, as that is just way too far out of the way, and I'd rather not know what I am missing.  Anyway, returning to The Paradise and Carlton, recently I have seen Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Taxi Driver, Chinatown, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kurosawa's Dreams and, just last night, Amelie.  A pretty decent run.

Reading is a mixed bag as always.  I'm finding I really don't care for Zora Neale Hurston's early short stories.  I'm pretty close to bailing, though maybe I will read the rediscovered ones set in Harlem.  Veličković's Lodgers was ok.  Almost all the "action" takes place in a museum in Sarajevo where the director and his family have taken shelter from the siege.  While the tone is quite different, this reminded me of one of the few passages I still recall from Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, which also takes place in a museum.  While I likely will never reread The Tin Drum, I might chase down that chapter.  I'm nearly done with Vincen's The Empty Page.  The narrator is (intentionally) kind of tedious, and the closest equivalent I can come up with is Machado De Assis's Epitaph of a Small Winner.  But next week I should be able to start in on (and likely finish) Pym's Excellent Women, and I think it will be a combination of Rushdie (probably starting with Fury) and then finishing up whatever is left of Tim O'Brien's America Fantastica.  The plan is to take the bus out to Buffalo on Sat. (to see the Albright-Knox Museum) and read this on the journey.  I'm a little nervous that they will have had more snow, and the roads won't be clear, but in general, it should be fine.  I don't see any more snow in the forecast for Saturday.  Hopefully, all goes well with that, which would be a good way to round out the week.  And I'll have Monday to recover, as it is a stat. holiday (Family Day), and indeed my son is back from Ottawa, so we may be able to do something fun together.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Library News

It would almost be funny if it weren't so annoying.  Just the other day the Star ran an article with the breathless headline that the TPL website was back up.  If you actually read the article, it acknowledged that the website is still almost completely useless, pointing users to things that had never been taken down, like Overdrive.  In fact, the on-site computers are still turned off and the library catalog and hold system (and indeed museum pass* booking system!) are all off-line and will be at least through Feb.  

As it happens, I went into my local branch yesterday.  While I don't really need any more books to divert me from the current reading list, which already has a few last-minute additions (principally Lermontov and Goncharov), I had noticed a fairly new collection of short stories by Zora Neal Hurston, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick.  What is notable about this collection is that there are 4 lost stories set in Harlem, which is forcing a revision to the claim that Hurston was a purely "country" writer.  It was still on the shelf, so I decided to grab it.  I chatted briefly with the librarian, and she said there had been weekly delays on hitting the internal progress markers.  She didn't think things would be back to normal until mid to late March, which sounds about right.  I guess the only saving grace for a person like me with too many books out (Shields's Swann and now Crooked Stick) is that nothing is actually due until the system is back up and running.  But I do wish it were already back up...

Over at the still functioning library system, i.e. Robarts, I was able to get a few art books back on time.  I decided to check out Lodgers  by Nenad Veličković, which at least is pretty short.  I also borrowed Once Upon a Time (Bomb) by Manlio Argueta.**  I couldn't even really reconstruct how I cam across these books, but it was probably indirectly through the New York Times Book Review.  I'm pretty sure that Lodgers was advertised at the back of Drago Jančar's Joyce's Pupil, though exactly how I came across Joyce's Pupil, I'm not so sure.

Incidentally, this past edition of NYTBR was pretty deadly in terms of adding too much on top of an already teetering pile of books.  There was a piece on the fiction of Lima, Peru (sorry, I know it's behind a paywall...).  From that I took that I really ought to read César Vallejo's Human Poems .  Also, A World for Julius by Alfredo Bryce Echenique and Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón.  All of these are at Robarts, and I think I'll be able to tackle Vallejo's poems, Lodgers and Lost City Radio.  A World for Julius is simply too long for me to try to read in two weeks, so this one will have to wait for me to see if TPL does have a copy somewhere in the system and borrow it that way.  Anyway, certainly enough (reading) distractions for one week.

Actually, that reminds me that I think I'll be able to stop by the Music Library on Thurs. and borrow a few CDs.  It used to be alumni borrowers could only listen to CDs in the library itself, but at some point after COVID that restriction was lifted.  Score!  Obviously, it won't take me nearly as long to get through a few jazz and classical CDs as it would to read a couple of novels and some poetry...

