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Neighbourhood Shut-In and/or Yuppie Shit

Spicy Lobster Tempura Salad at 426 Sushi in Villeray
As my high school friend, Avril, passed me her huge black "weekend" bag to go back to Toronto, I gasped. "Oh my God! We haven't left the neighbourhood in days," I said. She looked at me and smiled, "That's okay. It's been very relaxing." I walked away slightly embarrassed, trying to recall if we'd done anything even remotely fun for an adult.

This was the first time I'd realized it. I rarely leave my neighbourhood. I'd taken Avril to 426 Sushi, my favourite restaurant on Villeray for the spicy lobster tempura salad. We'd then strolled down to Slak to do some clothes shopping, one of her favourite places in Montreal. Then I'd taken her to Chez Vincenzo on the way back for some homemade gelato. She liked my suggestion, pistachio, but preferred the caramel with sea salt.
Pistachio and Caramel w/ sea salt gelato Chez Vincenzo

Ever since I started working from home, I rarely leave my neighbourhood. I gave up driving about 12 years ago when I moved to Montreal, and everything we need can be found within a few blocks of our house, including the grocery story, which delivers for a modest $4.00. We also have a small shop around the corner that sells inexpensive fruit and vegetables for those in-between times. However, they DON'T sell organic produce, as I indelibly learned. "So don't even ask!" replied the annoyed shopkeeper with his tight black pin curls swaying ever so slightly. The other shop patrons watched as he followed me around the store barking the merits of conventionally grown vegetables over their yuppie bullshit organic cousins. This rant included a reference to a study conducted in Texas and the fact that he had consumed conventionally grown vegetables his entire life, and "there was nothing wrong" with him. There were similar tremors in his pin curls on another occasion when I questioned my change from a crisp 50-dollar bill.

Shopping at Slak
My neighbourhood is livable, diverse and interesting. I just have to keep my goddamned yuppie questions to myself.

Yes, Villeray, my neighbourhood, is going through gentrification, and many long-time residents are not happy. Rents have gone sky-high, and condos are going in wherever property owners can find an administrative loop-hole. There are regular street demonstrations about this, where passersby will invariably see the "Villeray Désobéit" banner.

Although I don't think of myself as a yuppie, I have unfortunately been cast into this role, judging from more than a few reactions from local shopkeepers.

In my first week in the neighbourhood, I went to a very retro-looking bakery. I quickly discovered that it was retro because they had never changed anything, not for any trendy fashion reason.

I tried to take a picture of the store price list, which was much like the one you would see in the bakeries in France, but the shop owners, two plump middle-aged women, presumably sisters, protested bitterly. I immediately apologized to the pair in white baker's suits. I usually ask before I take pictures of things, but for some reason this time I'd forgotten. But their protests continued, even through the business transaction of buying a few croissants. "We don't go to your house and take pictures," said one. "Yeah, how would that make you feel?" asked the other. After my admonishment in tandem, I grimaced as I tried to swallow my croissant. It lurched down my gullet like a ball of concrete. But maybe I was a little upset. I've only gone in there once since, to get out of the rain, but the sisters hadn't forgotten me. They were polite, but still crossed their arms and scowled in my general direction.

On the other hand, my father visiting from Vancouver loved the bakery and the ladies. They even gave him a special deal on croissants. He went there every day and brought back a half-dozen, which hadn't become any lighter, or was it just the memory? The Villeray croissant had become the polar opposite of Proust's madeleine.

The kicker--the pastry ladies even let my dad take a picture of the place.

Other posts on Villeray
Neon Icon: Miss Villeray
Oriental Pastry Delights
Felines: Friend or Foe?
The Haitian Barber
Pots and Pans Protest in Villeray


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Heather O'Neill's Story Goes 3D at TIFF

The End of Pinky” to premiere at TIFF

On September 11, 2013, “The End of Pinky,” an NFB short by Claire Blanchet, based on the original short story by award-winning author Heather O’Neill, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The stereoscopic 3D-animated short is narrated by O’Neill herself and internationally renowned Quebec actor Marc-André Grondin. Last week, I had the chance to speak with Heather O’Neill about her short story, the making of Pinky and her future projects.

In 2008, Walrus Magazine ran a Dark Cities series and invited the Lullabies for Little Criminals author to write a grittier, sexier and darker tale than anything she had ever imagined about her hometown, Montreal. O’Neill drew on a story that she had first imagined as a teenager, the era of her romanticized gangster and Mickey Spillane obsession. A love of noir apparently runs in the family. “My father was a fan of gangster films,” said O’Neill, “and kids often take up the interests of their parents.”

