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GEIST 7 3 FACT & FICTION u

MADE IN CANADA

SUMMER 2009

GE IST 71 WIN GE IST.COM

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published by The Geist Foundation publisher Stephen Osborne senior editor Mary Schendlinger executive director Patty Osborne associate editor C.E. Coughlan assistant editor Sarah Maitland marketing & advertising Clevers Media office manager & reader services Kristin Cheung accountant Mindy Abramowitz, cga administrative assistants Deanne Beattie, Erinna Gilkison, Becky McEachern, Emma Myers, Amy Soden interns Todd Coyne, Leah Pires, Kate Reid editorial board Kevin Barefoot, Trevor Battye, Jill Boettger, Marisa Chandler, Carla Elm Clement, Brad Cran, Laurie Edwards, Melissa Edwards, Mary Alice Elcock, Robert Everett-Green, Derek Fairbridge, Daniel Francis, Helen Godolphin, Lily Gontard, Michael Hayward, Gillian Jerome, Michal Kozlowski, Brian Lam, Sarah Leavitt, Thad McIlroy, Billeh Nickerson, Eric Peterson, Leah Rae, Debby Reis, Craig Riggs, Kris Rothstein, Norbert Ruebsaat, Jane Silcott, Paul Tough, Michelle van der Merwe, Carrie Villeneuve, Kathy Vito, Kaleigh Wisman, Barbara Zatyko, Daniel Zomparelli first subscriber Jane Springer web architects Ross Merriam, Ryan Weal web editor Josh Wallaert cover Steffen Quong, Rebecca Dolen composition Vancouver Desktop distribution Magazines Canada printed in canada by Hemlock Printers geist.com

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Volume 18

Number 73

Summer 2009

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NOTES & DISPATCHES

Stephen Osborne 10 The Tall Women of Toronto Veronica Gaylie 12 Blue Cheese Edith Iglauer 13 Aquafun David Albahari 16 The Art of Renaming Sarah Leavitt 17 The Guy Who’s Praying C.E. Coughlan 18 Three Days in Toronto FINDINGS

Sarah Schulman, Kevin Chong, 25 Privileged and Corrupt, Outside Your Field of Knowledge, Andrew Feldmar, Faith Moosang, Sky Whales, Beating Bluenose, Daccia Bloomfield, Kate Beaton, The Pain of Others, Livia Bloom and Errol Morris, Habitat, Heather Haley, Facade, Gabor Szilasi, Toronto Views Adam Krawesky POSTCARD LIT

Mark Paterson 64 Spring Training Lisa Martin 65 Meditation Jane Stevenson 66 The Two-Slice Toaster Move COMMENT

George Fetherling 67 Hôtel Splendide Stephen Henighan 70 Latinocanadá Hal Niedzviecki 72 The Secret Market Alberto Manguel 74 Hospital Reading DEPARTMENTS

6 Letters Eve Corbel 20 True Funnies

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Shay Wilson 22 In Camera The Usual Gang 76 Endnotes

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Meandricus 87 Puzzle Melissa Edwards 88 Caught Mapping

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FEATURES

Land’s End 36 Towns on the edge Christopher Grabowski For two small communities on the west coast of Canada—Ocean Falls, a former company town, and Alert Bay, a village with a long First Nations history—the future is rooted in memory. Into the Fire 48 Poems for absent friends Evelyn Lau Time, love, loss, redemption: “That’s what it feels like, grief.”

Fighting Season 51 The longest season in Afghanistan Louie Palu In fighting season, villages and farmers’ fields near Kandahar become battlefields where Taliban insurgents clash with the Afghan Army and American, Canadian and British soldiers. Meanwhile, life goes on. Wild Tide 55 Crazy monkey carnival Andrea Johnston Snow, brain cells, power tools, a hangman’s knot—mutiny lurks everywhere. Antonia 58 Steam, sweat and tears Michal Kozlowski The woman is sick, the intern is useless, the day is sweltering hot, the doctor needs sugar in his tea. Oh, Antonia!

COVER AND PRODUCTION NOTES

The cover of Geist 73 combines styles and weights of two font families: Nobel ( Lettergieterij Amsterdam, 1929) and Quadraat (Font Shop, 1993). Cover art is by Rebecca Dolen of the Regional Assembly of Text (assemblyoftext.com) and cover design is by Steffen Quong (steffenquong.com). Geist is printed on eco-friendly paper with vegetablebased inks. Interior stock: Harbour 40 Offset; cover stock: Harbour 100 Cover.


LETTERS

GEIST

Readers Write

Geist is published four times a year by The Geist Foundation. Contents copyright © 2009 The Geist Foundation. All rights reserved. Subscriptions: in Canada: Individuals $24 (4 issues); Institutions $31; in the United States: $32; elsewhere $32. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Correspondence and inquiries: subscriptions@geist.com, advertising@geist.com, letters@geist.com, editor@geist.com. Include sase with Canadian postage or irc with all submissions and queries. #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Guidelines are also available at geist.com. issn 1181-6554. Geist swaps its subscriber list with other cultural magazines for one-time mailings. Please contact us if you prefer not to receive these mailings. Publications Mail Agreement 40069678 Registration No. 07582 Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Circulation Department, #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Email: geist@geist.com Tel: (604) 681-9161, 1-888-geist-eh; Fax: (604) 669-8250; Web: geist.com Geist is a member of Magazines Canada and the B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and available on microfilm from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan, usa. The Geist Foundation receives assistance from private donors, the Tula Foundation, the Canada Council, the B.C. Arts Council and the B.C. Gaming Branch. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program (pap) and the Canada Magazine Fund.

special thanks to the tula foundation

geist.com

Zen and Geist 71. Photo by John Conway, who also took the photo on the cover of No. 71.

BRUSHES WI T H L EONARD tranger Song: How I (Finally) Met Leonard Cohen” by Ann Diamond (Geist 72) is a very fine piece of writing! I had at least one non-meeting with Cohen, in 1967 or ’68 in London. I went for lunch in Chelsea with a good friend of mine, Kate, who worked on a tv show that Cohen had appeared on, and Kate showed up there with “the” Marianne. It was a very odd lunch but Marianne invited me to the Greek Island where she lived with Cohen. Out of shyness, which at that time in my life sabotaged many other incredible surventures (my daughter Tara’s word for surprise adventures, like getting kissed on the cheek by the Dalai Lama in Vermont, and ohmmmmmmed by Allen Ginsberg on Second Avenue in New York), I declined! Eventually, out of curiosity, I spent a night in the Chelsea Hotel with roaches the size of small soup plates but no Leonard in sight, and no ghost of Nancy Spungen either. —Michal Pober, Director of the Alchemy Museum, Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

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I met Leonard Cohen when I attended the 1991 Juno Awards, where he was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. He came on stage and recited Page 6 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009

the lyrics to “Tower of Song,” and it was mesmerizing. Somehow I got invited to the exclusive after-show party, and who should be sitting there at a table, flanked by Jennifer Warnes and Suzanne Vega? It was Leonard. I figured that was as close as I would get to him. When he excused himself and went out to the men’s, I followed him like a sick puppy. It was just me and him at the urinals but this was not the place to introduce myself. I followed him back upstairs, but he had not returned to the private party. As I started for the front door I glanced in the bar and there he was, all alone. My heart picked up several beats as I casually wandered in and climbed onto a bar stool. He ordered a Scotch, not my usual brand but I ordered one too. Sipping our drinks, we eyed each other across the marbled mile between us, and raised our glasses. I took that as my opening and somehow made it down to his end of the bar without falling on my face. I told him how much I loved I’m Your Man, his most recent album, and how hilarious I found it. Leonard was very appreciative, saying, “I didn’t think people got it” (the humour in the album). I asked him what he was doing now and he said living in Los Angeles


LETTERS

and working on another album (this turned out to be The Future). I asked how he liked L.A. and he said it was okay—“That is where my work takes me”—but he preferred Montreal, and he really missed Greece. He was hoping to go back there after finishing the album. Our conversation was interrupted when an older woman and two younger ones walked into the bar and spied Leonard. All three went bananas. I could swear their panties fell down to the floor the minute they spotted him. He has that kind of “Tom Jones effect” on women. He greeted them as easily as he had greeted me. They squealed the way I had wanted to in the men’s. I excused myself, and Leonard thanked me for the conversation. I went back to the party, realizing that this had been one of the most perfect evenings in my life. It remains so. There was nothing else to do but go home. As I was leaving I saw the diminutive hero of song. He was slowly climbing the stairs to his room, alone. Just like any average single guy in a strange town. —Phil Menger, Abbotsford BC For more readers’ comments on “Stranger Song” and a response from Ann Diamond, visit geist.com/stranger-song. POP H I STORY ike Daniel Francis (“Writing the Nation,” Geist 72), I’ve gained a great deal of respect for Pierre Berton in only the past few years, though I grew up knowing who he was. He may have not been a brilliant academic, but he spun great yarns, and he made us interested in ourselves. An important— the important?—Canadian writer. —Paul Sonsteby, Strathmore AB

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SHADOWS he power of Lu Qi’s double exposures of sites in Cambodia (“Pentimento,” In Camera, Geist 72) takes my breath away. I grew up a product of Vietnam even though I was still a child during that

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war. I was fighting my own war at home in the midwest. These pictures convey what has happened not only in Southeast Asia, but in Darfur and other sites of genocide. Forgiveness is a virtue, I suppose, but it is difficult when we are confronted with the harsh realities of what we do to one another—out of loyalty to whom? —Susan Hoffman, Eureka CA

FACTUALITY

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lberto Manguel writes wonderfully about an extraordinary range of topics; sometimes, however, he slips up and dispenses an out-and-out howler in that authoritative, fondly burnished prose of his. In “I Believe Because It’s Impossible” (Geist 71), his meditation on Walid Raad’s photographs and the brilliantly titled exhibition We Decided to Let Them Say «We Are Convinced» Twice. It Was Convincing That Way— which I knew nothing about—Manguel alludes to “a poem written after his sixtieth birthday” by the Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma. Now Jaime, whom I knew and know a bit about, was born in 1929 and died (of aids) in January 1990; I don’t think he was a January baby and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t writing new poems in his last, terrible weeks of life. In fact, the poem Manguel refers to, “Peeping Tom,” was first published in the collection Moralidades (1966) and probably written when Jaime was in his mid-thirties. If it sounds like an old man’s poem (I don’t think it does), that may be because of Jaime’s devotion to poetry’s greatest gerontophile, T.S. Eliot. Of course, Manguel himself (as he tells us) is past sixty when he reads Jaime’s poem and, as Borges’s most diligent disciple, would certainly agree that every reader writes the poem he (or she) reads. But such empathetic identification is only the start

of real understanding. Borges knew this: in that most quixotic endeavour of all, his Pierre Menard discards the idea of being Miguel de Cervantes as “less arduous . . . and, consequently, less interesting—than to go on being Pierre Menard and reach the Quijote through the experiences of Pierre Menard.” It is the differences between reader and author that makes new readings possible, valuable, interesting, even necessary. These differences start with facts—the bare, obdurate facts of existence that appear on our passports (age, gender, birthplace). More facts: Jaime Gil de Biedma also published a collection entitled Poemas póstumos (Posthumous Poems), which includes “After the Death of Jaime Gil de Biedma,” his farewell to the poetic persona he had created. This book, however, was published in 1968 when Jaime was thirty-eight and had more or less given up writing poetry, a fate he endured, accepted and enjoyed— save the dozen or so lyrical relapses that appear in his collected Las personas del verbo—until his actual death twenty-two years later. These are things I know. But it makes one wonder about all those other things Manguel writes about. Just how cavalier can an Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres be? —Richard Sanger, Toronto The buck stops here—at Geist. Our fact-checking process is thorough but clearly not flawless, and we apologize for letting the error slip through. —Ed. ANOTHER STAN-ECDOTE The Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers (1949–1983) would have turned sixty this year, and Geist is celebrating by posting a story each day on our Stan-ecdotes blog. Go to geist.com/stanrogers to read the stories and to post one of your own. While you’re at it, you might sign the petition to Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 7


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induct Stan Rogers into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.

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n a magical evening aboard a chartered catamaran off the coast of Barbados, as we sailed away from the sunset with flying fish on all sides of us, one of the guests suddenly asked if anyone on board knew the words to the song “Barrett’s Privateers” by Stan Rogers. I was the only one who did (the other seven guests were English and American), so I obliged in my best baritone. The fellow who asked is a history teacher in the U.S., and every year he plays Stan’s memorable song to show his students that folks outside the U.S. often see their history and politics differently than Americans are taught to see them. —Brian Given, Ottawa ALL G REENED UP fresh, new design—and green. Well, you can’t beat that. I’m loving it. Great work, Geist. —Lynn Souiedan, Vancouver

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Thanks for raising the publishing bar a bit, environmentally! —Edward Parker, Vancouver I enjoy the new design of Geist, but I take issue with the new paper. One of the best features of the magazine has been the quality of its black-and-white photo reproductions and documentary spreads. Now that you have seen fit to move to a matte, uncoated paper, the quality has gone down—images are less crisp, the tonal range is diminished, and true blacks appear as a dark charcoal grey. The images no longer “pop” as they used to. Quite a disappointment. And the cover—are there to be no more photo features, rather a heavily text/art-based cover from now on? It really appears as if the art direction has changed at Geist. —Byron Walker, Edmonton Page 8 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009

We tested the new, “green” paper within an inch of its life before going ahead with it, but because of a calibration error on the part of the printer, some images came out more grey than green. The splendid photographs in “Memory in Belgrade” by Goran Basaric suffered most. See them in their true glory online at geist.com/memory-belgrade. —Ed. The move to friendlier paper and inks (Geist 72) is great—I like the feel and look of the paper-ink combo and the coverishness of the cover stock. I am rather taken by the whimsical illustration on the cover—it is understated, and muted—but do wonder if it would be more suited as an inside artwork? And it seems so literal. I have come to expect and look forward to enigmatic and arresting photographic art on the covers, which have often seemed sly tributes to Mandelbrot’s interests. But I am slightly less enamoured of the design redo. Don’t particularly care for the cut-off T on the cover, and there is an old-timey look to the whole thing, perhaps meant to recall posters of the late Victorian or Edwardian age (is that the time frame? I am not a design historian). At any rate, methinks it is a bit too type-heavy, unruly and self-conscious all at the same time. And what’s with the lowercase “the obama dreams”? I detect subtle changes on the inside, too. It is early in the morning and I have a sore knee ligament, so I won’t get up and go to the shelf to find an old issue to compare, but I notice a difference in the Notes & Dispatches and Findings sections—something about rules, columns, maybe headline type, and layouts. As I moved though the mag, I found that I was less sure of where I was: where did one section end and another begin? The Notes & Dispatches seemed less note-y and more article-y. The Findings seemed to be missing those marginal


LETTERS

interventions of lists and doodles—of marginalia. —Mark Giles, Calgary Love how Geist has greened it up, but sadly don’t think the new look reflects how offbeat yet current the mag is. Seems dated. —Laura Schmidt, Edmonton, via Twitter Follow Geist on Twitter @geistmagazine. This new design is just retro enough to look fresh. The clean, legible fonts of the cover make me all the more anxious to crack the covers and read. That should be the ultimate goal of anyone receiving Geist, since it contains so many words, perhaps even “the best words in the best order,” equally in the poetry and prose. In the midst of babble and chatter from the mainstream media, Geist is one of few magazines to give unmitigated pleasure. —Bryan Smith, Woodstock ON A discovery. On my new Geist I began almost immediately to write things— telephone numbers, a reminder, thought tag lines. The soft paper invites the pen, or pencil. Many people will do this. A collection of images of defaced Geist covers would make a vibrant document. —Laurie Edwards, Toronto

SEND YOUR LETTER S TO:

The Editor, Geist letters@geist.com, Fax 604-669-8250, #200 – 341 Water Street Vancouver BC, v6b 1b8 Letters to Geist may be edited for clarity, brevity and taste. Authors of published letters will receive a Geist Map, suitable for framing. Summer 2009 • G E I ST 73 • Page 9


NOTES & DISPATCHES The Tall Women of Toronto The hastening crowd was made up almost exclusively of tall women; that is, by women taller than me STEPHEN OSBORNE

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came out of the Howard Johnson on Avenue Road and walked up to Bloor and turned the corner into a blaze of sunlight that seemed to radiate from within the throng of pedestrians spilling along the sidewalk, men and women in silhouette casting long shadows on their way to work. The sudden light made me sneeze, once, twice, three times. I had to take off my glasses and wipe my eyes as the pedestrian stream parted around me, and when I put them on again I saw that the hastening crowd was made up almost exclusively of tall women; that is, by women taller than me. Although there were people in the crowd of average height, which is how I think of my height, the overall effect was of tallness, in particular a tallness of

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women. An absurd phrase formed unspoken on my lips—At last: the tall women of Toronto—as if I had been waiting years for them to arrive. I continued walking into the sunlight as if I were looking for a cup of coffee. More tall women approached and moved on; I slowed down and tall women overtook me and strode on by into the sunlight, dragging their long shadows behind them. When I arrived at my meeting, I was still pondering the phenomenon of the tall women. The others at the meeting, most of them women, were already sitting behind long tables, so no one in the room appeared to be taller than anyone else. Soon we were deep into our deliberations and the

apparition of the tall women in the crowd began to fade away, like a dream fragment after waking. At noon I went for a walk around the block and the tall women were still there, moving up and down the sidewalk and in and out of doorways, as I was, seeking soup, salad, sandwiches, something for lunch. Until now I had associated Toronto with tall men; on previous visits I had taken a kind of refuge in the presence of tall Toronto men, but now that refuge had been withdrawn and I could see no evidence of tall men being dominant any longer in Toronto, at least along that stretch of Bloor Street near Avenue Road. The meeting ended late in the afternoon and I set out to walk the other way along Bloor, toward the sun dropping in the west, and when I began sneezing again, the memory of the tall women of Toronto returned to my sphere of perception; I wondered if I had been hallucinating and was now trying to prove something, to exorcise demons, or find new ones. The presence of tall women appeared not to be so strong to the west but as there seemed to be fewer pedestrians of any height going in that direction, no doubt there was a statistical effect in play. Such was the extent of my thinking as I continued to stride into the sun. By the time I reached Honest Ed’s, the wellknown bargain emporium, I was hardly thinking at all, and certainly not thinking about what I was doing when I pushed open the door to Honest Ed’s and stumbled into its ghastly embrace; in a moment the air seemed to have been sucked from my lungs. I tried to turn back but the door that let me in would not let me out. I had to press on into a sea of photo: mandelbrot


NOTES & DISPATCHES

tables aglow in muted underground hues, only to learn that there were no exit doors in any of the whitewashed walls. I recall hesitating on a ramp between two floors or perhaps two city blocks; I was sweating; eventually I found a narrow passage through turnstiles with many arms that thrust me out onto the sidewalk mere metres away from where I had entered. I began walking east and my long shadow advanced before me, clearing passage along more sidewalks as the shadows grew longer. I made several turnings and crossed several intersections, without pausing to read the instructions for doing so provided by the city, and perhaps an hour or half an hour later drew up in front of Grossman’s Tavern on Spadina, which rose out of the pavement into the low light of the sun. There was no one inside save for the woman behind the bar, who was perhaps my age and who brought me a soda water with ice and lemon and, when she put it down before me, said cheerfully, Good idea, you not drink alcohol, good idea, my grandmother, she drink all the time, she an alcoholic. She was very cheerful. Sunlight shone in along the bar between us, but we were both in cool shade. I asked her if she drank alcohol and she said, No, no, never, my grandmother drink plenty for the whole family. I used the washroom at the back, the walls of which were covered in crude graffiti that might have been put there in the seventies, before setting out once again into the street. In a small black-and-white establishment somewhere on Queen Street I ordered a martini and a portobello salad. The martini was perfect and so was the salad. I looked around and realized that the woman serving was taller than me, a tall woman. I scribbled on a napkin: She seems to cast an aura instead of a shadow, and now as I read those words I wonder what I was responding to. There was a bookstore nearby; I went in and asked the man at the

counter if he had a copy of Parallel Lives, and he began to search in the database. He was enormously tall and radiated confidence and calm, and I felt certain that he would find the book simply by the way that he loomed over me in the manner of tall men in Toronto, determined to protect me from bad news. But he was unable to locate a copy of Parallel Lives, and when I returned to the sidewalk I realized that he must have been standing on a platform behind the counter; surely no man could be that tall in Toronto. The streets were now fully in shadow; the sun had set but the sky overhead was still blue. I imagined triangulating my position with the Howard Johnson up near Bloor but lacked a third point from which to complete the measurement. Such a third point might have been provided by Mrs Dalloway’s Hot Dog Stand, which I encounterd on the edge of a plaza on a street unknown to me. I considered asking the woman operating the stand where we were but forgot to do so in the excitement of ordering a literary hot dog. A customer in front of me turned from the stand holding one of Mrs Dalloway’s hot dogs, which she was lowering carefully into a shoulder bag. She was elegantly dressed; her hair was grey like mine and she looked down into my eyes. I’m dining alone tonight, she said. In my room, up there. She pointed over her shoulder to an expensive hotel and said, I don’t want to upset anyone, you see. She was taller than me; it was too late for this fact to mean anything. She adjusted the shoulder bag and strode off toward the hotel, and then it was my turn to order one of Mrs Dalloway’s hot dogs. It was dark when I crossed Charles Street at Yonge and heard a woman’s voice, say, Sir, Sir, and thought nothing of it, but as I mounted the curb I understood that the speaker was addressing me. I turned to face a young woman holding out her hand as if it were a tiny bowl. Later I realized that she was not one of the tall women Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 11


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of Toronto; or did I perceive her to be short as an effect of her deferential aspect? In any event I transferred all of the coins in my pocket into the bowl made by her tiny cramped fingers. That was when I noticed the name of the street, which some seconds later, when I got up to Bloor and prepared myself to begin walking west again, proved to be significant, for at that moment a young woman in a red shawl turned to me and said, Sir, Charles Street is that way, is it not? and she pointed in the wrong direction. No, I was able to tell her. It’s down that other way, only a few blocks. I felt that I was answering her in the guise of a man of Toronto, not a tall man of Toronto, but nevertheless of this place, unlike the woman in the shawl, now that I think of it, who was evidently of some other place—as had been, I realized now, the elegant tall woman with a Mrs Dalloway’s hot dog in her shoulder bag. As I approached the Howard Johnson, a cry of anger or astonishment echoed along the street and a man stepped off the curb in the distance and than stepped back up again. I could see that he was tall. Another loud cry, unmistakably male, erupted from somewhere nearby, but no one else appeared. Perhaps these were coded cries shared in the night by tall men in Toronto, somewhat like the whistling code shared by shorter men among the hills of Ireland or Wales or was it the south of Italy? When I entered the lobby the desk clerk, a young man about my height, was giving directions to a couple of guests who were also my height. He thrust a finger at the map spread out between them. Here we are, he said, and then with some emphasis: Currently we are right here.

