Thursday, April 28, 2016


"Why did you have to kill them?  I just told you to scare them!" "People scare easier when they're dyin'"--Once Upon a Time in the West

Sunday afternoon I went to John Snow's book club where we discussed Doctor Zhivago.  John asked me to lead the discussion, which was simple for me since I take a casual approach to these things.  He was grateful enough to give me a present:  the book Why Read Moby-Dick? (Afterward we went to Booster Juice and I tried acai juice.)

Sunday night I saw The Devil's Horn at the Bloor, a documentary of the history of the saxophone.  To think that I tried to play it at one point in my youth!

Yesterday I went to a colouring session I'd found through Meetup, at the Leaside library. (Just getting to these unfamiliar places is an adventure.) I started colouring in that DoodleArt fairy tale poster.

Today I saw Sergio Leone's spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West at the Carlton (the last in their Wednesday western series), for at least the fifth time.  It's a western about westerns, and really fun.  Henry Fonda's cleverly cast against type as a ruthless assassin, and Claudia Cardinale does a great pout!  One of Ennio Morricone's finest musical scores.

Sometimes I come up with original thoughts when I'm dreaming.  The other night I was dreaming of that scene in Life of Brian where he tells the crowd "You're all individuals," they drone "WE ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS..." and one guy says "I'm not!" In my dream I thought of commenting, "The first schism!"

I heard that there may be a library strike next week.  I should borrow that book about the Mongol empire this week!

Saturday, April 23, 2016


"Julie's going to have a baby!" "So what?... My mother had a baby once"--Carousel

Wednesday night I saw Henry King's movie of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Carousel at the Event Screen. (It was a combination of my History Discussion Group with Mathew's Meetup.) I'd seen it twice on video, but you really have to see it in a cinema!

This musical really grows on me.  It's deeply moving, though in a '50s sort of way:  it ends with a pretty conformist message, "If people don't like you,  solve your problem by liking them!" Gordon MacRae is a perfect Billy Bigelow, which is rather surprising since he was a last-second replacement for Frank Sinatra.

Thursday I went on another art walk on Dundas West, with an emphasis on Portuguese establishments.

I finally got my taxes done the other day.  They no longer mail you forms so we had to print them off the net.  Next year I should be able to do the whole thing online.

Rereading I, Claudius increased my admiration for it, but I'm staring to admire Claudius the God even more!  Very efficient writing.

We forgot to see Broken Blossoms and I ended up returning it a day late.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Chorus girl (answering the phone): "Sure, I'll marry you.  Who are you?"--Cover Girl

Sunday afternoon was Reading Out Loud.  The subject was love, and I titled the event "Spring Is For Lovers"! The weather was so warm that I walked down to Victory Cafe!  I read a section from Doctor Zhivago where Yuri was riding between his wife and his mistress, as well as the early Yeats poem "The Cap and Bells, " and "Nora, the Maid of Killarney" by the World's Worst Poet William McGonagall.  Some other people lent me their material so I also got to read W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" and Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." (I noticed, more clearly than before, that "Dover Beach" is about aging.)

Choir practice was cancelled this week, so I went to the Revue and saw Charles Vidor's Rita Hayworth-Gene Kelly musical Cover Girl.  That's the one about a chorus girl who appears on a big magazine and goes on to Broadway stardom, but what about her sweetheart?  I liked the subplot about her grandmother going through a parallel story.  Phil Silvers (playing a character called Genius) did a number about wartime rationing with the classic rhyme "I'll keep on eating artichokes until the Nazi Party chokes!" The most famous song was "Long Ago and Far Away."

Tonight I went to a Storytelling Meetup, this time at Free Times Cafe.  I talked about my eight months in London twenty years ago (which I'd written about at the memoir slam the day before) and visiting the Canadian National Exhibition back in 1975.  Most of them were telling specific stories, but I was basically just doing brief rambles.  Oh, well...

For some reason, my back feels really stiff these days.  I had to nap a couple of times this afternoon because of it.

Library videos

(I wrote this post three days ago, but posted it on the wrong blog!)

