la gare

seen better in black and white
seen best through a brasserie glass
how can i tell you: it felt like home
from the first inhalation

down on the other corner is the cemetery
where simone du beauvoir and jean-paul sartre, seeking eternal rest,
are pestered daily by well-meaning fans leaving stones, coins, metro tickets
still, it beats lying next to jim morrison over in pere lachaise
that one’s like a bloody airport, crowds of people pushing and weeping
looking to pocket fragments of the famous: chopin dust, piaf crumbs
smearing the pink tomb of oscar wilde with lipstick kisses

edgar quinet is the metro stop
ringed by art stores, pharmacie, cafe la liberte, news stand.
there is creperie row, and opposite is rue de la gaite
you can pick up asian takeaway and X-rated video on your way to la gare.
down that spoke is the cyber cube where you can rent an english keyboard
and on rue delambre there’s a laundry next to cath & dave’s hotel.
there are loads more art stores; you said you like to paint?
and café dietetique, where the food is not salted
but it makes you feel lucky.

wednesday means street market, where the most brazen of eggplants
and strawberries compete for your love with cheeses and other-wordly olives
and fresh cut flowers and paisley ties and pickpockets.
there are tablecloths and genuine french berets
and leathers and imported scarves
there are small dogs attached to large owners, and satchels,
and not as many people smoke anymore.

on sundays the mussels and vegetables are replaced by etchings and small sculptures.
art invades this street. the vendors will ship it to your house
on the other side of the world.

sometimes there’s a flea market with bird cages and old dolls
no photos please, monsieur, you must stop your camera merci beaucoup

we can sit now in cafe odessa, the most darling of all my french mistresses.
she reeks of tobacco and beer and her music is a tired loop of hits
from the american ’80s.
her upholstery is worn, and in some places torn
but we don’t care. we tell ourselves it’s charming,
in the same way the waiters pretend to find our canadian accents charming.
we know they’re making fun of us
and we don’t care.
we order beer named after french gnomes, even though you wanted a coffee.
beer is cheaper, madame; you might as well get that.

this neighbourhood is even better at night. all the outside chairs are taken;
people talk and eat and glasses tinkle
and motorbikes zoom past and drunks amble by
muttering obscenities (which always sound fiercer en francais)
and shaking their fists at le ciel

and this is where picasso and hemingway liked to party
wait, you mean you didn’t know that?

at another cafe a cat sits on the tables,
a case of black-cat ass right on your linen napkin.
i took a picture of it through the window one time
kitty bum snuggled right next to the cutlery
i do not recommend dining there

on another corner, buses. the ugly black tower.
a department store that sells the finest cheap lemon vervaine soap
and those striped shirts that make me wish i was a russian sailor
cinema, patisserie, pain au chocolat, tarte au citron
sweetest of all is that screeching metal-burnt sugar smell of the paris underground
how can i tell you it has held my heart
for a thousand years?



torontosaurus wrecks

News item, February 2011:
Toronto the Good ditches longtime nicknames T.O., T.Dot and Hogtown; dubs itself ‘El Toro.’
Dear Toronto,
Please refer to Seinfeld episode #175: You cannot give yourself a nickname. It must be bestowed upon you by others. As George Costanza discovered, when you try to get people to call you ‘T-Bone’ you end up being called ‘Koko.’

Ironically (or was it a cry-for-attention cheeky collective nod to Seinfeld?), ‘T-Bone’ was runner-up in the Eye Weekly contest that unleashed ‘El Toro.’
Whatever. Nine months have passed since CBC television host Evan Solomon, one of the celebrity judges, proclaimed the winning moniker has ‘a delightfully multicultural tinge.’ Right. So … Is anyone actually referring to Toronto
as El Toro?

