Saturday, December 29, 2007

Working Out West

When I'm deep into writing a chapter of my thesis, I can work anywhere I can spread out my notes (of which there are insane amounts: scattered on looseleaf pads, in the margins of books, in notebooks and even once on a cocktail napkin). And I sometimes prefer to be holed up at a desk that doesn't look out at much, so my computer screen is the main thing in my sight line.

But when I'm doing grunt work - researching, trying to find examples to back up my theories, basically playing connect-the-dots with lines of thought that shouldn't ordinarily be coming anywhere near each other, I need inspiration. I need space. So this is why where I am at the moment, perched on a rock overlooking the stormy Pacific Ocean, is the best possible place to be.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 in Cities

A great list this year (2005, 2006.) Same criteria: at least one night, minus the two cities I spent the most time in (London & Toronto). I pledge to do my best to make 2008 as good or better (would you be shocked otherwise?). New passport = lots of empty pages.

Cairo, Egypt
Bilbao, Spain
Montreux, Switzerland
Paris, France
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Budapest, Hungary
Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Dubrovnik, Croatia
Split, Croatia
Hvar, Croatia
Vancouver, BC
Victoria, BC

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve 2007

This is where I sat for most of today. In fact, this is where I'll be sitting for the next two days as well. Devouring my holiday reading and only moving to devour leftover turkey and Christmas cookies.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Reading 2007

While I've had to drag thesis work with me on my holiday (the quiet of my place on the west coast is too good to pass up as a working opportunity) I have also assembled my holiday fiction experience. I wanted to go for all paperbacks because much of my vacation will be taking place in Hawaii this year and I tend to treat books badly when I'm there. Sand, ocean, using them as daiquiri's a tough life.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth
I've never read Roth. I find this hugely embarrassing. A friend whose opinion I value says that it's his favourite Roth. So I'm giving it a very tardy go.

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
Out, which I read on my trip through the Balkans this autumn, blew my mind. I had been hoping that Grotesque was going to come out in paperback before the holidays, but no such luck. I just couldn't wait any longer, so bought the hardcover and will try to keep the sand out of it.

What Is The What by Dave Eggers
I keep hearing great, great things about this novel. After the Auster, it will be the next tome I'm going to sink my teeth into.

Leviathan by Paul Auster
One of the Austers that I haven't read. I started it on the plane yesterday - so far, so good.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
It's been awhile since I've read any Atwood (not since Oryx and Crake came out). I had the hankering for some feminist Torontonian writing and the paperback has been kicking around my shelves for some time.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


What does one do for one of their last weekends as a Londoner? Go to Amsterdam, of course. Actually, it was coincidental timing - the purpose of the trip was a huge surprise girls weekend for a friend of mine.

Though it was my fourth time in the city, I had never been there with a local (well, a transplanted Vancouverite, but she has adopted Amsterdam with a vengeance) and it made for a wonderful weekend. We wandered the entire city and I never had to pull out a map. We ducked into little cafes (no, not coffee shops) for the best espresso every half an hour, it seemed. That is, when we weren't sampling the wine list in various bars and restaurants. The best was the Dylan Hotel, a gorgeous little boutique hotel with a large, yet cozy fireplaced bar that we propped up for awhile. (And this week, The Guardian named it the "blow-out" hotel on their list of the best hotels in Amsterdam.)

The shopping was slightly out of control in Amsterdam - I'm obsessed with all the little boutiques with so many small European designers that I'm not familiar with. I love buying clothes that I know I'm not going to have staring back at me on some other girl walking down my street in London. The shopping created quite an appetite which we satisfied in a great North African restaurant, where food was consumed while lounging on pillows and smoking sheesha. I had my tarot cards read - my future card was "ruin" and my friend's was "defeat". This charming fortune telling episode led to hitting the bar after dinner, an old Amsterdam institution called Hoppe.

The flight home was delayed by hail, which pelted the plane as we sat on the runway, watching the pellets fill the window frame. My friend was sitting next to the window and remarked that it didn't look very good, to which I replied, pointing at myself and the friend on the other side of me, "Well, you are sitting next to defeat and ruin. Seatbelt fastened?"

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Perfect London Weekend

You can't plan the perfect weekend, it just has to evolve. This one was particularly special, as I will soon not be a full-time Londoner - and also, I took the entire weekend off. No thesis. I needed it. What does the perfect London weekend involve?

Friday night champagne cocktails at the gorgeous American Bar in the Savoy. Followed by some Gordon Ramsay cuisine.

Saturday sleep-in followed by a good ole' English football game. Watched Fulham beat Reading at Craven Cottage, which included a spectacular walk along the Thames on the perfect autumn weather day. Saturday night was drinks at one of my locals with old friends I hadn't seen in far too long. Much catching up and howling about the indiscretions of our youth. (Something involving Spice Girls costumes, cheap red wine, and being pulled over by the police.)

Sunday - another crisp, fall day. I spent much of it wandering around Spitalfields Market with a friend. It's such a great place to find off-the-rack clothes by young designers for a fairly cheap price. I found a gorgeous little blazer and an equally cute clutch purse during my outing. Shopping was interrupted for the best eggs benedict in London, at Canteen. Now I've just finished an indulgent curry dinner and am settling in with tea and the weekend papers that are piled on my coffee table. And even more indulgent will be the brownie I'm also about to eat, purchased at Spitalfields. Because indulgent just suits this kind of weekend.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Rugby World Cup Final

I love Paris, I do. Couldn't possibly count how many times I've been there. Love the food, the wine, the culture, the shopping, but oh god do I hate French inefficiency. Every time I go, there is someone on strike and this last weekend for the Rugby World Cup Final was the worst I have ever experienced. Trying to get anywhere was a complete fiasco. I could regale you with tales of woe, but you probably wouldn't even believe me. So how about just this one? There were over 80,000 people at the match, most of them using public transportation. Guess how often the RER trains were running to get people home after the match? One per hour.

