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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Tomato, CAN

I have an undergraduate major in history and a minor in geography. Which is to say that I have a certain number of university credits (not enough to be a major) in the two main branches of this discipline: physical and human geography. I have studied everything from climate patterns, map making, rocks and soil, socio-economic conditions of sugar-cane plantations to the latest advances in computational Geographic Information Systems. Blah, blah, blah. However, I am stymied as to when Toronto, Ontario has simply been known as the 'Tdot' or 'T Dot' or 'tdot'. This interests me in a Seinfeldian sort of way.

When did this abbreviated labeling start? Surely the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) would have something to say about this co-opting of its name? I remember when I first started hearing "T.O." in conversation about 25 years ago. This is when most of my elementary school friends and their families started to move there. My brother has been living there for close to 18 years now. But when talking to him I tell him I will be visiting 'Toronto' for a few days... How provincial of me to refer to his city in such a formal manner. I am familiar about Toronto's other sobriquets," Hogtown" and the "Big Smoke", more recently in conversations. But it has only been in the last year or so that I have heard about the T Dot.

Is this a derivative of the 'T' in Toronto and the dot (period) that follows? Is it cooler to say 'T Dot' now? Are people from Toronto not longer Torontonians? Are they to be called T-Dotans now? Have we become even more lazier now in our speech? Someone help me out because I do not want to look uncool when I refer to that wonderful city once known as Tomato, CAN. Oh yes, Tomato Can. I believe the Canadian author,Morley Callaghan (living in Toronto) once received a letter from one of his literary expat peers (probably Hemingway) delivered to Tomato, CAN from Paris, France. The letter duely arrived at his address with no problems or corrections from Canada Post. Everyone laughed about it. Tomato Can, get it? HA! HA! Toronto, Canada looks so much like Tomato, Can! After all, it is so funny and insulting at the same time. Funny 'cause it's true (said in a Homer Simpson kind of way).

I guess it could always be worse, like being from the gaseous Bean Town (Boston) or the lustful Sin City (Las Vegas). Admittedly, Ottawa doesn't have an exciting or cool name. The city is attempting to rebrand itself currently in order to market itself more to the waning tourists. Tourists can't even seem to get it right when they refer to the Bayward (sic) Market in Ottawa. It's Byward, as in By, "Lieutenant-Colonel John By (1779-1836) of the Royal Engineers [who] was the British officer sent into the wilderness in 1826 with orders to build a canal to link the Ottawa River to Lake Ontario. He also founded Bytown, now called Ottawa." Makes you want to get out your history books and read more about it, doesn't it?

Even "The Big Easy" (New Orleans) is no longer the main point of reference to this cool turn of phrase. The Big Easy is no longer a place as much as a person now. If you were a follower of professional golf (I am not) you would know the golfer Ernie Els goes by that name now for the last couple of years. What's even funnier is that Els is not even from New Orleans--he's from South Africa. Well, at least the sacred Big Apple is still the Big Apple, and I don't have to tell anyone what city that refers to do I?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Barry Callaghan in the news this time

Leanne Delap, in the Globe & Mail, writes about Barry, his writing area, and art among other things. (via

It also helps work in the couple's amusing collections of Mexican death dolls and scenes; there is a feast of the dead scene: skeleton dolls seated at formal table, alongside their own "Christmas dinner" dining table. ("To remind guests of their inevitable destiny," says Mr. Callaghan.) As for most of his father's stuff, Mr. Callaghan has done something very unusual. He took his father's old study (where he long wrote, at more of a radiator cover than a proper desk) and filled it with his parents' family and professional remembrances. He added dark floral retro wallpaper, a striking red Venetian chandelier, and hung the portraits of Morley and Loretta taken in Paris and here at home on the same porch that Mr. Callaghan and Ms. Weissman Wilks love so much today.

"When I first finished this room," says Mr. Callaghan, "someone came in and said, 'Wow, a shrine; your life must be really overwhelmed by Morley.' I said, 'No, you're missing the point, I've banished him to here.' " He laughs.
Thus, the rest of the house is his and Claire's. Touring the living room, he hovers over an armchair. "It's really hard to pass this without sitting down," he says. "This is where I read in the morning." In fact, since Mr. Callaghan still writes in longhand, he uses the whole place as his study.

