Monday, October 27, 2003

Poetry and Innocence: Life in Sepia Tones

Sicilian Youth with Flowers (detail) c1900 - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: The last few days I have found myself mesmerized by the life and times -- and mainly by the extant photographic artifacts -- of the astonishing Wilhelm von Gloeden. Thriving in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era, he was a pioneer photographer of nude adolescents, whose influence on the visual artistic community at the turn-of-the-20th-century, cannot be understated. While many of his photographs were known in postcards from the charming and sleepy Sicilian seaside village Taormina, Gloeden in fact made something on the order of 7000 images, mainly in the period 1890 - 1914. They are heart-warming, erotic, compelling, haunting, captivating ....

As music is never far from my thoughts, I can't help but keep humming The Pet Shop Boys' Being Boring whose opening lyric resonates with Wilhelm's story:

I came across a cache of old photos

And invitations to teenage parties

"Dress in white" one said, with quotations

From someone's wife, a famous writer

In the nineteen-twenties

When you're young you find inspiration

In anyone who's ever gone

And opened up a closing door

She said: "We were never feeling bored"

If there are occasional scholarly lapses in this post, please forgive me: everything I learned I learned on the net. :-)

This story has many different threads in it: male lovers, orgies, community tolerance, church and political repression, war, poverty, outrageous success, celebrities, and, not least, a life which constantly raises issues of public and private sexual expression.

Self-Portrait as Arab Nobleman - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: Wilhelm was born in northern Germany 16 September 1856 of royal blood (he was, in fact, a baron). It makes him an almost direct contemporary of Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Mahler, Giacomo Puccini, Sigmund Freud and George Bernard Shaw; no doubt had he stayed in Germany he would have settled in the artistic communities of Vienna, Berlin or Paris -- and hung out with Gustav Klimt, Alban Berg and Arthur Schnizler.

But it was not to be. The young man fell ill with tuberculosis and had to abandon his university studies. On the advice of doctors and friends, he traveled to Italy for a rest cure. At the age of 22, he arrived in Taormina and immediately fell in love -- with the countryside, with the townsfolk, with the local boys, and with one boy in particular: Pancrazio Bucini. With an eight or ten year age difference, the two remained forever devoted to one another, even beyond the death of Wilhelm in 1931.

Wilhelm had a natural painter's eye and had studied art history, and then the craft of painting. His father died when he was young and his mother re-married (another baron), Wilhelm Joachim von Hammerstein who was a well-known, and well-to-do, journalist. The step-father provided Wilhelm the means to live in some splendour in Sicily. It wasn't long before the painter became photographer -- in the early 1880s something exotic and looked down upon as an artistic medium. However the painter made this medium his own and, at first, made memorable -- and saleable -- pictures of the surrounding countryside, including the famous Mount Etna which appears in a number of his later pictures.

Clothed Youth with Vase (detail) c1900 - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: But all this was really nothing more than the expressions of a dilettante who, though art was his hobby, turned his social life into an art. The parties, and the generosity Wilhelm was able to spread to the locals, not least of which included the lithe, adolescent peasant boys, quite literally spread the name "Taormina" far and wide. Single-handedly, von Gloeden turned a sleepy paradise into a thriving tourist destination, in particular for homosexual men.

It's remarkable that in the Victorian Age von Gloeden's fame spread so rapidly. His images first appeared in magazines and soon galleries throughout Europe began to feature his works. By 1893, the artist's fame had won him awards in Europe, not only for his work as landscape photographer, but for his stagings of classical settings and even for his growing interest in nude photography which was almost exclusively focused on adolescent males. A cousin, Wilhelm (Gulgielmo) Pluchow, as it turns out, was also in Italy, also working as a photographer and soon the two Wilhelms were co-producing nude male pictures.

A third photographer with a similar style, Vincenzo Galdi, joined the two Wilhelms in founding a sub-artform of its own. However, it was von Gloeden's eye for soul of the subject which his artistic companions rarely captured; Galdi's work, in fact, slips easily into pornography, something that few of von Gloeden's works do, however explicit in subject matter they may be.

Three young men overlooking a low wall - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: When the political fortunes of his step-father changed, Wilhelm found himself in near-poverty. His sister had come to live with him and with the cut-off of his stipend, the servants were laid off and a lavish lifestyle came crashing to an end. But Bucini, who had first joined the household as a houseboy, remained on, finding jobs off the estate to pay for the needs of his mentor and lover. The community, too, did not turn its back on von Gloeden who, in better times, had been very generous. It was time to turn art into business and, on the basis of his fame, Wilhelm was able to begin selling postcards of his photographs, as well as individual prints, to the tourists who continued to arrive in ever greater numbers. It wasn't long before Wilhelm was again thriving and living a lavish existence.