Edit (02/05): I was able to finish up McCarthy's The Group (and I'll write a bit about it later), but I have not launched into Pym's Excellent Women yet.  I had two Robarts books (which still carry hefty late fees!).  They're on the short side, but I probably really do need to hunker down and just read this weekend.  I will technically be between jobs, so that may help.  Anyway, I was able to return a few books back to Robarts this evening, but couldn't help myself and borrowed The Empty Book by Josefina Vicens, which is apparently a quite short novel about the difficulties of writing a novel.  It might be appropriate, though I am a bit more blocked with my drama writing, not least because there is no great outlet for it at the moment.  So I have 3 books from Robarts before I return to Pym and then most likely A Hero of Our Time and then probably a Rushdie novel (and perhaps O'Brien's America Fantastica on the trip to Buffalo).  Always so much reading on the go.


* This one is a particularly bitter blow, since it was only a few months into some new on-line system only a few months before the attack.  They had a system where physical museum passes were handed out that had been in place for years and worked well overall.  I think it was pure stubbornness on the management's part not to revert back to the old system, esp. once it became clear the recovery was going to be a many-month process. 

** While nowhere near as frustrating, Robart's copy of Argueta's Little Red Riding Hood in the Red Light District is in limbo, or rather has been removed from the shelves and is in an apparently month-long process to migrate it to the Downsview storage facility.  I keep hoping that it will pop up as available at Downsview, but it looks like I have longer to wait.  Not that I don't have plenty to read in the meantime...

Sunday, January 28, 2024

So Much Out-of-Home Time

I have been going non-stop to so many events lately.  I will get a bit of a breather next week, but even then I'll probably be out three days in the middle of the week!

I think this mostly started with the three days of the We Quit Theatre residency at Buddies.  In the end, I really liked I am Not Your Spaniel a lot but didn't care much for the other two.  I tried something new at least.

I saw a few movies reaching back to Taxi Driver (the first time ever!) at Carlton, Exotica at TIFF (with Atom Egoyan in attendance!) and Blow-Up at Paradise.  While Blow-Up was interesting, the main character was a total jerk, and I couldn't believe how stupidly the whole movie ended.  I also was having a bit of trouble understanding how Vanessa Redgrave's character tracked him down in the first place and (SPOILERS) managed to break into his loft and steal every negative he owned in the space of a few minutes.  (More SPOILERS)  Maybe this was supposed to be a bigger plot point as in a more conventional thriller, but I don't recall him actually telling Sarah Miles that the person he saw killed was shot, so maybe she was actually in on the cover-up.  Dun-dun-duuuun. That would likely have been a more interesting plot twist than ending with the tennis scene in the park.  One thing that really spoiled the movie-going experience for me was that some jerk sat next to me and not very long into the movie managed to spill his drink on me!

I ended up moving my tickets for Theatre Rusticle's The Tempest two times.  It was getting a bit ridiculous.  However, I'm glad I did, since Sunday (tomorrow) is one of the only convenient times for me to see Better Living over at Alumnae.  I'm actually meeting a friend for that.

Then I had to switch The Tempest from Sat. to Thurs.  On Sat. I had tickets (that I didn't mark on the calendar!) to see a UT Symphony doing some modern pieces as well as Shostakovich's Symphony 9.  As it turned out I enjoyed that vastly more than Theatre Rusticle.  Basically, they have completely subordinated plot to movements and sound design.  There are five female actors who are playing all the parts in The Tempest, but in fact 2 or 3 different actors play Prospero at different times, 2 or 3 play Miranda, at least 2 play Caliban and pretty much the whole group chants Ariel's lines simultaneously.  I think The Tempest already suffers severely from a real lack of dramatic urgency as Prospero is never actually in any danger whatsoever, but this just drained any interest in the characters as actual bone fide characters as opposed to just symbols or something.  To top it all off, I thought this was supposed to be 2 hours, but then they announced it would be 2 hours and 45 minutes, which is just too self-indulgent.  I wasn't feeling it and I left at intermission, which is still something I rarely do (but maybe should do more often).

I also saw Diana and Casey at Soulpepper.  It was ok, but not really my thing.  I'm not a royalist at heart.*  I also found a few elements of the play to be predictable and/or emotionally manipulative.  That said, the acting was solid.  I had thought I had left my scarf there (and was dreading calling up the box office to go through their lost and found stuff), but it turned up at home.  Whew.

Probably the single biggest downside of being out and about so much is that it makes it very hard to go to the gym and at a time when my commitment to going is already on the low side.  I simply slept in this morning, but I should be able to make it tomorrow morning before I head over to meet my friend.  I think next week, since I decided to pull back just slightly and not go out on Tues. evening, that I can probably get my swimming laps in on that evening.

I am very close to wrapping up Everett's Half an Inch of Water.  I expect I'll get through it Sunday evening.  Unfortunately, most of the stories do not live up to the first one, so this is no longer likely to make my top 10 or 15 books of the year list after all.  I am halfway through McCarthy's The Group.  Sometimes it is interesting and sometimes a bit dreary.  The bit about having to go see a doctor for female birth control feels almost inserted (pun intended) for its shock value.  I am a bit bummed that I was looking up some reviews of the book for something else, and someone went ahead and included a couple of major spoilers, so that was not cool.