Blogger Buzz

Blogger Buzz
This site looks like it's a worthwhile read about weblogs of note. Brought to us by some of the folks at blogger dot com. Still kind of newish, so we'll see if it stands up on its own merits over the next year.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Update to the Writers Life #1

To the anonymous "you" out there who read this and are interested, I just updated the Callaghan blog entry, below, from last Wednesday, April 20th. Less facts, more fantasy always makes for a good story I think.

Publishing of the Central Dogma

James D. Watson and Francis Crick's D.N.A. model attracted great interest immediately upon its presentation. Arriving at their conclusion in early 1953, Watson and Crick made their first announcement on at the end of February of that year. Their paper 'A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid' was published 52 years ago today. (via

If it is assumed that the bases only occur in the structure in the most plausible tautomeric forms (that is, with the keto rather than the enol configurations) it is found that only specific pairs of bases can bond together. These pairs are : adenine (purine) with thymine (pyrimidine), and guanine (purine) with cytosine (pyrimidine).
Well, duh! You would have to be blind not to see that... How could Linus Pauling be so off the mark?! Pshaw!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Writing Life #4

Saturday night at the OWIF ended as it began: with excellent writers and conversation. Even Patrick Crean, editor to the stars, was spotted in the audience checking out the session hosted by Sean Wilson. Joining Crean at the table was also Thomas Allen & Son publisher's sales rep, Marilyn Cutler, ensuring her authors, Charlotte Gill (and also David Gilmour), were taken care of during their stay in Ottawa.

Charlotte Gill, Tess Fragoulis, and Andrew Pyper all read from their latest novels. The very positive book review of The Wildfire Season that appeared in Saturday's Globe & Mail certainly did not hurt Pyper's cause. And that about does it for my comments on this festival. Time to relax and Brodart the dust jackets, so to speak. (My, that sounds naughty.)

Speaking of Patrick Crean... was he separated at birth from author Paul Quarrington? Or is it just me that thinks there are some similarities? Check out these photos (Crean, Quarrington) and see for yourself. Yeah, like you've got nothing better to do with your time.

More Atwood

Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writings by Margaret Atwood coming soon to a bookstore near you. This via "Margaret Atwood came to Europe in the early 1960s in search of art and experience. What she found in Britain was a nation of sexually frustrated men, freezing bathrooms and plates of egg and chips."

Finally some news about World Book Capital

I had to chuckle at Pat Donnelly's article in the Montreal Gazette yesterday. Here is an excerpt:

No one would have been surprised if Montreal had been named World Circus Capital, World Film Festival Capital or just plain World Festival Capital. Hardly a week goes by here without the announcement of a coming cultural festival, usually touted as "international."

But Book Capital? In Canada, shouldn't that be Toronto? In North America, shouldn't that be New York? What about author-magnet, publishing-mad cities like London or Paris? What makes Montreal so special? Or, for that matter, what was so great about last year's World Book Capital, Antwerp, Belgium?
At the very least, those Taverne" vs. "Tavern" dustups with the Office quebecois de la langue francaise do make us look a tad provincial, rather than a world capital of anything.

Here's a link to the main web site (English link) for the proposed activities in my old home town of Montreal. The opening day's events were diverse in nature to say the least. Laurie Brown hosted Just Give’r yesterday with guests Terry and Dean. "The supposed writers of Just Give'r, were the protagonists of David Lawrence and Paul Spence's mockumentary Fubar". After this event, if you were quick enough, you could also see the next scheduled event where Sophie Durocher interviewed Gilles Vigneault and Angèle Dubeau. Échange de notes entre deux virtuoses. I purport that it would be really more interesting to see the Fubar crew and Vigneault et Dubeau share the same stage. But that's just me.

