Lakeshore

1.
—  The first glasses I chose to paint were from my kitchen cupboard. They are the sort of water glasses one might find in a family restaurant anywhere in North America. I filched many of them from cafeterias in my student days: this is the reason why I have only one or two examples of any particular glass. The only exception is a set of six Duralex glasses that I took some years ago from the Palais de la Femme, a Salvation Army cafeteria in a women’s hostel in Paris. After about twenty paintings of water glasses, I ran out of motifs, and went in search of new glasses in keeping with the style of the glasses in my cupboard. I went to several restaurant supply stores (I am a reformed thief) but the new restaurant glassware didn’t meet with my idea of what the proportions of a water glass ought to be. I then went to a Salvation Army thrift store and found an abundance of exactly what I was looking for; the glasses were in pairs, and paralleled the era and design of my own glasses.

 

2.
—  Every night after supper, I walk down to Lago di San Giustina for a swim; the lake is artificial, created by the construction of a dam. It is about a half-hour walk from the town to the lake down a steep incline through intensively planted, terraced apple orchards where three kinds of apples grow: golden delicious, red delicious, and canadians. Over the past forty years, the cultivation of these apples has brought considerable wealth to the region, as well as an end to impoverished subsistence farming. The orchards are regularly sprayed with insecticides and although this treatment controls the insects, it has far-reaching implications for the wildlife — there are, no longer many birds or snakes. On alternating nights, the orchards are watered by a sprinkler system that shoots water high above the trees. There is never anyone else swimming in the lake.

 

3.
—  My fourth-floor studio on Sorauren Avenue was typical of studios in the late 70s and early 80s. The building had high ceilings, large oak beams and maple floors and had recently undergone a cheap conversion from candy factory to bare workspaces with un-insulated drywall separating the units. The studio was ideal for the large figurative paintings I was making at the time. On a number of occasions, the view from my windows of the trees and rooftops of west Toronto served as a backdrop to the figures.
     I didn’t live in the space, but many tenants did — illegally — to which the landlord turned a blind eye. When the city’s building inspectors came around to ensure that no one was living in the warehouse, the landlord would bring them to my studio because it looked like a proper workspace with no domestic trappings. The possibility of a surprise visit by the inspectors created an atmosphere of fear for the building’s twenty-four-hour residents.
     The live-ins posed some problems for me: my swinging bachelor neighbour’s bed was on the other side of my painting wall, and the wall offered little in the way of isolation from sound or vibrations. The wooden floors were no better, and another normally quiet neighbour upstairs practiced with her band every Saturday, making it impossible for me to work during those times. It wasn’t so much the volume of their music, but rather that they exclusively played Talking Heads covers, a band I liked.

 

4.
—  Bettle and Tony lived in Tony’s sculpture studio in the warehouse on Sorauren Avenue. Bettle gave birth to her son Adrian at home — mere feet from Tony’s arc welder. Despite Bettle’s interest in not bowing to conventions, she did find raising young Adrian in the warehouse to be less than ideal. Downstairs, right beneath them, a furniture polishing company moved in and sent all manner of aromatic solvent fumes up though the floorboards. After Bettle tried repeatedly to convince them that they should exhaust the fumes in an environmentally responsible manner, she decided that the best course of action was to respond in kind. She put on her tap shoes and tried to drive the furniture polishers into exhaust fume submission. This strategy didn’t work, and Tony and Bettle subsequently moved out of the warehouse and into a regular house on Garden Avenue where, in a state of relative atmospheric bliss, their daughter Ariel was born.

 

5.
—  Although my Italian is somewhere between halting and non-existent, after about a week in Revò I was able to successfully ask the people I met rudimentary questions, and they in turn were able to quiz me. My questions revolved around simple tasks: I asked for directions to sites of interest, which local foods or wines I might try, or what a shop’s opening hours were. They invariably asked me three things. What is your opinion of the Valle di Non? Are you married? Do you have any children?

 

6.
—  In Toronto, new acquaintances generally ask the following: Where did you grow up? What do you do for a living? In what part of the city do you live?

 

7.
—  The apartment that we rent by the week comes with a fully equipped kitchen. The only wine glasses in the cupboard are a set of six flutes, tall narrow glasses used for pro secco. The flutes have short stems with a pronounced ring in the middle of the stem that is a little smaller than the bowl of the glass. The base is a little larger than the bowl. Both the stem and the base are transparent; and, the outer surface of the bowl is tinted a middle-toned crimson. The bowl is decorated with an incised diamond motif — like the husk of a pineapple — that is hand-ground into the glass. The incised lines go through the bowl’s crimson colour to become transparent; the lines reflect a delicately diminished crimson as well as providing glinting clear highlights. Because of the hand grinding, the lines are not strictly symmetrical, and playfully do not always intersect. The diamond motif starts about a third of the way up the bowl, and stops about an inch below the rim. At the top of the diamond motif are a number of small, ground starbursts. Carmelo, who arranged for us to rent the apartment, didn’t feel that these glasses would do for red wine. He bought two new glasses for our use.

 

8.
—  My father opened a watch repair business in October 1950. In the local papers he announced a contest to give away a prize of a lady’s and a gent’s Swiss-made Gruen watch. He wound up the lady’s watch and gave it to the manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at Stavebank and Lakeshore for safekeeping. Contestants had to predict when the watch would stop — down to the hour, minute and second. A local businessman won.

 

9.
—  When I was a student, I read Alfred Barr’s Life of Henri Matisse. Barr’s treatment of Matisse is painstakingly researched, and sticks closely to the material facts of Matisse’s production: his chronology, exhibitions, influences, sources and stylistic evolution. There is some information on Matisse’s family and connections to his contemporaries, and a touch of hagiography. Barr recounts that at an early stage in Matisse’s career as an artist, and at a time when he could least afford it, he purchased a small Cézanne Bathers — a painting that he never sold, no matter how stretched he was financially.
     From my summer job in 1976, I saved $3,000 to cover my expenses, both tuition fees and living, for art school that year. On my way to school in late August, I stopped by a commercial gallery in Montreal that represented the estate of David Milne (an artist whose work I greatly admired), and they showed me a still-life watercolour priced at $500. I didn’t buy the painting, but as fate would have it, I had $500 left at the end of the school year.

 

10.
—  My stay in Revò coincided with La Festa Della Madonna Del Carmine. On the day of the festival, a procession takes place in which a sculpture of the enthroned Madonna is carried from the church to the town square. During the month leading up to the festival, all the nineteen-year-olds in the town and surrounding countryside collectively build a triumphal arch in the middle of the square to mark their coming of age. The youths are called either cosritti (referring to the year of mandatory military service for nineteen-year-old males in Italy) or simply (in this case) Classe 1984 — the year of their birth. The arch is a towering 40-foot structure: a wooden armature enclosed with bark-covered planks, which are in turn covered with moss. This year’s arch (the design changes each year) resembles the base of the Eiffel Tower. Four letter ‘A’s tip in to support a crown; the ‘A’ refers to Ave Maria.
     One week before the festival, at 6:30 Sunday morning, a car of five local youths, four of whom were cosritti, struck another car containing two local youths in a head-on collision. One youth died, and all of the others were hospitalized with severe-to-critical injuries. The tragedy stunned the town.
     Lori recounted to me that later on the day of the accident, in a sermon in the town church, the priest said that the parents should be tougher with their young adult children: parents should simply lock their doors when they go to bed, and everyone would sleep better. Lori was unclear as to whether the priest meant that the youths would be still out or already in the home when the doors were to be locked. She said this was typical of the priest’s rancorous logic.

 

11.
—  At an opening of one of our exhibitions, Jean viewed our latest collaborative effort, entitled Jim →, for the first time. He took some pride in letting us know that he had played a role in one of the events we described in our book. Jean, a career Canadian diplomat, was working for the consulate in Paris in 1989. He was responsible for the negotiations around the permanent transfer of Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Point de rencontre, a large, commissioned painting of 1963, from the Administration Building at Pearson International Airport in Toronto to Paris’s Opéra de la Bastille to celebrate the opening of the new, Canadian-designed building.
     In Jim →, we correctly attributed the gift to Brian Mulroney, but Jean pointed out that politicians don’t come up with these sorts of decisions; politicians simply approve proposals. Jean went on to say that Mulroney was very open to suggestions, and was a terrific person to work with.

