Sunday, December 10, 2017

Japanese texiles at the Textile Museum

I had put off this trip for a few weekends, but I decided I really needed to go soon, since my free pass from the library was expiring soon.  So, after breakfast, my son and I set off for the Textile Museum.  (The downside of procrastination was that it was fairly cold out today.)  It had been a while since my last visit, and I forgot which cross street it was on, but eventually I found it.

The more impressive exhibit is the one on Japanese textiles (mostly kimonos in fact).  This exhibit runs about another month.  Not all my photos turned out that well, but these give a bit of a flavour of the exhibit.





Detail of the dragon cloth


It was a brief, but nice visit.  I did pick up one ornament in the gift shop.  (Oddly enough it is made of metal, not fabric...)


We went over to the AGO, which was fairly empty.  We did a very quick pass through the Del Toro exhibit, then saw some of the other galleries.  I was surprised to see that they finally changed the hall off of the main entrance.  It mostly has prints by Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec now, which are interesting, but some of my favourite paintings now seem to be in storage.  I'm glad that they finally have put one smaller room to better use (than the frankly terrible two modern paintings it hosted), though I wonder if perhaps they could have mixed it up a bit more (rather than devoting the entire room to Canadian painters, given that Canadians so dominate the 2nd floor).  We didn't stay too long, but it was still a good visit.  I saw that they did have the Janvier catalog at the gift shop for $40 (and I'd get a 10% members' discount), though that is still a bit more than I want to pay, so I'll keep my eyes out at BMV in another couple of months.

Back home we finally put up the outside Xmas lights.  I was thinking perhaps of putting up the indoor tree, but I think I ought to wait until everyone has gotten over their colds and there aren't as many germs going around the house, so perhaps this Friday (fingers crossed).  I got a bit of work done, but still more to do.  And I did sew together the first three strips of the quilt.


While there is a lot of work left to do on this, I think it may come together a bit faster than the first one, since it does have some areas you can save some time.  Anyway, I'll see how I am feeling about it in another week or two...

Friday, December 8, 2017

New Quilt Project

I'm running probably 2-3 weeks late, but I finally got serious about the second quilt.  This one is going to be for my son.  Fortunately, he will be more understanding if the quilt is not actually delivered on time.  There is a very small chance I will have the top layer completed by Xmas, but then it takes 2-3 weeks for the long-arm quilting to be completed (and maybe even longer, given that many people are trying to complete quilts by the holidays).  But even a January delivery will be fine with him.

I decided that I wanted to do a Trip Around the World quilt.  Inspired by this post, I had a fairly good idea of how to proceed.  However, a different post warned me that if you have directional fabric, then you end up ripping and resewing a lot of squares (as they end up at a 90 degree angle when you sew the strips lengthwise and then rotate).  So I will just cut out that fabric into squares.  While it does mean extra sewing and some extra cutting, I will have to do far less ripping in the second stage of quilt construction.

I went through the fabrics I had available and decided on these 10.  I've cut out the strips, but still need to turn the directional fabrics (4 of them!) into individual squares.  Also, I have not cut out any of the border material (which will be a bit more autumnal, not quite as Christmas-y), but obviously I need to see the final quilt size ends before I cut out any borders.*


Then I used a photo editor to simulate what a Trip Around the World would look like.  This is very raw, but still gives a decent sense of how it should turn out.  (If there isn't actually an app that does this, there should be, and I may work with my son to rig something up.)



The important thing is that there do appear to be enough offsetting light and dark fabrics.  I have a slight preference for putting the yellow deer on blue fabric in the center of the quilt, so I think I will organize it that way.  I am leaning towards swapping the penguin and the blue mitten/hat fabric, though that might entail slightly more work in the short-term, but I think the contrast would be better.  Perhaps I will mock that up tonight just to be sure.

While I am always excited when these projects come together, there is definitely a sense of "what I am I getting myself into?" that sets in a few weeks into a project.  However, I was able to keep pushing through with the previous one and that turned out well.

Edit (12/9): I've put together one more version of what this quilt might look like, and I think I will go with this pattern.


Also, as I was laying out the strips, it actually looks like the strips are not rotated 90 degrees, so that I could just cut them all at once.  Given some of the issues with getting different fabrics to line up (the red dog fabric doesn't even seem to be 40 inches wide), I think I will just line up 3 at a time to sew together length-wise and then do the stub cuts.  This will mean a bit more cutting, but more control.  And definitely less ripping out of any stitching.  My goal is to actually get a few of these strips sewn together this weekend just to see how it goes.

* It looks like these quilts are usually made with 17 strips across and 21 down.  That works out to 357 squares, which is a bit of a waste, since 10 fabrics leaves you with 400 squares.  I'm fairly likely to extend it lengthwise, and 17 x 23 is 391 squares.  Depending on how it looks, I might actually attempt 19 x 23.  This takes 437 squares, generally 4 squares more of each fabric.  I've checked, and I have enough left over of all of the fabrics, though in some cases just barely.  Anyway, I'll lay it out as 17 x 23 first before extending it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Retreat into fiction

There's a lot on my mind these days, but generally it is too political and too angry to want to post on it.  On top of everything else, I might change my mind (which does happen on rare occasions) and I'd regret having it out there.

There have definitely been times when I have been so frustrated by work or a general overall unhappiness about life that I go on long reading jags, pretty much shutting out the rest of the world.  This was particularly the case when I was teaching in Newark.  So much of what I read back then all blurred together, and I don't even remember much of it, which is a shame.  (And apparently 2008-2010, I was in the dumps a lot as well.)  Even posting a line or two about a book helps me set my thoughts in some kind of order.  I'd say that right now, my happiness at work is increasing to some degree but the awfulness of watching what is going on south of here is a real grind.  Still, I'm so glad to be out of it.  I can watch from a distance, but, more importantly, I can tune it all out, since I am only indirectly impacted at the moment by the Cheeto-in-Chief (until he starts a war with North Korea of course).

There are a few more detailed posts I still expect to make (on Isherwood's A Single Man and on Narayan's work), but why don't I go ahead and put down some mini-reports on my reading.  I'll go back a few months a least.

