EAT THIS BOOK: Sellers & Newel Second-Hand Books – A Must for Noir Fans!

12742381_10156530658650150_2448979545047805041_nPeter Sellers, Ed and I became friends during the early days of Crime Writers of Canada. And we share a love for Toronto's demi-monde of burlesque, adult clowning and alternative music. Not only that, our kids went to school together and grew up to work in media.

In 1992, Peter won the CWC Derrick Murdoch Award for his work in revitalizing the crime fiction short story. His off-beat, often chilling and highly engaging tales have appeared in every major mystery magazine and numerous crime anthologies. He is a four-time finalist for the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.

On November 12, 2011, Peter opened Sellers & Newel Second-Hand Bookstore in Toronto's Little Italy. His passion is hunting down rare and collectible volumes for his clients.

Visit Sellers & Newel at 672 College St., Toronto. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm; Sunday 12 to 5 pm. Mondays, by chance.

And be sure to visit the bookstore's website at www.sellersandnewel.com and on Facebook and Twitter (@sellersandnewel).

BTW click on any of the images you'd like to explore more closely.


Sellers & Newel Exterior
Sellers & Newel, street view
Store Interior
Inside looking out at Little Italy

 

 

 

 

 

What books will we find at Sellers & Newel?

We carry second-hand only. Mostly 20th Century literature, crime fiction, poetry, lots of weird fiction. Some are antiquarian, but we have lots of affordable reading copies. Our books range in price from $1 to several thousand dollars.

What led you, a writer, to open a bookstore?

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Peter, buried in his passion: books!

I love books. I like the fact of them as much as anything and I’ve always bought many more than I could ever hope to read. Now I buy many more than my customers can ever hope to read. I also like working for myself and working without a net. It’s all up to me. I love going out and finding books, making house calls, visiting other dealers, especially when I’m out of town. Buying books is almost as much fun as selling them.

What do you find fascinating about crime fiction?

To be honest, I don’t read nearly as much crime fiction as I used to. But my initial interest was most likely fuelled by black and white crime films of the 1930s through the 1950s. They used to be on TV a lot, and I grew up on Bogart, Cagney, John Garfield, Mitchum, and other actors like them and the films they made. When I started reading books seriously, the first novel I can recall buying was a stunning 1971 Ballantine edition of The Big Sleep that I still have. I was 15 or 16 and bought it from a bookstore across the road from my high school. From then on it was mostly mysteries and thrillers for years.

I love the pulp books you have collected, especially the lurid book covers. What attracts you to the pulp era?

A lot of that stuff is crap, really. But there are some occasional gems. John D. MacDonald, for example, in his non-Magee stuff, is great. He is better than anyone else at giving you this awful feeling that something is going to go really bad really soon. Mickey Spillane I used to love, not because he was good but because he wrote like he was insane, all kinds of repressed sexuality spilling out in this remarkable violence (in tone as much as action) that nobody’d done like that before.

Why noir?

I hate happy endings. I like books that end badly. Nasty people treating each other shabbily has a certain appeal to me. (And a twisted sort of  justice, which is why I love noir – M. H. Callway)

Tell us something about your customers.

There is no typical customer, though I was surprised to realize, soon after I opened, that most of them are under 35. That was not what I had expected.

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Cool coffin
Leather Chair
Neat reading chair

My customers seem to like the coffin, which gets photographed a lot. Some people find it creepy but most love it. They like the crooked walls, the metal ceiling, the mismatched floor tile and the big leather chair. They seem to like my selection and the fact that the books are all in really good shape, and that I have lots of unusual stuff.

 

Which of your books have proved to be the most popular?

First editions are popular and I have a lot of collectors who come in for the Weird Fiction, which includes some very scarce titles. They also like the fact that I will track down books for people, even if they cost as little as five bucks. And I never give up. A few months ago, I found a book that a customer had asked for three years before. She was surprised that I had kept at it for that long, especially an inexpensive paperback, but her reaction when I called her was priceless.

But my unscientific survey says Hemingway, Steinbeck, H.P. Lovecraft and an obscure British author named Simon Raven because I love the guy and plug the hell out of him.