Set in Montreal’s former red light district, “The End of Pinky” is the tale of a handsome young gangster named Johnny, his ghost-like girlfriend Mia and fellow criminal and former friend Pinky. The product of a traumatic childhood, Johnny is an unfeeling thug who seeks to even the score in a shadowy brothel. Mia intervenes, but Pinky’s insatiable graphomania in solitary confinement has irrevocably sealed his fate. O’Neill’s “The End of Pinky” appeared in the 2008 January-February edition of The Walrus. That same year, NFB filmmaker and 2007-Norman McLaren Award winner Claire Blanchet approached O’Neill about making an animated short of her story.

Many writers have misgivings about having their stories adapted into other narrative forms, in spite of the fact that it exposes their work to a much wider audience. “It’s always a leap of faith,” said O’Neill. But after Blanchet had showed the author a wonderful long-scrolled charcoal drawing of her magical yet realistic rendering of Saint Laurent Boulevard’s red light district, O’Neill knew that Blanchet had a similar vision of her story. The clincher was a tiny detail that Blanchet had included in her drawing. “Claire had put Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle on the movie theatre marquee,” said O’Neill. It was exactly what the author herself had imagined.

Having grown up in Montreal, O’Neill is a long-time fan of the NFB, and Blanchet’s animated film gave O’Neill the chance to try her hand at voice-over. “I’ve done radio and reading performances, but this was the first time that I had done voice-over,” said O’Neill. The author also said that she “was charmed” to learn that Marc-André Grondin would be doing the narration in the French version, in addition to the voice of Johnny in the English version.

The difference in narration styles obviously has an impact on the final product. I have had the opportunity to see both the French and English versions, and both narrators enhance the film in different ways, making it impossible to say one version is better than the other. But one thing is certain: to be fully appreciated “The End of Pinky” must be seen in 3D, preferably on a big screen. In my own experience, 3D films often have overpowering visuals, but in "The End of Pinky," the 3D aspect actually draws the viewer into the story and makes it easier to appreciate some exquisite lighting and texture. The uneven cement wall in Pinky’s jail cell, and the intricately designed snowflakes are just two details that immediately come to mind. The Café Cléopâtra also makes a fun cameo appearance.

Heather O’Neill has another project in the works with Claire Blanchet on the subject of wolves. In addition, the author’s second novel, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, published by HarperCollins in Canada and Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the U.S., will be released in May 2014.

This has been cross-posted at Rover Arts.

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Finding Dawn by Christine Welch
The Fruit Hunters by Yung Chang
. .
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It's All Science Fiction

Science Fiction
Joe Ollmann
Conundrum Press

On the heels of Joe Ollmann’s widely acclaimed Mid-life comes Science Fiction, the story of Mark Sett, a high school biology teacher who experiences an unforeseen crisis that shatters his belief system and threatens his long-term relationship. But it isn’t his unexpected breakdown that alienates his live-in girlfriend Sue, an over-educated grocery store clerk; instead, it’s what triggers his revelation and his wild claims that she finds so bewildering.

Mark, “a pragmatic and rarely frivolous man,” is concerned strictly with the facts and evidenced-based truths, so when he selects Taken At Night, a movie on the straight-to-the-video express, his girlfriend is perplexed. Not only is it science fiction, something her partner has always loathed, but it’s over-the-top cheesy. As Sue and Mark watch the opening scenes of the film, Mark begins to weep and later confesses that the film triggered a long-repressed memory of being abducted, not by gangsters or masked men, but by aliens….

Sue’s understandable response to her partner’s bombshell disclosure is shock, which quickly turns to annoyance. After all, asking your partner to believe a claim that is so dramatically out of character is an excessive demand. A bout of depression or even a repressed memory of sexual assault would indeed have been easier to accept. While Sue’s reluctance to take such a leap in faith is understandable, most readers will find themselves looking for some way to believe Mark and not dismiss him as delusional.

Ollmann’s work is always replete with humour, and Science Fiction is no exception. While there could have been a more plausible cause for Mark’s crisis that was equally at odds with his scientific way of thinking, such as a sudden belief in God or creationism, it probably wouldn’t have been as funny. In spite of the outrageousness of Mark’s apparent abduction, the turmoil the couple experiences in the aftermath of his revelation is highly realistic, with Ollmann skillfully and accurately capturing the various stages of the couple’s demise.

