17 September 2010

Battersea Power Station

Oh, you pretty thing.

Last week I went on an extremely last minute trip to London, and I spent my time soaking in the culture of this grand old city, trying to see the little touristy bits here and there that I have missed on past trips. I was having a splendid time, that is, until I got a bit tipsy in Brighton on my final day and lost my camera. Inside was a memory card with 3 days worth of photos on it. :(

The photos I am saddest about losing are the 50+ I took of the Battersea Power Station.

I first saw a photo of this 1930's era abandoned coal burning plant in a Lonely Planet and chills went up my spine - I knew I had to see it in person. I took the tube to Pimlico station to stand across the Thames from this wonderfully monstrous building - it was well worth the trip. The building filled me with one part horror and one part awe - it is an unimaginably huge monolith and even from a distance it took up the whole sky and made me shudder in a delightful way. Certain twentieth century buildings do that to me....

Sadly, this big old Art Deco queen is a victim of "demolition by neglect" (which we are all too familiar with here in Vancouver) and is only a shell (you can see right through the windows above). Hopefully the government with step in to protect this eerily odd, strangely beautiful, magical building.

So, unfortunately this is NOT my photo, but nonetheless here is the Battersea Power Station. Only just now did I realize that it is also famous for some Pink Floyd (my most hated band ever) stuff, but I don't care about that. I just want to go around the world and stare at more buildings. Please?

09 July 2010

A Lovely Place to Get Wrecked...

Wreck Beach in the Spring, before thousands of nude sun seekers descend. (Photo taken from here)

I have referenced Wreck Beach a few times here on madnessandbeauty, but only in cheeky hyperlink ways that could easily be missed. But now, it is time to fess up and let you know: I frequent a nude beach.

But it's not what you think! When most people picture a nude beach, they envision a weirdo hippie swinger commune where love rules and drum circles unite in the sunset. And while I admit, there is that certain element down at my beloved Wreck, its about much more than that. People from all walks of life flock to the edges of UBC to descend the 473 steps to the bottom of a cliff. Wrapping around this steep hillside is a utopic slice of sand, the prettiest you can get in the Lower Mainland and one of the most renowned nude beaches in the world. Hell, it was even nominated to be one of Canada's Seven Wonders!

Part of Wreck's allure is that its location prevents a few things: mass crowds of people and development (there is no road access.) However, that doesn't prevent a ragtag group of vendors from setting up shop, hoisting their ware up and down all those stairs just to make it happen. There are people meandering around selling beer, jello shots, marijuana, homemade empanadas, pizza, hot pork buns (the affable Thai fellow's slogan is "would you like to eat my nice, hot buns?,) sarongs, jewelry, palm readings, portraits, and "icy cold organic soft drinks." The vendors, like most of the beachgoers, are in various stages of undress - the most hardcore among them nude but for their fanny packs....

Lining the back of the beach are more vendors, these ones more professionally set up as seasonal "permanent" stalls. Stormin' Norman's Spirit Burgers is a long time favourite, staffed by surly naked French Canadians and featuring exotic meat burgers. There are also Peruvian, Vegan and Greek take-out joints, not to mention a larger naked lady who braves the spluttering of hot oil as she makes french fries and even poutine. Yes, on the beach.

Getting buck naked is not mandatory, but it is considered polite to get at least kind of nude. I myself go topless, only going for the full monty about 10% of the time. "Tourists," often from more restrictive cultures/countries can sometimes be seen lining the back of the beach and leering, but the Wreck beach police (a groups of scraggy old hippies who have been down at the beach since the 60's, when Vancouver was referred to as "San Francisco of the North") chase them away. You do not want to piss these old timers off - brandish a camera and they turn into pitbulls.

I have been going to Wreck for about 8 years, and in that time have developed a little core crew of friends who also spend 10 months of the year dreaming of the beach. We spend all week holding our breaths and hoping the weather will be at least 25 degrees (Celcius, my yank friends. We're not that crazy) and then Jay makes a vat of sangria, and we wile away the hours gossiping, eating, swimming and even occasionally skim boarding at the water's edge.

But it's not the food or illicit drinking that makes it such a draw for me. Rather, it's the calm, laid back attitude of everyone on the beach, the giggling toddlers wandering around, the puppies playing in the water and the tattooed hipsters catching sidelong glances of their naked crushes. It's this weird feeling of community that keeps all of us trudging down (and back up) those brutal stairs. Gazing out at the water, with no visible buildings or landmass in sight, just forest and sand and waves, I remarked to my best friend Xstina "it's like the apocalyse has happened and we're all stranded here on this beach and we don't care because it is awesome..."

Ok, maybe that was the vendor beer talking, but I stand by it.

Even when I was here, I missed mah beach!

30 June 2010

The Angry Itch

Handmade Tara statue at the Norbulingka Institute in Dharamsala, India.

