Sunday, August 2, 2015

In Warsaw, a Monument to the End of Censorship

The communist censors' black pens cease and the written word flies free.  

The end of censorship in Poland. The Communists, who ruled Poland  for fifty-four years, from 1945 to 1989, destroyed books, “cleansed” academic and public libraries, banned and harassed dissenting authors and kept a firm hand on all written material. Everything, including magazine and newspaper text, poetry, books, school texts, song lyrics, etc  had to be submitted to the censors in order to be published. A secret book of guidelines listed topics which could not be mentioned.

This relentless censorship led to the rise of underground presses and publications.

The sculpture shown here is a long black pathway, reminiscent of the black markings of the censor’s pen. The black path begins at the former communist party headquarters and ends with the soaring liberation of free thought.  

The monument starts at the former Communist Party Headquarters

Lovely ironic footnote: The former communist party headquarters building in Warsaw now houses  the Polish stock exchange.

Poem by Czeslaw Milosz

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Grave of Oscar Wilde with lipstick kisses and messages.

Statue by Jacob Epstein, Commissioned by Robert Ross

On November 30, 1900, in a seedy Parisian hotel, Oscar Wilde, the acclaimed poet, novelist, playwright and great wit died.  His last years were tragic. He had spent two years in English prisons convicted of “gross indecency with a male.” The harsh conditions he experienced damaged his health.

Robert Ross, a Canadian, grandson of Canadian statesman Robert Baldwin and Wilde’s first male lover, was with him when he died. Ross who was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal, helped Wilde with both financial and emotional support when he was in exile.

After Wilde’s death, Ross took on the task of literary executor which included purchasing all the rights to Wilde’s work which had been sold off during Wilde’s bankruptcy. Ross turned over all monies to Wilde’s two sons.

Ross also commissioned the sculptor, Jacob Epstein, to design Wilde’s tomb in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. After much controversy,  the monument was unveiled in 1914. A tradition grew up of leaving lipstick kisses on the monument but a glass barrier was erected to make the monument kiss proof. But the kisses and messages are still there

Kisses and messages written on the plexiglass surrounding Wilde's tomb

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Most Wonderful Bookshop

I'm hanging out at one of the most wonderful bookstores in the world


Sylvia Beach opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, in Paris in 1919 and it became the centre of anglo-American literary culture until it was closed by the Nazis. Hanging out at the bookstore were luminaries like Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Scott Fitzgerald. James Joyce used it as an office. Beach helped out many writers including Joyce. She published Ulysses and lent money to the impecunious writer. (He never paid it back). But after the shop was closed down in 1940, it never reopened.
            After the war, book seller George Whitman’s shop Le Mistral became the literary focal point frequented by beat generation writers such as Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg. Henry and Anais visited often.
In 1958, Sylvia Beach publically announced she was giving Whitman the use of her company’s name, and in 1964, Whitman re-named his store Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to her. Whitman called it “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore.” The bookstore has sleeping facilities, with 13 beds, and Whitman claimed that as many as 40,000 people have slept there over the years.
From 1978-1981, a group of American and Canadian expatriates ran a literary journal out of the upstairs library, called Paris Voices. The editor-in-chief was Kenneth R. Timmerman and the editorial team included Canadian Antanas Sileika among others. Sileika went on to become a well-known Canadian novelist and presently heads the Humber School of Writing.
The building is a maze, a treasure chest, a place to get lost in and perhaps never found. It carries all the best new works and most of the old. You can perch on the spiral staircase and read forever and no one will bother you. Better if you find a cosy chair in the library. You can browse outside and in but don’t step on the cats. You could ask to volunteer as a worker as many have done. The store is now run by Whitman’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman.
I grabbed Orwell's Dairies and The Dawn Chorus by Canadian Helen Humphries. Both good travelling books.

May this wonderful place  go on forever.

sky spirits dancing
dreams and stories reflected
on night sky water
early morning sun
streaks of red gold amber light
absorbed into blue
morning welcome run
mother superior waits
step through each moment
Estella Howard

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Memoir By Brian Spare

The Boy Who Couldn't Smile
by Brian Spare
Author’s Note 
  The Boy Who Couldn’t Smile is a journal of how changes shaped my life. I began writing my memoir to simply pen the events of my life that I had told many times for years without much cause for emotion. I quickly found that expressing them on paper was a very different experience. As I wrote about my life, feelings stirred inside me that tugged at my heart, made me search my soul and reflect on my life as never before. I realized that I had a story to tell and I wanted to share it. As much as I wrote this book to recount my past, I wanted to share how I overcame adversity and convey my dreams for the future. If my story inspires even one person to meet the challenges they face, my mission in writing this book will have succeeded.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer Reading

1.     Summer reading should be light, some say. The listers recommend flimsy stuff but I believe summer reading should be engrossing, so when, every once in a while, you look up and see the beach or the camp or the lake or the rainy windows on an inside day, you can breathe in the wonder of the northern Ontario summer, sigh with pleasure and drift back into the book.

