Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Saying goodbye to Chapters in downtown Montreal

So here, in a single image, is what we're losing. OK, fair enough: here is what, as a Canadian writer, I'm losing. Sheena took this shot of Our Hero at Chapters in downtown Montreal last November. Faithful readers will recall the VIA-Rail, Cross-Canada, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza? Montreal provided highlights, notably a fantastic
books-and-breakfast event organized by Paragraphe bookstore, the best in the city, and one of the best in the entire country. But also I signed books at Indigo and here at Chapters, on Ste. Catherine Street at Stanley. Now we learn (see link below) that this 35,000 square-foot store will close on October 4. And about that I feel sad. Obviously, if this had happened last year, I would have signed (and sold) none of the books pictured here. But also: check out the second photo. I apologize for not recalling the name of this Chapters staffer. But I tell you this: he was wonderful. He raced around the store collecting copies of 50 Canadians, and piled them neatly,  and provided a pen . . . all with enthusiasm and great good cheer. For me, he provided a classic bricks-and-mortar moment.  Some people knock the chains. But I, for one, feel sorry to say goodbye to this particular Chapters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Arctic Explorer John Rae nears Westminster Abbey

A recent flurry of newspaper reports made it official. They appeared in The Scotsman, The Orcadian, The Glasgow Sunday Herald, and The Times (Scottish edition). Arctic explorer John Rae is soon to be recognized in Westminster Abbey.
David Ross, Highland Correspondent for the Herald, produced a quote from the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverand Dr. John Hall. Following discussions with Alistair Carmichael, who is Secretary of State for Scotland and MP for Orkney and Shetland, Dr. Hall said:
"I have agreed that a memorial should be placed to Dr John Rae of Orkney in the Abbey near that to Sir John Franklin. I plan to dedicate a ledger stone to the Arctic explorer in the Chapels of St John the Evangelist, St Michael and St Andrew to the west of the North Transept on September 30." See for yourselves by clicking here.
Another excellent piece, which appeared in The Orcadian, drew attention to The John Rae Society website, which is conducting a fund-raising compaign.  
Many of you know all this. I highlight it here to put it on the record. The Forces of Darkness (those who, having a vested interest, continue to undermine John Rae) are with us still. As we approach Westminster, we can expect a flurry of denial, distortion, and obfuscation. Nobody familiar with the three books illustrated here -- Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and The Arctic Journals of John Rae -- will be surprised. John Rae lives!

Monday, June 16, 2014

James Joyce turns up in Dublin to celebrate Bloomsday

James Joyce is alive and well today in Dublin. He has surfaced in multiple incarnations and numerous places to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Bloomsday. That’s the day -- June 16, 1904 – during which the action of Ulysses unfolds in what Joyce called “dear, dirty Dublin.” Rambling around the city today, everywhere we went, we encountered people tricked out in Edwardian gear, playing characters in the novel – Leopold and Molly Bloom, Stephen Dedalus – but also looking like Joyce himself in middle age, when he wrote his masterpiece. The James Joyce Centre has been celebrating all week, running Joycean walking tours and talks, marking the 100th
anniversary (also this year) of the publication of Dubliners, and – would you believe it? – sponsoring a Joycean Literary Pub Crawl. The main photo on the front page of today’s Irish Times features two women participating in an egg-and-spoon race as part of a Bizarre Bloomsday Brunch, and on Page 7 we discover another   page-dominating colour photo from the festivities, this one deriving from a street event mounted by the Here Comes Everybody Players from Boston, Mass. At that point, we’re shading into Finnegans Wake (no apostrophe), which features a Here-Comes-Everybody refrain that is beginning to look prophetic. The Times also reveals that dancer Michael Flatley, the Irish-American star of the original Riverdance, owns the bronze medal won by Joyce in a singing competition in Dublin in 1904. 
An urban myth had him throwing it into the River Liffey in a fit of pique. As we wandered from the James Joyce Centre to Davy Byrne’s Pub, checking out bookstore displays and sundry shenanigans, Sheena Fraser McGoogan snapped photos.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Three reasons why I hate Oslo

For a Torontonian, Oslo is easy to hate. Already, I have several reasons, but I will confine myself to three. Number one is Bygdoy, the “Museum Island of Oslo.” In a previous post, I mentioned the Fram Museum, which houses both the Fram and the Gjoa, two ships that played major roles in the exploration of the Arctic. Yes, here they are, beautifully preserved at Bygdoy, and presented with a vast array of polar-exploration material, including even three of my own books. How large an avalanche are we expected to handle? And today, revisiting Bygdoy, we had to deal with two equally overwhelming experiences: the Viking Ship Museum, which houses three ships salvaged from the 800s (not a misprint),  and the Norwegian Folk Museum, which is like Upper Canada Village or Black Creek Village, but with a far longer history.
Bygdoy alone would make me hate this city. But Oslo offers a welter of corollary reasons. Number two has to be the spectacular waterfront. OK, it can’t quite compare with that of Sydney, which is arguably the most beautiful in the world. But that is mainly because, with a metro-population of 1.5 million, Oslo is considerably smaller. Even so, a Torontonian has to face a transit system that works, and that includes not just buses, LRTs, and subways, but also ferries that transport commuters up and down an eye-popping fjord to towns and communities along the water, always in the never-ending sunshine. And the waterfront itself features a superb promenade lined with high-end restaurants, in which you can sit and watch the passing parade of sailboats and kayaks and cruise ships. For a Torontonian, it’s mortifying.