But the match was good fun - not the best match per se, but spine tingling moments during the national anthems and England's (almost) try. We had a wonderful lunch on the left bank and ate the requisite crepes and drank the requisite wine. Which I suppose, when it comes down to it, will always make trudging through whatever French strike is currently being played out, worth it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

War Photo Limited

Our Balkans guidebook mentioned a photography gallery in Dubrovnik called War Photo Limited, which we decided to check out one morning. It turned out to be one of the best places I visted on the entire trip. Down a small alley in the hustle and bustle of Dubrovnik's old town is this gorgeous photography gallery housed over two floors of a renovated building. The purpose of the works displayed is to show the true nature of war - both the innocents caught in the crossfire and the combatants thrown into the conflict. But the gallery space itself was also impressive to me, and clearly well thought out. The large rooms had crisp white walls that reflected the perfect light in an otherwise dark gallery. The photographs were large and imposing and the explanatory captions were not present next to the individual photographs, but rather displayed all together and out of the way. This made for a much greater impact, which is something I had never previously realized. Also on the wall in the main room was a large flat screen television screen which silently played war scarred images over and over - it was mesmerizing.

I was particularly taken with the photographs of Ron Haviv. His images of the Balkan war, such as the one pictured above, were startling and emotional after having spent almost two weeks travelling through the region and meeting so many of the lovely people affected by the violence. Welcome to Sarajevo indeed.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Croatian Coast: Hvar & Split

The rest of our time in Croatia was spent in Split and on the island of Hvar. After more than a week of some pretty intensive city exploring, it was awesome to relax on the Adriatic coast and just watch the boats go by with a mojito in my hand. Split is basically just a pretty port, and a major hub for the ferries that troll up and down the Croatian coastline. But it is also home to Diocletian's Palace, which was built by the Roman emperor in the 3rd century AD.

An hour's ferry ride brought us to Hvar and we rented a cute apartment in the centre of Hvar Town. Suntanning on the rocky beach, sampling various restaurants and doing it up each night in the hotel bars along the harbour was basically how we spent our days. One morning we hiked up to the fortress that guarded the town, which provided spectacular views of the island. One moment on the island exemplified the gracious and friendly nature of all the Croatians we met on our journey: arriving back at the apartment, we found two pieces of homemade cake left for us by the landlady. Wonderful trip.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Stunning Dubrovnik

George Bernard Shaw called it "paradise on earth" and Lord Byron named it "the pearl of the Adriatic". Dubrovnik was staggeringly gorgeous and upon an hour of walking into the Old Town, we wished we had booked at least a week in the place.

The "pearl" part of Byron's description stems from the white marble everywhere - the streets, the steps, the buildings. In the day the sun gleams off it and at night the lights make the Old Town shimmer so we constantly felt like we were wandering through somewhere magical. Climbing the walls that surround the city provided one hell of a view and the photo above was taken from the very top of the fortified town. Close to our apartment was a gem of a place called the Buza - a rocky outcrop with steps leading into the Adriatic and a cool bar. Check out the gorgeous ocean in the photograph below - it felt amazing to swim in such clear, warm, deep water. And after our dip, we spent the rest of our day sitting here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mostar Bridge Jumping

We took what Lonely Planet calls one of the Great European Rail Journeys through Bosnia into Herzegovina as we left Sarajevo at 7am and meandered to Mostar. It was a very old, small train with just two carriages and huge, reclining seats. Apart from a couple of other backpackers the train was full of fifty and sixty year old fishermen carrying their poles and gear and smoking profusely the entire way. The countryside was gorgeous, though complete with moments of looking at precarious viaducts and thinking, "Surely, we're not going to cross that" and then crossing it a minute later while climbing through the Bjelasnica Mountains.

Mostar is famous for its Old Bridge (Stari Most), which was completed in 1567. From Wikipedia: Charged under pain of death to construct a bridge of such unprecedented dimensions, the architect reportedly prepared for his own funeral on the day the scaffolding was finally removed from the completed structure. Certain associated technical issues remain a mystery: how the scaffolding was erected, how the stone, egg and flour was transported from one bank to the other, how the scaffolding remained sound during the long building period. The Stari Most is believed to have been the largest single span arch bridge in the world at the time it was built. As a result, this bridge can be classed among the greatest architectural works of its time.

Then in 1993 the Croat Nationalist Forces destroyed the bridge during the Balkan War. Much of Mostar was destroyed and remains evident with various warnings posted around the town. The bridge was painstakingly rebuilt over the next decade and re-opened as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It certainly was something to behold and both sides of the Neretva are dotted with restaurants and cafes so we spent almost our entire time in Mostar staring at the bridge. Young men amuse the tourists (and line their pockets) by jumping into the river below. It was quite a production to watch. First, one jumper stands on the bridge clapping his hands and looking like he is about to dive off. As a crowd gathers, he then climbs down and approaches everyone for money. When enough is collected, he makes way for the real jumper who has been standing to the side, pouring huge bottles of cold water over his body so as to ease the shock of the river water when he jumps. Then jumper #2 gets up on the bridge and leaps off it. See the video I took for a quick example.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Falling in Love with Sarajevo

I fell head over heels in love with Sarajevo. The city has one of the best vibes I've experienced - families were out with their kids eating ice cream and wandering the streets at 10pm and the bars were teeming with young people drinking cocktails and Sarajevsko beer. For the first time, the mosque's call to prayer didn't sound like a mournful echo (as I had experienced in Cairo and Dubai recently) but felt joyful and raditated through the city. The mosques were lit up at night, like in this photograph, and the old town (Bascarcija) sparkled.

I would assume that a good part of this vivaciousness felt in Sarajevo is due to the relief that the wars of the 1990s, which so devestated the city, are over. The conflict certainly did not snuff out the spirit of the Bosnians, who we learnt quickly are some wonderful, friendly, engaging folk. When we entered the Bascarcija, where we were staying, we found a maze of alleys and streets with sparse signage and soon found ourselves lost. It was teeming with rain and upon approaching a woman for help deciphering our map, she not only took us directly to where we wanted to go, but insisted on giving us her umbrella.

