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Death of a Fisherman

Everybody who fly-fished the river knew him. His old pick-up with camper would be parked at the side of the road and John would be inside waiting for the evening hatch. He was always happy to have a visitor, to chat for a while before he started fishing. There would usually be dodgy coffee, made with river water.

John was an old school fly fisherman – he loved his long bamboo rods and his tiny wet flies. He’d tell you the right way to fish, even if you didn’t ask.

The camper truck won’t be parked by the river any more. John passed recently, at a trout stream of course. Last evening the usual cranks who haunt The River got together streamside, along with John’s daughter, to see him off. It was a lovely evening and a fitting tribute.

Tight lines John P. RIP.

 

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The Parcel by Anosh Irani

I came to read this book through an unlikely coincidence. I was walking to a restaurant to meet up with some folks I worked with before my retirement from the workaday world. I was a little early, and along my walk came across a “fiercely independent bookstore”. How could I not stop in? I walked into the store and my eyes immediately fell upon a book called The Parcel. I was on my way to meet up with one current and two former Canada Post employees. It seemed to me that reading a book called The Parcel was just right.

I bought the book without knowing a thing about it, and continued on my way to see my friends. I didn’t know what to expect from the book but I never could have expected the book I came to read. The term “parcel” was used to describe a young girl sold into sex slavery. The book told the story of Madhu, who was a “hijra” – a eunuch in Mumbai’s Kamathipura red light district. Madhu was as beggar and a former prostitute. She also had a role in preparing children for sex slavery.

This book is very difficult to read. Irani takes us into the mind of Madhu, and ventures into her past (we learn that as a hijra, the “third sex”, Madhu was “he” prior to castration and “she” after), and as ugly and sad as her world is, she and her life are presented with great compassion.

This is a book I likely would not have chosen to read, had I paid any attention to what it was about, instead of buying it on impulse based on happenstance. I’m glad I read it though. It is a very unusual novel, a compelling, fascinating and horrifying read all at once.

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Victory or Death

How many bullets do you need to make a good David and Goliath flick? If the evil guy who is oppressing the poor but unskilled villagers is really, really, supremely nasty, you  need truckloads of bullets. Explosives too. I’m talking about the current remake of the 1960 western, The Magnificent Seven – which was the Hollywood version of Akira Kurosawa’s wonderful 1954 flick, Seven Samurai.

This is a year for the David and Goliath movie. We recently watched Hell or High Water, about two brothers who rob the big bad bank in order to pay back the loan and save the farm. There many people these days who feel oppressed by the “one percent” and want to fight back someway, somehow. Magnificent Seven reflects that feeling of helplessness and frustration, a feeling the only choice is to fight.

The villagers seek help, enlisting the toughest, baddest dudes around. They’re killers all, but killers with a code of honour, a motley crew of bad-assess, each with his own reason for being there, each with his own flaws, his own quirky personality.

The message here is that fighting the evil oppressor takes everything you’ve got, every bit of preparation, the element of surprise, an all or nothing strategy, plenty of bullets and explosives, a lot of heart and a willingness to take a stand and die for it.

“I seek righteousness – but I’ll take revenge.”

The first Magnificent Seven suffered from the larger than life personalities of the actors, which got in the way of the story. I felt I was watching not the characters but Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach and so on. Sure, the remake has a collection of well-known celebrities too, including Denzel on a horse, but watching it, I wasn’t so caught up in the egos of the actors. It’s quite a diverse bunch this time around, and I like that. I would have liked to see more character development, but that would have got in the way of the violence, gunfire and explosions.

We left the theater reeling from the onslaught of battle. The violence happened so fast and so relentlessly it was impossible to process any individual bits of action. It was overwhelming. I guess that’s the point. Revolution is overwhelming.

 

 

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Nick Badyk RIP

This morning we attended funeral service for Nick Badyk. When we moved to Twenty Seventh Street, Nick was our neighbour to the south. You might call him an elder in the Long Branch community – he lived in that modest bungalow for 70 years. He moved here when Long Branch was cottage country for Toronto. When Nick moved to the street, his was among the first of the houses around, and Twenty Seventh Street was a dirt road. I remember Nick telling us when he moved in he could lock his arms around what is now a giant silver maple in the front yard.

