WANDERINGS: Graffiti Alley North

Greetings Readers!

It’s been a chilly spring and I’m still wearing my winter bike gear in May! But riding through the wind and rain toughens you up to any adverse weather on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. As always, the City of Toronto keeps closing bike routes and the repairs are s-l-o-w.  This year it’s the southern part of the Don Valley trail, which I normally do on every training ride.

Graffiti Alley North

But there are rewards. Cruising down a Leaside street and crossing north over Eglinton en route to Sunnybrook I discovered Graffiti Alley North. The street runs parallel to Eglinton now torn up by the light rail construction.  Feast your eyes, readers!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool crab
Garage door fairy
I see you
Wise ass owl
Robot army
King of Toronto’s green boxes
Marlowe the ferret?
Movember man, save me!
The artist?

 

Cool dragon

 

 

 

Back on the Trail of Street Art!

Greetings Readers!

I’m home from Hawaii and a most enjoyable Left Coast Crime. Back on the bike, too,  training for my 10th Ride to Conquer Cancer.  Always good to see spring struggling through on the Belt Line Trail.20170329_115443

Had to touch the usual icons of street art on the way, Uplifting Homily and Toronto’s own, Boaty McBoatface.

20160320_13575620160630_095909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School kids are getting into it. Crossing through Cedarvale Park I spot this though it’s marred by some cynical graffiti. Met an elderly dog walker who recognized – and approved – of my recording street art. As a volunteer, he’s been an advocate for the park for 30 years. He pointed out the escape hatch from the subway, cleverly hidden in a rock pile just off the trail. 

Kids contribution
Kids contribution

As always, part of my regular route is inaccessible due to repair. This year the middle Don Valley trail from Pottery Road to Riverdale is closed with dire warning to trespassers that the police are patrolling. But the lower part is open and I was rewarded by new art.

Little do the motorists atop the ramp from DVP to the Gardiner know what’s beneath them. Feast your eyes, readers!

20170401_13303820170401_13342220170401_133348

 

 

 

WOW What a Year!

13412079_10153788052865914_4662738730007120075_o
Me & best buddy, Marc, at The Ride to Conquer Cancer

Greetings and a Very Happy New Year, Readers!

The media’s consensus is that 2016 was the Year of Crap.  Mad violence, racism, gender wars, the sanctioned rise of tyrants and unbridled greed, more wars…nice, huh? No wonder so many crime writers are turning to noir. Makes me  proud – and relieved – to be a Canadian.

Despite the mayhem on earth, 2016 treated my family, friends and myself pretty well. One of the biggest highlights was my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer with my best buddy, Marc, in support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.  The doctors, medical staff and researchers at PMH are truly the A-team. Because of them, many of our friends have beaten back this horrible illness and continue to live happy and fulfilling lives.

I devoted much of 2016 to building my social media presence via my website and Twitter.  Blogging has been immensely freeing, allowing me to explore and share my love of street art, travel and the weird and wonderful. Readers around the globe and as far away as Macau have visited here though most of my followers live in Canada, the USA, Brazil and Germany.  As of now,  I have 1600+ followers on Twitter: mostly fellow writers or fans of crime fiction and street art.

Windigo Fire continues to draw interest. Seraphim Editions sent me my first royalty cheque, which was more than my initial advance. Wow! I also received my first payments from Public Lending Right (libraries) and Access Copyright. In December, I learned that WF was being studied by a high school English class as an example of Canadian literature – and the teacher invited me to meet his students in the New Year.  Will the students be scarier than a roomful of hostile IT clients???

1-Triple-Release-Nov_6-16-WebglowgrassIn November, Carrick Publishing released my latest book, Glow Grass and Other Tales, a collection of my published short stories and novellas. My friends, Rosemary Aubert, Donna Carrick and I made it a Trifecta launch at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. We packed the store with friends, family, fans and well-wishers.  And all three of us sold out our supplies of books!! 

This year I participated in 20+ author events, flying solo or teamed up with fellow crime writers through our group, the Mesdames of Mayhem or with Crime Writers of Canada. I gave several workshops on How to Get Published at the Toronto Public Library as well as at my friend, Rosemary McCracken’s Novel II course at George Brown College. And I attended three literary conferences – whew!

