Sunday, 7 October 2018

A Prayer for Len E Carmella

Dear friends.
It is with great sadness that I share the news that our good friend Len E. Carmella passed away on August 18, 2018. Lenny was just 64. I have pasted below a brief obit and details of his celebration of life.

Leonard Eugene Carmella, 64, of Zellwood, Florida, passed away August 18, 2018. He was born July 29, 1954 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Mr. Carmella is preceded in death by his sister Christine Puskas. He is survived by his loving wife Karen Sue Carmella; son L. Eoghan (Natasha) Carmella of Wales; sister Lenna C. Lipman and several nieces and nephews.

Celebration of Life

Kat’s Vine & Tap

1061 W. Orange Blossom Trail

Apopka, Fl 32712

(In Victoria’s Plaza)

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Starting at 6:30PM/Music & Art Show at 7:30

After a string of deadlines and a little personal time off I went back to my computer to discover this message from a colleague from my university days at The Loyola News.  We were a crew of many differences and no shrinking violets, which is what I guess you'd expect from a bunch of opinionated young journalists.  Anyhow, we became incredibly close despite our differences and to this day the vast majority of us are involved in communications and media.

This October is when I learned of Len E's passing and it was truly sad.  Len was our cartoonist and had an acerbic wit.  Being the Entertainment Editor, I had a keen interest in Len E's talent and his ability to communicate ideas and humour through images.  We became fast friends.

The only way I could make sense of his sudden death was to summon one of my favourite memories of Len, whose visual art practice also included fashion illustration and painting.  My favourite memory is of me modelling for Len E in his apartment in Montreal on a Wednesday afternoon.  I was wearing a midnight blue satin negligee–very vintage.  I think there was a Vermouth martini in the picture somewhere.

Anyhow, our creative adventure was interrupted by a knock on the door.  It turns out it was the landlord come to collect the rent.  Len invites him into the apartment and goes to get the payment.  I felt a little silly but any discomfort I might have felt was overcome by my surprise when I recognized the landlord.  It was Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who was famous even back in the seventies for his advocacy of pro-choice. (Today there are five clinics across Canada.) He had been in the news after his first clinic was targeted by pro-life protesters. Morgentaler was a frequent subject of death threats but he had withstood internment in Dachau and he wasn't going to give in.   

So, all of sudden the afternoon with Len had gone from satin and martinis to religious opinions and firebombs.  It made for a charged conversation.  I will miss the ever colourful Len E Carmella.

Monday, 20 August 2018

When the Going Gets Tough, The Animal Solution

Karl-Friedrich uses his tail as a comfort blanket.
Turning on the news, regardless of your choice of outlet, is getting to be a daunting task.  Mass shootings, natural disasters, celebrity suicides and then of course there is always a steady stream of Trump antics.  It used to be that Canada was the "safest" compared to the United States or other international continents.  But this summer, we've had our share of all of it: raging wild fires in multiple provinces, the shootings in New Brunswick and Ontario, the passing of Ricki Genest a.k.a Zombie Boy, and Trump's tariffs.  Even in Newfoundland and Labrador there is much handwringing over the fate of Saudi students at the province's university.  All these events are recent and in addition to anything else you might have already been worrying about.  Summer movies aren't a sufficient escape.

I've noticed that there has been a corresponding spike in animal stories on television, radio and print media.  Cats have dominated the internet for awhile.  All joking aside, I do think we are gravitating towards animal related stories as a remedy for so much bad news that is beyond our control.  Even late night TV hosts are reaching beyond their usual acerbic humour and bringing animals into the spotlight.  Steven Colbert took great glee in sharing with the public an account and video of Pancho, a dog in Spain who administers chest compressions to would be heart attack victims and then checks for a pulse by resting his furry chin against their necks.  Here's a link, if you'd like to see for yourself:

One furry criminal caught my attention–a baby red squirrel chased a man in Germany with such persistence that the man felt threatened and called the police.  The tiny rodent had probably lost its mother and was looking for a replacement.  When the police arrived on the scene the exhausted squirrel lay down on the pavement and went to sleep.  Charmed, the officers took the sleeping squirrel back to the station.  The commanding officer said they could not keep it as a mascot.  The squirrel, who had been given the name Karl-Friedrich, was brought to an animal shelter.

A theme park in France is taking advantage of its crows' clever ways and has implemented a system of reward.  When the crows collect a piece of trash, say a cigarette butt, and place it in a special waste bin, a food pellet is released as a reward. 

 Oh yes, and on Quirks and Quarks the CBC science radio program, it was reported that goats' anxiety levels in Italy were measured by satellite as an early warning system to predict volcanic eruptions. 

Goat participating in Icarus project in Sicily.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Just Be Gemma

Last week was Pride Week in St. John's.  It is good to see that the week-long event has become more than a marketing ploy with rainbow flags in store windows or even a token ceremony at City Hall.  Pride Week has become a much more inclusive event, with family flair, with readings in bookstores by drag king Doctor Androbox and art activities at The Rooms.  Gender inclusive washrooms were noted in programs.  Times really seem to be changing.
Dr. Androbox at Chapters bookstore.