So, lately as I embark upon a slightly more spiritual path in my life and explore Buddhism and Hinduism earnestly (that is, without calling myself a douchebag in my head) I have, along side a growing sense of calm and contentedness, an almost animalistic urge to go traveling again. I can barely prevent my quivering fingers from tapping out the web addresses to travel sites and spending the last unspent chunk of credit card limit on a ticket to India or Bali.

I have been dreaming of the smoke filled chaotic streets of Delhi, the train station that I would have to navigate and conquer to find my way back to Dharamsala, high in the Himalayas and home to the Dalai Lama. Dreaming of landing in Hong Kong for a few days and then rushing through the traffic choked lanes to find the bus to the airport, barely making it in time for my flight to Denpasar, Bali where I would settle in the hills of Ubud and drink tea and drink wine and pet stray cats and commune all barefoot with my Buddha nature. Sigh.

About to set flowers in the Ganges in Varanasi.

Do I have a right to complain, and I sit here at my Summer job that countless other students applied for, in the middle of the luxury of being an adult scholar? I have pretty things, happy cats, fresh make-up and clean fingernails - but I just want to cash all of that in for a seedy room in some nondescript guesthouse, dirty feet and grubby fingers; for shots of blinding rice alcohol and heart thumping motorcycle rides and those moments when you breathe in and you're just - free and young and the whole world is just everything it is in that one moment. Y'know?

Alas, my schooling is more important and has to, for once and for all, get finished. And then I need to knock off my Masters, all in pursuit of my dream job. But, I have a feeling that this itch, this squirming, howling angry itch will not go away. I need to get back to crazy India. I need to go and meditate in the hills of that magical volcanic island in Indonesia. I need to live my true Buddha nature - as a traveler.

Bells at a Kali temple in the Chamba Valley, Northern India.

(And maybe you could help me and click this link so I can win a trip? It takes two seconds and I would be oh so happy!)

24 June 2010

Cold, Damp and Productive?

Ahh, Beautiful late June skies behind some of my favourite neon...

When the weather is disappointing, as it so often is in dreary Vancouver, it can be a good time to do a mental inventory and get some of the intangible messy tasks in your life accomplished. Or at least started (after you draw pictures of dinosaurs, of course)...

I often think of myself as lazy, a notion that must have gotten stuck in my head as a child with a messy bedroom (it was epic. Until I was 20, cleaning my room took 2 days.) Like many ideas I have about myself (I am tall. I hate exercise.) it is actually really distorted and mostly false. As one of my best friends chortled as she nearly choked on her tea, "V, you are the least lazy person I know!"

And so maybe that is kind of true. I am a type A personality (although many only see my DD type personality, if y'know what I mean...) and I have a hard time relaxing if everything is not just so. That means, when I get home from work/yoga/school (and sometimes a combination of all three) I don't sit down - I cook, clean and do laundry first. Then, finally, when it is all done - I study. It's usually midnight at this point, and I last 20 minutes in front of an episode of "The Ugly Americans" before I fall asleep on the couch. (Even my facial cleansing/teeth brushing regime is long and complicated...)

BUT - there is always that annoying list of huge tasks lingering at the back of my brain somewhere - things that never get done because they are inconvenient and time-consuming and costly. And this fucking Summer? I am tackling them.

Perhaps it is the muggy, hazy, chilly weather we have been having that is filling me with ennui and making me push to get these un-doable tasks done. Vancouver is experiencing the worst Summer I can ever remember, with rain, clouds and cold breezes the daily norm so far in June. It's preventing me from the fun Summer things that I love: the beach, bike rides and BBQs - and giving me all of this free time to make appointments.

a) Mah Harr: Little known fact: my hair is actually not black. It is Clairol 121A "Natural Deep Brown" but on my shitty dishwater coloured hair it turns shiny jet black. For years I have been lamenting this fact, moaning that my hair was indeed "really dark brown! Look at me in the sun! Loooookkkk!" No one bought it. So now, tomorrow actually, I am having my hair stripped to a dark dark brown (think Zooey Deschanel), like I have always wanted it. Of course, now I am filled with nervous apprehension. Will it change my look too much? Will it be me? Will I lose my edge? ("Honey, you is like razors hidden in a candy apple, I wouldn't worry about that" - Inner Drag Queen.) It remains to be seen. I will let you know.

b) Sick Tribe: Yes, like most tattooed folks nearing thirty, I have a piece of tribal artwork on my back. And it is purple. Yep. Purple. I have an appointment to have it removed (well, at least lightened so that it can be covered prettily with this) on Saturday. Thank God for lasers.