I learned today Nick paid for the house with winnings from a poker game. I love that! Nick’s house is gone now, replaced by a huge new home under construction next door, but the memories and the history are still with us.

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Nick was a machinist. When we moved next door, he was already long retired. Nick loved nature and he loved fishing. His friend Art used to come by and off they would go to their special places. At the funeral home, they had Nick’s fishin’ rod leaning up against the casket.

Nick was a very independent fellow. He didn’t want us neighbours cutting his lawn. A little help with snow shoveling, however, was acceptable.

Nick was a good man, a good neighbour, and our friend. We miss him. I’m glad we had a chance to see Nick’s family again today, and celebrate his life with them.

RIP Nick.

 

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John Bentley Mays RIP

Back in the day there was always John Bentley Mays reviewing art in the Globe. I read his reviews regularly – it seems to me I disagreed with him on a regular basis – but I have to hand it to the guy, he was out there looking at exhibitions and writing about them. We need more people like that. Here’s his obit in the Globe. RIP Mr. Mays.

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From the Enchanted Mushroom Forest to the Comfort Food Diner

Tuffy P and I loaded up the Newfs and drove up to a forest we know, not too far north of the City. My brother the trout, Salvelinas fontinalis, introduced us to this place, and it’s turned out to be a reliable spot to look for certain edible mushrooms. Our primary goal today was to do some drawing and painting in the forest. IMG_6520.jpg

There are plenty of challenges involved with working in the landscape. You can see one of them in the photo above. The forest canopy adds an always changing network of shadows to the drawing surface.

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The temperature was perfect, though, and the bugs were moderate (they seem to be more attracted to Tuffy P than to me). If anyone is interested in my forest (and garden) drawings by the way, they’re available via yumart.

Of course, while out in the woods I took the opportunity, with my Newfie dog assistants, to look around for tasty edible mushrooms.

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Lobsters!

I found about a dozen Hypomyces lactifluorum – the so-called lobster mushrooms. I also found about half a dozen small but perfect Hydnum repandum – toothed mushrooms we call hedgehogs. I consider both to be among the choicest mushrooms I collect each season. Most years I start finding lobsters at some point in July. August is usually best and then they decrease into September. This season I found a couple lobsters earlier this month and nothing at all before that, and today’s finds were the first hedgehogs of the season for me. Most of the mushrooms in this area are to be found in a fairly small chunk of the larger forest, and so I collected what mushrooms were available in 20 minutes or so.

Before leaving home for the forest, I fired up our charcoal bbq and fire-roasted a good bunch of plum tomatoes in anticipation of a pasta dinner after drawing. I was pretty happy that I’d be able to enhance the pasta with some wild mushrooms.

I used all the hedgehogs for the pasta and a handful of lobsters as well. My pasta sauce also included some fresh garlic, fennel, a red pepper and loads of fresh basil (2 varieties), oregano, thyme and parsley. I used tortiglioni pasta. I tightened up the sauce with a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano after cooking and drizzled on some super-delicious Salah’s Gold olive oil.

An awesome day all around.

 

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An unusual visitor

The doorbell rang and I headed to the front door to answer it with the dogs at my heels. We weren’t expecting anyone. It might have been the folks from the local Kingdom Hall again, or perhaps the fellow who goes door to door aerating lawns, or maybe yet another real estate agent who has come to tell me he or she has an interested buyer for our home – but it wasn’t.

Instead it was a fellow who introduced himself as a writer and an adventurer who has come from Newfoundland to carry on what he claimed was a Newfoundland tradition, flogging his books door to door. My first thought was that he might have just come from Newfoundland but he wasn’t from Newfoundland. He put the accent on the first syllable, but everyone I’ve met from the Rock has told me it’s NewfoundLAND, underSTAND? He accent seemed like it was from England somewhere. I wasn’t exactly buying the idea that selling books door to door was a Newfoundland tradition either. I just said, “you’re a writer?”

