Friday 18 November 2016


You know the interior decorating rules for airports:
-       No colour. Stick to gray and black. White allowed where grubby fingers can’t reach it.
-       No soft surfaces. Stick to tile and metal.
-       Super-sized electronic advertisements for luxury goods, in the best of taste.

What can you say in favour of airport d├ęcor? It’s impeccable. This is minimalism at its grandest. Wait. Can you use “minimalism” and “grand” in the same sentence?

What possible objections could you have to airport decor?  It’s soulless. People seem sadly out of place, messing up the clean outlines. This is the home of robots.

How do you compensate for the cold esthetics?  With soulful sound effects.  You ride in the sleek, gray, silent shuttle between terminals and suddenly there it is, coming at you over the PA system: the clanging of cow bells, a contented moo, canned yodeling. No, I’m not making this up.

But come to think of it: Why not the sound of cuckoo clocks?

Tuesday 8 November 2016


First experience: The other day I bought placemats at Bed Bath & Beyond. The price on the tag was $ 2.99. When I checked my bill I discovered that I'd been charged $ 4.99. I brought this to the attention of the woman at the customer service desk. Without blinking an eye, she told me that the $ 2.99 were American Dollars.

Hello? I said. The last time I checked, Toronto was in Canada. I expect the price to be in Canadian Dollars. She conceded my point after some back and forth and refunded the difference.  

BTW, what exchange rate are these people using?

Second experience: The next day I bought an eyeliner at Shoppers Drug Mart. After getting over my sticker shock – the advertised price was $ 33 -- I found that the cashier had billed me $ 40. I pointed out the price difference. She didn’t give me any argument but very sternly declared: I will change the price for you this time. Meaning, she will overcharge me again next time?
Well, thanks for the favour!

Tuesday 1 November 2016

#AMREADING James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room.

This novel, first published in 1956, has been reissued in 2013, establishing Baldwin’s place among the genuinely indispensable American writers (Saturday Post). Here are some memorable passages from the book:

A young American travels to Paris, trying to find himself, as we say in America. This is an interesting phrase, not current as far as I know in the language of any other people.

Or is he losing himself in Paris? Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don’t know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it.

He falls in love with Giovanni.I did not dare to mention Hella. I could not even pretend to myself that I was sorry she was in Spain. I was glad. I was utterly, hopelessly, horribly glad. I knew I could do nothing whatever to stop the ferocious excitement which had burst in me like a storm. I could only drink, in the faint hope that the storm might thus spend itself without doing any more damage to my land.

He moves in with Giovanni. Our life together held a joy and amazement which was newborn every day. Beneath the joy, of course, was anguish and beneath the amazement was fear…anguish and fear became the surface on which we slipped and slid, losing balance, dignity, and pride.

But when Hella returns to Paris, he took her in his arms and something happened then. I held her very close in that high, dark train station, with a great confusion of people all about us, jut beside the breathing train. She smelled of the wind and the sea and of space and I felt in her marvelously living body the possibility of legitimate surrender.