By 1900, Wilhelm's Taormina estate had been visited by a number of world celebrities, not least of which were Oscar Wilde and Alexander Graham Bell (who took away a number of original prints which later were published in the October 1916 edition of the National Geographic). André Gide came to stay for a while penning his famous "The Immoralist" inspired by his stay at resort town.
King Edward VII stayed at the von Gloeden estate; as did composer Richard Strauss, the King of Siam, celebrated French author Anatole France, industrialist Alfred Krupp and many others.

Fortunately, while a homosexual scandal hit his cousin Pluchow, forcing him to return to Germany, von Gloeden was adored by, and ultimately protected by, the locals. And nothing stopped the prolific photographer from creating, and distributing, image after image of male models, scantily clad and, more often unclad -- except for props such as sashes, flowers, leaves weaved into the hair, ancient columns, urns, and other paraphernalia evoking antiquity.

Two Youths on a Loveseat - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: It's not just the flaccid penises or firm buttocks which litter his output: there is magic in Wilhelm's vision which makes these images decidedly erotic rather than pornographic. The contrast to the depiction of male beauty in our own times couldn't be more striking: there is not a single young man whom you would described as "buffed" or "gym built". Nor, contrary to the writings of some observers, are many of the images particularly "androgynous": the masculinity of the models in unmistakable, quite apart from the genitalia; this is not the art of gender-bending. And it is true that some of the models are younger than we are accustomed to viewing in our current puritanical climate. It is rare to find gratuitous nudity or raw sexuality in any of von Gloeden's images: the pictures invariably inspire, rather than titillate.

With the outbreak of WWI, Wilhelm, and his sister Sofia, were forced to return to Germany or stay in a camp in Italy as enemy aliens. During the five years away, the estate was managed by Bucini. With conscription, Bucini himself was forced into service but managed to be posted in his native town. At one point, letters from von Gloeden to "Il Moro" (The Moor), as Bucini was affectionately called, were intercepted and Bucini faced court-martial as a spy, charged with consorting with the enemy. But a silver-tongue -- which would come in handy years later -- convinced his superiors that Bucini was a loyal Sicilian. After a three-month gap, the correspondence between the lifelong partners resumed till the end of the war.

Seated Youth Playing Flute (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: For the remaining dozen years of his life, Wilhelm returned to his villa at Taormina and continued to make new images. The world had changed, as so many artists who were famous before 1914 discovered, and the taste for antiquities -- the "hook" in so many of his pictures -- became less desirable. On 16 February 1931, three months after the death of his sister, Wilhelm followed her to the grave; they are buried side-by-side in the local protestant cemetery.

Bucini, who had married and had children, inherited the estate and the vast picture collection and the surviving masters. In 1933, and again in 1936, the fascists, in collaboration with the Catholic church, charged Bucini with being a pornographer and seized most of the collection. In a passionate plea before the judges, Bucini insisted the work was art and included as evidence names of the many important people, and institutions, which held copies -- including his oppressors. He was acquitted but much of the collection had been destroyed, the remnants of which were not returned until after WWII. Bucini passed away in the 1950s but his descendants remain in Taormina to this day.

Clothed Youth Laying on Rock (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden

:: It's difficult to estimate the exact output but a commonly held figure is around 7000 pictures. Of the 3000 glass masters and negatives seized by the authorities in the mid-30s, only 25% were returned intact. Substantial collections reside in the hands of the Florence firm Alinari; the Kinsey Institute claims 250; and smaller collections are prized by institutions and independent collectors. Currently, shows travel on all continents and still, occasionally, provoke controversy. A 1999 showing in Australia by the Martin Browne Fine Art gallery was threatened with potential closure after complaints to police by the Rev Fred Niles that the images constituted child abuse and pornography. However, no formal request was made and the exhibit, after a police visit, remained fully on view for the remainer of the scheduled exhibition.

In researching this piece, I have found almost 200 different images accredited to Wilhelm von Gloeden, in various states of quality. To be sure, a small screen image doesn't do justice to lighting, shading and detail of the originals, or even the copies of same. In a separate exhibit, I have created The Boys of Taormina, 22 images with captions which I invite you to visit and explore.