"What do you want, scorpion?"--Twentieth Century

"Where are you going?" "Where Whitey isn't allowed!"--In the Heat of the Night

I've finished Doctor Zhivago and started on two books.  One is Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue, for the History Discussion Group. (I should finish it pretty quick.) The other is Robert Graves' I, Claudius sequel Claudius, the God, which I borrowed from the North York Centre library Thursday.  I could have got it at the closer Deer Park library, but I went here because I wanted to find "He," a Katherine Anne Porter story of mother love which I was thinking of reading at tomorrow's Reading Out Loud.  But it turned out to be a bit too long for that.

While I was at North York Centre I also borrowed some DVDs for us to look at.  One was the silent movie Broken Blossoms, but I'm not sure I can bear to see it again, it's so sad!

Another was Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, from a play by Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur, which we saw last night, me for the second time. (Moira got too sleepy to watch it to the end.) It's a classic screwball comedy with obsessive theatre man John Barrymore scheming to get his star Carole Lombard to resume working with him.

The third, which we saw tonight (me for the second time), was Norman Jewison's Oscar winning civil rights-themed mystery In the Heat of the Night.  Rod Steiger was something else!

Friday afternoon I saw From Scotland With Love at the Bloor. (I also bought one of their stainless steel bottles!) It's a feature made from documentary footage of Scotland in the 20th century, from as long as over a century ago.  They had curling, but no golf.

The other night I dreamed of visiting Prince Edward Island, which I've dreamed of before, but this time it was the late fall!  Now the idea of travelling at that time of year has a strange attraction for me...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


"We all dream of being a child again, even the worst of us.  Perhaps the worst most of all"--The Wild Bunch

Saturday night I saw The Winding Stream at the Bloor.  It's a documentary about the Carter Family and their legacy.  At the end they showed a flash mob in Portland, Oregon singing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" Real classic music.

Mathew cancelled the Meetup this weekend where we were going to do some more colouring.  Pity!

The Carlton cinema is showing westerns on Wednesdays this month. (Missed The Good, the Bad & the Ugly last week.) This week I saw Sam Peckinpah's brutal classic The Wild Bunch for at least the fourth time.  It just gets better and better!

The graphic violence feels honest rather than exploitative.  Peckinpah has a particularly unsentimental attitude toward children, who are seen torturing scorpions at the start of the movie.  The scene where the Mexicans lose control of the machine gun may strike some people as racist:  a modern weapon in primitive hands.  And his view of women is hardly P.C.:  they tend to be whores.

Aging actors like William Holden and Robert Ryan are at their considerable best here as aging outlaws. (Ryan plays a particularly sympathetic character, despite being the gang's turncoat, and achieves redemption in the end.) Lucien Ballard's cinematography is masterful, especially the scene where the bridge blows up and the horses and riders fall into the river.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Old letters

I've been looking for my birth certificate to make an application for Ontario Disability Support Payments.  I was looking through some stuff in my room the other day and found a slew of old letters that were written to me when I was researching my Ph.D. in London in 1995.  The birth certificate search got derailed as I read all through them.

Letter writing is a dying art, alas.  Many of these letters were written by my sister Moira, including a couple from the Czech Republic where she was finishing a teaching job.  I remember how her letters had a Czech stamp showing Miroslav Ondracek, the cinematographer who shot Milos Forman movies like Amadeus.  At Goodenough College where I was staying there were some kids who collected stamps and posted envelopes you could put your used stamps in!  They got quite a few Canadian stamps from me.

I'm sure glad I saved these letters!  When I told Moira I still had  her letters she said, "Throw them away!" But she was a really good letter writer, not just funny and readable but also with very neat handwriting.  Father's letters, on the other hand, are barely legible.  There's also part of a letter from Mother, which means a lot to me since she's no longer with us.  And there are a few from friends I made in London who wrote to me afterward.

There was also a letter I wrote back in 1991.  Here's part of what I said:

"The Allies are betraying the Kurds twice:  firstly in not supporting their rebellion; and secondly in trying to force the refugees to return into Saddam Hussein's loving arms.  The problem with Americans is that they think they can bomb Iraq back into the pre-industrial age and still not 'get involved' in the region's political problems.  Some people say that by not supporting the Kurdish rebellion the United States lost her moral advantage in the region.  I disagree.  What America's cowardice proves is that this moral advantage was bogus from the beginning.  