Didn’t think so.

two bruised peaches on the subway platform
samuel taylor coleridge on the TTC
two new moleskin notebooks
to match your bergundy chick-magnet blundstones
whispering around the henry moore
gourmet popcorn on the menu at starbucks
man on crutches to litterer: you dropped something.
litterer: thank you.
man on crutches: you dropped something.
litterer: you’re welcome.
man on crutches: so why don’t you pick it up?
litterer: fuck you.
man on crutches: aren’t you going to pick it up?
litterer: fuck you!
man on crutches: pick it up!
litterer: go fuck yourself!
you miss chagall at the AGO by one week
dark green centre

lochhead . riopelle . borduas
shamanic art ^^^ automatist painting ^^ ahhhhh ^
canadian landscape (NFB movie
featuring a.y. jackson, 1941
you know, the year your grandmother
killed herself)
‘can paradise ever be achieved?
A) damnshit right it can. got some of it right here ahhhh ahhhh ^^^^^ ahhhhh ^^
B) not without modern appliances
robert motherwell says art = an experience, not an object.
general idea says poodles = “the hairdresser’s little friend”
(which of course = code for “SO GAY!”) ^~^~^~^
it’s obvious you’ve been wondering:
what is it about the poet brain?
what sets those sad captains apart?
is it hope?
belief in miracles?
in true love in daffodils in forever?

you may not be ready to hear this but the truth is
when we myopic fools finish deep wrestling with a particularly obstreperous line
or recalcitrant couplet
we more frequently than we care to admit
wake up in a strange hotel room days later
lying next to stanzas smeared with blood and mascara
exclamation marks reeking the sweaty sour reek of vodka
hungover commas retching into the morning-after porcelain
(which act of punctuational thuggery
tore the bathroom door off its hinges this time?)
the fetid stench of onomatopoeia
hanging in the air
like stale pizza
oh look look at the clever hipster youngster
being wicked funny on queen street
‘donation? donation?’ he giggles, waving an empty coffee cup
under the noses of saturday night flaneurs and leafs fans.
the genius is wearing a $200 gap sweater and shiny italian shoes.
begging as a lark, it’s such a joke, will anyone toss a coin
into his blatantly un-needy cup?
(true homelessness has become just so banal …)
three blocks later another sharp dresser grabs your arm and asks for change.
no but i’ll give you five bucks for that leather jacket
— what? fuck. no. seriously, lady. i need it for food. i haven’t eaten in three days.
you start walking away so he accosts the person behind you
with even more hostility in his voice.
— for food! PLEASE!
then he leans against a brick wall and (blatantly, defiantly) lights up a joint.
someone yells:
geez, pal, if you can afford weed surely you can afford a cheeseburger

oot and aboot / from the kiwi road less travelled

three reasons why i’ll never be a travel writer:

3.) you need to have an attention span; i had mine surgically removed some years back.

2.) you need to make careful observances about regional landmarks and scenic things, and take lots of notes. i am unable to do those things when i travel. i eat what’s in season, and i drink what’s on tap at the local pub, and i take pictures of visually appealing meals that are plunked down in front of me, and i stare at these most amazing clouds, and i forget the names of almost everything that is shown to me, so that later, when it comes time to write about these things, i can’t remember a thing.

1.) you need to capture the essence of place in your writing, in a way that is compelling and interesting for the reader. being totally self-absorbed, and constantly in search of comfort foods, i tend to capture little but the essence of what’s on the end of my fork at any given time.

that said, what follows is the sum total of the woefully inadequate jottings from my upside-down travel journal, new zealand, 2009.

january 16: finish packing. tidy computer desk. clean basement. leave for auckland, 4 p.m. flight

jan. 17: the lost day

jan. 18: arrived in auckland 5 a.m. it took half an hour to get our bags and another 30 minutes to get through various customs checks. a security beagle sniffed out my cashews, which were missed (ha!) by the spaniel.

lindy’s friend claire met us at the airport and drove us to blockhouse bay road. had coffee/tea and chatted a bit, then went for groceries (to two stores, and still forgot some things, which meant another trip out later in the day.) i slept from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. while lindy and claire went out walking. ate lunch around 2 p.m. — bread, cheese, tomatoes and a nice hummus with jalapeno and lime and even coriander (which was, mercifully, disguised by the jalapeno).

took my camera for a walk for about an hour, and then sat on the back step and stared at claire’s clothesline and garden. dinner was pasta with artichokes, olives, rocket, preserved lemon and haloumi. yummy.