He asked, “can I flog my book?…can I tell you about it?” He went on to say it was about his adventures traveling in Labrador. By this time, Tuffy P was also at the door. He showed us a laminated sheet of newspaper clippings. This was all ringing a bell. I was sure I had in fact seen articles about him or perhaps television clips about his travels.

We did the only reasonable thing. We invited him in and offered him a lemon square (Tuffy had just bought some at More Than Pies down on Lakeshore), and we chatted a bit. His name is Bernie Howgate, as it turned out. We bought his book, Journey through Labrador, which he signed for us. He’s quite a character. He writes about his own adventures, self-publishes and goes around selling his books door-to-door. Now that’s a man with an independent spirit!

I hope the lemon square gave Bernie a bit of a burst of energy and I hope some other Long Branchers bought his books as well. He’s been a travel writer and adventurer for a long time now. The life he’s chosen is of his own making, and he hustles selling his books. Who ever heard of someone “flogging books”, as he put it, door to door? I’m sure he’s experienced some amazing highs and lows and some hard winters along the way.  I’m glad we had a chance to chat with him, and I’m looking forward to reading Journey through Labrador.

Has Bernie ever knocked on your door?

As a side note, after meeting Bernie, I found myself thinking of another fellow who used to self-publish and sell his books in an unusual way – by setting up on the streets of Toronto. If you’re my age and you lived in Toronto in the 80s and the first half of the 90s, you’ve likely had an encounter or two with the late Crad Kilodney. Somewhere around the house Tuffy P has a rare cassette tape Kilodney gave her one day while he was out hawking his books. He taped many of his encounters with the public. Kilodney was quite a curiosity. In some point in the late 80s, he submitted a number of stories by famous Canadian authors under different, sometimes absurd names, to the CBC literary competition. Of course the jury screened them all out.

I have a lot of respect for people with independent spirits, folks who don’t fit the mold and instead – against all odds – offer up their unique visions of the world to the community at large, people who push the workaday world aside and forge their own path.

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This evening at the Comfort Food Diner

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Home-made mac & cheese

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Rapini with garlic and bacon

Home-made mac & cheese might be the ultimate comfort food. I spice mine up a little with smoked papikra and hot mustard powder, and make a little crunchy topping with panko bread crumbs, butter and some good Parmesan cheese roughly grated. It’s easy to make. There are a squillion recipes online. The only danger is not having enough sauce for the amount of pasta, as that will result in a dry dish. Today’s batch was cheesy-fantastic.

We picked up the rapini at a veggie stand on the way back from our trip to McMichael Canadian Collection this afternoon. I cooked it up in a wok with some chopped up bacon and plenty of garlic. Perfect with the mac & cheese.

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Tom Thomson’s Shack, Jack Bush socks and an excellent exhibition by Coleen Heslin

We ventured up to Kleinburg today for a visit to the McMichael Canadian Collection. This is their 50th year. I can remember my first time there as a child on a school trip. As a boy I learned it was OK to make expressive paintings and to value the landscape as a subject. More importantly though, McMichael gave me a taste for painting, an activity I’m still actively engaged with all these years later.

For a long time I didn’t visit McMichael  but I have to say on the last two or three trips up there, we have been greeted by excellent, beautifully put together exhibitions that have made the trip well worthwhile. Today was no exception.

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Tuffy P at the Tom Thomson Shack

The McMichaels (both gone now) were obsessed with The Group. A.Y. Jackson lived on-site in his latter years. Members of the The Group are buried up there. They even reconstructed the Tom Thomson Shack, the rough and tumble building Tom Thomson lived in during his last couple years on the planet. The blurb accompanying the shack informs us it is one of Canada’s most iconic buildings. It really says that.

All my life I’ve been hearing how wonderful Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven are and part of that has been enhanced by McMichael myth-making. When I was in university, Ron Bloore, then my painting teacher, joked “Canadians paint by numbers”, referring to the Group of Seven, the Painters Eleven and the group that wasn’t really a group (of which Bloore was a part), the Regina Five. Still, looking at the small Tom Thomson sketches in the gallery today, along with a number of works by Jackson and MacDonald and Lismer in particular, I was impressed at how many of them still stand up all these years later. The small Thomsons in particular are really great little paintings. I could go back and look at them over and over again and not get bored.

