April 27, 2008
Kerry's first solo book launch went as smoothly as could be on Thursday evening, as a packed-in café audience was on hand to hear her read selected poems from The Sleeping Life. I hear from the week's purchases alone, that Kerry made McNally Robinson's weekly best-seller list in today's Free Press.
Available at McNally's locations (or online) in Canada for the locals, copies can also be procured through Target, Amazon, Chapters/Indigo, Tower ... well, you get the drift. But do the author, publisher and local booksellers a favour and nab your online purchase of The Sleeping Life from the good folks at McNally Robinson, if you can.
I could not have been more proud, watching from my seat, taking flash-off photos as quietly as I could, to hear Kerry read from what has been, essentially, a years-in-the-making piece of work that is as tight and polished as any book of poetry you'll come across. I encourage everyone checking in to give the book a shot.
Side note: the launch coincides nicely with the fourth installment of the May Day Poetry Project, a blog-based, month-long cavalcade of poetic creativity – which Kerry will be contributing to.
April 23, 2008
Karma may not always be instant – in fact, it rarely is. I received a dose of the stuff this past weekend as our home was christened by youthful nogoodniks bearing eggs (frightening the flax outta Kerry, who was next to the befouled window watching the bomb-diffusing scene in The English Patient).
So how exactly is this karma? Well funny story, that.
Twenty-one years ago, almost to the day, my best friend A.S. and myself sported pre-teen crushes on best-friend classmates R.Y. and R.S., respectively. This is grade six mind you, with puberty on the horizon (very much unlike today's with-it, plugged-in 12-year-olds), so our primary tool at hand to show our affections – beyond teasing, of course – was egging their houses. Which we proceeded to do late one Friday evening.
The next morning, my family and I headed to the beach, as was our long-standing tradition at the time. So best friend A.S. spent a healthy portion of his morning solo, cleaning the eggs we hucked from the siding of R.Y.'s house. How did we get busted? Simple enough: we were 12 years old – sporting 12-year-old brains, getting recognized by R.Y. through the window.
I was never brought to justice for my part in this hideous crime, building sandcastles while my friend bore the terrible brunt. But karma found me, two decades later. And for this, I cleaned up a tidy mess outside our house on Sunday morning.
Moral of the story: don't egg houses ... of people you know (but buses remain fair game).
April 21, 2008
Drawn for Illustration Friday's current theme of primitive, my immediate thoughts revolved around a struggle between a Stone Age robin and a mammoth-tusked earthworm (to also represent my vision of "the early bird"). But, the worm never evolved to my liking, and I could not come up with a robin that didn't look like some voracious bird of prey. So, because I had other things to do – spring cleaning in the yard, cutting pages for the next HOWieZine, watch the playoff hockey and what-not – I scaled my efforts back and focused more on a simple portrait of what the Early Bird may have looked like. This chap represents a missing link of sorts, that awkward stage of evolution between Archaeopteryx and the modern, backyard worm-hunter.
You can click here for a better look at some of the line-work.
April 10, 2008
One of my more rewarding Flickr finds has been the CBC Radio 3 group page. It's a decent enough depository for quirky or interesting snapshots of Canadiana (mixed in with some straight-up scraps of randomness) – and I've contributed more than my fair share, 41 in total. But the ultimate goal of anyone submitting to the CBC Radio 3 group is being chosen. Chosen specifically, as image of the day, a special moment in a photo's life where it ascends to official background status on the CBC Radio 3 homepage. This past Tuesday, a photo I took of my Rocket Robin Hood buttons for the 2006 GDC Manitoba button swap attained image-of-the-day status – the second time I've made the cut (the first being last June, with this shot of Kerry on the swings in Matlock taken with slide film many moons ago). In addition, this shot of a grumpy Shriner in last summer's Icelandic Festival in Gimli was used on the CBC Radio 3 blog (below) in a discussion about, well, summer festivals.