 

12.
—  In the mid 80s, Denyse was a student in two of my painting classes. Some years later, on a visit to Philadelphia, she arranged for us to meet for a drink one evening and listen to jazz. The club had a house band, and the evening was devoted to trumpet improvisation. To one side of the stage stood a long line-up of trumpet players who in turn would come to the stage and play one song with the band. Over beer, Denyse, who was then a professor at Tyler School of Art, said that it was only after teaching for several years that she realized that her own professors had had lives apart from their work at the art college.

 

13.
—  Lakeshore signifies an intermediary state, a space between two bodies, a space that has three possible reference points: a vanishing vista, a point of possible departure, a destination at the end of a voyage.

 

14.
— La Ligne de la beauté

 Je suis allé hier au Louvre voir l'excellente exposition de William Hogarth (1697-1764). A travers la peinture et la gravure, il a documenté et commenté la vie urbaine anglaise du 18ème, avec un oeil tranchant et satyrique.
     Contemplant son Shrimp Girl (La Venduse de Crevettes) c. 1745, j'étais frappé par la modernité de sa beauté, la fraîcheur de son regard et l'actualité de son érotisme. Le tableau m'a rappelé les couvertures des magazines de cinéma du 20ème siècle, tel PHOTOPLAY et d'autres.
     Me détournant du tableau, je suis tombé nez à nez avec un homme qui m'est apparu comme étant le fantôme d'Andy Warhol. Ou, si ce n'était pas Andy, c'était assurément sa perruque. Mais je suis sur que c'était Andy.

 

15.
—  At about ten in the evening, I went to the cemetery to look at the family plot that I said I would touch up at some point during my stay. The names of the family members were carved into the marble headstone, and emphasized with black paint. Over the years, much of the paint has worn off, particularly in the case of the earliest entries. I was surprised to find that there were several people in the cemetery busy tending their family plots and well over half of the plots had burning candles on them.

 

16.
—  While in Proves, I visited the cemetery. The church beside the cemetery is an impeccably restored nineteenth-century building. The grave markers are typically Tyrollean, ornate crosses made of either wrought or cast iron, each bearing an oval plate with a photograph of the deceased and their name and dates hand-lettered in white paint. The earliest grave is 1978. And over a quarter of the deceased in the cemetery died in 2002. Leaning against the church are three grave markers from 1974 that have been taken out of the ground, each standing on its previously buried cement footing. There was no explanation for the spate of deaths in 2002, but I learned that the church has a policy of recycling plots after twenty-five years.

 

17.
— During my two years in London, I made a number of paintings, most of which were either derivative or a repetition of what I had done as an undergraduate student. In my last six months, I made some paintings that I felt had potential; the rest, in a fit of high drama, I decided to burn — which I did in the abandoned lot behind our studio warehouse. My friends and the tenants in the building all came to watch, and it was quite spectacular. Acrylic paint on canvas, it turns out, is highly flammable, and I had a wildly successful bonfire. The guy who lived in the wrecked car in the abandoned lot complained of the stink right up until the day I left.

 

18.
—  Over my first week in Revò, I collected a number of brochures on the Trentino-Alto Adige region. The brochures spoke about activities and sights in the vague and upbeat manner that is common in tourism-industry writing the world over. The brochures explained that one can do just about anything one might want to do somewhere in the region, and made no distinction in terms of what the quality of that experience might be. As Sarah was coming over at the end of the week, I asked her to bring real guides, Let’s Go and the Michelin. But once I had the guides, I found that neither mentioned Revò nor the surrounding countryside, and both offered a vague and upbeat paragraph on the Trentino-Alto Adige region.

 

19.
— 
You sleep poorly on those nights before a departure. You set two alarms, plus your generally infallible internal alarm. You wake up periodically to check the time on the illuminated digital clock (1:23, 2:46, 3:33) and to make sure that the button on the cheap travel alarm hasn’t been depressed or that the battery has not finally died after all these months, or is it years? You wake up and wonder why you no longer hear its too-loud ticking. You listen, and then you tell yourself that you really should just replace the battery already and be done with it.
     You wake up one minute before the alarms go off, tired, but relieved. With the clothes you will need for the trip set out in a pile in the hallway, you can get dressed without waking your sleeping partner.
     The station across the river is an uncommon one for you, and you’re not entirely sure how long it will take to get there, so you leave early, after a reluctant breakfast. You have taken the time to scribble a succinct farewell note terminating with the word LOVE, augmented by a humourous doodle. The purpose of the note is to extend your influence, in an almost talismanic way, after you’ve left, like a lifeguard in absentia.

 

20.
— John, who has a penchant for institutional, self-service food, was excited about trying out the new cafeteria at Ikea. We were driving west along the Gardiner Expressway; the lake was on our left, occasionally visible between the Victorian fairground pavilions. Further along, on the right, we passed a series of topiary gardens where the shrubbery depicts various corporate logos and brand names: HP, Westinghouse, Sears, Deloitte & Touche, FedEx, Manulife Financial, Parmalat, Rogers, CGI, Weber, Waterhouse, CN, United Way, Ford, and the City of Toronto. As we drew parallel to the four towering chimneys of the Lakeview Generating Station, John suggested that we should call our new collaborative project “Lakeshore.” I readily agreed, but had great difficulty believing that we were actually going to Ikea to eat.

 

21.
—  The Masai in Kenya and Tanzania brew a beer out of the strange fruit of the sausage tree. “It is so strong,” said Jogou, our guide, “that after just one sip, you will reveal all your names.” I asked him to procure some. He refused, saying that it was too dangerous, for after having revealed all my names, I would then go on to reveal the location of all my assets.

 

22.
—  I went into a supermarket to make a phone call. I frequent a sister store in this chain and use the pay phone there quite regularly, and so felt confident that this store would have a phone as well. I searched for a salesperson to ask. None could be seen, but I did see a plainclothes security guard by the door. He was in the process of going through a shopper’s bag. I approached him.
     “Do you have a phone here?” I enquired.
     “What for?” he responded.
     “A public telephone?” I retorted.
     I suppose he was focussing on his job, as my request seemed to confuse him.
     A shopper approached me at this moment and pointed to a phone booth on the sidewalk outside the store.
     “Par là, dehors,” he gestured.
     I thanked him and left, but not without a general sense that the world was falling apart.

 

23.
—  It was my first exhibition in a high-profile gallery. Because I was seen to be an up-and-coming bright young thing, the newly appointed art critic for the National Paper had come to the opening. We talked briefly and made an appointment to meet the next day for an interview. I waited for him on the street in front of the gallery, and at the appointed hour, we climbed the narrow stairs one flight up to the exhibition space.
     There was a woman in the gallery, looking at the work when we walked in and as I took the critic around the show, the woman followed us at a distance, listening. I was just wrapping up my spiel, when she stepped up and introduced herself to the critic as Yvonne. She was an artist with a show on in town, she said. She suggested to the critic that her own show would surely make for a better article in the paper, as it was obvious that I was too young to have fully assimilated all of my influences and that the work suffered as a consequence. They arranged to meet the next day and she left. My face burning with disbelief, I was rendered speechless, bringing our interview to an abrupt end. The critic wrote positive reviews of both Yvonne's and my work, but the whole episode coloured the shape that my ambition would subsequently take.
     I met Yvonne for the second time, twenty-two years later. She introduced herself to me and had no recollection of having met me before. I wondered whether I should tell her about our previous encounter.

 

24.
—  We were in Kenya witnessing the migration of hundreds of thousands of wildebeests across north across the Masai Mara River. Jogou, our guide, said that the only migration of comparable dimensions in human history would be the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt into the desert in search of the Land of Canaan.