"One thing that bothers me is American liberals hedging their opposition to the war by praising Bush for articulating America's 'moral purpose.' In fact, he was simply propagating a straightforward lie.  If we accept the argument that Kurdistan has to remain part of Iraq to protect the latter's 'territorial integrity' and the the Kurds can go jump, how much of an extension is it to apply the same rationale to Kuwait?  If anything, Kurdistan with her longstanding unique identity--and three times Kuwait's population--is even less a legitimate part of Iraq than Kuwait, which was only separated less than a century ago.

"What's remarkable is that most Americans accept so easily that it's a jungle out there and they can no longer afford moral commitments, now that Iraq is crushed and 'morals' have served their strategic purpose.  This doublethink over morals isn't limited to the American government:  I fear the general population has connived in it.  In their thinking, they way to a happy world is through Pax Americana, so anything that promotes Uncle Sam promotes the general good, and is therefore moral automatically.  

"It all comes down to Lookin' Out for Number One.  America's true purpose is obviously to protect the region's strategic status quo ante, first by reducing Iraq to rubble, then by preventing her destabilization.  Divide and conquer, in other words.  Uncle Sam's greatest nightmare is that someday the Middle East will be united by some political force that the U.S. obviously won't be able to control.

"You should reread Christopher Hitchens' article in January's Harper's.  He prophesied exactly what would happen to the Kurds."

I'm glad that letter got saved too.

Friday, April 08, 2016


"I'm too hot for this old folk's home!"--Why Be Good?

On Sunday afternoon the Classic Book Club met and we talked about I, Claudius.  Malcolm has been attending so steadily that I made him assistant organizer! (He has a big video collection, including some historical movies that I might show in the History Discussion Group screenings.)

Wednesday night was the History Discussion Group, where we discussed Herodotus and ancient Egypt.  Margo was afraid I might see her as usurping my authority, but I've made her assistant organizer as well.  If it turns out Debi can't arrange the screenings at her place, Margo's apartment building has a similar place.

We got some interesting ideas going about future events.  For July, we'll read Pierre Berton's Canada and talk about it near Canada Day, maybe even at Black Creek Pioneer Village!  For August, I'll reschedule the Roaring Twenties event that didn't get off the ground in December, and Margo would like to host a 20s-themed party at her place!  I'm already thinking of movie posters and such that I could print off the internet for decorations.

Speaking of the '20s, tonight I saw the formerly "lost" silent movie Why Be Good? at the Royal with the Classic Movie Meetup, as part of the latest Toronto silent film festival. (To answer the question:  Well, being good may not be easier than being naughty, but it tends to be a lot simpler!) It starred jazz baby Colleen Moore, and silent-era star Neil Hamilton, who later played Commissioner Gordon in the '60s TV series Batman! ("Is this the end of the Dynamic Duo? Tune in tomorrow, same bat-time, same bat-channel!") Some great '20s slang like "See you in jail!" CM's speech near the end had an early feminist message about how men want women to be fun, then blame them for not being "nice girls"!

Sunday, April 03, 2016


I've been having vivid dreams lately.  The other night I dreamed of meeting New York wit Fran Leibowitz in the local No Frills supermarket and finding her friendlier than I expected. (They were interviewing her in that Tiffany's documentary.) 

When I dream, I remember things that I've dreamed before as if they were real memories.  I have a repeating dream where I'm considering starting a new university course and wondering whether I'm up to the challenge.  In another one I've been trying to finish my Ph.D. thesis but there seems no hope.  Then I wake up and remember that I did finish it over 15 years ago.  And I often dream of being in Halifax, where I spent a lot of time in the '80s. (For someone from a small town, it was a "starter city.") The other day I was wondering, Is my dream world better than my real one?

This week I saw two movies at the Carlton Magic Lantern cinema.  They were exhibiting some paintings by Jeannie, whom I know from the Classic Movie Meetup. (She likes cats!)

Sunday I saw 45 Years, with Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a couple approaching their 45th anniversary.  It occurred to me that men don't understand all the things that can make women insecure. (We're just not equipped for it!)

Monday I saw the Coen Brothers' Hail, Caesar, an odd comedy about a Hollywood studio trouble-shooter in the 1950s.  It's a bit like their earlier Barton Fink.

Tuesday, with the Easter weekend over, I went to Shoppers Drug Mart and bought a ton of chocolate at a discount.  Best of all was the Ferrero Rochers, my favourite candy. (I brought some to choir practice on Wednesday.)