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LAX as Moment Factory: Exploring the time and space of the layover (The Globe and Mail, Dec 2013)

lax20tr1In the Great Hall of LAX’s new Tom Bradley International Terminal, time dances – literally – on a giant clocktower.

Every hour on the hour, the Time Tower, a four-sided, 22-metre screen plays Dance Time, a Busby Berkeley-esque dance number in which the legs of smiling showgirls create a fleshy kaleidoscope inside the clock’s whirring gears. It’s a startling visual interpretation of a travel truth: Our heightened awareness of being on a schedule – of minutes ticking by, carefully monitored and measured – co-opts our perception of time itself.

For years, the Los Angeles International Airport has been avoided by savvy travellers needing a stopover on their way to Asia or Australia. It has become drab and archaic over the decades, and is now a purgatory of curbside snafus, awkward terminal transfers and other faults too numerous to list. At the world’s sixth-busiest airport, it has been clear for many years that the hub needed a major upgrade.

Now, in time for holiday traffic, we have it: Tom Bradley International Terminal opened in September, completing Phase One of a $4.3-billion improvement program meant to improve the passenger experience on every level – from traffic flow to shopping and dining options. Read article

Ed Burtynsky /Jennifer Baichwal’s Watermark (Georgia Straight, October 2013)

watermarkTORONTO—IF YOU THINK you know what water is, you don’t. Watermark, Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky’s documentary shot in 5K ultra high-def video, brings us on a trip to the hyperreal extremes of what water can be at its most powerful, plentiful—or absent. Burtynsky and Baichwal shot 200 hours of footage in far-flung locations around the world, places where our ubiquitous relationship with H2O is particularly pronounced, and contested. Watching surfers at the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach, soaring above the Stikine Valley in B.C.’s North, or standing under the thundering falls at the Xiluodu mega-dam in China, it’s hard not to be awed by the sheer power of water and the human activity that threatens its purity. But what Watermark—which opens Friday (October 11)—doesn’t do is draw those conclusions for us. These days, it’s rare for a documentary to abstain from spoon-feeding the audience its message.

“My perspective is that reality is messy and complex, whereas narrative is often tidy and reductive,” said Baichwal, who grew up in Victoria and now lives in Toronto, in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. “Narrative has a structure that is satisfying because it has beginning, middle, and end. It has resolution. I don’t think reality has resolution in that way. I think things are open-ended, perspectival, and complicated, and I feel like all our films have tried to honour the complexity of reality.” Read article

Haida Gwaii: Angling for ancient tyee (Askmen, October 2013)

chasing-your-dream-job-1085194-TwoByOne-1I landed by private chopper on the helipad at the West Coast Fishing Club’s Clubhouse less than an hour ago, and I’m already suited up in a bright red survival suit aboard a 25-foot Boston Whaler Predator, where three rods bend expectantly into the navy blue water. Each one is fitted with a purpose-built single-action Islander reel, nicknamed a “knucklebuster” for reasons I will soon come to understand.

I’ve never fished for anything larger than rainbow trout. But these waters off the coast of Langara Island, on the northern tip Haida Gwaii, a remote archipelago off the northern coast of British Columbia, are home to the legendary tyee: giant Chinook salmon weighing over 30 pounds. This is the best salmon fishing in the world, accessible only by boat or float plane. Obsessive anglers from all corners of the earth pay top dollar to do what I’m about to do.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever venture further off the map than Haida Gwaii. It’s a landscape formed from jagged black volcanic rocks, old-growth cedar forests and beaches never walked upon by human feet. The land’s first inhabitants, the Haida people, were nicknamed the “Vikings of the West” for their fierceness and bravery on the open water. They still live well off the land and the ocean up here, just a few nautical miles from Alaska, and have been pulling sustenance from these waters for over 13,000 years. Read article

Ranch-to-table in the Chilcotin (B.C. Business, August 2013)

Biodynamic, holistic Rafter 25 Ranch makes their money where their mouth is

rafter 25In the remote Chilcotin plateau, ranching is a way of life. Along Highway 20, the two-lane road that stretches across the Chilcotin Plateau between Williams Lake and Bella Coola, the million-dollar views of the Coastal Range and the rolling green rivers by scenery of ranch life: Lodgepole-pine fences, grazing  beef cattle, barns.