You’ve embarked on two cool innovations at your store: music and film nights. Tell us about the music events.

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Corpusse: music of the macabre

The concerts are working out really well. I do two a month from September through May. None in the summer because of the heat. I started because I wanted to do something that no other bookstore is doing, and I find readings and signings to be pretty darn boring most of the time. Live music has always been important to me, and I still go out and listen to as much of it as I can. This also seemed a good way to promote the store and to bring new people in.

Performers are usually local people I like and who are all really good. Styles of music so far have ranged from Medieval to modern performance art. Past performers include outstanding singer/songwriter Kevin Quain (3 times), the wild, 300-plus-pound Corpusse (twice), country singer Zachary Lucky, singer/songwriter Ryan Cook from Nova Scotia, and remarkable guitarist Andrew Mah from Ottawa.

In the fall we have some jazz shows booked for the first time.

How do we find out about concert dates and times?

The shows are usually on Thursday nights at 8:00 pm. Cost ranges from $10 to $20 depending on who’s playing. Capacity is up to 35 depending on how much space the act takes up.

If you get on our mailing list, or check us out on Facebook, you can get all the details for future shows.

You’ve also tried film nights. How did they work out?

I did two film nights as part of Canadian National Film Day, screening classic Canadian horror films, like Terror Train, but neither evening was a big hit. I have one more thing I’d like to try so I may or may not continue the film nights. 

Before we sign off, Peter, what is the strangest customer experience you have had?

There’s been no shortage of those. One of the most charming was a very enthusiastic teenage girl who came in and, with a big smile and shining eyes, asked me if I had a copy of “How to Kill a Mockingbird”.

 

Thanks, Peter! Your store offers a truly magnificent feast for booklovers. So readers, get yourselves over to Sellers & Newel, soak in the entertainment and eat those books!! 

 

Surreal Trapdoor: Cat Marihuana – Our street is now cool!

Mt. Pleasant Road was once colourless, staid and outdated, lined with dusty antique stores. Nothing happening, certainly not in the evening after a pensioner’s bedtime. 

To be fair though, it always had some neat retro stuff. Penrose Fish and Chips hadn’t changed its décor, menu or deep fryer since the 1940’s.  They still wrapped your take-out fish and chips in newspaper. George’s Trains  sold my fav childhood toy: electric trains! And two ancient movie houses, The Regent and the Mt. Pleasant,  showed stale-dated films to tiny audiences of the faithful.

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Late, great Penrose
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Cinema treasure

 

 

 

 

 

And we found great food at The Longest Yard pub, our home away from home, as well as yummy cakes at the sadly gone Sweet Gallery and noms at Le Feuvre’s Chocolates.

Mind you, Mt. Pleasant had, probably still has, its seamy side.  Above those silent-as-tombs antique shops – knocking shopsSmart of them to hide in a deadly boring, whitebread family neighbourhood over stores bereft of customers. I’m not kidding: read this. There’s even a “rub map” of Toronto with Mt. Pleasant taking…erm…undue prominence! (No links, guys- you’re on your own!)

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Naughty and not so nice

Change has surged into our hapless backwater. Condos, Starbucks and Second Cup have invaded. All our favs now swept away, except, inexplicably, the movie theatres.  But wondrous new things have birthed:  Thobor’s Parisian chefs make the best bread and pastries in North Toronto and Belsize Public House is trying to fill The Longest Yard’s big shoes.

A tear and a beer at the Longest Yard farewell party. Even Mayor Tory dropped by for last call!

This week a Surreal Trapdoor opened up. On one side of one of the last chandelier-crammed antique stores,  I spied the Green Room, a medical marihuana shop, with a brew pub-like menu of plant materials on display. And on the other, Meow Coffee, a cat café! Police raids and grumpy Toronto Humane Society notwithstanding!

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Medical? Sure, do you want it to be?
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My soft spot – kitties!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are now 21st century – and cool!  I leave you, readers, with this song by Japanese pop group, Shonen Knife about bad kitties and cat mary-jane.  And guessing which  shop will become my new haunt….

