Ride #4 – Victory Lap! The Beaches, The Lake and Downtown

The 2021 Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer took place over two days, the August 28-29th weekend. For Ride #4, my final pledge ride, I picked Saturday, August 28th, mostly because my parents got married on that date in 1943, nearly 80 years ago!

 

 

Ed snapped this pic of me as I headed out, wearing my yellow Ambassador’s jersey. The weather looked cloudy and unsettled so I skipped the opening speeches on YouTube to beat the heat.

I rode east to Bayview and turned south, treating myself to a 1 km downhill zoom to the Don Valley bike trail that runs parallel to the Bayview Extension – an easy ride past the Brickworks and Rosedale Valley Road to River Street.

Thanks to COVID, the City has made the tail end of Bayview Extension one way and carved off half a lane for a new bike path.  That deposited me squarely into the Canary District and the corporate art therein.

Where is Fight Club?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A moment of nostalgia for the super-techs at Gears Bike Store: they fixed my flat in 15 minutes during the 2020 virtual Ride. They’ve now relocated north to King St.  The Canary District looked deserted: not the eastern twin of overbuilt Liberty Village…yet.

I decided to take the lakeshore trail to stay out of traffic and use the headwind to ward off the promised heat.

Passing under the Gardiner Expressway, I took in the gallery of street art.

Murals worth a special visit
Fav detail: not exactly Ru Paul though

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skater park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, it was a fast ride with the west wind behind me.  The lake looked spectacular though the rain clouds did look ominous.

Beaches turnaround
Storm warning

 

 

 

 

 

Few people were out this morning. I passed the occasional dog walker and happily connected and chatted with a fellow Rider who was doing her third Ride.  By the time I reached the Distillery District for my usual Balzac’s break, I was almost exactly halfway done.  Waiting for Ed to drive down to join me, I found some neat things: the original shoreline of Lake Ontario memorialized and the LOVE sculpture.

Beyond this line, trash and infill from building Toronto!
Love spelled in padlocks

Pledging eternal love by using a padlock originated in Europe in the early 2000s even though the origin is sad. During WWI a young Serbian woman fell in love with a soldier and they put a padlock on the Bridge of Love. He left her for another and she died of heartbreak.

 

Not a great recommendation but since 2000,  lovers have placed locks on bridges and fences throughout the world. In Paris, the Pont des Arts was so overloaded that in 2014 part of its parapet collapsed. Cities now routinely remove these padlocks. Some, taking a more positive route, invite people to create sculptures like LOVE above. Read more about love locks here.

Halfway there!
Welcome break!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After coffee, I cycled out along the Lakeshore bike path to my usual turnaround point at the Humber Bridge and Palace Pier.

On the bridge, I met and chatted with a team of fellow riders, all wearing yellow jerseys. They all work for the same software company and were riding for the father of the young woman with them.  A heartfelt moment and reminder of why we ride.

On the way back, I began to feel the heat, but luckily I was nearing the end of the journey. I turned up Bay Street and kept to the lane reserved for bikes, cabs and buses. I played chicken with three buses all the way up to Belmont Street. With relief,  I turned right and from there went north onto Yonge St.

Summerhill LCBO clock tower
50 km done!

Once again, thanks to COVID, the City has installed a bike lane up Yonge St. starting at Bloor  St. It was the fastest way home for me though it did mean two thigh-burning climbs between Summerhill and St. Clair Ave.

Happily when I passed the Summerhill clock tower, I hit the 50 km mark! After I reached St. Clair, I had a quick pedal through the calm of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, said hello to the boys and arrived home in time for lunch.  Total distance: 53.422 km!!

The Boys
Home and done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was my 14th Ride. Did I sign up for next year? Of course, I did. Who could say no to a pair of stylish socks like these?

Apparently only 64 riders have done the Toronto Ride every single year since the inaugural one in 2008. I’m one of them!

On to training for 2022 and big hugs and many, many thanks for your wonderful support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital.

 

 

RIDE #3 – Beltline – Traffic- The Humber Trail

Hello again Donors and Readers!

Here at last is my blog on Ride #3. (Spoiler alert: I did successfully complete my four pledged rides for a total of  200 km!)  

Tuesday, August 24th I headed west to the Humber River one of my favorite trails.  Getting there from mid-town Toronto unfortunately requires a hair-raising pedal through traffic.  I started out early to beat the  promised scorching heat.  The first few kilometers were along the cool shade of the Beltline trail.