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he next day as I waited for a taxi to the airport I read the instructions for crossing the street attached to a light pole

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outside the hotel. The sign was low on the pole; I was aware that tall people, specifically the tall women of Toronto, would have to stoop in order to read what was printed there, a message filled with strangeness if not outright malevolence: pedestrians obey your instructions— do not cross—start crossing—do not start. The taxi was air-conditioned; the windows were tinted; I leaned back in cool comfort. At the airport a crackling voice on the public address system repeated instructions again and again

that sounded exactly like Poppy cake popcorn poppy cake. On the plane at 35,000 feet, one of the flight attendants came slowly down the aisle on her hands and knees, poking a tiny flashlight under the seats. No one that I could see asked her what she was looking for. Stephen Osborne is publisher and editor-in-chief of Geist. He is also the award-winning writer of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World and dozens of shorter works, many of which can be read at geist.com/author/osborne -stephen.

Blue Cheese Poetry, wine, music, a plate of cream puffs VERONICA GAYLIE

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t the poetry reading, I eat cheese and pickles. Not ordinary cheese and pickles, but poetic cheese and imagistic pickles, lying on a plate, a paper doily underneath. I can barely breathe. The pickles; cheese, blue and cumbling; the brie, melting; the crackers, stoic; the poet standing by with a glass of wine, hand to cheek. The music swells. The poet says, It’s hard. People nod sympathetically, one eye locked on the kitchen door, swinging open now and then as servers carry in trays of mousse de saumon and crudités. And then, a silver plate of cream puffs appears. I hesitate. What will it do to my heart? This could put me over the edge and across the Connector, helicopter blades chopping over Merritt, past Hope, straight to Vancouver General. What will it do to my interior? Have you had one? asks the bearded professor in the stiff blue sweater. No, I answer. Here. He holds up the tray. The cream puff disappears in a breath of vanilla.

Oh, it is so much colder than expected. More come, and soon we stand nodding together. I know, I know, we all seem to say with our little sighs, popping one in, while holding another. A small group gathers and tries not to drool in the joy of the perfectly chilled vanilla puff because the poet is looking, the foyer is emptying, and everyone moves reluctantly into another room, another country, one without food or music, where a poet waits at a podium, while the feathery pastry that floats on a pool of butter somewhere between your teeth and your stomach leaves the lightest footprint in the place where all tragedies occur, before the poetry even starts.

Veronica Gaylie is a poet and professor whose work has been published in Geist, Grain, Ditch, Room, thetyee.ca, Poetry Review (U.K.) and elsewhere. Read her Geist work at geist.com/author/gaylie-veronica.


NOTES & DISPATCHES

Aquafun In the pool we follow the instructor’s moves, arms flying up and down, legs pumping—and we celebrate everything EDITH I GLAUER

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hree times a week, early on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, Frank and I don outer garments over bathing suits, pull our socks up literally, grab bags of towels and underwear, get into the car and go to Aquafit. The 8:30 news is on the car radio as we drive ten minutes through rain, sleet, snow or fog—and, once in a blue moon, sunshine—to the swimming pool in the basement of our local high school.

looked perfectly calm. No one was objecting, or panting, or shouting to the leader, “You have forgotten to stop!” On Aquafit mornings we wake up at seven and mull over our prospects. Do we get up, or don’t we? The conversation ranges from “I don’t feel like getting up this morning, do you?” to “If we don’t go now, we might never go again.” Before entering the pool, most of our classmates stop to pick up three-

Frank and Edith at Aquafit on Frank’s ninety-fourth birthday.

Our session of exercise in the water begins at 9 a.m. and goes for forty-five minutes—can you believe it?—non-stop, a routine normally considered unsuitable for nonagenarians like us. The first time I went, I thought we would perform one or maybe several exercises, then pause to catch our breath before starting the next set. Nothing doing! We went on and on and on, and on, without a pause. There must be some mistake, I thought, but everybody, including the friend who had brought me because it would improve my life, photo: debbie cole

inch-wide red flotation belts to snap around their middles. Buoyed up by their belts in water otherwise over their heads, they perform the vigorous exercises that our leader, Debbie, demonstrates from dry land at the side of the pool. Frank and I stay in the shallow end, where we can keep our feet on the pool bottom. I once attended a ghastly session in a new aquatic centre in New York where the bottom of the pool had been constructed to rise electronically and let the elderly step in and out without a ladder. When everyone who

signed in had arrived, the floor was lowered, slowly. The water climbed up to my chin and, being shorter than the others, I was about to drown. A tall Aquafit regular, who resented the appearance of a stranger, ignored my wildly thrashing arms and shouted, “Keep on going!” Fortunately the floor stopped its descent just in time. Someone Up There was watching over me. At the pool my neighbours and I greet each other as we descend gingerly into the shallow end, testing the temperature with our toes. On my left is Sue, blonde, beautiful, wonderfully kind, and sixty—always first to arrive. She has a bad leg, and cheerfully walks with a cane, and something about me brings out her caregiving instincts. One week it was hard-to-find bags of cocoa to take home, another it was recipes for mushroom and tomato soups (very good!), and when she precedes me into the dressing room, she always places my clothes in an empty booth before I can stop her. We discuss our latest ailments, our grown children, grandchildren, recipes, and how to obtain free ferry rides when we are going to Vancouver on a medical trip. Just ahead of us is Lorna, a nurse in the local retirement home. She is very tall and stands in deeper water without the belt, treading with such a tranquil look on her lovely face that she seems to be floating. Lately she is beaming, because her first grandchild has arrived. Her even taller husband, who drives a truck in the oil sands at Fort McMurray, Alberta, joins us occasionally. On my other side, my neighbour, Rae, has a positively radiant smile as we pass one another on an exercise where we walk forward across the pool and then reverse and go backward. The other members of our little group of no-belters are Laura, a charming, white-haired recent arrival from Peru; Louise, a retired social worker whose husband is an ex-Mountie; and Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 13


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Naomi, who has been ill and rarely comes now. When she did, she exercised with her eyes tightly shut. Her husband has been attending Aquafit almost as long as we have. We recently attended the celebration of their fiftieth wedding anniversary at the Community Hall. When we get to the pool early, I warm up in the sauna that is tucked in the corner. Harry, who is retired from the merchant marine, Dan, a former fireman with a huge moustache, and sometimes Walter, are usually there too, steaming on the hot wooden benches. At nine sharp we move to the pool. Dan jumps in with a flat dive that gives out a resounding slap and a big splash.

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ne morning I arrived in the sauna and found the three men engaged in an animated talk about old cars, which led to a discussion of old tires. “The newest way to recycle old tires is to cut them up in square pads so cows can lie down on them in the pasture,” Harry said. “They are surprisingly soft, and the cows love them!” Most of us have established positions in the pool to which we return each session as if our names were painted on top of the water. Newcomers who innocently usurp our places learn somehow—we are very polite—to move on. Frank gets in the pool about fifteen minutes before class starts, at the place he has had for years, halfway down the pool, right at the edge. This gives him an unrestricted view of Debbie’s movements. Heaven help any swimmer who strays too close! He looks like Father Christmas, but he is very territorial. Those of us at the shallow end keep our feet solidly grounded on underwater tile in about four and a half feet of water. We are careful to avoid the black guidelines on the floor; they have a slippery reputation. Some years ago a friend demonstrated two pairs of flippers she had Page 14 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009

fastened to her ankles and wrists. She glided through the water in front of me and I was impressed. She then took off the flippers, snapped them on my wrists and ankles and swam away. Unexpectedly, I turned upside down in the water and I couldn’t turn myself right side up again. The flippers held me down. I was frantic. I had been swimming all my life but this was different. I tried to unhook the flippers under water but I couldn’t find the release spots at my wrists and I couldn’t find my ankles at all. I remember thinking, Seven minutes of this, and I’ll be toast. I will drown in three feet of water, in this secondary school pool—an ignominious end. I must have done a lot of splashing because Debbie was suddenly there, hauling me out. Ever since then I panic unless my feet can touch bottom. Thank heaven I’m too old to be told I have to get over it. Exactly at nine Debbie, youthful, good-looking, with short brown hair and a slim figure, in knee-length black shorts and a sleeveless pink T-shirt, starts a booming cd on the machine in the office. Away we go, to the cd’s accompaniment: a loud voice or voices singing, if you can call it that, to a monotonous drumbeat. I wistfully remember that at a long-ago evening Aquafit class, I could sing while we exercised to a wonderful tune from my girlhood on the cd player: I can’t give you anything but love, baby That’s the only thing I’ve plenty of, baby . . .

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e keep our eyes riveted on Debbie, standing above us on dry land at the edge of the pool. We copy her moves as she shifts from one exercise to another, arms flying up and down, legs steadily pumping, fists clenched at our sides. We walk through the water with broad strokes forward, then backward. Then we follow the constantly shifting hand and foot motions, arms and shoulders turned in


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one direction, legs and feet swivelled in the opposite, and so on. Debbie counts down with the fingers of her right hand held in the air until we have completed four, then she shifts gears into another exercise. As we work out, I often amuse myself by observing my colleagues. My favourite diversion until she stopped coming was an elderly woman who wore two bathing caps, one over the other, from which wisps of grey hair escaped. A full suit of grey-white underwear peeked out around the edges of her bathing suit, and she kept up a lively conversation as she bobbed up and down in the water. Sometimes I count attendance, which usually varies from twelve to sixteen people, a third to a quarter of whom are male. I count the number of people wearing glasses, and marvel that my neighbour’s spectacles never get wet. I try to determine how many swimmers of both sexes have dyed hair. I plan menus, remember trips we have taken and bed-and-breakfasts we have stayed in; I think about my mother, who never learned to swim, and how my teacher in a swimming pool in Cleveland held me up in the water with a long pole hooked to a white belt around my waist. Debbie’s enthusiasm is infectious. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, and we send out comfort cards, signed by all of us, when someone falls ill or has an operation. It makes a difference to know you are missed. Sometimes Debbie announces that we will have a potluck party after class, in the roomy entrance space. Just before Christmas holidays, Santa Claus arrives at poolside; if Easter is looming we are instructed to appear at Aquafit in Easter bonnets. We wear our flowering hats in the water, of course— Dan looks especially fetching in a large, drooping straw hat covered with brilliant artificial flowers. Last Easter we formed relay teams and carried a single egg on a spoon across the pool. I think my team

won, although I am not sure. Lots of splashing! On Frank’s last big birthday, his ninety-fifth, he was crowned to a lusty rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” after we got in the water. On my birthday, Debbie placed a rhinestone tiara on my head as I entered the pool, while the class sang. Debbie and her assistants provided hot coffee and tea, and homemade cookies. Frank and I contributed smoked salmon, ham, fancy cheeses, breads, salads, devilled eggs—brunch, at ten in the morning! When my family come from the United States and France, they time their visits to pool days and bring their bathing suits. Afterwards, Frank and I take them to the Crossroads Grill, a coffee spot halfway home, where we sit in a tent-like structure with a stove to keep us warm. A handful of Aquafit regulars often join us there. Last year our Aquafit class had a float in the local annual May Day parade. It was assembled hastily on a pickup truck decorated with orange fish swimming around on a blue paper background along its sides. At the very last minute, the float designers had the idea of hoisting Frank and me up into the back of the truck onto two white garden chairs. Since our combined age is 187 years, the big sign they gave us to hold across our laps was aptly worded: “Aquafit keeps us young at heart.” Our float slowly proceeded down the parade route, with the two of us riding backward, to applause and whistles. We must have liked what we were doing. In the photograph that appeared afterwards in the local paper, we were both smiling from ear to ear. Edith Iglauer is the author of five books, most recently Inuit Journey and The Strangers Next Door, and many articles in The New Yorker and other publications. Her most recent piece in Geist was “What?” (No. 70). Read more of her work at geist.com/author/iglauer-edith. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 15


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The Art of Renaming Perhaps we should start over and rename everything in the universe DAVID ALBAHARI

those nice, gentle names. When I get up in the morning, I would look through my window at the group of “lightdrops,” not at a group of shivering “hanging grannies.” Don’t get me wrong—I have nothing against old ladies and I have always thought that the fact that I did not have my grandparents was my true loss. (My mother’s parents were Bosnian peasants with enough hardships to shorten their lives, and my father’s parents were killed by Nazi soldiers in 1941 or 1942.) I hope that these facts prove that I am politically correct where my relationship with older people is concerned.

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Visibaba f. snowdrip (Galanthus) (plant), member of the family Amaryllidaceae.

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fter a very long winter, I feel tired. Actually, I feel ready to see some snowdrops—the flowers, of course, not the mutant combination of snowflakes and raindrops that sometimes appears during an ice storm. It makes me wonder how and why snowdrops got their name. It is a nice name, a name that Karl May or some other European adventure novelist would give to a distant tribal princess in Siberia or the Sahara. However, in Serbian the same plant is called visibaba, which literally means “hanging granny.” Why this difference? What makes one culture give a flower a pretty, poetic name, and another culture see it in an almost derogatory way? Had that name been given to the last flower to bloom before winter, it might be appropriate, but to give it to one of

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the harbingers of spring is at least strange. Does it mean that people in Serbia do not like springtime, that they prefer the cold of winter to the gentle warmth of spring? I remember that near the end of winter the streets of Belgrade would fill with peasant women selling visibabas. You would buy them to make spring come faster, to introduce some bright whiteness into the gloom of short, sunless winter days. In that respect, snowdrop is a much better name than hanging granny, although the right term would be drop of light, wouldn’t it?

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erhaps that is what we should do: get rid of all ugly, foul-sounding names and rename everything in the universe. Life would simply be more beautiful with all

lder people? It is funny how one does not see oneself as one truly is. Being over sixty myself, I should defend the beauty of “hanging grannies,” and not speak against the name. But despite my age, physical condition, etc., deep down I am still a young man, almost a boy, the same young man I was forty years ago, in the summer of 1969, when I went to Edinburgh for a couple of weeks and fell madly in love. Not with any living being but with a painting by Sir Thomas Gainsborough. I forget the name of the woman in that painting, and I only remember that her dress was blue and that everything around her was also bluish and that the painting was (and probably still is) in the National Gallery of Scotland. Day after day I would go and spend hours standing in front of the painting until museum security grew suspicious and kindly asked me to leave. I bought a postcard reproduction of that painting and left my love forever. I hitchhiked to London and went to Carnaby Street to buy a shirt with a floral pattern. It was summer and it was hot, not the best time for someone who wanted to become, as the Kinks once sang, “a dedicated follower of fashion.” But back in Belgrade I never put the shirt on. It was photo: hans kristian


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too daring for a Communist city. Besides, I had already got in enough trouble with the police for having long hair. So the shirt was left hanging in my wardrobe until my sister began wearing it as her new blouse. What does that have to do with hanging grannies? I cannot remember what flowers were pictured on that shirt but I do not think that snowdrops were included. After all, it was a summer shirt, not one for springtime. (Even in London, England, there is something like summer.)

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friend from Belgrade informed me that the word might reflect an earlier usage of the old Slavic word baba, which originally meant any woman, including young ones. In Russian, he says, it still has that meaning. In that case, the name could mean “hanging young woman.” In contemporary Serbian, however, baba denotes only an “old woman,” often an unpleasant old woman. Referring to any young woman as “baba” in Serbia today would jeopardize one’s life. Even “babas” themselves do not like the word and prefer the diminutive form baka. No wonder, then, that these small, gentle flowers keep their heads down—they are not happy with their name. It’s high time we began to rename the world.

David Albahari is the author of twenty published books in Serbian; six have been translated into English, including Snow Man (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005) and Leeches (forthcoming from Harcourt in 2010). He lives in Calgary. Read “Stroke of History” (No. 72) and his other Geist work at geist.com/author/albahari-david.

Sarah Leavitt regularly contributes writing and comics to Geist. Her graphic memoir, My Mom Got Sick and Died, will be published by Freehand Books in 2010. More at sarahleavitt.com. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 17


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Three Days in Toronto A trip across the country, with didgeridoo and Trudeau too C.E. COUGHLAN

“Do you have a card?” he asked. “No,” I said, “they’re kind of like Facebook in my opinion.” At baggage claim, the didgeridoo man tapped me on the shoulder. He had his arm around a woman with dreadlocks. “You should think about Facebook,” he said. “Call me sometime, we’ll go for coffee and talk about it.” He winked and walked away and I waited for my bag, which was the second last one to come around the carousel.

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Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera ), member of the family Arecaceae.

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t the airport in Vancouver a man in a pinstripe suit was playing a didgeridoo as he boarded the plane for the flight to Toronto. The low, deep sounds echoed through the terminal and the gate attendant shook her head and sighed. His sleeves were too short and his pant legs rode up as he walked; when he sat down, the old man in the next seat said, “There never was a finer day for flying.” The sun shone in through the windows; the engines revved and we taxied down the runway. The didgeridoo man told me he was a “sound healer” who had trained as a music therapist. “I didn’t believe in sound healing until I heard it and saw it work—it’s just like acupuncture or Page 18 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

herbs, you know.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a business card, which read: Ashley Tait, Bell Mobility. “Are you on Facebook?” he said. “I highly recommend it.” His face looked like an elf ’s face. “I created a group called the Notorious Ashley Tait— that’s my name—and I’ve found eight people on Facebook in North America called Ashley Tait. Wouldn’t you know three of them live in Vancouver, so we’re meeting up next week. Hey, would you like to come?” I told him that my name wasn’t Ashley Tait and asked him whether the other Ashley Taits were men or women, and he said they were all women. I told him my name and we shook hands.

t the end of an invigorating day at the magazine publishing conference, where I attended sessions called The Joys of Online Circulation Management and E-Publishing: Making Your Mark, I got in a cab to meet my friend Robin at Betty’s Bar on King Street, where reporters from the Sun get drunk after work. When we got there, I looked at the meter to see the fare and the screen was blank, so I asked the cab driver how much. He looked at the meter and said, “It’s up to you”—he’d forgotten to turn it on. I gave him eight dollars and he said, “Lady, you are more than fair.” I was halfway out of the cab when he said, “Wait! Have you ever tried young coconut? Jelly coconut? Would you like to try? You wait here, I’ll be back.” He jumped out and walked around to the back of the cab and opened the trunk, and the car rocked a bit as he shifted some heavy things around. “Shit,” he said loudly. I opened the door and got out. He held up a round, cream-coloured, Saranwrapped object that didn’t look like a coconut at all. Just then my friend Robin rode up on her bike. “Is that young coconut?” she asked. “Here’s what you do,” the cab driver said. “First you need to shave off the skin with a sharp knife.” He tapped the coconut softly. “Then you poke a hole


NOTES & DISPATCHES

in the bottom, right here, and you drain the water.” He held up the coconut and shook it. “No,” said Robin, “you drink the water.” “Yes, you can drink the water,” the driver said, “and then you need to smash the coconut against the floor to open it up, but watch out, it will make a big mess.” He handed me the coconut, which had a little orange and green sticker on it that said Best, and he bowed low, then straightened up and smoothed his hair back. “The inside is like a jelly, and you scoop it out with a spoon and eat it.” “You know,” Robin said, “the number one killer in Papua New Guinea is falling coconuts. I was there for a film shoot, and I was just standing there when suddenly this coconut fell— thunk—right beside me on the sand. It was crazy.” The cab driver nodded. “Crazy,” he said. He wiped his hands on his pants, slammed the trunk, got back in his cab and took out a pad of paper and wrote something down. Robin and I went into Betty’s Bar. I sat the coconut on the tiny table between us and we drank pints of beer and talked about photography, horseback riding and how you can’t trust the media. On our way out the server ran after us, waving the coconut in the air and calling, “Hey, you forgot this.” Later that evening at my parents’ condo, I told the story of the cab driver and the young coconut, and offered them the coconut as a gift. “We don’t eat coconut,” my mother said, “young or otherwise.”

floor. We said hi to some friends, then stepped off the moving floor to get to the bar and the friends disappeared around the pillar. “Two Heineken,” Trevor said, and the bartender handed us two Molson Canadian. Another publisher walked over to greet us and said, “Did you know this used to be Pierre Trudeau’s favourite hotel, when it was the Colony? Apparently it was the only hotel in downtown Toronto where you could actually open the windows, and that’s why he always chose it—even though the hotel across the way was far nicer,” and he pointed out the window at a building in the distance. Over the next hour, eight people told us the same story, on and off the revolving floor. We interrupted the first few to tell them we’d already heard it, but then we stopped. Eventually Trevor started to feel dizzy, so we left. A few days later, back in Vancouver, I told my friend Cassandra about the revolving bar and the repeated Trudeau story, and she told me about the time she had lunch with a client, the classical guitarist Liona Boyd, in that same revolving room when it was a restaurant at the top of the Colony Hotel. They sat down together with plates of fish from the seafood buffet and as they ate, Liona Boyd told Cassandra about spending time at Sussex Drive with Trudeau during their love affair, and how they used to play hide and seek and jump on the beds.

