Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guy Delisle and his travels

Getting back into the swing of things after reading only sporadically the last month. Well, not sporadically, I read every day but no 2 hours lounging around in my favourite chair in the evenings or falling into a book all weekend.

The last week, been pretty much reading only Guy Delisle. Delisle is one of the stars of Graphic Fiction/Memoir and his style: straightforward, almost non-lyrical - belies the more flowery approach (in terms of language and drawing style) of graphic memoirists such as Alison Bechdel. But I have been loving his books. I came across this trove of his books a few weeks back: Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, Pyongyang: a Journey in North Korea, his two early works, Burma Chronicles. His new one, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City comes out in April.

Delisle's North Korea book traces a few months he spent there as an animator (and, in fact, his descriptions of the process of animating a TV show are just as compelling as the bizarre cultish world of Kim Jong Il's people), his relationships with his guides and translators as well as other animators and foreigners working in Pyongyang. What an amazing opportunity and what an amazing experience to capitalize on. Delisle keeps a certain distance from his reader, he doesn't go into enormous details of his past or his emotional reactions to certain things on an individual level (though he certainly reacts as a normal human would to the bizarre universe of modern North Korea).

His early works are interesting but contain very little language (even at his most verbose, Delisle is not a writer in the way Bechdel is but an artist, his language straightforward and not often loaded with subtext) but are amusing if a little bizarre at times. They are also quite funny though these are works that can be read (and re-read) in a single sitting. It's funny to see how his earlier works contain the germ that he would bring to his more complex travel chronicles.

I am just starting his Shenzhen book and I am looking forward to seeing what he does with it in China, a country I have a long association with. Maybe one of these days he'll make it to Japan and write about it though he'll need a lot longer than three months to really make any sense of it...

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Erik Larson: In the Garden of Beasts

Such busy weeks and I've had little time to update my blog. But things are starting to slow down somewhat (though I expect it'll be busy until the Festival-time).

I've been reading Erik Larson's which tells the story of the Dodd family, the unlikely college professor who was appointed the US Ambassador to Germany in 1933. He travels with his family to Berlin just as Hitler is starting his rise to power the book is a fascinating chronicle of those years before the war, before all the information about what the Nazis were doing came out.

The book shifts back and forth between the official life of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter, Martha's (in her early 20s) as she has affairs with various unseemly characters and takes full advantage of the nightlife that Berlin has to offer a young person in the 30s.

It's a really wonderful read. Hear more about it here, Fresh Air's Terry Gross' interview with Erik Larson on the publication of his book.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

An Arabic Valentine's Day Poem

My Heart

I would split open my heart
with a knife, place you
within and seal my wound
that you might dwell there

and never inhabit another
until the resurrection and
judgement day - thus you
would stay in my heart

while I lived, and at my death
you too would die in the
entrails of my core, in
the shadow of my tomb.

- Ibn Hazm

Monday, February 11, 2013

Waiting for the Barbarians at the Segal Centre

A really fascinating production of Waiting for the Barbarians has been playing at the Segal Centre these few weeks and there is just one more week left to catch it. I'd highly recommend it.

The play is an adaptation of the J. M. Coetzee novel, a political thriller which looks at the complexities and realities of the South African political system as they existed in the recent past.

And they are giving any friends of Blue Met a special price: anyone who books 2 business days in advance gets a $6 discount.

More information here on how to get tickets.

The Segal Centre production is written and directed by Alexandre Marine, the world-renowned Russian director who premiered the play in Cape Town in 2012. Montreal's production is its second world showing and it's a rare opportunity to see one of the theatre world's stars at the top of his game doing something innovative, challenging and provocative.

Check it out: it's one of  Coetzee's best-loved and most critically-acclaimed works and the production is absolutely riveting.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My Home Workspace: Lonely Planet, knic-knacs and big dictionaries

A Japanese Kotatsu: we have one of these in our living room which is a dream!
I often change my workspace at home: I have an office but I tend to work in there for a few weeks at a time before moving to a new spot in the house. In the summer I often work in the kitchen or on the back balcony. In winter, I usually work in the living room because we have a Japanese kotatsu, a heated table with a blanket which is about the most favorite thing we own (though it's hardly what one could call stylish).