Be warned, most of the page of the WBC site currently has the ubiquitous COMING SOON or À VENIR dead links. As predicted in my previous weblog post, the seemingly lack of preparation, at least online, is visible in this regard. However, it's a good start and hopefully the excitement will build and the readers-cum-tourists will visit in droves to Montreal to read their little hearts out, and more people will start to dust off their library cards or register for news ones. At the very least they can read in transit while stuck in the ever present traffic jams. Construction season just started didn't it? Have Fun!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Ottawa Writers Festival and other, better blog

For more thought out, well reasoned, and educated opinions on OWIF's spring edition of the festival may want to browse on over to Amanda Earl's (of I bow down in deference to her well chosen words, crafted sentences and paragraphs. Speaking of which, I don't know if anyone else is blogging this festival. Let me know if you are one such individual or know of one.

The weather this morning is not too condusive to the 2:00pm Poets and Parliament: A Literary Walking Tour with Steven Artelle. But as one of my McGill geography professors once proclaimed to our class prior to a field trip, "Remember: Geographers are hale, hearty, and healthy people." Perhaps this appropriate sentiment also applies to writers and readers touring Ottawa in the cool spring rain.

You may ask if I am going? Hell, no! I hated geography and the weather sucks! However, I will be out tonight in the warm, dry halls of the Library of Canada. That's just my opinion and should not negatively affect yours. Ta.

Friday, April 22, 2005

The Writing Life #3

What a better thing to do with a Friday evening than to be in the company of some of the most interesting writers today. I have to tell you, it was such a pleasure to meet Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (the newest bookninja editor) for the first time. After her reading from her new novel The Nettle Spinner , I just had to introduce myself as the guy who last won the comic contest last year (consider this a silly plea for more comics George! Busy-shmisy... there's always time for doodling.) Oh yes, and now I know how to pronounce her last name, I think, by way of, the elegant, Elizabeth Hay's introduction. I just recently read Kuitenbrouwer's latest essay, Hardcover Logo: Confessions of a TPO, with interest on Check it out. In my opinion, a book is a book is a book. Say that ten times fast.

Dione Brand's reading was gut wrenching at times as she read from What We All Long For. I am such a sucker for books written (partially) in the first person. Dionne Brand delivered the story so well. Fitting that she was the last speaker, too. A poignant ending of sorts. John Metcalf, fresh from the Order of Canada cermony recently, was in fine form as usual as the senior member of the quartet of readers. He started off the readings of the four from his novella, Forde Abroad. Also reading was Nalini Warriar who won the 2002 Quebec Writers' Federation McAuslan First Book Prize for Blues From the Malabar Coast.

I don't know if Metcalf chose to speak from Forde Abroad on purpose because of the European flavour of the festival. That said, it was interesting to have visiting author Taja Kramberger, who is from Ljubljana, Slovenia sitting right beside me during the reading. Wish I could read minds. From the Porcupine's Quill website: "Forde Abroad takes Forde from Ottawa to Ljubljana, to attend a meeting of the Literary and Cultural Association of Slovenia - or, as Sheila puts it, to consort with Slovenians."

The beer was ice cold as usual but that was not nearly enough to keep me again for another late night, and I reluctantly missed the late night's event with Sheila Heti, Tess Fragoulis, Nalini Warriar, and Alan Cumyn. Perhaps someone will fill me in on how this went tomorrow. Or not.

The Writing Life #2

Hiromi Goto's book, Hopeful Monsters, is a must read. She gives a polished and expressive reading. Funny stuff. Creative writing classes did her well apparently. David Gilmour (tall man) has another potential best seller. Pick up his book, A Perfect Night to Go To China. For that matter, pick up Sparrow Nights, too. Melanie Little had some real talented guests on stage. Well done.

Tonight: 7:30 pm Writing Life #3 with John Metcalf; Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer; Nalini Warriar; Dionne Brand Hosted by Elizabeth Hay $12 / $10 for Students or Seniors / $8 for Festival Members After this show @ 9:30 pm Write Across Canada with Sheila Heti, Tess Fragoulis Nalini Warriar, and Alan Cumyn Hosted by Sean Wilson (A FREE EVENT)

Later on, the poetry cabaret really did come together rather nicely. This was the best mix of world poetry on one stage that the Wilson's put together to date. The earlier event in the evening which showed the documentary film Capidava by the Romanian Dr. Cristian Matei was a bit of a stinker, but hell, it was a free event.

