As I’m approaching an inevitable embrace of Canada (oh, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!) I’m aware that I have very little knowledge of the Canadian literary tradition. A poor citizen is one who does not know his country’s stories. It is how we speak to one another–a cultural physiography and language that connects Canadians together. How can I become a citizen without learning this cultural language? I thought a more creative way would be for Yukoners to suggest Canadian books that meant something to them–then it would be more personal.
So I went on CBC with Dave White and we came up with a plan for book suggestions–a reading list of sorts–so that I could become more literate about Canada. We are getting great results, but please call in to Dave and suggest more books. I’d like to build a canon, of sorts, of Yukon-suggested Canadian literature. Right now I’m looking mostly for fiction, poetry and drama—but creative nonfiction would be appropriate too. I built a blog to read and discuss this literature. It’s called “A Year of Canadian Reading” and you can follow the link to see what I’m reading, what I’m up to, and what I thought about books you suggested. Follow along if you like. Read them with me. I want to get an idea about Canada from its literature. I want to understand you through your stories.
I don’t have any intention of stopping reading after the Year is over—but an actual year is a start. I’ve read some Canadian Literature–Mordecai Richler, Al Purdy, Tomson Highway, Alistair MacLeod, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje (as well as some great science fiction and fantasy). But I’m aiming for a deeper understanding of Canada through breadth and depth of your suggestions.
Let me know if you want to play. Follow these links if you want to: SUGGEST A BOOK FOR ME, or find out WHAT I’M GOING TO READ.
I just returned from a brilliant rendition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Yukon Arts Centre. One man, Raoul Bhaneja, did the whole play–or an edited version of the whole play–but he did every part, not just Hamlet’s soliloquies. He had a box of light and an edge of darkness that he ran around making us believe he was seven or eight or ten people. It was, in a word, stunning. You might think that it will become boring–one man doing everything–and yet, every character received the same high quality attention. I can’t imagine the inner-acting work that went on to understand every character, embody every person. “I wanted to give everyone their chance,” Bhaneja said during the Q & A after the show.
It is a two hour show, and Bhaneja says about 15,000 words (from his own estimation). He nuances characters with a gesture–Rosencrantz, his arm in the air; Guildentstern, leaning on one knee; Gertrude with her hand over her chest; Polonius stooped; Horatio a bit rigid and formal; Ophelia shy and uncertain. His voice takes on multiple voices–a Sybil of sorts–but whose accents define the boundaries of the characters well enough for you to imagine, and I kept doing this, as if there were really six or seven people on stage and they were just being revealed to you one at a time as they spoke, as if they just came through the haze to speak.
Because Bhaneja edited the work, the transitions might be a bit altered, transitions from scene to scene. But when I watched him end one scene with Hamlet and then start the next scene with Claudius I was struck by the statement it made about their characters. Having one man portray both Claudius and Hamlet and crossfade into them gives the viewer this chance to see the two men as more similar, more equal, two sides of the same coin. It’s easy to delineate the characters when they are played by separate actors, but when one man does them, it actually makes you think about how similar they all are.
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Just a reality of living in the north, these -40 nights, where the icefog and the woodsmoke turned back on the streets mingle together to hide the city. It’s mysterious and lovely. Dangerous to drive in. I couldn’t see the next segment until it was revealed. People crossed second street without tapping the crossing light button and I could barely make out their dark forms merging back in with the night. It was like there was a wall at the back of every backdrop setting— here’s Main Street with nothing beyond it but a white wall, and now the Library and now the Bridge. Like curtains being opened one after the other, presenting our town in segments. It certainly robs the city of continuity, or of flow, but it really makes you think of the city in sections—as if Main street were all by itself, or the Bridge, somewhere in England, instead of Canada, the fog so thick you couldn’t tell where it was placed in the geography.