Charlotte Bronte -- Jane Eyre: This was one of the real gaps in my reading.  (When in university I was assigned Wuthering Heights instead.  I'm glad for my 19-year-old self as Jane Eyre is about twice as long.)  The first part of the novel was fairly interesting, but I definitely lost interest when Jane fell so deeply in love with Rochester, who certainly didn't seem such a catch, even before the fire.  I'm glad to finally have read it, but it was a bit of a let-down for me.

I then read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  This was just a bit too experimental for me.  I am not entirely sure I would have even understood it was about Rochester and his first wife if this hadn't been pointed out by others.  I didn't feel it added to my understanding of the situation nor did it work (for me) as a feminist reworking of the Jane Eyre story.  I prefer Rhys's more straight-forward semi-autobiographical accounts of her days in relative poverty in Europe (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, etc.).

Right after I got through those novels, I reread Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  Someone on Goodreads wrote it was about two terrible (or at least deeply selfish) people doing terrible things to each other and then to their offspring.  That sounds about right.  It basically is a Gothic romance, full of deep (and terrible?) emotions.  The novel affected me more as a young adult.  As a more jaded adult, I mostly was thinking how this corner of England seemed like the Ozarks where people didn't seem to realize that there was society down the road and that one didn't have to marry one's neighbors, i.e. there were more options in this wider world.  Even Jane Eyre includes much more travel -- and visitors from elsewhere coming through.  I hadn't remembered that the narrator was quite such a bumbling twit nor that he seemed to want to make a play for the young widow, though fortunately he stepped aside to allow for the nascent romance to blossom and for the presumably happy ending to arrive.

I reread Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and then finally read Pride and Prejudice.  While it may be somewhat heretical, I definitely preferred Sense and Sensibility, in large part because I preferred the secondary characters.*  Emily Bennet's younger sisters are a bunch of annoying simpletons.  Also, for a man who didn't care much for his wife, Mr. Bennet sure had a lot of children, though I suppose they were desperately trying for a male heir.  I generally found the difficulties that the Bennet sisters faced in getting married were more contrived (and thus more easily overcome) than the situation in Sense and Sensibility.

William Trevor -- Nights at the Alexandra.  This is a novella rather than a true novel.  I found it quite unsatisfying, as it basically seemed to be an older man reflecting back on his teen-aged crush on a young married woman, who moved to his village with her German husband.  The strong implication is that his impossible love for her stunted his emotional growth and he never managed to find anyone else in his life who measured up, and thus remained a bachelor all his days.  I'm not saying this never happens, but I found it a fairly shallow story and of no particular interest.

I may end up writing more on Isherwood later, but A Single Man offers up an interesting comparison.  Here the focus is on a "single" man, George (and the novel could be summarized as A Single Day in the Life of a Single Man).  However, the man is involuntarily single.  He was in a long-term homosexual relationship, long before this was accepted by broader society and indeed at a time (1964) when gay sex was illegal in Canada and virtually all U.S. states, including California, where the novel was set.  But he isn't single because his partner left him but rather he died suddenly.  While the narrator seems somewhat emotionally stunted, it could largely be because he is still in emotional shock.  We don't really get a sense of how much he was at his ease while in the relationship, but it seems to have been a happy one.  On the other hand, much is made of the fact that George is an outsider, a British immigrant to California (with all the reserve that implies).  It is interesting to compare the fairly buttoned-down George to the let-it-all-hang-out  Tommy/Wilhelm from Bellow's Seize the Day. To be fair, there was a point (in the past) when George broke down in the company of his friend Charlotte, over the death of his lover, but now George keeps these emotions in check. However, given the rivers of booze that flow through this novel (indicating perhaps Mad Men wasn't so far off the mark) and poor George's liver, there is a bit of suspense over what exactly will come out of his mouth while he is drunk. The novel is actually quite radical in how it describes an older male lusting (privately) after a fair number of younger men he runs across.

Chigozie Obioma -- The Fishermen.  This had a lot of the trappings of a Greek myth, specifically Oedipus Rex, but set in Nigeria, where a prophecy spoken by a madman sets off a series of tragic events for the four elder boys.  I was also reminded a fair bit of The Brothers Karamazov, though in this case, the brothers do not turn on their father, who is only a middling tyrant.

Emmanuel Bove -- A Singular Man. Too long for what it is, sort of a nothing burger. It's about a man, dependent on others for charity most of his life, who marries far above his station, but the happy couple never gets their share of the family fortune. While he is "singular" in that he doesn't really rail against fate or go around begging for help (like the self-indulgent Tommy from Seize the Day), he also does little in the way of work. For instance, he seems to give up a job in advertising without any kind of a back-up plan. I'm kind of allergic to Bove's characters and their way of thinking. (I really detested the main character of A Man Who Knows; here I am more indifferent.) I probably ought to just stop reading Bove.

Another odd novel about a dissolute character who doesn't really want to work is English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee. The main character is a young man who has won a position with IAS, but seems to want to do nothing but laze around all day smoking weed and occasionally reading Marcus Aurelius. There is a lot here about the absurdities of trying to govern India through a civil service that is thoroughly corrupt, but it is still a novel centered on a callow young man, and the narrative/plot doesn't do much to challenge his self-centered view.

I was going to write on a few other novels I have read lately, but I think this is enough for now.  It is late, and I have other things to do.


* That said, Pride and Prejudice has one of the best opening lines I've come across: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Gibson House in North York

On Sat. I took my daughter up to Gibson House, which reflects the period around 1851.  Interestingly, David Gibson was originally a farmer and land surveyor in North York (he actually had a hired hand for most of the farm work and he mostly stayed busy surveying the surrounding territory).  However, he was an associate of William Mackenzie and supported the 1837 Rebellion.  Not only was he forced to flee, but the British forces putting down the rebellion burned down his house!  If my understanding is correct, Mackenzie and his entire family fled to the States and then Mackenzie and his wife and daughters returned after the amnesty.  In Gibson's case, he was the only one who left Canada.  After he was pardoned and returned, he built a second house on the site of the first.  Unlike some of the other museums, only a few items actually belonged to the Gibson family, including a couple of dolls with real human hair.