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C.E. Coughlan is the author of The Wigmaker, a collection of short stories (Smart Cookie Publishing, 2007), and shorter works published in Geist, Grain and the anthology Emerge. Read “Dog Show Dancing” and her other Geist work at geist.com/author/ coughlan-c-e.

fter Circ. Shop: Twenty-five Ways To Improve Your Circulation, the final magazine publishing session on the second day of the conference, my colleague Trevor and I went for drinks at the top of the hotel, in a room with a revolving

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Yours Sincerely

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hen I worked for an art gallery and framing shop in Delta, B.C., I framed more mundane pieces than I can count—limited-edition wildlife prints, diplomas, photos of sunsets, kid scribbles, the odd seventies-era oil Page 22 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

painting and Granny’s landscape watercolours. People hang some pretty boring stuff on their walls. Every day in the shop I hoped for a masterpiece to arrive, though I treated everything our customers brought

in—even the most faded posters—with respect. One morning an older couple came into the shop, wanting to frame a small portrait of the man’s family, taken in the 1920s when he was a small child. The portrait was glued to a piece of card. On the other side of the card was a photo of two young men in clown suits, with “yours sincerely, Neil” written in the bottom right corner. “What about this?” I asked. “Oh, we don’t know who they are,” said the woman. “You can just cover it up.” I looked again, wondering what the connection was between the sternlooking people in the family portrait and the two young men in fancy dress. “It’s such an interesting photo,” I said. “It would be a shame to hide it.” “We don’t mind,” she said. They chose their frame and left, but that photograph bothered me all day. I pulled it out again later on and imagined the two men dissolving into laughter as soon as the photo was taken. I couldn’t stand to hide these jovial fellows behind a family portrait for all eternity, so on my break I took the picture to a photo lab and had a copy printed for myself. I felt as if I had rescued real people from oblivion. At the time I was obsessed with AlainFournier’s 1913 coming-of-age novel Le Grand Meaulnes, in which a young man happens upon a strange party orchestrated by children and spends years afterwards trying to find the girl he met there. Pierrot and Harlequin appear frequently in the narrative as totems of the characters who refuse to grow up. I loved the magical, bittersweet taste of this little book. Alain-Fournier was killed in battle at age twenty-seven during World War i;


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Le Grande Meaulnes is his only completed novel. I was reading Le Grand Meaulnes for what must have been the fourth time on the day the clown photo came into the shop, and these small connected events led me to put down my book and start sketching ideas for a painting. The shop was never busy, so I had a lot of time to think about words like synergy, and time to wonder where inspiration comes from. A month later I finished my painting of a juggling Harlequin in greens and browns, gold and orange. I decided to frame it. Framing an item can validate it as art. You’ve spent money to celebrate and protect it, and placed the object prominently on a wall. That must mean something. There is a sense that a framed image will be handed down through generations, that it will last a long time and touch the hearts and minds of all who see it. Framing something makes it seem permanent, real, the art and the border joined eternally. The most difficult customers I had were artists framing their own work, because artists think they know all about what will suit their masterpieces. They are almost always wrong, especially when they choose mat board. Some artists think everything should be matted with stark white, because that’s what museums do. This cold, hard colour looks terrible with nearly everything. Others assume their piece should be matted using the strongest colour in the artwork, which only serves to overpower the art and to make it recede visually. Generally, the best colours to use are the mid-tones in a piece, never the highlights, but this is hard to explain to someone with a huge emotional investment in their work. For my painting, I chose a four-inchwide dark brown beauty of a frame with a mottled yellowy section the exact colour of the mid-tones in my painting. It had daubed gold highlights and a bright gold

recessed inner border. It was one of the most expensive frames in the store at the time, and it was so perfect that it appeared I had painted it to match the canvas. I brought it home, leaned it against the stove on the kitchen floor and stared at it during meals for days before deciding where to hang it up.

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n quiet hours at the framing store, I browsed our catalogues of posters. Picasso, Monet, Warhol, Kandinsky, Miró—mass produced and available for fifteen dollars and up, depending on the size. I’ve never liked Van Gogh’s Starry Night or any other work of art that is reproduced on T-shirts, coffee mugs and mouse pads. Some pieces, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in particular, have nearly lost all meaning—diffused into society like aerosol spray. I have even received dental appointment reminder cards with a picture of the Mona Lisa, altered to have a wide grin, and the caption: “No reason to hide that smile after you visit our clinic!” It’s like hearing the same song over and over again until you are sick of it and never want to hear it again. Even those who brag about going to see the actual Mona Lisa and only truly understanding it once they have gazed at the real thing—have they really seen the painting as the artist intended? Through a wall of glass and other tourists? Many official definitions of art still include the words “beauty” and “aesthetic value,” as if these are the most important goals in creating something. Art history textbooks tell us what pieces to revere and why, leaving us with a sense that art is something that has already happened. I know it is hard to define something so complex and subjective, but I wonder why these definitions have not evolved and I wonder if they will ever fit the sub-

ject. Or are we on our own with this, each of us? Basquiat said, “I start a picture and I finish it. I don’t think about art while I work. I try to think about life.” I have a hard time talking about why I make the things I make. Someone once asked me why I had so much artwork depicting clowns in my apartment, and I said, “I just like clowns.” I have a framed postcard of Pierrot beckoning the viewer to enter a room and another of two little drunken Pierrots supporting each other, which reads, l’union fait la force. A 1930s papier-mâché clown mask that terrifies my friends decorates one wall, and my juggling Harlequin hangs above the loveseat in an expensive frame. When I am gone, will anyone want these things, value them? I imagine some young couple finding the Harlequin painting at a garage sale and the man saying, “Honey, that is a gorgeous frame, don’t you think?” He puts his arm around her. “We could put our Klimt print in that, couldn’t we?” Shortly after I discovered the clown photo and had the print made, I went to a copy shop and printed an enlargement to use in the set decoration for a friend’s short film. In the panic that often surrounds the making of independent film, I left my “original” in the photocopier. When I went back to the store, the print was gone. I consoled myself by imagining that someone else was as captivated by it as I had been. I hope it inspired them to make something. The version of the image that I still have is twice removed from the print that I buried in a family photo—a copy of a copy, the inscription traced in chalk. —Shay Wilson Shay Wilson is an MFA student at the University of British Columbia. Her writing has appeared at Joyland.ca and is forthcoming in The Beaver. She blogs about fashion at theongoingproject.blogspot.com. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 23


FINDINGS P R I V I L E G E D A N D CO R RU PT Sarah Schulman From The Mere Future, to be published by Arsenal Pulp Press in fall 2009. Sarah Schulman has published numerous books and is co-director of the ACTUP Oral History Project. She lives in New York.

“L

ook,” Daddy said. “That’s Alexander Kerenski.” “Who’s that?” “The Prime Minister of the Menshevik government of Russia, after the Czar and before the Communists.” I looked up from behind his knee. The object of my father’s fandom was a lonely old man in an old gray suit. He was food shopping slowly because it was his only way to be around people. His suit was too big on him because he was well into the shrinking process. Poor guy, he placed his bets on the wrong side of history and paid ever since. Nowadays, Mr Kerenski would ask people questions like, “What kind of sour cream do you like?” just to hear another human voice interact with his own. He dreamed that one of these people would strike up a conversation and become his friend. That they could have tea together and talk about the Duma, the Cossacks, and Lenin, that scoundrel. But this never happened. He saw it take place once in a movie and twice in a play, but in real life one thing never led to another. Kerenski stopped. He changed his glasses, stalling for more time among the living. He examined the sour cream container again. What was he looking for? The refrigeration refreshed his soul. He changed his mind, reached for the cottage cheese. “Look,” my father said, young and robust, large key ring dangling by his side. He had always wanted to be great, the world’s best Super. But he

did not hold his thwarted wish against others who truly were great, nor those who had failed but tried. This generosity came, in part, from the fact that no one on earth was considered the World’s Best Superintendent. He aspired to a goal that no one else could attain either. “He used to be the ruler of Russia.” I stared, transfixed. This is what happens to kings, stars, the most powerful of men. They can be reduced to standing next to me. “Look,” my father whispered. “Look at him now. He can’t even chew.” What a lesson. So many years later, I carry this warning from my dear old dad. Nothing matters except Nadine. As an adult, I avoided mass-produced edible treats, and only bought organics that were tasty and overpriced. Now, though, at People’s Market, there was unlimited choice. Not just fifty-seven kinds of cheese, but 157. And each was named after its maker: Steve Cheese, Joanne Cheese, Ludwig Cheese, Jr. And standing there, in front of the acres of personal cheese, I had my own adult paternal memorial Slavic celebrity sighting. Anna Kornslyovichkowaskyski. In her day, she had been the darling of the Party. The grandsons of the overthrowers of Kerenski had made her a star. She could have tea in her coffee while the People just got educated. Now, though, with the former Soviet Union in subdivisions that would make Long Island jealous, she lived in New York buying potatoes right out of the earth. Here at People’s Market, you dig them yourself. “Hi,” I said. “If I had a child of my own, I would have him shake your hand.” “You know me?” She smiled. “Yes,” I said, reaching for the shake. “You were the most privileged and corrupt movie star in all of the cccp.” “Yes,” she said, smiling for the cameras. “That will always be true. Even when I am dead. Film curators with fetishes for kitsch will dig up my films and feel some pang of desire. No matter what Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 25


FINDINGS

they know intellectually, they will never lose that little ooooohhhh one feels in the presence of a star.” “What do you do now?” I asked. “I work in the media hub.” She looked tragic. It was lovely. She had found resilience, and then triumph of the human spirit. “Thank you,” I said. “Your performance reminds me of what really matters in life. It is healing and transformative.” I was thinking about Nadine, and a smile came to my tongue. “You’re welcome,” she answered, burdened by the history of Mother Russia and ten pounds of laundry detergent. “The mighty must fall, and yet, they once were mighty.” And then she wheeled down the aisle towards the condiments.

O U TSI D E YO U R FI E L D O F K N OW L E D G E Excerpts from lectures presented at Trampoline Hall, an event at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver on February 1, 2009. The Trampoline Hall Lecture Series, in which speakers prepare and present talks on topics well outside their fields of knowledge, was invented by Sheila Heti in 2001. The presenters on February 1 were Andrew Feldmar, Kevin Chong and Faith Moosang. Sheila Heti is the author of The Middle Stories, Ticknor and many shorter works. She lives in Toronto and at sheilaheti.net. Read her Geist work at geist.com/author/heti-sheila. The curator of the event, Veda Hille, is a Canadian indie, folk rock and experimental singer-songwriter and has regularly toured Canada, the U.S. and Germany.

Cooking from Memory Andrew Feldmar Andrew Feldmar is a psychologist who escaped from Hungary in 1956 and has lived in Vancouver for forty years. He has practised and taught psychology at several universities, worked with Chernobyl survivors, consulted in Bosnia and Serbia, and presented numerous papers Page 26 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

and workshops. Readers of Hungarian can read the full text of “Cooking from Memory” and other works at feldmarinstitute.hu.

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emory. In 1969, having just arrived in Vancouver from Ontario, my new girlfriend and I were staying at the Southern Slopes Motel in Burnaby, and she said, Cook something for dinner tonight. I had never cooked anything but tea. What did I feel like eating? Hungarian gulyás soup. I went into a reverie. I was a boy, my eyes were level with the table and my grandmother was busy cooking. I could see cut-up green peppers, chunked tomatoes, diced carrots, and slowly I began to remember how she made gulyás soup. I plunged into it. The reward was an authentic-tasting, nourishing meal. After dinner I wrote down what I did. To this day, I follow that recipe. Cooking. The filmmaker says: “Cooking is performing art, and a meal is the ancestral sculpture of mankind. Cooking is the origin of culture, as the mother of all arts . . . Prepared food is a medium to express thoughts and feelings.” Hugh Crawford, R.D. Laing’s psychiatrist colleague, would not eat in restaurants, for he doubted that the food would be prepared with love. Mimetic desire. The French historian and philosopher René Girard outlines the important theory of “triangular” or “mimetic” desire: that the notion of a desire original to the subject is a romantic lie, and that human beings borrow one another’s desires. Examples: I am six or seven years old, and my father takes me to a party, and I bury my face in the bum of a woman there. She turns out to be a secret lover of his. The best friend of a young man sleeps with every girlfriend the young man acquires. An Italian immigrant drives a fast sports car, combs his hair looking in the rear-view mirror, crashes into a highway divider and almost dies, collects speeding tickets and doesn’t pay them until subpoenaed—who are you being, and for whom are you being that? His mother loved a famous Italian racecar driver. He wants to be the object of his mother’s desire.


FINDINGS

Attention. You only remember what you pay attention to. Notice what you pay attention to, and pay attention to what you notice! Hungarian gulyás. The recipe, recovered upon arrival in Vancouver, fall 1969: Brown 1 cup chopped onion in 3 tbsp bacon fat and oil. Add 3 tsp paprika; 1/4 tsp cayenne or hot Hungarian paprika; 2 cloves of garlic, minced; 3 pinches of caraway seeds. Add 11/2 lbs of stew beef (from hip) and stir-brown it. Fresh pepper it. Add 4–8 cups water, 3 chunked tomatoes, 2 chunked green peppers, 1 tsp or more of salt. Simmer 1 hour, then add 3 carrots, 1 small parsnip and 4 potatoes, all cut into slices or chunks. Add more water if necessary to cover, and simmer 30–45 minutes. If you want, make knockerln. Break 1 egg into a dish, and whisk in a bit of salt and pepper. Sprinkle in as much flour as the egg can take up. Knead and keep adding flour until the dough is dry and fairly hard and doesn’t stick to your fingers any longer. When the soup is ready, pull snippets of dough off the main lump, throw them into the boiling pot and simmer until done, about 3 minutes. Cleaning your hands can take up to an hour . . .

Fraternal Polyandry in Tibet Kevin Chong To research his talk about a subject he “sort of stumbled onto,” Chong studied the work of Nancy E. Levine, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Geoff Childs and others. Following are a few of the many points he covered in his talk. Kevin Chong is a novelist, musician and freelance journalist, author of Baroque-a-Nova, Neil Young Nation and many shorter works, including “Vegging Out” (Geist 51). He lives in Vancouver.

D

efinition. Fraternal polyandry is the practice of two or more brothers marrying the same woman. It is practised in parts of Tibet, in Nepal by ethnic Tibetans, and in northern India. When brothers take up another wife, the marriage is described as polygynandrous.

Yak

Rationale. The main reasons are cultural and economic, rather than religious. It may be practised because of limited resources. Fraternal polyandry in Tibet keeps family property intact. Demographics. Fraternal polyandry is practised most often by middle-class landholding Tibetan villagers, not by the poorest Tibetans—it’s more a way for them to maintain a cushier lifestyle than to survive. Fatherhood. Among the Limi villagers near the Nepal-Tibet border, the brothers regard their wife’s children the same no matter who the biological father is; but among the Nyinba, another group, biological fathers are expected to have closer bonds with their sons. Authority. The oldest brother becomes head of the household and normally has the best chance to father his wife’s first child. Theoretically he can dictate the rotation by which the wife is shared, though sexual relations are also likely determined by the work schedules of the husbands. The husband who looks after the yaks or conducts trade, for instance, might need to spend certain nights away from home. Divorce. There seem to be a number of sources of marital friction unique to this type of marriage. Younger brothers generally are the most dissatisfied: they don’t like being bossed around by their older brother(s), they find their wife undesirable, they may be disappointed that they haven’t fathered their own genetic children. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 27


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Implications. Ultimately, I think the most likely place of fraternal polyandry in North America is as a source of humour. When I mention this topic to friends, some joke about fraternal polyandry in their own lives. Some wonder whether they could marry brothers, or whether they and their brothers would ever agree on the same woman. One married friend suggested that he and his gay brother would be good candidates for that type of marriage: his brother could take care of all the decorating and conversation, and he could do all the sexytime. His wife didn’t seem very amused.

Nancy Drew Knows It’s Hard Faith Moosang Faith Moosang is a photographic artist and curator who lives in Vancouver. She has amassed a large collection of vernacular photography: hundreds of photo albums, home movies, slide collections and other domestic ephemera. See “Futile Gestures: Photo Albums and the Ecology of Memory” (Geist 70) and her other Geist work at geist.com/author/moosang-faith.

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ancy Drew knows it’s hard to live in a terrorized world. Of course, certain events occurring late in 2008 in the country to the south of Canada have all but wiped the scourge of terror from the face of the earth, never to be seen again. But Nancy knows that we still live in a world terrorized by crime—to be specific, a world terrorized by perps—and she wants to help. Nancy has been 18 years old for 79 years. In that time she has solved 56 mysteries, bringing down 15 conglomerates, 11 syndicates, 10 gangs, one nature cult and a panoply of unaffiliated creeps. These are perps—bad to the bone—and you can defeat them. Some tips, inspired by Nancy Drew: Recognizing perps. The higher up a perp is in the echelons of organized crime, the darker the clothes. Hats are always pulled low, coats dark, suits ill-fitting. If your perp runs with the crowd that likes to wear disguises, watch out for added facial hair and the overwhelming propensity to dress in the costume of other cultures.

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Suddenly Nancy spotted the mysterious Arab

Appearance of perps. Watch out for people who have broken nails or whiny voices, who are crafty, dour, glum, shifty-eyed, strident, smirking, quarrelsome, clumsy, nervous, leering, haggard, scarred, balding or are in their fifties. Behaviour of perps. You can easily identify perps simply by watching them. It is commonly and mistakenly assumed that their activities are surreptitious, guarded, well concealed. Nothing is further from the truth. Beware the man running with a sack, or throwing bombs. Perp-catching tools. A purse that is co-ordinated with her knit separates is de rigueur for Nancy. However, the purse not only pulls together the whole outfit, it also carries the essentials of good sleuthing. In it, you will find id, change for important phone calls, a flashlight, quizzing glass, matches, a handkerchief (which you can breathe through if, for example, a ceiling falls on you), a vial of perfume for sterilizing things or reviving unconscious people, and a burlap bag. As well, you will find a wig and glasses, for hastily changing your appearance, and lipstick for writing help messages. Fighting form. But the strong core of your perp-fighting arsenal has to be your own being. You need to be in excellent shape and know the


FINDINGS

SKY WHALES Daccia Bloomfield From Dora Borealis, published by ECW Press in 2008. Daccia Bloomfield is a writer, visual artist and independent curator who lives in Toronto.

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hat is personal? Personal is burying a wet, dead cat under tall weeds.

Nancy wrote a large sos backwards on the pane

value of a hearty lunch; for example, and I quote: “heaping amounts of lobster, puffed shrimp, tomatoes, coleslaw, potatoes, hot biscuits, lemonade and apple pie.” Where she puts it, I don’t know. Your skills should also include the ability to swim carrying an unconscious person in a stormy lake, fly a plane, play championship tennis and golf, arrange flowers, throw your voice, throw a rock like a boy and do ballet well enough to take the leading dancer’s place at a moment’s notice.

Ned, amazed, began to clap for Nancy

What is a sky? Depends who you ask. This sky, like the real one, is full of words. You see a confusion of constellations. You’ve drawn in all the important names. What is a button? I hate anything “textile based” on principle, but I suppose we are stuck with this. We are sewn together now. We can protect each other from the cold. We can push each other’s buttons. What is a Lola? A Lola is a wondrous cross between a Freezie and a Slurpee. It comes in a small cardboard container shaped like a pyramid. What are constellations? Constellations are like mnemonics, okay? I learned that on the internet. Constellations are only one way to read the sky. Have you got a way? Constellations are possibly the least interesting map we’ve got. I’ll bet constellations are particularly frustrating as a layer of distracting narrative to people who actually know what they are looking at when they look at the sky. Constellations are a simpleton’s handbook to the night sky—and a false one. Like the Bible in Latin. Old wives’ tales, loose strings, outmoded myths. Beautiful. The ties between stars do not exist. There aren’t freeways up there. Constellations are meant to help all of us remember groups of stars. That’s what meaning does—it helps us to remember. Names function the same way that constellations do. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 29


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What is a mixtape? A mixtape is a delicate gift, something you construct with an ear for the tastes of the intended listener. You pick each song, with care. You worry about possible connotations, about how you come across. You pop a drawing that you made, with your very own hands and all your good intentions, into the case as its sentimental lining, its inner and highly permeable membrane. What is a bike? Is it a sketch for an improved horse? What is astronomy? Don’t ask me. I’m not proud of my ignorance, but I never learned all that much about astronomy. Astronomy isn’t stars. Astronomy is a big wonder-killing thing; stars on the other hand, from where I am, and from where I was, are small. I was obstinate about not learning—and

yet, I was a Carl Sagan fan as a kid. Were you? If you were, go on and draw him in, next to the giant tree, next to where you are. What is a bell? A bell is usually metal, sometimes glass or ceramic and not necessarily shaped “like a bell.” It can hang on a cow or be struck with an external instrument, and it is always hollow. The sound most often associated with the aurora borealis is of ringing bells. It doesn’t make any sense—science doesn’t have room in its doctrine for the possibility of sound shaking loose of air and space, and it’s not okay (read: possible) to hear a sound made by stars, or by fighting mythological people, or by sky whales. And yet, many cultures have myths about this phenomenon. What is male sexuality? What is breathing?

