Friday, 20 January 2017

#AMREADING: Patrick Modiano, The Black Notebook

Paris, 1960s. Jean, a young writer, falls in love with an enigmatic woman. Is Dannie her real name? Who are the menacing men she associates with? What is her connection with Morocco? Jean jots down his thoughts about her in a black notebook, but the parts don’t add up to a whole.

Among those masses of notes, some have stronger resonance than others. Naturally, many signals are garbled, and no matter how hard you strain your ears they are lost forever.

Anyway, the truest encounters take place between two people who ultimately know nothing about each other, even at night in a hotel room. Jean never recorded the name or address of the hotel, the way we tend not to write down the most intimate details of our lives, for fear that, once fixed on paper, they’ll no longer be ours.

Driving through Paris he senses the streetlights signaling to him. It was the same feeling you get from staring at a lit window: a feeling of both presence and absence.

It was hard to remember the places where he and Dannie met because each time we had to leave fast, on tiptoe. I’m sure we left a light on, so that a trace of us would remain, a signal that we weren’t really gone and that someday we’d return.

Jean never made a date with Dannie, and he felt sorry for people who prearranged everything. They would never know how time throbs, dilates, then falls back again when you wait, how it gradually gives you that feeling of vacation and infinity that others seek in drugs, but that I found just in waiting for Dannie.

One time he waited for her in a park. Only a few passersby, owing to the cold. But it was still sunny, and the blue of the sky was my confirmation that time had stood still. I needed only to sit there until nightfall and study the sky to discover the few stars I could name, without really knowing if I was correct.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Louisville, KY, Water tower

Louisville, KY Vote here if you think that the Louisville water tower is the world’s most glamorous pumping station.  What do you call this type of architecture: Belle epoque? Roman empire revival? Epic kitsch?

Midland, TX The architecture of the Midland Super 8 is less spectacular, but if you want to see men with ripped muscles, this is the place. It’s a hotel for oil workers. In the lounge, men in hardhats are eating their dinner out of Styrofoam boxes. They leave their dirty boots out in the corridor – does the hotel have a shoeshine boy who comes around nightly? You know those angelic voices in the elevator announcing the floor. Well, in Midland, it’s something between a drill sergeant and a construction foreman’s  snarl.
El Paso crossing

El Paso, TX I WALKED to Mexico from El Paso. You pay 50 cents at the border, no questions asked. Walking back into the US is another story: line-ups, short for American pedestrians with documents, very long for visitors with or without papers. No line-up in the bicycle lane. Yes, there is a bicycle lane, and we were considering turning back and buying a used bike so we could use that lane.

USA Today. I had a hard time getting that paper en route (I love their continental weather map). I thought  tabloid news had a large market in the land of Trump, but I guess print is dead, and those news are now on Tweet.

American coffee culture: I am Casablanca shocked. Starbucks is everywhere now, and I mean everywhere, right next to MacDonald’s and Super 8 in the most godforsaken little places.

Monday, 19 December 2016


This psychological thriller is all about relationships with others (or is it with the self?). The surprise ending will answer that question. Either way, Jake (the protagonist of the story, shall we say) is right:
Forfeiting solitude or independence is a much greater sacrifice than most of us realize… It’s not unlike religion and God. We believe in certain constructs that help us understand life…The idea that
we are better off with one person for the rest of our lives is not an innate truth of existence. It’s a belief we want to be true.
Without the Other, so much of life felt accidental, unnecessary, arbitrary. It’s been lacking a dimension. Then again, a real relationship -- when there is dependence, when something is at stake – may involve the loss of the self.
We get at the truest version of ourselves …when we are not diluted by the Other’s presence and judgments…Only when we are alone can we focus on ourselves, know ourselves.
What does Jake tell us about his Other? He called me a compressed Uma Thurman she says. He never called me sexy… He called me pretty and he said “beautiful” once or twice, the way guys do. Once he called me therapeutic.
The key to understanding Reid’s novel is the phrase: You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.
But you know what? I think all thoughts are fake. That’s what makes them thoughts rather than observations. They have no independent existence. They serve only as tools to interpret the world.

And even so, we can’t understand the world through rationality, not entirely. We depend on symbols for meaning…This integration reflects the way our minds work, the way we function and interact; our split between logic, reason, and something else, something close to feeling, or spirit. There’s a word that will probably make you bristle.

Friday, 16 December 2016

#AMREADING David Gilmour’s The Perfect Order of Things

Autobiographies are often brag-sheets. This one is different. Gilmour revisits his failures.
One of life’s great pleasures lies in giving the bird to people and places where you were once a flop. Fuck you, May-Lou, and so on. But with the greying of my hair I have discovered that it’s a little more complicated than that. For one thing, your body remembers failures more easily than success – especially youthful failures:
She went up the Ferris wheel with me as my girlfriend and when she came back down, she was someone else’s. It was the first romantic betrayal of my life.
It’s doubly painful because having a beautiful girlfriend is a certain kind of delicious when you’re young.
Boarding school was another place of failure Gilmour had to live down. Suddenly he was one of those guys, along with the chronic masturbators and pimple squeezers and unloved children whose parents plied the civil service in Nairobi or Senegal or East Timor… those dandruffy, never-have-a-date, sad sack pooches you saw doing their homework on a Friday night!
Years later he meets someone at a reception who has climbed past him on the career ladder and remembers his mistakes: His face hardens with politeness…You don’t talk to guys like that, you banter.
Drinking is a great cure for what ails you, but what’s the cure for a hangover? For some people it’s great literature.  I lay on my side like a wounded animal, waiting to be rescued by sleep’s second act which didn’t’ come. I opened War and Peace and, facing the white stucco wall, sweat already dribbling across my chest, began to read.

Gilmour still has his old copy of War and Peace. I have a check mark beside the paragraph where, even in the roller-coaster grip of a white rum hangover, I began to pay acute attention.

Monday, 5 December 2016


And George Walker’s new play The Damage Done isn’t one of them. Maybe that’s the explanation for the curmudgeonly review in the Globe & Mail. I guess no one wants to listen to a bitch abusing her useless but loveable ex. He is dreaming of what he could do instead of what he should do-- like being a father to his daughters. No, she gets no sympathy even if she is the one who is suicidal, while he nicely muddles through life, preferably on workman’s compensation.  Even if she’s been juggling single parenthood, career moves, and boyfriends, and can’t take the pressure anymore. No, we don’t want to hear about that, even if the acting is first-rate. Now if Walker had played it for laughs or – even better – turned it into a musical, busloads would have come to see his play. But an honest examination of Life Sucks, and this in the season of jingle bells? What were you thinking of, Walker?

But seriously: This is the best play I’ve seen in some time. Wish Toronto would offer more of the same. And bonus: Ken Gass is directing!