Monday, August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

2391 Wall Street

I remember when Bill and Geoffrey told me they purchased a house on Wall Street. I said, "Is it the one -- " and Geoffrey said "Yes."

Geoffrey sent out a note a couple days ago inviting friends to bring a friend to his studio to say goodbye, maybe take with them a broom or a boxcutter.

I texted Anne to see if she is interested.

Years ago Geoffrey came upon a portrait of my seven-year-old self, painted in 1969. A friend of my father owed my father some money, and my father said, "Instead of the money, paint a portrait of my son."

For years the portrait hung in Geoffrey's studio. I doubt he will be taking it to Kauai.

Below is the only other painting of me (that I know of). It was painted by Phillip McCrum in 1997 as part of his The French Revolution series, with me "standing in" for Jean Joseph Mounier.

Here is a picture I took of Geoffrey at the Wall Street house back in the summer of 2011.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Vancouver Skies

Vancouver's smoke-fuelled, encaustic white sky is finally blueing. But I still can't see the mountains. Makes things even more surreal -- a blue sky but no mountains before it.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Still Life

Carnations in a vase with the lights on.

Thank you, Scott, for taking the above photo. I cropped it a bit (or should I say pruned?).

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pow Wow

Last Sunday Brian, Cheyanne, Eric and I drove northwest through smoky skies to the Kamloops pow wow. Not as many in attendance as last year, said Brian, with only a third of the drummers and the stands half full, but it was fun.

Nice to run into so many friends, like my former neighbour Heidi, and Tania, Peter and Ashok, as well as Toby and Tarah (pictured above, with Cheyanne, Eric and Brian).

But oh was the air bad! The advisory for that day was a 10 -- the highest ever recorded in Kamloops.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Beer School

Last Saturday was Beer School.

Scott had expressed interest in making beer.

Kevin has made beer and has most of the gear.

Eric is making beer all the time and has worked as a brew master.

The beer made on this day was a saison.

Cheyanne helped me understand what a saison is.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Yesterday started well enough, with blue skies and golden light. But then the winds changed, and all that smoke from the Caribou.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

An argument outside. Two birds, different species. The squeal of a seagull, the caw of a crow.

What are they fighting over? The crust of a sandwich? A fish head?

From the scrape it makes: a paper bag -- with a french fry in it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

CRWR 520 (13)

Of the two vehicles I drove this past year, both had CD players. During this time I kept in my work bag between eight and ten CDs, one of which included a downloaded selection of songs left behind by a hitch-hiker. Every song on this CD begins with the letter C, from the Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love” (1964) to Bad Company’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love” (1974); from Marvin Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness” (1964) to Todd Rudgren’s “Can We Still Be Friends?” (1978). Of these songs, many of them begin with women’s names. The first is the Beach Boy’s “Caroline, No” (1966), the last is the Everly Brother’s “Cathy’s Clown” (1960). None of these songs are sung by women. Written on the CD are the words “Karl’s Tape”.

For some reason I never feel like listening to Karl’s Tape while on Hwy 97. Only when I am travelling to Kelowna via Commonage do I reach for it and advance it to the fifth track, where Brian Wilson sings:

Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh Caroline, no

Who took that look away
I remember how you used to say
You'd never change, but that's not true
Oh Caroline, you

Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh Caroline, why

Could I ever find in you again
The things that made me love you so much then
Could we ever bring 'em back once they have gone
Oh Caroline no

Where did your long hair go
Where is the girl I used to know
How could you lose that happy glow
Oh Caroline, no

As sophisticated as this song is, as graciously as it moves through itself, it is difficult to relate to the sentiments of its 23-year-old author Brian Wilson who, according to jingle writer Tony Asher (the song’s co-author), wishes he could return to “simpler days.” Questions about where Caroline’s “long hair” and “glow” went, and “who took that look away,” suggest a woman unable to make her own decisions, and that these decisions bring with them the death of a “sweet thing.”

Another reading of the song is not what Caroline has lost but what she has gained -- a counter-narrative that has her liberated from a gaze that defines her as someone with attributes she is no longer -- or perhaps never was -- interested in. The only thing Caroline has “lost” in pursuing herself is the young man who yearns for who he thinks she is, based on who he thinks she was. Yet even here she is not free of him, for he clings to her in the form of a reductive lyric underscored by a Gershwinian transition of major and minor 6th, 7th and 9th chords.