The cabaret was hosted by the talented David O'Meara which his three guests read from their works of poetry. John Terpstra (Canada) gave well-crafted readings influenced by the Niagra escarpment in Disarmament. Wonderful images. Erik Lindner (Netherlands) well, this guy could read from the proverbial phone book and enthrall an audience. This guy had most of his poems memorized. Talented. O'Meara provided the English translation of Lindner's poems simultaneously. Taja Kramberger (Slovenia) wrapped up the trio of readings with her very personal book of poetry and also finished with a poem in her own language. I was glad I stuck around for this late night performance.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pah! Who needs water?

Note to self: A good host will always ensure the guest is well taken care of. In this case, Ken Rockburn presents Barry Callaghan with a small token of appreciation of his visit to Ottawa. Nice guy, that Rockburn is. See photo below.

Callaghan, afterall, is not a bad guy either. He signed a copy of his Black Queen Stories, and a first edition of A Broken Journey, which was previously signed by Morley and Barry's older brother, Michael, whose name appears on the dedication page. A trifecta of signatures that would be the envy of any serious book collector. After this initial brief meeting and chat at the end of the reading, he invited me out to breakfast with his wife the following morning. Nearly soiling myself with excitement, I accepted. The next morning promptly at 10am I took them to Ottawa's friendliest eatery, Elgin Street Diner, where he and Claire were very impressed with the quality and quantity of food and super service.

In an attempt not to end our day together so early, I suggested to Barry if he would like to see our local race track. Pure cliché, I know, but it had to be done. Barry readily agreed. We left Claire at her sister's for the day, and he and I headed down to the Rideau Carleton Raceway and Slots and chatted most of the afternoon about his dad, books, and, of course, horse racing.

I could take a cue from the late Hunter S. Thompson and do some gonzo journalism in this blog piece and insert more of myself into the story. Like tell you about how Barry and I, in a bourbon-flavoured cigar haze, pinched the waitress's butt, got chased out of the off-track betting lounge while debating the merits of which nag to bet on at the Aqueduct Races, or whether Tokyo's Fuchu track had the best odds that evening, and how I eventually out-maneuvered the local cops as we sped through their failed speed trap on Albion Road with Barry cursing out the window. Alas, the truth always eludes us when we seek it. I will concede to Dr. Gonzo when he once said, "I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours."

Barry spent the last sober hours of his Ottawa visit at the National Gallery of Canada with Claire, where I dropped them off, checking out The Sixties in Canada exhibit. Needless to say, I was amazed to be in his presence. A highlight, for sure, for any fan of Callaghan, junior or senior.

Callaghan's latest book is Raise You Five: Essays 1964-2004 Volume One. Barry Callaghan lives in Toronto with the beautiful artist Claire Weissman Wilks.

Okay, you got me. Barry Callaghan and I may not have been chased by the cops on Albion Road, but he was in my kitchen calling his wife at the hotel letting her know that he had not, in fact, been kidnapped and held for ransom.

Barry Callaghan will next be touring his book Monday, May 09, 2005 at the HART HOUSE MUSIC ROOM, 7 HART HOUSE CIRCLE (2ND FLOOR), 7:30PM which is a FREE event.

Poet and award-winning journalist BARRY CALLAGHAN - winner of over a dozen
National Magazine awards and the Pushcart Prize, and acclaimed author of
Barrelhouse Kings - reading and discussing his new collection RAISE YOU FIVE:
ESSAYS 1964-2004, VOLUME ONE; award-winning political and cultural theorist MARK KINGWELL - professor of philosophy at U of T and bestselling author of The World We Want and Better Living - reading and discussing his new collection NOTHING FOR GRANTED: TALES OF WAR, PHILOSOPHY, AND WHY THE RIGHT WAS MOSTLY WRONG, SELECTED WRITINGS 2000-2003; and Maclean's columnist PATRICIA PEARSON - former columnist for the National Post, frequent contributor to USA Today, and author of Playing House and Believe Me - reading and discussing her new collection AREA WOMAN BLOWS A GASKET: TALES FROM THE DOMESTIC FRONTIER.