We spent hours wandering the streets of the Bascarcija, stopping for Bosnian coffee which is always served in a gorgeous copper pot, chatting with locals, and shopping for some copper ourselves in the copper alley where we watched men beat the copper into various objects. A geeky historical highlight was standing on the Latin Bridge where Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated, sparking World War I in the process. A reminder of the more recent war was found throughout the streets of the city in the form of the Sarajevo Rose. Where a mortar shell exploded, killing civilians, the indentations in the sidewalk or street left behind have been symbolically filled in with red paint.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Opera & Bathing in Budapest

I'm sadly back from the Balkans...what an incredible trip. I'll slowly get to everywhere I travelled through, starting with Budapest. The city has been near the top of my European city destination list for years now and I'm glad that I finally got there, yet remained somewhat underwhelmed by the place. Part of the problem may be that I discovered very quickly that I dislike Hungarian wine, but really, I felt sort of sorry for the city. It's economic situation has been highlighted by the riots of recent years and it shows - so many abandoned and run down buildings that look like they should be prime real estate. But the Hungarians were friendly folk and I spent a great day wandering Castle Hill on the Buda side of the Danube. Walking the Széchenyi Chain Bridge was one of those things I have been waiting to do for years and I also took the funicular railway to the top of the hill, which was cute. The photograph is of the gorgeous Fisherman's Bastion reflected in the window of the seriously ugly Hilton hotel.

The two highlights of my stay in Budapest were going in the Gellért Thermal Baths and then spending the evening at the Hungarian State Opera House seeing La Traviata. How much was my centre balcony ticket? $4.60 Cdn.

Friday, September 07, 2007

World Press Photo 07

I was wowed by the World Press Photo Exhibition 07 today. So many startling images - from fiercesome leopard seals munching on penguin carcasses to David Beckham immediately after a Real Madrid game to the preparation of a child's body for burial in war torn Sri Lanka, it was astonishing. I particularly loved the breakdancing shots in Paris by Denis Darzacq - you can see the whole series here. The photo below is by Arturo Rodr’guez, who was shooting one of the most popular Tenerife beaches as boats of exhausted, dehydrated, and dying African refugees washed up on the shore.

It reminded me of Sontag's theory of photography as an act of non-intervention. She writes: "Part of the horror of such memorable coups of contemporary photojournalism as the pictures of a Vietnamese bonze reaching for the gasoline can, of a Bengali guerrilla in the act of bayoneting a trussed-up collaborator, comes from the awareness of how plausible it has become, in situations where the photographer has the choice between a photograph and a life, to choose the photograph. The person who intervenes cannot record; the person who is recording cannot intervene." (On Photography)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good Morning Humphrey

I'm making a concerted effort to take my camera out and about with me. Today, I actually took it out on my run. I run in Hyde Park most mornings and on my way from the flat to the park, I pass by a house with the loveliest dog who likes to hang out on the balcony. I've been calling him Humphrey for the past few months, as I think it suits him.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The New Forest

I used to live with a girl who nicknamed me "City". As in (and this is verbatim), "Oh you're so painfully city. Do you have anything in your wardrobe that isn't black or from Saks and oh please can I have a double espresso?" I enjoyed the teasing because this girl was a sweetheart and also because it's fairly accurate. Just the other day I was commenting to someone how foreign it would feel to not be able to walk out my front door, stick out my hand, and have a cab stop. Basically, drop me in the middle of Manhattan and I'm in my element. Drop me in the middle of a suburb and I start to get nervous. Drop me in the middle of the countryside surrounded by cows and sheep and I don't have a clue.

That's why the past couple of days have been interesting. I've been meandering around the New Forest, where my father grew up. As a kid, this part of the world both fascinated and terrified me. I loved the idea of wild ponies wandering around but not having a clue, stood directly behind one when I was about ten years old. The bruising from the kick lasted for weeks. I still love the wild ponies, especially now as I know to stay the hell away from them, and this little fellow was actually the pet sheep at the manor house where I stayed.

One other note: I came across this small, handmade memorial in the middle of the New Forest, honouring the servicemen of the 3rd Canadian R.C.A.S.C. On this spot, this battalion held services from April 14, 1944 until D-Day when they went off to land on the beaches. The New Forest was an ideal location to prepare for the invasion - lots of ground cover and easy access to the English Channel. The little memorial was very moving and while I always think that the Canadian government should do more to honour our war dead and veterans, the handmade touch to this little spot seemed just perfect.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Balkans Beckon

What does a girl do when she is back at work on her thesis after such a relaxing vacation? Plan another vacation, of course. The Balkans beckon.

In a few weeks, a friend and I will head off to Budapest for a few days of opera, coffeehouses, steam baths, and the aptly timed Budapest Wine Festival. From there we head into Bosnia-Herzegovina where we'll spend a few days in Sarajevo before training to Mostar. It will be fascinating to see the Stari Most (Old Bridge) that was symbolically destroyed in the 90s during the war and has just recently been rebuilt. Then it will be onto Croatia: Dubrovnik, some island hopping, and finally Split where we'll be catching the last of the Mediterranean summer. Not since travelling in Thailand five years ago have I had a trip where I just threw stuff in a backpack and covered a wide area over a couple of weeks. It's a wonderful kind of freedom and adventure all rolled up in a perfect little package - cannot wait.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Whelming

I am occasionally overwhelmed. In the best of ways. It happens, usually, during travel. Like when I found myself standing alone in the Gauguin room at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg: the quiet, the canvases all in front of me, the solitude, the hugeness of such a moment.

And yet, it happens also when (usually once a year) I take the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver. I used to take this trip every weekend as a teenager - commuting between school in Vancouver and my parents' home in Victoria and was completely jaded about it. I buried myself in textbooks and sometimes didn't even get out of my car. Now a dozen years later I find myself overwhelmed by the journey every time I take it. It's partly nostalgia, I realize, but also the solitude of the space (again), the salt smell, the kaleidoscope of muted colours, the clarity of everything in front of me. I never have my camera with me, but this week I did (for the purpose of taking a photograph of my very pregnant friend) so here you go.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Summer Reading Stack

My summer reading list is a little bit of PhD thesis and a lot of good fiction. And most of it is being done outside overlooking the Pacific Ocean, such a bonus. (Stop reading if you haven't finished HP 7.)