I am not sure why I listen to this CD while on the Commonage route to Kelowna, though sometimes I wonder if it is related to some of the beach scenes I have seen while passing through Okanagan Centre’s lowest road -- a heavily speed-bumped, 30 km/p/h section that looks at times like those stretches of coastal California I remember as a hitch-hiker in the early 1980s. Or maybe it is related to the way “Caroline, No” so nicely sets up the track that follows it: the Beatles’ surrealistic “Come Together” (1969), where “I know you, you know me” provides the ground on which the union of two subjects recognize the irreducibility of their relational subject position, what it is “to be free.”

Thursday, August 3, 2017

CRWR 520 (13)

“The Okanagan Valley is a rich and fertile land,” said Syilx knowledge-keeper Richard Armstrong to a group of us under a UBCO pine tree during our introduction to Syilx cosmology in July of last year. My first recollection of the Valley was as a child vacationing in Kelowna with my mother in the Summer of 1969 -- that long multi-clause sentence known as the Harvey Street portion of Highway 97, where orchards and fruit stands were punctuated by motels and gas stations (and vice versa). In 1971, one of Kelowna’s largest orchards was razed to become the Orchard Park Mall. Today it is all malls -- a Las Vegas of malls -- like we see along that strip north of Nanaimo after disembarking from the Horseshoe Bay ferry.

Indigenous artists and scholars like Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Tania Willard remind us that the land gives us stories, and that these stories and the land and the bodies that convey them are indivisible. Certain Eurowestern scholars speak of the land as a medium, often in unilateral terms. In his essay “Roads and Paper Routes” (1964), media theorist Marshall McLuhan reminds us that prior to the telegraph (the first instance where “the message arrives before the messenger”) “roads and the written word were closely interrelated.” The “road stories” of post-war French cinema (from the films of Jean-Luc Godard to those of Virginie Despentes) operate similarly, with the French word ballade (“trip”) and ballade (“story”) differing only in an unpronounced “e”.

During my twelve months living in and out of Kelowna I spent a good part of my time on a ranch off Westside Road near Head of the Lake. My commuting options varied, depending on where in Kelowna I was driving to. If I was driving to my apartment in South Kelowna I would take Westside, a winding road that hugged the upper reaches of the eastern slope overlooking Okanagan Lake. If I was driving to UBCO I would head north to Hwy 97, turn right and take Old Kamloops Road south along the west side of Vernon, returning to the highway at the south end of town or remaining on the highway along the east side of Swan Lake through the centre of town and from there along Kalamalka and Wood Lakes through Winfield past Ellison Lake into Kelowna. The drive from the ranch to my apartment via Westside Road is 1hr 10 mins, the drive from the ranch to campus via Hwy 97 is exactly one hour. (The drive from campus to my apartment is 25 minutes, making the Hwy 97 route to my apartment roughly 1hr and 25 minutes, or 15 minutes longer than the Westside route.)

If I chose a particular route to go from north to south I would select the other option to travel from south to north. During the first months of my commute the ideal round-trip was a loop, with each route having its own thoughts, its own music, its own tone. But as time went on I became aware of other options, like turning the loop into a figure-eight. There is something about that crossing, where Okanagan Centre Road meets Glenmore Road, that haunts me. When I told this to one of the older punters at the Eldorado he nodded knowingly.

“The Duck Lake Gang,” he said into his pint glass.

“Where is Duck Lake?”

“Duck Lake is Ellison Lake.”

“Who was Ellison?”

“Price Ellison was a land baron who settled in the area in the 1870s. He grew wheat and raised cattle and at one time owned eighty-percent of the arable land in the north central Okanagan.”

“What does Price Ellison have to do with the Duck Lake Gang?”

“Nothing,” he said, taking a swig from his glass.

“Who is the Duck Lake Gang?”

“The Duck Lake Gang was the enemy of the Pixie Beach Gang.”

“So the two gangs had it out at the junction of Okanagan Centre Road and Glenmore?”

“Didn’t say that.”