The third reason I hate Oslo is Edvard Munch. Everybody knows The Scream, his most famous painting, but that is just one of numerous towering works he created. I know this because Oslo has devoted an entire museum to Munch, as well a vast room in the National Gallery. Munch evokes and represents this city’s attitude towards its great artists and writers, which is one of pride and joyful celebration. Any Torontonian, and indeed any Canadian, knows that the appropriate posture is one of indifference and disdain. So there you have it, three good reasons to hate Oslo: the Museum Island, the waterfront, Edvard Munch. If those seem insufficient, we have a couple more days here, and already I see more reasons coming.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Our Hero hangs with the Last of the Vikings

I'm a Roald Amundsen man myself. But Fridtjof Nansen was also quite the explorer. We got to touch base today with both, here at the Fram Museum in Oslo. That's Our Hero aboard the Fram, with which Nansen made polar history. Yes, you can actually go aboard and wander around. Here you see
me shaking hands with the giant himself, immediately beneath the ship. As for The Last of the Vikings, that's the tite of a book I reviewed here a couple of years back. And below, I play the familiar with Amundsen and his fellows. All photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan. And this, of course, is not the half of it. An AMAZING plaee!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kanye and Kim Kardashian follow us to Castlemartyr Resort

Writers and artists are invariably ahead of the curve. The rich and the famous are usually just one step behind. Case in point: Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are spending their honeymoon at Castlemartyr Resort, a five-star extravaganza in the south of Ireland. We read about this in today's Toronto Star. As it happens, I spent a bit of time at this resort with Sheena -- who took the photo above -- two seasons ago. Spring, 2012. We were about to embark on a voyage around Ireland with Adventure Canada (AC), the Ontario-based travel company. In Dublin, we learned that our ship had been delayed by stormy seas. We would not be able to board near Cork on schedule . The folks at AC's head office made some calls. They located Castlemartyr, which could accommodate an influx of 80 or 90 people on short notice, and cut a deal. We did not arrive in "a fleet of limousines," as Kanye and Kim are said to have done, but rather in a couple of buses. But when we tumbled out, wow! We knew we had come to the right place. At the link above, or from Tourism Ireland, you can read about the golf, the horses, the fine dining. But what we enjoyed most, apart from the splendiferous grounds, and learning about the history of the place, was the heated pool. The water is ozone-treated, apparently, and as I dutifully did my lengths, I swear I felt it caressing me. Oh, and the pool is surrounded by two-storey glass windows with stunning views of the magnificent gardens. No, we did not stay in the presidential suite, where Kanye and Kim are holed up. But our huge suite was perfectly adequate for our needs, thank you very much. We had toyed with the idea of returning to Castlemartyr Resort, but now that the rich and the famous have discovered it, probably we won't. Someone has to maintain that cutting edge.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Marvelling at the legacy of Farley Mowat

Our Hero writes in the National Post . . .
The recent death of Farley Mowat at 92 sparked heartfelt reminiscences and stirred up old controversies. But the most interesting question, going forward, concerns legacy. Some of us contend that Mowat was a giant. For starters, we cite numbers: 45 books, 60 countries, and (ballpark) 15 million
copies sold. But if, as a writer, Mowat was a Gulliver in Lilliput, and not just commercially, then surely he left a legacy? He must have established or advanced some literary tradition? Profoundly influenced younger Canadian writers?
The answer is an emphatic yes. Born May 12, 1921, Mowat energized not only the Baby Boomers, my own generation, but younger writers. Before going further, a clarification: as a Canadian, Mowat is often linked with Pierre Berton, who was born ten months before him. Both were prolific, larger-than-life personalities published by Jack McClelland. Both wrote mainly nonfiction.
But Berton, who cut his professional teeth as a journalist, became famous for sweeping Canadian histories: The National Dream, The Invasion of Canada, Vimy, The Great Depression, The Arctic Grail. Contemporary Canadian historians who achieve readability while tackling big themes are working in a tradition established by Berton and Peter C. Newman (The Canadian Establishment, Company of Adventurers). Think of Margaret Macmillan and Paris, 1919, or of Christopher Moore and 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. Think of such military historians as Tim Cook, Mark Zuelke, and Ted Barris.
Farley Mowat did not write history. He took a keen interest in prehistory, in archaeology and legend, and so produced West-Viking and The Farfarers. But looking back at his long career in context, we discover that Mowat was Canada’s first writer of creative nonfiction (CNF). . . .