Well, I guess we were just in a New York State of Mind in 2017.
Trips to the Empire State included:
An extended “writer’s retreat” weekend in Cooperstown in April. It was my wife’s first time in one of my favorite places on earth. It was also our first time doing Air B&B. Despite coming home with a nail in my tire…it was a truly relaxing, lovely trip (and, yes, we both got some much-needed writing done).
A weekend getaway to NYC in June to hit up some old haunts (with a jaunt out to Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Museum).
A family vacation in August renting a house on Lake Seneca (first time in the Finger Lakes region) from which we watched the solar eclipse. The vacation also included day-tripping to Watkins Glen and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (a long overdue first time there!) The Niagara experience inspired a short-story I’m currently polishing up.
Can’t get to France this fall? No worries…get the best of France and North America in one shot in Montreal, and at a fraction of the cost! We enjoyed a long holiday weekend there (Columbus Day for the Yanks, Thanksgiving for the Canucks) and took in some great fall foliage, architecture, art and music. Highlights included:
A Robert Maplethorpe exhibit (Isabella Rossellini, unlike for David Letterman on one famous occasion, was-a-show…or, well, at least a famous portrait of her was) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has to be one of the most confusing museums to navigate
A Postmodern Jukebox concert at the Place des Arts where three numbers brought down the house (Casey Abrams’s wacko-bluesy slow-down of Sweet Child O’ Mine, Morgan James soulful tear-inducing rendition of Take Me to Church, and Maiya Sykes sassy cover of Creep)
A hike up Mount Royal for some killer leaf-porn and skyscraping views
Local tip: check out great views of Old Montreal (and the Notre Dame Basilica) from atop Hotel Nelligan’s rooftop bar and terrace (the terrace season closed on Monday). It’s also a totally chill and cozy place to just hang out in the lobby bar/restaurant on a rainy day.
It’s been a brutally cold, occasionally wet, often frozen winter here in my next of the woods, though a far cry from the polar vortexed permanently deep snow-covered winter of last year. It’s made for a great winter for reading…and my chapped hands found their way to three novels cold as ice, though only one, The Kept, haunts the imagination.
Things started out with a banal, arduous thud that was the literary equivalent of traipsing 100 miles uphill in three feet of snow to the top of a mountain with a horrible view. Richard Ford’s Canada is a long drawn out affair (it’s not until about 300 pages through the 500+ page tome that we actually get to Canada) that tells you exactly what happened in the very first sentence and then proceeds to elaborate on it ad nauseam in repetitive memoir style. Twin brother and sister, Dell and Bern, at age 15, are thrown into a maelstrom after their previously thought to be stable and clear-headed parents rob a bank in a pathetic act of desperation. Bern runs away, while Dell (our narrator) is shuffled off to the middle of nowhere Canada where he meets some unsavory characters and witnesses a murder. Getting to the bank robbery was painful and lacked even a modicum of suspense, and I don’t know how many times the narrator had to remind us of his naivety (while Bern was more wild and worldly) as he goes from one horribly boring existence to the next shaped by brief criminal acts and the occasional weirdo. I’ve never met more boring characters or read about more bloodless crimes. Continue reading →
Denis Villeneuve’s Toronto-set artsy psychological thriller, Enemy (based on Jose Saramago’s novel, The Double) is one of those rare films of exacting creeping style that elicits audible gasps from the audience. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a mild-mannered university history professor who repeatedly lectures about the dangers of losing one’s individuality under totalitarian regimes and muses over the cyclical nature of history and the rise of these totalitarian states – first viewed as tragedy, later as farce. The man oddly hates films, but he’s urged by a colleague to watch one in particular, and there he spots in a bit role as a bellhop his exact double. It’s not long before he becomes obsessed with tracking down his doppelgänger.
The first audible gasp (coupled with nervous laughter) was unique to the location where I saw the film. Enemy is boxed in by mesmerizing sepia-toned cinematography – grand scanning images of the Toronto skyline (never before used more monotonously menacing in a film). For those who have never been to Toronto, it’s a blisteringly modern landscape riddled with areas constantly under construction, giant cranes towering in the sky dangling precipitously over highway off-ramps next to skeleton frames of new office or condo highrises. Villeneuve (Canada’s premier auteur) perfectly captures this along with the city’s cold lakeside white-washed sheen (either by salt and snow in the winter, or heat in the summer – tinged deliberately yellow here by his camera). I had the luck of seeing the film while working in Mississauga, Ontario – a suburb of Toronto with its own unique skyline (highlighted by the famous Marilyn Monroe Towers, surreal condo highrises with hourglass shapes) also featured in the film. I experienced it at a Cineplex in downtown Mississauga right down the road from those lovely towers. When Jake Gyllenhaal’s character discovers the home address of his exact double to be on Rathburn Rd. West (unbeknownst to me prior to this in-film revelation, the very road upon which we sat watching the film!) the laughter and gasp from the small audience was priceless, and I suddenly felt as if I was a part of this unnerving conspiracy as I could see Jake Gyllenhaal’s double’s apartment from the parking lot of the theater! Continue reading →
There’s no rhyme or reason here, folks, just a collection of photos from random places I have been in 2013. I’ve been all over the map (with Europe still to come later this month!) from the Caribbean to Canada and with plenty of local tri-state faves here on the Eastern Seaboard in between.
Bet you were expecting a story here or something, huh? Well, some shots from the Cape May Lewes Ferry did inspire a short story about an elderly lady turned drug dealer. And another creepy abandoned industrial building in Toronto is sure to inspire a story about dead bodies most certainly hidden there at some point in my near future.
But I’ll say nothing more and allow you to choose your own adventure with these shots.
My favorite piece of short fiction to appear in The New Yorker last year was hands-down Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table – a poignant and evocative piece about an eleven year-old Sri Lankan boy’s coming of age on the high seas while sailing on a rowdy cruise ship (The Oronsay) to boarding school in England.
I was overjoyed to discover it was part of a larger novel released in October of last year. I was puzzled to find the story that appeared in The New Yorker was not a straight excerpt and had instead been parsed and elaborated on in long form during the first half of the novel of the same name. In this extended tale, the full twenty-one days of the early 1950’s voyage are realized and a parade of new characters traverses the decks.
The Cat’s Table refers to the not-so-enviable table in the back of the dining room where the young boy (Michael) sat along with two other boys (the wild Cassius and the sickly Ramadhin) and a rag-tag team of adults including a jazzy wisdom-spewing washed-up musician (Mr. Mazappa) and a mysteriously quiet English bird-lady (Miss Lasqueti). The unsupervised trio of rascals have the run of the ship, exploring every nook and cranny and soaking up every story and incident from the revolving door of worldly adults in the their midst. Mystery and adventure, but also misfortune and melancholy soak the ship as it heads half-way across the globe touching on Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Continue reading →