Von Gloeden - Youth Sitting Resting Hands on Face (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden

One hundred years ago, the world was a far different place, and the pace of life much slower than today. It's hard to imagine the pace at which von Gloeden created his life, his art, largely unfettered by modern preoccupations. Where once the camera was a quiet, intelligent observer, in our age it is the despised paparazzi or the eye of big brother, not the friend, or even sensual lover which von Gloeden's images often conjure up.

The last surviving boy model who exposed himself to the great photographer's lens, died in 1977, at the age of 87. It is accepted that all of the models were photographed willingly and many were paid handsomely in royalties, their descendants continuing to prosper as a result today. No harm was done then; how can there be any harm done by showing the images, savouring the male beauty, and reliving, however briefly, the halcyon heaven von Gloeden created for himself, his friends and lovers on the romantic seaside in the heart of the ancient world.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Marking Anniversaries: It Was Seven Years Ago Today

Percy Alexander Inglis (1922-1996), my dad, taken on my 41st birthday, in May 1996

:: My adopted dad, Percy (Ping) Alexander Inglis passed away suddenly on October 24, 1996. Today marks the seventh anniversary of his death. I am suddenly so terribly aware I have so few pictures ....

Below is the eulogy I delivered on at a local chapel in a gathering of about 100 friends and family, Sunday October 27th, 1996.

Tribute by son Alexander Inglis

Although "Inglis" is of Scottish origin, had it been an Indian name, I'm sure it would translate as "Still waters run deep". My dad personified this idea: he was a man of great strength and quiet dignity. He strode through life with a rare gentleness and distinction. And he was the quintessential devoted husband and father.

Dad loved to laugh and had a sly, wry sort of humour and a kind of quirky smile -- you could see his natural playfulness peeking through. That playfulness is evident in many pictures. This past summer, my mum and dad took a trip to Nova Scotia and returned to visit the place they originally met. During the trip, a snapshot was taken of dad sitting at table with an absolutely enormous lobster in his hands. That characteristic look of fun was captured to a tee.

As an unflagging optimist, he was always able to find the clear-headed view. Yet though he held some ideas strongly, I never heard him force his views on anyone. His quiet optimism emanated a self-assurance that easily put fears to rest that those around him might be feeling. A few days before Christmas one year, the family home caught fire and needed extensive repair. What might have been a hugely stressful experience for many, dad helped us treat as an adventure.

As an engineer, he had a rational, logical way of looking at the world. He was always to curious to know about new things and ideas. I always think of how calm he seemed to be most of the time. Growing up, especially as a young teenager, I certainly gave him reason to be angry and frustrated with me. Yet he was always understanding: it was a very rare moment in which he even raised his voice.

Dad loved to travel: it was part of his constant quest to learn new things. Mum and he had the opportunity to take a number of journeys to many parts of the world. Whether exploring some of the byways of Europe, the Middle East or travelling through Asia to see the Great Wall of China, he engaged his mind and heart to examine new ways of doing things.

My father was a man of relatively few words. If he didn't have something to say, he said nothing. He measured his words with some care and always waited for the right moment to share them. And dad was the last person to blow his own horn.

Love for his family was an absolute with dad. There was never a time - never a single moment - in which I didn't feel his unswerving, deep love for me. My sister and my mother, his partner for 50 years, knew that same love each day.

These days, to say someone is a "moral person" can have a pejorative twinge to it. My dad was a "moral person" in all the best senses: he knew what the right thing to do in a given situation was and he unfailingly did it. He led by example: he would never tell his children that "this is what you should do and it is what you will do". He was able to step back and let us fall on our faces, if necessary, but be there whenever he was needed.

My father always encouraged us to do the best at whatever felt right for us. My sister fell in love with horses at a young age; I developed a strong taste for music. He let us explore those things, with his encouragement and deeds. I don't think dad had a judgmental bone in his body. If neither of us aspired to become Prime Minister, he was content to know that we were happy in our own pursuits.

I have always admired dad's relationship with mum. Different personalities to be sure, they made a uniquely satisfying balance. One always knew how deeply they cared for each other, how deeply they shared each other. I have often commented over the years -- in wonderment -- that I never saw them have a major rift. Sure, all families have moments of disagreement. But as a couple, they always managed to find an easy consensus, a path both willingly went down. I know mum and dad have had an unusually satisfying time together. In my view, they are an ideal example of spiritual soulmates.