Alligator by Lisa Moore. It's been on my list for awhile and I'm really enjoying it - even more so than Open.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. So much hype surrounding this book. So didn't like Blood Meridian. But then the disparity between the literary taste of friends recommending it to me and Oprah picking it for her book club seemed so intriguing, that I finally picked it up during a delay at Heathrow. Hugely engaging, full of gut pulling moments and sweeping humanitarian implications, and I bawled when it was done.

Sharp Teeth by Tony Barlow. The next book to crack open of my reading stack. It hasn't been released yet, but some early reviews are calling it "part Coleridge, part Buffy the Vampire Slayer". Fascinating. And it's written in verse, which I kind of love.

Image Music Text by Roland Barthes. I am currently implementing "The Death of the Author" as my PhD mantra.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Was the big geek who bought it at 1am. Was then too hungover to read it on my flight, but when I finally dove into it when I arrived at my parents' house, oh my was it good. Read it standing for the last 150 pages. The Battle of Hogwarts blew my mind. Professor McGonagall rocks my socks. When Fred died, I bawled. When Dumbledore reappeared to Harry, I bawled. When my two year old prediction that Snape was the good guy was confirmed, I bawled. (Much bawling during this year's summer reading.)

Visual Culture: The Reader. Very much a PhD text, but I'm currently reading Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" and can't believe that it's taken me three years of PhD work to finally come across it. Small moment of embarrassment.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Birthday Flashback

Celebrating my birthday today and here's a flashback to my 1st one. I've been feeling slightly nostalgic while at my parents' house and scanning old photographs into digital format. But today is a wonderful birthday - good coffee and running on the beach this morning, lunch with family, dinner with a dear, dear friend. And most likely, a martini or seven.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

West Coast Moment

While I love running around the Serpentine in Hyde Park, running in London is certainly different from running on Vancouver Island. In London I usually find myself dodging grim faced, business-suited folk hurrying to work. This morning on a trail that runs by my parents' house, every single person walking, running, or cycling past me shouted out: "Good Morning!" or "Hey there!" or "Great day!" It was rather glorious...and then I came home to drink my coffee on the deck and watched these guys on the beach below me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Flying with Harry Potter

Here I am, bleary-eyed after a night of cocktail party hopping, picking up my copy of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows at 1am this morning. I know that the J.K. Rowling backlash is out there, fuelled by the media hype surrounding book embargoes and price wars and spoiler alerts, but on the most basic level, what a great event this is. People lining up for a work of fiction.

I think it's brilliant, I love the books, and as I looked around me today on the airplane that flew me out to the West Coast and saw so many other people lost in the latest Harry Potter just like me, I couldn't help but smile. I've been near hysterical about other books being released my entire life, and sharing it with other people just feels cool. And as the rain teems down here on Vancouver Island, I am curled up in front of the fireplace, the ocean in front of me, a glass of wine in one hand and Harry in the other: you'll have to excuse me as I go back to reading.

(A small addendum: if you're buying HP, support your local independent bookstore!)

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Pain and The Itch

The Financial Times review of The Pain and The Itch currently playing at the Royal Court begins, "A rule of thumb in drama: the smarter the sitting room, the greater the mess that is likely to be swept under the metaphorical carpet. In Clay and Kelly’s minimalist living room the sofa is streamlined, the lines are sleek – and the mess is big indeed."

So true. Bruce Norris has concocted a brilliant mess in this play, which the audience only fully understands at the very end. Ensemble casts at the Royal Court never disappoint and this one was particularly good - especially the dreamy Matthew Macfayden. He plays a petulant boy stuck in the body of a man who has discovered the status that a BMW can provide - and what else is a yuppie if not this? I especially loved the scene where he tries to explain to a confused, foreign guest that the distressed wood dining table is supposed to look that way. Michael Billington's review is here.

Quite brilliant to have a mysteriously gnawed avocado as both an element of suspense and a crucial metaphor running through the play. And one of the best elements was the manner in which the characters spoke, written directly into the text. God, it was funny. And as I am often teased for speaking in numerals, I felt slightly self-conscious. The whole point?

KELLY: Unless you know some human that bites into an avocado like it was an apple, all right? So, yes, some non-human creature has entered our house and is now feasting on our avocados?

CLAY: And of course the mind devises these scenarios.

KELLY: But the bottom line is: one, what sort of toothed creature are we dealing with; two, what is the point of entry; and three, where exactly is it now?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Game, Set, Snap

I was originally disappointed because all of this rain meant that my tickets on Centre Court, originally scheduled to be both men's semi-finals, would be featuring other play. It turned out to be a huge treat. Two men's quarters including Nadal vs. Berdych, Federer vs. Ferrero and then the women's semi-final between Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic. And then, due to a series of long matches on No.1 Court, the officials moved the second semi-final between Bartoli and Henin to Centre Court. Not only did I get a bonus match, but it was the upset match of the tournament.

I really love this photograph I took of Federer in the focus of all the courtside photographers. (Was today's final a crackerjack match or what?) Click the images below for larger versions.

Venus Returning Serve Centre Court
Coin Toss Heading to Centre Court

Thursday, July 05, 2007

RA Summer Exhibition 2007

Remember my fantasy? Well this year's Royal Academy Summer Exhibition made it particularly good - I could have spent a fortune. One thing I particularly love about the exhibition is how there is an explanation in each gallery room as to how the room was hung. An important element due to the eclectic nature of the individual pieces in each gallery, but I wish more exhibitions did this as a matter of course. This kind of interest seems to be the same as the way I can sometimes love the structure of a book just as much as its content.

