Tuesday, October 23, 2018

To Eastern Canada and Back

Greetings! It's been too long over here in this blogspot. I'm going to lay out our last big journey here, in case anyone is looking for an enriching cultural road trip in the northern regions of the North American continent. Let's go!
Back at the tail end of summer, we landed late at night in Buffalo, NY, and drove the 25 minutes or so to cross the border--on the other side of the poetically named Rainbow Bridge.

It was after midnight when we arrived in Ontario, a block from the Niagra Falls (town of) strip, known as Clifton Hill. At some point in time, a demon-from-hell developer showed up on the banks of spectacular Niagra Falls (the actual falls) and visualized the most demonic tourist trap one block away from one of nature's natural wonders. By dawn's early light it was our first impression of eastern Canada, and it was, and I'm being diplomatic here, a massive bummer.

We could walk to the Falls from our hotel and the first indication that something was amiss on our stroll, was this upside-down house. We've visited upside-down houses before (at least one that I can recall). This one was very tidy in comparison, but somewhat sterile in scope.

Here's the view on the way to the Falls.

Burger King and the Frankenstein Monster, together at last

Dracula's castle between Gags 'n Giggles and a Maze of Lasers

Perhaps reflecting its origin-from-hell, Clifton Hill has an abundance of haunted-house attractions, including Dracula's Castle, Frankenstein's Castle, and a haunted house, which as you can see here, is air conditioned.

There's a lot of horror to get through--a true vision of hell that asks you to pay upon entry.

Wax tyrants

You know you're getting closer to the splendor of water and gravity when the surroundings become less of a psychedelic horror-show tourist trap and more of a misty, color-coded rain-poncho and zip-line tourist trap. Keep right on strolling past the USA Falls, which fooled me into saying out loud, "Is that all there is?"

The U.S. Falls - nice, but *yawn*

As you continue down the boardwalk to wonder, you finally arrive at the Canadian horseshoe Falls, and it is quite a payoff.

Due to the ridiculous drop-off, you can easily walk all the way to the top of the Falls and watch the Niagra River fall off the face of the Earth. Well, actually just this part of the Earth, before flowing to its way-station at Lake Ontario before becoming the St. Lawrence River on route to the Atlantic Ocean.

The exciting world of Niagra Falls in less than 20 seconds.

Jackson wanted to take the "Journey Behind the Falls" tour, which wasn't something we would have thought of doing, even though the tour slogan is "Witness the Wonder," which sounds pretty good. The Falls' history as a power generator in years past resulted in some some amazingly engineered tunnels beneath the Falls. They're as impressive as they are damp, if you're into civil engineering and being under one a solid curtain of endlessly falling water.

Beneath Niagra Falls

Plus there's a lookout point that Jackson made good use of.

Niagra Falls - photo by Jackson

On to Toronto--just a two-and-a-half hour drive away. The first rule of Toronto seems to be: everyone is cool. I know we only spent two-and-a-half days there, but coming from the current volatile political and cultural situation in the U.S., Toronto is a city that knows how. It's a diverse, cosmopolitan, cultured city with an international flair. And everyone is dong their thing and that's good--that's the vibe.

The other noticeable trait is pointy towers. So many pointy towers. It's as if Eastern Canada had a architectural chip on its shoulder during its foundation, and had to out-tower the tallest towers of Great Britain, and had to do it with trillions of bricks. This is something that we as Californians rarely see--bricks are not earthquake-proof building materials.

Get ready for more extra-tall pointy architecture as we make our way through Canada, but first: DOG FOUNTAIN!

Yes, it's the dog fountain of Berzcy Park and it's delightful. A stroll through the city becomes magical when city councils vote in these high-concept projects. Hail, the stellar work of landscape architect fountain designer Claude Cormier.

27 cast-iron dogs

and one cat

We split up the following day for two Toronto experiences. Keith and Jackson headed over to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Keith comes from a family of Canadian hockey players, a legacy that continues with our nephew's team's Eastern Connecticut State Championship win this year (go Eagles!). Last spring, Keith and Jackson flew across the U.S. for a three-day trip to watch the Eagles' final game, so I can say with confidence: they are hockey fans.