 

25.
—  Grade six gym class. Climb the rope. It was near the top, almost at the ceiling, when the strangest feeling shook my body. It was so intense I thought I would fall. I had to hang on with all my strength. Later that night in bed, I tried to reproduce the experience. I took my penis between my two hands as though it were the rope, and climbed. I rubbed it between my palms in a back and forth movement much like our ancestors would have done to make fire. It worked, I had discovered the orgasm.
     A few months later, at summer camp, I heard some boys singing a bawdy song about masturbation. The words described taking your cock in your right hand and pumping it up and down and up and down to come, come, come. I realized that I had been doing it all wrong. Later that night when all the other boys were asleep, I tried it the official way. It didn’t work, so I finished myself off using my own technique. Being left-handed, I tried the pumping method the next night with my left hand. It worked. This is when I became conscious of the normalizing force that is culture. I have never gone back to my initial method.

 

26.
—  When I asked Gary to give a convocation address to a group of journalism and applied arts students, he expressed concern about his suitability for the task, and was obviously nervous about the prospect of speaking in front of about 1,200 people. He asked me what topics previous speakers had covered. I explained that generally speakers review the challenges and successes of their professional and personal lives in order, in some measure, to instruct and encourage the graduates. With trepidation, Gary agreed to give it a shot, but he said that he wouldn’t draw too heavily on events in his own life, as he felt it wouldn’t be of much interest to a young audience.
     In his address, he did offer advice, encouraging the grads to read literary novels often, and poetry even more often: ideally a poem a day. This he reckoned would give the graduates a sense of tact and proportion. He went on to underline the importance of finding a personal mentor. He had sought out mentors early in his adult life who were working in literature, philosophy or art. His mentors were also “men of the world.” Along with much else, scholar and artist Barker Fairley taught Gary to make the perfect martini. Gary also recounted an evening he spent with his next important mentor, the artist Harold Town. Gary and two women swam naked in Town’s swimming pool. Town, fully clothed and dry, set candles around the edge of the pool and in between the candles he set glasses of scotch — as an incentive to keep his friends in the pool. “And,” as Gary put it, “they swam and swam and swam and swam.” At this point, midway through his address, the audience broke into enthusiastic (and, in my experience, unprecedented) applause.

 

27.
— After three years in a long-term care facility, Alzheimer’s firmly took hold of Father. First, his short-term memory disappeared, and then his recollections of the distant past faded. His social graces, however, remained unchanged. He was particularly warm and enthusiastic when greeting visitors: “I knew you were about to come. I'm so pleased to see you.”
     On our walks together, I would push his wheelchair through a residential neighbourhood of generally well-kept Victorian row houses. He would greet each and every passer-by with a cheerful, “Good morning,” “Good afternoon,” “Hello, how are you?” Most often, the passers-by would politely respond. But occasionally his timing was off, and his potential interlocutors would have already gone by, and, having not heard his greeting, would not respond. This upset Father, and he would loudly complain at the perceived slight. “Bastards. Have they no fucking manners?”

28.
—  (to Jack Bush)

27 July 1980

Hello Paul -

1965 - Dazzle Red, oil on canvas
     No acrylic in sight. Out o' the park. Summer is calm in Toronto, waiting for Mother Nature to stir up some trouble, for things to gel medium. We're all on the Rhoplex to ruin. We should be looking at some wheel colour. You can't get it in acrylic, only in oil.

XOX John

 

29.
— Il y a quelques semaines, pendant la dernière vague de froid, j'étais sur le boulevard de Belleville. Les gens marchaient dans leurs épaules. Un homme avançait dans la direction opposée. Il se démarquait de la foule grâce au nombre et aux couleurs des sacs BIG SHOPPER qu’il portait dans ses mains. Il avançait en marmonnant, les lèvres actives. Quand il arriva à ma hauteur, il quitta son sillon et vint vers moi.
     « On est mieux ici qu’au Canada, hein ? »
     Il ricana et regagna son chemin. Je faisais comme si de rien n’était, mais il venait de répondre à une de mes plus constantes interrogations, le bougre.

 

30.
—  Le Texte

Le texte sera écrit en écoutant les oeuvres complètes pour orgue d'Henry Purcell.
     Le texte sera entièrement écrit pendant une seule écoute des oeuvres complètes pour orgue d'Henry Purcell.
Le texte se terminera à la fin de cette écoute.
     Le texte sera écrit entièrement en français.
     Le texte contiendra des fautes de frappes et de français.
     Le texte contiendra nécessairement des fautes et de frappe et de français car aucune de ses fautes ne sera corrigé par la suite.
     Le texte de chaque phrase du texte commencera par un nom et son article, à savoir, « Le texte. »
     Le texte sera interompu par l'obligation d'aller au marché avant sa fermeture pour acheter les légumes pour la semaine.
     Le texte sera gouverné par un certaine nombres de règles qui feront le plus gros du texte.
     Le texte permettra la violation de ses propres règles.
     Le texte sera maintenant écrit pendant l'écoute des « Persian Surgery Dervishes » de Terry Riley.
     Le texte terminera à la fin de ces « Persian Surgery Dervishes », ce qui devrait être jouable étant donné que ce double album dure 90 minutes.
     Le texte sera maintenant interompu par le besoin de faire une soupe de concombre glacée pour le déjeuner.
     Le texte peu redémarrer, la soupe maintenant au frigo pour refroidir.
     Le texte doit mentionner les cibles de Jasper Johns car quand le fils ainé de l'auteur à appris que le texte avait comme sujet « Jeu » ou « Le jeu », il a souhaité que ces peintures soient mentionnées.
     Le texte a perdu un peu de son allure.
     Le texte devient une frustration car il empeche l'auteur d'aller travailler dans son atelier.
     Le texte empêche l'auteur d'aller continuer la peinture d'un tableau en cours.
     Comme le texte, le tableau se plie à un certain nombre de contraintes.

 

31.
— When I was working at Dorchester Penitentiary in 1976, Stephen, a fellow art instructor, asked me to help demonstrate how to make a mould of a human head. One afternoon, Stephen applied Vaseline to my face, followed by layers of plaster dressings. Once the plaster set, he found he couldn’t remove the mould from my face as my eyelashes were firmly imbedded in the plaster. The only thing to do was to carefully and ever so slowly cut away the mould to the point that a knife could be inserted to cut the eyelashes.
     This was a somewhat stressful undertaking. I was breathing through straws inserted in my nostrils — which limited my oxygen intake — and it was very hot inside the mould. A number of people took turns poking away at my eyelashes with a sharp blade. This operation took so long that by the time I was free, the inmates had gone off to dinner and returned to the recreational facility to lift weights, watch TV and play cards. For a seemingly endless period of time afterward, I was without my eyelashes. This caused many people to ask me what I had done to so radically change my appearance.

 

32.
—  La toile mesurait 125 x 300 cm. Elle était peinte all-over dans une acrylique de couleur anthracite, mélangée avec de la poudre de graphite. Le graphite donnait un aspect légèrement métallique à la surface. En bas de la toile il y avait une série de sept têtes de femmes de profil. La même tête répétée sept fois, ponctuant la surface, tac tac tac. La tête était issue d'une publicité des années 1940-50. La femme regardait vers la droite et avec chaque apparition, de gauche à droite, elle s'effaçait de plus en plus, jusqu'à sa disparition. Sur la toile sombre, elle était réalisée en transfert de photocopie couleur Xerox. L'effet de la disparition a été réalisé par une dégénération classique de l'image : une copie faite d'une copie faite d'une copie faite d'une copie, jusqu'à l'effacement.
         J'ai donné au tableau le titre « The Passenger » (La Passagère). Selon les règles de l'art, tel qu'on me l'a appris, le sujet du tableau était en premier lieu l'histoire de sa matérialité, de sa fabrication: ici un mélange de la peinture expressionniste et du collage. Une maîtrise du geste autographique associé à la nouvelle technologie de la photocopie couleur. Ce tableau montrait l'influence à la fois de l'abstraction lyrique et du « process painting » pratiqué par mes enseignants aux beaux-arts, ainsi que la série des « Walking Woman » de Michael Snow.
     L'histoire secrète, personnelle et anecdotique du tableau racontait la mort de ma toute première copine dans un accident de voiture quelques années auparavant. Le tableau était un véritable momento mori.
     L'année suivante, je me trouvais en couple avec une femme. Quand le couple s'est détruit trois ans plus tard, elle m'a demandé le tableau. Je lui ai cédé, avec beaucoup de mes disques et autres « objets de valeurs. » Je n'en avais plus besoin de toute façon, ayant pris la décision de quitter le pays pour venir vivre en France.
     J'ai appris quelques années plus tard que le tableau avait disparu dans le feu qui a détruit sa maison.