I've been to North York Centre/Mel Lastman Square a few times, but didn't even realize that the Gibson House was there right to the north.  I'm glad that they didn't wipe it out in an effort to modernize the area.


What was quite different is how few visitors they had.  We were the only ones, so we got a personalized tour.  I don't know if everyone that had planned to visit went during November, when it was free, or if the distance from the downtown core frightens people off, but it is still quite easy to get to.

I had thought the house would be more decked out for Christmas, but apparently "Christmas" wasn't a big thing in the 1850s, particularly for the Scottish immigrants.  Instead, they celebrated Hogmanay, which is a New Year festival.  There were some pine branches hung on the windows and mantles in the parlor and dining room to represent Hogmanay, even though it is a few weeks early for that.

Dining room

While the Gibsons had somewhat simpler style of life than the Mackenzies (probably fewer visitors as well), the house definitely feels more open.*  There were still two children in each bed, however.

Front parlor

David Gibson's office

Boys' bedroom

Girls' bedroom (with original dolls)

Bed in master bedroom

Chest of drawers in master bedroom

On the way out, we stopped in the kitchen again, and they gave us shortbread and mulled cider.  Very nice!  All in all, another very informative trip, and I would definitely come back again at some point.  (However, I would certainly check beforehand to ensure that the TTC isn't suspending service on Line 1, as they will be doing for the upcoming weekend!)

Kitchen corner (with wood for fireplace)

* I don't know if it is a function of Gibson House generally getting fewer visitors (or having fewer original artifacts), but we were able to walk around in the parlor and dining room without any of the typical visitor ropes and could even touch the horsehair sofa, so that was neat.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Making an elephant

Quite a while back, I mentioned how I was cutting up work shirts with the intent of someday using the material for a quilt.  When I cut apart the sleeves, I was a bit surprised to see how much they looked like an elephant (well, maybe an elephant as drawn by the narrator of The Little Prince).  Anyhow, here is one of the pieces of fabric (perhaps appropriately wrinkled).


In this case, the cuffs make reasonably good, if somewhat small, ears.  For the other shirt, they seem even smaller, and I'll probably have to figure out something else.


And here is the cut-out version with one eye stitched in (backwards naturally).


Now I have to sew on the ears and then go around the body of the elephant.  (I'm a bit worried about not leaving enough tail on this elephant.)  While I had tried to think of a way to sew on the tusks beforehand, I think the way that they stick out past the trunk means they'll have to be sewn on last.

The moment of truth comes when you have to invert the entire thing through the hole you leave for stuffing it.  (I think sea stars and even some species of squid can turn themselves inside out at least temporarily, and you get a real appreciation for their ability when you do this.)


I left the hole quite small and then realized that the ears were too big, but eventually I  managed to work them through.  This is how it turned out (and yes the tail area is definitely too short, but otherwise, it came out looking pretty good).


I ironed it a bit, especially the ears, then started stuffing.  I took a break from stuffing and extended the tail and added the tusks.  Then I went back to stuffing.  In the end, I probably used half a bag of the filler.  In some ways this is more like a pillow than a stuffed animal.  Here is the final incarnation of the elephant, though actually I am going to let it settle overnight and then add any last stuffing and seal up the two holes (one in the stomach and one at the end of the trunk).


Sadly, my daughter doesn't really like home-made gifts so I suspect in the long run, I'll either reclaim it or give it to my son, who would appreciate it.  It really was only about a day's worth of work, but I still don't think I want to get into the business of trying to make and sell these.  I have a few too many other things on the go...

Friday, December 1, 2017

VC -- where to start

Just for my own reference, I'll list the top 15 books that I want to tackle off of the Vintage Contemporaries checklist, though I'll actually track them over there.  In some cases, I am selecting them since I have owned them for a long time (Marshall, Naylor), and in other cases these are the first books in series (Exley, Ford).  Often these are books that I came close to buying or checking out from the library in the past, but held off for some reason.  I could easily add another 10 to this list (plus the Vintage Contemporaries book with a neon heart on the cover that I am trying to track down), but the point is to provide some focus and not overwhelm myself with a massive list that just depresses me.  That's what my main reading list is for.  Anyway, these were largely chosen on the basis of perceived literary merit, whereas as I get further down the full checklist, I'll probably start selecting based on the coolest cover (back in the 80s).

Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo
Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo
A Narrow Time by Michael Downing
A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
A Handbook for Visitors From Outer Space by Kathryn Kramer
The Chosen Place, the Timeless People by Paule Marshall
Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
The Bushwhacked Piano by Thomas McGuane
Ransom by Jay McInerney
Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
Clea & Zeus Divorce by Emily Prager
Mohawk by Richard Russo
Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Vintage Contemporaries

As I had threatened to do, I have gone ahead and translated the list of Vintage Contemporaries into a proper checklist.  (This is close to complete, but probably a few have been missed, so feel free to add comments below on anything I overlooked.)  I have only read 10 or 11 of the 92 below (I feel I read Mona Simpson's Anywhere But Here, but can't vouch for that absolutely so will leave it out of the tally).  I'm not doing too much better on actually owning them -- 11 total and only 3 on the Vintage Contemporary brand itself, though I did just order Far Tortuga (and this should be the VC edition).  As in other lists, X stands for having read the book and O stands for owning it, even if in a different edition.

I think at one point I did own McGuane's The Bushwacked Piano, but left it behind in a move.  I'm not going to go out of my way to collect the books in this edition, but I will see about reading a few of them each year and perhaps I will eventually get through this list.

