I realize it isn’t everybody’s ticket to dreamland. Indeed, I can think of many for whom it would constitute unmitigated boredom and misery. But if you’ve got some sort of semblance of faith or an interest in early Canadian history or an aesthetic love for religious architecture and art (or, as we have, a galloping case of all three) then a five day pilgrimage to the Catholic shrines of Quebec can make for a wonderfully stimulating holiday.
Posts Tagged: "Hermaneutics"
I’ve long wanted to write a Father’s Day column focussing not on what magnificent, homage-worthy creatures dads are – though indeed many are and my own not the least among them – but on the salutary effect that creating and helping to raise a crop of kids has on a chap.
About a half century ago, a handful of British writers swam against the tides of specialization, academicism and politicization – then still rising towards the intimidating stature they’ve achieved today – and dared to produce sweeping histories or outlines that charted the overall development of literary culture. The first of these that I encountered, taking on the largest canvas of all and therefore not probing so deeply as the others, was prolific novelist and playwright J.B. Priestley’s (1894-1984) Literature and Western Man (1960); an intelligent, non-academic (the word ‘phallocentric’ doesn’t appear once) study of writers from Machiavelli, Montaigne and Cervantes to James Joyce, William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe. There are other broad literary surveys of this kind written by such worthies as Will Durant and John Cowper Powys but what impresses me so much about Priestley’s opus is the humility and forthrightness of his approach. Published when he was 66 years old and dedicated to Tolstoy’s dictum that any truly great work of art should be assimilable by the average person, this book collects the gleanings of more than five decades of omnivorous and wide-ranging reading. Priestley may not pronounce the last word on any of his subjects but he does a wonderful job of displaying the full array of what’s out there and giving you a sense of its flavour. I first read this book in my teens and consider it an ideal road map to pass along to any young person with an affinity for reading. Continue Reading
With this issue of The Yodeller coming out on what would have been my mother’s 96th birthday, my thoughts have been alighting from time to time on memories of the splendour that was Verna Geraldine (nee McQuiggan) Goodden. One afternoon in her early 60s, she was cycling home from a shopping trip downtown which necessitated a quick zip through the CN railway underpass on Wellington Street just south of York. Being a stickler for following the rules and understanding that you weren’t supposed to cycle on the sidewalk, Mom always took the roadway through there instead of the commodious pedestrian pathways to the left and right. I and everyone else I knew always took the sidewalks because a) they didn’t dip down as low, thus saving you effort while ascending to Horton Street and b) it was much easier on the nerves when a big truck or bus zoomed through that acoustically resonant tunnel and you could swear that you were about to be plastered up against the subway wall.
The city was in the process of re-cementing the western wall on the day of Mom’s trek and when some rubble on the roadway forced her front wheel to sharply veer right, she threw out her right arm to keep her balance and an exposed re-enforcing rod poking out of the wall dug into the underside of her arm just above the wrist and ripped a bone deep gash halfway up to her elbow. Bleeding like nobody’s business, she managed to haul herself and her knackered bike out of the subway and went into the cigar store next door to Rae J. Watson Cycle and Sports to phone my dad to come and get her. Frankly the severity of her wound was such that an ambulancewouldn’t have been out of order but, as ever, Mom hated to make a fuss. So Jack loaded her bike into the trunk and drove Mom to the hospital and when she was released a day or two later her arm was all wrapped up in gauze and she was soon outfitted with this metal and elastic contraption on her right hand which she used over the next three or four months to successfully build back the muscles in all of her fingers.
She was given no guarantees that full use of those fingers would return and, aside from the pain and discomfort she endured, her prospects initially looked quite daunting. We all visited with her a lot those first couple of weeks, running errands and helping out and improvising meals. At one of these gatherings we learned an ambulance-chasing lawyer had contacted her to see if she wantedto sue the City for failing to properly clean up and seal their work site. “No,” she told him. “I couldn’t do that. I’ve lived in London all my life.” My God but I was proud of her. There was a recognition there that sometimes bad things happen with repercussions that simply have to be borne; that even if a reasonable case can be developed that some calamity wasn’t your fault, that doesn’t necessarily mean that somebody else should be made to pay.