20160225_143147
Dale Berry, me, Sarah Chen, Steve Burrows, Mysti Berry at LLC
10612794_10153295846331712_2081684264770621893_n
Meet the Canucks!

 

 

 

 

 

Left Coast Crime in February in Phoenix, Arizona was terrific. I was honoured to be on the short crime fiction panel and I partied with new and old friends at the Short Fiction Mystery Society reception, Noir at the Bar and the Meet the Canucks event hosted by CWC.  I met two of my favorite authors, Ann Cleeves and Tim Hallinan. Even fitted in a sightseeing tour of wild west ghost towns and rattlesnakes! (See my previous blogs on both subjects.)

12764403_10156536406585150_6429811086920378692_o
Coffee with Tim Hallinan, standing
20160226_133503
Lunch with Ann Cleeves, 2nd from left

 

 

 

 

 

Limestone Expo in Kingston, Ontario last July, was an intimate, multi-genre festival organized by horror author, Liz Strange.  Ed and I made a fun weekend of it, staying at a haunted B&B, the fab Rosemount Inn and connecting with friends, old and new. I was delighted to share a table with speculative fiction author and aardvark lover, Ira Nayman, who in another life was our daughter’s film professor at Ryerson University! Thoroughly enjoyed being on the multi-genre panel, Monstrous Imaginings.

13691022_1037066316329967_109448594662198952_o
Selling Windigo Fire and MoM anthos
13723881_1037065696330029_6470841048669506124_o
Ira Nayman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madonna Skaff
Madonna Skaff – Up and coming YA author
Brian Lindsay
Brian Lindsay – Fellow finalist for AE First Novel award

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_0814
Gators love marshmallows!
20160916_173847
Mardi Gras event

Bouchercon 2016 took place in September in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The exotic location drew in thousands of crime fiction authors and fans from North America and overseas. Easy to get lost in the crowd as a newbie Canadian author, but also great to be in the Mardi Gras parade, to nom down Creole treats at publishers’ events and to hear some of the best Noir writing ever at the Voodoo Lounge. (See my blog on Bouchercon) And during the swamp tour, we learned that gators love marshmallows!

Highlights included interviewing Hank Phillippi Ryan on behalf of Toronto Sisters in Crime, meeting Peter Rozovsky, the founder of Noir at the Bar and dinner at Arnaud’s with friends and fellow authors, Mar Preston, Nancy Cole Silverman and Ellen Kirschmann. Thanks, too, to New Orleans detective and award-winning crime writer O’Neil de Noux for organizing the Short Mystery Fiction Society lunch at Napoleon’s.

Hank Ryan – The Real Deal!
20160914_210447
Ayo Onatade & Peter Rozovsky
20160916_200939
Mar Preston and Nancy Cole Silverman

 

20160916_200925
Ellen Kirschmann
20160916_121217
Spooky Napoleon’s bistro

NaNoWriMo in November got me back to doing what writers are supposed to do: to write. Under the guiding hand of my friend, TO Poet, I hunkered down and got to work.  Impossible to match TO Poet’s staggering output of 75,000+ words, so I settled on a focused approach this year and drafted two short stories and more chapters for the WF sequel, Windigo Ice.

December was devoted to family, friends and Christmas. Much to look forward to in the New Year. Several public events coming up as well as friends’ book launches and Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and Bouchercon right here in our own city of Toronto.

We Mesdames of Mayhem will be releasing our third anthology, 13 Claws, featuring dastardly, animal-centred crimes. For the first time, we have a contest to discover one or more authors previously unpublished in the crime fiction genre. Stay tuned and hope we survive 2017!!

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Street Art – Defilement & Rebirth

East York wanderings with TO Poet  revealed a fab gallery of street art in East York and motivated me to explore the alleyways of my own hood. My explorations revealed some hidden, lushly vined and mysterious trails, but sad to say, the garage doors and garden walls remain empty canvasses.

20160630_095909
Welcome any artists who venture here…

But how could I forget the Man Fish of Bayview? Our single example of street art, adorning the side wall of a vintage barbershop. I pass by it nearly every day – so often, it’s become invisible via mundanity. I found it defiled by the ubiquitous graffiti tags that lurk in our hood’s hidden corners / canvases. Proof that we’re regularly explored, but, sorry folks, no art yet.