Speaking of books, Ken Howard's paintings always make me feel like I'm inside of one, reading on a rainy day. He had several paintings displayed in this year's exhibition, which were lovely. I also enjoyed Michael Craig-Martin's Reconstructing Seurat (pictured above). And featured in the show was the controversial Iraq Triptych by Michael Sandle - created in just ten days and despite the brutal nature of its portrayal, was a beautiful, intricate piece. One other painting I would have dropped a bundle on was a watercolour interpretation of the classic Penguin cover by Harland Miller - you can see several of this series here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Wimbledon Predictions 2007

A little late with my predictions this year, but it doesn't really matter with all of this rain we've been having. So many delays that I don't think even the players know what round they're presently playing. I'm going to cheat with my predictions this year, simply to spice things up a little. I believe that the winners will be Roger Federer and Justine Henin - it's just so boring, but gosh they're playing well on the grass.

My backup prediction is for Centre Court favourite Marcos Baghdatis and Michaella Krajicek on the ladies side. And quietly creeping through the draw at the moment are Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. How much would I love Roddick to win it? So much. And how exciting is this new Tamira Paszek?

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Wet Wimbledon

Another year at Wimbledon and another year in the rain. Except today was ridiculous - it lashed down with rain and I only managed to see an hour of tennis. The roar you hear in this video isn't any kind of crowd - it is the rain hitting the roof of No.1 Court. That was the one silver lining today: my tickets were for the only court with a roof this year, so there was at least some shelter. Centre Court tickets later next week and fingers already crossed for some better weather.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Media Refreshment

I have been bogged down in thesis work for weeks now. Long days in the library and sleepless nights as I keep realizing that I'm contradicting myself in my arguments, so I turn the light on and get up and keep typing. I finished a large section this past week so took a couple of days off to allow my brain to do something else. A little bit of media refreshment, as it were:

Viewing: The BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery. Not as good as previous years, but there were a couple of fantastic pieces.

Reading: After Dark by Haruki Murakami, which has finally been translated into English. Right now, a little touch of surrealism is like jumping into a cold lake first thing in the morning to me.

Watching: The last two seasons of Six Feet Under, which for some reason I never got around to watching when they originally aired. I am in love with all of the Fisher family. (And yes, I already know what happens at the end, but am managing to suspend that knowledge as I watch each episode.)

Listening: To nothing. I've fallen into some kind of musical void where nothing sounds good to me. Can you help me out? I'm looking for quirky and catchy and melancholy - an entire album I can fall into.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Vive Le Tennis

I had a wonderful time at Roland Garros - seven hours of tennis. Unlike last time I was at the French Open, the weather was perfect and I didn't bake under the sun, which somehow feels so much worse on clay.

We watched Sharapova win, Mauresmo lose, Mathieu lose, and Nadal win. There are more photos of the tennis in my Paris Flickr set. (So far, my predictions are on course.)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Two Things

I have decided two things. One: Working is much more bearable when doing it on the Eurostar, being whisked to Paris, avec un glass of wine. Two: Being automatically served hot milk with your coffee makes life tremendously more pleasant. Non?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Roland Garros Predictions

I don't usually make my Grand Slam predictions this early in the tournament. I'm fleetingly more accurate around the last sixteen, but as I just packed my Lacoste gear in preparation for heading to Paris for the tennis tomorrow, I'll give it an early go.

Continuing with my trend of not choosing Federer to win, because it's just too easy of a prediction. But I truly don't think he'll crack the clay this year - the tournament is Nadal's to lose, so I'm backing him. Watch out for Baghdatis and Canas though, they're both playing well.

As for the women, I think Justine Henin will defend her title (which is too bad, simply because I dislike her). If Sharapova wasn't still dealing with her injured shoulder, she'd be in with a good chance, but I think she'll have a better tournament at Wimbledon. Dark horse is Serena Williams; she could surprise here at the French Open...again. Will be smelling the clay on Saturday.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Things I Currently Love v.5

• This past Friday night was all about Jack Daniels and dancing and cheap Chinese food. It was a much needed break from work monotony and I managed to allow myself a full day of recovery (because I'm old now, apparently) without feeling guilty about all the work I should have been doing instead. My new favourite quote was also born during this night out when my good friend said, "Sarah, most people find our personalities abhorrent. I choose to celebrate them."

• At the British Library, there are staff members who walk up and down the aisles of desks checking for banned materials or improper use of the collections. I am currently writing about fetishism and photography, so my desk was covered in books and photographs of pornography. Every time a staff member walked by my desk, they sloooowed down. Snicker.

• I think I was the last person on earth to see The Lives of Others. I'm not averse to seeing films by myself in the theatre, I do it all the time. But I kind of wanted a night out with wine and a good flick and interesting conversation. What to do? Ask who wanted to see it on my Facebook status, of course. I couldn't stop laughing that I was arranging my social life via Facebook - what a terrible cliché. But alas, it worked and the film (as you can see from the sidebar) was tremendous.

• It finally feels like summer is gearing up! I'm booking tickets to summer theatre runs, soon it will be time for tennis and the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, fresh strawberries will be at the Borough Market and fruit pies will be offered in the bakery, and it will be time for Pimms on the patio.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cygnets in the City

How about some cuteness today? I took this video a couple of days ago as I walking through Hyde Park, on my way home from the library. After a day of filling my head with academic nonsense, spotting these cygnets with very protective parents (only slight alarm when mum came out of the water towards me...have you ever seen a swan attack?) was such a treat.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Reading Stack

Boing Boing pointed out this cool Flickr group called Reading Stack. Here's my first one.

Place: Bedside table in Toronto loft

Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje. New book by my favourite writer. Reading it very slowly.
Lonely Planet Cambodia. Researching for potential trip. Travel reading excites me, but also makes me sleepy, and isn't a huge intellectual investment. Great for bedtime reading.
Complete Plays by Sarah Kane. I saw Crave over the weekend and was re-reading it before the performance.
On Photography by Susan Sontag. Still reading it and using her ideas for my thesis.
Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill. I picked this up a couple of days before I left London - it was my transatlantic airplane reading. Short stories are good for this.
Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin. A signed copy was waiting for me in my loft when I walked in from the airport. A gift from a friend. Except that it is signed to both of us, so it's a shared custody kind of situation.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Best Of Both Surfaces

They called it The Battle of Surfaces. A tennis court made of half grass and half clay to host the world's best grass courter and clay courter. It was played today with Nadal just beating Federer, in what looked like a very cool match.