“So what are you saying?”

“Just as well you don’t know.”

“You made this up.”

He turned to me. “Made what up? I’ve told you nothing.”

“Correction -- you’re making this up. You just don’t know how it ends yet.”

“It ends with the death of a clown named...Cathy!”

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CRWR 520 (12)

I am back at the Eldorado having drinks with the woman who took me on a tour of Mission sandbags. She called the day before to say she had some research she wanted to share, but when she showed it to me (written in looping longhand on her grandmother’s surplus steno pads) it had nothing to do with anything we had talked about and everything to do with a novel she wanted to write about her friend’s year as a sex worker in Fort McMurray.

“I read your book The Pornographer’s Palm and I thought you handled the sex scenes nicely.”

“That would make a nice blurb for the re-issue,” I told her. But before I could correct her on the title, she was telling me about the Fort Mac fire.

“The brothel burned down. I always wanted to go there -- she offered to take me on a tour of it -- but now it’s gone and I need to visit a brothel before I can write about one.”

“I’m not sure that’s something you need to do. There are other ways to write about things you haven’t experienced directly.”

“Name one,” she said accusingly.

“Well, how about janitorial work. Cleaning offices at night.”

“I’ve done that,” she said.

“Ever thought to write about it?”

“No,” she flatly.

“Okay, so you need to visit a brothel. Or better yet, you could ask your friend to tell you about the one she worked at and take notes on your steno pad.”

“I don’t think you’re taking me seriously,” she said.

“I could say the same of you,” I said, adding that the basis of our acquaintance is sandbags, and it only achieved mutuality with Polanski. We never talked about our interest in writing.

“Let’s write something together!” she beamed.

It was then that I confessed I was recording our conversation, based on her granting me permission to record her the last time we spoke.

“So we’re writing a play!” she declared.

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” I said. “But we would edit it later, boil it down, maybe find a strand to develop further.”

“How do you find these strands?” she asked. “How do you know when you’ve found one?”

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

CRWR 520 (11)

The day before the Lake Country fire I drove to Vernon via Commonage where I stopped at Okanagan Centre to take pictures of sandbags. The wharf there allowed me to get a reverse view of the sandbags as well as those huge concrete blocks the Ministry uses to retain waterfront roads. I was returning to my car when a man in his mid-60s came out of some bushes, led by his mini-me terrier.

“’Cha doin’?” he asked with a grin that suggested he knew better.

“Takin’ pictures,” I smiled.

“Snapshots,” he said looking at my phone, still grinning.

“Sure,” I said easily.

“That’s my house over there,” he pointed.

I nodded, not looking.

“C’mere,” he said as I passed him.

I turned around.

“You’re interested in something.”

“I’m interested in a lot of things,” I said.

“I have a son about your age.”

“Whom you fathered when you were ten,” I said.

“I’ll be seventy-eight in August.”

“I don’t believe you.”

In a single motion he reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and opened it to his driver’s licence.

He was sixty-four years old.

“You’re a liar,” I said.

“Yes, but I proved it, didn’t I?”

“I’m interested in sandbags,” I said. “In public space I see sandbags as emblems of collaborative activity, but in private space I equate them with capitalist accumulation. I consider it a problem worth pursuing. Can you help me?”

“I have sandbags in front of my property, and I’m a socialist.”

“How do you know you’re a socialist?” I asked.

“I know because I married one.”

“So it's infectious?” I said.

And with that he told me about the septic fields. All up and down Carr’s Landing and across the lake off Westside Road, how most of these fields were snuck in illegally, too close to the water and poorly built to boot. Nobody imagined the water rising higher than it had this April. But there are a lot of instances like that in life, and now the elements are having their say.

Monday, July 31, 2017

CRWR 520 (10)

What was supposed to be a quick drink and a picture of the pyramid turned into three drinks and another tour -- this time led by the woman from the bar. She said she knew of more sandbags, and maybe after we could have dinner at her place, watch her laserdisc of Chinatown.

The most impressive stop on the tour was off Benvoulin Road near Mission Creek. There, on the other side of a decorative cattle fence, stood a cairn of 24 sandbags (six layers of four). Most of the field was a burned-out yellow, except for a square area surrounding the cairn, which was emerald.