20160721_133612
Defiled Man Fish

So I struck further afield. And there, tucked away in a hidden alley parallel to the  subway tracks, I struck relative gold. The murals decorating the backs of the buildings may reflect the biz enterprises facing Yonge Street.

20160804_110124
TTC car, not exactly as illustrated
20160804_105935
What, no helmet?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20160804_110043
Disgruntled diners
20160804_110040
More disgruntled diners

 

 

 

 

 

They ate there?
They ate there?

Even further afield, spectacular treasure on St. Clair Avenue West, an 8-storey masterpiece allegedly the world’s largest street mural by artist, Phlegm, whose black and white surreal visions of the man machine are world famous.

13925121_1243693482327743_4347496531037291314_n
Birth of the man machine!

Starting July 8, 2016, Phlegm painted the mural via hair-raising swing stage over the next four weeks. He was assisted by Stephanie Bellefleure.  To see the details of the buildings in the figure, have a look here.

The mural was made possible, in part through StreetARToronto (StART), a city department that tries to beautify Toronto through street art – and thereby make it a tourist destination. It funds one well-known artist per year.

Ah-ha! That’s why we stumble upon well-done murals depicting historical or cultural mythology – and other more vibrant and subversive stuff! (More in my next blog)

Phlegm’s 8-storey Man Machine depicts famous Toronto buildings like the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Mackenzie house, ya-da, ya-da.  Funding etc. also through the STEPS Initiative and Slate Management who wanted to give the Yonge and St. Clair area a much-needed boot up its esthetic, business and cultural arse. Let’s hope it works!

 

WANDERINGS: Montreal’s Decayed Beauty

20160518_160249
Spectacular ruin seen along the Lachine canal

As a kid growing up in Ottawa, a trip to Montreal was a Big Deal.  At the time, it was bustling, vibrant, the only Canadian city known to the outside world.  Then the separatists happened. Sun Life moved to Toronto, taking business and commerce with it and Montreal became a relative ghost town.

A phrase from Denys Arcand’s film, The Decline of the American Empire, comes to mind: “It is pleasant to live during a decline.” Humanity overshadows the military – you simply can’t pay for all those soldiers and weapons.  Simple pleasures – food, wine, relationships – are the order of the day.

Voila Montreal! The best food and social programs in Canada. Great bars and restos, fab festivals winter and summer.  Affordable housing.  What’s not to like? The city’s new axiom is distilled in this artist’s street painting below: I want to rest in peace before I die.20160518_121320

And, in keeping with Montreal’s sparkling culture, amazing street art. Feast your eyes, readers. (Click on each image to view in more detail.) 

20160518_105249
Business fleeing to Toronto?
20160518_104912
Ghost city

 

20160518_105205
Resurgence of humanity
20160518_103216
Rebirth

 

20160518_204423
Explosion of culture
20160518_204446
Bird of prey?

 

20160518_204519
Twilight birdie
20160518_204552
With the setting sun, the Mayans rise again

 

20160518_111757
Improvements to the Lachine Canal

 

20160517_120713
Beauty outlasts all. This famous diner’s owner is 90+ and still works there every day!

Wanderings with TO Poet: Alley Art

2016-05-09 11.11.04
Typical boring alley…you think

TO Poet’s keen eye finds beauty in the oddities and detritus of hidden Toronto. (Enjoy his pics on Tumbler here.)  He’s an early riser and dedicated walker. Recently, he led me through the back alleys of East York to view some amazing art.

2016-05-09 11.14.19
Welcome all art lovers who enter here

East York, until 1998, was Canada’s only borough.  In 1924, the 600 or so residents, pissed about their apparently inferior roads and sewers,  voted against joining the City of Toronto.  For decades the area remained dry, ie no serving of alcohol. so its southern edge, Bloor-Danforth Street, became the sinful watering hole. Prohibition was only abandoned in the 1970’s!

Most Torontonians associate East York with WWII veterans who flooded the area in 1940’s.  The houses are tiny by today’s standards, typically bungalows with high basements, metal awnings over the cement front steps and trim, if conventional gardens.