Science Fiction is a page-turner in no small part because of the strong characters Ollmann has created and his mastery of the story’s pacing. In addition, the author has a great ear for dialogue, which is infused with a wonderful wry wit. His frames also show a wide range of emotion demonstrating his keen sense of observation, but for the sake of variety, he could have experimented a little more with the layout instead of repeatedly giving us the same nine-frame panel. In the end, Science Fiction was enjoyable, but it was not quite as entertaining as Mid-life, for the simple reason that it is easier to relate to a 40-year-old man revisiting fatherhood than a high school teacher who believes that he was once abducted by aliens.

But these are minor points. Ollmann is nevertheless a gifted storyteller.

This has been cross-posted at the mRb.

Other related posts:
Review of Mid-Life by Joe Ollmann
AYA by Abouet and Oubrerie
Paul Goes Fishing by Michel Rabagliati
Susceptible by Geneviève Castrée

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Travelogue: Highlights of SoCal

Sunset from the end of the Santa Monica Pier
We spent the next leg of our trip in San Diego County. Initially, I was disappointed that we could not find a place to stay in Carlsbad on the Pacific Coast. Instead, we found a wonderful hotel in San Marcos, 11 miles inland. In the end, it was the place I liked the most of our stay. There were spectacular sunsets, and there was less traffic and fewer parking problems. It was also very close to Escondido, California, and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The setting of the park was nothing short of spectacular, and we actually preferred the Safari Park to the world famous Zoo.

The last leg of our trip took us to Huntington Beach, California, or Surf City USA. We wanted to be close enough to LAX so that we would arrive on time for our flight. I'd read briefly about Newport and Huntington beaches, but what we discovered was disappointing. On our first day, we went for a nature walk at Bolsa Chica, a tiny bird conservation area just a few miles north of Huntington Beach
Central Garden at J. Paul Getty Center
on the Pacific Coast Highway. When we got there we noticed that the conservation area was surrounded by furiously pumping oil wells. Then we noticed a drilling platform just a few miles offshore.

The conservation area appeared to be little more than PR for an oil company. Needless to say this hampered our desire to go in for a swim. I asked around about the oil wells, and I was told that there were many from Newport Beach to Long Beach. Oil is apparently an important source of revenue for the city of Huntington Beach, where there is apparently even an oil pump in the city hall parking lot.

Since we'd visited Coronado, Torrey Pines (fantastic hiking) and La Jolla beaches, it was time to take my crew to LA, and I'm so glad that we did. The J. Paul Getty Center in Brentwood, California, is not to be missed. The view of LA and the San Gabriel Mountains was breathtaking. Richard Meier's stunning architecture, Robert Irwin's central garden and Laurie Olin's landscaping made for an inspiring day.

Sketching Room at Getty Center
Taking my kids, particularly my 6-year-old, to a museum can be a difficult undertaking, as we discovered on our visit to LACMA last year. But my children were completely engaged at the Getty. At every turn, there was an impressive vista or fountain to see. There was also a children's sketching room and an activity centre. The collection was awesome, but my favourite was the photography section, a retrospective of Ed Ruscha's work.

For anyone going to LA, the Getty is not to be missed. Oh yeah, admission is free, but there's a $15 parking fee--the best 15 bucks you've ever spent.

The Getty Center was so inspiring that we decided to spend our last day at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. This was a mind-blowing collection, with masterpiece after masterpiece, and I felt quickly overwhelmed, as did our children. I never thought I'd say it, but thank God for Minecraft, my kids' favourite computer game. The Norton Simon has a fantastic collection of Asian art, but we couldn't spend more than a few minutes there
My kids at the Norton Simon Museum
because our children were itching to leave. This was more of a traditional museum where you're meant to go and look very closely at one or two things and then leave again. Fortunately, there was a lunch counter, which gave our kids something to look forward to, and a wonderful pond fashioned after Claude Monet's garden at Giverny.

This was a great adult museum and shouldn't be missed. An added plus--admission and parking are free.

We also visited Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier to see the sunset and visit the amusement park. Both were well worth the drive and traffic.

Overall, our trip to SoCal was great, and on our next trip, we hope to go further inland and see the desert. I'm dying to see the Joshua trees.

Related posts: LACMA: Mom Needs Fun Too!
LA's Million Dollar Theater
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles


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