“Hard to imagine this grass as anything but healthy,” I said.

“Would you eat it?” the woman asked.

“If I was a cow, probably.”

I reached for my phone, to take its picture, but it was dead.

Like Heaven’s Gate (1980) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974) is a great film that, like certain wines, only gets better with age. For me it is not just the film’s layers and how its composition reorients them as such (allows them to operate diagonally, for example), but the force of one layer in particular -- water politics -- and how these politics are lost on the film’s protagonist, who is in love with someone whose life is complicated beyond his comprehension.

“Is that what you think Chinatown’s about?” the woman asked after I went on a jag about how the subtext of the film is more interesting than its love story.

“No,” I said, "it’s about a lot of things.”

“Well, if it’s about its relationship with itself, like you said, then that’s what it's about, right?”

Her pad thai was sitting poorly in my stomach. I told her she was right -- that I was right, too -- before driving back to Benvoulin to take a picture of those sandbags.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

CRWR 520 (9)

The first sandbags I saw upon my return to Kelowna this June were in the Mission: a pyramid of a hundred or so piled high in the parking lot of my winter time watering hole, the Eldorado Hotel. With the threat of flood abated, and the parking lot a madhouse of minute-by-minute boat launches and landings, I asked the bartender why the hotel had not disposed of its sandbags.

“Infection,” he said scooting past. “They’re infected.”

“With what?” I asked.

“Poorly-built septic fields,” said the woman sitting next me.

The woman has a friend who works for the City. It was her friend who said that the initial notification sent out by staffers was a ruse, that those with sandbags on their property were told not to take them to the beach and empty them because the sand was not beach sand, when the real reason was that many of these bags were now “equal parts sand and fecal matter.”

“It’s God’s will!” I thought, in honour of an earlier declaration.

“There’s a lot of crap this City passes off as truth,” said the woman.

“It’s a conspiracy!” declared the bartender scooting back.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

CRWR 520 (8)

Last summer, while residing at the UBCO campus, I accepted an invitation from a reader I sometimes correspond with to join her and her girlfriend on a driving tour. As with most Okanagan driving tours, wine is involved. But because this was billed as a “tour of my youth” -- “in honour,” she added, of a book I once wrote that functioned as a tour of Vancouver in the 1970s -- we visited spaces only teenagers know about.

One such space was atop the bluffs of the Upper Mission, where between stops at Summerhill Pyramid Winery and St. Hubertus I was shown a Quilchena Park quite different from the Quilchena Park of my youth, as well as a stretch of road affected by the Kelowna fire of 2003. Most curious about this stretch was a situation that featured two alternating phases of mansion housing, with many of these houses appearing in an “order” out-of-phase with the usual pattern of property development -- an order so random as to suggest an otherworldliness that some might associate with Surrealism.

“The most unsettling part of this fire,” the Reader began, “was not the incineration of my aunt’s house, but that the houses on either side of it were untouched.”

 It was then explained to me by the Reader’s girlfriend (a volunteer at a West Kootenay fire station) that the presence of wind and fire together allows for a condition where within seconds a canvas patio umbrella can be lifted from the ground, set ablaze and propelled through a dormer up to two miles away. (Another explanation might have it that these houses are spaced so far apart from each other -- on lots upwards of three times the size of those found in the city -- that the likelihood of one house setting fire to the one beside is almost nil.)

“It’s God’s will!” proclaimed the Reader as we pulled into St. Hubertus.

“Only if you believe in Her,” said her friend.

Friday, July 28, 2017

CRWR 520 (7)

During my twelve months living in and out of Kelowna I learned that the city has two exclusive residences: along the lake and in the hills overlooking it. As I began to explore my Mission district neighbourhood last September I found myself gravitating towards the lake. My first lakeside visit was to Boyce-Gyro Beach Park, a 100 metre stretch of sod and sand named after a man named Boyce and a service group founded in 1912 who chose the name Gyro International based on the gyroscope, which is said to “maintain a desired course and attitude regardless of outside influences.”