Tout est possible – a fav landmark!

The Beltline trail follows the path of a commuter railway that opened in 1892.  It never turned a profit and only lasted two years. For almost a century afterwards Torontonians wrangled over how to use the land until David Crombie, Toronto’s tiny perfect mayor, turned it into a bike path. (If you’re having a sleepless night, you can read the detailed history of bureaucracy and indecision here. )

Hidden western entrance to York Beltline Trail
Pylons and not much else – York Trail

As a runner, I was familiar with the Kay Gardner section that runs from Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to the Allen Expressway. There my buddies and I would literally “hit the wall” before looping back, 11 km roundtrip from the Pearly  Gates on Bayview. I ran across the York section west of Allen Road purely by accident, actually coming east from the Humber. The access from the west is well hidden down a narrow sidewalk past an auto bodyshop and as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy would say behind the sign saying “Beware of the leopard”.

The York Trail is belied by the overgrown entrance. It’s actually quite exposed and bland, running as many rec trails do, under a set of hydro wires and pylons. But behind a set of industrial buildings, there’s some neat street art.

The Leopard??
Optimistic name I think

 At the end of the Beltline, I pedal back along Bowie to Montgomery and cut through Prospect Cemetery, which bears a striking resemblance to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, which is hardly surprising since they were designed by the same people. Prospect is bigger than Mt. Pleasant, consisting of three pleasantly green sections to ride through despite a steep climb midway. 

You might think that Prospect provides a lengthy stretch in which to contemplate one’s own mortality, but death is far more imminent on the next part of my route which follows St. Clair Avenue west until it ends at Scarlett Street.

There are no – and I mean NO – accommodations for cyclists along busy St. Clair. Stay alert, stay alive. I watch for car doors opening, street car tracks and open air patios that have narrowed the thoroughfare to one lane. In some sections, I beat a retreat to the sidewalk.  Better to be humbled into walking with pedestrians than blending in with the traffic in a grisly way.

The misnamed Peter Pan minimart is sadly no more
Good street art though

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At last, the Humber River

I’m much relieved to turn onto Scarlett Street and its bike path. It’s a speedy downhill ride for the most part to the quiet refuge of the Humber River trails.

Cool painted curbstones along Scarlett

 

 

The northern parts of the trail are wilder and susceptible to flooding. One spring, a cycling team mate and I watched an enormous snapping turtle swim across our path. 

 

In 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto with winds of 115 km/hr. The Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers overflowed and killed 81 people, destroying nearly 2000 homes. After this disaster, Toronto no longer builds on floodplains and developed an early warning weather system.  Today though the trail is dry. I say hello to the few hikers and wave to the kids at a bike camp.

The Humber Trail has a general downgrade interspersed with some short steep hills.  Long sections are being rebuilt in the section north of Old Mill Road. I’m glad that my trusty bike is a hybrid and that Ed pumped up my tires as I negotiate the gravel and mud. 

Old Mill TTC station and street art

 South of Old Mill, the trail gets challenging with two heart thumper climbs out of the valley. There’s a short section that detours through city streets before I reach my midway point and the last part of the Humber trail.

It’s now a downhill zoom through a wood and field flowers. One of my fav features along the trail is the Oculus, a UFO-inspired 1950s pavilion designed by British architect, Alan Crossley, and engineer, Laurence Cazaly.  Over the years, Oculus had been defaced by tag graffiti and the City considered demolishing it. Happily, in 2019, it was saved. It’s now an art installation complete with alien graphics. (See pics below.)

 

Happily cleaned up Oculus
Space adventure explanation

 

 

 

 

 

At the pedestrian bridge by Palace Pier, I turn east for the 15 km journey along the lake shore.  I pass a kid-friendly dinosaur playground. Along the way I pass one of Toronto’s saddest ghost bicycles, a memorial to a 5 year old boy killed when he fell into Lake Shore traffic.   

Sad memorial
I still love dinosaurs

 

 

It’s full sun by now and 30+ degrees. Too hot even for biking. No free Perrier today at Ontario Place. At Balzacs in the Distillery District,  I treat myself to an iced coffee before taking my usual route home: up Sherbourne through Summerhill and Mt. Pleasant cemetery.