Lately, I've been working in my office though. And loving it. I can turn the music up, open the blinds and get some sun, turn the heater on at my feet (where the dog usually sleeps when I work in here). True, I only work from home one or two days a week this time of year but I so look forward to it (I'd work from home every day if I could).

A small sampling of what I see when I work at my desk
Which means I am constantly facing two small bookshelves which contain travel books, a few art books, some chachkis, dictionaries, and pictures. On the wall above I have maps: of the world, of Berlin, of Paris and the Tokyo subway system. I've got Latin American phrase books and Lithuanian language manuals, Chinese character flashcards (and a box of Japanese Kanji characters which I've never opened), Dr. Seuss, photo books of Tokyo, Shanghai and Montevideo, a collection of Kathe Kollwitz prints, books of Childe Hassam paintings, contemporary Chinese art, American Indian portraits by Karl Bodmer, a guide to the Rodin Museum of Paris (from 10 years ago), copies of Poetry Magazine, old Buddhist texts, a boxed collection of Woody Allen films from the 70s, old issues of Vie des Arts magazines, a wooden mask from Indonesia, an old worn out pocket Buddha from Laos (which I bought from a woman selling things on a blanket in Vientiane for like $2), a Tintin action figure, Papa Smurf, Frans Masereel wordless novels, books of poetry by Czeslaw Milosz and Ruth Stone, and guide books from Argentina, Sweden, Laos, Buenos Aires, Singapore, Malaysia, Tokyo and Bangkok.

And that's just what I see while I work each day: off to my left are many many more books. Too many (though I give lots of them away each year), all these mementos and memories of places I've lived or traveled, friends I have, things which represent countless small moments in my life.

I love my work space and will love it all the more once the nicer weather starts and I can open the balcony doors and smell the fresh air, the sounds of city life wafting up to the second floor.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Blue Met's Mental Health and Literature

We are very excited about launching two aspects of this important part of literature. Since mental health and literature have long reflected various aspects of one another, we decided to focus a series of events at the 2013 Festival which will explore key aspects of the connection between literature and mental illness. Some events include:

David Homel's The Speaking Cure
Researching Mental Health, a CBC event with Jeanette Kelley and with David Homel, Ken Konor, Thomas Pletzinger and Susan Pinker, a look at how writers do research when creating characters with mental illness and how clinicians extract diagnoses from narratives of those suffering from mental disorders.

On the Border of Good and Evil: this will be talk hosted by Dr. Camillo Zacchia of the Douglas Institute, about the point where society breaks down and stigma, prejudice and the fact that so often those with mental illness are segregated from the rest of society.

Autism and Bad Animals. This will be a discussion with author Joel Yanofsky (Bad Animals) and several experts on autism about the one father's experience and various treatments and hope for the future.

Joel Yanofsky's Bad Animals
50 Shades of Grey and Social Anxiety (in French): this round-table will be a discussion about what the phenomenon of the Fifty Shades book says about women and sexuality today. With noted Sex Therapist Karine Bilodeau-Côté.

And other events including Bibliotherapie and several writing workshops.

The entire schedule is released in late March.

Check out the online platform, too, of Mental Health and literature which contains writing workshops, resources and books that are recommended.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Herons by Kamala Das


On sedatives
Kamala Das
I am more lovable
Says my husband
My speech becomes a mistladen terrain
The words emerge tinctured with sleep
They rise from the still coves of dreams
In unhurried flight like herons...
And my ragdoll limbs adjust better
To his versatile lust...he would if he could
Sing lullabies to his wife's sleeping soul
Sweet lullabies to thicken its swoon
On sedatives
I grow more lovable
Says my husband.