Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Back in the Neighbourhood

I recently moved from an owned home back into a rented apartment. Part of me loves this change. In the years since I became responsible for a house, I've sometimes sat in friends' cool downtown pads and thought, I remember this. I remember not having to worry about the roof or the garden or the lawn. Don't get me wrong; I totally miss my garden. I miss it a lot. I miss a lot of things about having a house, but I've also had a lot of fun setting up my place and being back in the action right near Victoria Park.

One of the things I knew I'd have to adjust to quickly was the sound of neighbours, sharing walls, etc. This morning--after a rambunctious night of dealing with teething, an oddball 3 am poopy diaper and endless waking from both my little darlings--I settled down to finally get some much needed sleep and was awakened by the most athletic sounding sex romp I have ever heard. They went on and on and on and on and on and on. I thought, surely one of them must be getting close. I lay in bed, wide awake next to my blissfully sleeping 8 month old son, and waited for it to end.

It just kept on going.

I got out of bed and took this video.

Now, the video doesn't really capture it. But you can see that they were going at it so hard the ceiling fan was shaking. This was not the loudest or most impressive part of their escapade, but I'll share this tiny clip, featuring my cruddy drop ceiling and messy living room in the grey morning light.

When they were finished she exclaimed, "That was amazing!"

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

London Ontario's Stained Glass Heritage

Image from tedgooddennstainedglass.com

Tonight I attended my second meeting of the London Middlesex Historical Society. I've been meaning to join for eons, and finally did it tonight.

Ted Goodden, local stained glass artist and restoration expert, made a presentation about London's unique stained glass heritage. He's an expert all right -- he learned his craft in England and has traveled all over Canada. It's his opinion that London, Ontario has the densest amount of domestic stained glass in the country -- and after my walk home, I have to agree.

I have never before noticed how much stained glass is in our city! It's true -- I just assumed that in every city, old houses had stained glass, but I guess it just isn't the case. I grew up with the understanding that stained glass was something very desirable to have in your home, that it sort've indicated that your place was of "good stock." My husband and I dream about getting our small side windows filled by Mr. Goodden, perhaps commissioning work from him someday if we can afford it. If only our house came with London's signature stained glass!

Turns out, London had a very successful stained glass entrepreneur between the 1890s and 1920s named Col. Thomas Hobbs, who ran a huge hardware chain and had a giant factory on the block surrounded by Ridout, York, Talbot and the tracks. He made affordable stained glass and worked with builders during the boom of that period to put stained glass in all the downtown houses that he could -- he was a smart businessman. This is why so many of our century homes have windows specifically designed to hold stained glass pieces. Sure, lots of heritage homes in lots of cities have stained glass, but it's true that London has more! As I walked home through Blackfriars, almost every home I passed had a stained glass transom or keyhole window. This was something I had never appreciated in the past.

The picture I found online for this post shows the detailed patterned glass of the kind Hobbs had shipped in from Europe for Londoners' homes. There's a huge variety of windows, from very affordable to super expensive and ornate, in both the downtown and London's east end. Hobbs used his fortune to build a huge estate in Hyde Park (available for rent in the summer, I understand) with elaborate gardens and lots and lots of stained glass windows. His company also made leaded windows, many of which you can see in Old North, including my grandma's house on Cheapside Street.

If you've had dinner at Ben Thanh, and you've used the bathroom, you've walked through some of the remaining basement structures of Hobbs' original factory. Now it smells like fish and cleaning supplies. Who knows what it smelled like back then?

At any rate, I know some people think the Historical Society is for fuddy-duddies, but it's super fantastic. If your interested, you can find out more at the London Heritage website. It's only $20 for the year, and I think I'm going to be very glad I joined. And, oh yeah, I'm presenting there in May on Hotel London.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Rilla is Important

Penguin recently published an important reprint of Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery. 