Home at last and my third  pledged 50 km ride is done

 

 

RIDE #2 – Virtual Ride to Conquer Cancer – Don Valley and The Lake

Greetings Donors and Readers!

Ride #2  completed! Today Ed persuaded me to put on my 2021 Ambassador’s jersey ahead of the official virtual ride date. One way to tell the world about The Ride to Conquer Cancer, so I did.

Ready to go!

Because of the weather forecast for August 20th  –  full sun and soaring temperatures of 30+ degrees – I opted for the shadiest and coolest bike routes through the Don Valley and along the lake.

Slippery metal grid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I headed down early into Sunnybrook. This morning I chose the Serena Gundy entrance just east of Laird Avenue, a narrow steep hill that swings down through some pretty parkland that’s a favorite of day camps. A scary metal grid bridge crosses the West Don before dumping cyclists out between two huge boulders into a parking lot.

Serena Gundy, late wife of founder of Wood Gundy stock brokerage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool day camp artwork

The park was donated by James Gundy, one of the founders of Wood Gundy, in memory of his late wife, Serena. WG used to be one of Canada’s biggest stock brokerage firms before CIBC absorbed it in 1988. When I first entered the finance biz, the principle of “The Four Pillars” was sacrosanct. Banks, stock brokerages, insurance and, I believe, credit unions operated in separate silos to protect customers. However, the Four Pillars vanished in 1980s. Now banks sell you stocks and insurance.  Thirty years later our financial world, fingers crossed, has not collapsed.

Hope you’ll never this!
black and white skunk
Generic pic – didn’t want to stop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At The Teeth and Tout Est Possible, I turned right and headed onto the North Don Valley trail for 5 km. This is one of my favorite trails, sheltered, well-paved and mostly downgrade. The Don River seems tame, but it can get wild in spring to the delight of kayakers.  it’s also burst its bank and flooded roads many times.

I’ve encountered plenty of small wild life here – even a deer once!  Today I noticed a group of people gathered around… a skunk! Luckily it wasn’t mad.

I crossed over Pottery Road onto the South Don Valley trail, which has lots of neat artwork along the way. Sadly during COVID, many of the official Toronto Street Art murals have been obliterated by tags. See below:

Not an empty canvas anymore
Today even Garfield is gone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halfway along, I encountered several trucks, workmen and assorted equipment blocking the route. They were obliterating the graffiti tags with a smooth cement coating. This doesn’t work. The punks love it. The cement leaves an empty canvas for, you guessed it, more tags.

The gargoyle garden is happily not damaged, but at the end of the trail, several of my favorites are.

Another favorite
Not doing well

I met Ed at the Distillery District for a coffee at Balzac’s. Life feels almost normal on summer day.

Now that craft beers taken over, artisans are taking up custom spirits, too. We spotted this interesting entrance. Wouldn’t it make a great location for Noir at the Bar?

Very cool!

Temperatures stayed manageable by the lake. I headed west along Queen’s Quay and the Martin Goodman trail, marking my midway point at the Windmill by Exhibition Place.

 

 

Green energy demo
Halfway!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a 30 km loop along the lakeshore trail from the Distillery District to the Humber River and back. I passed several landmarks: Sunnyside Beach, the Ex and Marilyn Bell park.

Marilyn Bell, swimmer
Marilyn Bell

On September 9, 1954, Marilyn Bell, at only 16 years of age, became the first person to swim Lake Ontario.  Entering the water at Youngstown, New York, she fought through lamprey eels, hypothermia, oil spills and high waves to land close to Sunnyside 21 hours later. Winds and currents blew her off course so that she actually swam 72 km instead of the planned 51.5 km.  She’s a true hero who inspired many marathon swimmers, including Vicki Keith, the lady of all five Great Lakes.

Marilyn Bell

To learn more about these remarkable women and the unusual sport of marathon swimming, I recommend my friend, Laura E. Young’s book, Solo Yet Never Alone. Marilyn Bell retired at only 18 after swimming the Straits of Juan de Fuca. She chose to lead her own life, married and became a teacher, mother and grandmother. Now 83, she lives in a retirement home in New York State. Despite a spinal injury, she still swims!

On my way back from Palace Pier, I stopped to look at the lake. Lots of sailing boats out with both blue and white sails. As a child, learning to sail with my dad, my dream was to own a wood-hulled Dragon with blue sails. It’s now a vintage sail boat with its own fans and niche regattas.

