Canada Day

Canada Day, Pelee Island

No, the old dude in the old coupe is not me – d’you think I’ve just won the lottery? Canada may be a Fair Country, but they don’t just hand out the lottery money to anyone. I’ve got wads and wads of unpaid tickets to prove there is bias.

No, the old dude is just an old dude, in an old car – the car is pretty cool though, huh? – riding along in the Canada Day Parade on Pelee Island, on the first day of July 2012, four years ago. July 2012 was my first Canada Day in Canada, as a newly minted landed immigrant, or permanent resident – of more general interest is the fact that Pelee Island, where Rob and I marked that most memorable of occasions, is the southernmost point in Canada, and a lekker place to chill out for the long weekend, after you’ve made the leisurely trip across Lake Erie on the ferry from Kingsville.

The old guy could as well be me, though, if you look at this symbolically: the smile on the dial, the thumbs-up, the flag overhead, because tomorrow will be my first Canada Day as a new Canadian – a pukka Canadian citizen, with a passport and all, and a citizenship certificate. So tomorrow will be kind of special, well deserving of an open-topped sports coupe and a parade, not to mention a barbecue and loads of good vino. I am open to offers.

I find myself thinking, as I ponder all this, how much has changed in my life over the past four years, how quickly the four years have passed, and yet how long ago it all seems. I am, as I wrote recently, at home in my new country, and daily more appreciative of its quiet virtues – its peacefulness, its tolerance, its unassuming decency, which are all the more remarkable (to paraphrase Barack Obama in Parliament yesterday) for being unremarked-upon and ordinary.

My heart turns also at a moment like this to my home country, the country of my birth and land of my growing-up and much of my history, with a grievous sense, I have to confess, of how angry it is, and conflicted, a feeling of real hurt at how much it still gnaws and tears at the people – friends, family, colleagues, and citizens – who live there. This is not a moment for Pollyanna-ish optimism, but – and I have to remind myself of this – it is not a moment for despair, either, and certainly not a time to give up. A luta continua, as we used to say, and must go on saying.

Who knows, our own lives and careers may well take us back there; I would be glad to be able to pay back once more, and make a contribution. But tomorrow – Canada Day – our plan is to relax and celebrate, with other Canadians.




Scenes near Rice Lake

Our friends Chris and Paul live on a small farm near Rice Lake, not far from the small village of Bailieboro, in the direction of Peterborough. We go there each year before Halloween for pumpkin carving, with a big gang of friends, and to eat, drink and hang out. Other times we just show up, perhaps for a game of croquet and a braai (barbecue to my fellow Canadians) and a walk in the fields or along the lanes.

These photos – like the picture entitled Farm, near Rice Lake, that I posted yesterday – were taken on our most recent visit, with Boyd and Joanne. Both were taken with the Leica Digilux, processed in Lightroom 6 and Silver Efex Pro, and printed on Ilford paper.

Here they are: Paul’s Barn, and Rain, near Rice Lake. I am including the picture of the farm again, so you can see the series. See what you think.

Farm, near Rice LakeRain, near Rice LakePaul's Barn

A picture of sanity

Given the madness in Britain (I have subtracted the word ‘Great’ as it is no longer applicable) and the lunacy in Trumpistan, not to mention some irregular goings on in my own Beloved Country, I give you an image of sanity from my new, adopted home, here in Canada: Farm near Rice Lake, Ontario.

Farm, near Rice Lake

Second High Park capybara recaptured

A couple of enterprising capybara made headlines a few weeks ago, here in Toronto, by escaping from the High Park zoo and disappearing into the surrounding greenery. My theory is that they simply dressed up as tourists and mingled with the crowd, and ambled out of the zoo enclosure unchallenged and unspotted.

One of the capybara – we shall call him Stupid – was recaptured a while later, but capybara number two has remained on the lam – until now, that is. Clever Boy was picked up this morning – according to the authorities, near Grenadier Pond. But that is a cover up, I know: Clever Boy was really caught lurking incognito on a patio on Roncies, smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper.

I know, ‘cos I saw him.

On photographs and writing

One of the things one tries to do with words, I think, when writing fiction, is to convey a sense of a world – of many worlds, perhaps – behind the immediate reality, or surface meaning. A gesture towards the immanent rather than the obvious. This is something that distinguishes the great photographs, too, I suspect, from the merely ‘good’ or ‘excellent.’ Easy to say, as a reader or critic; much harder to pull off oneself, of course. And who is to say when one has succeeded?

Perhaps this is what drives the ‘inner critic’ that leads some writers, both new and established, to write and rewrite and rewrite again, till every word is burnished. Which is all to the good – except when the pesky voice of the inner critic stands in the way of getting the work done in the first place.

Which is one of the writing traps I tend to fall into, at least with fiction: writing and rewriting the early bits to the point at which I get bogged down and fail to persist beyond the first 30 or 40 pages. It’s a liability, or disability, which Janet Burroway and co. usefully point out, in their standard text for college and university courses on creative writing, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft.

So here is what I’m doing: setting aside (for now) the endless novel I’ve been writing and getting bogged down in – am I on the 4th draft? or the 5th or 6th? I forget – and starting afresh with one that has seen only a partial start, and so far at least very little belabouring, and pushing on with it, so many words per day, without significant re-reading or revision. Get the first draft done, in other words – put the writer first – and let the damned inner critic come along and clean up the mess afterwards. First drafts are always horrible, all the great writers say so – the thing is to get the bloody thing done, so you can move on from it.