I chose to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), after careful consideration and no further research other than a blurb in our guidebook. So I didn't know AGO is one of the largest museums in North America, nor did I know that it would be one of my favorite museum visits ever. I just knew it had some great architecture.

Much effort was put into the making of this hallway at AGO

View from the AGO hallway

There was such a wide-ranging selection of galleries and exhibits. I was lucky I had most of the day to wander around in a ecstatic daze. The sights and sounds of the Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013)/Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak (1967-2013) retrospective, were colorful, stylized and inspirational. Stonecut prints, stencils, pastels, colored pencil, India ink, paper--these humble tools in the hands of masters like Ashevak and her nephew Pitsiulak inhabit an Inuit world of bird spirits, sun faces, arctic creatures, snow equipment, the cockpit of a small aircraft--all so impeccably rendered in fluid, colorful simplicity and power. A reverberating soundtrack of poetry, wind- and whale-song echoed throughout the extensive exhibit. A true celebration of artful and spiritual expression.

Kenojuak Ashevak - Enchanted Owl - stonecut on paper, 1960

Tim Pitsiulak - Swimming with Giants - graphite, colored pencil, Pentel pen, 2014

Without knowing what lay ahead, I wandered into a back-corner gallery and found a retrospective of one of my favorite portraitists, Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1945). Kollwitz was another illustrative magician with her charcoal, pencils and etchings. She studied human faces and never looked away from human suffering, poverty and mortality, including child mortality. She is dark, but then, so is life. One of art world's great humanitarians.

Kathe Kollwitz - self portrait - look what she did with lines

Another evocative Kollwitz self-portrait

At the children's hospital - Kollwitz' husband was a medical practitioner

Interesting that the preliminary sketch features happier expressions

More wandering around brought more surprises. Here's John Scott's Trans Am Apocalypse No. 3 (1998-2000), a 1980 Pontiac painted in black house paint with the entire text of the Biblical Revelation of St. John the Divine etched into its exterior. It was being restored throughout the summer months in full view as part of its exhibit. I don't know in what ways this piece affected me, but it did, and even though this was made in Canada, I think it's a brilliant method for U.S. citizens to read their Bibles.

Rebecca Belmore's solo show "Facing the Monumental" was truly monumental. She is a multidisciplinary force to be reckoned with--sculptor, photographer, videographer, installation artist, performance artist--this 30-year retrospective was a museum in itself. Some artists are world creators. Belmore is that as well as a world truth-teller. She makes you face the world, even its hidden parts we don't rarely hear about in our information age. Her work says, "Look at this. Think about this. Know this."

Belmore is a member of the Lac Seul First Nation (Anishinaabe), and after spending some time with her work, I have a much deeper understanding of the injustices suffered by Canada's indigenous people, particularly the women. This is only amplified because I know the U.S. is a mirror image of Canadian policies. I'm still waiting for our government to address this publicly and to make amends.

Rebecca Belmore - Mixed Blessing, 2011

Tower, 2018 - shopping carts and clay

Belmore uses nature as part of her materials. I can't do Fountain justice, but this dark room featuring a video projected onto a wall of falling water, was an immersive experience. You could hear it throughout the gallery--a whooshing tremendous rainstorm of a sound. Upon entering the room, the pipes and spigots and trough that make up the projection screen take up an entire wall. The force of the falling water into the trough sends drops up and around the screen and there's puddles on the floor from this upward water motion. That alone is stupefying. Projected onto the water screen is a video of the shoreline, Belmore herself in the ocean, a bucket, and blood. It's just amazing--cinematic, yet of nature and the elements.

Fountain - excerpt

Fountain - excerpt

A tiny snippet from the video:

What is the overriding theme of an AGO experience? All the contemporary artists are Canadian. And they aren't messing around.

More pointy buildings of Toronto. From the delightful Kensington Market neighborhood--an entire neighborhood, closed to cars, featuring vintage architecture, murals, restaurants, produce markets and shops--this is a thing in Canada and I highly recommend it, city planners of the world.