Watson on Writing

Ken Rockburn, pictured below, is in conversation with Patrick Watson at the Spring Edition on the Ottawa International Writers Festival. Watson is clearly still sharp and continues to hone his writing craft as he discusses two of his latest books. The fact that he has spent most of the last 50 or so years in and around television didn't hurt his performance as his reading was quite lively.
Watson was, however, stumped at a question from Rockburn in coming up with the story about the guest that died on stage during an interview. Turns out that Rockburn was thinking about another book altogether, leaving Watson speechless trying to remember if this actually happened. Thankfully it did not.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ottawa Writers Festival

The Ottawa International Writers Festival, Spring Edition is this week and runs from the 18th until Saturday, April 23 at the Library and Archives, 395 Wellington Street.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Evening with Steve McCurry in Ottawa

Presented by Algonquin College Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m.

Recognised universally as one of today's finest image-makers, Steve McCurry has won many photography's top awards. Best known for his pieces on "Afghan Girl" with his evocative color photography and his work for National Geographic, McCurry captures the essence of human struggle and joy. The two-hour presentation will discuss “Taking Portraits to the Next Level” and “An Overview of 25 Years in the Field.”

This is a fundraising event for the Algonquin College Photography Department to raise funds for the annual student photography exhibition.

-Update: 11:23pm 18 April
Steve McCurry's presentation was very informal in style as he presented two hours worth of slides of his 25 plus years as a documentary photographer. After, he signed books for his fans and I was lucky enough to bring my copies of National Geographic mags for signing which feature his most famous portraits (Sharbat Gula).
My feeling is that Steve McCurry's forte is not in public speaking despite his many speaking engagements. It must be difficult to cull from thousands of photos and then plow through them in under two hours conveying the context of said photos. It's cliche to say, but the photos speak for themselves and he gives sparse colour commentary. He also took impromptu questions from the audience throughout the showing. If you did not know already, McCurry's skill is primarily in the use of available light photography in exotic and often times besieged locations such as Beirut, Afghanistan, Lebanon and most recently in New York City for the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. He continues to shoot corporate gigs to pay for other personal interests in photographing the more peaceful Buddhist realm. He was last in San Francisco and is off to another location tomorrow. He continues to work on assignment for National Geographic magazine.

Terry Fox 25th Anniversary

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada honored legendary runner Terry Fox with a memorial on Tuesday and a new C$1 coin with his image to mark the 25th anniversary of his famous Marathon of Hope to raise money for cancer research.
Fox, who lost a leg to cancer when he was a teenager, launched his cross-Canada marathon exactly 25 years ago by dipping his prosthetic leg into the Atlantic Ocean with the aim of running all the way to the Pacific.
He never made it. After 5,376 kilometers (3,341 miles) the cancer that had taken his right leg had spread to his lungs and forced Fox to quit near Thunder Bay, Ontario, on Sept. 1, 1980. He died less than a year later at age 22.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Somerset Street Fire Remains

From CBC News online: No alarms in apartment, say fire investigators. Last Updated Apr 8 2005 05:29 PM EDT

OTTAWA – The Ontario Fire Marshal's office has determined there were no smoke alarms in the apartment above the Mekong Grocery, where Tuesday's fatal fire claimed the lives of five people.

As a result of the findings, the fire department is considering charges under the fire code against the landlord, Hin Gee Tom, who owns the building with his wife.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow (born 10 June 1915; died 5 April 2005 at 89 years old), acclaimed North American-Jewish writer, won the Nobel prize in literature in 1976 and is best known for writing novels that investigate isolation, spiritual dissociation and the possibilities of human awakening. While on a Guggenheim fellowship in Paris, he wrote most of his best-known novel, The Adventures of Augie March.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winner 2005

For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000). Awarded to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Also nominated as finalists in this category were: War Trash by Ha Jin, and An Unfinished Season by Ward Just.

Robin Spry Dies in Montreal

Toronto-born filmmaker Robin Spry dies in car crash in Montreal Monday March 28, 2005. I will most remember him for his film, Drying Up the Streets. I was about ten or eleven years old when it was aired on CBC TV.

I don't think I will ever forget this movie. Let's just say I should have been a little older before seeing it. Of course, then there's the biopic Malarek (1989), which Spry produced. I believe this is a classic Canadian coming of age story. Loved it then, and watch it everytime it's on the tube.