B E ATI N G BLU E N OSE Kate Beaton

From Hark! A Vagrant, Kate Beaton’s website of mostly historical comics (harkavagrant.com). Beaton is a Nova Scotian artist who lives in Toronto. Page 30 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


FINDINGS

T HE PA IN OF OT HE R S Livia Bloom and Errol Morris From “Regarding the Pain of Others: Errol Morris on Standard Operating Procedure,” Cinema Scope 34 (spring 2008). Livia Bloom is a film curator, a frequent contributor to Cinema Scope and the editor of the forthcoming book Errol Morris: Interviews (University of Mississippi Press, 2009). Errol Morris is an awardwinning documentary filmmaker and the director of Standard Operating Procedure, in which he examines images from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

cinema scope: Why do you think the soldiers took the photos at Abu Ghraib, and why did they smile? errol morris: Part of the reason for making the film was my interest in that question, “Why would they take these photographs?” One thing that interested me was Sergeant Joseph Darby—who is not in the movie, but whom I did interview. Darby has been profiled again and again and again and again: the hero who turned in the photographs. The story of Joseph Darby is very complex, and the story that has emerged in the media is not exactly what I would call the “real” story. But it’s interesting: Sabrina Harmon takes these pictures of the body of murdered Iraqi detainee Manadal Al-Jamadi packed on ice. Under another set of circumstances she could have won a Pulitzer Prize, and it is because of the photograph that we are aware of a murder she has nothing whatsoever to do with. She is in no way culpable for the crime. She simply took a picture of a corpse after the fact. And because she took the photograph, and because the photograph was disseminated and shown around the world, she became the goat. Darby the hero, and Sabrina Harmon the goat. Darby turns the pictures in and he becomes an American hero. He gets the jfk Profiles in Courage Award. Sabrina takes the picture that reveals the murder, and she gets, as Hunter Thompson would describe it, “The 2,000pound Shit-Hammer.” And the story is filled with strange ironies. The whole story. I find it amazing. In a way it’s a

very similar irony to listening to [Army Investigator] Brent Pack tell you how the hooded man on the box with wires, nicknamed Gilligan, was undergoing standard operating procedure; and the pyramid, or the leash, is a criminal act. Well, the question, again filled with irony: Why is one a criminal act? Why is one standard operating procedure? There are technical arguments you could make about the nature of the prisoners, but what is clear is that the army, as a matter of policy, was involved in using American females to degrade Iraqi men. They were putting them in stress positions; they were stripping them naked; they were hooding them. The use of women, American female soldiers, to degrade the enemy—there’s something incredibly sick about all of it. And the idea that these ideas solely came from the “bad apples” —that it came from Chuck Graner, and Ivan Frederick, and Lynndie England et al.—is just simply wrong. It’s just wrong. One thing that is just so clear is that when these guys arrived at Abu Ghraib, and they started work in what was known as the hard site, Cellblock 1a, this stuff was already in place. They didn’t create this world; it existed in advance of them. And part of what the movie is about is how they reacted to all of this. It’s almost a Heart of Darkness story. You find yourself in the middle of this surreal world; nightmare . . . So I think that’s really, really interesting. But, why would they take the photographs?

Elevator Surfing Terms used in the sport of urban exploration and infiltration. From Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration, written by Ninjalicious and published by Infilpress in 2005. Abseiling base jumping Buildering Drainboating Draincycling Draining Drainsledding Elevator surfing

Geocaching Parkour Rooftopping Sewering Skunneling Trainhopping Transit tunneling Vadding Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 31


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HABITAT Heather Haley From Window Seat, a collection of poems to be published in fall 2009 by Ekstasis Editions. Heather Haley (heatherhaley.com) is the author of Sideways (Anvil Press) and Princess Nut, a CD of spoken-word songs. She is host and curator of See the Voice: Visible Verse, an annual video-poetry event at Pacific Cinémathèque in Vancouver.

We plan, like architects to bring the outdoors in, parrot like realtors the charms of a tree house, for up on this hill, birdsong is tangible. We always get what we want, camouflaged

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fleeing a resident eagle. Ravens and jays battle over kibble, shit bomb the deck. They want in, past windowpanes that trick them. Frenzied. Talons flashing, they enter through a door in the firmament.

in our mossy cabin, high above the threshold of discovery. Open sky. 360-degree views. Proximity to water. Reliable food sources. Plenty of nesting material. Gravel flies from under the foot of a rabbit

I guide them outside, stunned at the feel of wing bones. Banging hearts. A hummingbird goes stillborn in the cup of my hands, then, buzzers off, leaving a tang in my throat, a ring of ruby dust on my finger, incriminating as pollen.

I don’t think there is one reason. There’s a theory that when we’re dealing with human behaviour, there are unitary reasons. There is one “why” that tells you, such and such happened. Why did it happen? You truck out a specific reason that explains everything. I sometimes think of a deck of cards; I think of a whole set of layers. Sabrina writes, very early on, that she’s taking the photographs because she wants a record, and she wants to expose what the American military is doing in Iraq—and I think that’s correct. Part of it is, “This is unbelievable, I should take a picture of it,” and “This is wrong, I should take a picture of it”—because from her letters (and the letters were written from Abu Ghraib) she indicates clearly that she knew this was wrong, and that it was disturbing. So there are two reasons, and then there are other reasons. Graner, I was told, had—you know, whether it’s real or psychosomatic—believed that he had gotten sick from the first Gulf War, and if

he had photographs of certain things that happened to him, he would be in a better position to prove his case to the military. I also believe that there was a concern on the part of many of these people, Graner in particular, that these orders should have been given in writing—they were not given in writing—and that by taking pictures, they were offering some kind of protection for themselves: yet one more irony. In terms of why they smiled, there was an evolution—that I think is an important evolution— from photographs that were vérité photographs. From when Sabrina starts taking those vérité photographs of Taxi Driver with panties on his head—those are vérité photographs. She sees this, she takes a picture of it. The iconic photographs, the photographs that became really, really, really famous, aren’t vérité photographs. They’re posed photographs. They’re photographs that were taken for the camera, and probably they were


FINDINGS

FACAD E Gabor Szilasi From the photo series Illuminated Signs. A selection of Szilasi’s photographs will be shown at the National Gallery of Canada from October 9, 2009, to January 17, 2010. Photographs courtesy of Art45, Montreal, and Stephen Bulger, Toronto (copyright Gabor Szilasi). Gabor Szilasi emigrated from Hungary in 1957 and has been photographing rural and urban Quebec since 1959. He lives in Montreal.

CDM Meubles, Montreal, 1982

Orange Julep, Montreal, 1985

posed because a camera was present. They were created for the camera—which is another interesting phenomenon. Lynndie England with “Gus” on the leash; the pyramid; the picture of Lynndie pointing at the guy’s dick with the cigarette dangling out of her mouth; the picture of Sabrina with the thumbs-up, looking into camera, in front of Al-Jamadi’s body: All of those are photographs taken very self-consciously. I sometimes think of them as tableaux vivants, like Cindy Sherman gone to hell. That they were taken as some kind of crazed art project for the camera.

Fairmount Bagel, Montreal, 1982

I think it’s complex! The hope is that the movie captures the complexity of the situation and the complexity of the characters. That’s the hope: That it makes you think about the question of why these photographs were taken; that it makes you think about who these people are that took the photographs, without really necessarily giving you a clear answer—because I don’t think there is a clear answer. I don’t think I’m just simply being coy; I just think that the pictures were taken for lots of reasons.

Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 33


FINDINGS

TORON TO V I E WS Adam Krawesky From instills, an exhibition of photographs of passersby that were taken at various Toronto locations. As part of the 2009 CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival, each image could be seen inside a tiny hand-held slide viewer that was installed at the location at which the photo was taken. Adam Krawesky is a photographer whose images capture people moving through cities. His work is represented by Patrick Mikhail Gallery and can be seen at inconduit.com. 1. Dufferin Grove Park, hockey rink, southwest gate

2. Dufferin and Dundas, north side of Dundas, second telephone pole west of Dufferin

3. Queen and Dufferin, northwest side of bridge, pole at crosswalk

5. West side of Manning, third parking sign north of Queen

4. Queen and Niagara, telephone pole on southeast corner Page 34 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

photos of slide viewers: michael chrisman/TORONTOIST


FINDINGS

11. Yonge and Dundas, southwest corner, crosswalk pole

10. Bay and Wellesley, northwest corner, pole at crosswalk

9. 336 Dundas, north side, west of Beverly, on railing

8. 342 Queen, west of Spadina, tree in front of le Château

6. Kensington and St. Andrew, southeast corner parking sign

7. 352 Queen, west of Spadina, parking sign Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 35


Land’s End Christopher Grabowski

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n 1999, Christopher Grabowski, a documentary writer and photographer, read an

article in the Globe and Mail, reporting that “the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

withheld a major study of economically devastated West Coast fishing communities and then released a sanitized version, omitting the criticism contained in the original report.” He packed his notebook and camera and set out for the west coast of Canada, north of Vancouver, a vast, rugged mosaic of islands, peninsulas and waterways at the edge of the continent. There he travelled from place to place—usually by water, because no roads can be built there—and talked to people in towns and villages whose world had Ocean Falls

changed profoundly, almost overnight. That trip turned out to be the first of many over the next ten years.

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he west coast of Canada, which extends 965 kilometres northwest of Victoria by air

(about 27,000 kilometres of coastline), once supported scores of resource towns and other single-industry communities. Fish, forests and minerals were rich, abundant and conve-

Alert Bay

niently located near myriad waterways for easy shipping to destinations near and far. These resources have been extracted in huge quantities for some two hundred years, faster and Vancouver

faster as each decade has brought new technology and new demand for the products. Along the west coast, as in other Canadian hinterlands, most of this bounty has been obtained in resource-dependent towns: small, remote settlements built around mines, mills, fisheries, railways, smelters, etc., to accommodate the workers who extract and process the resources. Workers and their families moved long distances to settle in these

Victoria

small, isolated towns, which had access to the outside world only by steamship (and, by the 1950s, small aircraft), because the wages were good. But resource towns are

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map: kate reid


The resource towns along the west coast of Canada—those that have survived, and those that haven’t—tell a story of land’s end, as a place and as a possibility

precarious by nature: the raw materials can simply run out, and world markets (most products are exported) are unpredictable. Even when exports are healthy, businesses and governments are vulnerable to the pressures of globalization and outsourcing, and residents have little or no control over the local economy. The post-war boom in B.C.’s resource-dependent economy could not last forever. In the early 1980s the economy stalled and then plummeted. In only two centuries, a priceless trove of natural resources that had been maintained by indigenous people for thousands of years had been plundered; much of it could never be restored. Over the next decade, many small centres along the Pacific coast were devastated. Some towns managed to sustain themselves with other activities; some limped along in a smaller, slower economy; some were abandoned.

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he story of these places that emerged for Grabowski years later, at the turn of the

millennium, is about “land’s end” in the geographic sense. It is also about the end of an economy based on the assumption of infinite natural resources, and about the frontier communities that made the resource boom possible. It is a story about missed opportunities, but also the many opportunities that are yet to be explored, particularly the chance for all of us to look at British Columbia’s resource and single-industry towns— those that have survived and those that haven’t—from a fresh perspective. Ucluelet, Winter Harbour, Sointula, Zeballos, Telegraph Cove—even the names of the places Grabowski visited point to a long, miscellaneous, rich history of settlement and livelihood. The two towns described here, Ocean Falls and Alert Bay, represent two very different perspectives on land’s end—as a place, as an idea, as a possibility.

Christopher Grabowski’s photography and stories have appeared in many publications and art galleries in North and South America and in Europe. He is a recipient of the Michener-Deacon Fellowship and a frequent contributor to Geist. “Land’s End” is part of the Geist Memory Project and is made possible by assistance from Arts Partners in Creative Development. For more photos and an interview with Grabowski, visit geist.com/lands-end. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 37


The pulp and paper mill at Ocean Falls, 2008. A sawmill began operation in 1909, and this mill opened in 1912. In 1954, Crown Zellerbach Canada took control of the town and the mill. Production slowed during the 1960s, and in 1973 the company closed the mill. The provincial government revived the operation in 1973 but closed it permanently in 1980, and eventually destroyed most of the buildings in the town.

Ocean Falls

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he best way to get to Ocean Falls, a very small community 480 kilometres north of

Vancouver and accessible only by air or sea, is to travel to the northern tip of Vancouver Island and then proceed north by ferry, following inlets and channels of unsurpassable beauty. The ferry stops at isolated communities to unload cargo and to let a few passen-

gers disembark. After about a day and a half of sailing, it arrives at Ocean Falls—or what’s left of it—in the middle of the night. Ocean Falls, known as one of the the rainiest inhabited places in Canada, was occupied by the Heiltsuk people for thousands of years. In 1906 a group of American and British businessmen chose this place as the site of a sawmill, mainly because of the power that could be generated by the waterfall there. The seasonal Heiltsuk village at the base of the waterfall was moved, and the mill was up and running by 1909. Three years later the Ocean Falls Company built a pulp and paper mill, and the town grew rapidly. A hotel was built, as well as tennis courts, two churches, a dancehall and, in 1928, an indoor swimming pool. At its peak in the 1950s and ’60s, Ocean Falls was home to more than four thousand people. In 1972, Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd., which now owned the paper mill and the town, decided not to upgrade the mill at Ocean Falls despite record sales exceeding $200 million. The company had begun to develop a more modern plant at Elk Falls, near Page 38 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


The library in the former high school at Ocean Falls, one of several concrete structures that were not destroyed in 1985. The school building held up well against the elements until one winter when the skylights collapsed under several feet of snow. Since then, a dense carpet of ferns and moss has grown over the floor. Small trees have taken root, vines creep up the walls and the echoing sounds of dripping water can be heard. The overall sense is of being in a cave, a space that invites one to explore and reflect, a space that encourages the hunter-gatherer mind.

Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and the provincial Social Credit government agreed to transfer the timber rights from the Ocean Falls operation to the new mill. Crown Zellerbach began shutting down the mill and Ocean Falls in 1973. That was an election year, and the new ndp government bought Ocean Falls for $1 million and restarted the mill. But having lost the timber rights, the operation had to buy more expensive timber on the open market; in 1980 the mill was shut down permanently by the Social Credit government, which had returned to power. Five years later the government began to remove Ocean Falls—that is, to destroy houses, commercial buildings, gardens and everything else by bulldozing them and burning them down. Residents tried to stop the demolition, going so far as to place themselves in front of huge backhoes, but they were forced to give way. “On August 23,” wrote Peter Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 39


A handwritten inscription at the bottom of this photograph reads: “Ocean Falls construction crew, 1910.” At this point the Heiltsuk village had been moved, the land had been cleared and the newly constructed mill was operating. Of the twenty-six well-dressed, confident-looking Caucasian men, fifteen hold rifles or shotguns, and several carry sidearms. Photo courtesy of Royal B.C. Museum, Archives (I-50604).

Photos of the destruction of Ocean Falls by fire and bulldozer are from the album of Gwen Owen and are reproduced with her permission. She is one of the current residents of the townsite. Page 40 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


The ballroom of the Ocean Falls hotel, 2008. The population of the town was once a healthy four thousand who supported a k-12 school system, a hospital and one of the province’s largest hotels. The community was known internationally for its champion swimmers, who comprised half the Canadian Olympic swim team in 1964.

Offerman in a report for the Ocean Falls Improvement District, “dejected residents stayed away from the town site while half a century of history was flattened in just a few hours.” Today Ocean Falls is home to about thirty-five people year-round and about a hundred in summer. It is administered by the Ocean Falls Improvement District, a designation that the provincial government made in 1986 in response to residents’ vigorous protests. The town’s largest employer is the Central Coast Power Corporation (ccpc), and there is a volunteer fire department, a post office, a yacht club and a library association, among other services. Both the ccpc and concerned residents have tried to encourage silviculture, tourism and other enterprises; but the future of ferry service is uncertain, and the old mill site is contaminated with asbestos and other materials. In fact, according to the Central Coast Regional District, the site is “an unsightly mess”; there is disagreement as to who is responsible for cleanup.

Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 41


Another view of the ballroom of the Ocean Falls hotel, 2008.

A view of the rugged local waterways from Ocean Falls. According to a writer at traveloceanfalls.com, “There has been a million pictures taken of the area and not one of them does it justice. It’s impossible to really know how beautiful it is until you’ve seen it with your own eyes. If you’ve been here and seen it, it’s in your memory forever and you know what I mean. If not, well . . . that’s a shame.” Page 42 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


Alert Bay

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ormorant Island, a few miles off the northeast corner of Vancouver Island, and Alert

Bay, the snug harbour inset into its coastline, were named for British warships in 1846 and 1858. The bay had been a seasonal gathering place for the ’Namgis (Nimpkish), a Kwakwaka’wakw nation, and by 1890 had became a permanent settlement for them with a

residential school, salmon cannery and church, and in the early twentieth century a sawmill and hospital. The town of Alert Bay that emerged consisted of a “White End” and a “Village” made up of two Indian Reserves. The island is now home to a diverse population of about fifteen thousand people, divided fairly evenly between the Village of Alert Bay, the ’Namgis First Nation and Whe-la-la-u Area Council. During the period of first contact, European trading methods were congenial to traditional Aboriginal practices; but as the Europeans developed resource-extraction industries, Aboriginal culture was displaced by the economic culture of company towns and other single-resource towns (based on commercial fishing, logging, mining, etc.), and the Aboriginal workers formed the bulk of the labour force. The gold rush of the 1850s brought thousands of new immigrants into the hinterland, and the diseases of Europe took an enormous toll among Aboriginal people. Measles, influenza, tuberculosis and smallpox killed thousands of Native people in just a few decades. By 1920 the original population of nineteen thousand Kwak’wala speakers on the west coast had been reduced to one thousand, a decline of 95 percent. Many villages and food sites were abandoned.

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s the settler population surpassed the Aboriginal population, and western industrial

practices proliferated, the role and status of Aboriginal people as stewards of a hunter-gatherer economy were reduced to those of day labourers. In 1884 the Canadian government outlawed the potlatch ceremonies with which the Kwakwaka’wakw and other First Nations marked important occasions such as marriage, naming, house building and honouring the dead. Potlatches could go on for days of feasting, dancing and bestowing gifts.

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A weathered totem pole stands in front of the former St. Michael’s Residential School at Alert Bay. Built in 1929, the school was operated by the Anglican church. The curriculum included academic subjects, carpentry, boat building and farming. First Nations children as young as six were forced into St. Michael’s. One of them, as an adult, reported that he did not know any English and was beaten repeatedly for trying to speak his native language. The building was turned over to the ’Namgis First Nation in 1975.

In December 1921, Chief Dan Cranmer organized a potlatch at Village Island near Alert Bay and invited about three hundred guests. The occasion was Cranmer’s marriage, and the ceremony would also mark the transfer of certain rights. On the first day, Cranmer received gifts from his wife’s family, all of which, along with his own fortune, he gave away in the course of the celebration. Police charged forty-nine people with violating the potlatch law, and twenty-six people were imprisoned in the penitentiary in New Westminster. Ceremonial items were seized; some were sent to North American and European museums. St. Michael’s Indian Residential School for boys and girls was established at Alert Bay by the Anglican Church in 1882. Residential schools were funded by the federal government and run by churches; their purpose was to assimilate Native children into the dominant society. Children were taken from their families to live for most of the year in the

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The first salmon cannery in Alert Bay was constructed in 1870, the first lumber mill in 1887. The Kwakwaka’wakw named this spot Ya’Lis, meaning “spreading-leg beach.” Today there are fewer than two hundred people who speak Kwak’wala and would use that name.

schools, where they learned some skills but also were punished harshly for speaking their own languages and engaging in Native cultural practices. Outbreaks of disease killed large numbers of children. Physical, sexual and psychological abuse were rampant throughout the ninety years or so that the schools operated. The ban on the potlatch was never repealed; instead it evaporated in 1951 when a new Indian Act was drafted by the federal government. Aboriginal Canadians were given the right to vote in 1960. Most of the residential schools in Canada were closed in the late 1960s and early ’70s. St. Michael’s School at Alert Bay was acquired by the ’Namgis First Nation in 1975 and eventually renamed ’Namgis House. For three generations, Aboriginal communites in Canada suffered the accumulating effects of cultural suppression and are today emerging from the resulting nexus of poverty, substance abuse, mental illness and poor education. Languages and traditions are being recovered; populations are regenerating.

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n June 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an official apology to Aboriginal

people who had suffered in residential schools. “This policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on Aboriginal culture, heritage and language,” Harper said. He cited

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Andrea Sanborn, on her Harley-Davidson motorcycle outside the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay. Sanborn is curator of the centre, which houses the well-known Potlatch Collection of masks and other ceremonial objects belonging to the Kwakwaka’wakw.

After living in Vancouver for some thirty years, Flora Rufus moved back to the village of Alert Bay, where she was born. When the Vancouver Sun writer Stephen Hume asked her what was permanent in this community, she responded: “Me. I plan to die here.” When her picture was taken at the edge of the old burial grounds at Alert Bay, she put on her mother’s bright red ceremonial dress and stood motionless in contemplation, gazing toward the setting sun.

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Tsasala dancers. Ancient memories of the coast are preserved at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay, and in the song, stories, artwork and ceremonies of the Kwakwaka’wakw.

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Beginning in 1979, some of the Kwakwaka’wakw property confiscated at Dan Cranmer’s potlatch in 1921 was returned to the community. Some of the items can be seen at the U’mista Cultural Centre in Alert Bay.

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Into the Fire Evelyn Lau

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Toni Onley, Johnstone Strait, B.C., 27 September 1998.

English Bay

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gain we found ourselves at the shoreline, among shards of shell and plastic, scrim of seaweed trapping my feet like a net. Red freighters and the grey Onley mist of the islands. The seashell gleam of sun on water, herringbone sky. I was thinking of a movie where a man was drowning in the middle of the ocean, huge swells soaring all around him like dunes in a desert, and how I’d once said, That’s what it feels like, grief— years ago, before anyone had even died. Who knew how wide the ocean would get, how high those waves would climb. Then I went into the water, into that marine world of kelp and plankton. The green that bathed my legs had travelled for miles to reach this bay. A noose of cloud hung on the gold horizon. Spores, sand in the gritty air. No one I loved was there.

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His Last Days

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ou call one Sunday night to tell me about his last days on earth. How he made you promise him one more summer, a garden where the two of you would sit over a white tablecloth and a pitcher of cool water. Promise me, he said, while you dipped a swab in cool water, rubbed it along his gums. Yes, Daryl, you murmured, because by then you were saying yes to everything— water, white tablecloth, the South of France where he was too ill to travel those final months, the tickets booked, the oxygen rigged for the flight. You moved him into the guest bedroom on the ground floor, and he did not recognize the house he’d lived in for twenty years. Where is this place? he’d demand, fussing in the unfamiliar bed. Are we in a hotel? The maid service is terrible! The bed and special linens ordered from New York, the syringes laid out on the prettiest dishes you could find— splashes of colour throughout the room, any colour but white, that no-colour of hospitals, flowers at a Chinese funeral. Pyjamas he wore once, a cashmere robe from Holt Renfrew twice— he was only himself upright in bed in a shirt, buttoned and pressed. The Filipina nurses came and went, girls with names like jewels— they poured tea, read poetry to him. Don’t forget my wife, he’d say, even in those final days, don’t forget to bring tea to Anne-Marie. Friends who had died years ago visited him in morphine dreams, he woke elated from the rich meals and much red wine they shared, from the conversations that went on into the dark. He went into the fire wearing the suit he had selected, but without the raincoat he wanted in case it got cold in the afterlife. What do you need a raincoat for? you’d laughed, then wept as the storms tore the trees from their roots in Stanley Park the winter he died, snuffing out lights and televisions across the city grid— you lay awake, imagined him shivering

in some damp celestial doorway. His ashes in a plot positioned to soak up the sun, the sweet silver rain and the cold fire of stars.