Next time: Ottawa! Meanwhile, enjoy brick towers of Toronto splendor:

Daniels Building, University of Toronto
Ontario Legislative Building with some restoration on the left

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

She Mob Plays Live at The Octopus Literary Salon

She Mob opens for The Rabbles and poet Julien Poirier at Oakland's Octopus Literary Salon on Saturday, October 20th. Show starts at 7 p.m. -- a very humane time for a live-music/poetry show. Rock out, poets!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Families Belong Together March - Concord, California

The U.S. immigration policy of family separation, instigated by Jeff Sessions and Donald J. Trump, is egregious, horrifying and evil. Tearing families apart at the southern U.S. border as punishment for attempting to immigrate, and many of these families are trying to immigrate here legally due to deadly violence at home, is fascism, pure and simple. And that is not the law. Neither is the mass incarceration of children, who are being held in detention centers without parental contact. That is racist, sociopathic cruelty.

Tonight we held a small rally and march organized through Families Belong Together at Todos Santos Plaza in Concord, California. I grew up in Concord, by way of San Francisco. Concord used to be majority white. It's not any more. It's ground zero for immigration policies, especially due to recent activities by the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Department, who are cooperating with ICE through a loophole in California's sanctuary state status.

Some photos from tonight's lovely march and rally. Below the photos is an excellent list of actions you can do TODAY to end family separation in the U.S.

What can we do? Here's a good list from Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin's Resistance Live. We need you! Let's work together to end family separation policy forever.
  • Families Belong Together is a site for protest, organizing and resources.
  • The RAICES Family Reunification and Bond Fund is raising money to support families seeking reunification and in need of bond money. Donate here.
  • The Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen Texas, is on the front lines for post-court support and is seeking donations for families once released. They need diapers, Pedialyte (flavored only), feminine hygiene products, and other items listed here:
  1. Toiletries for men and women (deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, combs, etc)
  2. Shoes (sandals, tennis shoes, loafers, etc) for men, women, children and infants of all sizes
  3. Clothes (pants, t-shirts, blouses, underclothing, etc) for children and adults of all sizes
  4. Baby supplies for toddlers (Pampers, baby wipes, baby bottles, etc.)
  5. Sealed snack food (granola bars, chips, peanut butter & cheese crackers, etc)
  6. Gift cards to purchase food items
  7. Phone cards
  8. Plastic bags for families to pack sandwiches, snacks, and water for their trip.
  9. There is an Amazon Wish List as well as a donation mailing address here.
  • CALL THE HILL RIGHT NOW and demand the passage of the Joint House/Senate Bill known as the Keep Families Together Act. Call as many people as you can whether they represent you or not. The main number for the Capitol switchboard is (202) 224-3121. You can also send five free faxes a day to Reps and Senators (any of them who have a fax line--I'm sending faxes to the majority of the GOP every day this week) by using FaxZero. Here's all the GOP Senators who are currently doing nothing to end this travesty. The text of the Keep Families Together Act is here.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Movies You May Have Missed - Clockwatchers (1997)

I don't know why it took me more than 20 years to see Jill Sprecher's Clockwatchers in full, but life is full of mysteries and this is only one of many. Sprecher, working from a spare and quietly lacerating screenplay co-written with her sister Karen, created the temporary-employee office-noir two years before the much more lauded white-collar satire Office Space. Her stylish study on the de-humanization of the American workforce deserves more accolades, particularly because it stars a stellar cast of four women (Toni Collette, Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow, Alanna Ubach) as office temps in corporate purgatory. Written and directed and starring women about womens' work experiences within the male-dominated capitalist system—I cannot for the life of me fathom why this cult film isn't more celebrated. What could possibly factor into that I wonder.

And now:

Shy, unassuming Iris (Collette) is a new temp within the insular putty-colored world of Global Credit. It's an environment ruled by the clock, to the point that Iris is completely ignored by the receptionist until 9 A.M. rolls around, wherein she's instructed to sit on a chair to await further instructions. Two hours of muzak-laden negligence later, she's reprimanded by the office scold (née manager) Barbara (Debra Jo Rupp) for following directions.

Anyone who's ever temped before will recognize this barely exaggerated scenario as base truth within the world of middle-management. And guess who's temped for years on end in countless office environments? That's right, me. So consider me your expert on the subject. Aren't you lucky I'm here to vouch for what appears surreal and heightened but is in actuality true in scope?

