Paris: fragments of a travelogue

A beautiful Paris buildingSpent a week in Paris visiting my little sister. Had been there once before five years ago and did the main tourist circuit then, so could skip most of it this time. The one museum which I absolutely loved the first time around and did revisit was Musée d’Orsay – it’s a collection of mostly early 20th century art including a lot of art nouveau and impressionism, housed in a former train station which is ridiculously beautiful.

In terms of walking around and finding random interesting places as I usually do, Paris is kind of overwhelming. There are all these beautiful buildings one after another and nothing really stands out because there is no contrast to the plain and the ordinary. Pluck a random building from the center of Paris and transport it to any North American street and it would look absolutely remarkable. A surfeit of extraordinary buildings, on the other hand, was strangely tiring.

So instead, a few words about my favorite Parisian park and a couple of lesser-known museums worth checking out.

Promenade plantée

A section of vine-covered trellis with Parisian buildings in backgroundThis park is very well hidden and hard to just stumble upon unless you know where to look. It was built fairly recently in place of an old railway line that ran from Bastille through a central residential area. Also known as Coulée verte, it is narrow and elevated to about second-story level, running closely parallel to avenue Daumesnil, squeezed between buildings and sometimes even through buildings. It is shady, cozy and has lookout points like balconies that afford glimpses of Paris streets from above. By far the coolest park I’ve come across in Paris.

Museum of Decorative Arts

A section of a Marc Jacobs exhibit with a blue mannequin in a blue dress Located next to the Louvre on rue Rivoli, this museum is a medley of very neat exhibits. We went there looking for the museum of advertising, which turned out to be just a series of rotating exhibits in Musée des Arts Décoratifs. Currently, the advertising section is devoted to the history of the anise-flavored liqueur Ricard – posters, promotional items, bottle and glass designs from 1930s till now. This exhibit is on display in a very rough-walled, unfinished-looking set of rooms with all kinds of infrastructure showing – I loved the effect but could not honestly say if it was deliberate or if they were renovating.

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Fragments of books: Distrust That Particular Flavor

I usually prefer works of fiction to speak for themselves, without the need for behind-the-scenes commentary, the making of, or biographical information about the author. I never seek those things out and often actively avoid promotional material and reviews of those books that I know I will be reading anyway, so that someone else’s editorial commentary doesn’t get too much in the way of my own first impressions.

I guess that’s how I managed to read all of William Gibson‘s novels and short story collections without ever seeing an interview with him. I knew about his role in founding the cyberpunk genre from the university Sci Fi course that first introduced me to Neuromancer. After reading that novel, I didn’t really need to know anything else about the author because I was hooked on the fiction. It is excellent and smart and techy, with an elusive undercurrent of the arcane cutting edge.

Cover of Distrust That Particular FlavorWhen Gibson’s first non-fiction collection, Distrust That Particular Flavor, came out in January, I went to see him speak about the book as part of Toronto Public Library author talks & lectures and found that the man behind the fiction was even cooler than his cyberpunk heroes. Speaking slowly, with a calm assurance and intense intelligence, he was engaged with the audience, often funny and, perhaps by contrast with a buffoonish interviewer, seemed … regal.

Most of the nonfiction pieces collected in Distrust That Particular Flavor make the same impression their author does – they are utterly captivating. Written over the last two decades for publications such as Wired, The New York Times and The Guardian, the articles range from book and album reviews to observations of Japan, Singapore and the film industry, impressions of a pre-Google internet and details of Gibson’s own obsession with eBay, which started his antique watch collection. One of the most engaging pieces in the volume is the introduction, which details Gibson’s discomfort with writing non-fiction. Despite feeling out of his element, he pulls off nonfiction rather brilliantly.

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On the balance of daily experience

A couple of years ago I came across the idea of optimal daily experience – like a recommended nutritional intake for the mind. It was suggested that to maintain a healthy balance, there are four types of experiences that everyone should have daily: social, physical, intellectual and creative.

Here’s an example of each: lunch with a friend, a workout, a foreign language lesson, and writing a song. Daily. A daunting proposition for anyone with a 9 to 5 job, chores to do and kids to take care of.

When we’re younger, it’s easier to maintain the balance: in school or university opportunities to have a variety of daily experiences are readily available, and it’s not difficult to incorporate them into flexible student schedules.

As we grow up and get full time jobs and families, these opportunities gradually drop off. Most adults probably don’t have occasion to experience all four types in any given month, let alone every day, unless they make a conscious effort to do so.

In the last few months, I was starting to find that maintaining this balance was taking me an inordinate amount of effort.

I would go to work at an office where I’ve worked for years and where few intellectual challenges remained. The nature of the financial industry has no place for creativity. Hence I would spend a huge chunk of my day having zero-value experiences – not learning much and not creating much, just counting off the hours until I could get home, play with the kids and put them to bed and then try to squeeze the entire daily ration of learning, physical activity and artistic projects into the two hours that were left in the day.

When, a few weeks ago, I made the decision to quit that job, it was partly due to the realization that if a healthy balance of experience was that important to me, then I would have to make some very different choices to be able to maintain it. I think I was having creativity DTs.

top two panels from xkcd web comic "Choices: Part 4"

Dramatization of my internal dialogue on choices courtesy of xkcd

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Fragments of Toronto: Weston Village

We live in Ward 11 – York South-Weston – and our councillor, Frances Nunziata, regularly sends out e-newsletters about what’s going on in our ward – updates on things like major construction projects, community events, issues on the council’s agenda and even permits issued for filming in the area. I was added to the distribution list automatically after signing a petition in support of librarians during the recent Toronto Public Library strike, and so the newsletters came as a surprise, but a good one. They are really informative and mindful of many community aspects that I wouldn’t be aware of otherwise.

However, since we live at the southernmost edge of Ward 11 – closer to Bloor West Village than the rest of York South-Weston, I would read these newsletters and not recognize most of the place names mentioned in them. So yesterday I looked up a few of these streets and landmarks and found many of them clustered in the area known as Weston Village, located between Jane St. and Weston Rd. north of Lawrence Ave.; this is the area I went to explore.

Now, Jane Street is a major commercial and transit artery though our ward, and Weston Road is another. I’ve travelled along them before and they look mostly dismal and shabby and, frankly, ugly. So I didn’t expect much of the smaller streets between them either. Turns out I was in for a huge surprise, because what was hidden behind commercial strips like these…

A row of business along Jane St. at Lawrence Ave.

… were residential streets like these:

A large old brick house with turrets

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The first arts fair announcement for Fragmentalist

Danforth East Arts Fair logoGreat news received earlier this week: my application to participate in the Danforth East Arts Fair has been accepted.

The fair will take place on the weekend of Sep. 15-16, 2012 in East Lynn Park on Danforth Ave just west of Woodbine.

I will be making many new mosaic pieces over the summer – ideas for their designs are already jostling for attention in my head – which will be exhibited and available for sale at the fair. The starfish mirror, nearly finished now, will make a great centerpiece.

There will be lots of other things to prepare besides the art over the next few months: finding a tent to use at the fair, building display racks for the mosaics, practicing setting it all up, and other practical matters that will need to be figured out for the first time and with the invaluable assistance of my lovely husband.

The proposed booth layout is one of the things that had to be submitted with the application, so this is something I’ve already thought out and you can see the sketch of it after the jump.

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