The documentary that traces Gemma Hickey's gender transition over a two year period was also screened at The Rooms.  This documentary is the product of Peter Walsh and his style is understated.  The result is a film that is intimate rather than dramatic and shows a much more vulnerable side to Gemma Hickey.  Hickey (no relation to me) is well known as a social activist, especially as they have championed same sex marriage, fought for survivors of clergy abuse and most recently gender neutral birth certificates.  Clearly, no shrinking violet.
Peter Walsh (left) and Gemma Hickey(right) with film poster.

The film starts with Gemma's first day of testosterone therapy.  Since 2014, there have been a spate of tv programs–both "reality" and dramatic– like "I am Jazz", "Transparent" or "I am Cait" that have banked on the growing interest in gender identity.  What makes "Just Be Gemma" outstanding amid this crop of films is its subtlety.  This is not a simple case of transitioning from one gender to another.

There's a very moving section in Hickey's story when she consults with her Nan, who is the family wise woman and matriarch.  Hickey shares that she doesn't know whether she wants to be a boy or a girl.  Nan's advise is to "just be Gemma".  And it is that process of discovery that is the film's strength.  It is not about binary definitions, sensational surgery or miracle hormones.  This documentary reflects on what  is lost and what is gained and an evolving sense of self that impacts a whole family and community.  The film is a coproduction of CBC.  Here's the link:

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Everything from yacking to yoiking

Frode Fjellheim
Last night (Saturday July 7/18) was another jam packed evening of talent and good camaraderie at the Sound Symposium.  Even before the opening act there was a tangible good vibe that filled the LSPU Hall.  To me, this is one reason that makes the Symposium so extraordinary.  Not only do you get to experience astonishing talent on stage but you get to talk with the performers afterwords.  I am always impressed by the feeling of community that develops in such a short time at the Symposium.  It is a pressure cooker of musical and sonic talent.  It seems to bring out the best in so many people.

It would be difficult for me to pick a favourite from last nights’ musicians.  Hildegard Westerkamp’s multilayered recorded set based on boat horns was delightful.  Bill Horist’s guitar stylings was a surprise (at least for me) and Frode Kjellheim and Snorre Bjerck’s performance was nothing short of memorable.  I think everyone’s favourite new verb is yoiking.

Frode Kjellheim’s interpretation of yoiking is a soulful blend of jazz and Nordic traditions.  I thought he played the keyboard with tenderness.  Combine this with Snorre Bjerck’s percussion and you indeed have something special.  I particularly liked how he played the rim of his drum set.
Snorre Bjerk

What I also found intriguing is how so many music traditions were brought sensually together by Kjellheim and Bjerk.  Was that really Turkish neh I heard blended in the composition?  And Bjerk’s use of ankle bells reminded me of Kathakali temple dancing.    Don’t get me started on his brush work.  Speaking of dancing, it took every shred of my self-discipline just to stay seated.  I know for certain I was not alone in that regard.  It was a comment I heard from several audience members.

My only regret of the evening is that I knew we would run out of time before music.  But that’s what happens when you have so much talent in one room.  Thank you to the staff and volunteers for another wonderful Sound Symposium!  I am sure St. John’s, especially for such a sparsely populated city, is the envy of many provinces in this country.  

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

The Red and the White of Canada Day

I hope I never have to read another book like this one, Seven Fallen Feathers, Racism, Death, And Hard Truths In A Northern City.  This is worse than dystopian fiction.  Sadly, all these stories are true and exhaustively researched by award winning journalist Tanya Talaga.  Seven Fallen Feathers was on my radar when it made the CBC Canada Reads challenge.  I have been on something of a year-long marathon of learning about Indigenous culture.  When a friend gave me a copy, it fit perfectly in my purse and it became my go-with-me-everywhere book.  As it turns out, I was very glad to read it in short bursts of time and in waiting rooms, airport lobbies, etc  The stories it tells are hard and harrowing–as Katherena Vermette says in her review.  I found them so harrowing that I had to keep putting the book down and I was glad when I was not alone. 

Seven Fallen Feathers is heavy medicine and I could only take it in small doses.  When I read that Canada's Indian Act had been used as a template for Apartheid in South Africa, I felt physically ill.

Another curious thing occurred about taking the book with me and reading in public.  There were frequent, spontaneous conversations with strangers.  It seemed everyone had an opinion or their own heart breaking tale to share.  I met two people with direct experiences in Thunder Bay that included open acts of racism (like having a beer bottle thrown at your head from a passing car) and the tragedy of suicide within the family.  All of a sudden being a Canadian meant something different to me.