Over the past few years, some decidedly un-barn-like buildings have popped up along the stretch of the highway between Alexis Creek and Redstone: A settlement of cabins around two large modern pine buildings with moss, grass and wildflowers growing right out of their roofs, fronted by a big patio overlooking a man-made pond, which is an energy-efficient (and pretty) way to cool the building. Read article

Three Mile Meal: Senselab combines Relational Art and public-food activism (Montreal Gazette, August 2013)

senselabMONTREAL – Though we live in an age where information is constant and ubiquitous, how much do we really know about our own neighbours?

The artists and philosophers at SenseLab, a “laboratory for thought in motion” at Concordia University, think that finding common ground is more important than information exchange.

Through Three Mile Meal, its public event this weekend, SenseLab is inviting people in three adjacent neighbourhoods — Outremont, Mile End and Park Extension — to explore their curiosity about each other through artistic and social means. The event takes place over three days at three sites, where three versions of bread — challah, dosas and crêpes — will be served by members of Friends of Hutchison in Outremont and community leaders in Park Ex. (The Outremont food will be kosher on Friday and Sunday, and the Park Ex food will be halal.)

The public kitchens will be linked by mobile “lack-of-information booths” — adult trikes with spice-, seed- and drink-distribution capabilities that will circulate between the sites, and will connect the sites via handlebar-mounted iPads that will share video linkage throughout the three-day event.

The hope is that this event can bring people together who might not otherwise socialize, as a starting point to discover common ground and foster future collaborations. Read article

Corpus Delicti: Media, Morality and Vancouver’s Missing Women (in Maisonneuve, October 2003)

This is one from the vaults; my first glossy feature and first National Magazine Award win. Being in Vancouver again makes me think about how much has changed since this was published-  and how nothing has.

The original piece had amazing art direction, and images from Stan Douglas and Lincoln Clarkes, two of my favourite Vancouver photographers.

Images from Stan Douglas and Lincoln Clarkes.

“Beyond the search for the corpus delicti—beyond headlines about the “pig farm killer,” the accused Robert Pickton, and the certainty that this is the largest serial murder investigation Canada has ever known—this search is about a crisis of meaning and reconciliation in a city where, for years, the very absence of these bodies had to be insisted on. In a sense, Vancouver is discovering its entire body politic, the unacknowledged parts of its anatomy—vulgar and dangerous—that polite discussion always avoids. Ironically, the women who disappeared are more present now than they ever were when alive”. Read article here.

Boucherie Lawrence: Sourcing protein differently in the Mile End (in The Montreal Gazette, June 2013)

Photo: Justin Tang

Photo: Justin Tang

MONTREAL – The giant windowed storefront of Boucherie Lawrence is situated on a stretch of the upper Main where high-end designer shops are lined up next to sparse art galleries and mid-century modern furniture stores. The row of window-facing counter stools in its well-designed, airy interior, with meat-specific wall art and a wide pine “merch table” populated with a carefully arranged display of silkscreened tote bags, small-batch organic stone-ground flour and bottles of craft canola and sunflower oils make it feel a bit like a high-end épicerie.

But when you enter the shop, a huge walk-in fridge full of hanging meat carcasses is visible through a glass door, and in the large tiled workspace, several butchers and associates are at work, cutting meat to order for customers from the primal cuts hanging in the cooler, or transforming leftover offal and scraps into value-adde d products like patés, terrines, sausages and charcuterie for sale from the display case.

It’s clear right away that there is real meat work going on here; the store’s good looks are merely a by-product of its owners’ esthetic interests.