X The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
X Room Temperature by Nicholson Baker*
    Love Always by Ann Beattie
    First Love and Other Sorrows by Harold Brodkey
    Stories in an Almost Classical Mode by Harold Brodkey
    The Debut by Anita Brookner
    Latecorners by Anita Brookner
XO Cathedral by Raymond Carver
    Fires by Raymond Carver
XO What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
XO Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
    Bop by Maxine Chernoff
    I Look Divine by Christopher Coe
    Dancing Bear by James Crumley
    The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
    One to Count Cadence by James Crumley
    The Wrong Case by James Crumley
    The Colorist by Susan Daitch
    The Last Election by Pete Davies
O Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo
XO The Names by Don DeLillo
O Players by Don DeLillo
O Ratner's Star by Don DeLillo
    Running Dog by Don DeLillo
    A Narrow Time by Michael Downing
    The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
    Selected Stories by Andre Dubus
    From Rockaway by Jill Eisenstadt
    Platitudes by Trey Ellis**
X Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson
    Rubicon Beach by Steve Erickson
    A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
    Last Notes from Home by Frederick Exley
    Pages from a Cold Island by Frederick Exley
    A Piece of My Heart by Richard Ford
    Rock Springs by Richard Ford
    The Sportswriter by Richard Ford
    The Ultimate Good Luck by Richard Ford
    Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill
    Fat City by Leonard Gardner
    Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
    Within Normal Limits by Todd Grimson
    Airships by Barry Hannah
    The Cockroaches of Stay More by Donald Harington
    Dancing in the Dark by Janet Hobhouse
    November by Janet Hobhouse
    Saigon, Illinois by Paul Hoover
    Angels by Denis Johnson
    Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson
    The Stars at Noon by Denis Johnson
    Asa, as I Knew Him by Susanna Kaysen
    Lulu Incognito by Raymond Kennedy
X Steps by Jerzy Kosinski
    A Handbook for Visitors From Outer Space by Kathryn Kramer
    The Garden State by Gary Krist
    House of Heroes and Other Stories by Mary LaChapelle
O The Chosen Place, the Timeless People by Paule Marshall
    A Recent Martyr by Valerie Martin
    The Consolation of Nature and Other Stories by Valerie Martin
    The Beginning of Sorrows by David Martin
    Far Tortuga by Peter Matthiessen
    Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
    California Bloodstock by Terry McDonell
    The Bushwhacked Piano by Thomas McGuane
    Nobody's Angel by Thomas McGuane
    Something to Be Desired by Thomas McGuane
X To Skin a Cat by Thomas McGuane
XO Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
    Ransom by Jay McInerney
    Story of My Life by Jay McInerney
O Mama Day by Gloria Naylor
    The All-Girl Football Team by Lewis Nordan
    Welcome to the Arrow-Catcher Fair by Lewis Nordan
    River Dogs by Robert Olmstead
    Soft Water by Robert Olmstead
    Family Resemblances by Lowry Pei
    Norwood by Charles Portis
    Clea & Zeus Divorce by Emily Prager
O A Visit From the Footbinder by Emily Prager
    Mohawk by Richard Russo
    The Risk Pool by Richard Russo
    Rabbit Boss by Thomas Sanchez
    Anywhere But Here by Mona Simpson
    Carnival for the Gods by Gladys Swan
    The Player by Michael Tolkin
    Myra Breckinridge and Myron by Gore Vidal
    The Car Thief by Theodore Weesner
    Breaking and Entering by Joy Williams
    State of Grace by Joy Williams
    Taking Care by Joy Williams
    The Easter Parade by Richard Yates
O Eleven Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates
    Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

* It looks like 1990 is basically the cut-off point when the cover design shifted over to something less standardized.  Baker's 2nd novel (with the paperback edition coming out in 1991) is slightly out-of-sync with the others on this list, but I think I'll leave it on anyway as sort of a transitional cover away from the "De Stijl layout" that Vintage Contemporaries had throughout the 80s.

** This just blew my mind.  Apparently, I not only read this novel, but reviewed it on Amazon in 2009 (giving it only 2 stars).  I was there poking around to see if I could find one or two more books in the VC series from the 80s.  I'm a bit surprised that this completely slipped my mind, as I only have ever reviewed 3 books on Amazon, mostly keeping my reviews to this blog.  I suppose at some point I'll borrow this from the library to see if anything comes back to me, but it seems like I am not missing much (according to my earlier self).

† I ran across this book today, which brings the tally up to 93. This is a particularly odd case as this is the 4th (out of 13!) books Harington wrote about his fictional Ozark community, Stay More. I can't tell if Vintage published any others in the series, but I don't believe so, and certainly none others in the Vintage Contemporaries line. This novel may well be the oddest of the series as part of the book does appear to be written from the cockroaches' point of view.  Gross.

Backing Up

Like most people, I am generally not great about backing up my computer data, though I am actually reasonably good about backing up the creative writing pieces I am working on, as well as the material that I scan (and then shred).  However, the backup in that case usually means it is on two external hard drives and often burned to a data DVD, but I have no effective system for storing and retrieving the data DVDs.  This is something I am working on improving, though probably it will have to be something I pay the kids to help with, since I am a bit overwhelmed with other tasks right now.

I mostly work off of external hard drives, but my Achilles' heel is to leave them running as long as the computer is on, which just puts extra wear and tear on them.  I had actually heard the weird beeping that sometimes presages a hard drive failure and decided it was time to take action.  So I unplugged that drive.  On Monday I went and bought another external hard drive.  I was hoping to score a Black Monday sale, but only the 2T and 4T drives were on sale.  I have a (probably silly) conviction that for long term storage the 1T drives are going to hold up better than the larger ones.  In any event, I bought a 1T drive and brought it home.  I started by backing up photos and the core files I've scanned lately.  Then I backed up the drive I feared was failing.  Naturally, that drive seems fine now.  But it was still worth backing it up.  That put me at pretty close to 550 GB, and I was thinking I probably should have gotten the 2T drive after all. 

Anyway, I have a set of 4 externals that hold older material (mostly old music files and stuff from my dissertation, as well as old work files that I don't really need).  These are completely off-line and usually sit in a desk drawer.  One of the 4 had been failing from time to time, so I thought I would attempt to back that one up before it gave up the ghost for good.  I couldn't simply copy the contents over, as the new drive would be 40 GB or so short.  However, I knew that there was a lot of redundancy with the music files, so I went methodically through the different artists and got rid of the duplicate albums (making sure to keep the ones with the higher bit rates).  It took quite a while, but in the end the entire contents of that drive fit onto the new drive with about 15 GB to spare!  (And it really only crashed a couple of times, so that was reassuring.) 