c) Wonky Jaw: I have a wonky jaw (yes, that is the correct medical term.) It is simply a bit too small for my face, resulting in headaches, ringing in my ears and even causing me to bite my poor tongue on a semi-regular basis. Hard. Enough to draw blood. And as I get older, I am even developing a wee slight lisp as my muscles are having a hard time correcting the problem (especially when wine is involved....) I choose to find it endearing, but c'mon... thirty year old lisping woman is not so cute. The solution? My jaw needs to be broken, with an actual hammer, and somehow soldered back together in a hopefully kickass bionic way. It also means braces first, and even if they are clear I can't shake the terrible vain feeling that I will be a hideous freak. Le Sigh. Pain vs Beauty? I'm torn.... (or more like broken with a hammer.)

d) Framing - Last but not least - I know this one seems mundane at best, but since I began traveling at the age of 18 I have collected prints and posters and photos from around the world. And like, 2 of them are framed (and my mum did those ones for me.) I am the world's WORST procrastinator when it comes to framing - I think it intimidates me a little bit, all of those choices and colours, and it has less instant gratification than say, a pair of pretty heels, or a tattoo. I have a beautiful Egon Schiele print, a lovely Francis Bacon and a Marc Chagall gallery poster from Cesky Krumlov and goddamnit - by September 1st they will all be framed. And hung. Just do me a favour. Remind me?

So is this dull, drab weather a blessing in disguise? I'll let you know by August - if I'm not down on the beach, procrastinating....

Violet Dear

09 June 2010

Stuff I Like - June 2010

You'll see a woman/hanging upside down/her features covered by her fallen gown

Leonard Cohen - The Future
I really remember this being the first album that I bought, back in grade eight, that transcended the genres I was listening to: punk, grunge, riot grrrl and psychobilly. I also remember my mother being suitably impressed that my music tastes were expanding, which was true - to a point. Though I had secretly enjoyed the country-esque swing of "Closing Time" when it had been a hit on Muchmusic the year earlier, it was in grade eight that Trent Reznor included three of Mr Cohen's tracks (along with my girlhood fave L7) on the Natural Born Killers Soundtrack. This was enough of an endorsement for me at the time, and I'm glad it was, because I still treasure this album (and am in fact listening tonight on this lovely tranquil evening.) The dirty, racy lyrics and Cohen's wistful, raw growling voice turned me on to his poetry and for that I am forever grateful. It has changed me as a writer - and a thinker.

Plus, look at 'im dance!

Look at the good Canuck go!

Yoga tattoo - a gentle reminder to myself to enjoy and contemplate every moment as it happens.

2) Yoga

My friends, my family, my colleagues, my neighbours - I think that everyone in my life is pretty used to (or sick of) me talking incessantly about yoga. Since January 4th I have gone to 4 or 5 classes a week and it has changed my life. Like, for realsies. See, I've always rolled my eyes at hippies, and so when I used to hear people wax rhapsodic about their third eye I would dismiss them as navel-gazing assholes. So how do you think I feel now that I am one of those assholes!?

All kidding aside, yoga has made me a stronger (seriously, these muscles are getting impressive, for l'il ole me) happier (by an immeasurable amount) and healthier person. I feel softer, lighter and more easily filled with joy. Fewer things get me stressed, other people's actions don't affect me as much and I no longer feel compelled to participate in bad vibes or gossip (except about celebs. I mean, c'mon. ) In my yoga practice, I can consistently set goals and achieve them (I recently learned to do headstands with no support - here is my next goal.) Plus - my ass looks great. Seriously.

I have always believed that socially unacceptable men make much better lovers because they are more sensitive. - Candy Darling

3) Candy Darling on Her Deathbed
Candy Darling
, one of Andy Warhol's "superstars" was a drag queen, actor and muse. She was perfection - a true sexual renegade in the late sixties when queer culture didn't yet look fondly on transgendered folk. Days before her life was cut tragically short (she was 29) by leukemia in 1974, this haunting portrait, titled "Candy Darling on her deathbed," was shot by Peter Hujar. I have wanted a framed print of this for years and can not find one anywhere! Coincidentally, one of my favourite bands, Antony and the Johnsons, used the image on the cover of their second LP "I Am A Bird Now", so the reasons to love it are layered. I just can't get her frailty, her sensuous acceptance of death and her languid pose out of my mind. RIP Candy, dear.

Bon Temps? Sunnydale? It should all make sense now, thanks to this.

4) Thinking about how Buffy and Sookie are the same character
, pretty much
I love both Buffy and True Blood (and I know I'm not the only one to notice this) so this isn't meant to disparage either, but Sook is really starting to remind me of Ms. Summers. "Scooby Gang" of helpful pals, some of whom are kind of magic-y? Check. Love triangle between human girl, altruistic vampire and evil vampire? Check. Pretty blonde who is not quite human and is drawn to said vampires? "Big Bad" main source of evil in each season, fought in the final episode? Check. Hmmm. A little derivative?