You probably think you already own this book in paperback, probably as part of a set of "Anne Books" you got for Christmas from your grandma. You may never have read it, getting bogged down in the third Anne book, and it sat there, neglected. Maybe you have read it. You might even be a pretty big Montgomery fan, think you know a lot about her, maybe you even read her biography, and you might not realize how important this new edition of Rilla really is. 

You see, you haven't really read Rilla of Ingleside. Somewhere along the line, some lazy editor used an abridgment to make that nice little Seal edition you got in the 1980s or 90s. Even if you think you know everything about Montgomery, or if you are just a partial fan, this is the clincher: a lot of those Seal editions are abridged. In fact, all of them might be. So if you think you've read Montgomery, you haven't. You missed out on a lot. 

This new edition of Rilla is the first time this book has appeared intact since 1976. 

Maybe you haven't read Montgomery before, and if so, this is a decent place to start. Sure, the main character is a teenage girl, but this book deals with dark themes that aren't necessarily kid-appropriate. I usually recommend A Tangled Web for first time Montgomery reader, or The Blue Castle (my personal favourite), but of all the "Anne Books," Rilla is the one I have read the most. It comes from, in my opinion, Montgomery's best period as a writer. It is popular and subversive, romantic and dark, comedic and tragic. The characters jump off the page. 

A beautiful hardcover edition, the new one also comes with lots of bonus material. On top of the Introduction, there's contextual information on the First World War, information on women and poetry during the First World War, and a glossary that functions almost as well as annotations to the text. 

This is the only book written by a Canadian woman during the War, about the home-front during the War, and specifically the impact of the War on Canadian women. It's incredibly unique, and frankly, an incredibly good read. 

And if you aren't convinced of Montgomery's importance, keep in mind that Margaret Laurence, Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood all credit her as having an essential impact on their development as writers. There is a growing opinion that Montgomery is the seminal Canadian writer, so get on board the bandwagon and read this book!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Steampunk Rap

I just downloaded this album as a present for my sweetie, and it's fantastic. This is a blog about books and all things paper, but it's hard to find lovers of antiquarian arts who don't find Steampunk at least mildly fascinating. This album combines Anglophilia, mean rap beats and Victorian charm to produce an eminently listenable set of tracks. You can check it out and Professor Elemental's other efforts at www.professorelemental.com, and I hope he puts out another album in this genre.

Check it out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Glenn Piano by Gladys Priddis: A Review

My good friend and former colleague Jason Dickson wrote a book. Well, he's written several books. His latest is Glenn Piano by Gladys Priddis, a haunting novella about a mentally disturbed woman and her relationship with a doctor who practices medicine on the margins of his profession. It's a terrific concept for a story, and when Dickson let me read previous drafts, I was excited to see where it would go. The final product, published with beauty and elegance by Book Thug, is everything I hoped for. It is small and it is strange, but it packs a hell of a punch for such a tiny little tome. 

Jason will laugh at my use of alliteration, but I don't have his gift of economy with language that is so apparent in Glenn Piano. The frame narrative introduces you to Gladys Priddis as an old woman, and then drags us back in time to London, Ontario in the late nineteenth century, where we slowly begin to see the world through her eyes. Our view comes closer and closer until we are reading her poetry in her handwriting, as she falls in love with Piano and further into her psychosis. The story occurs against the backdrop of fledgling London, Ontario, including carefully chosen details of the city that reveal themselves as much as Gladys begins to reveal herself to us. 

It is experimental fiction, as you can expect from Dickson and a Book Thug production. However, as experimental fiction goes, this is very accessible. Furthermore, the production is beautiful, and as someone who loves books not only as conveyors of information but as objects unto themselves, this little volume has a treasured place on my bookshelf. When I ordered it from the Book Thug website, it came with a membership card for the publisher tucked in the flyleaf, a nice touch. All in all, a very good purchase, and one I might have made even if I wasn't friends with the author. 