For this, I earned the pleasure of receiving a free t-shirt and nostalgia-riffic CBC button in the mail while away on vacation. Yeah. So there. Free t-shirt. I figure that's fair, not only for a day's use of a couple photos, but also for the many Canuck bands I've discovered through their Friday podcast.
April 07, 2008
Top row (left to right): a lone tree near Serpa; the Rio Guadiana emerges from fog in Mértola. Middle row (left to right): the cobbled streets of Coimbra; a beached boat in Cacela Velha, the terminus of our bike trip; a Seville pup mugs. Bottom row (left to right): every day is laundry day in the Alfama; Kerry explores the caves of Quinta da Regaleira.
We began our vacation in Portugal sitting atop a wide staircase to an old church – fighting first-day jetlag by lasting until sundown – listening to an unseen man in the square below whistling Jingle Bells.
We’d been dropped in Serpa with our wheels for a one-week self-guided cycling trek south to the Algarve coast, via river-hugging towns Mértola and Alcoutim, and with darkness and rain settling in our weariness trumped even an attempt at locating a place for dinner. But with opening-night jitters behind us, we left town on day two with a bag of lunch goodies (regionally-famous, locally-made cheese chief among these) on a round trip through the countryside, reacquainting our winter legs with the concept of cycling. In hindsight, it’s astounding how small our vacation started out – in comparison to the bustle of Lisbon three weeks later – but on that day we were permitted to gawk at local banalities like roosters, cacti and groves of orange and lemon trees (I thought they smelled an awful lot like laundry detergent). And not realizing the power of even cloud-peeking sunshine, I successfully burned the backsides of my biking hands – which in ensuing days turned nicely purple with doses of windburn and rain-freeze.
Serpa seems a real working-class town, and it’s too bad we just missed its big Easter celebration. And the morning we left it was out-and-out lousy outside (chuva todo o dia, our hostess warned), but by lunchtime we had escaped the drizzle and traveled the highway to Mértola under improved conditions, ending with a rewarding switchback decent and a stop-in-our-tracks gawk at the huddled, clifftop town on the final curve. Poised above the Rio Guadiana, Mértola is a thin, cake-slice walled old town capped by imposing castle ruins – an amazing sight. We spent the entire next day wandering its streets, castle remains, museums and eating a cod dinner with a local soap on the restaurant TV. Restaurants always seemed to have a TV on, ones showing futbol were the best. The coolest thing though was an archaeological dig being conducted on a torn up street; we’d walked by it a few times before noticing the sideways-sleeping skeleton in the dirt. Cool and creepy.
The ride continued to Alcoutim, situated on the Guadiana where the river forms the border with Spain. The small village made for a quick stop (one night only) but offered a nice end-of-day destination – and the following morning we waited long enough for its annual Easter Sweets Festival to set up, where we nabbed some prophetically decent sweets before the ride on to the long-weekend bustle of the Algarve coast. It was in a tiny, relatively untouched pocket of rural farmscape where the bike trip eventually concluded, and this area offered the perfect scenario to complete what was a more grueling adventure than we imagined. The family-run place we stayed near the coast had its own flock of a dozen-or-so horses and a 24-hour rusty-hinge braying donkey. For an extra day we based ourselves here and rode into neighbouring hamlets for walks on the beach and beers-and-toasties. But it also capped our cycling portion, and soon we’d have to shift to part two of the holiday.
This began down the road in Tavira, nestled deeper in the tourist-centric part of the country. Here we based ourselves for the two-day tour we booked to take us into Seville and Gibraltar, which ended up being more than a tease than anything – fine enough to lay claim to witnessing both these fascinating cities, but the amount of travel-time versus exploring these locales was tipped heavily to the former, and the payoff, though incredible, was not enough to tip the scales. But if anything, it certainly cemented Seville as a destination to explore again someday. It is a city that can take days to devour, an eye-popping visual treat. Gibraltar is more a curiousity: geologically imposing, historically a strategic location for conquering powers but now a modern-day mixture of army/navy pomp and touristic excess that borders on the bizarre, as if the British military opened a theme park – complete with cliff-hugging rollercoaster streets, dank spectacular cave networks and Europe’s only native monkeys (apes they call them, but actually macaques).