 

 

 

 

Wanderings with TO Poet: Alley Art

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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Neat abstract
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Crazy Penguin

 

 

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Crazy fish

 

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Water lilies
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Aquarium bubbles
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Conventional calligraphy
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Abstract calligraphy
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Space rocket motorbike

Garage walls also offer opportunity. Especially corner walls.

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Sleep of spring
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I see you

 

 

 

 

 

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Mother chick
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Mystical tech support

 

 

 

 

 

 

And regular walls:

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Wolves de rigueur
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21st century Rousseau

 

 

 

 

 

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Self portrait?
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Conventional skull motif

 

 

 

 

 

Or an interesting take on fence paint:

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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!” 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAPDOOR: Rattlesnakes & Elvis

Greetings Readers! Here’s the long-promised Surreal Trapdoor from Phoenix, Arizona.

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Saguaro Cactus
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More cactus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Left Coast Crime conference, I took a tour of the Superstition Mountains and the Goldfield Ghost Town , a faithful reconstruction of a western gold-mining town with Disney-style staged gun-fights. Good fun, but a surreal trapdoor opened up en route at the Superstition Mountain Museum.

Ever see those 1950’s and 1960’s Westerns? They all look the same: rickety wooden buildings in the middle of a Roadrunner desert with lots of blowing dust and cactus. Well, there’s a reason for that. They were all shot on the same set: the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

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Old sign & rickety model
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My parents loved Have Gun Will Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the public’s thirst for Westerns faded. Apacheland became a theme park then fell into disuse. It cycled through a revival or two in the 1980’s followed by  – count ’em – two, ahem, mysterious fires. The bits that survived were moved to the museum: a barn and – yes, you heard it right – an Elvis Chapel.

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The Elvis Chapel. Everybody wants one…

Our guide explains: Elvis starred in an ill-fated Western called Charro where he tried to make it as a straight actor. No songs except for one on the soundtrack. Luckily the flop didn’t hurt his career. A host of other famous stars filmed at Apacheland, including John Wayne and a young Clint Eastwood.

Elvis did better in Hawaii
Elvis did better in Hawaii
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Clint Eastwood, Middle Row, 2nd right

 

 

 

 

 

The Superstition Mountains themselves are perilous: the rough terrain boasts many steep drop-offs, extreme heat and arid conditions. People regularly lose their way or fall victim to heat stroke or dehydration. In fact, our guide tells us, a hiker’s body was recovered the day before our visit.

The mountains have a lurid history, much related to the mythical Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.  And at least one murder. They’ve also been home to wild characters and hermits like Hacksaw Tom who robbed stagecoaches.

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The legend of Hacksaw Tom.
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No $$ in that carpet bag, just junk.

No doubt old Tom felt right at home with the dozen kinds of rattlers in the area. The snakes are avid patrons of the museum, as evidenced by the warning signs. And in the summer, our guide says, the rattlers especially enjoy lounging in the coolness under the pop machine. Caveat emptor indeed!

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All kinds & sizes of rattlers
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Snakes don’t need tickets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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
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Trash & Star Trek Pt 1
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2
Trash & Star Trek Pt.2

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Abandoned Beauty

Real or CGI – who cares?
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Adieu Disney

Abandon writer’s block, all ye who enter here!

I recently joined Pinterest and picked my Fav Five categories.

How could I resist Abandoned Mansions? I love old things. The intrigue of deserted places overwhelms me. What happens to a human structure left to the elements? Who lived here once? What are the stories of the inhabitants, their history? And most of all, why were these places abandoned in the first place?

Here are some of my favs. I wandered through the maze of images for hours: a  Chinese box of websites within websites of lost stories.

 

There are boards devoted to abandoned amusement parks. Even forsaken Disney parks!

Nara-Dreamland Japan
Nara-Dreamland Japan
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Lost library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghostly libraries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where books started – full cycle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ghostly piano

 

Derelict church Detroit
Derelict church in Detroit

Pianos only spirits enjoy today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course the ruin-in-progress, the de-urbanizing legend that is Detroit. In the theme of Wasn’t the Future Wonderful, do check out the extraordinary documentary, Detropia.

More soon! 