You can catch Dickson at the London Public Library Central Branch this Saturday (November 13) at 2 pm. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue: A Review

I finished this book last night at 1 am. I've been consistently staying up too late reading it, as it's one of those that I would have finished in a day or two back before I had a baby. It's hard to put down. Since it's been nominated for the Man Booker, I guess it's redundant for me to point out that it's good. But what is special about Room is that it is one of those rare pieces of literary excellence that is also a page turner. 

Donoghue intended the book to be a page turner, to be read on two levels. I know this because I heard her speak about it at our local Landon Library. You see, Ms. Donoghue is from London-town, originally from Ireland, but we'll lay claim to her anyway. I covered the event for The Beat, London's arts magazine, and you can find my article in the print edition. 

Aside from my predisposition to like a book by a local author, I have to tell you to read this book. I mean it. I've read lots of books, and lots of them are really good. I would recommend them to people, la di da. But this book is freaking fantastic. I laughed, I cried, without hyperbole. 

Perhaps you have not heard of Room? The story is written from the perspective of five-year-old Jack (it helps that I just had a son and his name is Jack) and happens inside a place he calls "Room," but is actually a small garden shed where he and his mother are held captive by a Fritzl-like asshole he refers to as "Old Nick" (because he saw on TV that Old Nick comes in the night--he interprets his captor as Santa Claus, how creepy!). 

Lots of reviewers have gushed about Room, and I'm not going to repeat what they've said. Donoghue finds release in Jack's narrative voice. Her tone is full of candor and humour. Among the words I would use to describe this book, the first is "charming." How can a novel about a woman held captive as a sexual slave for seven years be charming? Well, go and read it and find out!

My husband came to bed just as I was finishing. I told him I had a page and a half to go, and he dutifully went and sat in the living room until I was done and I came to get him with tears in my eyes. These characters are so real to me, it was hard to let them go. I've even stolen words from the book like "have some" and "Jackerjack" and started using them around the house with my kid. If I can be one tiny bit as good as the mother in this book, I'll win a medal.  

Here are my favourite moments from Room without ruining anything for you:

When Jack sees the mouse for the first time. 

When Jack uses Goodnight, Moon at the end.

When Jack sees something in the skylight.

And the incredible heart-thumping scene that is ruined in every review but this one!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day Trip to Lucan

Since we have time off together, David and I decided to spend time exploring Southwestern Ontario when we can. After all, there are some nearby sites we've never seen. One of these was the Donnelly Museum in Lucan, Ontario, a half hour drive north of London. 

They have a Thrift Store/Laundromat Combo. Cool. I almost bought a cake plate here, but was distracted by the old cassettes. This brought back fond memories of my mom's old crap mobile, that David and I used to drive around on our road trips. We used to get old tapes and listen to awesome hits of the late 80s and early 90s, including Ru Paul's dance single -- to which I was surprised that David knew all the words. 

We ate lunch at a diner called Our Place, where they serve the best club house sandwich I have ever had and perfect crispy fries. Yum. I think the manual labourers were a bit put off by my breastfeeding, but I used my fancy Bebe Au Lait cover, so it's not like they saw anything. The old ladies having breakfast liked to see our baby. There were fresh flowers, and I always think a diner is a step up if they have fresh flowers instead of silk. 

Across the street from the Thrift Store/Laundromat is the Donnelly Museum. It has no parking lot, but you can park anywhere on the street for free. There's an entrance fee, I think about $7. And they sell ashtrays if you are into the really weird Ontario kitsch. I think it's funny that you can put your cigarette out on the Donnelly's faces. 

We want Jack to be introduced to local history at an early age, and much like Seth's father (as he describes in Bannock, Beans, and Black Tea), we want to make him read all the historical plaques. This one was conveniently located on the floor in a shed for him to read.

We found out about Barack Obama's strong connection to the Donnelly Family. 

Afterwards, we found a really neat church sale. We bought rhubarb pie, tea biscuits, a Batman backpack from the 1960s, Seven Dwarfs rubber squeeze toys, a picture frame and probably something else. I love to buy stuff for $2 from church ladies. 

This poster was up on one of the church walls. It's my favourite.