claire and lindy at galbraith's pub, formerly a library

claire and lindy at galbraith's alehouse, formerly a library

jan. 19: woke around 5 a.m. after seven straight hours of sleep. got up at 6 and made coffee. there’s a bit of rain but also lots of blue sky above. to get: coffee. claire took us on a literary tour of auckland / ponsonby / devonport (lunch).

jan 21: gannet colony (takapu refuge) and muriwai beach.

jan. 22: vector arena. leonard cohen concert. 7:30 p.m. awesome. 26 songs, including seven during three encores. (when cohen sang the line, “democracy is coming … to the u.s.a.” — this being two days after barack obama’s inauguration — the entire place erupted.)

jan. 23: women’s weekend at whatipu lodge.

jan. 24: walked two hours up big hill overlooking the water. (ed’s note: see what i mean about lack of attention span? details, macfayden. grab some freakin’ details.)

jan. 25: sick. sore throat and flu-ish. left whatipu (pronouced fa-ti-poo) around 2. stopped for lozenges on the way home. (thank you, claire.)

jan. 26: *mail birthday card to shelley. 7:30 a.m. train to palmerston north — 10 hours. met by maree at 5:30 p.m., then about a half-hour drive to tangimoana. still feel sick. ate supper at 9 p.m. — zucchini soup, potatoes and beans, pasta with zucchini and beets. sabine made me thyme tea with honey for my throat. (thank you, sabine.)

sand dunes at tangimoana

sand dunes at tangimoana

jan. 27: toast and honey for breakfast. walked with lindy to what we thought was the sea, but was in fact the mouth of a very large river. took lots of pictures. had soup for lunch. sabine made a thai curry for supper. still sick.

jan. 28: throat worse. (like i swallowed razorblades.) sabine & maree insisted i see a doctor in palmerston north before we boarded the bus for wellington. am now on penicillin (it’s probably strep). 4 p.m., checked into cambridge hotel, wellington. paid $17.50 for two beers at a bar down the street. had dinner at an indian restaurant.

jan. 29: $2 breakfast special (egg and toast) at the hostel cafe, and another $6.50 for tea and coffee. $4 for a takeaway coffee at a cafe and $2.50 for a lemon-thyme flavoured chocolate for lindy. picked up groceries: almond butter, hummus, yogurt, juice, tea, milk. te papa national museum / shopping for merino wool items on cuba street / willis street / indian supper on courtenay.

pumpkin coconut soup at leafee cafe, wellington

pumpkin coconut soup at leafee cafe, wellington

jan. 30: rode the “iconic” wellington cable car to hector’s observatory and the botanical garden. lunch (pumpkin/coconut/curry soup) at leafee on T. road, then more tramping around the botanic garden. supper at one red dog cafe (pasta, salad, beer).

jan. 31: still in wellington. lindy made penne pasta & veg. stirfry for supper in the hostel kitchen, which took over an hour on the world’s most inefficient stovetop.

random notes: wellington has a nifty writers walk along the harbourfront. te papa museum is amazing. went there twice and still didn’t come close to seeing everything. the botanic garden is huge, full of many paths with unclear signage that became very irritating by late afternoon. saw some cool installation art (e.g., white lace and red ribbons on trees) and many more mutant hydrangeas in lovely light blue and lavender colours.

feb. 2: 8:25 a.m. ferry to picton (south island). rough crossing. walked from ferry dock to sequoia hostel on nelson square. then walked back into town to check out cafes, stores, eco-tours, etc. had supper in an indian restaurant. found a nice red pinot noir — mill road hawkes bay 2006. and i generally don’t even like pinot noir, but this one was something to write home about.

feb. 3: this hostel serves free breakfast (toast & jam, coffee, tea) in the mornings and hot chocolate pudding with ice cream every night at 8 p.m. for lunch we cooked penne with swiss chard (called silver beet down here) and garlic. in the afternoon we went on a four-hour eco-tour to the motuara island sanctuary; along the way we saw diving gannets, spotted shags (cormorants), a rare “king” shag, hector’s dolphins and fur seals. on the island we saw a blue penguin chick (in a nesting box). supper was beer and very tasty greek pizza at the slip inn restaurant, where the power kept going off.

