Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It's so magic

Maybe if I wait long enough everything will come right here to Mile End.

My sister gave me a book called Big Ideas for my16th birthday and I have loved Lynda Barry ever since.

Lovers of Lynda Barry are ardent, loyal and extreme. They're given to walking away in disgust from people who say: "Those aren't even comics"; "Terrible drawing"; "Too hard to read, too much writing!"; or: "They're not even funny."

Lynda Barry can tell a perfect short story in four panels. It sends you spinning back to an exquisite, forgotten moment of growing up, and is gut-punchingly sad, funny and true in the same instant.

A few years ago, her work became hard to find. The comics were in fewer and fewer papers and her books stopped appearing. Where did she go?

Every once in a while I would Google: Lynda Barry + new book.

Then, one day, the answer came back from the ouija board of the internet:  Lynda Barry was back! In fact, she was practically moving into the neighbourhood. Mile End's own Drawn and Quarterly was her new publisher. I really felt like I was in on the action.

Last weekend, when Lynda Barry appeared in Montreal in person, there was a huge burst of adoring applause before she could even say a word.

She told jokes and stories, insisting it is our biological function to do so. It makes life worth living, she said. She talked about the power of images, busted dancercise moves and gave a slideshow. To quote her irrepressible character Marlys, she showed the audience "How to be an incredible #1 groover on life."

Mid-way through her talk Lynda Barry said, "In 2002 my publisher dropped me. It was over for me until Drawn and Quarterly came calling."

I looked around the packed auditorium of the Ukrainian Federation on Hutchison at Fairmount. Every (anglo) filmmaker, writer, artist and musician in the neighbourhood was there. It was a huge Mile End reunion and Lynda Barry was at the centre of it.

I hadn't known I lived next to hundreds of fans, people who would line up for three hours after the show to get their books signed. But it makes perfect sense. In a place where every other person has an art project or a film proposal in the works, a novel on the go or a demo in progress, Lynda Barry is the patron saint. And Drawn and Quarterly is the discerning, community-minded patron of the arts.


What it Is & Picture This by Lynda Barry
available from Drawn and Quarterly
211 Bernard St. West, Montreal
forthcoming, September 2011: the first in the new series EVERYTHING, previously published works and more, by Lynda Barry

Monday, January 10, 2011

Movin' on up

Jeans Jeans Jeans has moved out of the cave and up to street level but Borys Fridman doesn't want anyone to think they've gone high-end.

"We kept the floor as is," he says, indicating the faded white lines on the concrete floor of what was once a parking garage. "Not too fancy!"

The new store still feels like a warehouse but it's 2500 square feet bigger than the old basement. There's actually room to move between the racks of jeans.

Borys has posted arrows around the block pointing the way to the new spot on Casgrain north of St. Viateur. The placards are like the signs for a special event, or a movie set.

Jeans Jeans Jeans is its own scene.

The place is full of shoppers and toddlers, babies, boyfriends, moms and dads. The staff is running in all directions carrying armloads of jeans to customers and Borys seems to be everywhere at once, talking to everybody.

"It's crazy," he says happily. He finds my dad the perfect pair of jeans in 30 seconds.

"They're the best. They always come up with what we need," says one woman who's here from Laval with her husband on their semi-annual JJJ shopping trip.

There are more fitting rooms now, including a mom-sized one big enough to accommodate a stroller. There's an efficient new ticketing system for picking up your hemmed jeans at the circular counter where the cash register is.

But there's still nowhere to hide. There's the same stark fluorescent lighting and you still have to step out of the fitting room to see your jeans in the mirror.

And when you do, Borys and the Jeans Jeans Jeans staff will still look at you and declare: "You need to go a size smaller in those."

And, if you disagree, they'll still smile and shrug patiently, as if to humour you, even if they know better than you ever could about what is what in the world of jeans.

New place, same assertive service.


Jeans Jeans Jeans
5575 Casgrain

see original post on Jeans Jeans Jeans

Monday, January 3, 2011

On ice

I love finding something where I wouldn't expect it.

Like the lemon tree in the alley, the tiny backyard rink tucked in behind a row of greystone apartments on Clark Street is a perfect surprise.

The ice glows blue and smooth. Kids whirl, totter and scrape around the rectangle. The sound of skates slices the air.

"I'm like the Italians with their tiny gardens," says Tommy Groszman, master and creator of the rink. "I used to wonder, 'what are they doing with such a little space?' Now I'm like that with my little piece of ice."

Tommy built the rink for the kids, Ella and Adam, and also as a way of working through some ideas for a screenplay he's writing about hockey.

He figured out how to pack and water the snow at the edges of the rink so that water wouldn't run off. He created his own contraption for flooding the ice after consulting Home Zamboni videos on YouTube. His special rig involves a bucket fitted with a nozzle that attaches to a perforated tube. Bungee cords hold a square of carpeting in place for ice-grooming.

Some nights he gets up two or three times to make ice.

"It's addictive. My ice has to be perfect!" he says with a laugh. "I don't know if I should tell you this," he confesses, pointing to his boots. "But I'm not wearing any socks right now."

He is one with the ice this way, his feet alert to any stray bumps.

His perfectionism does not go unappreciated.

Ella, who is nine, can skate for hours on the rink right outside her back door. She zooms around in her hockey skates until bedtime.

"I'll miss it when it's gone," she says, projecting herself into the future and imagining her wistfulness, the way we do when something is truly special.