I just love that this was played - it's one of those moments where someone must have thought: Wouldn't it be cool if we did this? And then this fun concept was actually turned into reality. It has also heightened my excitement for this summer's tennis. For the first time I'll be playing my own version of Battle of the Surfaces, as I'm attending both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Such different atmospheres at these tournaments - it will be interesting to do them just weeks apart. Predictions to come, as usual.

Monday, April 30, 2007

I Hate Banksy

I've blogged about Banksy and his book previously. Not everyone loves Banksy, however. I took this photograph on Brick Lane - awesome. In other Banksy news, one of his murals was recently painted over by Old Street tube station. The BBC reported that an "iconic Banksy" was covered up. Banksy iconic? Ummm. Caravaggio? Yes. Picasso? Yes. Banksy? Really pushing it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Spa-aaahed in Montreux

What to write about a weekend at the spa in Switzerland? It kind of speaks for itself. But to describe it briefly - it was two days of going from sauna to massage to steam room to facial to swim to lying in the sun under the Alps.

And then wandering along the shore of Lake Geneva, stopping to smell the flowers and eat cheese and escargot and drink copious amounts of French wine. It was a weekend of convenience - meeting with good friends who happened to be in Geneva - that turned into a weekend of blissful convalescence. (I promised them that I would write that we were convalescing.) More self-explanatory evidence in these photographs. The lake, the mountains, the remanents of our breakfast in the midst that view. Life is too good sometimes.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Week in Wonders

Wonderful: Equus by Peter Shaffer at the Gielgud Theatre. I expected the play to be good, but I didn't expect to be completely blown away by the production, which I was. That Harry Potter kid sure is good. Really, Daniel Radcliffe gave a virtuoso performance which is even more remarkable given that it's a rare feat to upstage Richard Griffiths on stage. The play was worth seeing just for the horses, which were performed by some wicked dancers. Gorgeous costumes and some pretty amazing fancy footwork - it made for a spellbinding couple of hours.

Not so wonderful: For the first time in seven years, as I walked down a busy London street, one of those bus tour operators tried to hand me a pamphlet. He thought I was a tourist. The horror.

Even more wonderful: Heading to Montreux, Switzerland tomorrow for a spa weekend with good friends. Wine, massage, good conversation, and the Alps. Not to mention Swiss efficiency, which I love.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Love Is In The Air

Do you ever have one of those days? One of those days where everything feels good? You wake up after a good sleep, the weather is to-die-for gorgeous, you burst into life with a delicious coffee and with the whole day ahead of you, think: What would be wonderful today?

So you head into East London and wander around Spitalfields Market and buy pretty jewellery and some brilliant art, sampling every olive and chocolate brownie on offer. Then you stop next to the sign that tells you Love Is In The Air and The Espresso Smells Fabulous for another coffee and watch the crazy world walk by. Heading over to Brick Lane you don't buy a peacock feather from the man with the wicked dreads, but you do stop to admire them, and then the smell of sizzling curry becomes too much and you gorge yourself on the best Bangladeshi cuisine in town. And now before your dinner plans with friends you sit in a sunbeam in your flat and have a cup of tea while the stack of Sunday papers sits at your feet, still waiting to be read. Do you ever have one of those days?

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Lady From Dubuque by Edward Albee

Tonight I saw Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque at the Haymarket Theatre. Reviews for the play were really mixed, so much so that had Maggie Smith not been starring in it, I probably would have given it a miss. Which would have been such a shame, as I thought that the production was excellent. (I wonder if the fact that the original run of The Lady From Dubuque on Broadway in 1980 only lasted twelve days still affects reviews of the play today.)

Michael Billington wrote that he was "simultaneously tantalised, intrigued, and entertained" by the play. I would agree and also add "irritated" but this is not necessarily a bad thing. I mean irritated in the way you sometimes wish George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would just shut up and calm down and stop making their guests squirm, but really, you don't want the chaos to stop. I'll call it the "Albee Irritation" and will admit that I enjoy it. And Maggie Smith was brilliant...of course.

Monday, April 02, 2007

My So-Called Life v.3

A different city and a different desk, but the same old story. Still dependent upon the nalgene water bottle and the loosleaf pads. But I have a glorious window to work next to at the moment and I have the finish line in sight. Still a couple of months away, but I can now start letting my mind wander toward post-PhD themes. (And I can envision a time I will not be covered in papercuts from all of these articles and chapter drafts and file folders.)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

I Read, I Hear, I Watch

Reading the brand spanking new novel by Dan Rhodes, Gold. Rhodes wrote one of my favourite books, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, which is probably the book I give most often as a gift. If I had his talent for making the reader cry with hilarity and then continue crying a few pages later from emotional nausea, I would give up my day job. (That is, of course, if I had a day job.)

Listening to Jarvis Cocker's solo album. With a song title "From Auschwitz to Ipswich" and another song with the catchy refrain "Fat children stole my life" - how could you not love it? And also, thanks to John's best-of-2006-mix, I was introduced to Hello Stranger and their self-titled album is spinning furiously on my ipod.

Watching Friday Night Lights. A show about high school football in Texas, you scoff? I'm telling you - this show is wonderful. Don't believe me? Give 'er a google and see all the critical acclaim for yourself. It reminds me a lot of My So-Called Life: that sort of angst that doesn't seem pretentious because it's layered, and still has humour in its pain, and presses your own buttons. But unlike My So-Called Life, will Friday Night Lights last more than one season? I'd love to see more, but maybe its brilliance would then be lost. Tough one. Watch it.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Weekend of Contrast

Sometimes there's nothing better than a night in. Friday night was all about eating soup, drinking tea and watching a week's worth of tv. I got through this week's episodes of The L Word (please, please more Pam Grier on this show), 24, Greys Anatomy, and Friday Night Lights. So I got my dose of smut, suspense, quirky, and high school self-absorption.