Of course today the Group of Seven attention is all on Lawren Harris, because of the exhibition on at the Art Gallery of Ontario for another few days – The Idea of North – curated by banjo picker, actor, comedian Steve Martin. That’s an exhibition I’ve been meaning to get down to see, but unfortunately I’m running out of time. In any case, Harris is not my favourite of the Group.

There were a few exhibitions on at the gallery today, but I’m going to focus on two of them. One is an exhibition featuring the work of Jack Bush. Bush has historical importance as a Canadian abstract painter highly influenced by the American critic Clement Greenberg and the “post-painterly abstractionists” or “color-field” painters or whatever you want to call them.

I’ve never found the works of Jack Bush all that compelling but I was interested in seeing a group of them together with fresh eyes. I liked that they were big and bold and colourful and held the courage of their convictions. I appreciate the historical context. No doubt Bush, along with a number of his contemporaries broke down a lot of barriers in Canadian art. Still, only a couple of the paintings really sang to me.

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Jack Bush socks

Bush is a big name in Canada, though, and clearly a revenue-generator for the gallery. The gift shoppe had an assortment of Jack Bush paraphenalia, including – and I included a photo because I just know you’re going to think I’m funning you – Jack Bush socks. They’re for those days when you really feel like keeping old Jack with you all day long. Available mocking several different paintings.

In the gallery next to the Bush works is an exhibition by Colleen Heslin, unaccompanied by any tchotchkies, items of clothing or other support material in the gift shoppe. I think the timing was good because there is a pretty clear connection between what she is doing and the work Bush and his fellow “color-field” painters, or perhaps I should say she references that niche in painting history. Here’s what it says on the gallery website:

Colleen Heslin’s paintings resonate with the tension of material and gestural complexity. The artist hand-dyes cotton and linen in small batches, and hangs them to dry, which develops residual surface textures. The stained fabric is then cut and pieced together – similar to quilt-making construction. Colour is in constant dialogue; the pure simplicity of isolated colour is central to every painting. Considering formal abstraction and craft-based methods of mark making, Heslin’s work thoroughly explores colour, shape, and texture, while acknowledging the histories of photography and textiles, and finding connections with the Colour Field painters of the 1960s and 1970s. Aspects of her process – specifically dyeing and sewing – are also inextricably linked to domestic labour, feminism, and craft.

These paintings do not immediately reveal how they are made or what they are about, yet each advocates for close and sustained reading. The work seeks the space of open interpretation, positioned between the unfamiliar and the familiar. Chromatic expanses and complex shapes play off each other to create paintings that are narratively ambiguous, yet intensely evocative and poignant.

The exhibition was riveting – and generous. Ms. Heslin has been busy in the studio making many new works. She has created an unusual and personal surface quality with her work – I want to say paintings, but they challenge that category. They refer to painting but are they paintings, exactly? Her compositions are spot-on. Her colours are at the same time subtle and powerful. When you look at them, you see evidence of the process. There are apparently  accidental or residual marks on the fabric in some of the works, and and at times also complex forms derived from the dying process.

Curiously, I don’t think Heslin’s work could exist without the work of the painters her work refers to, and yet it is absolutely contemporary. This is the first time we’ve seen her work. It was a big show and there was a lot to take in, but at first visit we were quite impressed with what this artist is up to. I look forward to seeing more in the future. It’s well worth a trip up to Kleinberg for this exhibition alone.

On the strength of the yet another positive experience at McMichael we became gallery members today. We also stayed for an excellent lunch at the Gallery restaurant.

 

 

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Fair Grounds Open Mic coming up Monday

The next open mic at Fair Grounds – an excellent local coffee joint here in Long Branch – is Monday starting at 7:00 – 10:00 pm. I plan to bring a banjo on down and frail a few tunes. This is a low-key, friendly open mic – a very comfortable environment to play some music.