 

33.
—  J'ai récemment repris une série de tableaux que j'avais peints pour une exposition au Musée des Beaux-arts de Mulhouse en 1993. C'est une série de tableaux qui reproduit, à l'aide de mon système d'impression au plastique bulle (dit bullisme), diverses scènes et endroits dans le musée même. Ma décision de revenir sur ces tableaux était motivée par la notion que dix ans après les faits, ces images n'étaient plus d'actualité; il fallait les réactiver.
     Deux de ces tableaux figuraient des portraits en pied du gardien du musée, Monsieur Schultz. Pour diverses raisons, que je ne développerai pas ici, j'ai décidé de peindre les noms des Beatles, John et Paul, par-dessus l'image de Monsieur Schultz.
     J'ai un peu regretté cet acte, une fois terminé. Autant les autres tableaux de la série, une fois repeints, semblent bien fonctionner, Monsieur Schultz, John et Paul ne marchent pas vraiment ensemble. Est-ce le choix des mots? Celui de la couleur? Ou cette impression d'avoir nié Monsieur Schultz, de l'avoir relégué au second plan.
     Il va me falloir y revenir.

 

34.
—  Mathis was asked by a neighbour to help her remove to the recycling bin, a few hundred magazines from her fourth-floor walk-up flat. She was in the process of preparing to move out and consequently had a lot accumulated goods to get rid of. Pointing to a pile of stuff, she said that Mathis could choose what he wanted. Being modest and discreet, he chose a kitsch Vargas fridge-magnet depicting a 1940s-style sex kitten in provocative lingerie.
     Finding that this was insufficient payment for his labours, Virginia, the neighbour, offered him a large rubber stamp kit, with moveable type. The kit consists of an articulated, self-inking apparatus, with four lines of type, with a possible twenty-five characters per line, a full upper- and lower-case alphabet in sans serif face and a pair of tweezers to compose the texts.
     Mathis showed me his new acquisition. “Oh,” said I, “it’s a poetry machine.”
     “Hmm,” said Mathis, “I thought it was a propaganda machine.”

 

35.
—  Summer Camp 1971. We decided to play a version of the Frank Zappa-Captain Beefheart composition, “Hot Rats,” at the annual talent show, Richard on guitar, someone else on bass. I don’t recall whether we had a drummer or not. Probably not. I was on viola and vocals.
     Our intention was to play the violin-driven opening, sing the lyrics, and then carry on into an extended jam that would highlight Richard’s really very excellent guitar playing. At a certain point I would play a riff that I had found on the viola and that would signal a return to the opening ostinato and on to the end. I was rather pleased with the riff I had found. So much so, that no sooner had Richard launched into his solo, than I started playing it. It just seemed to go so well with what he was doing.
     Richard looked up at me with confusion and fury in his eyes. I tried signally him to keep playing, to keep on with his solo, but he had already gone on to the coda, along with the bassist. I had no solution but to break into the ostinato that was to be the last hook. A song that was going to last for 8 or ten minutes, was over in perhaps a minute and a half. Not for the last time, were my co-musicians furious at me.

 

36.
— Sitting in a café on the Right Bank, the late spring sun beats down on the red awning that bears the name of the café, Le Terminus, Le Marigny, La Penalty or some other established and oft-seen name. The pinball machine clatters and emits a carnival-like tune; “Theatre of Magic” is the theme of this machine. I am thrown back to my arrival in Paris, when every pinball machine in the city seemed to have “The Pink Panther” as its theme and that Henry Mancini tune was the accompanying soundtrack of my new life.   

 

37.
— I walked by The Monticito Apartments tonight
To check the spelling of
Monticito
I then stood
Across the road
In the park
Under the spreading maple
Under which we set up our office
To read Zap Comix.

Later
Walking by what was
Tommy Hall's house
The light suddenly went out
In the master bedroom and
I realized that that bedroom
Was the set of a scene in
At Swim-Two-Birds.

I remember having heard
That Tommy Hall had died recently.

 

38.
—  Following the 2006 International AIDS conference in Toronto, Lorne brought four conference delegates over to dinner. All of the delegates were from sub-Saharan Africa: Siphiwe and Beati, were from South Africa; Masitsela, was from Swaziland, and Veronica from Lesotho. Siphiwe and Beati ran art programs with children in the townships of Knysna, a city on the Indian Ocean. Masitsela, and Veronica worked to improve the nursing sector’s response to HIV in their countries. Tragically, HIV is epidemic in each of their countries.
     Over dinner, we only briefly spoke about HIV. Our guests wished to discuss personal questions of aging and faith. Lorne and I were more than ten years older than Masitsela, and he wanted to know what infirmities awaited him in the future. All of our guests were particularly puzzled by the fact that neither Lorne nor I attended church. After a discussion of organized religion in Canada, Siphiwe told us two jokes.
     “Three men met with Jesus: one was a coloured man from India, the other a white from Europe, and the third a black from Africa. Jesus told the men that he would grant them each one wish. The Indian replied that he would like to create a vast empire of highly profitable shopping centres. Jesus then turned to the European who said that he wanted to build soaring office towers, employing thousands. Finally, Jesus asked the African what his wish might be. The African responded that he really didn’t have an answer, and indeed had only come along to this meeting because the Indian and the European had insisted he do so.”
     After our African guests’ laughter died down, Siphiwe said that his next joke explained Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.
     “While on a long trip, Jesus and his disciples stopped at a rock-strewn part of a road for a rest. The disciples were hungry, and Jesus unexpectedly asked the disciples to each remove a stone from the road to clear the way. Judas, thinking not to expend too much effort in what he felt was a rather unreasonable request, chose a very small rock. Jesus then miraculously changed all of the stones the disciples held into bread: large stones became sizeable loaves, and small stones, tiny loaves.”

 

39.
— 
The Dean Martin Effect
     At the dam at the head of the Matabitchuan River is a lodge. Legend has it that James Cagney would come to stay at the lodge and fish in the surrounding lakes. As we were portaging from Rabbit Lake onto the Matabitchuan, Sarah found a box of colourful lures. Rather than leave them behind, we threw them into one of the canoes and set off.
     By late afternoon, we had pitched camp at the mouth of the river on a little island and having watched the sun go down, we proceeded to watch a brilliantly bright, full moon rise up out of the forest to the east.
     “Oh, what was that song that Dean Martin used to sing?” John asked. “What was it? Dadada deedeeda,” then hitting his stride, “When the moon, hits your eye like a big pizza pie / That's amore.”
     “Ah Dean,” John continued, “he really loved that song.” We invented a few stanzas, contemplated the lunar brightness and went off to our respective tents.
     The next morning, we awoke to a couple of fishermen in a small boat floating just off the island. They were covered in mist, but we could make out the silhouettes of an older and a younger man. We greeted one another and our words slipped over the mirrored lake with crystalline ease. They then proceeded to catch five big bass in the time it takes to make a pot of coffee and drink a cup.
     I guess they got bored with such easy pickings, because the elder started chatting with us. His voice reverberated around the bay, though he spoke in normal tones.
     “Where ya from? How many days out're ya? What route didja take?”
     I told him that we had found a box of lures and that they were welcome to them. The elder started the motor and they putted the few metres over to the island.
     I handed the clear plastic box across the bow. The younger took it, peering inside, “Oh ya,” he said, “there's some good stuff in here: a couple of Ruby Eyes, some Daredevils.” The rest of the inventory was lost on me.
     “Thanks.”
     “We found them up at James Cagney's old place,” I said, pleased to show off my knowledge of local lore.
     “Oh ya,” chimed in the elder, enthused. “We used to get a lot of those types up here. Spencer Tracey used to have a place up there,” pointing north to the top of lake.
     “Red Skelton had a place somewhere around here. And Dean Martin had a big place over there,” he said, pointing to the east, towards the spot where we had recently crooned to the moon.
     “He would fly into here, fish a bit and then fly back out, eh.”
They offered to bring us back some filets later. We said we didn't want to deprive them of their catch. “Oh, we got so much bass in the freezer,” said the elder, “we don't know what to do with it.”
     “That's for sure, eh,” intoned the younger.
     “Well, we have to pull out in a little while.”
     “Well, we'll come back with the filets later and see if you’re still here.”
     “Okay,” we agreed and off they roared in their boat.
     “I don't know why they didn't just give us the fish to filet ourselves,” said John, “but whatever.”
     Later that morning, paddling the canoes, hissing through blossoming lily pads, I realized that my Swiss Army watch had fallen off my wrist on the island. I had bought a replacement strap just before heading out on trip and it kept coming undone. I was a little pissed off, as I really liked that watch. Maria was a little miffed too, as it had been a present from her.
     Back in the city, I phoned my friend Fred and invited him over for lunch. The movie industry is slow these days and I knew that Fred, who is a set builder, would be free. Over lunch in the garden, I admired his counterfeit Rolex, and explained that I was in the market for a watch, having lost mine on trip. He said that the corner of Bloor and Bay is the place to go for counterfeit watches. He invited us in turn to his house for dinner on the weekend.
     Sipping beers in his kitchen, Fred handed me a watch, saying, “Here.”
     “Wow! A Swiss Army watch.” I was amazed. “Where'd you get it?”
     “It was a cast swag,” meaning that it was the sort of promotional gift that is given out to people who work on films as perks. The usual merchandising crap: mugs, t-shirts, baseball caps and the like. Emblazoned in white type across the black-and-phosphorescent face of the timepiece was the name of the film: “Martin and Lewis,” a biopic about the career of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