Perfect day to be out on the water
See the source image
The Dragon – lots of maintenance with a wood boat!

When I passed by the inukshuk, I got lucky.  Perrier had set up a pop-up / guerilla marketing booth handing out ice-cold cans of a new product to cyclists: Perrier water flavored with fruit and laced with Yerba Mate.  Free caffeine! Just what I needed.

Inukshuk icon
A miracle!
Redpath  in 2008 – no condos!

It’s remarkable how much the waterfront has changed in the past 10 years. In 2008, the Redpath sugar refinery was easily the largest of the few buildings along the eastern part of Queen’s Quay.

Dusty forgotten sign

Today I had a hard time finding it, dwarfed  and hemmed in by several monolithic condo towers. Even the sign to the Redpath museum looked dusty. It’s no longer Redpath and no longer a Canadian company. The caramel tang of melting sugar is overwhelmingly strong. Wonder what the condo dwellers make of it?

 

Home!

I pedaled over to lower Sherbourne and took the bike lane for the fastest way home: up through Rosedale, Moore Park and Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I was happy that my calculations were correct as it was getting too hot even to bike.

Home at exactly 50 km!

EAT THIS BOOK: Forgotten Writer #5 – Lia Matera and Star Witness or UFO’s and Me

As a kid I was space mad. I longed to become an astronaut or an astronomer. And while I was growing up, sightings of UFO’s were prominent in the news.  I became convinced that space aliens were visiting  our planet.

Maybe that’s why I have fond memories of Lia Matera’s thriller, Star Witness, the fifth book in her Willa Jansson series. The book opens with a hit-between-the-eyes description of a horrific road accident: a sporty Fiat has dived into the roof of an old Buick, squishing the driver. The owner of the Fiat, Alan, has vanished. When the police locate him, he claims he was abducted by aliens. They’re the ones who dropped his car on the Buick!

It falls to grumpy lawyer, Willa Jansson to defend Alan and his incredible alibi. But delving into reports of UFO’s and encounters of the third kind, her skepticism dissolves. Holy Cartman’s anal probe!

Matera did a deep dive into UFO’s and weird encounters and included a listing of books and videos at the end of Star Witness. In her foreword  she describes how  her personal skepticism took a journey much like Willa Jansson’s.

Even today in Canada, we have firm believers in UFO’s. (Check out the meet-ups in Toronto alone!) Many years ago, I met and chatted with one of BC’s leading UFO believers thanks to my friend, retired filmmaker, Chris Windsor.

Chris had studied film making at UBC while I slogged away at my doctorate in organic chemistry. His student film, Roofman, was a huge hit with audiences at the university. That success and his talent landed him a job making industrial training films in Alberta. Mind-numbing and soul-destroying to be sure, but at least he was earning a living in his chosen profession.

In his spare time, Chris began working on a documentary about UFO’s.  By then I was living in Victoria and writing my PhD thesis. Out of the blue one afternoon, Chris phoned. Would I help him out on a film shoot? He and his cinematographer were in town to interview the President of BC’s UFO Society.

Boy that was a hard choice – cranking out dry scientific prose or skiving off with two friends  to explore UFO’s. Hell, yes!

The three of us headed off in Chris’s car to interview the UFO President at his house in a rural part of Vancouver Island. He turned out to be a  kindly middle-aged man who lived in a tidy, respectable middle class home: he looked and acted like our dads though if memory serves, he did don a tinfoil hat.  And his belief in UFO’s was absolute.

I’ll always owe Chris for that amazing life experience. I don’t know what happened with his UFO documentary, because shortly after that I handed in my thesis, graduated and moved back to Ontario.

So what happened to Lia Matera and Chris Windsor? Lia Matera , herself a  lawyer, was chief editor of the Constitutional Law Quarterly and a teaching fellow at Stanford Law School, when she took up crime writing. She wrote the Willa Jansson and Laura Di Palma series of crime novels, twelve books in all, plus a dozen short stories. Her work collected several nominations for leading awards: the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity. She won the Shamus award in 1996.

Matera wrote from 1987 to 1996 then very little thereafter though Ellery Queen Magazine published her chilling tale, “Snow Job” as recently as 2019. Did she go back to law? Did she retire? The crime writing world is poorer for it!