And who cares!? Too much of a good thing? Wonderful. Laissez les Bon Temps Roulez!

From a small cafe in Melbourne. Those eggs are a thing of beauty.

5) Eggs

Probably my favourite single food ingredient, I eat about 2 eggs a day. I love them, and after the strange and gag-inducing ways they often came served in Asia, I really appreciate how wonderful they can be. They come in their own little package, you can prepare them a hundred ways, they are fastfastfast for supper and they are delicious. My favourite? Poached runny, so that even the white are jiggly and the yolk goes everywhere, preferably covered in hollandaise sauce. It's midnight now, and frankly, I am excited for 8am so I can fry me up some of nature's perfect food. Hey Chickens? You're allllllright.

Til' next time

04 June 2010

Say Fromage!

Like a fat French kid in a candyshop. Le Yay!
How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? - Charles de Gaulle

Oh, Paris. There is something there that captivates the mind, sweeps into the heart and tickles the soul - and stinks up your fingers. Cheese, almost everyone's favourite food (I say almost because some people are assholes who claim not to like it) is at its best, most decadent, pungent and exhilarating in France, and I left my heart in its Fromageries.

On our second day in Paris, S and I decided to forgo a restaurant lunch and live the typical cliche- we strolled to the market, bought bread and cheese and wine and sat in a park (we couldn't find a church nearby and we had cheese burning a hole in our pocket!) rather than dine on steaming hot moules et frites and soupe aux poissons. I am glad we did.

It was a learning experience, to say the least.

I'll take this bad boy over a doughnut any day...

We headed to a small farmer's market in the Latin Quarter and entered what can only be described as a cheese mecca. Displayed on the shelves were hundreds of varieties of cheese, most of them unwrapped and displayed in the open air. It was an agonizing process.

We perused the selection, breathing in the fierce goat-y smell and letting it waft over our faces. I stared at the huge wheels of rinded cheeses, their gooey centres bulging out slightly and debated over which goat cheese to choose. I peered into big vats of soft Mascarpone, drooled over veiny blue Roquefort and compared the firm butter coloured Raclette and Emmenthal. It was an intensive procedure.

Finally, after about twenty minutes we decided on a small round cylinder of hard goat cheese, a big creamy slab of Morbier and a round orange rinded cheese wrapped in plastic. We popped next door for some bread, thin crusty wands filled with salty olives, grabbed some wine and headed to the Square Michel Foucault for some serious lactose.

Tonight....I celebrate my love for you....

The Morbier was dreamy - a slice of Brie-like soft cow's cheese with a vein of mold running up the middle. It was smooth with just a hint of blue flavour, spreading easily over the bread and reminding me of a glass of fresh farm milk. The hard goat's cheese was almost like a parmesan, nutty and tiny bit acrid at the back of the soft palate, nice to chip off and eat in small bites. And then... then there was the wrapped cheese.

I have done some research and found out that this particular kind of cheese is called Epoisses and is considered by the French to be one of the stinkiest cheeses in the world - so much so that it is actually banned from public transport. This information would have come in handy (perhaps the shopkeep could have shouted "Interdit! Interdit!" when we tried to buy it) as we greedily tore into the cheese. With our hands. Instantly I knew something was awry. Being a lover of rank cheese, I bravely scooped the sample into my mouth.

Demon cheese. This is actually the plot of next season's True Blood.

Everything went blurry for a few moments as I faded in and out of consciousness. The taste, somewhere between rotting flesh and clabbered milk and something even more inexplicable and ghastly, seemed to hit me at the base of my skull and I nearly wretched. S, being the brave foodie, soldiered on to have a second bite in the "Anthony Bourdain/adventurous traveler/intrepid eater" tradition while I frantically crammed Morbier, bread and wine into my mouth to try to erase the flavour.

It was less a cheese than an angry god that needed appeasing - and I was fresh out of slaughtered fowl to burn and present. Not since durian have I tasted - or smelled - something filled with so much otherworldly hate. S decided that he too could not bear it and we guiltily threw it away.

After eating, walking through the Latin Quartier past the Sorbonne on our way to the Catacombs I could not get the taste out of my mouth- or the smell from my fingers. The oils in the Epoisses seemed to have penetrated my skin, and no matter how many times I washed my hands and scrubbed my nails with strong soap over the next few days, it was futile. The smell pervaded. I never got used to it.

Paris Picnic. Just watch out for Yogi Ours.

So my idea of a dream lunch is still intact - cheese, fine wine and delicious bread amidst a soft Parisian Spring breeze. But next time I will leave out the Epoisses - unless, of course, I am prepared to bow down to its evil god.

31 May 2010

Rainy City, Shady Past.

Gassy Jack - our boozy, child bride marryin', cheatin' founding father.