When Elvis Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42, sitting on a Graceland toilet in dyspeptic agony after ingesting one too many deep-fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, his imitators all of a sudden went from occasional, freakish novelty acts to entertainment mainstays. With the great original prototype dead and buried, pretending to be Elvis (if you did it well enough) could be the making of a fairly lucrative performing career. It would however be a career that came with a soul-threatening, Faustian catch.
Yes, you would appear before adoring crowds, the centre of attraction and adulation, yet paradoxically, none of that attention would actually be aimed at you. If you set out to improve or put your own distinctive stamp on any song in the beloved repertoire, your audience would feel betrayed because you weren’t doing it like Elvis. And heaven forfend if you dropped the camouflage for a minute and wrote a song of your own or put out a record under your own name. Nobody would want to hear it. I mean, other than Not-Really-Elvis, who do you think you are? Simultaneously you were top of the bill and a complete nonentity.
With a dash of condescension I remember pitying all those stranded fans who had nothing to look forward to except catching an occasional pseudo-Elvis at the local arena or forking over their hard earned dollars for the latest RCA / Camden reissue of previously released material. What a shame, I thought, that they couldn’t cultivate an enthusiasm for the richness of the contemporary music scene in which I was so happily immersed at the time; a scene so prodigious and multifaceted that I knew I’d never be deserted without new music to love like those sad old geezers.
Well, my smug former self tagged along with me and the wife last week to the cordoned-off RBC Theatre of the John Labatt Centre (sorry, it’s an insipid Yankee brew; I will not call that place the Bud) to catch a performance by (ahem) Brit Floyd. And I must say the holier-than-thou turd couldn’t have been less pleasant company. Repeatedly throughout the concert he’d give me a dig in the ribs to mutter darkly, “I thought we weren’t ever going to succumb to this particular form of pathos,” or, “I think these chaps need to listen to that record a little more closely,” and, “These cowards aren’t going near anything before Meddle,” then bellowing, “Come on, you pussies, let’s hear Matilda Mother!” At that point my wife slapped him and told him to stuff a sock in it. Continue Reading
The Yodeller’s most faithful correspondent, Sandra Barker, often touches on issues in her letters to the editor that resonate with me; never more so than in last issue’s heartfelt plea that we not overlook the importance of the built environment – of what some glibly dismiss as mere bricks and mortar – in imparting a city’s identity. For those of us who alternately enjoy and suffer from our status as lifelong Londoners, the sense of loss we experience when beloved cityscapes are messed with can be as acute as that deriving from the death of a relative or old friend.
Probably London’s most notorious act of architectural desecration in my adult lifetime was the demolition of an entire block’s worth of 19th century commercial buildings running along the west side of Talbot Street between Dundas and King. It was the last unbroken block of Victorian storefronts in London and their loss was doubly maddening because for a short period (thanks to the heroic efforts of lawyer David Winninger who was then an MPP in Bob Rae’s NDP government) the City had won a heritage designation to protect the block from the witless designs of developers; a protection they heedlessly threw away 25 years ago this fall.
If there was an upside to that decade-long battle to try to save the Talbot Streetscape, it was that the protesters raised such a ruckus in trying to save those buildings that citizens and politicians alike snapped out of their slumber regarding the easy destruction of London’s built heritage. We still lose more magnificent old treasures than we ought to but the pace of destruction has at least been abated from the frenzy we knew in the ‘80s. Nobody gets to set the wrecking ball swinging on heritage buildings today without a lot more consultation, argy bargy and red tape.