Top row (left to right): an evening view of Spain from Alcoutim; primary colours rule in Tavira. Middle row (left to right): rooftop stork in Mértola; Lisbon's Océanario; skateboarders in the Alfama district. Bottom row (left to right): the caves of Gibraltar; architecture in Seville.
Dropped back in Tavira, we were ready to head north and try a different part of the country. Leaving the following day on a pre-dawn train, we departed for Coimbra, a mid-sized university city a couple of hours north of Lisbon. An entirely different beast than the sunnier southern climes, Coimbra – the core of it at least, where we stayed – is grittier, urban and buzzing. The original walled city clings to an impossibly steep hill off the Rio Mondego, with the centuries-old university at the tip-top. Capital of Portugal in a distant past, the core is chocabloc with historical significance (summed up nicely by the difference between urban Coimbra’s “new” cathedral, from the 1500s, versus its stunning “old” cathedral from the 1100s). Kerry was nursing a cold at this point, so perhaps the best discovery we made here was the public market, an indoor expanse of vendors supplying breads, cheese, fish, fruits and vegetables. The city as a whole was the perfect back-on-the-horse plan of healthy food and never-ending climbing of stairs; steps winding their way to the university at top are appropriately labeled Quebra Costa (“the backbreaker”).
Our final week was spent in Lisbon, quite possibly the farthest cry imaginable from our launch point in Serpa (now feeling months away). By luck more than anything, we procured amazingly central and convenient lodging, and from our location on Praça da Figueira we set out on our first partial day to get lost in the maze-like and directionally nonsensical Alfama district. Our first full day in the city was spent making hay of various locations’ Sunday free-admission policy – the beautiful azulejo (traditional painted tile) museum and the cavernous Panteão Nacional – before getting hosed of our euros at the overhyped Castelo de São Jorge, and subsequently both winning (me: mmm, delicious squid) and losing (Kerry: umm, glass-eyed sardines) at dinner.
The next day we took the metro to the gargantuan Océanario – touted as the world’s second-largest aquarium – spotting in the tanks various rays, sharks, rockhopper penguins, sea dragons and one hideously monstrous Pacific Ocean sunfish (I liken this to a two-ton, somehow-still-floats granite boulder). On a roll, the following day we hiked to the Gulbenkian Museum, an impressive collection of goodies and art ranging from Egyptian, Greek and Oriental antiquities to portraits by Reubens and Rembrandt.
The final pair of days in Lisbon were punctuated by onsets of vacation exhaustion, and our pace slowed a touch. The first was spent outside the city in the forests and shade of neighbouring Sintra where we explored the ruins of a hilltop Moorish castle with ocean views, the blue-blooded glitz of the Palácio Nacional de Pena (summer home of the now-defunct Portuguese monarchy) and the trippy, cultish grounds of Quinta da Regaleira – which I can only describe as what the Neverland ranch would have looked like if designed a hundred years ago. Our last day of vacation was retrospective, back in town with a two-dollar bottle of wine and falafel for lunch in a riverside park and almost falling asleep in the sunshine on the roof of an Alfama church.
Out for our final dinner in the hipster Bairro Alto district, we hear a muzak version of Jingle Bells blaring through a megaphone. It was time to come home.
My best photos of our trip will commence popping up on my Flickr page over the days to come, so the best advice I can offer is to check often. I will be, just to keep the memory fresh.
April 05, 2008
Kerry and I are back from our springtime opus of a vacation in Portugal (save for a quick jaunt to the Rock of Gibraltar where I cozied beside my new buddy here – say 'ello to mah leetle friend), and I have much, much photos to scan through. In the meantime however, consider this a big, fat, monkey-laden tease.
More to come ... soon.