Since becoming a tour guide for the Sins of the City Walking Tour, I have developed a passion for Vancouver’s heritage that borders on madness. I want to know it all – the details of every seedy story, the tawdry tales behind the burnt out neon signs, the whisper of tassels grazing flesh at the countless closed burlesque houses. This is the Vancouver that I am hungry for – its sordid tales replaying themselves through my voice under the mottled grey skies, skies dark and purple like a bruise on a junkie’s arm, like the shadow on the eye of a bawdy house girl.

The history that lies just under the cobblestone streets of this much-maligned neighbourhood is strangely present all around you, and if you start to listen and learn you can plunge your hands inside of it, all the way to the elbow and dig around, find the stories that interest you and connect them to the buildings in front of you.

The heritage buildings along Alexander Street - Vancouver's red light district circa 1910.

Take, for instance, the 400 block of Alexander Street, now a no-man’s land of halfway houses and factories. In 1910, it was the bustling centre of Vancouver’s colourful sex trade, women of all shapes and sizes hanging their heads from balconies and windows to entice passersby. The deeds to these house, and all of their original water and power records are in the names of the enterprising women, mostly Californian and escaping the ruins of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, who built them. Their names are even inscribed in the tile work of the doorways. Standing with mouth slightly agape at the corner of Dunlevy and Alexander, the history springs to life.

One of the only remnants of the Japanese community on Alexander Street, destroyed by the internment camps.

A lot of the areas on the first half of walking tour are eerily empty, the streets abandoned during the day with only the occasional factory along the way. But it is in these areas, down on the wrong side of Hastings St along Powell and Railway and Alexander – it is down here that the down and dirty early stories of this rough and tumble little town took place. The Hastings Mill that started it all, bustling Japantown and its tragic end, Gassy Jack and his barrel of whiskey – it all started right here.

Studying for and running this tour has opened up my eyes and piqued my interest in such a fascinating way. Every walk I lead, every step I take around this city feels like an exciting discovery and there is so much more beneath the surface that I want to scratch away and reveal.

So come and take a walk with me. There is nothing I would rather do.

This blows my mind - the wooden bricks originally used to pave Alexander Street 100 years ago are still intact!

28 May 2010

Vancouver Girl Thinks Aloud

A larger than life representation of a weaving spindle, at the Squamish Lil'wat Centre in Whistler.

It's easy to forget, here in Vancouver, that we have cultural riches at our fingertips that the world flocks to see. We grow up surrounded by totem poles and learn about potlatches at school but it never really seems to sink in. Perhaps because here in Canada our First Nations population suffers from so many social problems it becomes easy to overlook their current culture - we think of it as antiquated and archaeological, as arrowheads in museums rather than a changing and dynamic population of artists, athletes and regular folk.

Where I work, in the Downtown Eastside (DTES), it becomes all to easy to reflect only on the social woes of the First Nations population who are trapped there - caught in cycles of addiction learned by years in residential schools and foster care with no modeling of functional families to base their adulthood on. Day in and day out I am confronted with the desperation that hangs in the air above my beloved DTES.

That's not to say that it is all sadness - no, I am just as likely to have a smile smacked on my face as I witness the loving and caring atmosphere that the DTES community creates and nurtures. The fierce pride of the First Nations people living on the fringes of wealthy Vancouver is awe inspiring. The days though, the days when I see junkies overdosing or people in the crack dance, teenaged prostitutes with meth sores and old women begging for money - those days I am broken.

How can my country claim to be so advanced, and my city be heralded as having the highest standard of living in the world when this is what we have done to a race of people? Decimated their land, outlawed their language and customs, forcibly sterilized them until 30 years ago - this country is a monster, not a saint. And despite current good intentions, the statistics speak for themselves. How do I reconcile this with my patriotism?


Xstina is a cage, with a cannibalistic wilderness wildwoman looking on, part of a Squamish myth

I find it ironic that the first thing that North American travelers rush to see when visiting Asia are the "tribal" villages where you can purchase handicrafts, view carvings and artifacts and take pictures with the locals when we have such amazing examples of such in our own backyard. Again, for some reason we ignore the First Nations culture that permeates this land.

For a tourism challenge offered to museum workers in Vancouver I was given the opportunity to visit dozens of amazing museums and cultural centres, earning stamps toward an annual pass as I went. The final centre on my list? The Squamish Lil'wat Centre in Whistler. Xstina and I headed up the mountain last weekend, excited to earn a stamp and wander Whistler village, its vacation atmosphere always making a day feel special.

Singing a welcome song that moved me to tears.

We were not expecting to be moved to tears by the dance, the film and the exhibits that we witnessed there. The centre has been designed in a way that allows the visitor to see the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations as growing and changing cultures, highlighting their current successes rather than their past archaeological value. The Squamish Nation is of particular relevance to me, as they are the people that once inhabited downtown Vancouver and the DTES and have over the years been forced into smaller and smaller Reserves.