800px-East_York_Bungalows
Characteristic street

So one might expect street art to be scarce. Not so! Garage doors are the preferred canvas. View here: (BTW for a better view and deets, click on each pic.)

2016-05-09 09.37.52
Neat abstract
2016-05-09 11.06.02
Crazy Penguin

 

 

2016-05-09 11.05.47
Crazy fish

 

2016-05-09 09.41.29
Water lilies
2016-05-09 09.50.36
Aquarium bubbles
2016-05-09 09.38.10
Conventional calligraphy
2016-05-09 09.38.35
Abstract calligraphy
2016-05-09 09.37.59
Space rocket motorbike

Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.

2016-05-09 10.52.03
Sleep of spring
2016-05-09 09.54.30
I see you

 

 

 

 

 

2016-05-09 11.06.16
Mother chick
2016-05-09 10.00.45
Mystical tech support

 

 

 

 

 

 

And regular walls:

2016-05-09 09.54.15
Wolves de rigueur
2016-05-09 09.55.24
21st century Rousseau

 

 

 

 

 

2016-05-09 11.09.14
Self portrait?
2016-05-09 11.08.29
Conventional skull motif

 

 

 

 

 

Or an interesting take on fence paint:

2016-05-09 11.14.38

Originally and staunchly British, East York’s population is now almost 50% foreign born. As a student, I survived on the beloved Greek steam table and souvlaki  restaurants along the Danforth. Gentrification has swept these away, but not this feast for the eyes.

 

 

THE SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Encounters on the NYC Subway

Empire State Building from High Line Park
Empire State Building from High Line Park

NYC is a maze of surreal trapdoors. Especially the legendary subway, setting of innumerable horror flicks,  cop shows and true crime. 

So this happened….

After visiting the Mysterious Book Shop and the twin towers memorial, we boarded the R line.  We collapsed onto the hard plastic seats of the train car, the a/c bliss after the 30 degree heat.

A large Asian man wearing a green foam Statue of Liberty crown slumped onto the seat opposite us. He was clearly suffering from the heat.  Not so much though his  slimmer wife and teen-aged son.61Cas0H8X9L__SL1000_

“Do you live here?” the lady asked us after we exchanged a few pleasantries waiting for the train to get going.

“No,” we said, flattered. “We’re Canadian. From Toronto.”

“Well, I’ll be! That’s near Brantford, right? Have you been to the pow-wow there?” I replied sadly no, but it was on our bucket list. She broke into a huge smile. “You see, I’m Chippewa. An Indian married to an Indian!”

Dad shrugged and smiled. Teen-aged son squirmed. White liberals gringed, but Mother continued: “So 86th Street, right? Our young guy’s quite the artist so we’re taking him to see  Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. We’re off to the museum.”

Of course, the Metropolitan Museum of Art! “Eighty-sixth you got it! Change at Times Square.”

“No, before that we’re going to the museum. You know, The Museum. It’s got everything in it you folks need to know about The Bible.”

Que?

“You must know about The Museum. You do love The Bible, don’t you? It’s the best museum in the whole wide world, put together for our brothers and sisters.” Mother beams and leans forward. “I’m a Jehovah’s witness!” 

IMG_3525
Angels on high are laughing!

Gotcha!

Sigh, sometimes the penny doesn’t drop, it floats down.

“You sure do need to visit The Museum. You would love it. It’s got money problems right now, so we’re gonna make sure we see it before they move it someplace else. Can I talk you two into coming along?”

“Sorry, no, we’re meeting some friends.”

Mother now turns her attention to the other passengers in the car. She teaches us all Chippewa expressions in between urging us to Praise the Lord.

Mercifully, the train starts up. Also mercifully, it’s an express. We’re at our stop in two minutes flat. 

We race out of the car, leaving Mother cheerfully proselytizing, Dad smiling beatifically and son sulking, while she aims to convert someone, anyone before Times Square.

This really happened: surreal NYC did not disappoint us!

It's weird out there!
It’s weird out there!

 

 

 

 

 

Wanderings: Street Art and Alleys

My friend, TO Poet, loves Toronto’s hidden alleys: the laneways that run between the backyards of houses or the houses themselves. He collects images of strange tableaux he runs across on his wanderings: this week abandoned wall units.  View TO Poet’s photos on Tumblr where he posts Tuesdays and Sundays here and check out his website here.