feb. 4: (happy birthday shelley b. and kathy s.) rainy day, too wet for another boat tour, so we played scrabble and watched LOTR, part 2, in which the dialogue sucked but the scenery was stunning.

feb. 5: 1 p.m train to kaikoura. quenched our thirst with a monteith’s original on tap, then found a thai restaurant for supper. excellent green curry and veg. pad thai (spelled “pud” thai on the menu). receptionist at dolphin hostel huffy, stuffy and downright rude. toilets are co-ed and smell like pee. room so small we can barely move around the bed; no place to hang clothes or stow our backpacks. we’ll remember this when it comes time to fill out the “backpackers hostel rankings” survey.

Sperm whale tail, Kaikura

Sperm whale tail, Kaikoura

feb. 6: waitangi day / mario’s birthday. train to christchurch didn’t leave til 3:30 p.m. so we had time to go on a mid-day whale-watching tour. saw three sperm whales and a pod of dusky dolphins. took about 300 pictures (culled down to 50). guy on the boat sitting next to me got seasick and puked his guts out. arrived christchurch in early evening. women’s guesthouse has a nice herb garden, spring water, and lots of places for hanging clothes — a concept that is lost on many hostel operators.

feb. 7: christchurch market; mailed postcard to sarah (who has a thing about christchurch).

feb. 8: 8:15 a.m. train to greymouth. global village backpackers hostel = nice, clean, cheery. took their bikes out for a walk. (lindy felt uncomfortable riding on the sidewalk, even though it was sunday afternoon and the place was a ghost town.) 4 p.m. tour of monteith’s brewery. our guide paul was very generous with the pour when it came to sampling the six varieties. 6 p.m. laurie’s now-infamous hostile/hostel meltdown (unsuitable content removed by moderator).

feb. 9: 2 p.m. shuttle van tour to punakaiki / pancake rocks and unco-operative blow hole. walked the truman track through rainforest. took lots of photos. very humid.

feb. 10: train back to christchurch. ate hummus & sprouts sandwiches for lunch on the train; supper was nuts and rice crackers and lots of WINE at the women’s guesthouse. light rain in evening. there are two guineapig mascots at this hostel, named princess and duchess.

feb. 11: laundry day at the guesthouse. while lindy toured yet another museum — or was it another botanic garden? — laurie visited the casino and won $2200 NZ. thank you, pink panther slot machine.

feb. 12: rain. women’s guesthouse overbooked, so we moved a few blocks away to foley towers (NOT fawlty towers). met sabine at the art gallery and took her to lunch at the lotus heart. then went to the paua shell house exhibit at canterbury museum. hilarious kitsch. pizza for supper at the bohemian cafe.

Stones from the beach, Akaroa

Stones from Birdlings Flat, on the way to Akaroa

feb. 13: 8:40 a.m. bus to akaroa for harbour cruise. cruise ended up being cancelled due to rough seas, so we had lunch (pizza, beer) and stocked up on more merino wool apparel (lindy bought a scarf and gloves and longjohns, and put ALL of them on, because it was so cold that day); laurie got attacked by a flock of vicous red-beaked seagulls.

feb. 14: lunch at the twisted hop; nice pub grub (couscous, roasted vegs) and an outstanding beer sampler. caught a matinee performance of la cage au folles, followed by happy hour (marlborough wine, cheap like borscht!) at a cafe next to the art gallery, followed by valentine’s day supper at lotus heart, followed by email check at an internet cafe. a good heart day.

feb. 15: 7 a.m. train to picton, then 1:10 p.m. ferry to wellington. staying two nights at downtown packpackers hostel.

feb. 16: viewed outstanding “monet and the impressionists” exhibit at te papa. (this was the reason we changed our itinerary and made room for two more nights in wellington. well, that and another lunch at the backbenchers’ pub, home of the best french fries and aioli in the freakin’ salty snack universe!)

feb. 17: 7:25 a.m. train to marton. lunch at the mothered goose cafe in bulls. pasta supper at laura’s (another friend from the gardening email list).

feb.18: 10:25 a.m. train to auckland. arrived at britomart station at 8:30 p.m., one hour late. bumped into claire on the way up from the train at avondale.

feb. 19: auckland. a day of laundry and email.

feb. 20: RAIN. all day. sick (again). claire drove us to thames (“tims”) tonight. we’re spending the weekend at julie and steve’s B&B.