The Burning Desert

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he day your obituary ran in the paper, I lay buried in bed as if stuck in sand at the edge of the shore where the tide brings in seaweed and washed glass and skeleton-white shells— wave after wave of muscle pain, the mist of sweat on skin, the weird bliss of temperature. It was flu season, the bare branches outside carrying their burdens of snow, the sky a scratched and burning silver. We had seen you just months ago, swimming in your suit, radiation and pneumonia shaving you down to college weight— you looked forward to buying a new wardrobe, to the twenty more years the doctor had given you. I hope more, I said, thinking how brief twenty years sounded, gone in a shrug, gone while we looked the other way— so little more time with us, among the living. Two months later, you were gone. The warmth of your embrace in the lit doorway, the beach we walked with the shadow of the black dog leaping for the ball you threw, streaking past the park and the rocky point, through the summer days we loved and could not make stay. The fever sloshed me in its wine-drenched bed, rocked me into seasickness— the bitter wrack of hair, the fishy reek of skin, the aching pebbles of my eyes held open to your face on the funeral page. You had travelled to the border, the purgatory between day and planetary night, locked in a coma, wrapped and penetrated with tubes that brought sustenance and carried away waste. You lay in this border state for days, then slowly made your way back to us Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 49


like a thirsty traveller with tales of the golden desert, your face burnt, rasping your name. If only we had said something, offered water, begged you to stay.

A Cup of Cobalt Glass

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he white star-shaped building is still there. The waxy plants by the doorway, surviving cigarette butts, candy wrappers, anything we throw their way. It’s been months since you’ve been gone— soon it will be years, and in decades you will be a handful of photographs in a fading family album, your great-granddaughter perhaps saying, Depression runs in our family— see, this was my great-grandfather, he killed himself. Nothing left of what you made but a cup of cobalt glass, blown from your mouth, the rose one broken long ago. I think of taking the elevator to the third floor, finding you again in the amber hallway, standing in your sneakers like a boy— the frown lines between your eyes those final years, like the tracks

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of a hunted animal. Instead I stay in the lobby, stare at my reflection in the speckled mirror, imagine disappearing, the mirror reflecting back a lake of mercury light. Turn then to meet your partner Nadine for lunch, her green eyes across the table glazed with what they saw that morning she found you in the hotel in Halifax. The entire meal you drift between us, huge and unspoken. The mountains beyond the window frozen blue seas tilting at the sky. Then without a word she touches my hand, and in that gesture of grace you are alive again— in this new year, this one more day without you, one more day lost in this world, where there are still days I see your face around a corner, across the street, and rush toward some startled stranger.

Evelyn Lau’s most recent book is a collection of poetry, Treble (Raincoast, 2005). She lives in Vancouver. Read her Geist work at geist.com/author/lau-evelyn.


Fighting Season In Afghanistan there is a fifth season that begins in spring, continues through summer and fall, then ebbs in winter: it’s called the fighting season

Louie Palu

Afghan boys swim in an irrigation canal less than two kilometres from a battle between Taliban insurgents and NATO-supported Afghan National Army soldiers. In the summer of 2008, Louie Palu photographed Canadian troops, Afghan National Army soldiers and U.S. Marines on the front line in Afghanistan. He focussed on two areas in the south where the fighting was most violent: Zhari District in the province of Kandahar, where Mullah Omar formed the Taliban, and Garmsir District in Helmand, the province east of Kandahar and the world’s largest opium-producing region. These districts, inhabited mainly by the Pashtun people, are the heart of Taliban activity and Palu photographed both the fighting and daily life there. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 51


Afghan boys blow bubbles with chewing gum given to them by U.S. Marines in Garmsir District. Garmsir was a haven for insurgents for several years. After a period of heavy fighting in 2008, the Marines cleared the area and handed over control to British forces.

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An Afghan soldier looks through the window of a schoolhouse that was damaged during fighting between Canadian soldiers and insurgents. The Taliban try to destroy many schools, especially ones where girls are taught. In total, three schoolhouses have been destroyed in Zhari District. Insurgents also ambush Canadian troops from within the schools because the solid structure of the schools makes them effective fighting positions. The first Canadian woman to die in combat was killed near a schoolhouse, where insurgents ambushed her unit.

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uring the fighting season in Afghanistan, which unfolds each year through spring, summer and fall, the lush landscape of grape fields, trees and irrigation canals in the south provides essential cover for guerrilla warfare. The villages and farmers’ fields serve as temporary battlefields, where the Taliban insurgents clash with the U.S.-led coalition, which includes the Canadian Forces, Afghan National Army and British troops. Once the fighting ends and the insurgents and soldiers break contact with each other, life for the villagers returns to relative normalcy: the insurgents murder and intimidate civilians, place land mines and roadside bombs, and hamper the reconstruction efforts of the Canadian troops. Afghanistan has been in a state of war for so long—the Soviet intervention in the 1980s, then civil war and the Taliban regime, and now this standoff—that the people have grown accustomed to the cycle of violence, but they


An Afghan soldier eats grapes during a patrol in Zhari District, where grapes are abundant and soldiers often eat them off the vines. Each farmer usually owns just a parcel of land in a large grape field, so what seems like an innocent snack to a group of soldiers can mean the loss of a whole crop to a farmer.

always know it is fiercest during the fighting season. They have adapted to the conflict and it has become a part of their daily lives. Many civilians ask who I am and why I don’t carry a gun, and I have visited villages where they don’t know what a photographer or journalist is. My Afghan nickname is Mustafa, which I got in Pakistan in 2004 from Afghan refugees moving to Canada. The name stuck and an Afghan soldier wrote it on my helmet, but most civilians can’t read or write so they don’t understand what it means. Apart from basic religious studies, schooling in rural Afghanistan is a low priority—the villagers are so poor that most of the children and adults must work the fields and tend the flocks of sheep so their families can survive. On days when it’s quiet on patrol, children run up to me and the troops from their homes and the fields, yelling “Hello! Hello!” They giggle and gesture with their hands for pens

Canadian soldiers question an Afghan farmer while searching for insurgents. Farmers work the fields with just shovels and have few resources, so when soldiers question them about Taliban activity, they often ask if the village would like anything built. Fearing Taliban retaliation, the men respond that the Taliban will destroy whatever is built and punish the locals, so they decline aid.

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An Afghan National Police officer who was injured by gunfire sings to mynah birds at an outpost on the front line. Mynahs are common pets of Afghan soldiers and police officers. Their wings are clipped so they can’t fly and they become dependent on their owners for survival.

Children tend sheep in Garmsir District, where most young people live in poverty and begin working at an early age. They do not attend school. Sheep are well protected from the fighting, as they are a valuable commodity. Eating lamb in Afghanistan is like eating an expensive sushi dinner in Canada. Page 54 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

and candy. None of the children know their age—few Afghans do—because record keeping in Afghanistan is scant at best. On the way to one village we frequented on patrols, I always picked wildflowers for the girls. The sun wilted and dried them within minutes, but the flowers made them smile. We usually toss handfuls of candy to the kids. Candy is rare, and I love giving it out, especially because American soldiers in Italy tossed candy to my father when he was a child during the Second World War. One day as we marched back to base after an intense battle, we reached an irrigation canal where some boys were splashing and diving, less than two kilometres from where the fighting had just occurred. Only minutes earlier we had been in the midst of combat: artillery pounding the field and rattling the earth, dust billowing from rubble, and the cracks of gunfire everywhere, and then there were those boys, jumping into the river and having fun. Back at the base, the soldiers and I had to be rehydrated intravenously. Since the beginning of Canada’s combat mission, there have not been enough soldiers to contain the insurgency. Now Canada will realign its positions and the U.S. military will face what could be the bloodiest fighting season in years. The longer I stay in Afghanistan and the more I see, the fewer answers I have about what is going on there and what the future holds. Back in Toronto I can’t even talk to anyone in a bar, because conversations with people who think they understand Afghanistan just end as heated arguments on the sidewalk.

Louie Palu is a Canadian photojournalist who has travelled to Afghanistan three times since 2006, for three months at a time. He has spent more consecutive time on the front line with Canadian troops than almost any other Canadian journalist. In May, Palu returned to Afghanistan to document the 2009 fighting season. To see more photos of the 2008 fighting season, visit geist.com/fighting-season.


Wild Tide Andrea Johnston Angel Baby

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ittle Max, in his Angel Baby T-shirt with the wings printed on the back,

pesters me—only me, out of all this huge family tumbling around our house, loud and wild like a carnival, and Max, the sad clown, hanging onto me even when I slap at him saying, “Let go! I gotta go to the bathroom,” and deke out of his grip,

shut the door in his face, lean my weight against it, happy for a moment of peace in this crazy carnival monkey household full of kids, wild and rough, like stones tumbling in the surf, drowning out Max, who is wailing as if I’d slammed the door on his fingers. And me, forehead on the door, hand on the knob, gathering strength to run the gauntlet of my wild siblings one last time, thinking poor Max, but hey, I don’t need a tag-along, so I open the door to make a run for it, and there’s Max in a heap with his little angel wings showing. Doesn’t even look up. The other kids roar in and out like some wild tide, only now I just see Max, now that he’s turned away because the slam of a door broke a connection and I floated free, leaving him behind in this noisy sea, this undertow of a family.

Gravy Boat

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e went back because of a girl, but . . .

“Why didn’t you go on?” she said. “He’d have paid you.” “Yeah,” he said. “He’d have paid me all right. I sailed it the whole way to

Halifax. He didn’t have to do a thing. He’d have paid me to go on.” “What’re you going to do back here?” She snapped her gum, turned away. What did she want him to say? At the helm, one hand on the wheel, he had watched the colours of light on the water, remembered the sun on her bright, tangled hair, how it had ambushed him, a rogue wave in his blood. He’d imagined the light in her eyes when she saw him back. Not this cloud-filtered grey, this hard question, this cool, shadowless turning away. Back in his parents’ house the pull-down light over the dinner table was yellow and warm, a warmth you could feel on the backs of your hands as you passed the serving dishes and made small talk over the heaping plates. Just small, quiet bits of talk, like McAllister bought himself a used truck, probably be more trouble than it’s worth, or the guy would have paid me to go with him past Halifax. The ones around the table wouldn’t ask why he didn’t go, what he would do now. They would simply ask for the bowl of potatoes, and was there a little more gravy in the boat, and was it still warm. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 55


Just Air

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ost people don’t breathe through both nostrils,” he says.

I check (left, right), but don’t say anything—it’s not worth the argument. He’s turning into someone else. They warned me about that: pressure on

the brain as the thing grows. He’s not the same person who said “no heroic measures” when the diagnosis came, but he still says, “I’ll beat it myself or go down swinging.” “Listen,” he says. He’s been reading up. “Just try to follow: you have to use both nostrils fully or the energy gets skewed.” Why not? Everything else is skewed: his sense of taste, his balance, his logic. I wish I could follow. But my beloved companion—this stranger—is now beyond me. “It’s bloody obvious. Can’t you see? We’re not breathing properly. That’s why this is happening.” It feels like my own brain is shutting down, too—“in sympathy,” I say, but it’s in self-defence. Meanwhile, everyone tells me how brave I’m being. He stops eating—stops everything—because it distracts him from breathing. Later, in the hospital, he refuses the intravenous. “Just air,” he says. “That’s all I need. I can beat this.” After that he doesn’t talk any more.

Heavy Snow

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hick snow has fallen overnight, but through some trick of fate or luck we

had pitched our tent in the picnic shelter and now, protected, sit awhile in silence contemplating the giant snow-cloaked cedars that surround us. On the road again, we pass a clot of vehicles: police cars, an ambulance. Beyond the steep snowy edge of the road, massive black tires are all we can see of a transport truck below. We head down into Revelstoke for breakfast and the newspaper, dropping down through clouds, and still lower, to where loud hard rain pelts the town. At the drugstore we choose the local weekly and lay it on the counter. The clerk, chipper and smiling, has hair the same soft grey as a Canada jay. She tilts her head toward our car. “Where’d you get the snow?” “Just up on the highway.” “Snowing up there?” “Snowed all night by the look of it.” “How are the roads?” She makes change for the paper and watches as I pocket it. “Not too bad, but a semi went over the edge.” Page 56 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


We drift toward the door. Later David will say I wish we hadn’t mentioned the accident. “A semi? Where?” “Just east of the turnoff.” We’re at the door. Her next question comes too quick: “What colour was it?” “I couldn’t see.” Later I will wish— “It was upside down.” As we slip out into the rain, she is already pulling a heavy black phone from under the counter.

Band Saw

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ou shout, and I run downstairs to your workshop.

“Goddammit!” you say, clutching your hand. Blood spurts onto your shirt,

your pants, your still-humming band saw. “I’ll call—” “Pluto’s got my thumb!” I grab the dog and pull your thumb out of his grinning mouth. Now it’s off to hospital for stitching that won’t work, and cutting; and phantom pain, and too many pills that hook into you, drawing out a loathing for mutinous tools, for our turncoat carrion-hound, for my own hand, flagrantly intact.

Lucky Knot

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’ve always been so lucky it felt like cheating, but Buddy says if it weren’t for bad

luck he’d never have any luck at all. In fact, at seventeen he decided enough, and picked out a big branch in the backyard maple. He could tie a proper hangman’s knot but, being Buddy, he decided to use a so-called good-luck knot he’d learned somewhere. Except it’s not a slip-knot. So first he tied a neck-sized loop but couldn’t work it over his head. Then he tried to do the lucky knot as if he was tying a necktie, which I’m sure he’d never done in his life. No dice. Finally he just made a loop big enough to slip over his head. It was looser than he wanted, but he was fed up with dicking around, and figured the drop would do most of the work anyway. He wasn’t even nervous, just approached it as a technical problem. So he jumps: the rope goes taut; his head snaps back; the loop almost takes his ears off on the way by; and he sprains his ankle when he hits the ground. He had a sore throat for a month and terrible rope burns on his neck and jaw. His ears were so swollen he couldn’t even touch them for two days. I told him I guessed the knot turned out to be a lucky one after all, but to him it’s been “that shitty knot” ever since.

Andrea Johnston is a writer and freelance translator. Read “The Fallen Man” (Geist 70) and her other Geist work at geist.com/author/johnston-andrea. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 57


Antonia Was it fever or heat that made her sweat so much?

Michal Kozlowski

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heat wave crept over our town and drove people into their homes to shut the blinds, under bridges to suffer in the shade, into cafés to chew ice cubes and wait for a drop of rain or a gust of prairie wind or just a crow to swoop down into the street and flap her wings and stir the air. In the morning, or maybe the afternoon, I rolled Antonia out of bed to wring out the sheets in the tub, because she had sweated so much that a salty pool had collected on the floor. And because she complained of fever, I called our doctor, who, I found out from the secretary, had taken her family to the lake. A vacation, in this heat? I asked. Precisely, said the secretary, I’ll find you someone else. For a week I had not seen a single cat or dog in the street or heard any sound outside, and all night the silence kept me awake, though I must have dozed off because I woke to the sound of the doctor and his intern knocking at the door. The two of them buzzed around Antonia like flies, and they could not agree whether it was fever or the heat that was making her sweat so much. It’s fever, you snakes, she whispered. The intern emptied his sack full of medical instruments: rusted metal and dirty glass, lint and dust. What good is a rusted scalpel? The doctor was too frail to carry anything in such heat, though he did look handsome in his linen suit, even at his age. I had to boil a stewpotful of water so the intern could disinfect his thermometer; the thing was longer than my foot and older than the old doctor. While the thermometer was boiling, or maybe cooling, the doctor went to speak with Antonia, pulled up the bedskirt and discovered the salt flat on the bedroom floor. Come quickly! he yelled; I have not seen one of these since I Page 58 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

went on safari in Tanzania in seventy-nine, when I was still a surgeon. And now Antonia was hissing. She’s delirious, said the intern. Have you any tea? asked the doctor. Tea, in this heat? I asked. Warm drinks, said the doctor, are the best way to trick the body into feeling cooler. So I boiled another pot of water to make tea for the doctor and his intern. And while the three of us were watching the tea steep, the doctor began a disquisition about photo: ewa zebrowski


his travels in Tanzania. Good doctor, I interrupted, is there any chance you could take my wife’s temperature? Your wife, ha, I had not realized she was your wife, how nice for you; you know, I too had a wife, when I still was a surgeon, she left me for . . . oh, I can’t remember now, best move I ever made, giving up surgery that is. Antonia had begun to cry. Even as the doctor spoke, we could hear her weeping across the apartment. I had heard many times

that sound travelled best in the cold, but her weeping convinced me otherwise. Have you any sugar? asked the doctor. Perhaps I’ll just measure her temperature myself, I said. Don’t concern yourself with such details, the intern said, that’s why we’re here, and we’ll get to it as soon as the doctor gets his sugar. I brought the sugar. Now I began to weep. I told them it was sweat in my eyes. What sweat? asked the intern. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 59


Then I had to boil another pot of water to sterilize the thermometer again, because the doctor had spilled his sticky tea on it—he had put in four teaspoons of sugar, and the cups were small. And while the doctor dried the pant leg of his linen suit, the steam from the pot wafted up to the ceiling and a drop fell on his head. Then a drop fell into the intern’s teacup. A miracle, he shouted. Water drops were falling all over the kitchen. My suit, said the doctor. This way, doctor! shouted the intern. And so we all ran into the bedroom. All this excitement, the running, the water falling, had tired the doctor, who stood swaying now. Maybe if I just lie down for a minute, he said, maybe . . . He curled up next to Antonia and fell asleep. The intern put his lips to the doctor’s forehead. He’s very warm, he said, I’ll get that thermometer now. And some time later, when he still had not returned, I went to check on him and found him stretched out on the sofa, belly up, his chin snuggled into his shoulder. He breathed heavily and though I shook him quite

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hard, harder than I wanted to, he would not wake. So I put my lips to his forehead. He too was very warm. I went to the kitchen to get the thermometer, slipped on a wet patch on the linoleum floor and lay there, unable to move. The doctor snored like a beast. What of my poor Antonia, in bed with that dirty hound of a doctor? I called her name. I called louder. The water was still boiling and drops fell from the ceiling, sounding like a cat tiptoeing across the floor. Antonia’s name echoed off the walls. A mouse sauntered over to the pool on the floor and began to drink.

Michal Kozlowski was born in Krakow, grew up in Winnipeg and now lives in Vancouver. He works in residential care for adults with developmental disabilities, and he has written several pieces for Geist, including “Pleasant Artistic Experience” (Geist 72). For more, visit geist.com/author/kozlowski-michal.


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POSTCARD LIT

Spring Training Mark Paterson

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y grandfather went down to West Palm Beach every March. For two weeks he left the cold and the wet to my grandmother and me. Neither of us sat in his La-Z-Boy while he was away but we watched all the game shows and Alice reruns we wanted. Every year during those two weeks my grandmother would paint the whole house. I’d just get used to eating in a blue kitchen and then it would be yellow. Once, she painted the living room pink. When my sunburned grandfather got home he squinted, shook his head, said “Jeez,” and sat down in his chair and put on the hockey game. The year I was six we had a very warm March. My grandmother taught me the word unseasonably. The kitchen was green.

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“Why don’t we go to spring training?” I asked over grilled cheese and chocolate milk. “It’s not for ladies and little boys.” “Why?” My grandmother lit a cigarette and put away the milk. She ran water in the sink. “This sandwich is unseasonably good.” Smoky kiss on the back of my neck. The year the kitchen was brown my grandmother played a trick on my grandfather. She lay down in bed, covers up to her chin, and said, “Go watch for him in the window. When he gets home, tell him Nanny’s tired.” “Tired?” “Tell him Nanny’s been asleep since Tuesday.” “But—” “It’s just a joke. Go watch for him.” When my grandfather arrived, a man got out of the car with him. They came up the walk together, both of their faces red like lobsters. I didn’t know the man. He was tall and had a big stomach and wore a yellow turtleneck tucked into a pair of plaid pants. He had enormous sunglasses that covered not only his eyes but almost his whole nose, too. I went out on the balcony. “Nanny went to bed on Tuesday.” “Eh?” “Nanny went to bed on Tuesday and she’s still asleep.”

“Jeez.” My grandfather mounted the stairs and brushed past me into the house. The man came up on the balcony. He breathed hard. “Look at this, kid.” He handed me a pen. There was a small picture on it, a lady wearing a black dress. “Now hold it up straight.” I tipped the pen upright. The picture began to change. The man chuckled. Slowly, the lady’s dress disappeared and soon she was naked. My grandmother came outside. She was holding her arm and she looked tired for real. I closed my fingers around the pen but part of it stuck out and she grabbed my wrist and I opened my hand again. “What do you think you’re doing? He’s just a little boy.” “Sorry, lady. Just a joke.” The day got more fun after that. My grandmother and I walked up to Durocher’s and she bought me a pepperoni stick and a Kit Kat. We walked all over and didn’t even go home until dark.

“Spring Training” won first prize in the 5th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Mark Paterson is the author of the short story collections A Finely Tuned Apathy Machine and Other People’s Showers (both Exile Editions). He lives near Montreal. Visit markpaterson.ca.