 

40.
—  Paul and I went to the Oakville Museum to photograph the grimacing, expressionist dolls we’d recently seen there. Much to our chagrin, the dolls were gone! A week earlier the dolls had been returned to their creator. The dolls, contemporary copies based on nineteenth-century German originals, were made by a local artist who obviously had a taste for the gothic. The museum’s accommodating receptionist and a curator warned us off contacting the maker of the dolls — as the maker was “one of those doll women.” However, the museum did have an historical doll collection on loan, and although the dolls were not as scary as the first collection we had seen, they were disquieting enough to merit the making of a Lakeshore photograph. But before we could get our camera and tripod out, we had to call another “doll woman” at the Shaver Homestead in Etobicoke to ask her permission; the Shaver Homestead had loaned the collection to Oakville Museum. We got the okay from her, and then, under the watchful eye of the Oakville Museum curator, took the picture.
     Once we had packed up our photo gear, the curator proposed that she show us a painting by Frederick Verner, a nineteenth-century Canadian artist whose painting of a local scene depicting the arrival of the railway was in the collection of the museum. “We should not,” she counselled us, “as so many of our visitors do, confuse Verner with the Dutch seventeenth-century artist Johannes Vermeer.” The Verner was part of a period room setting, and as the room was cordoned off, we were at some distance from the artwork. Seeing Paul fumbling in his jacket for something, the curator informed us that photography was not permitted in the museum. Paul answered that he was not going to take a photograph, but put on his glasses.

 

41.
—  Thanks to both of you, whom of I really appreciate the work, and that inspires me. I find in your paintings a very accoustic type of visual sonority. Things are calm it seems, the air is quite cold, but the sky is blue. Maybe are we blue at the moment where the paintings strucks our sight, but it is as if we are in best shape possible, and at the moment of the day when everything is possible. These images are like an everyday carry-on luggage. One could refeer, an emotion, a situation or a place in wich he finds himself, to a picture of yours. Love it. I am myself starting an oil paint on C-print serie of images.

Bye bye,

Mathis

 

42.
—  That's Poetry

The Poet knows the names of plants
And he's good at writing grants
With the precision of his fiery gaze
He's very good at frying ants
Walking forward running past
The things you do
Just might not last
And they probably won't
But it's better that you do them 
Better that you do them
Than you don't

That's poetry

The Poet's life is filled with danger
Because he missed out at the manger
He was busy somewhere else that night
Now the villagers revile his flights
Everyday you know
I fall in love
With falling in love
With a sign from above
Every night 
I fall in love you know
With falling in love
With a sign from below 

That's poetry

Falling in love
With a sign from above 
And falling in love, you know
With a sign from below 

That's poetry

 

43.
—  Sounds

Open my mouth and sounds come out
I'm not really sure what they mean
Or what they are all about
What money I make, I make with my mouth

Tote that note / carry that tune 
Float the note / tune the croon

Fret the fret / finger the hole
Wet the reed / stroke the bow 

Don't fear the lyric
But pleasure the measure

Through attack and decay
We will carry the day 

Open my mouth and sounds come out
I'm not really sure what they mean
Or what they are all about
What money I make, I make with my

Pretty good is good enough
I coulda done better
But things got tough
What money I make, I make with my mouth
And I hang myself with my tongue.

 

44.
—  We are always always on the move
Always in a vehicular groove
We arrived by plane
Then we jumped a train
Now we're in a car
I don't know where we are

We are always heading for somewhere
We are always leaving from somewhere
When we're on the ground
We're neither lost nor found
Always somewhere bound
I don't know where we are                                    

We flew out of Point A
We flew into Point B
No sooner were we settled
Then we let out for Point C
(la la la) 

We are always always on the road
Always in a vehicular mode
We arrived by plane
Then we jumped a train
Now we're in a car
I don't know where we are 

We flew out of Point A
We flew into Point B
No sooner were we settled
Then we let out for Point C
(la la la) 

We have got the wind in our sails
We have got the furies on our tails
We're now way beyond the pale
And we travelled there by foot and rail 

We grabbed a cab
We travelled in time
We hitched a horse
We walked the line
We hijacked a float
In the passing parade
We really believed
We had it made
Each transport we hoped
Would bring us nearer
Though we never stopped looking
In the rear-view mirror.

Speeding and careening
Riding and a-reeling
Turning and a-peeling
Trucking and a-wheeling

Tacking and believing
Rolling and deceiving

Sneaking and a-seeking
In this Noah's ark that's leaking

 

45.
— 
Janet was 17 years old in 1941. Young men and women in the UK at that time had three options: continue their education, take a war-related job, or join the armed forces. Janet chose hospital work. In order to do this, she left grammar school in Barnstaple in Devon to attend a course in home economics at a college in Torquay. Her parents had wanted her to go to university, but Janet, like her friends, felt her education should fill an immediate and practical need. The next year, Janet went to Buckinghamshire to cook in a hospital where she worked until after the end of the war in December 1945.
     Food was in limited supply and severely rationed. Janet was able to bring a modicum of sugar and butter to her family during her rare visits home. An atmosphere of frugality and caution was all pervasive, and the trains had signs posted in them advising commuters on appropriate conduct.
     A COUGH THAT SNEEZES SPREADS DISEASES. TRAP YOUR GERMS IN A HANDKERCHIEF.
     THE WALLS HAVE EARS.
     IS YOUR TRIP REALLY NECESSARY?

 

46.
—  September 1974. All first-year visual arts students are scheduled to attend a Wednesday morning series of guest-artist lectures organized by George Manupelli. September 2006. Several of us who attended those lectures as students try to recall who it was we heard. There are twenty-six weeks in the academic year, and of course we couldn’t remember everyone. Manupelli spoke on his own work, a series of experimental films titled Dr. Chicago (featuring a fugitive sex-change doctor). We recalled the following other artists and musicians, several of whom were faculty or in one case a current senior student: Siah Armajani, Andy Tomcik, Max Neuhaus, David Rosenboom, Twins Seven Seven, Tim Whiten, Larry Towell, Ian Baxter, Michael Semak, Michael Snow, Hugh Leroy, David Gilhooly, Pat Olesko.