Finally, I tracked down a few other music files I wanted to back up on yet another hard drive (that doesn't seem to be in immediate danger of failing), though in this case it was mostly about gathering up everything by each artist (more Thelonious Monk for example).  I ended up with only 3GB left over on the 1T drive!  It is currently unplugged, as it has been working overtime these past two days, but later on I'll spend some time delving into music files that I haven't really had access to for at least 6 months to a year or longer.  I really don't know how long it would take to listen to all the music on the drive, but certainly a long time.  I probably don't ever have to buy any music ever again, though I'm sure I will occasionally.  I'm not one of those people who feels music is devalued in this era where virtually everything can be streamed, but it is true I consume and listen to music in a very different way now than when I was younger and mostly heard music on the radio and only occasionally bought cassettes and then CDs from artists that really grabbed me.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Temptation (more books)

I suppose more often then not I am in the same boat with Oscar Wilde, who said* "I can resist anything except temptation."  I should report that I did resist temptation last night, though will likely only be a temporary victory.

I had dropped off a number of books at Robarts and decided to walk along Bloor to Bathurst in order to drop in at BMV.  I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out to see if they get a bunch of the Alex Janvier catalogues.  In any case, they didn't have any (it may be more likely that they start getting them in late Dec. or Jan. as the exhibit at the McMichael winds down).  However, they had a full table of recent NYRB titles, mostly priced at 9 to 10 dollars.  If they had been just a bit cheaper, I probably would have scooped up a whole bunch.  As it is, I fought temptation off.  I was able to get home and verify that I do have Zweig's Beware of Pity already, as well as Kennedy's Ride a Cockhorse.  Also, I checked, and there was a general consensus that the brand new translation of Gogol's Dead Souls isn't quite as amazing as they (NYRB) made out, so that the earlier ones are still the ones to track down.  (As it happens, I have the Reavey translation, and then I did order a cheap edition of the Guerney translation, revised by Fusso.)  That said, I may well go back and get Ti┼íma's The Use of Man and certainly Hamilton's Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky if it is there (I don't think it was).  But I will try not to go back for a few weeks.

I'll almost certainly get Faulkner's Collected Stories on my next visit, though I have decided to just get his Uncollected Stories from the library.  There are a number of Canadian authors that were of interest, but again, I think I can be strong and just get them out of the library.  But I will probably be weak with Elias Canetti's memoirs.  They had the 2nd and 3rd volumes in an attractive paperback edition from Granta for $7 each.  If the first had been there, I would have pounced no matter what, but I'll go check out the other BMV and Book City to see if the first one (The Tongue Set Free) is available, but otherwise, there are a few floating about that aren't too expensive, even with shipping to Canada.

Another book-related area I feel quite weak is around the Vintage Contemporaries series.  I don't even own all that many of them (mostly DeLillo and I think I still have McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City), in some cases replacing them with later editions, as with Raymond Carver, but they still remind me of all the time I spent in used bookstores in the late 80s and early 90s.  (Back then I also had a bit of a "crush" on Bard Avon, since they made a point of bringing out writers from South America, such as Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa and Jorge Amado.)  Vintage (and Avon) paperbacks are still around but only in bookstores that stock the equivalent of the "long tail" of retail.  Here is someone else with a deep appreciation for these books and, in particular, their covers.  I suppose it is just as well that no one has assembled all these books into a single lot and put it up on eBay, as I would probably go ahead and bid on it.  As it is, there are a few stores around that do stock these older editions, and I may make a bit more of an effort to pick some of them up.  But really at the end of the day, I do care more about the book content and not the cover.  I might just go ahead and generate a checklist of the 100 or so books in the Vintage Contemporaries series to see how far I have gotten through them, but definitely not tonight...

* Or rather had a character say (in Lady Windemere's Fan).  I enjoyed that play quite a bit, so I'll keep my eyes open to see if there will be another production in Toronto soon.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mackenzie House

We got a reasonably early start on Sunday, leaving for downtown right after I finished grocery shopping.  The first stop was the holiday windows at the Bay.

I think my favourite was this relatively contained scene of downtown Toronto.


The other windows were bigger, with a large polar bear, as well as this winter scene with a rabbit and a special tree. (This last window was my daughter's favourite.)


Then we went into the Eaton Centre for lunch.  While I hadn't really come out this way to go shopping, we did pick up some leggings at Old Navy.

Then we walked over to Mackenzie House.  This is the last home of William Lyon Mackenzie, publisher, first mayor of Toronto (in 1834) and leader of the 1837 Rebellion (where he tried to establish Ontario as an independent republic!).  He went to the U.S. in exile, only returning in 1850.  The house was actually purchased on his behalf by grateful citizens.

There is a relatively short demonstration of the printing press in a mock-up of Mackenzie's printing house (which was further away) and then a house tour.  Here is a reproduction of the reward for Mackenzie, printed on the press in the back of the museum.  (One thousand pounds was a huge amount of money, more than it cost to purchase the Mackenzie House when first built.)


Since the house is lit to 1860s standards, many of my photos just didn't turn out that well, but here are a few.

Downstairs dining room (and Mackenzie's desk)

Upstairs bedroom (for 3 of Mackenzie's daughters)

Kitchen

We got to try homemade cookies, though we weren't able to stick around for the next batch, which looked quite tasty.  On the whole, it was a good visit, and I learned a fair bit about an important figure in Toronto history.  We were lucky that a streetcar was just pulling up as we got to Dundas.  Then on the way back, we stopped off at the library to get a few more books, so a productive trip, all in all.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Slow Saturday

I intentionally slowed down a fair bit today.  Really my main accomplishment was reading quite a number of R.K. Narayan short stories (just trying to untangle which books to read to avoid too much duplication is itself a bit of an effort) and also another small slice of Chatterjee's English, August: An Indian Story (it's an odd book and I wish it had a different title, as this one makes no sense even after the connection to the main character is established).  I had set out (over a year ago) to draw up a post on Narayan, and I think I am finally about ready to do so, though I want to wait until I read The Guide, which I should get to either in Dec. or Jan.  That will basically take me to the midway point in his oeuvre.