In the sterile confines of her new job in a town with no name, muzak is pumped overhead throughout the day to "boost productivity," barely concealing the buzz of fluorescent lighting and quiet desperation masquerading under polite social norms. Margaret (Posey, sharp and brilliant), a temp who's been around long enough to know all the slacker tricks to get through an eight-hour day, takes Iris on the dreaded "office tour." During which she meets all the office types who would also be parodied by Mike Judge in Office Space: the snitching rule-follower, the grinning golden boy, the patriarchal senior executive, the bossy fuss-budget, the vindictive phony, and the anal-retentive supply clerk (Stanley DeSantis as "Art," close cousin to Office Space's cult figure Milton, played by Stephen Root with similar mumbling weirdness). Is it possible Judge never saw Clockwatchers before making Office Space?–maaaaybe... U.S. office culture trends toward the universal. Still, Art and Milton are practically twins in schlub-brotherhood.

Margaret, who despite her grasping desire to be hired permanently, is styled slightly "off" for office culture, in keeping with her rebellious spirit: skirts a bit too short, shoes too casual and comfy. Decked in warm shades of red, her patterns and florals among the navy-blue power suits read like warning flags, signals about how not to get ahead in this stifling mono-culture.

Margaret recognizes the futility of identifying with your job when you're basically a file clerk. Still, she has a terrible work ethic and sucks up to power (gloriously) to get what she wants. She's a scammer par excellence and reminds me of many of the people I was attracted to in my 20s, in and outside of work.

Iris, among her new office pals, begins to bloom within the radiance of Margaret's sass. Soon-to-be-married perfectionist Jane (Ubach, with her huge eyes, a living anime in Chanel suits) and would-be man killer/actress wannabe Paula (Kudrow, flipping hair and attitude way back in '97) are exactly the kind of friends you make while temping—you have nothing in common but the dead-end job, but sometimes for the moment that's enough.

When small personal items go missing throughout the office, things take a dark, existentialist turn. Not that the entire enterprise wasn't dark or existentialist to begin with, but now the four temps, always on the peripheral of job status with their lack of benefits, paid days off, or ability to advance unless offered the coveted permanent position, become the number-one suspects.

Margaret suspects the new permanent hire, prematurely shriveled Cleo (Helen FitzGerald), lurking about, copying Iris' newly acquired beaded and floral styles, to be the thief. Margaret's fury at being passed over for permanent status, her belittling family and ongoing petty scams, along with the office's new security cameras, lack of privacy and suspicion of anyone outside the credit "family" begin to erode the tenuous social glue that holds the little group together.

A coup-in-the-making is plotted. The male executives continue to yelp orders or smile condescendingly, never learning the names of the young women who do their shit work for low pay. Although I always appreciated that temp work existed, allowing me to attend school and live in San Francisco among my fellow freaks, I'm here to tell you that this film is eerily accurate. I direct no shame toward my former co-workers and managers, the majority of whom were working moms who needed a decent income to live the Bay Area and raise their children. But office culture still frowns on individuality and free-thinking. This is a purgatory of stultifying boredom for an enforced eight-hour-day (most every job I temped could be done in less than three, but everyone was in denial).

A strident Margaret wants to burn the whole thing to the ground and start over. Who will join in? The film, a wise character-study as well as surreal satire, doesn't make that much of a suspenseful plot point on workers' rights. We can already see the group dynamic disintegrate in small, painful and emotional ways.

When you need a myriad of emotions from your lead actress, hire Toni Collette. We have to wait a while for Iris to take her stand, but it's worth it. A rare film about women's work and women's relationships and how they affect one another. Add it to your cult-film roster.

And now, to help with your productivity, I gathered some of the fine Clockwatchers office-muzak soundtrack for you to file your papers by. May you get permanent status and a letter of recommendation, always.

"Azure Sands" - Les Baxter

"Jalaba" - Les Baxter

"Magenta Mountain" - Les Baxter

"Theme from A Man Called Dagger" - Steve Allen

"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" - Hugo Winterhalter & His Orchestra

And in keeping with any worthwhile soul-crushing existential office crisis, plenty of offerings from the Paris Musette.