Sometimes there's nothing better than a night out. Saturday night was all about tequila. Fun at the time, not so much today. The only known cure for a tequila hangover is a Big Mac so I'm thanking the stars that I don't have a fondness for tequila because a) I don't like McDonalds and b) I probably would be dead of clogged arteries by now.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Sontag Love-In

St. Patrick's Day really threw me off. The festivities got off to an early start, so I didn't read that day's Guardian like I usually do on a Saturday afternoon. And then the week remained busy socially so I didn't get around to reading the paper until last night. Thus it was a nice surprise to find an essay by Susan Sontag in the review section that will be published in her posthumous book of essays, At The Same Time, next month.

I've been having a sort of love-in with Sontag recently. On Photography is a crucial work for my PhD thesis and I'm continually re-reading it. And what I adore about Sontag is that the preciseness of her prose is actually deceiving. She layers meaning in her sentences so that every time I go back to her work, it's like a fresh read. When asked what writers ought to do, she replied in part, "Love words, agonize over sentences." I can always feel the intricate pain in the process of her work - which oftentimes is the element of art that I most enjoy: that perfect blend over the border of content and structure.

The essay is about the ethics of fiction writing and how important the novelist is in the age of television. That the function of literature is to tell stories, as opposed to that of television which simply provides information. (Literature involves. It is the recreation of human solidarity. Television (with its illusion of immediacy) distances - immures us in our own indifference.)

Read the essay. Don't listen to my terrible precis. Though this one line summarizes perfectly what I believe is the entire point of art: A novelist leads the reader over a gap, makes something go where it was not.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Explorations in Cairo

Cairo was an overwhelming, astonishing city. While I knew geographically where Cairo was, I didn't expect it to feel so strongly like I was in Northern Africa. I particularly liked how in the midst of the most insane traffic I have seen on any continent I've visited, suddenly a donkey and cart would appear and hold everything up.

I was really looking forward to visiting Old Cairo, or Coptic Cairo, as this area of the city dates back to the 6th century BC. The history of the city is contained in this small area - you can still see remains of a fortress that the Romans built when they were present, and then when Christianity spread through Egypt, the most beautiful churches were built here and still stand today. I visited the Church of Abu Serga, the oldest remaining Christian monument in Cairo, which is supposedly where Jesus and his family hid during their flight to Egypt. The Hanging Church (photos of exterior and its gorgeous wall mosaics) is Cairo's most famous church and dates from the 7th century, named because it was built atop of Roman walls and hung over the rest of Coptic Cairo.

But perhaps the most thrilling part of my journey around Old Cairo was a visit to the Ben Ezra Synagogue. The story goes that it was in this very place that Moses was found in the bullrushes. This tributary of the Nile has subsequently dried up, but the keeper of the synagogue took me to this well-type structure behind the building and threw stones down it to show me that there was once water here.

The photograph above is taken inside the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, which was just gorgeous. (My photos of the mosque exterior and courtyard.)

One last highlight was the Khan el-Khalili souq - a bustling, dirty, aromatic market in the heart of the city. I adore places like this and spent a lot of time standing to the side just soaking up everything that was going on around me. The photograph below is of a man pushing this huge cart with a blazing fire inside of it, roasting sweet potatoes as he wandered through the souq. The smell was incredible and I love this shot - it sums up the Khan el-Khalili, and Cairo, perfectly.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Egypt Photographs

The photographs I took in Egypt are up on Flickr. I think this one is my favourite.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sphinxes and Thinxes

Back from Cairo - an astonishing city. (And blog title completely stolen from a cute email from John.) More on Cairo itself later, but first, a wee account of pyramid hunting in Giza and Saqqara.

Saqqara is a huge ancient burial ground where the world's oldest step pyramid sits. The pyramid was built as the tomb for the pharaoh Djoser and dates from 2667-2648 BC. The photo below shows this pyramid as well as a remaining section of wall adorned with cobras that protected the burial grounds. Amazingly, our guide was this Indiana Jones type character - a real Egyptologist - who knew everyone guarding these monuments and was able to show us things the general public is forbidden to visit. I actually crawled into this tomb and down a ladder to see the mummy of Neffer, who was Djoser's singer. This tomb was discovered in 1965 and is one of the only tombs on the burial ground that still contains the original mummy.

When I visited Giza to see the three pyramids and the Great Sphinx, the private viewing miraculously continued. I was the only person standing next to the Spinx (photo above) and actually touched it (and made a wish). It was very difficult to get my head around the fact that I was in the middle of Egypt touching the Sphinx as the pyramids loomed over me - these larger than life wonders that I have seen in photographs for my entire life. And also unbelievable was seeing the hieroglyphics etched into stone, and wall paintings still holding brilliant pigment, that have survived for almost 5000 years. It was a sandy, dirty, exhilarating day.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Shakespeare and Company

When I was nineteen and on the requisite European backpacking trip, I was most excited about visiting Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Where Hemingway, Pound and Gertrude Stein hung out in the early days of the store when Sylvia Beach owned it and was the only person who would publish Joyce's Ulysses. The store closed in 1941 due to Nazi occupation of Paris, and the story goes that it was forced to shut after Beach refused to give her last copy of Finnegan's Wake to a German officer.

When it was reopened by George Whitman, it again became the focal point of leading edge writers such as Ginsberg and Burroughs. (It is informally a sister store to City Lights in San Francisco, which I visited at the end of 2005.) And the best part of the whole history of the store is that you could bunk there in exchange for working in the store a couple of hours a day. My nineteen year old self envisioned sleeping under towering shelves of books, the smell of old paper and dust, and waking up to ghosts of literary greats.

Check out some other great photographs of Shakespeare and Company - the interior shots give a fabulous sense of the store.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

George V

I will be the first to admit that I'm jaded when it comes to hotels. It just comes with the territory of growing up in them - but I continue to adore hotels and the individual qualities and idiosyncrasies of each one. I also love hotel flower arrangements, and the ones in the George V in Paris, from where I just returned, were wonderful.