I'll be reading Pym's Excellent Women after that and Carol Shields' Swann.  I think Swann will be the last of the library books that needs to be returned.  I really hope that the on-line TPL (and hold system) is working by this point.  It has been a real drag for it to be completely offline.  Anyway, after this, I suspect it will be Rushdie's Fury and possibly Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time.  In the meantime, I'm trying to read more short stories and get through Xavier de Maistre's Voyage Around My Room, which is also on the short side.


* Though I do have to admit as a child, I tried to wake up early and watch Charles and Diana get married in 1981.  I don't know why we couldn't just set an alarm, but for whatever reason I slept through it.  I find it baffling now that I would have cared.  I do remember when Princess Diana was making a visit to Northwestern in 1996, and the campus was just all a-twitter.  Many people tried to camp out to see her walking around, criss-crossing the campus.  I'm sure I would have watched for a while if she had passed by, but I certainly didn't go out of my way to find her.  I was pretty much done with royalty by that point.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

The Book Chill

One of the major downsides of this big chill is that I don't even pretend I am going to bike in.  It will warm up a bit next week (hopefully!), but I'm not quite sure how much.  If the forecast is accurate, then Wed., Fri. and next Sat. might all be potential biking weather, though I just hope we don't have slush on the streets, as I don't bike when it is at all cold and slippery.

Anyway, the silver lining, as it were, is that I am reading more on the TTC (to partly make up for cutting my gym time in half where I read while on the exercise bikes).  I managed to get through Sebald's Austerlitz yesterday.  I found myself less interested in it as it went on, since it is so digressive and there are no meaningful breaks at all in the text.  I guess it is marginally easier to follow the dialogue (than Saramago, whose writing style is even more off-putting) but that's only because pretty much the entire book is supposedly an incredibly long monologue by the title character, Austerlitz.  I looked ahead and Rings of Saturn has paragraph breaks at least!

I'm about 2/3rd through Maxwell's The Chateau and I should wrap this up reasonably soon.  There are very faint parallels with Troubles (a large number of people interacting at a guest house) but here the French characters are recovering from WWII rather than heading into the Irish uprising with the troubles still to come.  In some respects this is a very mild version of the Ugly American stereotype with an American couple coming to France and trying to soak up culture and learn the language but constantly getting crossed up in minor cross-cultural understandings.  Somewhere around the 200 page mark I kind of lost interest in this couple (who like all somewhat annoying and clueless tourists have overstayed their welcome) and wish the novel was much shorter.  I should be able to wrap this up in a few more days and then will launch into Mary McCarthy's The Group.  I expect this will be a bit more compelling, but one never knows.

Perhaps appropriately, given the weather, I am just about one-third of the way through Drabble's The Ice Age, which is set in the 70s when Britain seemed to turn inward and the economic forecast was rather bleak. Plus ça change...

When I am at the gym, I am reading Percival Everett's Half an Inch of Water, which is a book of short stories set out in the West, largely featuring Black and Native American characters.  So far the stories are exceeding my expectations.  (I'm not a big fan of "Westerns"...)

Not entirely sure what will be next this winter.  I will get to Pym's Excellent Women soon, but that is quite short and I already read it once, so it shan't take too long.  Probably Rushdie will be after that, and I just need to decide whether to let Victory City jump the queue over Fury.  Maybe O'Brien's America Fantastica, especially on the Buffalo bus trip, with East of Eden reserved for the Ottawa trip in late Feb.  I am hoping we are mostly out of the deep chill by then...

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Big Chill

It has been so bloody cold this week.  While I realize it was much colder in Edmonton and Winnipeg* and even Chicago, it is definitely unpleasant and probably even life-threatening if I stayed out in this long enough.  I have cut my trips to the gym and the swimming pool roughly in half.  I have been able to force myself to go roughly once a week to each, but only barely.  I'm gearing up to head out again, but I'm not looking forward to it at all.  It is supposed to warm up slightly next week.  I certainly hope so!


* It may be worth noting that We Quit Theatre is a company based out of Winnipeg, but they have a one week residency at Buddies in Bad Times, ending tomorrow in fact.  I wasn't crazy about 805-4821, which was literally the actor projecting written text using an overhead projector(!) so that was a crazy amount of reading.  But I Am Your Spaniel was great, a high-low show exploring the text of Midsummer's Night's Dream and throwing in Queer theory, some Marxian concepts and even a huge dog puppet.  I'm off to see Passion Play tomorrow.  I hope it is closer in spirit to I Am Your Spaniel.