Chris did go on to make a feature film, Big Meat Eater, a horror comedy that was released in 1982.  It got favorable reviews and was a finalist at the 1983 Genies  for Best Original Screenplay, but it never became a huge hit.  Chris told me that unfortunately, as a Canadian film it was eclipsed by the American film, Eating Raoul, another horror comedy about cannibalism.

Andrew Gillies, Chris’s star in Roofman and Big Meat Eater went on to have a long career as a stage and film actor, with roles in The Virgin Suicides and Orphan Black. 

Sadly, Chris left the film business. He may simply have burned out. To learn about the arduous art of film making, read his excellent article in the Georgia Strait here. He now lives in Asia where he has worked for many years.

VALUE: So what’s my used paperback copy of Star Witness worth on Abe Books? About $2 to $8US.  It doesn’t appear to be available in Canada

BOTTOM LINE: Keep. In honour of UFO’s!

 

 

 

 

 

 

SURREAL TRAP DOOR: Attacked by a Grouse!

Grandma’s garden and grouse lair

It’s been a cold spring in Ontario, but time to open up the cottage for the season.  This means gearing up to battle the field mice invasion and/or emptying our bank accounts to repair winter damage.

At first, Anno Horribilis aka 2020 seemed to have thrown us a break. A mature pine tree had cracked in half over the winter but the tree top landed clear of our roof.  No structural damage – whew!

As for the mice, well, remember Walter White’s respirator in Breaking Bad? Good thing we had one, because an ocean of rodent poop was waiting for us in the cupboard under the sink. More feces sprinkled over the counters, stove, you name it.  And a favorite quilt chewed to pieces. Sigh.

It’s necessary to take extreme precautions when cleaning up because Huron County deer mice  harbour the hantavirus. (Nasty info via the Ontario Government publication here.) But my love for animals was about to be further tested…

Outside in my late mother-in-law’s garden, we spotted a pretty bird about the size of a chicken. Not wanting to scare it away, I sneaked closer with my camera.

Grouse well-camouflaged. Probably ruffed grouse species.

 

The bird wasn’t afraid. In fact, it exhibited so little fear that we worried it was someone’s pet. Not a safe environment around our cottage for bunnies and birds – lots of hawks and the occasional carnivore…

While taking the protective plastic off our young fruit trees later on, I noticed the bird again. Quite unafraid, still following us. Worried now, I wondered, should we feed it? Ask our neighbours who it belonged to?

Turning my back to it, all of a sudden, WHACK! Something hard struck me between the shoulder blades. It was the damn bird! Too cowardly to attack fact to face apparently.

OK, I thought, obviously a territorial dispute happening here. For some unknown reason, the grouse had settled on our cottage property for mating and breeding purpose.

Now the grouse was much smaller than me, so its attack was merely disconcerting. Still as a long-term animal rights supporter, I couldn’t help feeling a tiny bit betrayed.

More was to come though. Grouse-zilla kept a beady eye on us as we cleared the yard every so often gathering itself for a rush. By now I was visualizing predators at the top end of the food chain. Where was a fox, muskrat or hawk when you needed one?

“Let’s take a walk to the beaver pond,” Ed suggested. “We’ll lose it in the woods.”

The beaver pond lies about half a kilometre east of our cottage.  You reach it via a trail through the woods.  As we made our way along the trail, we heard it rustling through the undergrowth beside us – all the way to the pond.

“Let’s walk around the pond. It’ll give up,” I said.

So round the pond we went – a fair distance over  ditches, narrow foot bridges, looping round on trails that aren’t easy to find. Did it follow? Of course it did.

It followed us all the way back to the cabin, a distance of at least one kilometre through dense trees and brush. In a (very) grudging way, I admired it. The little f**ker had grit.

After a quick search on the internet, I turned up other tales of grouse attacks. Here’s one of the funniest, Yellowstone Grouse Attack! on video.

We drove off but sadly it wasn’t under our tires. I hear grouse roasts up nice….

 

WANDERINGS: Riding in the Plague Year #1

Greetings Readers!

Strange times indeed. Normally in March and April, I’m training for The Ride to Conquer Cancer, to support cancer research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five centres in the world.

