Potpourri

Other writings... random quotes... and some hobby horses. It ain't all in dialogue...

Beauty in The Eye

Time to play "Spot the Nobel Laureate". Alice Munro, centre, grey top, at the recent production of Beauty in the Eye, at the Etobicoke Civic Centre Art Gallery. (www.toronto/ca/eccartgallery)

Alice Munro – Nobel Laureate

The news that Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature has made a nation smile. Canadians are proud that a writer born, raised, writing and living in our midst has won the world’s most prestigious prize. (Saul Bellow also won, in 1976, but he spent his writing life in the US.)

Munro’s win is also sweet vindication for those of us who toil in the Arts. The colonial mentality in Canada has not disappeared over the years, despite the blossoming of the Arts. When I first set out on my little journey, people with English accents told me that Canadians could never write good plays or novels. Gradually those voices retreated but other ones emerged. Arts bureaucrats dictating what should or shouldn’t be supported – ignoring the vagaries of the imagination. Other voices saying that maybe a Canadian could write a good story or drama but the locus of that work must happen beyond our borders. Still others – and this is increasingly the case at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – looking south of the border for validation. If it doesn’t happen there, it can’t be good, here.

Munro was born in Wingham, a small town in western Ontario. She lives just down Highway 4 from there, in Clinton. It is primarily the lives of the people in that area that she has chronicled in her stories. They are not flashy lives, there are no tsunamis or revolutions, no terrifying crimes… just ordinary people living out their lives. And those just-down-the-road folk make for great literature at the hands of a master.

Will the wankers ever be silenced? They already were in the case of Munro, because she has been regularly published in the New Yorker and even the densest of the colonialists could not ignore that, or her talent. Will her win change minds vis-a-vis other writers and dramatists in this country? Perhaps not. And what is the irony here? That yet again it takes a foreign award to put the disease of the colonial mentality into remission, however brief.



 

It’s that time of year again!

Migration season is upon us and our skies and green spaces will soon be filling with birds heading north. They are exhausted by the time they get to Ontario, and need to rest after crossing the lake. The ravines and green areas of Toronto are ideal stopping-off spots.

Because they are exhausted they are also prime targets for cats. The statistics are shocking – this from the January 29th Globe and Mail:

Domestic cats in the United States kill up to 3.7 billion birds and as many as 20.7 billion mice, voles and other small mammals each year, biologists estimated on Tuesday.

Cats are probably the biggest human-induced killer of these species, outstripping better-known culprits such as habitat loss, agricultural chemicals or hunting, they said in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Cats are natural born killers. It’s what cats do. Please: keep your cats indoors over the next weeks, as the exhausted birds are easy prey for them. If you must let your cats out, put bells on their collars.

On behalf of our feathered friends – THANK YOU!!!


TORONTO THE-GETTING-UGLIER

Toronto street pillar

I don't think anyone could ever call Toronto a beautiful city, but for a long time it gamely tried to make the most of its modest assets. It was clean, humane, nicely-treed and full of interesting, cohesive neighbourhoods. There was a waterfront, some great parks and a network of mysterious ravines fissuring the city.

Some of that remains. It is still a human(e) place to live, although the class divide is growing starker as the city grows ever-more economically segregated. But Toronto still provides good health, housing and education to the vast majority of its citizens. And for most Torontonians, it's very safe.

But a number of neighbourhoods are under stress, for a variety of reasons. For some, it is the destruction of appropriately-scaled housing stock and its replacement by monster homes. In others, like Yorkville, it is cracked-out condo densification. There is probably no new building uglier than the Four Seasons condo tower at the top of Bay Street, a bunker of privilege that has kremlinized a section of once-walkable city.

And the city is less green. It is unable to plant trees along major thoroughfares, for reasons that elude me. It is not the climate because many of Toronto's neighbouring municipalities – the ones we like to sniff at - seem to be able to grow trees.

But what really gets my goat - because I walk a lot - is the deterioration of the streetscape. There is more garbage everywhere, both of the litter variety, and the visual kind. A prime example: the new "information pillars" that are springing up all over the city. Along the spine - the part you won't notice - there is a bit of information about the city. That’s the supposed rationale behind the pillar but the main act is the billboard that faces up and down the sidewalk. It makes lots of money for its owner, Astral Media.

The particular billboard I’ve pictured here is desecrating a lovely section of Bloor. Across the road, on the south side of the street, is gracious, imposing St. Paul's Anglican. On the north is the headquarters of Manulife, with extensive grounds, a golf-green lawn and a stately elm that shades and gives breath to the street. (Alas, the partner of that elm finally had to come down this winter, a victim of Dutch Elm disease.)

Someone got money for allowing these billboards to block our sidewalk. They were approved during the Miller years so, much as we'd wish, we can't blame Rob Ford. The billboards are part of a deal that introduced all that god-awful street furniture, like the garbage bins that sprout along our streets like grey, plastic toadstools. (The one pictured below is at the corner of Park Road and Bloor. Note the awkward army of newspaper boxes on the other side of the street. Toronto has four dailies and any number of giveaway weeklies but no apparent means of co-ordinating their distribution.)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it isn't just Ogden Nash and me who hate billboards, and wonder what right they have to obstruct our sidewalks. Shame on you, City Fathers and Mothers.

Toronto garbage cans