Lunch in the Coromandel at Driving Creek Cafe

Lunch in the Coromandel at Driving Creek Cafe

feb. 21: still SICK. cold, flu. (bah.) thames market / coromandel town. lunch at the driving creek cafe. rainforest, kauri grove …

feb. 22: lunch at SOLA (voted best cafe in the region). still sick. stopped at bird refuge on the way back to auckland.

feb. 24: bus to rotorua. lunch at the fat dog cafe, home of the world’s most unique veggie burger. after supper (and poking around steaming stinky sulphur holes), had a lovely soak at the polynesian spa (hot springs). sat outside under the stars at the funky green voyageur hostel and ate brie and drank white wine. lots of white wine.

feb. 25: shuttle tour to lady knox geyser, mud pools, various other places full of of geo-thermal wonders whose names i cannot recall. (ed. says: wai-o-tapu, waimangu, you idiot.)

Laurie on the boat to Motuihe Island

Laurie on the boat to Motuihe Island

feb. 26: bus back to auckland.

feb. 27: claire’s birthday. small celebration with cake at home, then out to dinner at an indian restaurant.

feb. 28: were supposed to go to mangawhai but will now stay in auckland. (nice to stay in one place and just hang out, after so much travelling about.)

march 4: buy tim tams. pack. afternoon boat cruise to motuihe island, to take part in a special release of 18 kakariki (red-crowned parakeets) into the wild. fabulous way to spend our final day in auckland.

march 5: 7:30 p.m. return flight to edmonton, via san francisco.

(at this rate i should have the paris trip bloggage posted by august.)

backpacker delights

Actual recipes taken from the Sequoia Lodge “travellers cook book”:

Ingredients: 1 can Spam, soy sauce, brown sugar, white rice

Mix soy sauce and 2 spoons of brown sugar in a bowl. Cut Spam lengthwise into 5 or 6 slabs and dip them in the sauce. Pop ’em into a frying pan for 3-4 minutes a side. Cook a cup of rice, then mold the rice into the same size as da’ Spam slices. Place da Spam on top of the rice and wrap with
(recipe mysteriously ends here)

Chop onion/peppers/brocolli/carrots. Place in frying pan with small amount of oil. Fry for approx 5 minutes. Add a jar of sweet & sour sauce. (ed’s note: BRILLIANT!) Boil some rice to compliment the above stir fry. Serve and enjoy. Better and healthier than noodles!

BEANS ON TOAST:  1 can Wattlies beans; 2 slices cheddar cheese; 2 slices buttered toast; worstershire sauce (optional).
“Cook” beans in a pan til hot. Add cheese in pan (or put in half and sprinkle half on top). Pour beans over buttered toast and add a few drops of worcester sauce. BON APPETIT!
Approx prep time 2 min. Cook time 5 min. Eating time 10 min

Ingredients: Boxed cereal of choice (e.g. Muesli); milk.
Find bowl in cupboard. Pour cereal into bowl. Pour milk on cereal. Approx 250 ml.
Eat with spoon. Smashing!

Ingredients: 1 bag cheap pasta; 1 jar cheap sauce.
Cook cheap pasta / add cheap sauce. Eat.

Ingredients: 2 slices bread; 2 spoons mayones; 4 slice tomato; salt; cheese.
Make your self sandwich with the ingredients written up.
This is the best sandwich (although I haven’t found a good chees here in NZ)

(No good cheese in NZ? Man, are you kidding me?)

Get glass. Fill with water from cold tap. Down the water instantly.

Get glass. Don’t fill with water. Contemplate empty glass.