We tried on the ceremonial garb, ate bannock and salmon stew and entered the longhouses, a sense of hushed, guilty awe between us. Should we, the third and fourth generation daughters of European immigrants, feel guilty? We tried not to, instead choosing to relish the amazing display in front of us.


Today, while I was guiding a historical walking tour through the DTES, a First Nations woman overheard me say the word "alcohol" while telling the story of rum running during Prohibition and mistakenly thought that I was referring to current affairs. She accused me, in front of my 30 tour participants, of calling "all Indians drunks" and that I was telling "White person's lies" to the tourists. I wanted to defend myself, to explain to her that I was not and that I, of all people, understood better.

But do I?

It's something I struggle with everyday. There is no easy answer.

Cultural misappropriation or respect? You decide. It's like those HSBC ads....

21 May 2010

Taking the Pen from Paris - A Writer Wakes Up

At Cafe de Flores in Montparnasse, trying to soak in the inspiration.

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
-Ernest Hemingway

Eventually, I always thought, eventually I will be a published and praised novelist/poet. From the age of 14 this just seemed like an inevitability in my head, something that I wouldn't have to work at and would just one day, y'know, happen. "Live an exciting and interesting life, Dear, and you won't be able to STOP yourself from jotting down the next great novel!" As if it would happen absentmindedly in between rounds of vodka sodas, or on top of a cathedral in Europe, or perhaps even in the line for the washroom not used for sex at the Gay bar.

But the opposite is true.

There is a famous quote by Tallulah Bankhead: "Good girls keep diaries. Bad girls don't have time." And it is true. It's a catch 22 that the busier, the more exotic, the utterly fabulous stories that you acquire and rich layers of experience you gain - the less time you have to write it down.

Not that that is my only excuse for the last 15 years, the 15 years since I promised myself, a raccoon-eyed, Manic Panicked 14 year old, that I would be an brilliant novelist at some point. No, my main excuse comes back to complacency, to school essays and 9-5 jobs where you get home and just want to watch 6 hours of Arrested Development and pet the cats, not pick up a pen or a keyboard and weave magical worlds of complexity. I have been lazy. I haven't wanted it enough. I trusted, stupidly, that it would just happen.

And so of course it has not. This isn't some hilarious sitcom moment where I am going to find out I've been sleepwalking and fulfilling my life's passions while unconscious. I need to put time in, the put down the facebook and the news, to schedule my schoolwork more effectively so that I have the time to write.

BUT, and its a big but, it's not just about time, is it? It's not just about amazing, life-changing experiences and galavanting travels. It's MOSTLY about confidence, inspiration and gumption.

And I got me somma that in Paris.

Great writers have lived in Paris for hundreds of years , and while I am fascinated by the age of the Bohemians, by the characters depicted in Toulouse Lautrec paintings, by the earlier poets Balzac and Baudelaire - the era that fascinates me are the years between the wars.

The writers of the Lost Generation -American and British writers flooded Paris in the 1920s to soak up its rich artistic atmosphere and its relaxed social mores- spent hours in cafes and bars producing some of the most compelling writing of the twentieth century. James Joyce, F Scott Fitzgerald (and his crazy wife Zelda) Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Samuel Beckett - that's just a sampling of the writers that I adore. And they all.lived.here.

As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary - Ernest Hemingway
Despite (and maybe because of) Hemingway's personal problems, he is one of my favourite writers. His sparse, clean style is what I try to remind myself of when I get overly verbose, and though this photo is all kinds of cliche I was truly happy at this moment. I am seated in the Cafe de Flores, where a coffee is the exorbitant 6 Euros and wannabe writers from around the globe flock to spend it.

Why? It is in this cafe that Simone de Beauvoir huddled during World War II and wrote The Mandarins. It, along with Les Deux Magots next door, is where every single writer listed above has sat and written in the worn wicker seats.

Best address ever.
Montmartre, Montparnasse, the Latin Quarter - neighbourhoods so steeped in lore and fairytale that walking through them feels surreal, like I need a good pinch (not on my rear, either - although S is happy to oblige) to really be able to absorb that I'm there.

No, actually? This is the best address ever.
As if fate stepped in, in our wanders we unintentionally stumbled upon a place that I had planned on seeking out a few days later - Shakespeare and Company. This place is truly legendary amongst young writers - a bookstore on the Left Bank of the Seine that opened in 1919 as part shop/part library and part hostel for aspiring writers. In fact, I found out that to this day there is free rooming upstairs for impoverished scribes - and I may head back next Summer to take them up on that offer.

Catching up on my literary smut in the Latin Quarter.