That’s the theory, anyway. I’ll let you know how it works out in practice.

Meanwhile, here is a photo: I’ve given it a name, The Bloor Cinema. It’s the first proper photo I took with the Leica Digilux, which I bought to replace the Leica C which was stolen in Namibia. I’ve tried with this image to suggest something about the cinema, it’s sense of mystery and anticipation perhaps, its louche luxury, that sense of something at once attractive and possibly forbidden. See if it works for you.


The Bloor Cinema

Luminato at The Hearn


Toronto’s Luminato Arts Festival has found a new home this year, at The Hearn Power Plant, a mothballed behemoth from the 1950s that lies crumbling and rusting at the edge of town near the lake. We went there on Sunday, with a group of friends, Boyd and Joanne, Lesley and Mary Wiens, lured by the publicity and the promise of – well, lots of cool stuff.

The space was pretty cool, no question – a photographer’s dream, in fact. I could have spent the whole day, or several days, photographing it. The installations and performances – well, not so much. And the volunteers, supposedly there to steer us and inform us, seemed clueless and uninterested.

We saw a pretty lame demonstration of parkour – you can find out what parkour is, here – by a couple of quite charming and extremely agile guys who led us around on an obviously unplanned and haphazard traipse through The Hearn looking for places where they could do fun stuff to show off their skills. A bit of improv, I suppose, but not quite what it said on the tin, as my son Jono would have said.

The huge disco ball glinting in the spotlights at the far end of the huge turbine hall was rather more intriguing, making an odd, rather spectral, star-warsy, space-shippy contrast with the derelict surroundings.

Perhaps I am selling it short – for a more upbeat and certainly more informative story on Luminato at The Hearn, you can read this story in The Globe and Mail.

What you won’t find in The Globe and Mail are these photographs.



A different scale

On a different scale, if you’ll pardon the pun, from the pachyderms of Twyfelfontein, are the dazzling lizards – green is for girls and orange is for boys. We saw lots of them, on the deck and in the dining area at Camp Kipwe and on the large orange-and-ochre boulders that formed the walls of our outdoor bathroom. There was a lovely little water feature, too, where starlings and weavers, pigeons and various other kinds of small fowl gathered and parlayed, along with the occasional visiting lizard.

You’ll see, if you look closely, that one of the lizards is busy changing his skin.

Happiness is a Fine Art Print

Mussels are $6 a pound at Doonies on Wednesdays, so a couple of nights ago I headed off down Shaw Street in the direction of Bloor, in search of a pint of beer and some sustenance. And as I went, striding along in the evening light with fresh air in my lungs, I suddenly realised I was happy. Not just in the mundane, everyday, things-are-ok sense, but actually rejoicing, with an unfamiliar sense of renewal, of purpose, of satisfaction and fulfilment coursing through these ageing old veins of mine. There was a spring in my step, a sense of connection, that all too often is missing.

And as I walked I realised where it had come from: it had come from being utterly absorbed in doing something creative.

I learned an awful lot, last week, about digital printing: poring over Jeff Schewe’s The Digital Print and The Digital Negative, trying different papers and sizes, learning how to soft-proof (how had I ever printed without it!) and, in the end, producing a handful of landscapes and wildlife images that, honestly, thrilled me completely.

Part of the excitement, too, came from seeing my photos of the desert elephants at Twyfelfontein again, and remembering that almost spiritual sense of wonder and privilege as we watched from mere feet away while they stripped bark from the trees with their tusks, took sand-baths, and lay down in the shade for a late morning snooze. You can gauge how close we came from some of these images.

Here though are three of the images that I printed: the two shots of elephants sand-bathing I printed at 8 ½ x 11, while the mother and baby I did much larger, at 13 x 19. Though I say so myself, it’s a beauty.

Ugab to Twyfelfontein

From Ugab we drove on to Camp Kipwe in Twyfelfontein – named ‘doubtful spring,’ after the white farmer who settled here in the ‘forties, and who evidently would tell his guests, whenever they visited, that he was doubtful that the water would flow that year. I guess he was right more often than not.

Camp Kipwe was where we would round off our visit to Namibia – and in style, folks, in style! Kipwe is every bit as fabulous as it looks: blended into the huge red boulders of which it seems to form part, it is the epitome of ‘glamping’ – the kind of luxurious, ‘Out of Africa’ chilling that Rob and I only wish we could become accustomed to.

But for three nights, on a special deal, including two drives into the desert (more on this in another post) it was fabulous, and in dollars at least, relatively affordable.

Where Etosha was, for the most part, very much the Earth, post climate-change: flat and arid, painted with a palette of grey-greens, browns, chalk and charcoal, Twyfelfontein was from Mars, the red planet, a world of alien beauty – rocks, boulders, mountains, plains. And desert elephants, of which you will read in a future blog post.

Here in the meanwhile are some images: another landscape from Ugab, two landscapes from Camp Kipwe, and black and white photos of a tree, thrusting out of the boulders, and the Twyfelfontein Organ Pipes, cliffs of fractured dolomite columns that follow the course of a dry river bed.