POSTCARD LIT

Meditation Lisa Martin

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or summer vacation my family flew to Nova Scotia to stay in a cabin on Hubbards Beach, but it was foggy and moist and my son looked sad digging in wet sand under an umbrella, so we packed it in after two days and rented a car and drove to Dartmouth. We stayed with a petite Filipina nanny who my in-laws had brought to Canada some twenty years before, hoping she would cook meals and raise my husband and his two brothers, and who, it turned out, also burned toast and described the men who sat beside her in church as “stalkers.” She’d then married an older doctor who told us story after story about fishing and making jam, and only on the last night of our stay remarked over mashed potatoes that he’d also studied transcendental meditation for more than twenty years and once got caught in a sandstorm while riding a camel in India. One Sunday evening at a Halifax country club, our nanny managed to get in a brawl with a Newfie woman who called the doctor “honey” and “dear” one too many times. “You should know that’s not acceptable in my culture,” our nanny said, and called the Newf a bitch right in front of the smoked salmon. She was still so upset with the doctor later that night back at home that she drove to downtown Halifax and went to the Casino, something she never did because she didn’t drink and was deathly afraid of dying, and put a fiver in the slot machine and won five hundred dollars. “Meditation” won 2nd prize in the 5th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Lisa Martin’s short stories have appeared in Geist, Crank and the anthology Sights Unseen: New Writing from British Columbia. In 2002 she was shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award. postcard: brenna maag

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POSTCARD LIT

The Two-Slice Toaster Move Jane Stevenson

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om’s pink cowboy boots clattered across the café to the booth where I was resting my head on the tabletop and luring an ant out from behind the napkin holder with crumbs of my apple pie. She wiggled around on the ripped vinyl seat and unfolded a map of Alberta and B.C. The man at the next booth stopped picking his teeth with his matchbook and put down his Western Producer just to stare at her. She had me blow on her cupped hands for luck. She said that’s what they did in Vegas. The sugar cube rolled across the map and came to rest over a town called Smithers in northern British Columbia. I told her the province of B.C. looked like a shoeprint left in dog poo at the city park but she chose to wave her arms in the air and jangle her bracelets to Billy Joel singing on the café radio. Men turned to watch her and women squinted at her like they were looking across the fields for a chicken-eating coyote. On our way out I stole the waitress’s tip off a messy table and pushed the coins deep in my pocket among the sugar packets and little plastic containers of jam. I wished I had stolen some of the peanut butter but I didn’t know that we were going to move that afternoon. Mom drove around Calgary, yelling goodbye to places and strangers. I yelled too. Goodbye garbage can, goodbye girl on her way to school, goodbye lonely man walking tiny dog, goodbye high-rise, goodbye city bus stop, goodbye overpass, goodbye home. All the stuff from our one-bedroom was piled neatly on the big back seat of our station wagon. The clothes from our closet were still on their wire hangers, all tied together with my Ghost Busters pajama pants. This time she even remembered the light bulbs and the toilet paper holder. In the very back of the car were three pillowcases stuffed with my books and toys, Page 66 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

boxes of stuff from our kitchen cupboards, and the new silver two-slice toaster. My drawings, coloured pencils and Archie comics were packed in a milk crate by my feet. I found her Expo 86 lighter wedged in the seat and she said it was a sign from our guardian angels. We were meant to move to B.C. We stopped in Jasper, counted coins from her purple Crown Royal bag and bought gas, cigarettes, a box of milk, a bag of chips and some licorice pipes. I climbed over our stuff to retrieve the silver toaster. I held that toaster on my lap until dark and made faces into it, watching the way my face grew and shrank, and wondered what would happen next. I remember every move in a different way. That move, from Calgary to Smithers, was our two-slice toaster move.

“The Two-Slice Toaster Move” won 3rd prize in the 5th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Jane Stevenson lives on acreage near Telkwa, B.C., with her husband, young children and farm animals. She writes often, usually on the back of grocery receipts and occasionally with crayons, and regularly contributes to Northword Magazine.


COMMENT

Hôtel Splendide In Phnom Penh, only a few traces remain of the French empire that came crashing down in 1954

George Fetherling

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omewhere in Cambodia there must be a few centenarians who were alive through all the battles, genocides, takeovers, invasions, coups, bombing raids and police actions of the past hundred years by, let me see, the French, the Thais, the French again, the Japanese, the French one more time, the Americans, their own Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, the Vietnamese and the United Nations. Such is my thought when I look into the faces of the elderly in the streets of Phnom Penh, where traces of only the three or four most recent disturbances are visible—or audible. On the streets you still see amputees and people maimed by land mines. But what you hear spoken, other than Khmer, are two varieties of English: the obsolescent slang of rapidly aging expats and the earnest constructions of local esl students. Beyond that, to hear any French spoken recklessly in the streets of Phnom Penh (in the boulevard Mao-Tsé-Toung, par exemple) one must squint one’s ears. The people doing the talking are either French tourists (a small demographic) or people working for government aid agencies and ngos (the latest invaders). As it is with the French language, so it is too with French power. The French wish is to cling to whatever influence they retain while not appearing to be interested in political or even economic clout. Only rarely does one see or meet someone from the French embassy— which, significantly perhaps, is, of the all the legations in the capital, the one

located farthest from the urban centre of action. The state of the French-language press is another indication of the comparative poverty of French culture in this former French colony, for the non-Khmer papers of consequence are in English. The Phnom Penh Post is by far the most important. It dares to report Cambodian politics honestly despite fierce government suspicion. Perhaps its most closely read feature, however, is the always lively Police Blotter column, from which I cannot help but quote at random for the insight it gives into the city’s daily life. Police on Thursday raided a café showing porn movies in Chamkarmon district, Phnom Penh, arresting 100 including the café’s two female owners. Police seized 74 motorbikes and the equipment used for showing movies. All but the owners were later released with their motorbikes, but they had to pay money to the police for various reasons. You will find nothing so sociologically revealing in the Cambodia Daily, which is some sort of subsidized training ground for tyro journalists and looks as though it’s been produced at Kinko’s. It is far below the level of the Cambodia Weekly published by the University of Cambodia. That leaves only Cambodge Soir Hebdo, which, though it ventures into current affairs, does so cautiously.

A recent headline, “Les royalistes à nouveau plongés dans le chaos,” might have been plucked from the nineteenth century. But then the paper is not independent; it is “soutenu par l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie.” Buildings outlive persons, especially in places where economic growth was slow for so many decades and health care remains, to put the best possible face on the situation, rather basic. Despite the rush of development between 1999 and the global economic crisis a decade later, Phnom Penh certainly harbours examples of French colonial architecture. The quickest to be preserved are the private residences, here called villas even though they’re in the centre of the city, far from the countryside. They are customarily two storeys high with an elaborate central entranceway and tall, narrow windows with louvred wooden shutters, the whole affair surrounded by a wall that is defensive but also decorative. The exteriors are often pastel yellows or blues, and the roofs have Asian lines. These were the homes of French merchants and businessmen, and they appear not to have changed much over the years. Some are pointed out to me as dating from the late nineteenth century and at least one was built in the 1930s. The only example I’ve seen that is dated has “1926” carved into a cartouche over the upper storey. Did these people know how quickly their empire there would vanish once the Second World War cleared the ground for fierce nativism to grow? The whole French empire in Indochina came crashing down in 1954, when Ho Chi Minh and General Vo Nguyen Giap destroyed a French army at Dien Bien Phu, a slightly desolate little outpost of empire in the northwest corner of Vietnam, a few miles from the border with Laos. In Cambodia, just as in Laos, some French buildings on the grander scale— Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 67


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which is to say perhaps too big for a private individual to purchase, repair and restore—have fared far less well than the villas. One example in Phnom Penh, the former Hôtel Renaske, stands vacant and has been the subject of various legal actions; it may meet the fate of so many smaller ones and be torn down or permitted to collapse. Another one, near the Royal Palace, is a wonderfully and monumentally bizarre two-storey mansion with large porticos. It has ornate masonry work everywhere. Although it juggles allegorical Khmer motifs with its many Corinthian columns, it is most definitely the work of a European sensibility. It is also a ruin. The wall and gate are shot up and cracking. The windows are punched out, a few boarded over with plywood or corrugated iron, but most not. Old tires and wrecked automobiles litter the front garden, which is overgrown with weeds. Birds and animals nest in the arches and on the ledges. Trees grow inside the building itself; one of them is tall enough to be visible through a formerly ornate second-storey window. I ask a neighbourhood Khmer what has befallen this marvellous pile of stones. “The King build for bodyguards,” he explains. “No more King.” “But still plenty of bodyguards eh,” I reply. Cambodia, like the former Soviet Union, found that as soon as it loosened control of the economy it gained, overnight, a mafia class, whose members enjoy driving round the city with all their heavily armed retainers, many of them non-Asians, big fellows, Russian perhaps or possibly even Légion étrangère types. My interlocutor shrugs. Later I learn that the building is not entirely without some civic purpose. From time to time, it seems, rock concerts have been held there. That may Page 68 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

account for some of the outright damage, just as the withering of royalist sentiment explains some of the mere neglect. But who knows? The country has gone through such hell in the past few decades that any survival seems miraculous and any loss perfectly, if tragically predictable. The climate itself seems to breed pessimism. In Cambodia, some months are dry and some are very wet indeed. None, however, seems substantially less hot and humid than the others, at least not by standards upheld in the West. So the best plan in the capital, I believe, is

always to stay on the eastern margin of the city, preferably along the Sisowath Quay. This is a street with only one side: directly opposite is a steep embankment leading down to the waterfront. Worn steps descend to the Tonlé Sap, in the middle of which sits a large island. Running along the farther shore side of the island—the back channel—is the Tonlé Mekong. I can gaze endlessly at these two magnificent rivers, watching all manner of river craft, from homemade fishing boats barely big enough for two people to substantial freshwater freighters, go about their business all day—and throughout the evening as well, becoming only dots of light criss-crossing in the darkness. Yet the true advantage of being so near the water is the slight possibility of catching a breeze. One lives in hope. The first time I came here I stayed at

the Cambodiana hotel, just down the quay, past the palace and the National Assembly. It was then a new jointventure affair, run very smoothly by people from Singapore. It was full of guests who liked to wake in the morning not quite remembering whether they were in Phnom Penh, New York or London. Since then, however, locals have grabbed the management contract and the establishment has declined alarmingly. This time, as I am making my own arrangements, I am staying at one of the many narrow, rundown places a short walk upstream, one which, with apologies to Ludwig Bemelmans, I call the Hôtel Splendide, for such establishments rejoice in grandiose names that fool no one. When I entered my room for the first time I found a small laminated card at the spot on the pillow where, at the Cambodiana during its Singaporean period, I would have expected to discover a mint instead. The card said: no firearm opiums in room. Possibly this is one reason lockers are provided at the front desk. They are second-hand and look as though they might have come from a rural bus depot. As to the room, the doors both interior and exterior are of lacquered plywood. The space is surprisingly clean, though lying on the bed I can’t ignore enormous patches of mould that turn the ceiling into a mappa mundi. A narrow veranda looks out over the street, but decades of automobile particulate have eaten away the stonework of the stubby balustrade. The dresser and armoire have many locks, and though I found a ring of keys in a drawer, none of the keys fits in any of the locks. Noise from the street rises on the hot air, and at night there is a scratching sound inside one of the walls. The hot water is cold and cold drinks are warm, and apparently there are not enough

photo: eric brandt, THAT OLD FRENCH COLONIAL BUILDING, 32 sotearos boulevard, phnom penh


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towels or loo paper for all the rooms, or any soap whatever. Nor enough cash in the till downstairs to make change for even a small purchase. When questioned about the simplest matter, staff members look dolefully perplexed. The rest of the time they quarrel amongst themselves, loudly and in numerous languages and dialects. It’s my kind of place. The elevator, which is scarcely larger than a red English telephone box, stops at various floors randomly and the door closes quickly enough to imprison people like a Venus flytrap. “Be thankful,” says an Aussie. “The lift’s the only thing in the whole bloody place that goes fast enough to break a sweat. But you get used to it. I’ve lived here sixteen years.” The Quay is full of such Englishspeaking expats—stubborn, defiant, frequently tired and often a trifle drunk on Mekong Whisky or at least Angkor Beer. Those of them who still have lives—and livers—coexist, warily and uneasily, with the many younger men and, significantly, women, who began arriving after the genocidal civil wars, determined to do good. In the latter group is where you can be guaranteed to find some francophones. Such people are well educated and well paid, and it’s for these folks as well as the tourists that streets like the Quay are lined with noisy bars, intimate bistros and restos selling premium fair-trade coffees rather than Nescafé. I keep bumping into them as I survey my own little patch of the streetscape each morning, before it gets too hot. A short distance along the Quay from the Splendide is the premises of a former ship chandler who now repairs and rebuilds motorcycles—motos— which are found everywhere. The current custom, as two different Khmers explain to me, is for parents to buy their son a moto so he can commute to school. Many of the young men, however, sell

them to such a person as the shop owner and use the money to gamble on soccer matches. Gambling is one of the few traditional vices legal in Cambodia, as distinct from all the others, which carry on without much regard for the law one way or the other. Many of the remaining addresses in my stretch of the Quay are taken up with ambiguous massage places, minimarts, money changers and shops selling pirated dvds. One dvd establishment has a sign bragging about its selection of films in French; the inventory inclines heavily toward La Déchirure, La Soupe au canard and Indochine—that is, The Killing Fields avec Sam Waterston, Duck Soup avec Groucho Marx and, well, Indochine avec Catherine Deneuve. Other than these and the open-air workspace and showroom of a maker of coffins, some of them rather kitschy, virtually every other shop-house is a cell-phone store. I’ve always felt that allowing the military to own businesses, making generals and colonels no longer quite so dependent on the government for funding, is a terrible mistake. Just as one of the biggest financial institutions in Bangkok is the Thai Military Bank, so one of the biggest phone companies in Cambodia is owned by the army. Back at the Splendide to rest through the hottest part of the day, I lie on the bed looking up at the ceiling once again. All around the room at about the eight-foot level is a kind of fancy plate rail, nicely turned on a lathe, though the smooth lines have been dulled by many coats of paint over the years. But if one were to strip away the layers, one decade after another, one might, I think, find that it was French.

George Fetherling’s latest book is River of Gold: The Fraser & Cariboo Gold Rushes (Subway Books). Page 69 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009


COMMENT

Latinocanadá For most Canadians, Spanish, the second language of the Americas, remains an exotic anomaly

Stephen Henighan

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he least-discussed facet of the economic and cultural transformation that began in Canada with the implementation of nafta on January 1, 1994, is the fact that of the 450 million people who inhabit the North American Free Trade Area, roughly one-third—more than 100 million in Mexico and more than 45 million in the United States—speak Spanish. The Latin American community in Canada does not have a strongly defined public image, even though our contact with the Spanish-speaking world goes back to the country’s origins. Some of the first non-indigenous visitors to both our Atlantic and Pacific coasts were of Iberian heritage. Navigators from Spain and Portugal, such as the Corte-Real brothers and João Fernandes, visited Atlantic Canada as early as the summer of 1500. These voyages were the catalyst for increasing numbers of fishermen from the Basque country to spend their summers on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. When Jacques Cartier, heralded by high school history textbooks as the pioneering post-Viking European explorer of eastern Canada, arrived in 1534, Aboriginal Canadians, recognizing Cartier as a European, naturally addressed him in the Basque language of northern Spain. Men of Hispanic culture were also among the first explorers of Canada’s Pacific Coast. In 1774 Juan José Pérez Hernández, a naval officer based in San Blas, Mexico, sailed up the British Columbia coast as far as Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands). In 1775 the Peruvian captain Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra retraced this route

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and claimed the coast for Spain. In 1789 the Spaniard Esteban José Martínez constructed the fort in Nootka Sound—Santa Cruz de Nutka, in Spanish—that is often considered to be the first European building on Canada’s Pacific Coast. But these early contacts did not result in Spanish colonization,

and the Hispanic cultural presence in Canada soon disappeared. As recently as 1970, it is unlikely that Canada’s population counted much more than three thousand people of Latin American origin (and even fewer from Spain). The catalyst for the growth of a Latin American community was the military coups in Chile, Uruguay and Argentina between 1973 and 1976. When the United States refused to accept most refugees from military governments that the U.S. supported, tens of thousands of people were diverted to Canada. Most were middle class and well educated; since many

knew more French than English, the first beachheads of a Latino-Canadian culture were established in Montreal and Ottawa. Small travel agencies, empanada shops, newspapers and, because the refugees included many writers and avid readers, Spanish-language literary presses, became the first outposts of this new contribution to our cultural mix. The civil wars in Central America in the 1980s diversified Canada’s Hispanic community. Many of the immigrants and refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala came from rural areas and were of indigenous descent; they settled throughout Canada, often in places where unskilled labour was in demand. In the new millennium, Colombia and Venezuela have become major sources of immigration. But it is the passage of nafta, which has weakened Mexico’s once-powerful middle class, that has contributed to the greatest change in the Latin American community. Since nafta provides for free movement of “professionals,” middle-class Mexicans whose prospects have dimmed at home can settle here with less difficulty than other Latin Americans. In recent years, Mexicans have overtaken Chileans to become the largest Spanish-speaking group in Canada. Census figures maintain that the Latin American population of Canada is a little more than 250,000 people. This figure is almost certainly too low, just as the one million claimed by one Hispanic lobby group is too high. The probable figure—around 500,000— amounts to about 1.5 percent of Canada’s population, far below the almost 15 percent in the United States, and the more than 30 percent in the entire North American Free Trade Area. This imbalance generates a series of paradoxes in the ways in which Canadians experience Hispanic culture. Products on sale in big box stores bear trilingual labels: Shower door/ porte de douche/ puerta de ducha. Some items that arrive in Canada directly from the United

photo: bryan partington, published under a creative commons attribution licence


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States, disdaining official EnglishFrench bilingualism, have labels in English and Spanish. For example, when someone spills a soft drink at my local shopping mall, employees set out a yellow pylon with Wet Floor on one side and Piso Mojado on the other; Plancher Mouillé is nowhere to be seen. The Greyhound buses that I ride between Guelph and Toronto often have bilingual English-Spanish signs, but no French. Yet, outside of Alberta and Quebec, Spanish is sparsely taught in our high schools. As a result, Spanish departments in Canadian universities are bottomheavy, with hundreds of students taking one or two semesters of introductory language to use on the beach in Cuba or the Dominican Republic. In contrast to French, which is booming, advanced courses in Hispanic literatures and cultures are thinly subscribed; among students who are not of Hispanic ancestry, enrolment in these courses is plummeting. Since the implementation of nafta, Carleton University, Simon Fraser University and McMaster University have closed their bas in Spanish; the ba at Queen’s University was recently threatened with closure. This is a startling fate for the second language of the Americas during a period of hemispheric integration. The trend suggests that for most Canadians, Spanish remains an exotic anomaly promoted by corporate priorities, the U.S. entertainment industry and the drive to sustain the continental market. (It is elderly Canadians who have most conspicuously deepened their contact with Latin America, by retiring in ever greater numbers to Costa Rica and Panama.) As more Canadians have begun to learn a few words of Spanish, fewer than in the pre-nafta era are pursuing a serious interest in the language, literature or culture of the Hispanic world. Our engagement with our Latin American neighbours remains distant and primarily Summer 2009 • G E I ST 73 • Page 71

commercial, our place in the Americas as nebulous as it has always been. Alejandro Saravia, a Bolivian-Canadian writer from Brossard, Quebec, whose impressively fluid trilingual book of poems, Lettres de Nootka, was published in 2008, laments a time when: “along with the indigenous languages/ Spanish was/ the newest, most fragrant bride/ of the North Pacific Coast// yet the maps/ the history books/

barely retain the fragile memory/ of Santa Cruz de Nutka.” Our history tells us that our links to the rest of the hemisphere run deeper than commercial treaties. Stephen Henighan’s novel The Places Where Names Vanish is about Latin Americans in Canada. He has recently completed a novel about Canadians in Latin America. Read his Geist work at geist.com/henighan-stephen.


COMMENT

The Secret Market What happens when secrets become products, or entertainment?