 

47.
— Tous les mercredis, nous nous réunissions dans le grand amphithéâtre de l'Ecole des Beaux-arts afin de découvrir les bizarreries spécifiques du travail d'un artiste en visite et chaque fois différent. Quelque trente années plus tard, je me souviens de peu de ces invités conférenciers, même si la visite d'Iain Baxter du N.E. Thing Company me reste en tête de la même manière que celle du compositeur de musique contemporaine, Max Neuhaus. Après une brève note autobiographique, dans laquelle Max mentionnait avoir étudié la batterie avec Gene Krupa, il nous dit devoir jouer un concert et que nous devions le suivre. Il nous guida hors de la salle, hors du bâtiment, et dehors, à travers des ensoleillés et encore verts pâturages automniers du York University. Nous traversâmes un champ encore cultivé il y a peu, jusqu'à l'usine de chauffe flambant neuve, en brique rouge. C'est l'immeuble où est produit, on se demande comment, toute la chaleur et l'énergie du campus.
      Alors que chacun de nous entrait dans l'immeuble, Max nous tamponnait la main du mot LISTEN.

       Il nous a ensuite guidé dans une promenade à travers l'usine. Nous écoutions attentivement alors que nos pieds martelaient les passerelles métalliques pas loin de jets de vapeurs s’échappant hors des valves en sifflant, tandis que des ventilateurs vacillaient au-dessus de nos têtes. Malgré la modernité luisante des surfaces 1970 peintes de couleurs vives, nous ressentions une certaine continuité avec une ère industrielle révolue.

 

Every Wednesday morning we would congregate in the large lecture hall of the Fine Arts Building to discover the specific weirdness of a different visiting artist's practice.
     Thirty-odd years on, I recall few of those guest lecturers, though Ian Baxter of the N.E. Thing Company's visit sticks in my mind, as does that of contemporary sound composer Max Neuhaus. After a short biographical note, wherein Max mentioned having studied drumming with Gene Krupa, he said that he was to perform a concert and that we were to follow him. He led us out of the hall, out of the building and out to the sunny and still green, autumn pastures of York University. We then crossed over a flat, recently reclaimed farmer's field, to the spanking clean, red-brick "Physical Plant." This is the building where they produced heat and power for the entire campus. As each of us filed into the building, Max rubber-stamped our hand with the word LISTEN.
     He then led us on a walk through the plant. We listened attentively to our feet clanging over metal catwalks, high above steam jets being pressed out of valves, while venting fans vacillated above. Despite the glistening modernity of the brightly painted 1970s surfaces, there was a general sense of continuity with an earlier machine age.

 

48.
— Jocelyn, looking out my window early in the day, spotted a woman leaving a neighbour’s home. The woman tottered out on high heels and was dressed in what might be called club attire: a short skirt and stockings, complemented by a gauzy, brightly coloured top. After a moment’s wait, during which time the woman rather theatrically lit a cigarette, a late-model Buick sedan drove up and took the woman away. Jocelyn opined that the woman must either be in real estate or the sex trade.

 

49.
—  As a performer, and avid concert, performance and happening-goer, I have at differing times found the combination of image and sound to be effective, useless or just plain invasive, depending on the specifics of each event. At the first rock concert I attended (Soft Machine and the Jimi Hendix Experience, Maple Leaf Gardens, May 3, 1969), I was transported by the projected light show of oil-and-water mandalas overlaid with photo transparencies almost as much as I was by the music itself. A few years later, witnessing a laser-and-rock show at the Planetarium, I remember thinking what a silly exercise it seemed. This was partially due to the over-use of Emerson, Lake and Palmer in the soundtrack.

 

50.
—  While on a walk through the rapidly gentrifying Ossington neighbourhood north of Queen, I visited a newly opened gallery. Typical of much turn-of-the-century retail space, the gallery was long and narrow — a difficult configuration for a gallery that more often than not creates the effect of an unrelenting hallway. One side of the back half of the gallery, however, had the unusual feature of a roll-up garage door in glass that looked onto a concrete wall a mere three feet away. The effect was striking. After chatting with the gallery owner about the exhibition of paintings on view, I complimented her on the minimalist austerity of the revealed concrete-block wall. She responded by saying that she was planning to improve the situation by planting ivy on an arbour that she had asked a sculptor associated with the gallery to make. The arbour would feature decorative cutouts of fish.

 

51.
—  After finishing art college, I worked with Cliff for about a year in his West Toronto sign shop. The business was located on the ground level of a renovated warehouse, and Cliff’s unit had a large storefront window that faced out onto a quiet street of other light industrial concerns. The candymaker Rowntree was just down the road from us. The sweet smell of chocolate frequently hung in the air.
     Business was intermittent. It was the early 1980s and there was a recession. The computer-generated vinyl lettering that would soon replace the handpainted signage that Cliff specialized in was still a few years off, and on occasion we would get large jobs: showcards announcing seminars at dental conferences, outdoor signs advertising new residential developments, showpiece wooden signs for upscale restaurants. This work was always last minute, and we would paint late into the night.
     Invariably, when this occurred we would get a phone call from a sexual prankster. He would dryly relate to us in great detail how terrific it was to masturbate while listening to the sound of our voices. Whenever I picked up the phone to find him on the other end, I would immediately slam down the receiver. This was an involuntary reaction, and may well have been exactly what the caller was looking for. Cliff, on the other hand, would switch the caller onto speakerphone, and engage him for some time while we worked by sarcastically stringing him along.

 

52.
— In the back room of Olga’s gallery, I saw a painting that Denyse made in my studio during her yearlong stay in Toronto in the late ‘90s. The painting was familiar to me, as it was the first of many larger-scaled works Denyse created after she first had found her footing in a series of much smaller studies. I asked Olga how it was that the now ten-year-old painting came to be so prominently on view. She laughed, and told me that one of the original purchasers had recently exchanged it due to the intervention of one of the three D’s.
     “The three D’s?” I asked.
     “Yes,” she said, “death, debt and divorce.”

 

53.
— I had wandered into one of the common areas of our studio building that one of the artists, a sculptor, used to store materials and work on some prototypes for his assemblages consisting of stacked or patterned units of quotidian objects such as paper cups, pop bottles, take-out containers. I’d seen the artist in the hallway — also cluttered with the by-products of his production — and asked him if it was okay to take pictures. He said sure.
     A few months later I ran into his wife, another artist in the building. We had a newly developing friendship, cultivated by chats in the hall, studio visits, and mutual friends. As we’d all been recently evicted from the building, she asked what work I might be pursuing in lieu of a studio practice. I told her I was working on a photographic project about detritus, and sent her some jpegs.
     After a few days I received a long, formal note written as if by a committee stating that the couple was alarmed that I had taken the pictures, and that the artist himself took pictures of his own detritus and had several collectors and curators interested. My pictures looked too much like his. The letter went on to suggest that the photos were voyeuristic, and that it would be more appropriate for me to take pictures of my own detritus.

 

54.
— During the preparations for our father’s funeral, my sister and I went to see the neighbourhood we grew up in. First, we visited the premises of Father’s watch repair business, now nearly unrecognizable as a bridal boutique. Then, we walked by our old home to find it extensively renovated and enlarged. Our last stop was the bank, where we withdrew the contents of Father’s safety deposit box. Among the largely void legal records that one would expect to find documenting the life of a family, we found our adoption papers, which we had never seen before. We learned our birth names. Our original family names didn’t make much of an impression on us, but our previous first names did. My sister was called Debra and I was Gary.

 

55.
— La semaine dernière, assis sur un strapontin de la ligne 8 du Métro, je lisais un texte de Walter Benjamin, l’auteur du monumental Paris, Capitale du XIXe siècle. La porte s’ouvre à la station Opéra et son sosie monte dans la rame. (Ce n'est pas pour rien que Baudelaire à écrit, "Toute métaphore ici porte des moustaches.")
     Deux heures plus tard, marchant dans la rue de Rivoli, je racontais cette histoire à un ami. Nous nous arrêtons au coin d’une rue pendant que je termine mon anecdote. Nous sommes arrêtés devant un café dont le nom est, Le Café Benjamin (tout va bien).