However, I did drop my daughter off at her friend's birthday party.  Then I went to the gym.  This is the first time I've gone since I got sick.  There were a few other times I had considered it, but actually I have managed to keep biking a little longer than anticipated (twice last week and probably twice next week), and I don't go to the gym on days that I bike.  The other time I was going to go, the TTC subway had a total meltdown and I ended up taking the College/Gerrard streetcar, stopping off at the mall and then going over the bridge.  So I wasn't really in the mood to go back over the bridge to go back to the gym.  It wasn't too bad, getting back into the swing of things, but it is clear I will have to make it more of a priority to go in Dec. when I expect to stop cycling to work.

I had contemplated heading up to the library, but I decided I didn't really need to go.  There is a chance I might stop in on the way back from downtown tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be a bit busier.  We're going to take a look at the holiday windows at the Bay (but not shop there, as I am still boycotting them).  We'll probably have lunch at the Eaton Centre, then walk over to Mackenzie House and check it out.  Then I'll bring everyone home, try to get a bit more done (probably finish up my second abstract for the TRB Innovations conference) and then go off to Toronto Cold Reads, since they are doing my 3Fest pieces.  Finally!  And that will take care of Sunday.

There are a few other outstanding tasks (like dealing with insurance and asking the bank to fix something about my on-line profile), but these can wait for next week.  I should probably double-check that no bills are due this weekend.  Also, I did buy a piece of lumber to try to fix the gate.  If it gets too cold to do it next weekend (as this one is probably a write-off), it will have to wait until the spring.  My biggest disappointment is that I didn't do too much writing this weekend, though I did a fair bit earlier in the week, so I shouldn't be too hard on myself.  No point in getting a complex over it...

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Deadlines

Like a lot of people who take on a few too many obligations, I tend to organize my efforts around meeting deadlines (and/or responding to pressing requests from people above me in the organization).  That said, for things that are a bit tangential (like creative writing), it is much easier to forget about the deadlines all together.  I missed a whole bunch of deadlines for literary magazines (though I really haven't been preparing material for them either).  I did manage to enter the Toronto Star short story competition twice, but that's about it.

I already mentioned how gutted I was to just miss the Fringe lottery deadline (by 2 days I think).  But I did manage to get my 10 minute play submitted to the inspiraTO festival a few days early.  My 3Fest piece is going up this Sunday, and the organizer wanted some rewrites.  I got them in yesterday, just in case they still want a few more touch ups, but that's done.  And I just sent in a piece for the Dec. 4 Sing-for-your-Supper.  That's almost a week early, though I might send in one more piece if I can finish it up in time.  Meeting all these deadlines at least partly makes up for missing the others, though the Fringe still stings.

Tonight I need to take a bit of a break, but then I want to work on a short and a long abstract for TRB Innovations.  The deadline is Nov. 30, so I have a bit more time, but not so much that I can put them on the back burner.  If I don't get through them over the weekend, then it probably won't happen.  It is unfortunate that I have really been pushing to get transportation data from various agencies, and it has been like pulling teeth (and I still don't have it all in hand), but I should be able to write up the abstracts as if I knew what the findings were.  I guess this is a fairly standard trick, but I'm pretty good at it.  Anyway, this is probably the last major external deadline I have to deal with for the moment.

The Very Long Day

While I really didn't want to go, my manager requested that I go off to a meeting in Brampton Wed. morning.  It meant getting out to Yorkdale and then catching the 36B Go Bus to Bramalea Terminal and then walking to the actual meeting location in Chinguacousy Park.  I had to leave the house at about 7:20, which is very early for me.  I made it to the park a bit early, though it was too cold to really enjoy it.



Because I had an early afternoon meeting, I really needed to get back to the Bramalea GO Station to catch the 12:16 train.  I asked around and really no one was heading back there directly, but one planner thought she could drop me off on the way back.  So I was watching the clock quite intently.  At about halfway through, we were 10 minutes ahead of schedule, and then things went disastrously off-track.  And the meeting organizer added an unscheduled 5 minute break (that quickly devolved into 10).  In the end, the meeting went until 12:15.  I was fairly pissed.  I decided that since Brampton taxis are rumoured to be fairly poor, it just wasn't worth trying to order one and have it show up in the park.

Instead, I went with the planner all the way to Islington station, but then this was a much longer and definitely slower trip.  I didn't get back to the office until 1:50 (instead of 1) and I totally missed my next meeting.  All I can say is I will object much more strongly the next time I am expected to go to one of these meetings in a location that isn't actually served by transit.  Then the next two meetings (after the missed meeting) went long, which ruined my lunch and put me in a fairly foul mood for the rest of the work day.

Ideally, I would have just gone home and slept, but I had tickets to see 54-40 at the Horseshoe Tavern.  I went over on the Spadina streetcar, which got hung up for quite a while at the foot of Spadina.  Then I had so much trouble finding anything to eat.  The first pizza place didn't have any vegetarian slices ready.  The second did have some vegan slices, which really isn't my thing.  Plus, there was a persistent fly that managed to land on several slices of pizza, and I just couldn't imaging eating anything from that pizza place.  Then Subway didn't have any veggie patties, only falafel.  While I often like falafel, I don't want to eat it at Subway.  I finally found something decent on my fourth try.


Then I went over to the Horseshoe fairly early.  I did get a seat towards the back, which wasn't a problem for the opening act (Joydrop*), but during the headliner, many people stood up, but I just wasn't willing to, so I generally could only see glimpses of the band (mostly the lead singer).  I guess one good thing about the crowd being old was about 4 or 5 songs into the set, people got tired and eventually mostly did sit down.  I was pretty unhappy about 54-40 not actually starting until 10:45!  They opened with "Blame Your Parents," which is one of my favourite songs, but one that they are only singing sporadically on the tour.  Unfortunately, the lead singer kind of started a bit weak (or maybe they just doesn't practice this as much), but the band definitely got stronger as the set progressed.  This set-list seems fairly accurate.  They finally wrapped at just after midnight with a strong version of "Since When" and then the band led two sing-alongs: "Casual Viewin'" and "Ocean Pearl."  I was so exhausted I skipped the encore (most likely incorporating "I Go Blind"), but I just needed to get home.  I'm actually supposed to be out doing something tomorrow evening as well, but I may just have to skip it.