Although I've focused on the immediate family, dad had a solid group of friends. His quiet nature meant he didn't go out of his way to make new friends. Yet when he made them, there were strong bonds there, many of which lasted a lifetime. Years after selling the cottage home he built for us on Lake Kushog, he and mum remained in constant contact with the lake crowd. Other friends, made in school or during their time living in Niagara Falls in the early 50s, remain friends for life.

There are ways in which my father makes me think of him as the embodiment of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Rational, calm, always optimistic, joyful, a wise, quiet self-assurance, beautiful on the surface, and always so much more below -- "Still waters run deep in the sparkling sunshine."

Dad had the good fortune to remain amazingly healthy throughout his life, allowing him to enjoy his work, his family and most definitely his retirement. And even when the end came so early and so suddenly, in a graceful way which was so characteristic of him, dad gave us a few hours to adjust and make peace before passing on.

My father's spirit, which touched so many of us more deeply than he'll know, will live on in all of us for the rest of our days.

We'll miss you always, Dad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Tuesdays with Tao: Six - Unending Fertility

A Doorway to the Way of Tao?
:: Every Tuesday, I've been publishing one more chapter of my personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Despite being written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight. The opening chapter, The Essence of Tao, is here.

Occasionally the feminine is specifically invoked, in particular to clarify the role in the world of the masculine -- much of the Tao being illustrated in a yin-yang sort of way. But while the "eternal source" is likened to a womb, or flow from the legs of the mountains in a river valley, Tao itself is neither feminine nor masculine, and neither polarity has any more importance than the other. As will be pointed out repeatedly, strong/weak, sharp/blunt, white/black, male/female, day/night cannot exist without the other.

Six - Unending Fertility

In and beside a river, life flourishes.

Shrouded in eternal morning mist,

its source remains hidden,

but ever fertile, inexhaustible;

some call the source Valley Spirit.

Embrace the spirit, feel it inside, use it;

this primal "Mother River" of Tao never runs dry.

Comments welcome!

Monday, October 20, 2003

Magic Sparks: The Birth Moment of Creativity

Bart Howard, composer of Fly Me To The Moon
:: The act of creation -- writing a poem for example -- is very much like giving birth: once issued, it grows, taking its own life beyond the control of the parent. Like a bird released into the sky, its owner can only watch, admire, worry ... and hope that the world treats it kindly. I've been thinking about what it's like for the creator at that moment of creation ....

Fly Me To The Moon, American songwriter Bart Howard's most memorable tune, was written in 1954. I don't know where he was or what he was doing when the inspiration hit -- humming in the shower? on a date with his beloved on a moonlit cruise? half buzzed in front of a dusty upright piano in a seedy rundown apartment as he feverishly puffed through a second pack of cigarettes and hadn't showered in three days? Or perhaps it was a standard commission and he calmly dashed off the few lines of the lyrics and quickly added the melody in a flash of "that's it, that's good", nodding and smiling as he set it aside to polish after lunch before sending it to his publisher in the afternoon post -- another productive morning for a commercially successful songster.

Fly me to the moon

And let me play among the stars

Let me see what spring is like

On Jupiter and Mars

In other words hold my hand

In other words darling kiss me

In those few moments of work for the human brain and heart -- Bart Howard, all alone in this case -- created a marvelous, memorable song which, surely, most people in the english-speaking world recognize instantly, like Lennon and MacCartney's plaintive Yesterday. How does someone touch the soul of so many with a few words, or a few sequences of musical tones, that were never quite put together that way before? What's the unique magic behind such creations which elude the millions (and billions) of other combinations of words or music?

Mona Lisa, by da Vinci c1503 and a playful hommage by Meyerowitz in 1971 When he painted it c1503, Leonardo da Vinci's modestly scaled portrait (a mere 21 x 30.5 inches, oil on wood) of a 24 year-old local noble woman, the expectation was that only a handful of people would ever have the opportunity to view it. But something took life in those brushstrokes the Italian laboured over exactly 500 years ago and countless reproductions since have brought the young lady's wistful smile to the attention of, literally, billions of people. An army of admirers has studied it, analysed it, poked it, prodded it, scanned it, scrapped it, touched it -- trying to figure out what makes the image so compelling. Even lampooning it has turned into a cottage industry; Rick Meyerowitz's Mona Gorilla from 1971 has in itself become a well-recognized image whose source of delight for the viewer stems directly from the playfulness of the original. Isn't it fascinating? We see the original in a new, and not a disparaged, light.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