In the 1950's a competitor, George Whitman, took over the name and applied it to his shop, formerly called Le Mistral and also on the Left Bank. In this era the famous erotic novelist (and longtime paramour of Henry Miller) Anais Nin was a frequent visitor, and her quote is posted in the back room:

And there by the Seine was a bookshop, not the same, but similar to others I had known. An Utrillo house, not too steady on its foundations, small windows, wrinkled shutters. And there was George Whitman, undernourished, bearded, a saint amongst his books, lending them, housing penniless friends upstairs, not eager to sell, in the back of the store, in a small overcrowded room, with a desk, a small stove.
— Ana├»s Nin, Diary, Vol. 5.

I got goosebumps being there.

Yes, I rinsed my mouth. A lot. With wine. And more wine.

After an Edith Piaf walking tour, we ended at the Pere LaChaise cemetery to visit her grave. I then made a beeline for Oscar Wilde's tomb, and in keeping with tradition gave it a big lipstick smack while S looked on, horrified. "It's all for art!" I exclaimed, giddy with life and promise and, well Paris.

So maybe I have it now. Maybe I have that missing piece - the bone-soaking, encompassing inspiration that walking Paris' cobblestone streets gives a writer. I mean, if they could do it, why can't I?

And it's a good lesson, no matter what. Your dreams - especially if they are scary and bewildering and overwhelming - won't just happen. You make it happen. I make it happen.
And so it's time to grab life by the balls. Or, in this case, the pen.

16 May 2010

My Life as a Writer

I was about to start writing about my experiences visting the writer's haunts of Paris, then I realized that this short piece I wrote for an assignment in a writing class sums up my history as a writer quite nicely (and I hate reinventing wheels) so here it is - the Paris part will follow tout suite!
When asked to describe myself, I often use the word "writer." I like the way it sounds, the images that it conjures of a mad poet awake until all hours scribbling frantically into a notebook because what he has to say will vanish into thin air if he doesn't get it all out as fast as he can. This image stems from my romantic teenaged ideas about Bukowski and Baudelaire, authors posessed by inner demons that could only be expelled by putting pen to paper and living tortured and decadent livee. I am a poet at heart - I have examples of four line cuplets that I wrote when I was six years old.
But the word "writer" is nice because it can also refer to a journalist – an intrepid traveler scouting the globe and documenting her experiences one hairy situation at a time. I just recently was hired as a freelance journalist for a nightlife magazine - not quite the same amount of responsibility, but the situations could get just as hairy....
I write fiction as well – stories both long and short and I one day hope to finish a novel. It used to be very easy for me – as a child and teenager I was quite prolific, filling binders decorated with band names and logos with hundreds of pages of fiction. I have just recently started again, writing short character studies and even working on a script for a graphic novel for a friend who is a comic book artist.
When I write regularly it does something wonderful to my brain – I stop and stare at the most mundane sights, I listen to people differently, hearing new things in familiar voices. Words become play things, like children's blocks that I can move around and manipulate. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I feel somehow more myself, more alive when I write.
I have gone through long periods of writer's block. Throughout much of my twenties I have written little other than academic essays, with the exception of the last year. When I stop writing or slow down dramatically, it becomes incredibly easy to not write, a skill and a hobby that falls by the wayside as I choose to watch films or read instead. Ideas still pop into my head, but with less vibrancy and frequency. When I wasn't writing I certainly didn't text myself ideas when no paper was handy like I do now. Writing can be urgent for me.
Reading is like fuel for my writing. I was a voracious reader as a child, taking out the public library's maximum allowance of books per week and racing through them. Children made fun of me for using big words, but it didn't – couldn't – stop me.I still read fiction constantly. Studying does cut into the time that I have for pleasure reading but I still try to squeeze it in as every book I read changes the way that I write. I do have to be careful – at various times I have found myself imitating the styles of Hunter S Thompson, William Burroughs and others a little bit too much after reading their books.
Despite giving myself the moniker of "Writer" I have never been published. Part of this is laziness. The literary world seems so vast and overwhelming that I don't know where to begin. Even my website, with its twelve hundred readers, could be a lot more popular with agressive promotion. Part of me likes that my poetry and fiction is just for my friends and I to read, but the other part craves an audience, especially for the pieces that I like the most. I plan to get more serious about getting published once I have graduated.
Academic writing is a challenge for me – certainly more challenging than the random collections of pretty words that I churn out on a daily basis. The main reason that I am taking this course is to shave off the more casual, personal feel of my papers. After five years away from school, I also want to refresh my brain in the art of academic discourse, re-build my confidence and ensure that I am prepared to correctly write papers across the disciplines that I am taking. Who knows – maybe I'll even write a poem about it.

10 May 2010

Tarte Aux Framboises.

This doesn't even need a caption.