2020 would have been my 13th ride. Alas, not to be. The Ride is in limbo along with the rest of our world.  Hard to see how an event of 4000+ sweaty riders plus 1000 volunteers, all served by well-used porta-potties, leaking buckets of energy drinks and pawed-over treats, could happen in this epidemic year. 

No matter what they decide about the Ride itself, the donations will go to cancer research, if not this year, then in 2021. If only cancer went into quarantine! Happily though PMH has officially  joined the war on CORVID-19 with researchers working on a treatment / vaccine.

What to do in the meantime? Luckily because I’m a runner and cyclist I’m not housebound. No rules against either activity…yet.  Public health authorities encourage everyone to get fresh air. But where?

My favorite training loop, Mt. Pleasant cemetery, is closed, but city trails are not. And the streets are eerily empty of traffic. Surreal to be sure. My intrepid fellow companions are: dog walkers, families with small children, senior citizens and other crazy cyclists and runners. Waved to a gym buddy – an 82 year old grandmother and long distance runner who grew up during the Battle of Britain. 

My British blood stirs. This is our boomer moment, I guess. Crap! And it’s spring and reason for happiness.

Seen in Rosedale
Crocuses!
More spring flowers

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favorite bike routes runs along the Beltline. Uplifting to discover that its interesting street art is not only intact, but restored.

James Dean artist
Green tiger burning bright
New. Condom rocket?
Watching u

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Wildlife may be reclaiming their habitat judging by the sign spotted near the end of the Beltline. Stay safe, my friends!

Happy croc!
Motivation to pedal harder

I’M IN THE MOVIES: FAB DOCUMENTARY OF THE MESDAMES OF MAYHEM

Back LtoR: Rosemary McCracken, Jane Burfield, Lisa De Nikolits, Donna Carrick, Lynne Murphy, Melodie Campbell, Sylvia Warsh Foreground: Marilyn Kay, M. H. Callway

Greetings Readers and Happy New Decade!

In business school, I learned that my job-survivalist strategies in the bureaucracy had a name: NETWORKING. To push through the inertia of the Ministry, I had to call on my friends for help.   And trade favours for favours.

It took years to build my network, to gain friends from shared job successes, catastrophes or bosses from hell. But business profs urged a more active approach: Get out there, meet more people, throw your business card to the winds, attack and build your NET.

So I did – and discovered that gold, when it landed, always came from an unexpected direction.

In 2018, we Mesdames of Mayhem were winding up another great panel at the Beaches Library. A young woman approached the table. She turned out to be Cat Mills, an award-winning documentarian – and she thought we’d make an engaging film.

Me? In the movies? NO WAY! Unlike the Ellen Burstyn character in Requiem for a Dream the last thing in the universe I want is to be on TV. Radio is fine (and I had a fab time as Alison Dore’s guest on Sirius) but the shock seeing of myself as others see me – GACK!!

Cat and my dear friend and author extraordinaire, Lisa De Nikolits, connected right away. They invited me for coffee and I thought, why not? Coffee and company, what’s a better way to spend an hour NOT writing!

The hour turned into three hours of lively and thought-provoking discussion. And after I viewed Cat’s wonderful documentary, Biker Bob’s Posthumous AdventureI knew I had to make the Mesdames film happen.

The first hurdle: money! Cat planned to approach the CBC. Oh, well, I thought. I have several friends and my own daughter, Claire Callway, is in the film biz: the chances of a film ever getting financed are really low. BUT CBC came through.

Over the next several months, Cat and crew filmed miles of footage, interviewing many Mmes individually, including myself. How would Cat distill all this material into a coherent 15-minute film?

We had a lot of fun, including a garden party at my house where the weather cooperated beautifully. The atmospheric picture above is from the footage shot at the wickedly macabre Darling Mansion decorated mostly like a Victorian bordello. Here are some pics: a visit is highly recommended.

Taxidermy
Friend Jane in the “boudoir”
Friend Lynne and a bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my former life as a management consultant, I grew comfortable with chaos. When you walk into a work place experiencing problems, you’re overwhelmed by the trees of a prickly forest: the client’s urgency, too much or too little of the right data, human emotions, office politics. Fortunately, I liked to dive right into the metaphorical shark pool and swim around until patterns emerged. And soon I’d hear a phrase that crystallized those patterns into a solution.