It was also a step back in time in some ways. In the very French hotel restaurant Le Cinq, the gentlemen were presented with menus that displayed prices while the ladies' menus were price absent. I hadn't seen this in years and this is how I ordered a cup (cup, not bowl) of soup that cost $240 Cdn. Seriously. (I was also taken on a tour of Le Cinq's wine cellar, which really is in a cellar deep in the bowels of the hotel. Jagged chunks of rock formed the walls and I learnt that it was this exact site from which the rock composing the Arc de Triomphe was excavated.)

Hotel service is always lovely and welcome, but I rarely see anything particularly original anymore. In Dubai a few months ago, everytime we left things out in the room we returned to find them on doilies. And all of our bathroom products were also placed on doilies, but in height ascending order. Cute. But at the George V, I experienced something I had never seen before. When I crawled into bed and opened my book, which I had left on the night table, I discovered that the page I had dog-eared was repaired to its usual smooth position and a bookmark now reserving my place. Brilliant.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Deux jours à Paris

One never tires of Paris. Just back from a couple of days on the continent. I think I have exceeded my usual monthly calorie intake in just two days by gorging on wine, cheese, snails and crêpes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Things I Currently Love v.4

• This week I got my hands on some advance reading copies of new novels that have been on my radar. It has been good timing - the deeper I get into my research and writing of a thesis chapter, the more I need to have my mind be elsewhere before turning in. Steven wrote this week that he can't read in bed. My comment to his post was bordering on incredulous - I do most of my reading lying down. Granted, I have perpetually raging insomnia, but literally curling up with a good book and a warm duvet and being horizontal with nothing else to do afterwards but sleep? Love.

• I spent the evening a little while ago in the most wonderful bar I've been to in years. Firevault is a fireplace showroom...and a bar. Warm, flickering flames dancing around the entire room with a fabulous wine list and the best cosmopolitan I've ever sampled. Let me reiterate. Sinking into a couch next to a fireplace on a winter night with a delicious cocktail. Love.

• Rather out of the blue, I am suddenly off to Cairo for a few days next month. The pyramids, the Sphinx, the Nile, the Khan el-Khalil and me in the same place. Love.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Happy Days at the National Theatre

Tonight: Happy Days with Fiona Shaw at the National Theatre. The set was absolutely astounding - perhaps the best I have ever seen. (Created by set designer Tom Pye, you can read more about the creation of it here.) The photograph doesn't really do the set justice - it was like the combination of the aftermath of a catastrophic war and the lonely surface of the moon with spotlights. When I read the play many years ago in university, I pictured the stage as quite small - something I thought as a necessity for such an extended monologue composed of fragmented thought. But the Lyttelton Theatre is huge and therefore it needs a huge stage presence to pull off the material. Enter Fiona Shaw.

She was luminous, just as she was in Woman and Scarecrow. Beckett is never given enough credit for his humour, maybe because it is difficult to pull off in performance. Shaw seems to have created the perfect blend to reel off these important lines: part deadpan delivery, part unassuming persona and part delicious irony.

The program quotes Roger Michell, who worked with Beckett on the 1979 production of Happy Days at the Royal Court. He recalls that at the end of one long day of rehearsal, Beckett said with a wry smile, "That's it. Now I must return to my room and resume my inspection of the empty space."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Seagull at the Royal Court

Last night I saw The Seagull at the Royal Court Theatre - it plays until mid-March and its run is already completely sold out. And rightly so - it was brilliant. Very rarely do I sit through a three hour play and lose my own sense of time, an even greater achievement when you consider that Chekhov isn't always the most engaging of playwrights.

Kristin Scott Thomas (even more stunning in person), Chiwetel Eijofor, and Mackenize Crook were good, but the show was almost stolen by (according to her resume) a relatively inexperienced actor. Playing the young, passionate and ultimately destroyed Nina was Carey Mulligan. Michael Billington writes that Mulligan "doesn't fully convey Nina's ravening ambition" and I can see his point. But her excitement at her decision to become an actress and her anguish when she is tossed aside by Eijofor's Trigorin was palpable.

My friends and I took up residence in the wonderful Royal Court bar after the performance and suddenly realized that Kristin Scott Thomas, Mackenzie Crook and some of the other cast were relaxing with drinks behind us. Caught up in the atmosphere of the Royal Court (where else do the actors drink in the same bar as the patrons afterwards?) I signalled the waitress and bought the actors a round of drinks. Mackenize Crook came over to the table to thank us and had a wee chat. This is exactly why I live in London.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Guggenheim Bilbao

I have visited the Guggenheims in New York and Venice, Berlin is tentatively planned for this April, so just the Guggenheim Bilbao remained for my Goog Grand Slam. While it may have been cold, visiting in January meant an almost empty gallery. Lovely. But definitely the first time I have felt that the building was far more impressive than the collection itself. The Matter of Time by Richard Serra was very cool, but beyond that I was blown away just by wandering through and around Gehry's structure. The rest of my Guggenheim photos are up on Flickr.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Back From Bilbao

A wonderful weekend in Bilbao. But cold, even for Northern Spain at this time of year. A dusting of snow, but much sangria and fine Spanish wine was drunk to compensate for this burst of winter. The point of the trip (a break from the thesis aside) was to visit the Guggenheim en route to my Guggenheim Grand Slam. More on this later.

But I also really enjoyed a morning wandering the Casco Veijo - the Old City. The Catedral de Santiago dates from the 13th century and is surrounded by meandering streets and the buildings are dotted with hanging flower baskets and pretty balconies. The Mercado de la Ribera is the largest covered market in Spain and we watched fish being scaled and peppers being dried among the crowds of Saturday shoppers. (Photograph of the Mercado along the bank of the River Nervion above.)

In addition to the Guggenheim, we also checked out the Museo de Bellas Artes, which houses a good collection of Spanish artists from the 12th to 20th centuries. Modern Bilbao was just as interesting as the older part of the city. Every metro station has a unique entrance - these worms dotted the city streets. And Bilbao is certainly a dog friendly city. In fact, I have never seen so many dogs in one place in my life - perros everywhere.