Sign outside church in Marton, NZ

“I am mysterious. Live with it.”  
                                                                   — God

songs from the road

(To the tune of As Tears Go By):

It is the morning after Auckland
I ride the Overlander train
Ten hours of silver fern
Three flat whites and bad lasagne
I sit and watch the sheep go by

(To the tune of the Green Acres theme):

These hostels ain’t no place for me
Communal living’s a catastrophe
I just can’t stand to share my loo
Darling I love you but I need my own space to poo

(duh-duh-duh-duh-duh) The snores!
(duh-duh-duh-duh-duh) The bores!
(duh-duh-duh-duh-duh) Loud noise!
(duh-duh-duh-duh-duh) Rude boys!
The stove’s on the fritz … this sure ain’t the Ritz …
Backpackers, wash your feet!

Three Danish girls have plugged the sink
German men have a tobacco stink
Somebody lost the laundry key
Toilets won’t flush and I really do have to pee

REFRAIN (duh-duh-duh-duh-duh, etc.)

(To the tune of The 12 Days of Christmas):

On our trip through New Zealand, my true love gave to me

12 kegs of Monteith’s
11 pints of Speight’s ale
10 Hawkes Bay red wines
9 All Blacks jerseys
8 diving gannets
7 Hector’s dolphins
6 Anzac biscuits
5 million sheep
4 paua shells
3 sperm whales
2 king shags
and a gumboot filled with pavlova

hostel hostility

OK, it’s official, i am not a people person. which i had kinda suspected for most of the last half-century but … staying at backpacker hostels has confirmed it.
sharing kitchen and bathroom space with other frugal-minded travellers with varying standards of cleanliness and etiquette and privacy considerations does not bring out the best in moi. like, just now, while i am quietly attempting to compose this blog post, a young bearded fellow has picked up a guitar and started to strum it. right in front of me. in MY space. and i don’t feel like hearing that just now, thank you very much. but, rather than throw my jandal at his inconsiderate head, i will merely sigh and conclude this snippet with something i just copied off the wall in the eating lounge:

The way to happiness is:

Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply; give much. Fill your life with love.

Do as you would be done by.


lonny hears lenny

seamless. sublime. sexy. everything you’d expect from a leonard cohen concert. (everything i expected, anyway.)

heard the master at auckland’s vector arena last night and was, well, blown away. i’ll try not to gush on here too much, but it’s not often poets-cum-songwriters fill arenas and get standing ovations just for stepping onto the stage … and then get called back for seven encore numbers. sounding at times like tom waits, the gravel-voiced canadian icon treated the adoring new zealand crowd to an embrace of  “greatest hits” proportion. dressed to kill in a dapper black suit and fedora, he delivered many of his offerings from a crouch position, almost as if kneeling in prayer, and cradled the microphone in both hands like it was a baby chick or a fragile shell.

there doesn’t seem to be anything fragile about this still rakish-looking wordsmith, however — despite having worn his heart on his sleeve for five decades. the 75-year-old who still oozes sex appeal — damn! — was on the stage for almost three full hours, breaking for just one 20-minute intermission after the first hour and then bounding back for almost two straight hours of classic cohen, songs that celebrate  the light and the dark of the world and of the human condition, the human heart; our brokenness, our longing for love.

a man of few words between songs, he drew a huge, knowing laugh when he said “i studied the religions, the philosphies … but cheerfulness kept breaking through.” 

cohen’s angelic background vocalists, sharon robinson (longtime collaborator on many of his songs) and the webb sisters, hattie and charlie, take his arrangements to a whole nuther stratosphere. and his amazing band is tighter than tight. the whole package was powerful. spiritual. breathtaking. goosebump-inducing.

here is the song list from an unforgettable evening:

1st set:

dance me to the end of love
the future
ain’t no cure for love
bird on a wire
everybody knows
in my secret life
who by fire
chelsea hotel #2
hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
anthem (ring the bells)

2nd set:

tower of song
the gypsy wife
the partisan
boogie street
i’m your man
thousand kisses deep
take this waltz


so long mariane
first we take manhattan
famous blue raincoat

if it be your will
democracy is coming (to the USA)

i tried to leave you
wither thou goest

and sometimes when the night is slow
the wretched and the meek
we gather up our hearts and go
a thousand kisses deep