Hal Niedzviecki

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have a postcard I’ve been meaning to send. It’s nothing special, just the skyline of the city I live in. The city at night, lit up and revealed, but also secretive and hidden. This is where I live. This is where we all live, perpetually caught between revelation and exposure. We go about our business figuring that most of the time, almost all of the time, nobody notices. We’re counting on it, in fact. We’re counting on the fact that whatever our kink, fetish, habit or peccadillo, there are many of us and we’re all doing “it.” So who’s going to notice me? But we want to be noticed. We live in cities of millions. All that energy and greed, all that community and commuting. Surely there’s someone out there who’s willing to pay attention to me, even if just for a minute. Or maybe not. Which is why I have a postcard I can’t decide whether to send. On the front, a simple city scene of the kind any tourist might buy. On the back, room to write it. My secret. Unless he decides to post it to his website, what I wrote on that postcard will be between me and Frank Warren. Warren is a Maryland artist who presides over an empire of secrets, thousands of confessions sent to him every week from around the world. From who? He doesn’t know. About what? Anything and everything. Warren’s dominion is PostSecret.com and he is the high priest of the digital confession. He’s taken one of the oldest human traits—to keep and tell secrets—and turned it into a global phenomenon, a transnational entertainment mini-dominion that’s as simple

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and complicated as the primal need to spew forth the truth. PostSecret is candid, disturbing and wildly entertaining. Just be careful. Reading the thousands

of secrets written on postcards and anonymously sent in to Warren is the online equivalent of doing crack. “Ever since I discovered PostSecret I look out for secrets,” writes an anonymous poster on the site. “On street corners, lamp posts, faces, dollar bills too. I need to be reminded that everyone has secrets and that I can be open to being there when someone needs to let one go. I am trying to be the kind stranger I’ve always wanted to meet.” The “kind stranger,” or the addicted consumer of a phenomenon that turns the secrets of others into mass-culture entertainment? Entertainment, though, isn’t the right word. A blurry picture of a mother and daughter. On it: “I’m not going to cope when my mom has lost her battle with cancer. I’m going to kill myself. I hope there is an afterlife.” Text pasted over the faces of two college girls: “The first night I shared a room with my black roommate I locked my suitcase.” And some less portentous secrets: a post-

card showing vintage seventies cops sporting handlebar moustaches: “I call the cops on all the parties you don’t invite me to.” Frank Warren lives in rural Maryland, where he stores the hundreds of thousands of postcard secrets people have entrusted to him, and where he pores over the thousand or so cards he gets every week, trying to decide which ones should appear on the website, get a place in a future book or be part of a show in an art gallery. “I keep them all,” he says, “and I keep them in those big bins you can buy at Home Depot.” The project started in 2004 when Warren circulated invitations around neighbourhoods and websites to submit anonymous secrets on postcards for an art project. Before he knew it, the project had taken on a life its own and secrets were coming in from all over the world. PostSecret had gone viral. Warren believes that people are becoming more and more lonely even though the population is mushrooming. “So hopefully PostSecret allows you to carry a greater sense of empathy,” he says. “I really do believe that all of us have a secret that would break your heart if you just knew what it was.” How many times can our hearts break for strangers on a website, for their bad luck and bad choices? Should we all know each other’s secrets? Warren is the gentle Zen master of secrets, but he has also inadvertently created a formula— even a genre—that is rapidly being adopted by far less amiable overseers. One copycat site I visited, SharedConfession.com, was festooned with ads and dominated by rants (sample confession titles: “I Hate Bums” and “I Won’t Vote for the Black Man or the Woman”). It’s the difference between crassly getting people to say anything, the more the better, and carefully choosimage courtesy of frank warren


COMMENT

ing individual voices that resonate with the notion of revelation and forgiveness. SharedConfessions is not alone in trying to jump on the “secrets” bandwagon. Companies with goods and services to sell are working hard to figure out how to harness the power of secrets to enhance brands and connect people to products. Well-known reveal-your-secrets campaigns are regularly being rolled out by giant corporations. One of them is the Let It Out campaign (Kimberly-Clark). “Kleenex® brand provides lots of ways for everyone to let it outÔ,” announces the Let It Out Kleenex website. On their online forum, home to the complaints of thousands of anonymous posters, “Milwaukee” writes: “My boss is such a miserable person who has very little self esteem that she has to put others down all the time to make herself feel good. She is so rude and jerky to everyone. I can’t stand her. I wish she would quit and leave the company.” Is this Frank Warren’s vision of disparate human beings connecting to a shared truth? Strange things happen when corporations underwrite online sharing. “I am 16. I am a sophomore,” writes Underdog of the World. “I am a rape victim. It happened this year, by a guy I thought was one of my friends, and to make it worse it was at My church. He said he needed to talk and i trusted him. Well i think you know the rest . . . I have no one to talk to about it and i wish i did. I also wish i wouldn’t have trusted him.” That’s her story. Under it, Kleenex helpfully writes: Find Similar: Rape. On the Dove Real Beauty Body Image Forum, part of another reveal-yoursecrets campaign (Unilever), roughly fourteen thousand women have left comments. Bangzoom1118 writes that “the little tiny bit of cellulite that I will probably never get rid of still irks me . . . the tiny little imperfections that no one probably notices but me, even if I am wearing

a swimsuit . . . they all still bother me so much. I see those airbrushed photos of models and celebs and wonder why my skin does not look like that, but then remember that I am not airbrushed!” I am not airbrushed! could be the slogan for these forums. But I’m not sure it’s even true. Frank Warren sees this kind of baring of souls as inevitably leading to connections and greater human understanding. Forums like Let It Out, Real Beauty and SharedConfessions make the opposite also feel true: there’s a sense of ghostly diminishment to the revelations, a sense of stories and lives being air-brushed and harvested. To what end are we being encouraged to share our secrets on these sites? I wonder if the companies themselves comprehend the relationship between online anonymous confession and their products. They know they are tapping into our overwhelming need to share our secrets. What they may not know is that this longing to be noticed has to do with the collapse of the communities and neighbourhoods that we used to rely on for intrinsic, effortless recognition of our existence as human beings. These sites cannot replace that, which is why so much of the material that gets posted reads as petty, embittered and even hopeless. Secrets as entertainment, secrets as products disconnected from corporeal community, secrets floating aimlessly through cyberspace, ghosts in the machine (Find Similar: Rape). Night falls on our secrets, and, all alone in my city of millions, I decide, after all, to tear up my postcard. Hal Niedzviecki’s book The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, was published by City Lights Books in May 2009. Niedzviecki is a Toronto writer and the author of several novels and non-fiction books. Read his story “Darker Country” (published in Geist 65) at geist.com/author/niedzviecki-hal. Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 73


COMMENT

Hospital Reading What one needs for hospital reading is the literary equivalent of comfort food

lon “o”

Alberto Manguel

T

wo weeks before Christmas last year, I was told that I needed an urgent operation, so urgent in fact that I had no time to pack. I found myself lying in a pristine emergency room, uncomfortable and anxious, with no books except for the one I had been reading that morning, Cees Nooteboom’s delightful In the Dutch Mountains, which I finished in a few hours. To spend the next fourteen days convalescing in hospital without any reading seemed to me a torture too great to bear, so when my partner offered to bring me a few books from my library, I seized the opportunity gratefully. But which did I want? Pete Seeger and the author of Ecclesiastes have taught us that for every thing there is a season; likewise, I might add, for every season there is a book. But readers know that not just any book is suited to any occasion. Pity the soul who finds itself with the wrong book in the wrong place, like poor Roald Amundsen, discoverer of the South Pole, whose bookbag sank under the ice, so that he was constrained to read, night after freezing night, Dr. John Gauden’s indigestible Portraiture of His Sacred Majesty in His Solitudes and Sufferings. There are books for reading after lovemaking and books to read while waiting in the airport lounge, books for the breakfast table and for the bathroom, books for insomniac nights at home and for insomniac days in the hospital. The list of books Oscar Wilde requested in “The Balad of Reading Gaol” included Treasure Island and a French-Italian conversation manual.

Page 74 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

Alexander the Great went on his campaigns with a copy of Homer’s Iliad. Do astronauts take Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles on their journeys? If Bernard Madoff spends any time in prison, will he demand Dickens’s Little Dorrit, to read how the embezzler Mr. Merdle, unable to bear the shame of being found out, cuts his throat with a borrowed razor? The list of books we seek out for a particular occasion is always personal, and few are those who can accurately guess what another reader needs or wishes for. What books would best keep me company in my hospital cell? I’m not a user of e-books; I require the more solid flesh of paper and ink. So I made a mental inventory of the books piled by my bed at home. I discarded recent fiction (too risky because unproven), scientific essays (too cerebral: much as I’d been enjoying the Darwinian renaissance, I felt that a detailed account of the sea cucumber’s life would not be the right medicine), biographies (too crowded: hooked to a tangle of drips, I found other people’s presence annoying). At first I thought a good detective novel would be ideal, either an old favourite—a classic by John Dickson Carr—or a new title by Reginald Hill. But the anaesthetic had softened my brain and I knew that I’d find it difficult to follow even the simplest of Sherlockian ratiocinations. What I wanted was the equivalent of comfort food, something I’d once enjoyed and could endlessly and effortlessly revisit. I asked my friend to bring me my two volumes of Don Quixote.

Don Quixote was, I discovered with relief, the perfect choice. Because I’ve kept going back to it ever since my adolescence, I knew I wasn’t going to be tripped by the surprises of its plot; and since it’s a book that I could read just for the pleasure of its invention, without having to delve into its erudite conundrums, I could allow myself to drift peacefully away in the story’s flow, in the wake of the noble knight and his faithful sidekick. To my first high school reading of Don Quixote, guided by Professor Isaias Lerner, I have added many other readings over the years, undertaken in all sorts of places and moods. To those I can now add a medicinal Don Quixote, both a balm and a consolation. Don Quixote eased me through those dreary days and intermittent nights; when I was told that I had to return to the hospital for a second operation, I was prepared. This time I carefully decided to pack four or five titles that would allow me a companionable variety. After much consideration, I settled on four categories: a miscellany, one of those volumes that allows us to wander in and out, aimlessly. The Trivia of Logan Pearson Smith, Samuel Butler’s Note-Books, the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy—all belong to this generous breed. I chose Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici: to the delights of a vagrant mind are added those of an intricate, exuberant style, reminiscent of baroque music.

photo: michael mcleod, WIND TURBINE, GLACE BAY, N.S, 2006


COMMENT

a meditative work, something soothingly philosophical, such as Jean Cocteau’s collection of essays The Difficulty of Being, or one of Plato’s early dialogues, or Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams. I toyed with the idea of startling the nurses with two of Kierkegaard’s essays coalesced into one terrifying title, Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death. I took with me King Lear, the saddest of all plays. a book to make me smile. Alice in Wonderland, Thomas Love Peacock’s Crotchet Castle, Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, Nabokov’s Pnin. I selected Borges’s A Universal History of Infamy, which seems written with a chuckle. a collection of poetry. Richard Wilbur, Philip Larkin, Blas de Otero, Quevedo, John Donne, W.S. Merwin . . . I decided that an anthology would ease the choice, even if it could not contain everything I loved. I packed the Albatross Book of Verse, which I’ve read since my adolescence and know practically by heart. These four books did the trick and I’m deeply grateful to them. Over the hospital weeks they kept vigil with me: they talked to me when I wanted entertainment, or waited quietly, attentively, by my bed. They never became impatient with me, or sententious or condescending. They continued a conversation begun ages ago, as if indifferent to time, as if taking for granted that this moment too would pass, along with the discomfort and the anxiety, and that only their remembered pages would remain, describing something of my own, intimate and dark, for which as yet I myself had no words. Alberto Manguel is the author of hundreds of works, most recently City of Words and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey: A Biography. Read more of his Geist columns at geist.com/ author/manguel-alberto. Page 75 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009


ENDNOTES

Reviews, comments, curiosa Mad, Mad World

in the right circumstances it could be

The history of mental illness presents a challenge to anyone who believes in progress

relic of a dark age of ignorance and abuse that it is hard to remember that it started

cured. Today the asylum seems so much a

out as a reform and a source of civic pride.

Daniel Francis

I

Appignanesi is struck by the certainty with which every generation takes up its own cure for mental illness. The asylum, renamed

n 1882, Rose Lynam, a forty-something mother of two young girls, was

“there is not a person in this city, high or low, rich or poor, that could not by shrewd

incarcerated in the St. Jean de Dieu Hospital in Longue Pointe, west of Montreal. According to her husband,

management and the liberal use of money be sent to Longue Pointe.” Other stories of people being locked up against their will

Peter, Rose had attacked him with an axe for no reason. A local doctor certified that she was insane, an “erotic maniac,”

surfaced in the papers. Ultimately a provincial Royal Commission led to changes in the way mental asylums were adminis-

and she was locked up in St. Jean de Dieu, one of the worst-managed mental hospitals in North America, where the

tered in Quebec. Lisa Appignanesi traces the experiences of unfortunate women like Rose Lynam in

nuns who ran the place stripped, beat and handcuffed her, left her to sleep on the floor and made her live on the “furious”

her fascinating new book, Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present (McArthur

ward with the most disturbed inmates. Rose, who all along insisted that she was not insane, petitioned to be released. In

& Co.). She reveals the past treatment, and mistreatment, of the mentally ill, and many of her case studies are drawn from the

September 1884, Mr. Justice Jette of the Montreal Superior Court heard the case. It

ranks of the rich and famous—Mary Lamb, Zelda Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf being some examples. But Appignanesi is less interested in therapeutic technique than in the ideas that have underlain such practices since the beginning of “mind doctoring.” Her account takes us back to the pre-asylum period when lunatics, as they were then called, were left to wander freely in the countryside or, if they were well-to-do, were installed in private madhouses for as long as it took them to get better. The asylum era began in the late eighteenth century in Europe and a bit later in North America, and brought with it a new understanding of “madness”: that

was Rose’s contention that she was the victim of a conspiracy between her husband, who was known to have beaten her, and a doctor, Henry Howard, who had received a fee to declare her mad. Though this conspiracy was never proven, the court was not convinced that Rose was insane and ordered her release from the Longue Pointe asylum. The case of Rose Lynam caused a sensation in the local press, not least because it seemed to confirm a widespread suspicion that mental asylums were becoming repositories for the inconvenient, not just the unwell. “The fact is,” an editor wrote in the Montreal Star on September 20, 1884, Page 76 • G E I ST 73 • Summer 2009

the mental hospital, quickly betrayed the optimism with which it had been created. By the end of the nineteenth century it was little more than a holding tank for society’s outcasts and misfits. “They grew into ‘bins’,” she writes about these institutions, “the ‘snake pits’ of horror movies, worse than any Bedlam.” Drugs were supposed to improve the situation in the next century, as were medical interventions such as frontal lobotomy, insulin coma and electroshock therapy. In every case the public was assured that at long last the surefire answer to the riddle of mental illness had been found, and in every case the answer proved chimerical. As the focus of Appignanesi’s book suggests, men and women have experienced mental illness differently. Or perhaps better to say that the medical community has understood mental illness differently in men and women. Women had their own diagnoses—neurasthenia, hysteria, anorexia—and their own treatments. They have been considered especially susceptible to breakdown because of the unique life changes—menstruation, childbirth, menopause—that were thought to drain their vitality and fray their nerves. A male medical establishment was suspicious of female sexuality, which was, writes Appignanesi, “something mysterious and perhaps threatening, constantly in need of investigation, attention or control.” In Canada this preoccupation reached its


ENDNOTES

extreme in the case of Dr. Richard M. Bucke, chief superintendent of the London Asylum for the Insane (now the London Psychiatric Hospital) from 1877 to his death in 1902. Bucke was convinced that in female patients the source of much mental illness was the reproductive organs, and he authorized hundreds of gynecological operations to remove “diseased” organs. Bucke was unique in his devotion to gynecological surgery—very few doctors followed his lead—but he was quite conventional in his view that madness in women originated in the womb. (Actually, Bucke and Rose Lynam are not mentioned in Appignanesi’s book, which is short on Canadian content. This is a minor disappointment, and it struck me as strange given that the author, who now lives in London, U.K., lived for many years in Montreal, where she graduated from McGill University.) It would be nice to think that Bucke represents the bad old days of psychiatric care, but the historical record in the hundred years since he died gives no cause for optimism. It can all be found in Mad, Bad and Sad and it does not make pretty reading. The history of mental illness presents a challenge to anyone who believes in progress. Treatment seems to have gone in circles rather than following a straight line. “If our chemical society,” Appignanesi concludes, “with its erratic flare-ups of faith in magic bullet cures, at times gives the illusion to patients, doctors and researchers that conditions can be got rid of or be easily controlled, reality usually insists on another picture.” Daniel Francis is a writer and historian. His latest book is Operation Orca: Springer, Luna and the Struggle to Save West Coast Killer Whales (Harbour, 2007). Read his Geist work at geist.com/author/francis-daniel, and his blogs at historywire.ca and knowbc. blogspot.com.

Summer 2009 • G E I ST 73 • Page 77


ENDNOTES

ACT NOW Annabel Lyon

“V

itellius,

the Roman

emperor,

dined on the brains of thousands of peacocks and the tongues of thousands of flamingos.” Naughty! But if you buy coffee, go skiing, paint your nails, own a car, wear Fluevogs (ahem!) or subscribe to magazines—even just one really good magazine—you’re acting like a latter-day Vitellius. Would you walk past a toddler drowning in a wading pool because saving her might ruin your shoes? Similarly, would you condemn an African child to death because you “need” the money that could have saved her (from malaria, rotavirus, hiv, etc.) for Netflix and takeout? Peter Singer, philosopher and author of The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty (Random House), probably wishes you had taken the $6.95 you spent on this magazine and sent it to Oxfam or the Millennium Villages Project instead. Yeah, he really is this simplistic. A big chunk of The Life You Can Save is a recitation of stats and studies in defence of the simplicity of his argument. In a nutshell, Singer believes that distance doesn’t remove moral obligation: if you can save a life, what does it matter whether that life is in Africa or on your own doorstep? You can quibble with the details—Madonna in Malawi good! arts funding bad!—but not with the broad thrust of Singer’s argument: that we’re a bunch of cosseted First World babies who need to fucking grow up and take a little moral responsibility. If you want to begin with the $25 you would have spent on Singer’s book, go to thelifeyoucan save.com instead for suggestions about where to donate.

Page 78 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009


ENDNOTES

uneasily) from present (the last year of

and—for seasoning—a half-dozen short essays (including the wonderfully astrin-

THE RABBI REFUSED

the twentieth century) to past, winding in

Stephen Osborne

and out of the decades. The mundane processes of life provide the sinews of

gent “Why I Write Short Stories” from

t the age of seventy-nine, Hans

epic. Eichner can quote Goethe, rhapso-

Eichner, a professor of German language and literature at the University of

dize upon Beethoven and tell folksy tales of wandering rabbis. He is unafraid of the

Cheever makes it all seem effortless, with

Toronto, published his first novel, Khan

ridiculous, the lowbrow, the sting in the

& Engelmann, in German; it was hailed as a masterpiece in Europe. In April

tail. At the end he writes of the rabbi of Radsin: “When the corpses had been

2009, a masterful English translation by

taken out, the rabbi still heard a sound in

Jean M. Snook appeared in Canada, published by Biblioasis, three days after the

the car. He climbed in and looked: God was cowering in a corner of the car, cry-

death of Hans Eichner at the age of

ing. The rabbi refused to comfort him.”

A

eighty-seven. The publishers call the novel a “major work of Holocaust literature,” a fair enough evaluation. But readers in North America will find it first to be a novel of Europe in the twentieth century: the story will be familiar in bits and pieces to anyone having read or heard of Musil, Kafka, Kraus and other luminaries of Vienna before the Nazi storm. Eichner’s narrative implicates contemporary readers as none of the others can do today by remaining a family saga, complicated by family businesses, messy divorces, rivalries, disputes, suicides, success and failure, all of it compelling to anyone with a family. This saga, however, is driven not by “character” but by history, by the necessities of the “travelling life” thrust upon Jews over the centuries and of the growing spectre of the Nazi horror materializing finally with the explosion into Austria and then all of Europe. Members of the narrator’s family (like the author’s family) escape the Holocaust by several routes, to live as survivors always with an infected aftertaste of history in their mouths. Eichner’s narrative power is unsurpassed in any language. His sparse dialogue carries the story without effort: we move easily (and

1978).

At

his

best,

near-perfect sentences whose telling details cut straight to the bone. Take this sentence (from “The Pot of Gold”) as an example: “So true was Ralph’s heart, so well did it serve him then, that the moment he saw Laura’s light hair and

STORIES SUBURBAN AND OTHERWISE Michael Hayward

J

ohn Cheever and his contemporary, John Updike, were masterful observers

and chroniclers of American suburbia, with a particular focus on the bedroom communities that draw nourishment from the commuter railway lines that terminate in downtown Manhattan. Just as

Faulkner had his Yoknapatawpha County, and Hardy his Wessex, Cheever had his Shady Hill, a quiet town that was, to judge from stories such as “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill” and “The Sorrows of Gin,” a hotbed of infidelity, alcoholism and other midlife-crisis behaviour. The best of Cheever’s work can be found in a pair of volumes published recently by the Library of America: Cheever’s Complete Novels and Collected Stories and Other Writings. The essential volume here is the Collected Stories, which offers readers a master class in the contemporary American short story. Here you’ll find all sixty-one stories from the definitive 1978 collection, plus seven more from Cheever’s first book (published in 1943), seven uncollected stories from his later years

her pretty and sullen face he was enraptured”—and with that one word, sullen, we know we have glimpsed Ralph’s unenviable (and still, by him, unanticipated) future. “The second novel syndrome” is an albatross around the neck of every budding writer fortunate enough to have had a hit with their first. Anne Michaels’s debut novel, Fugitive Pieces (1996), was a particularly hard act to follow: shortlisted for the Giller Prize, winner of Britain’s Orange Prize for Fiction and Ontario’s Trillium Award, published in thirty countries and staying on Canadian bestseller lists for more than two years, it was even made into a feature film. Wrestling with that albatross may be one reason it has taken Michaels thirteen years to publish The Winter Vault (McClelland & Stewart), her second novel. So, hundreds of readers waiting with breathless anticipation; a novel thirteen years in gestation: is The Winter Vault worth the wait? Well, that depends on your taste for sentences like this one (found in the

Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 79


ENDNOTES

first half-dozen pages): “He spoke to the river, and he listened to the river, his hand on his wife in the place their child would some day open her, where her mouth had already so often spoken her, as if he could take the child’s name into his mouth from her body.” “He” is Avery Escher, a young engineer in Egypt with “his wife,” Jean, to oversee the dismantling of the temple at Abu Simbel in 1964, as the waters of the Nile rise behind the Aswan Dam. Avery and Jean—all the characters, in fact—spend a lot of time inside their own heads, and interact at a sorrowful, languid pace. Individual passages in The Winter Vault are visually evocative, and the settings—Egypt during the Abu Simbel temple relocation, the shores of the St. Lawrence during the construction of the seaway, Warsaw during the occupation— have excellent dramatic potential, but I longed for a broader spectrum of emotions, and a sense that real, hot blood might run inside these people’s veins.

UNPARALLELED REVIVAL Stephen Osborne

A

mong the questions that inevitably follow a satisfying first day in Paris,

according to the Revised Guide to that city included in Mavis Gallant’s new book, Going Ashore (McClelland & Stewart), are: “How can I get on the Anglo-American volleyball team?” and “When are the Anabaptist Church sing alongs held?” The same book contains the full text of the Republic of France Toothbrush Tax Form, and the following wonderful passage from a literary memoir: “I decided to sell the inkpot to H.G. Wells. Many young writers were doing this.” Other excurses composed by Gallant in the 1980s and collected for the first time in Going Ashore include a note on General

Page 80 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009


ENDNOTES

Achille Stifflet, who, having subjugated America, observed that “a little crenellation won’t hurt them now,” a

essays at the quiet library; and Tzara, the daddy of Dada, wrote poetry and hung

nonite in Vancouver and the Fraser Val-

around cafés with his artist friends. The

dilapidated ’36 Chevy, built a boat out of parts from the dump, milked cows at

remark that confused

glossary contains an entry on pseudo-

some of the women, who, “not knowing

nyms, the names adopted by writers, artists, revolutionaries, tyrants. Codrescu

what crenellation was

suggests that this privilege of adopting

for, wore it in their hair.” A passage from

names, which has belonged to artists for so long, should be taken up by the

Siegfried’s

Memoirs

readers of his book. Reading will become

provides the template

much more interesting, he proclaims, once you adopt

for windy memoiristes of all times: “For a long time I used to go to bed early wonder-

reader just might slip like a spy through the net and lose hermself in the words.” And who

departed without having finished his glass of fine (patiently distilled from salvaged boot tops), he was the hub of an unparal-

won this figurative chess match between Lenin and Tzara? The Soviet Union collapsed almost twenty years ago; Dada

leled intellectual revival.”

is present in fashion, in design, in music and art, in aesthetic trends—everywhere, all the time. The cover of The Posthuman

T

Dada Guide is appealing in a (carefully) slapped together kind of way, and the

I get when I’m back home with my own—even though I read most of it while standing on public transit. The only thing that took me out of the story was the note on the book jacket that “In more forgiving times, these stories might have been described as largely autobiographical” but now the book is labelled a “novel” because of today’s non-fiction standards—I became preoccupied with trying to spot the fictionalized bits throughout. I hope the scene where Peter’s parents interrupt his first sexual experience and the girl jumps out the window to hide isn’t true, but it’s just so awkward that I think it must be.

size—4x8¢¢ or 8x4¢¢—lends emphasis to the “guide” aspect.