I promise that I will write about Notre Dame, about the Tour Eiffel and strolling the Seine, about Restaurant Chartiers and the Musee D'Orsay - but right now I only have 5 minutes and I can't get this tart out of my head. I ate it two days ago, near the afore-mentioned museum, and it was transcendent.

How did I even manage to choose?

The raspberries, in season here, were light and sweet and a bit tart - perfectly squishy and laid on a bed of delicate creamy custard. The crust was buttery and a bit crunchy, without being greasy, and tasted like it had crushed almonds in the flour. The whole thing made me moan "mmmmm" out loud as I ate it, and I spent all day yesterday looking for another of similar quality, to no avail. Just fail tarts in comparison. Sigh.

Today is my last day in Paris. Wish me luck on the tart front.

It made me re-tart-ed. Look at the madness in my eyes.

07 May 2010

Please sir, I want some more...

I elbowed a few young French girls outta the way to get at the cupcakes.

Admittedly, London has not been historically known for its culinary offerings. Meat and fish fried beyond all recognition, soggy vegetables and bland, flavourless meals are what comes to mind, but in reality the British food scene, with its stars Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, is changing in leaps and bounds. No longer are you limited to fish n'chips and a fry up (although I had both and they were marvelous) and Indian curry - the world's food has come to London, and the old favourites are getting a dose of refinement. Here's a sample of what I ate:

They tried to make me go to Rehab, and I was like "hang on, lemme finish these eggs."

You've got to start the day with a proper British breakfast Fry Up. Now, if I ate meat, this already monstrous plate of food would be further laden with hunks of ham, blood pudding and bacon, but I think that this is still pretty divine. A forkful should consist of a little bit of every item, enrobed in the runny eggyolk and then schmeared with HP Sauce. Bliss. I got this one in Camden, at a pub called the Elephant's Head in Amy Winehouse's stomping grounds.

3 course meal.

Snack time! Pints of beer in London are not the delicious, creamy, delicious pints that I think of when I pop into a pub for a Sunday afternoon tipple with my pals - there are no delicious cream ales or dark honey lagers. The beer is half flat, and is served just above room temperature and has that sort of flavour that pissy American beers like Budweiser have. That said, there is something oddly pleasant about it, even though I had to keep telling myself that it was not last night's warm forgotten party beer. *Shudder* Before London, I liked my beer ice cold, fizzy and yummy - like Granville Island Winter Ale, or Belgian Heffweisen. I still do.

Hello Oyster. You horrify me a little bit. But in a delicious way.

Maldon Rock, French Prestige and Gigas Rock oysters.

For my birthday, S took me to a lovely gastropub called The Commander, an old pub that has been renovated to be a bit more light and airy and specializes in fresh seafood and raw oysters. I love oysters. I love their briny, fishy little bodies swimming in vinegar and garlic and slurped up with their salty ichor, half chewed and half rolled around in your mouth like a swallow of fresh sea. We had 3 different types, and they were all different; one was big and vulgar and abrupt, announcing his ocean-y flavour a little too loudly, and the other two were more delicate, like pretty little jewels. We followed the oysters with a great salad that included roasted shitake mushrooms (we had just watched this documentary, so I really enjoyed them) and then I had a pan fried Scottish salmon fillet served on a bed of dill and squash risotto. The whole meal was genius.

All four foodgroups: potatoes, sauce, pastry and cheese. Mwah!

Ahh, is there anything (other than fish n'chips, which I forgot to take a photo of!) that is so quintessentially British as pie and mash? We found a lovely chain called Eat that specializes in seasonal, fresh and organic food and rather than the stardard "steak and kidney" pie, they had these wonderful, homey sweet potato and goat's cheese pies with mash and veggie gravy. I ate this twice, it was so good. Although, if you served me a man's show with mashed potatoes and gravy, I would eat that too.....

You shouldn't leave me unnattended with all of this food. Like, for serious.

Tuna and onion salad in the foreground, cod and crab croquette in the rear.

Pintxos (peen-choes) are an phenomena that you find in the Northern Spanish Basque region, and famously in San Sebastian, a town I visited on my 18 year old "backpacking fail" trip. Little bites of savoury food, like canapes, are placed directly on the counter at all of the local bars (and there are hundreds, teeny standing room only affairs) the idea being that you pop in, grab a glass of wine of beer, eat a few pintxos and move on to the next bar, each of which specializes in a specific type. Walking down Neal St in Covent Garden, I noticed a tiny pintxos restaurant and we sampled six - all of which were good, and a few really great. I wish Vancouver had a Basque restaurant, but alas we don't. Business opportunity, anyone?


And finally, I will leave you with cupcakes. They are called "Fairycakes" here and these ones at Camden Market were so cute that I couldn't resist (not that I even remotely tried to...) I won't lie - they were a bit stale, but so pretty that I willed myself into loving them. It worked!