I wished I’d had my camera the whole time, but it was hard enough driving your truck through the fog. It groaned and squeaked as if it were thirty years old instead of five. My friend says she won’t drive after it dips below -35C. “Everything on your car breaks.” And I saw, like an ambulance for vehicles, five or six tow trucks dragging perfectly good-looking cars and SUVs–just reminding me that even good cars in bad weather can break. The air is filled with particles–mostly smoke because the smoke from homes hits a certain layer of air and bounces back. You can see that everyone’s smoke flatlines at about 100 feet, going sideways, and coming back down, like we’re attacking ourselves. Certainly Riverdale has been warned about woodsmoke pollution….but at -40, who’s listening? (And -40 is where all temperature worlds, both those who live in Fahrenheit and those who live in Celsius, meet)
It’s interesting to think of the city all divided up into parts, separate sections outside of their context. Like the world ends at the end of the street. In some ways it was like speeding through the countryside of Texas and seeing each section as if it were its own small town strung together like pearls on a string heading towards the big city.
I saw Raoul Bhaneja’s one man version of Hamlet tonight, so I’m really enjoying language. Makes me want to read, or see, Shakespeare more often. Also makes me think of transitions–from one street to the next–from one scene to the next–my whole town was in crossfades.
A perfect day, and I’ve had them before, almost always contains a visit to Baked Café. Some days I just come to sit on the black couches and look out the windows at Whitehorse going by. Sometimes I bring a book to read. Sometimes I plan official meetings there. Other times I arrange to meet my friends. Often, I run into them there unexpectedly. Baked Café is a community hub, so naturally it’s a great venue for meeting. There’s a lot of ambience in the wide room, and a lot of ambient noise so that you can speak frankly without being overheard. Music on the radio. People standing around talking. It’s comfortable, and often crowded, but not in a jam-packed way, but more like having your best friends all over at your place, happy. It’s probably the largest coffeeshop that Whitehorse has.
At the corner of First and Main, Baked Café serves a large range of specialty coffees and teas, cold drinks, as well as a wide repetoire of scones and pastries. You cannot pass up a scone that is bigger than your hand. It is a meal. Cranberry Coconut, Cranberry Chocolate Chip, Blueberry Almond or Raspberry Walnut–they each come in three kinds: white, wheat and spelt. Awesome soups–my favorites are any of their hearty chowders and their Tomato Basil with or without chicken. They also serve sandwiches, beef pies, quiches, wraps, salads, cookies, and in the summer, several flavors of gelato. There is something for everyone. It is a hot tourist spot in the summer, and just a hop away from the Whitehorse Trolley across the street. Kids love it. And it’s close to everything on Main Street–a place to begin your perfect day of shopping and touring around. It’s a block away from the Museum, down the street from the Westmark, next to the river and the Whitepass Yukon Railway building.
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If you’re a fan of Vincent Chong, and you’ve seen my post on him, you’ll be delighted to know he has a new blog and he has a new Art Book coming out. The details are below.
Vincent was commissioned to redesign covers for all of Stephen King’s books, and they’re stunning. I’ve picked out a few designs I like. I’m waiting still for the really cool werewolf one. (But there aren’t really any good werewolf novels yet…gonna have to write one)
My new blog http://vincentchongart.wordpress.com is now online. The blog will be updated regularly and feature posts including news updates, artwork, behind-the-scenes material such as sketches, insights into my working methods/inspirations, tips and info on life as a freelancer and much more. There’s also free downloads including desktop wallpapers, so please stop by for a visit and check it out.
I’m also excited to announce that the first art book collecting my work will be published by Telos Publishing. Entitled ALTERED VISIONS: THE ART OF VINCENT CHONG, the book will be a 48 page, A5, full colour hardback edition. Further details can be found on my blog.
The book will be published 25th March and launched at the World Horror Convention 2010 but you can pre-order a copy now direct from the publisher’s website http://www.telos.co.uk under the ‘Original and Classic Fiction’ section. Copies are expected to be limited so place your order now to avoid disappointment.
If you know of anyone else who may be interested in my blog or art book, please pass this information onto them.