As an “outside influence” I found it difficult to “maintain a desired course” beyond the northern and southern edges of the park, given that those who owned lakefront properties did everything they could to complicate public access. Although I have experienced similar measures taken by property owners along Malibu Beach in Southern California, nothing compares to the prohibitive sculpture and text works installed by some of Kelowna’s lakefront owners, some of whom have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the public at bay.

Because lakefront property owners are permitted to moor their boats outside their homes, the public is often confronted with boardwalks whose design is closer to the anti-tank devices of Normandy Beach than a path from sundeck to pier. As for signage, every third house has some variant of Please respect the privacy of those living along the lake hammered into its lawn. One sign read: PLEASE DON’T LOOK AT OUR PICTURE WINDOW (of course I did). Another sign was even more invasive: DON’T EVEN THINK OF LOOKING AT OUR HOUSE!!! At which point I turned back in disgust.

With such attitudes in place, it is no wonder that the lake responded. Last April saw an unprecedented rise in water levels, erasing that thin ribbon of public beach separating the lake from its catastrophe of private homes. Suddenly those boardwalk and signpost barricades were no match for a lake that was, quite literally, rising above the public/private binary. In an effort to protect themselves, many of these homeowners constructed sandbanks.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

CRWR 520 (6)

My project for CRWR 520 focuses on collaboration both in form and in content. Originally my intention was to write on that necessarily collaborative form of sculpture known as sandbagging or, as Austen chimed-in during class, “sandbanks.” However, with the recent wildfires I am tempted to extend my project to include another collaborative action -- that social sculptural form known as the water brigade -- where people form a line and pass from one person to the next a bucket of water.

A version of the water brigade can be found in Robert Altman’s film McCabe & Mrs Miller (1971), the story of a self-centred entrepreneur who comes to a small mining town in search of opportunity only to find himself caring less about profits than protecting the town (known as Presbyterian Church) from corporate interests. This conversion, as it were, is played out at the conclusion of the film, when the entrepreneur’s confrontation of the corporation’s hired guns is juxtaposed with an attempt by townsfolk to extinguish a church fire.

Although the church fire was caused by human action (the hired guns), the rising water levels that flooded parts of the Okanagan Valley this spring were the result of natural causes (heavy snowfalls coupled with a sudden jump in temperature), events that drew attention to sandbaggers and sandbanks, but also to property relations.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

At a garage sale yesterday I found a full-length mirror. A couple blocks away at a Home Hardware I found the right kind of clips to attach it. I thought the mirror would look good on the back of my door.

Turns out the mirror looks excellent on the back of my door, but only when viewed from the side.

Monday, July 24, 2017

"Digital Realism"

The opening paragraphs from today's e-flux architecture editorial:

"The later work of Walter Benjamin was largely dedicated to understanding the constitutive elements of nineteenth century Paris; not a physical city, but as the phantasmagoric construct that gave it the right to be called "Capital.” Phantasmagoria is, in short, the idea that the image projected onto the back of our retina is that of the world itself; that the allegory of the cave is not an allegory; that the shadows on the wall are more real than the objects casting them and their source of light. The internet today is, if nothing else, the phantasmagoric apparatus of the twenty-first century. Today we do not just identify with, but as our social media profiles; mistaking the it for the I and losing ourselves everywhere in between.
The internet has, since its cultural inception, been conceived of as an emancipatory technology. If, according to Benjamin, the invention of iron and glass predicated the nineteenth century paradigm of phantasmagoria through the “emancipation" of forms of construction from art—a historical trajectory that progressed onwards with the intervention of photography, montage, and the like—what, then, has the internet has emancipated from what? Conversely, the "accidents” of the internet—surveillance, fake news, the propagation of ideological evil, doxing, etc.—forces us to critically call into question the value of this emancipation; for who, and at what cost? 
The first decades of the twenty-first century has been marked by both a proliferation of psychopathological diagnosis and the financial instrumentation of the city. While both of these contemporary phenomena can be traced back to the infrastructural affordances and sociological transformations wrought by the internet with relative ease, they are nothing particularly new as categories of historical transformation. Parallel to the overrun of Haussmann’s Paris by fraudulent real estate speculation was a medical discourse acutely aware and sensitive to the perceived impacts of the metropolis on its population’s nervous systems, from anxiety to depression, fatigue, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure and the like."