* I did manage to track down Joydrop's 2 albums, though I am not particularly familiar with the band.  I'll probably have to listen to them again to try to reconstruct their set, but I know they played "American Dreamgirl," "Beautiful" and "All Too Well" (probably the best song in their set) though in very different versions from the albums.  They also played a cover of Bowie's "Suffragette City."  I was surprised that someone in the audience seemed to know their material well.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Spadina Museum

I may have mentioned it previously, but throughout the month of November, the core Toronto Historic Museums have free admittance.  This includes Fort York and Spadina Museum.  The full list is here.  I had been in the museum at least once before and perhaps twice, but it had been a long time.  My daughter is generally interested in interior decorating and wanted to see it, so we set off right after lunch.



We managed to get inside just a few minutes after 1, and the guided tour hadn't quite left yet, so we joined that.  That was a stroke of luck, since it was 45 minutes until the next tour (you can't see the inside of the house except on a tour).  What's particularly interesting about this house is that four generations of one family lived in it from roughly 1866-1982 and all the furnishings are original (with the flooring, wallpaper and curtains reproduced from original samples).  The house is basically presented as it would have looked in the 1920s, which was a high point for the Austin family.






It was an interesting tour, and I will probably retain more from this visit than my previous ones.

There is only one weekend left to visit the historic museums, not that the full entrance fees are that high (and often the libraries have free passes).  I think next Sunday we will go first to Mackenzie House (which is not that far from the Eaton Centre and opens at noon) and then up to Gibson House in North York (which doesn't open until 1).  Apparently there is a working printing press at Mackenzie House (as Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie was a publisher).  And Gibson House should be decked out in Christmas finery, so that would be nice.  However, I have just looked it up, and there is going to be a subway closure on Line 1 next weekend.  The replacement shuttles were just such a pain that I think I'll have to pass on going up to North York (in particular I don't think my daughter could handle it).  So we might go the following weekend and just pay the entrance fee (and of course I'll try to score the free pass from the library).  I suppose there is a small chance we would try to go out to Etobicoke to see Montgomery's Inn after Mackenzie House, but that is probably just too much travel for one day, and I'll also have to see what the weather is like.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 11th review - The Street

Mordecai Richler's The Street is a slim volume recounting Richler's adolescent years, growing up on St. Urbain in Montreal at the tail end of the Depression and during WWII.  It is an unusual book, in the sense that it mixes memoir and fiction, so for example he talks about the other Jewish kids he grew up with and he includes Duddy Kravitz, a fictional character.  Duddy Kravitz turns up in 3 or 4 of the 10 chapters of The Street, but he isn't nearly as overwhelming a presence as he is in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.  Here he is a bit more worldly than the young Mordecai (having a better understanding of sex and how babies are made) and toward the end of the book, Duddy starts the first of his many money-making schemes, installing peanut vending machines at key corners of the neighbourhood, but he is still basically just another average kid.  It is interesting how Richler describes himself and his friends as juvenile delinquents (not so different from the childhood memories of John Fante but with the critical difference that the Jewish kids are seen mouthing off to weak-willed adults).  Maybe it is a testament to natural ability that many of Richler's friends made something of their lives, even after skipping school regularly and rejecting the path to medicine or the law that their parents wanted.  (Only Hersh who is the main character of St. Urbain's Horseman -- and is probably the Hershey mentioned in The Street -- seems particularly bookish.)

Richler paints a fairly discouraging picture of life in this neighbourhood, where the kids hang out on street corners and harass and cat-call girls and young women.  The store owners all seem to be in a running battle with each other.  There is a lot of the kvetching that is almost obligatory in Jewish fiction.  Virtually every bit of national and international news is parsed to see if it is good for the Jews or not.  (There are a few flashes of this kind of logic in Arthur Miller's Broken Glass, which is set in Brooklyn right after Krystallnacht (1938), which was terrible for the Jews directly and indirectly in the sense that it might inspire anti-Semitic acts in North America.)  What makes this fairly different from Hugh MacLennan is that MacLennan only focuses on the French Canadians in conflict with Anglophones in Montreal, whereas Richler sees Jews and the French (called "pea-soups" by the boys) all under the thumb of the rich Anglophones.  At the same time, the French Canadians are able to set up resorts for themselves and claim territory as reserved for "Gentiles only," which was not an option for the Jews of Montreal.  Richler doesn't necessarily want to make apologies for the dirty tricks that his friends get up to, but he is exploring what happens to kids who feel shut out of the system by two or more layers of discrimination.  (Fighting against or at least reacting to discrimination of various kinds is also a common theme in much of Fante's work.)

It probably doesn't matter too much what is true memoir and what is a somewhat embellished tale told to make his point about what growing up in Montreal was like just before, during and after WWII.  Some of the families on the street suffer when their sons come home wounded (and one with such severe PTSD that he never fully recovers) and of course some do not return at all from the front.  Probably the most important sociological point Richler makes is that the war is actually quite good for many of the families and they are able to buy their way into Outremont (and ultimately better schools for the next generation of children).  Of course, it was not clear at that point in time whether Jews would become fully accepted into Canadian society, but at least some of the overt racism was fading away.  (Obviously one of the great ironies is that the rise of Francophone political power (and culture) in Quebec returns Jews to their outsider status in the late 1960s after they had made considerable inroads into joining Montreal's elite.  Many Jews ultimately felt more comfortable (and that assimilation was more feasible) in Toronto, and only the "bloody-minded" hung on in Montreal, like Barney Panofsky from Barney's Version.)