Here are my picks for engrossing enjoyable summer reads. Some are old and some are not.

1.     This One Summer by brilliant Canadian graphic novelists Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, the creators of Skim, another fine book. A young girl meets up with her friend at the cottage community but the two discover a secret. A coming of age, beautifully drawn, tenderly written.

2.     Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She walked the Pacific Trail and then wrote about it. This book charmed me.  I admired Strayed’s guts, her winning fight against fear, her ability to endure pain and her attitude to her poverty. I also liked her candour when she spoke about her sexual desires and her sexual life. She had little money to use on the trail and mailed forward boxes with a 20$ bill in them, all she could afford.  I missed her once the book was done.

3.     A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. I saw the movie many years ago but the book took my heart. It’s 1912, and young Lucy Honeychurch teeters between dull respectability and authentic living. She is drawn to conventionality but then, in Italy, she meets George Emerson and his iconoclastic father. The characters of her fiancé, Cecil Vyse (deadly dull) and Aunt Charlotte Bartlett (ditto) are marvelous comic inventions. I found so much humour in the writing, almost Jane Austen like, that was omitted from the movie, proving once again that the book is always better.  

4.     Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. In the small Colorado prairie town of Holt, an elderly widow visits her neighbour, also elderly, also alone, and suggests he come over sometimes so they can sleep together. A simple book of love and caring carries you along by the clear and simple language, the descriptions of the natural world, the depth of the characters. Anything by Haruf is worth reading. This was his last novel. He died of cancer soon after it was published.

5.     The King’s Curse by Phillipa Gregory.  For the lover of historicals who will not spurn another visit to the court of Henry VIII. Gregory, an historical master, introduces Margaret Pole, a woman with unfortunate family connections. Henry wants to divorce Queen Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Margaret Pole is a friend of the queen. The king is portrayed as childish, spoiled, conceited, arrogant and above all lazy, a slacker king who loves to play and party. He would have done well in the 21st century.

6.     Euphoria by Lily King. In the steamy New Guinea jungle, anthropologists Nell Stone (based on Margaret Mead) and her unpleasant husband meet a fellow anthropologist, a lonely and depressed young man (based on Gregory Bateson). It is 1933 and things get steamier as Nell’s brilliant mind and her passionate concern for the local people add up to a multi-layered story of intellectual and physical desire.

7.     Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. A Japanese classic. Written in haiku-like language the story describes a rich, married, and rather feckless man who, from time to time, travels to the mountains to meet the geisha who works at a mountain spa in the snow country. From the start, both the reader and the two lovers know their romance can go nowhere, a fact that gives the book its strange, delicate feeling of sadness.

8.     A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. George’s long time partner has died and George, a professor in LA, is bereft. Over the course of a single day, we meet his neighbours, his students, including the teasing Kenny, a strange young man attracted to George but whether sexually or just as a needy student is not entirely clear, a woman friend in a hospital, a drunken very needy woman friend (based on the poet Iris Tree) who he treats with patient kindness and then a chance meeting with Kenny in a bar which leads to the great swimming scene when he and Kenny go swimming in the ocean. During the single day, Isherwood tracks George’s mood fluctuations, his hatred of the homophobia around him and the difficulties of living in a society saturated with it. George is an alienated man, lonely and lost, but still retains a kindly stance towards the people he encounters.  I have never read Isherwood before but now I am drawn to him.

9.     Rust is a Form of Fire by Joe Fiorito. Standing on the corner, watching all the world go by. That was Joe Fiorito who spend many hours on a busy Toronto street corner observing—just observing. His collection of short observations hypnotized me. You might have to search around for this book which was published this year. Try on line. You won’t regret it.

10.  The Fixer by Joseph Finder. In the summer, many people turn to mystery novels. Joseph Finder is always a good choice. After Rick Hoffman lost both his high paying job and his fiancé, he is reduced to living in the abandoned and dilapidated house belonging to his father who is left speechless after a stroke and who is confined to a nursing home. But why are there three million bucks hidden in the walls of the old place? And why did the father, a lawyer, consort with seedy characters linked to municipal corruption? And what about this gang of thugs who follows him around with murderous intent?