Alanis Obomsawin
Thankfully, the darkness of these bleak truths was somewhat alleviated by the National Film Board's Wide Awake Series.  This initiative addresses the need for more women filmmakers and especially Indigenous women filmmakers.  So far, there have been 900 free screenings across Canada that showcase these films.  Last week I was able to attend two, here's a snippet from the press release:

Our People Will Be Healed is 85-year-old Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film. It follows a school in a Cree community that experienced a remarkable increase in high school graduates after introducing ancestral culture to the curriculum. 

Both of the film presentations were accompanied by Q&A sessions and social events.  This gave us a chance to learn more about Obomsawin's and Clements' creative vision and decades long careers.  Obomsawin had a lovely grace about her too and I could only wish to "grow up" and be like her.

Marie Clements
The film on the next evening was The Road Forward, Marie Clements’ stunning musical documentary about First Nations activism, told through seven story-songs, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians.  I will never forget the opening scene where the keystrokes of a 1920s typewriter are paired up with the urgent sound of a tribal drum.  The ensemble acting in this film was seamless and the collection of activist musicians from across Nations was inspiring.  Please let there be a CD released of this soundtrack!  Anyhow, long story short –these two films tell much-needed, honest, good news stories of resilience.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Ranting versus reviewing

“The unexamined life is not worth living” or so the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates supposedly said–and I am willing to bet that if he were alive today he’d add something like, “and bitching doesn’t count”.  Socrates was a proponent of critical thinking, which is often confused with criticism.  

I’ve been pondering the topic of critical thinking because I am currently involved as a mentor in a critical art writing project organized by CARFAC Saskatchewan.  Decades ago, when I first starting writing art criticism there was much more of a cult of the critic.  Print media encouraged coverage of the novel and the controversial and that certainly rubbed off on art critics.  “Painter paints picture” is hardly news nor were most journalists trained to analyze fine art.  What happened is that we ended up with human interest stories about artists, often with a regional slant, or articles that focused on the financial aspects.  It was a narrative approach or story telling, if it was an outrageous story or an extraordinary event all the better.  Think of finding a Maud Lewis at a flea market for a fraction of its market value.

What troubles me most is that the negativity that is sometimes attached to criticism has morphed into something more potentially sinister.  Ranting is replacing reviewing.  The well reasoned argument has changed into a seductive sound byte or a punchy tweet.  Now that we are equipped with phones that rival professional video and audio capacity combined with near-immediate access to digital broadcast platforms there is little to hold back the unfiltered “really, really stupid” comments.  Everyone can become a critic of almost any topic–and one without an editor. We live in a visual culture and unfortunately lots of finger waving and fast paced, loud talking mixed in with animated exclamation marks can be convincing to a surprising number of people.

Perhaps we are vulnerable to caustic ranting because we live in a society that is equal parts anxious and distracted.  We are over-stimulated and our attention span is splintered. We consume flashy headlines but not balanced debate. The more uncertain the future becomes the more attractive is a romanticized version of a slow-motion past.  We are bombarded with tragic and frightening events both at home and globally. A dose of gallows humour may relieve stress but it is no match for the roar of the rant.

Monday, 14 May 2018

A Transfusion of Colour

Susan Parson's painting on the traffic box was a welcome boost.
My Mother's Day was not turning out the way I had hoped.  Without going into details, my plans and expectations went awry but I knew better than to complain.  I didn't want to feel sorry for myself.  Instead, I prescribed myself a walk in the sunshine.  At least I could count on a Newfoundland breeze to clear the cobwebs from my mind.  Instinctively, I reached into my closet to put on the brightest piece of clothing I had.  No black outfits today.

Colour has been my remedy on many occasions.  When I first moved to St. John's, I couldn't get over the persistent grey skies and fog, which I knew would affect my moods and my comfort with my new home town.  So, I painted the living room yellow.  I couldn't change the weather but I could change my immediate environment.  It's like the Russian expression, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing".  I've always been amused how men will wear navy blue business suits but women's power suits were usually a bright red.  Take charge…I decided I would also paint my toenails, what I call, rich girl red.

Fortuitously, the sun came out for my Mother's Day stroll and I was rewarded on what could have been a day of drudgery.  When I went to Churchill Square to do some errands I was greeted by an eye-catching piece of traffic box art by Susan Parsons.  It was a giant sunflower against a vivid blue sky.  The yellow and blue painting sings with optimism. 
Katie Voutour's Crayons appeals to the kid in me.

The traffic box program is a project of Clean St. John's and has the goal of local beautification.  The transformed box I encountered is one of forty nine in the city; the project started in 2012.  With at least 100 boxes in the city there is plenty more "canvas" for local artists. Each year, a call for artists goes out and eight proposals are selected.  Most of the imagery is upbeat but is definitely not ho-hum.  Encouragingly, I have never seen any of the artwork on these boxes defaced.  The success of the St. John's project has spread to nearby Mount Pearl and Torbay.

And on a positive note, my Mother's Day ended with two of my favourite young servers giving me three red and three yellow roses.