Outside of the cyclist-friendly Sam James Coffee House. If only every Toronto business displayed such a sign.


On this long-planned day of no plans whatsoever, I have been obsessively poring through the Photojojo archives despite (a) not being a particularly great photographer and (b) owning neither a DSLR or Photoshop. But none of that mattered when I came across this post about this artist who set a digital camera to its long exposure setting, set it up on a tripod, and aimed it at his laptop screen while flipping through a Facebook album.

So I messed around with that for a bit using a Facebook photo album of photos I took in Hay-on-Wye and ended up with this nifty image of the inside of Murder and Mayhem (the town’s crime/mystery bookstore) superimposed on the outside of Murder and Mayhem.

I also vacuumed and dusted the whole living room and made a serious dent in Country Driving by Peter Hessler today. Not bad for a Saturday whose only plans involved an afternoon trip to the pub.

Sargasso by Phillip Beesley

Luminato ended last weekend, so you can’t go see Brookfield Place transformed into the Snow Queen’s dancehall anymore. This building (which will always be the BCE Place to me) is my favourite in the whole city, and I love when it gets used for massive public art installations like this one.

Advice to new cyclists

June 24, 2011

Pretend that getting on your bicycle turns you into a two-wheeled centaur.

It has come to my attention from several sources that, in my 3+ years of coordinating the National Post’s Popcorn Panel (and therefore seeing a lot more , I have become a cynical curmudgeon who hates everything. My initial response to this, naturally, was that I wouldn’t hate everything if everything churned out by Hollywood wasn’t so crappy. But then I read over a few old Popcorn Panels and realized that yeah, I’m a bit of a crank. (Of course, it’s only because I idealistically try to demand that the level of general discourse and entertainment be raised, but whatever.) So I’m going to make a concerted effort to look for the good in even the emptiest of blockbusters that I have to watch.

Let’s start with this week’s movie, Green Lantern:

– Ryan Reynolds is very handsome. So is Mark Strong, even as a CGI-ed purple alien dude – those eyebrows!
– The look of joy on Reynolds’ face when the fish-head guy first shows him how to fly is delightful. I just love any flying sequence.
– That nasty chartreuse of fear is really very ugly and probably legitimately evil.
– I liked how the Guardians looked like they’d wandered over from the set of Labyrinth.
– The moral is something about Hal Jordan’s humanity being his greatest asset, even though humans are younger and weaker than all the other crazy alien Lanterns, which is nice.


In the quaint Chinese town of Dali, our cellphones were starting to run out of juice and we needed a reliable way to wake up in time to catch a bus to Lijiang the next morning. Fortunately, we were in China, where things like tiny alarm clocks are made. Unfortunately, neither of us speak a word of Mandarin, not even “thank you”, which seemed to be pronounced differently in every town we visited. But on one of the main shopping strips of Dali, a clever man was selling tiny clocks. Trying to minimize our fairly obvious ignorant touristdom, we timidly approached the shop, pointed to a clock, and said “alarm clock?” The clever clock salesman rolled his eyes at us, picked up a clock and said “di-di-dit! di-di-dit!” Our eyes lit up with recognition and delight at the obvious universal phrase for alarm clock. And now we treasure our little pink di-di-dit.

Last week I saw the new Woody Allen movie and blabbed about how I wish I’d come of age in the 1920s so I kind of loved it even though it’s actually pretty terrible and Owen Wilson is basically the worst unless he’s animated but anyway I just really like when famous people get dressed up to look like other famous people and here’s the Popcorn Panel we wrote about it.

Remember in Everyone Says I Love You that party where everyone is the Marx Brothers? I’m always hoping that every party I go to will be that party and I’m always disappointed when it isn’t.

I was a bit shocked when I got to that age where everyone starts to wax nostalgically about the entertainments of their childhoods and when I was all “guys guys remember Betty Boop” everyone who had a normal childhood said “of course not, Alison, why did you grow up in the 1930s?” My family was the proud possessor of a Beta VCR well after everyone around us had purchased a VHS and the only Beta tapes available at the video store was obscure crap starring the less talented siblings of movie stars. So our options were limited to the stuff my father could find at this one hold-out Beta store in New York, where he went on business several times a year. And this store seemed to have a stock made up entirely of cartoons made between 1925 and 1960.

And that’s why I know every Cab Calloway song and trees and houses that breath in rhythm seem completely normal. What?

This particular cartoon has always been one of my favourites, mainly because of how the mother cat turns into a bed and also because Fearless Fred is a mega dreamboat. And “let’s put out the lights and go to sleep” remains a solid solution for dealing with any problem. See? Betty Boop. More educational than Dora the Explorer.

If you buy your books anywhere besides an independent bookstore, we’re going to have words. So unless you really need Heather Reisman telling you what to read (in which case I can’t help you), just stop it. If you live in Toronto, you have no excuse: you’re spoiled for choice in regards to beautiful independent bookstores full of personality. I’m certainly biased, but I’m also right. There is nothing like a great bookshop staffed by people who live for books and can recommend seventeen books that you or your dad or your grandma or your little sister who doesn’t even read would love. A great bookstore immediately feels like home. Chapters feels like a mall that happens to sell books. A great bookstore sells books, not soap. Sheesh.

The first bookstore to be celebrated in what will probably be a regular feature with me rambling about my favourite bookstores and how great they smell is Nicholas Hoare, the obvious choice since they (somewhat mystifyingly) employed me for six years and taught me any number of useful things, like how to build a fire and how short skirts sell more books.

(I stole this lovely picture from the website of author Terry Fallis. I trust he won’t mind, as he seems to be a fan of the place himself.) Nicholas Hoare is a just plain beautiful store. Golden wood with forest green trim, high ceilings, fireplace, skylight, library ladders that make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale – it never got old, even while working there all the time. And it smells great, especially when the fireplace is going. People would walk through the door and need to stop for a second to take it in. The thing I miss most about the place is always smelling like books. I thought about trying Demeter’s Paperback perfume, but it just wasn’t the same as standing in a room full of books for eight hours a day. I haven’t been on the payroll for years, but I still stop in to the Hoare whenever I’m in the neighbourhood to say hello and inhale the glorious scent of paper.

They’ve undergone a change of management since I worked there, but it’s more or less the same place. The stock leans towards British (especially in the mysteries), but they’ve got a thorough selection of new releases in both fiction and non-fiction, a great cookbook section, and tons of gorgeous art books. They’ve also become effective Twitterers – you can follow them here for book advice and author spottings. Everyone there is lovely and well-read and helpful if you need it, but unobtrusive if you just want to browse in silence.

And one time I sold two books of poetry to Princess Vespa.