 

56.
— The dormitory was on the top floor, far away from the classrooms and the school hall. It was a long room like an old-fashioned hospital ward, each bed surrounded by curtains. The walls were painted ointment pink, the floor dashed with marks, the windows recently barred. It was a sorry place. We imagined that a lovesick nun had slashed her wrists there, blood dripping over her habit and soaking into the wooden boards, or that a child had leapt from one of the windows. We imagined vapourous shapes seeping out of the gaps in the skirting or the cracks in the plaster, we were certain that they floated above our beds like rain clouds as we slept.
     I was always leaving things in the dormitory: a text book or a pencil case or my sports shoes. I would have to climb the stairs to fetch them, running blindly all the way, there and back, avoiding the darkness in the corners. Of course I never saw anything, no ghost of a weeping school child, not even the flicker of a nun’s veil.
     One evening in spring, not long before I left the school, I remember standing in the dormitory alone. There was really nothing there, only the curtains swinging slightly at the end of the room, and the shadows of the trees outside swaying over the walls. But as I shut the door and turned onto the landing, I was sure I heard a voice, just behind me in the dark, gently and persistently whispering my name.

 

57.
— One morning after a spring blizzard, I shovelled off my sidewalk. At one point during this rather laborious process — the snow was wet and therefore heavy — I looked up to see my neighbour Gary walking slowly towards me, oblivious to the slush underfoot and with a somewhat hangdog expression on his face. I enquired if everything was okay, and he replied that he had in fact been meditating, reciting his mantra, and was therefore without his usual social countenance. We went on to discuss the weather, and then the headline news of the day: one in particular reported on duplicitous political party manoeuvring. Gary stated that this sort of behaviour should not surprise us, as we both know that all our friends, even those closest to us, will betray us sooner or later. He concluded that it’s simply part of human nature. At this Gary turned and walked away, resuming his previous demeanour.

 

58.
— There was a time when a person could make a respectable living by creating hand-lettered signage with nothing more sophisticated than a decent lettering brush and a pot of paint. A good signpainter was trained in proportion, scale and detail, understood the origins of typefaces, and was fond of experimentation.
     The trade also attracted other, less assiduous folk, who used it simply as a way to earn some quick cash and then crawl away inside a bottle. You could earn a surprising fee for just several hours’ work. Those of us who thought of ourselves as professionals would speculate on the identity of our fly-by-night competitors whose work was always a shaky, garish mess. Their lettering typically advertised a greasy-spoon restaurant or a discount yard-goods retailer — the proprietors of which presumably didn’t know or care that skilled signpainters, who could have done a real job of it, existed. One such mystery artist we called the Phantom. His work was everywhere.
     The advent of the computer-driven, polyvinyl letter-cutting machines in the 1980s reduced the trade to a shambles. You no longer came across the Phantom’s work, or anybody else’s who had even a passing acquaintance with the systematic pleasure of twisting a letter out of a brush. What you saw instead was a digital smear of plastic, reams of bad layout and grating colour schemes seemingly shot out of a cannon by dolts who apparently knew how to stack enough dollars in a pile to buy a computer rig, but didn’t understand the nature of the graphic travesty they unfurled in the public’s eye.
     Twenty-five years later, the signmaking business has tamed its machinery and discovered the secrets of composition and balance. Since most everything is plastic, vinyl lettering seamlessly blends in. Handlettering even rears its noble head occasionally when good taste prevails and budgets are extended. Just yesterday I caught myself gladdened to see the front window of a down-market eatery only recently lettered by someone with no ability.

 

59.
— By early winter, once the leaves fell off the lilac bush in front of the kitchen window, I was able to see the coal-fired Lakeview Generating Station’s four towering stacks. While having my breakfast, I could observe the smoke from the stacks and get a sense of the day’s weather. On a particularly cold day, the smoke from the stacks would stream straight upwards to a great height. On most days, the smoke would billow off to the east at various angles and speeds. We lived about five miles north of Lakeview at the junction of two corridors of high-tension electrical towers that originated at the station. Even when we couldn’t see Lakeview’s stacks, affectionately known as the Four Sisters, we could always hear the hum of power lines.

60.
— After a long drive around Ancaster in search of a new house, Tara’s eleven-year-old daughter, Josie, asked her mom to explain why all the women on the real estate signs looked like transvestites.

 

61.
— Garry was asked to participate in a travelling group show in Germany. He agreed on the condition that he be flown to Frankfurt in order to carry out preparatory reconnaissance and fact-gathering. The curators went ahead and purchased economy-class airline tickets for Garry and his companion. When Garry later asked that all his travel be business class, the curators explained that it would be impossible to change the flight arrangements at this late date. Garry begrudgingly agreed to fly economy, but only if first-class train tickets were purchased for the trip from Frankfurt to Erfurt, where the show was to be held. The curators acquiesced, even though they would have to pay for the upgrade out of their own pockets. 
     On arrival in Frankfurt, Garry and his companion climbed onto the train and relaxed into their plush seats. Although impressed by the train’s comfort and style, Garry was surprised that a first-class carriage would be so crowded. He reasoned, however, that Germany was a wealthy country and luxury well within the reach of many. The German countryside whizzed by while Garry and his companion slept, tired after the long transatlantic haul. The conductor eventually came to their seats as the train approached their destination. Contemplating Garry's ticket, the conductor looked up and, with a click of his ticket-punch, informed Garry that with these tickets he could have travelled in the first- class carriage. Garry was furious. Relating his misfortune to the curators when they met him at the station, Reudiger could only smile.

 

62.
— Avril 1964

Ma grand-mère au volant de sa Buick de 1956, nous descendions de Toronto à Washington, DC. Mon premier voyage aux Etats Unis, qui m'ont parus, comme chaque fois depuis, étranges, terribles et pleins d'Histoire et de possibilités. New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland. L'esprit et les traces de la Guerre de Sécession étaient partout. A la radio, malgré les Beatles, avec 5 titres dans les Top 10 de cette semaine-là, il n'y a que Louis Armstrong et son l'interprétation de Hello Dolly qui me reste en tête; une voix traversant un siècle, comme si elle arrivait directement des champs de coton du 19ème siecle.

 

63.
— As a child, about eight or nine, I had a number of secret locations scattered around my neighbourhood. There was a rough hideout in a long, sparse wasteland where I would hole out for hours. (It later became the Spadina Expressway and eventually the Allen Expressway.) There was also a tree-fort in a densely wooded lot — large enough for a house to be built on it but not large enough to call it a park or parkette or anything like it, though whether a house was ever built on this corner of Hillhurst and Bathurst Streets, I can not say. Then there was the small church where I used to go to cubs one evening a week, and in its dirt-and-gravel parking lot was an abandoned trailer that I turned into my private home away from home. Why it was there or who it belonged to were never questions I bothered to ask because the answer was so obvious – it was there for me to discover and take over. Finally, somewhere in the middle of this triangle of locations, on an otherwise ordinary residential street, was probably my favourite bolthole of all – a house that had been severely damaged in a fire.
     The structure remained standing but it was uninhabitable and uninhabited. I didn’t see the fire that destroyed it but when I used to go exploring in it I could still smell the moist char that survives the ravages of fire, and of the efforts to put it out. I think, of all my private and secret domains, this shell of a house remained the most fascinating, and I spent hours and hours navigating its ruins, right from the dank basement up to the second floor, where parts of the roof were missing and gave out onto an open sky.
     I once found a set of keys there, which no doubt fed my already overactive imagination even more feverishly – I’m sure I must’ve assumed they unlocked the door to an even better secret world, if only I could find that door. I was reminded of these private worlds the other day when, cleaning up, I came across this set of keys, which for some reason, almost fifty years later, I still possess. I held the keys in my hand and studied them, and the question that came to me was: What on earth had occupied my mind as I wandered through these various wrecks? What was I thinking? believing? imagining? What scenes and scenarios had I constructed that could absorb me for so many hours of my childhood? Who did I think I was? Where did I think I was? What did I think was going on? I put the keys back in the drawer where I’d found them, realising that the quest initiated so long ago had now been turned on its head. Whereas before I had the keys but no door, now I had the door but no key.

 

64.
— JE COEUR PARIS

« Les hommes ne peuvent rien voir autour d’eux qui ne soit pas à leur visage, tout leur parle d’eux-mêmes. Leur paysage même est animé. »
Théorie de la dérive
International Situationniste N°2
     Paris vu par une subjectivité. Je ne peux qu’offrir une représentation. Encore une.
     Je suis venu à Paris pour flâner. Pour travailler une poésie visuelle basée sur une psychogéographie de l’aléatoire urbain. Pour trouver du sens dans la trame et les motifs de la cité. Pour lire les signes dans les entrailles de la ville. La promenade comme cut-up critique perpétuel.
     Dès le premier jour, j’ai vu que Paris étais un lieu propice à mes interrogations.
     La ville était ponctuée d’enseignes fléchées, indiquant SELF.
     Je me suis trouvé !
     Le lendemain, j’ai trouvé Nadja.
     20 ans plus tard, je la suis toujours.