One of the more amusing (though still melancholy) stories is about a writer who rents the back bedroom from Richler's parents.  In the beginning, only Richler's mother has much time for this artist, but after he gets in print in a middlebrow magazine, the father gets interested (and a young lady down the block starts giving the writer the time of day).  However, the writer is not able to sell his novel (at least he actually finishes one, unlike so many self-proclaimed writers) and he finally tells everyone he has a job offer from Hollywood, but actually slinks off back to Toronto. I thought this was an interesting book, though overall it is a minor work, mostly useful in filling in some of the gaps between The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and St. Urbain's Horseman.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Writing and rewriting

I am in the middle of a fair number of edit jobs.  Today I finished tightening up Double Sabbatical and entered it into a 10-minute play competition here in Toronto.  That's fairly exciting, and I am particularly gratified that I am a few days early.  I should hear back by mid-to-late December if it is accepted into the festival.  That would be awesome.  I think it's actually a solid piece and it lines up well with the festival theme, so fingers crossed.

I have four notes that I need to address on my 3Fest piece (the one I started) and I should be able to get to them by Saturday or Sunday.  I believe these will go up on the 26th, so that's very exciting.  I will admit that I am starting to scale back my involvement with Toronto Cold Reads, but I'm sure there will always be a bit of a connection there.

I have another interesting opportunity, but I really don't want to jinx it by saying too much too soon.  But in the meantime, I need to push through to get a first draft of (and a better ending for) "Final Exam."  I might be able to spend a fair bit of time on this on Sunday, especially as I am skipping Toronto Cold Reads.

The last couple of times I was at Cold Reads, however, I wrote out five or so pages of the last scene of "Straying South."  I am kind of on a roll here.  I think I should be able to finish that scene and loop back and fill in a couple more of the missing ones.  My goal is to wrap this up by the end of November.

However, I may still get distracted by writing out two pieces for Sing-for-Your-Supper.  One is a straight-up parody of plays that have played Toronto recently (including Albee's The Goat and Annie Baker's John).  The other is more of a homage to Beckett's Waiting for Godot.  Those also have to be turned in towards the end of November.  Anyway, it is exciting, even if a bit of a strain to have so many things on the go at once.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Firefox has gone too far

I've generally been unhappy with how often I have to update Flash or perhaps it is the underlying Java.  Anyway, there are just a few websites that make it all but impossible to stream music except through FlashPlayer, including Hoopla and the BBC Radio sites.  Since they won't move with the times, I really don't have any option either.

I knew I was living on borrowed time with the various Firefox updates, but I really don't care for the changes that were introduced with version 58 today (or perhaps yesterday).  The legacy ePub Reader finally conked out completely (and I can't stand the new verson).  There are a few other things as well that trouble me about this upgrade.  So I have decided to roll back to an older version and disable the automatic updates.  I suppose there will come a day that I decide I just must upgrade and deal with all the other extensions that no longer work, but that day is not today...

Monday, November 13, 2017

McMichael Sunday

We're back from our trip to the McMichael.  It was fun, though I do wish I had felt better the past two Sundays and had been able to take the art bus, since I could have used the time to read instead of driving.  It would have been vastly less stressful and considerably cheaper, though I suppose there is some utility in not just forgetting how to drive around Toronto.  Anyway, I'll definitely keep an eye out to see if the art bus runs next summer and early fall.

We made fairly good time, leaving at 10:30 and arriving about 11:20.  There was one hairy moment trying to make the move from the 401 to the 400 N where people wouldn't let me get over, but I managed more or less at the last minute to cut across.  (Also, I couldn't believe that the ZipCar didn't have a CD player at all, which made the ride less enjoyable.)

I had hoped that some trees would still have their autumn leafs out, but the cold snap Friday and Saturday pretty much took care of all them.  I guess there is a certain austere beauty to winter (and you can even see a dusting of snow in some photos), but again two weekends ago would have been nicer for sure.




Inside looking out

One thing that was a little disconcerting was how much of the Group of Seven was not on display.  The main entrance normally is a mix of the Group of Seven artists, but this time it was only Tom Thomson and Joyce Weiland.  While she apparently was inspired by him, the pairing doesn't make a lot of sense and her largely conceptual art truly suffers in comparison to Thomson's.  Here for instance is her piece The Arctic Belongs to Itself.


In contrast, here are a couple of Thomson's smaller pieces.



Also, the space given to this exhibit meant that most of the actual Group of Seven paintings were off in storage.  I haven't seen my favourite Varley painting of the night ferry from Vancouver in about 2 years.  (Actually most of their masterworks are no longer on display, which is frustrating.)

The next exhibit, Cutting Ice, had some charm but just didn't feel like there was a lot of craft behind the pieces (mostly by Annie Pootoogook).  They did focus a bit on the routine and were generally domestic scenes.

Annie Pootoogook, Dr. Phil, 2006

Annie Pootoogook, Morning Routine, 2003

They aren't the same (as they are simpler and reflect a less cluttered world), but I had just a bit of a flashback to this Kurelek piece about a bachelor (at the AGO).


The next two rooms had guitars inspired by the Group of Seven.  I have to admit, I was somewhat regretting the trip out, but then we went into the Alex Janvier exhibit.  Apparently this was originally at the National Gallery, but it has transferred to the McMichael (maybe losing just a few of the paintings) and it will run through Jan. 21.

I was really gripped by these pieces, as it is such an interesting combination of abstract form and First Nations imagery.  In the end, it was definitely worth the trip to see this exhibit, and I would encourage people to check it out.

This piece is Janvier's homage to Daphne Odjig.



This one was really interesting in person, as there is a reasonably accomplished abstract expressionist painting but then it is covered with thin lines out of the op art toolbox, and the focus keeps shifting.  I don't ever recall seeing a painting work in precisely this way, and it was kind of an exciting discovery.



These were among our favourites, but there were many excellent paintings on view.  I checked out the catalog, but it was just a bit too pricey ($40).  Given that quite a few seem to have been printed up, I'll keep my eyes open at BMV and Book City.  I should be able to pick one up in the next few months for $25 or less, but in the meantime, I can check one out of the library to study these paintings a bit better.