Sefi Amir, one of the shop’s four co-owners, asserts that Boucherie Lawrence is “just a regular butcher shop,” and not a boutique or, worse, a gastronomic destination.

“We want to make this a populist business, we don’t want it to be expensive and inaccessible,” she says. “We want to promote the idea of better meat, but we don’t want it to only be for those who can afford it.”

Read Gazette story (p1) and B3 (p2) here.

Ethnography of Mile End Holocaust survivors: Rebuilding lives. (in The Montreal Gazette, June 2013)

Photo: The Gazette

Photo: The Gazette

When Zelda Abramson contacted me on a housing-swap website for academics on sabbatical to inquire about subletting my apartment, I gave her a list of its ups and downs. On the pro side, it’s a typical century-old triplex on Waverly St., which means original fixtures, Mile End cachet and a great quartier. On the con side, it’s a bit dark and crowded on the ground floor, the kitchen is small and there’s a woeful lack of closet space.

Abramson said not to worry, that she was familiar with the neighbourhood; she lived in a ground-floor apart- ment a few blocks away on Durocher Ave. when she was growing up. In those days, she shared a place about the same size as mine with her parents, her older sister and another family of three.

These days, she lives in a sprawling farmhouse in Wolfville, N.S., where she is a professor of sociology at Acadia University. She need- ed my Mile End pied-à-terre as a base for her sabbatical research project: an ethnog- raphy of Jewish Holocaust survivors who emigrated from Europe after the war and settled in this neighbour- hood.

Using archival research and first-person interviews, Abramson is collecting this community’s stories and picking up the common threadsintheirrecollections, to discern the factors that contributed to their ability to survive — and thrive — as they rebuilt their lives from less than nothing.

Read the Gazette story here.

The Grand Tour – On Tour with Arcade Fire in Europe (in enRoute, January 2012)

By the time I’m at the foot of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, I haven’t slept in five days and I’m running on bocadillos and adrenalin. The circadian rhythms of touring like a musician are new to me; when you’re travelling on this kind of schedule, your experience of time and space becomes intensified, amplified, distorted. Travel at the speed of music is, for lack of a better word, trippy.

“It’s an interesting state to be in,” says Régine Chassagne, the front woman of Arcade Fire. “You have to embrace it, stop worrying about when you’re going to eat, when you’re going to go to bed and when you’re going to wake up because it’s all irrelevant. When you wake up, it doesn’t matter what time you think it’s going to be; it’s just whatever time it is. This is your life.” Read article here.

Sexual Healing in The Sessions: An interview with John Hawkes (in The Georgia Straight, October 2012)

the sessionsTORONTO—WHEN IT COMES to movies about sex, The Sessions comes closer than most to approximating the actual experience. It’s emotionally as well as physically explicit about what happens when coitus happens. So it’s sexy, yes, but be forewarned: you might also feel other, more complicated things.

The Sessions (opening Friday [November 2]) is neither a disease-of-the-month movie nor an artsy interpretation of disability nor a vehicle for actors with Oscar aspirations—though both the leads, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, are sure to be awards-season contenders.

Hawkes, who often specializes in frightening and often murderous characters, here plays real-life protagonist Mark O’Brien, a childhood polio sufferer who was mostly paralyzed and spent his life on a gurney and in an iron lung.

Of his many disadvantages, O’Brien, who had a degree from UC Berkeley and was a published essayist, considered his virginity to be the most egregious. So, at 38 years old, he hired Cheryl, a sex surrogate (played by Hunt), to correct the situation.

O’Brien, who died in 1999 at age 49, was the subject of a 1996 Oscar-winning documentary (Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, by Jessica Yu). Ben Lewin, the Australian writer-director of The Sessions, is himself a polio survivor. His script is adapted, quite faithfully, from O’Brien’s autobiographical essay “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” as well as his book How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence. Read article here.