WHAT’S HAPPENING?

Codrescu (Princeton University Press) begins with a long essay on the life of the Dada art movement. Some of the

language is a bit obscure, but Codrescu writes well enough that you want to keep reading. The real joy of the book comes in what follows the text: a 150-page glossary of terms related to Dada, such as (the) American woman (Peggy Guggenheim), audiences and how Dadaists and communists viewed them, Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, Lenin and Tzara, and Zurich, the Swiss town where Dada was born. Zurich is also the historical anchor of the book: there, between 1915 and 1917, Lenin, the daddy of Communism, wrote political

gave me the same comforting feeling that

name. “A pseudonymous

where from June, 1940, when he made his first, much remarked appearance in Café Flore, until August, 1944, when he

he Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara & Lenin Play Chess by Andrei

lost a parent in a car crash, but reading about the Niebuhr family’s experiences

shed the intellectual baggage carried by your

would ever complete his long-awaited memoirs of Saint-Germain-des-Prés,

Michal Kozlowski

midnight, won an island in a contest or

a reading pseudonym and

ing if Siegfried von Handelskammern

GLOSSING DADA

ley. My family never plowed a field with a

Patty Osborne

RENOVATING NON-FICTION Sarah Maitland

A

lthough the cover and title of Renovating Heaven by Andreas Schroeder (Oolichan Books) give the impression that the book is about the history of Mennonite barn raising in St. Jacobs, Ontario (and indeed the cover photo of men framing a barn-like structure is courtesy of the Mennonite Archives of Ontario in Waterloo), the book is actually a semi-autobiographical novel about Schroeder—sorry, about “Peter Niebuhr”—growing up as a Men-

I

n Jessica Grant’s hilarious novel Come, Thou Tortoise (Knopf), Audrey Flow-

ers, who was raised by her father and her uncle in an unorthodox household, returns to Newfoundland to be with her father, who has hit his head and fallen into a coma. There she encounters several mysteries that require her to fall back on her extensive experience playing the board game Clue. She leaves behind (in Oregon) her pet tortoise, Winnifred, who narrates her

Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 81


ENDNOTES

own part of the story, and in New-

work for the same boss (the Media Hub)

foundland she meets a young man with twinkly eyes who makes Christmas lights

and the only opposition to the status quo is the “DeMarketing Movement, a spiri-

and sells them in the Canadian Tire

tual state that had no material real-

parking lot. The solution to the biggest mystery is revealed slowly as Audrey

ity”—no one does anything, but somehow just the thought of doing

starts asking questions about her father

something is comforting. Then things

and her uncle—questions that never occurred to her when they were a happy

get “slightly better because there has been a big change”—New York elects a

little family—and the narration moves

new mayor, Sophinisba Breckinridge

seamlessly between past and present as

(any relation to Myra?), “a former social worker from the days when there used to

we laugh our way through Audrey’s odd upbringing. When the story’s done and the mysteries are solved, we get to reread the story and spot the clues that Audrey missed as she grew into womanhood. The Mere Future by Sarah Schulman (Arsenal Pulp) is a wacky, thoughtprovoking and timely look at a future New York, where 80 percent of the people

heroine and sometime narrator, who stumbles through

this

crazy

story trying to get ahead in a system that she can’t quite figure out, a system where being famous and knowing how to schmooze will increase your reading on the social currency meter enough that you can get away with murder.

be social services” who builds enough

LITTLE WORLDS

low-cost housing for everyone to have a place to live (“a six-floor walkup tenement with mice and no closets was no longer three thousand dollars a month”), implements a decent minimum wage and bans franchises. Of course there’s a catch, but why would anyone want to figure it out? Not the

Mary Schendlinger

C

raig Taylor grew up in Canada, not the U.K., but his book One Million

Tiny Plays About Britain (Bloomsbury) offers copious evidence that he’s been listening to people since he moved to London some years ago. The tiny plays collected here, some of which appeared in a weekly feature of the same name that ran in the Guardian, number ninety-four, not one million—unless you count the layers, implications, dynamics and head trips. The plays are funny and unsettling at the same time, because you and I and everyone we know is in them. Who among us will never be caught in an exchange like this: Pam: Those are chips, Mum. Jean: They’re not chips. Pam: They’re the ones called fat chips. They’re just bigger but they’re chips. Jean: I can’t eat these. Or this: Ed: We went to see the film Dan: The Crouching Tiger. Ed: The Crouching Dragon. Dan: The Crouching . . . Ed: It was crouching.

Page 82 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009


ENDNOTES

Dan: And I felt terrible when that cockle-picking thing happened. This is a smart, funny book with an edge, to read right through or to graze at will. Either way, you’ll hear the dramatis personae talking long after you’ve handed the book on to a friend. A bonus for writers: abundant examples of how to write dialect and accent simply by using diction and syntax—no phonetic spellings in sight.

SAD, BAD, MAD Annabel Lyon

P

lease, cool people, please. How have you not heard of Mary Robison?

One D.O.A., One on the Way (Counterpoint)? How can you be unmoved by lines like: “That there’s a meanness she’s been dipped into many, many times. Coats of meanness she then allowed to harden.” And: “There’s a special ability I developed, by way of staying awake too long. Even with the sound muted, I can hear Mariska Hargitay.” And: “It was raining outside but no, it wasn’t.” There’s a lot like this, that’s just for example. Plot? Oh, please; all right, if you must. Eve is married to Adam—yes, I’m sure I have the right book. Eve, a location scout for the movies, is married to Adam, dying of Hep C in his parents’ New Orleans mansion. Things about guns, lists of ways of wearing guns, facts about New Orleans post-Katrina, sad, bad, mad facts. Adam has an alcoholic twin, Saunders. Saunders has a lovely, angry wife, Petal, and a daughter, Collie, bit of a klepto, no big deal. Sweet kid. Sex, check, violence, check, extreme intelligence and funniness and anger, all being the same thing really, check check check. Just trust me on this, all right? This is

Summer 2009 • G E I ST 73 • Page 83


ENDNOTES

why you read reviews, to learn about peo-

feeling. At one point during “Hallelujah,” a

ple like Mary Robison. Go, buy. Please, just go.

man two rows behind me sang out loudly along with the chorus, and I got excited; I expected the rest of the audience to join in on the refrain because they would know

GOLDEN VOICE Norbert Ruebsaat

and remember and then sing it, just as I couldn’t resist doing. But when I sang, then listened, and looked into the crowd down

D

uring his concert at General Motors

Place in Vancouver in April, Leonard Cohen often kneeled at the front of the stage and bowed his head while singing. He also doffed his fedora frequently and held it to his chest and bowed to the audience and to band members and to his three female backup singers when he had finished a song. He moved near these people during the applause and stood close to them and listened with them to the clapping hands. I went to the concert because Cohen is the only pop singer whose career I have somewhat kept up with since the days when I followed more pop singers’ careers because I thought that while listening I would learn something about my future. I had never seen Cohen in real life. The second reason I went to the concert was that it did not take me long to walk there. G.M. Place is sort of in my neighbourhood (Strathcona) and so it seemed, although most of the 20,000-odd people there were from places far beyond this neighbourhood, that Leonard was paying me, and us, a local visit. This gave me a sweet, warm feeling. Cohen sang almost all the songs in his compositional oeuvre during the three-hour concert (there were four encores) and I was surprised to note that I knew all but three of them; I could easily sing along, in my mind, with the lyrics and could even hum a lot of the accompaniment—which was fantastic: Cohen’s band members are high-wired musicians—and this sense of familiarity added to the warm

Page 84 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009

on the floor of what is on other occasions an ice rink, I heard no voices. Not even funny ones. No coughs, either. I kept singing nevertheless, along with the man behind me and along with Leonard, kneeling down there on the stage (he holds the mike like a chalice in two hands, close to his mouth) in subsequent “Hallelujah” choruses and also in the “I’m Your Man” refrain. I thought the woman beside me, a stranger in my generational range, might start singing with me and my buddy two rows back and help us infect larger and larger parts of the audience with the power of communal song. But she made no sound. She just looked at Leonard, and at the backup girls, silently, with her mind. I became self-conscious then, and heard my own voice getting thinner and sticking out, entirely lacking in gold. Comment on this note and share your Cohen concert experiences at geist.com/ blog/norbert.

MORE THAN GORY HORROR Jill Mandrake

Z

ombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide (Chicago Review Press) works as a channel to bring like-minded enthusiasts together. You can read between the lines to discern that the author, Glenn Kay, had an emotionally charged time spending red-eyed nights reviewing almost every zombie film in existence. He gives special credit to Night of the Living Dead (1968) for reviving


ENDNOTES

zombie films in general, and midnight

Dead. Less subjectively, I noted three fac-

movies about this era (the beloved Withnail

horror shows in particular, to this day. The author also credits the book The Ser-

tual errors on Kay’s part, which I’ll mention for other aficionados. First, in his

& I—the original bromance—is another

pent and the Rainbow (1988) as “a much

mention of Robot Monster (1953), he says

needed reminder of where the Zombie came from.” What he means is that the

the monster’s getup is a gorilla suit and a robot head, but upon closer inspection, it’s

earliest zombie movies

a gorilla suit and a diver’s helmet, an

of the 1930s were hisat

observable distinction. Second, he says William Castle’s last film was Shanks

least in that they took

(1974), but in fact Castle made one more

place in Haiti and their principal characters

film, Bug (1975). (That’s a shame, too, for Castle’s oeuvre may have been more

were exploited on the

impeccable had he stopped at Shanks.)

coffee or sugar plantations. By the 1960s, the definition of zombie came to mean a

Finally, he says Rabid was David Cronenberg’s second film, after Frissons,

more generic living-dead, sometimes

but Cronenberg completists out there will

flesh-eating, sometimes possessing other stomach-turning traits, but seldom viewed within a larger social context. I

know that Rabid was actually his fourth film (Stereo and Crimes of the Future were the first two). Apart from these hypercritical

missed the film version of The Serpent and the Rainbow, but I did read the memoir by Wade Davis, who was disgusted by the way

points, Zombie Movies, with its contagious passion and extensive research, is entitled to top rating.

torically

accurate,

his book was portrayed onscreen and retreated to Borneo, mortified. I’m not sure what he expected, as Wes Craven was the film’s director. In all fairness, a non-fiction work like The Serpent and the Rainbow would be challenging to translate to screen, especially when sensationalism is the thing that sells. There’s no question that by the 1990s, zombie films were once again being given a more thought-provoking treatment. This renewed sensibility, in the words of Steve Newton, writing in the Georgia Straight, deserves credit “for bringing braininess to the zombie genre—as opposed to just brain eating.” Two films that did not make it to Kay’s checklist are Ubaldo Ragona’s Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price (1964) and Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls with Candace Hilligoss (1962). These two masterpieces must have influenced the author’s hero, George Romero. Both films include chilling scenes in which the undead pursue and surround the main character—Romero repeatedly paid homage to these in Night of the Living

FEAR AND LOATHING Leah Rae

A

fter spending most of Saturday afternoon “humping the American

dream”—shopping for No Name chickpeas at Superstore and cheap baby dills at Costco, driving around in my friend’s new car and talking about how proud of ourselves we are for quitting smoking after ten years (him) and losing fortyfive pounds (me), I felt the only cure for this nauseating Puritanism would be to watch Terry Gilliam’s movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas while drinking heavily. Still great more than ten years after its release, Fear and Loathing, the adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel, stands as a hilarious tribute to an era that, sadly, came and went before I was born. When I watch

good example), I always feel that the message is “Party’s over, but not to worry, you’ve arrived in time for Doogie Howser and do-it-yourself wainscoting.” Watching it again, I felt the way I had at the Linda McCartney photo exhibition at the Royal B.C. Museum in Victoria a few years back—nostalgic for a time I never knew and sad that I have never experienced the “monstrous freedom” (as Sartre called it) that seemed to have been embraced by that generation. I have never felt that what was happening around me had the likelihood of changing the world. However, even in the early ’70s it seemed as though the dream was ending. Thompson himself describes that time, in a scene played out brilliantly by Johnny Depp in the film, sitting on a floating couch bathed in the light of electrical snow on the tv—as the “highwater mark” after which the wave broke and rolled back. At the same time the film suggests that all the drugging and drinking of that era was just another form of excess, an explosion of adrenochrome and hot pink shag, a decadence seen today in the form of Costco-sized tubs of mayo and two-hundred-dollar yoga pants. The difference, of course, is consciousnessexpansion, something that’s difficult to imagine now. The closest we get to the “doors of perception” is watching a celebrity contractor renovate a foyer on hgtv. I mean, I’ve never even been to California. Tom Thurman’s Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride is a poorly constructed documentary about Hunter S. Thompson’s life. The lighting is bad, the framing is bad and the sections about the two fictional films based on his life (Where the Buffalo Roam and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) are too long. The film becomes more a discussion about the images that have been created around Thompson’s self-created image, which is

Summer 2009 • G E IST 73 • Page 85


ENDNOTES

way too postmodern for me. It may help to

ARTISTS I N THIS I SSUE

be stoned while watching this film. Perhaps the filmmaker was—he seems convinced

Eric Brandt is a photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area. See more of his work at ericbrandtimages.com.

that having several celebrities repeat the same anecdote hints at a grand continuity of life, when the effect is more like a skipping record, or, if you’re Thompson, a room that is spinning around you. Despite the laziness of the filmmaking (a good editor goes a long way), Thompson is still terribly captivating; most writers dream about composing something as well phrased as his suicide note. By way of comparison, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, by the Oscarwinning director Alex Gibney, is a much better film on the same subject. Where Buy the Ticket relies more on interviews (hearsay, if you will), Gonzo relies on footage of Thompson himself, and the film is full of it. There is Thompson driving a huge American car, there is Thompson running with the Hell’s Angels, there is Thompson in a speedboat amidst a school of perky dolphins, and there is Thompson shooting a gun—and shooting and shooting and shooting. This assembled material offers us a collage of the man’s complicated personality. Some scenes support the prevailing image of Thompson: a macho dude with “twenty-two guns in the house,” which, like their owner, are always loaded. But there is also footage that contradicts that myth, scenes that are heartbreaking: the fear in his eyes as a Hell’s Angel rides onto the set (surprise!) of an interview, or a scene where he is a celebrity contestant on a game show and he looks so fragile, so self-consciously human as to seem almost delicate. Overall, the film is, as Thompson was, both complex and fascinating. Page 86 • G E IST 73 • Summer 2009

Debbie Cole is manager of the Pender Harbour Aquatic and Fitness Centre, and a certified fitness instructor. Michael Chrisman is a photographer and an explorer of parts of the modern landscape that most people ignore: alleyways, industrial brownfields, vast parking lots. Visit him at chrisman.ca. Brenna Maag is a printmaker and sculptor who lives and gardens in Mission, B.C. Postcards from the Peacework Project are available at brennamaag.ca. Mandelbrot is Stephen Osborne, the publisher of Geist, in another life. He is also a photographer and has been writing about photography since 1990. Visit his website, phototaxis.ca, and see more of his work for Geist at geist.com/author/ mandelbrot. Michael McLeod is a photographer who still shoots film. He lives in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. See his work for Geist at geist.com/author/mcleod-michael. Toni Onley (1928–2004) painted Canadian landscapes with watercolours. Watch the documentary Landscape Revealed: the Life and Art of Toni Onley at tonionley.com. Bryan Partington is a photographer from Edmonton who now lives in Seattle. Visit him at striatic.net. Kate Reid is a writer, an illustrator and half of the writing duo Best Liz & K8. She lives in Vancouver and her work can be seen at bestlizand kate.com. Ewa Monika Zebrowski is a visual artist who lives in Montreal. One of her images appears on the cover of Winter Vault by Anne Michaels (McClelland & Stewart, 2009). Visit her at ewazebrowski.com.


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ACROSS 1 He looks très chic but in the capital there’s a bad hub, I think. (2) 5 Secretary who named longest route doesn’t sound very old 10 I can’t find an endorser among interpreters who don’t print 12 He can stick-handle those winged seeds while he looks through the book 13 What a mess axe marks make on a special kid’s birthdays 14 That character ate courageously in the subway 15 In 1815, patriotic communicator attained greatest height until 2007 (2) 17 All those good-looking girls eat quail 19 Casual superior wants just the facts, ma’am 21 Great wet Iroquois sounds spooky 22 Central flyers are often sad hitters 24 Male butterfly can confuse Eurasian rats 25 Hey, pick up that bundle! 29 When lotus eaters look that way we see a piggy place with such sad water 32 Excited girl is a bit of a go-getter 33 Not sure if that gang of improvementfocussed, penny-pinching collaborators is co-ed 35 Does pulling on that aquatic plumbing part ring any bells? 36 I’ll keep going if you’ll take care of the smaller luggage (2) 38 In short, what’s the conflict anyway? 39 Barb was too close to see part of the prickly cover 43 Assassin can get approval on TV 45 That award loads me up with a mixed-up speech, but the dressing is tasty (3) 46 Sounds like you’re getting uptight about our temporary sleeping arrangements 47 Firstly, up north they have been slitting salmon for years Down 1 Leonard thinks our home on Native land deserves a tower of it 2 Short story collection can be very linear but moves like clockwork 3 Sounds like that clown is a resounding success 4 No outs in the game but I hurt parts of my feet (abbrev)

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34 It’s never Misty who clears things up 37 Boy, those country roots really deliver! 40 Those women confine themselves to the Dewey system like sheep 41 Get rid of that tiny scrap or it will rot 42 In the ’60s, pupils could be equal to fashionably elite group (abbrev) 43 A piggy with some green leaves and maybe a cherry can be very filling (abbrev) 44 Don’t take in more than has been approved today (abbrev) The winners for puzzle #72 were Graham Annable and Susan Geist of Bowen Island, B.C. Congratulations. D A Y L O N G R U M M A G E

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Xhlawit, BC

Zeballos, BC

START HERE

A: Drive east on Hwy. 1 from Vancouver to Abbotsford. B: Transfer to Hwy. 3 at Hope and stop at Boundary Creek Provincial Park on the 49th parallel. C: Swing north on Hwy. 95 to Calgary. Buy a ten-gallon hat. D: Take Hwy. 1 east to Brooks, then take backroads to Dinosaur Provincial Park. E: Drive north to Fort McMurray. Park the car and take a plane to Uranium City. Ask a miner for a ride east to Eldorado. Then fly back to the car and drive back south. F: Take Hwy. 6 and Hwy. 106 to Flin Flon. Josiah “Flinty” Flintabbatey Flonatin will salute you. G: Drive northeast across Manitoba to Jacam, then double back on Hwy. 280 to Gillam. In 1999 a tow-truck driver spotted a sasquatch outside of this town. H: Head south toward Winnipeg, then cross to Hwy. 8 and head north again to Hecla/ Grindstone Provincial Park (named after a volcano in Iceland). I: Take Hwy. 17 through Kenora and spend the night in Ignace (named after a Native guide). J: Skirt Lake Superior, then follow Hwy. 101 to Timmins. Catch a flight with Air Creebec to Fort Albany. Dip your toe in James Bay. K: Retrieve your car and head south on Hwy. 11. Take the back roads westward from Barrie to Lake Huron and the beach at Kincardine.

L: Head to Toronto, then blast east on the 401 through Montreal to Hwy. 131 and the Laurentian Mountains. M: Double back to Hwy. 40 and drive northeast to Trois Rivières. Take highways 153 and 155 north past La Tuque to the Musée amérindien at Mashteuiatsh on Lac Saint-Jean. N: Follow the Saguenay down along Hwy. 170. Ferry it across the St. Laurent from St-Siméon to Rivière-du-Loup and take Hwy. 185 past St-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! to Notre-Dame-du-Lac. Buy a Roch Voisine CD—his father is mayor. O: Head into New Brunwick on Hwy. 185. Turn off at Grand Falls, passing through Oxbow on your way through the back roads to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. P: Cross over the Fixed Link to Prince Edward Island. Head to the east coast to sunbathe at the Panmure Island beach. Q: Double back across the bridge and head down Hwy. 1 toward Saint John. Detour eastward at Quispamsis to see the Bay of Fundy from the Quaco Head lighthouse. R: Ferry it over to Nova Scotia and drive through the Annapolis Valley then east on Hwy. 12 to the Rainbow Haven Beach Provincial Park. S: Drive north up Hwy. 105 through Cape Breton to North Sydney and hop on the Atlantic Ferry to Port aux Basques. Tour the island on the way to St. John’s. T: Sell the car in St. John’s and buy an adventure

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tour to the Torngat Mountains in Labrador. Flag down an icebreaker from Killiniq and sail across the top of Hudson Bay to Ukkusiksalik National Park. Continue on through the Northwest Passage and pass Victoria Island on your way to Tuktoyaktuk. Wait for winter, then hitch a ride on the ice road to Inuvik and catch another ride along the Dempster Highway to Dawson City. Work in the bars until you save enough money to buy a car. Follow the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse, then take the Alaska Highway to the famous signpost forest at Watson Lake. Drive south on Hwy. 37 then west from Cranberry Junction to Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. Take a photo of the peak of Xhlawit, one of four mountains on which the Nisga’a took refuge from an ancient flood. Take Hwy. 16 from Terrace to Prince George, then follow the Fraser Canyon south to Yale. Introduce yourself to the 200 residents there. Drive back through Vancouver and catch a ferry to Vancouver Island. Take Hwy. 19 north and, just past Woss, turn west onto a gravel logging road to Zeballos. Spend the rest of your money on a salmon-fishing trip or stay a while and spend $185,000 (OBO) on the only place for sale there.

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