Bewilderingly enough (considering the appeal such institutions make to history and tradition and continuity) our two big downtown cathedrals have been among the worst culprits in recent years. No small part of the majesty of St. Paul’s Cathedral was the way it occupied its half-block sized lot, surrounded to the north, west and south by lush lawns and shady old trees. To cut through from Queens on a summer day and take the corner-shaving walkway through to Richmond was to discover a different kind of sanctuary than churches usually provide, a welcome buffer from noise and heat. While it’s still a nice place to step away from the fumes and the racket of downtown for a few minutes, the stylistic and symmetrical perfection of the church’s setting has been marred by the imposition of a klutzy diocesan office on the south lawn. Continue Reading
During those times when things go spectacularly wrong we have two institutions – the police and the press – that are supposed to help us make sure those wrongs are noted and addressed and that appropriate measures are being taken to put things right. In London recently we have had two incidents – one a major crime and the other a shabby bit of racial harassment – where, by my lights at least, each of these institutions notably failed to carry out their duties in a responsible way. London Police refused to provide proper service in the first situation by deliberately withholding important facts about a murder-suicide. And in the second situation, The London Free Press grabbed hold of a couple reports of moronic name-calling and used them to depict our entire city as a hotbed of racial intolerance.
As it was the more serious dereliction of duty, let’s start with the February 12th murder-suicide in south London about which, quite atypically, our police have refused to name either the killer or his victim. Police Inspector Kevin Heslop would only tell the press: “This is a domestic-related incident. A male killed a female and then took his own life. We’ve got the family here and they are grieving. Obviously, this is the worst imaginable scenario. They don’t want the names to be made public. We feel we have a strong obligation to the family as well as the community. We are providing some information to put context to what occurred but we are drawing a line and saying that going beyond this line is an invasion of privacy.”
Is this reticence due to some newly generated policy developed by London Police to spare the tender feelings of the relatives of cold-blooded murderers? I’m sure those relatives are having a perfectly awful time but should such concerns take precedence over the need of London citizens to be given the salient facts about a major crime committed in our midst? And how odd that we’ve never heard of London Police being mealy-mouthed about a ‘domestic-related murder-suicide’ in this way before. While no single news source has directly over-ridden the London Police’s refusal to name names or properly flesh out the details, if you compile bits gathered from different outlets, you can piece together the broad outlines of what went down: Continue Reading
Let me preface this column with an admission that when it comes to making art of any kind there are at least a thousand different pathways through the woods and which one will best serve which practitioner is just as manifold a question. Nonetheless as a lifelong resident and student of London with a broad interest in all - and a particular involvement in some - of its arts, I have come to believe that one of the most productive cultivators of art in the Forest City is this town’s atmosphere of benign neglect.
Back in the late 1960s, architect, inventor, writer and systems theorist, Buckminster Fuller, was somehow cajoled into giving a presentation to the student body of South Secondary School. On his way up to London from his home base which was then in Illinois, this excitingly unconventional thinker (then most famous for creating the geodesic dome which had housed the spectacular American pavilion at Montreal’s Expo 67) pored over some maps and did a quick surmise of our city’s situation in the world, coming up with a very useful insight that I’d never heard postulated before. Noting our approximately equal and considerable distances from the nearest major centres of Toronto and Detroit, Fuller told us, “You are too far to drive and too close to fly.” His implication was that this left us to our own devices.
This insight, simultaneously daunting and liberating, chimed beautifully with the Regionalist art explosion headed up by Greg Curnoe and Jack Chambers that was then underway in London. Unlike citizens of Hamilton or Windsor, Londoners were not so inclined to lazily rely on a gargantuan neighbour to provide our cultural amenities for us. Shunning fads and trends that were prevalent elsewhere and drawing inspiration from local sources, our artists were able to develop their own approaches and establish their own standards. And when their work started to coalesce and take flight, these artists wouldn’t have to bow for the blessing of other metropolises before their work would be acknowledged or appraised.