Exercice de Style :
     La semaine dernière, assis sur un strapontin de la ligne 8 du Métro, je lisais un texte de Walter Benjamin, l’auteur du monumental, Paris, Capitale du XIXe siècle. La porte s’ouvre à la station Opéra et son sosie monte dans la rame.
(Ce n'est pas pour rien que Baudelaire à écrit, "Toute métaphore ici porte des moustaches.")
     Deux heures plus tard, marchant dans la rue de Rivoli, je racontais cette histoire à un ami. Nous nous arrêtons au coin d’une rue pendant que je termine mon anecdote. Nous sommes arrêtés devant un café dont le nom est, Le Café Benjamin (tout va bien).

*         *

Paris n’a jamais cessé de m’étonner par sa densité significative. Mais comme cette expérience l’indique, les signes semblent vouloir pointer vers des époques et ambiances révolues. Paris est nécessairement pittoresque et désuet. Le poids de l’histoire. Pour prendre les paroles fatalistes d’Arlette, la propriétaire de mon café habituel, "C’est comme ça !"
     On peut se lasser du côté canonique et passéiste de Paris.
Néanmoins, pour le flâneur en quête d’un peu plus de contemporanéité, sans pour autant quitter la Capitale, l’Internet est un outil de déambulations par excellence. Et le nombre de sites pointant le self, le soi, est sans fin.

 

65.
— Along with a number of our friends, I was invited to spend a weekend at a country estate outside of Paris that belonged to Paul and Maria’s extended family. The main building, a rambling nineteenth-century gentilhommière, was an architectural folly complete with two towers and an adjacent pond surrounded by bald cypress trees with pointy and decidedly creepy knee roots. Each of the guests was assigned a room, and mine was to be the Duchess’s bedroom — a two-room suite in one of the towers with a canopied bed in the first room and two painted, wrought iron children’s cots in the smaller side room.
     Paul and I stayed up talking after the other guests had gone to bed. Towards the end of the evening he told me the story of the horrid events that had unfolded in the Duchess’s bedroom back in the1830s. One winter’s evening, an itinerant priest knocked on the door of the gentilhommière to ask for shelter. As the house was full, the priest was asked to sleep in the absent duchess’s bed — where I would soon lie. The duchess’s daughters were both asleep in their iron cots, unaware of the presence of the priest in the room beside them. In the course of the night, an inexplicable madness seized the priest and he brutally murdered the girls, leaving blood and gore throughout both bedrooms.
     Paul went on to explain that some of the guests who had stayed in the Duchess’s room had woken in the night to hear the footsteps of what is presumably the ghost of the priest creeping about. Very rarely other guests had woken to the sobbing of young girls.
     “But, don’t worry,” Paul assured me, “these episodes never last long.”
     Now I am not the least bit superstitious, and had certainly not to that point in my life ever encountered ghosts. But then I hadn’t stayed in many homes of this age, and my imagination being what it is, I hardly slept a wink.
     The next morning I rose early to find Maria preparing breakfast. On seeing me, she commented that I looked terrible. I told her that I had trouble sleeping. She narrowed her eyes, and asked me if Paul had trotted out his concocted story of the priest again.

 

66.
— I was in Venice for a several days to see the Biennale. The summer had been very hot, and tempers were now running short. It was late October, well after the June opening. I took a day to view the Arsenale, where a number of themed exhibitions selected by international curators were presented, one after the other, in a huge, eighteenth-century warehouse. The exhibition still drew a steady flow of visitors, but crowds had thinned and the show was winding down.
    Several hours into my visit, I encountered the exhibition, The Structure of Survival, curated by Carlos Basualdo. The exhibition was in part comprised of a number of laptops for visitors to sit at and view digital files. Each laptop presented work by members of the Venezuelan artist collective Caracaras Group.
    I was able to view all of the work at each computer station on the table but one, ’s collaboration with Adriana Loaiza. The label beside the laptop indicated that the artwork looked at the fabric of a Venezuelan shantytown. One of the Biennale’s animateurs was seated at the computer playing digital solitaire. After a reasonably long wait, I enquired how long she would be. The animateur replied that it should be obvious to me that she was busy, and that I needn’t bother waiting as it was her intention to continue to play for as long as she wished.

 

67.
— Shortly after I returned to Toronto, I set out to find a warehouse studio to rent with Tracy and Tony. We were looking for something fairly industrial with natural light in which we could work on both painting and sculpture. In the Star’s commercial listings, we found a space with a good rate and location on Sorauren Avenue.
     The contact was a Dr. Schwarz, who, once we called him, asked us to meet him at 4:00 p.m. at a private retirement home he owned, just around the corner from the warehouse. He accompanied Tony and me up to a fourth-floor studio that offered a stunning view in all four directions. The ceiling was high and our prospective landlord had no objection to our using the space for welding or painting with oils. The space was quiet and had terrific light. It seemed truly ideal. This established, Schwarz gave us a two-year industrial lease to sign right then and there. As Tracy wouldn’t get off work until five, we asked if we could come back that night to show her the space and then cinch the deal. Schwarz responded that tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. would be best. As this was a Saturday, a day Tracy would have off, we agreed to rendezvous then.
     That evening, we met with Tracy and decided we should stroll over to the building to see if we could get in. We were able to gain access to both the building and the studio, and to our dismay encounterd an incredible din of industrial sewing machines: both the floors above and below the studio were occupied by clothing manufacturers. The only time in a 24-hour period that was quiet was during a shift change between 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.

 

68.
— Les histoires d’animaux qui dominent mon imaginaire concernent la naissance ou la mort de quelques spécimens, voire individus, que j’ai pu connaître. Je pense en premier lieu à Cedric, un teckel que nous avions dans mon enfance, tué accidentellement par la vieille Buick noire que conduisait ma grand-mère.
     Nous roulons dans ma rue, en route vers Chinatown où nous avons l’habitude d’aller manger une fois par semaine. Ma grand-mère conduit, ma mère est à la place du mort, je suis à l’arrière avec un ou deux frères et une sœur. Les sièges sont en skaï écarlate. Selon ses habitudes avec toute voiture circulant, Cedric court à nos côtés. Je le regarde, la fenêtre est ouverte, il court. Ses babines sont rétractées dans un rictus, ses dents claquent en essayant de mordre les pneus. Je tourne vers ma grand-mère. Tout à coup, le devant droit de la voiture se soulève et se repose. Bloup bloup. Puis l'arrière droit. Bloup bloup.
     Je me retourne et regarde par la fenêtre arrière : Cedric est couché, immobile sur la route. Mon père sort de la maison avec un carton dans lequel il met le chien. Nous poursuivons notre chemin. Je suis surpris de la solidité d’un corps, capable de soulever une voiture plutôt que d’être aplati par elle, comme dans les dessins animés.
     Je tiens un morceau de siu mai entre deux baguettes, devant ma bouche. Ému, je demande à ma mère si ça va aller pour Cedric. Elle répond par la négative. C’est mon premier mort.

 

69.
—A compressor went off at two o’clock in the morning in the garage below our apartment. brrrmmmmmbrmmmm brmmmmm.
     With a bunch of neighbours, we had to call the cops. They came eventually, after about four calls, snipped the lock, turned off the machine, and then found a bunch of pot plants. It would appear that the kid who uses the garage had a timer connected to a grow lamp. He forgot to unplug his paint compressor. So when the lamps turned on, so did the machine. brrrrmmmmbrrrrrmmmm.
     That kids goin' down, and I for one am happy. He's been an asshole from the start, operating a clandestine motorcycle garage, being rude, loud and menacing to the neighbours. And most especially having gas, oil and other inflammables with no security measures nor fire extingusiher — a real danger to our lives, limbs and home.
     The cops were most especially pleased with the pot. Bunch o' goofs.

 

John Armstrong
&
Paul Collins