 

WANDERINGS: Expo 67 Then & Now

Nothing is more absurd than people’s vision of the future – anon

Last winter, on a visit to Montreal, our daughter insisted we visit La Fete des Neiges, which is held in Park Jean Drapeau, the former site of Expo 67. I was overcome by curiosity.  What did the site look like now, nearly 50 years later?

Hey it's the 1960's. Women weren't persons!
Hey it’s the 1960’s. Women weren’t persons!

Expo 67 was a Big Deal to Canada. It marked our 100th birthday. We had to to show the world that Canada was a real country, not just a British Dominion. History affirms we were successful.

I remember only snippets from our family visits to Expo: like the Sputnik chocolate ice cream sundae I enjoyed at the Russian pavilion. And the split-screen films re-introduced by the National Film Board.

Ghostly American Pavilion
Ghostly American Pavilion

Today virtually nothing remains. Nature has taken over. The site is covered by trees and bush. And the Fete des Neiges is sweet, low-key and family-oriented. Furries entertain the kids, people skate and snow tube and we enjoyed mulled wine and maple syrup poured on snow. Post industrialism lives!

Wasn't the future wonderful?
Wasn’t the future wonderful?

Expo 67’s vision of our future seems absurdly rosy – even quaint.  Were we really expected to live in upside down pyramids, geodesic domes and Gaudi-like apartments? My friend Deb and her parents lived a year in the Habitat apartments as a future model family: isn’t that something to tell your kids?expo-canada

 

 

 

 

Wasn’t the future wonderful? It’s as though resources and land were infinite. Mind you, the burden of overpopulation isn’t acknowledged or envisioned even today. 

Habitat for Humanity
Habitat for Humanity – Gaudi would have loved it!
Monorail!
Monorail punctures Bucky Ball!

Strange what has survived from Expo 67 and what has not. La Ronde, the amusement park, was considered tres low-brow and tacky. Well, folks, it’s still there and thriving!

And so, I’m happy to say, is my secret favorite, the American Pavilion. 

I loved it! It had the longest escalator in the world at the time: 37 metres straight up. The monorail drove right through it! And I could watch the crop-dusting plane chase Cary Grant in North by Northwest over and over again. What was not to like?

Critics opined though the exhibits were vacuous pop culture. They wanted meaty hi-tech and military muscle.  They considered the dome a flimsy temporary construct of scaffolding and plastic that might not last the exhibition.

Well, they were nearly right. On May 20, 1976, the acrylic plastic sheathing caught fire and the pavilion burned up in 30 minutes. Here’s the video.

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Bucky burns!

The steel lattice survived though. In 1990  Environment Canada created an environmental museum inside it. Today the biosphere showcases climate change, ecotechnologies and sustainable development.  Bio Bucky: Our real future!

 

 

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Restored Bio Bucky!

 

 

 

 

 

The Surreal Trapdoor: Snakes Alive!

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Ice breaking Canada Geese

Spring is sprung in a cold Canadian way. Canada geese tread water and shards of ice at our cottage. Getting ready to breed.

And they aren’t alone…

On my friend, Gail Hamilton’s farm, on a warm sunny day, you will encounter THIS!

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Garter Snake Orgy. Photo by Gail Hamilton.

Buried under the heap of writhing reptiles are some very bothered female garter snakes. ARGH!!

Important to remember though that garter snakes are not venomous and perform a valuable ecological service in keeping down the insect and rodent populations. More of them is a good thing.

Our daughter had a pet garter snake named Slither. Caring for Slither introduced me to Toronto’s strange sub-culture of reptile fanciers. Did you know that they hold fashion shows for iguanas? And that iguanas make intelligent pets? This knowledge inspired me to write my award-winning story, The Lizard, which appeared in Crimespree Magazine, Issue 52 and was reprinted in Kings River Life Magazine, August 2014.

There’s a darker side to reptile fancy, too, starting with “pinky”, the most delectable food that no snake can resist. And what exactly is pinky? A euphemism for fresh frozen baby mice. (Ee-yuck!) Snake hoarding figures in a story I’m drafting now, working title Snake Oil. Stay tuned!