20160425_152152
Biological beer can that bleeds?

The word “alley” – no doubt the corruption of the French word “allee” –  means roadway.  In the past, when land was cheap, in Domestic Land, alleys played the role of the servants’ back stairs,  giving access to garages, garbage cans and compost heaps.

Not so in the city core. There alleys become romantic, sinister, intriguing, seductive. In noir film and literature, urban alleys are the main stage for thefts, assaults, fights and, of course, death.

20160425_141109
Scary urban alley by daylight

Now on my training rides, I’m more and more tempted to steer my bike into these beckoning non-fairways. Taking a short cut, I discovered some fab street art! Feast your eyes, readers!

Strange dino-beasts
20160425_152230
Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

20160425_152306
Don’t believe all you read!
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights
Even Enterprise crew washes their tights

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Viaducts, Street Art and Suicides

I’m training  for my 9th Ride to Conquer Cancer. Up to now, I’ve braved icy roads and braced frigid head winds.  Finally this week decent conditions, so I took my favorite route down the Don Valley trail.

Spring at last!
Spring at last!

The trail meanders between the bucolic waters  of the Don River and the ear-deafening stream of cars along the Don Valley Expressway.  It’s frequented by dog walkers, elderly hikers, birdwatchers, other bike maniacs, a few homeless and the odd city worker doing some nameless, incomprehensible task.

Street artists have been hard at work, too. Crossing under a viaduct, I spot this amazing painting.

20160415_114354_3
Street Art at base of viaduct

Sadly the viaducts are a favorite of suicides.  The enormous Bloor viaduct sports a remarkable barrier that has proven 100% effective in prevention though cynics point out that it may merely drive unfortunates north to this one.

 Structurally beautiful, the Bloor viaduct barrier was created by Harvard-educated architect, Ellis Kirkland, who originally designed it to be lit up at night.

gee26nw1
Bloor Street Viaduct Wannabe

In a macabre twist of fate, Kirkland became the centre of a downtown drama last month. She stabbed the concierge at her apartment building, fled and was rescued from jumping off a 27th floor balcony at a nearby hotel.  Fortunately, both she and the concierge survived. Read the full and tragically ironic story here.

 

WANDERINGS: Bikes and Banksy

20160320_154757

Outside training for The Ride begins in mid-March. And yes, those bits of yellow and purple poking through the dead leaves are crocuses! And that’s my shadow snapping the pic.

I can’t lie, dear Readers, riding a bike in Toronto in mid-March is COLD. You start to pray for heavy duty hills to get the blood flowing, because unlike running, you never warm up on a bike. You slowly get chillier and chillier until your hands and feet refuse to move. If the wind is really bad, you seize up too much to climb off your trusty wheels to stagger into the warmth of that beckoning doughnut store.

But, hey, that’s part of training! On the upside, when biking, you FEEL the world, discover unseen treasures…surreal trapdoors…

 This Sunday, layered in dorky bike gear, I headed out along the Beltline Trail. This defunct 19th century railway is now an 8 km trail used by runners, cyclists and dog walkers.   Most people use the 5 km section of hard-packed dirt; only locals know about the 3 km paved section on the west side of the Allen Expressway. And that’s the pouffy part with historical plaques and stuff.

20160320_135141No signs, no nothing at the east end. To access it, you have to sneak past a body shop and down a narrow sidewalk bordering a townhouse.  I stumbled upon the far west end by accident on an 80 km ride back from the Humber. 

Winter has been hard on the trail. Gates are flaking rusty metal, the plastic covering on the map / plaques has splintered into thousands of cracks. Vandals have scrawled insults sorely lacking in wit or originality.

Then suddenly TREASURE! I adore Banksy and Shepherd Fairey. And here was my reward for braving the cold: a Toronto WOW. Amazing use of building fixtures – and abandoned scary trucks. Enjoy!

20160320_140029
Green tiger burning bright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

20160320_135756
Building fan fits in
20160320_135802
Fab croc and entrail design

 

Cool fish
Cool fish
More conventional
More conventional
Scary truck
Scary truck
Scary Easter Bunny
Scary Easter Bunny