Ironically, for our film, the person who uttered the key phrase was me.  Cat had asked me why I liked writing crime fiction. To me, I said, it’s spiritual comfort food. When I open a mystery novel, I know that no matter how horrific the crime, by the end of the story justice will be done. And we all know life isn’t really like that.

In Cat’s film, The Mesdames of Mayhem, she shows that early life traumas propelled us to create crime fiction. There we can serve up justice to those who so richly deserve it! Cat focused on four of my friends:  Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Donna Carrick and Lisa De Nikolits.  I’m there, too, flitting in and out: I even get to show off our latest anthology, In the Key of 13.

Word was that Cat’s film would make you laugh – and make you cry. On October 25th, I opened up the YouTube link and watched The Mesdames of Mayhem alone in my studio. It was a brilliant, emotionally intense experience, the work of a gifted professional.

I laughed, I cried! And you will, too, dear readers. HERE IT IS:

 

 

 

 

 

EAT THIS BOOK: Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher

In February, Ed and I made our annual ski trip to Stowe, Vermont. Though old Stowe is rapidly disappearing due to the monolith monster condo development at the ski hill (now owned by Vail Resorts with concomitant sticker-shock pricing), vestiges of its old charm remain.

That includes our favorite hotel, The Green Mountain Inn, with its Shaker décor, warm fireplaces and afternoon tea and cookies. Locals  grab coffee and nosh down bacon and eggs at  The Café on Main next door in the Depot Building. Other must-eat noms: the over-sized chocolate chip cookies and superb fresh muffins.

While sipping Green Mountain’s dark roast eye-opener, we tried to resist the pleading eyes of a charming pug – and failed. He’s the resident pet in the best bookstore in Vermont: Bear Bond Books.

 

 

 

I’m trying to downsize my library but a visit to Bear Pond guarantees failure: I never leave without buying a book. Bear Pond promotes local authors, including crime writers: here’s where I discovered Archer Mayor and the Joe Gunther series.  This February, I struck more gold.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher intrigued me. The back cover outlined an adventure in bootlegging Canadian liquor across the US border during the Prohibition: an honourable part of our national history. And the novel drew on the intermingling of French Canadian and Vermont culture at the time. The hero’s name is Quebec Bill Bonhomme.

I’d anticipated that the border was once porous. Who knew how much? I was about to find out.

After the first page, I realized that I’d stumbled upon a gifted writer with a wildly exuberant imagination. Disappearances isn’t a mere adventure: it’s magic realism that reinvents and invigorates the tall tale.  It begins with our heroes’ visit to an asylum run by a mad, alcoholic doctor and an encounter with hermaphroditic twins and veers off into a series of Picaresque disasters. Crazy violence on par with noir author Johnny Shaw,  innumerable car crashes, an albino villain named Carcajou or “Wolverine” who won’t stay dead. Oh and did I mention that this is a comedy? I loved it! 

Disappearances  earned rave reviews from the Washington Post and Harper’s Magazine before winning the New England Book Award for fiction. In 2006, it was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Genevieve Bujold. I’d never heard of it despite the cast.  It has a score of 52% on Rotten Tomatoes – in other words, mixed reviews. According to IMDB, it failed spectacularly at the box office, costing $1.5 million to make and bringing in only $300,000.

Perhaps the wild, over-the-top fantasies work best on the page: a fever dream shared intimately between reader and author. We’re glutted by fabulous CGI and overblown violence on screen every day. Who remembers Tim Burton’s film, Big Fish even though it was a critical and financial success?

Howard Frank Mosher wrote 11 novels, many of which were turned into films by Jay Craven, an indie film-maker and native of Vermont.  And in case you doubt the influence of Quebec, what does “Vermont” mean? Vert mont or green mountain, right? Green Mountain range, Green Mountain Inn. Sometimes it takes 30+ years for the penny to drop.

In the meantime, EAT THIS BOOK!

 

 

 

 

WANDERINGS: Hydro Gift Boxes

A well-kept secret in Toronto is that our city actively promotes street art. There’s even hope that Toronto can become a go-to destination for followers and fans.

One interesting sideline is the beautification of our plain, military-grey hydro boxes. Hell, the city even pays artists to do this. Here are some neat examples spotted on my cycling forays. Click on each image to enlarge it.

Fancy peacock
Flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Toronto life
Witty in our ‘hood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues raccoon
Cool cat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken heart
Lettre sur boite

 

 

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