In a 1970 interview with Elizabeth Dingman of The Toronto Telegram, Curnoe answered the inevitable question of, “Why do you insist on living in a cultural backwater like London?” Continue Reading
Though his accomplishment is rarely acknowledged today, it was 100 years ago this winter that John Buchan pretty well invented the 20th century spy genre when his 27th book, The 39 Steps burned its way to the top of international bestseller lists and propelled its author to a literary prominence he had never known before. In a writing career that spanned 45 of Buchan’s 65 years, he wrote more than 100 books that rattled off the presses at the rate of two and three a year.
Also a distinguished journalist Buchan served terms as assistant editor of The Spectator, a war correspondent, deputy-chairman of Reuters, a publisher with Thomas Nelson, and a columnist for The Sunday Times who wrote under the penname of ‘Atticus’. His published works included meaty biographies (of Oliver Cromwell, Caesar Augustus, Montrose, and Sir Walter Scott), military histories, essays, speeches, poetry, children’s stories and even a handbook on taxation law. This productivity was particularly impressive when you take into account the ill health of a gastro-digestive nature that dogged Buchan for most of his adult life. There are photographs of him, particularly in his last decade, where he appears positively cadaverous.
The Scottish-born Buchan trained at Oxford as a barrister and was driven all his life by his Presbyterian faith and a straight-arrow sense of service to his country that was only sharpened by his experiences running the Ministry of Information in World War I. A speech writer for two British Prime Ministers, the crescendo of Buchan’s political/diplomatic career (he’d served as a colonial officer in South Africa and as an elected MP for eight years) was achieved in 1935 when he was appointed the 15th Governor General of Canada – an office he filled with rare distinction until his death in 1940. Buchan instituted the Governor General’s Literary Awards in 1937, and was the first governor general to travel to every section of the country including the Arctic. His final and most personal novel, Sick Heart River, is set in Canada and exudes a profound love for the country; a love that in very large measure his adopted countrymen returned.
Never let it be said that I don’t know how to pick the perfect movie for a 38th wedding anniversary date. What could be better for sparking a little romance than a film about a parcel of Boston-area Catholic priests banging little boys’ bottoms and (with the ass-covering assistance of religious and civil authorities of every stripe) getting away with it for decades? I’ve been a Catholic for seven years less than I’ve been a husband; my wife finally swam the Tiber last year. It might appear that in choosing Spotlight for our anniversary outing I was not so subtly testing the resolve of her conversion. Or was I perhaps seizing on the opportunity to finally share out some of the resentment and contempt that every Catholic ends up wearing because of the despicable nature and alarming scope of this scandal which, once it broke open in Massachusetts, was then uncovered in diocese after diocese all around the globe?
I actually think my prime motivation is that I’ve always been a sucker for movies about newspapers and how they operate and had heard great things about Spotlight. Also, I’ve missed Michael Keaton during his 10 year furlough from the A-list; an exile which came to an end with his perfectly stunning performance in 2014’s Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) as an ageing writer/actor with a lethal dose of performance anxiety. There’s a mildly crazed edginess to Keaton which I’ve always enjoyed – sort of like Jack Nicholson but somehow with a lot less baggage. Though the story took some pretty preposterous turns, I thought Ron Howard’s The Paper (1994) starring Keaton as a nervy city editor beautifully captured the feel and the appeal of the ink-stained life. And so I was interested to see what Keaton might pull off here as Robbie Robinson, the real-life leader of the investigative ‘Spotlight’ team at The Boston Globe who, 14 years ago this month, broke the story that brought down Cardinal Bernard Law and the horrifically cynical culture of corruption he had allowed to operate in his diocese.
To the movie’s immense credit, it is acknowledged that the newspaper – along with the cops, lawyers, teachers, principals and, in some cases, even the families of victims – played their part in enabling the priestly abusers to continue their destructive behaviour virtually unchecked. As one of the characters opines: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” The crimes that were being committed were so shocking and unsavoury – so humiliatingly at odds with what people wanted to believe – that again and again over the preceding decades, victims were bought off with a cash settlement and a requirement that they shut up, news tips were ignored and left unexplored and what unsettling stories did come to light were downplayed and buried deep in the metro section.