... two lines among hundreds penned by Shakespeare, one of many evocative inspirations which all of us can recite (even though relatively few of us has ever seen the play live), which fell from the Bard's richly fevered imagination. In the movie Shakespeare in Love we caught a glimpse of what the young playwright might really have been up to when he drew from the ether his most memorable lines ... but of course we shall never know for sure. Man, as a species, can boast many collaborative creative accomplishments -- like cosmological myths (the stuff of sacred texts) or the construction of an engineering marvel like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge -- yet it is these solo acts of magic -- one man, one spark, one birth -- which I am most interested in. What do you suppose Handel was doing the day he wrote down "For unto us a child is born" or JS Bach dashed off the "Goldberg Variations"? While all of us have felt that visionary spark -- a special "aha!" -- in our own lives, and our own creations, how many of us have stumbled upon something bigger? Did John Donne recognize the impact of what he just wrote down when "No man is an island, entire of itself" slipped past a shakey quill clutched by his inky stained fingers?

AA Milne's beloved Winnie The Pooh as drawn by Ernest H Shepard :: Creativity is not unique to the arts of course. e=mc2 is as familiar to us as any line of poetry and it is an incredible stroke of insight -- but how many of us have any idea what it really means? It doesn't touch us; it doesn't make one's heart smile (although to a physicist his intellect may break out in a knowing grin). Creativity needs a context, something to give the words, or music, or images a background from which it may tap the power to capture the profound attention of millions, and occasionally (and remarkably) billions of people, and across the diverse cultures and dozens of generations. Now that it has been born, can we imagine a world in which King Lear or George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue has been forgotten? Childhood, or at least the child-like in all of us, bubbles giggling to the surface in AA Milne's character Winnie the Pooh (and in the delightful drrawings of co-conspirator and illustrator Ernest H Shepard) on page after page. Milne could have had Pooh utter the words "Oh nuts!" or "Gosh oh golly" or "How amazing" ... but somewhere, somehow, Milne sucked out of the collective consciousness that endearing groan of the bumbling, all-knowing, honey-obsessed bear -- "Oh, bother!". Have those two words ever been more charming? The context, as well as the words themselves, are part of the creative energy.

Recently, I have been working on a new rendition of Lao-tsu's Tao Te Ching, a thin book of chinese philosophy from about 500 BC. I am struck by how men so very long ago had such modern insight into what the world really is and how we may safely and serenely navigate through the whims and adversities of daily life using Lao-tsu as our guide. We are not so modern after all, if a voice -- 2500 years old and counting -- speaks to us so plainly. But that is the magic of the creative spark which far transcends its originator.

Michaelango's Sistine Chapel 1512 fresco, The Creation of Man When I was a teenager this notion fascinated me even then -- how could the Italian poet Dante, or middle-European lesbian Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, or Dutch painter Pieter Breughel, set down words and music and images which could set my heart on fire, feeling the "aha!" revelation in my toes that they had felt, though we are shifted across generations of time and a radically different cultural world? How awesomely glorious that a description of a descent into the circles of hell, or the soothing whisperings of women's voices in A Feather on the Breath of God, or the enchantment of peasants dancing in a rustic town square can make a heart leap today ... what was it like in that single moment that the artist "got it"?

It also occurred to me, and I have been testing this theory as I hurtle much too quickly toward 50, that a chief difference between "high art" and "pop art" is not merely that one may endure longer than the other but that whatever essence is in the original creation taps into something deeper in our souls and this grows inside us every time we revisit it. "Fly Me To The Moon", and "Yesterday", are both great songs but, for me, they are the same experience every time I digest them. They don't change me; they don't grow with me, or help me grow. But when I hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ("Ode to Joy"), I am moved differently each time. I bring a new part of myself that has lived since the last hearing; and the work is richer. But of course the sounds, the notes, are the same, aren't they?

Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans as seen at New York's Museum of Modern Art, from 1962 :: I'm trying not to belabour the point, or belittle creations that lack "more spark", because those works are valuable too. But let's face it: Andy Warhol's "Campbell Soup Cans" or posterized portraits of Marilyn Munroe do not grab the gut in the same way as da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" or Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos. What's different? The "high art" transfers something living to distinguish itself from its sometimes no less memorable "pop art" cousin. We are changed by the best, and continue to change. High art, perhaps, is a creative virus, egging us on, inspiring us to live richer, deeper lives.

Which brings me back to where I began: the act of creation, the moment of creating something really marvelous, might be a time of mundane everydayness. Did Michelangelo paint in the nude flat on his back high atop some scaffolding? Did Tennessee Williams pen "Glass Menagerie" in his underwear? Did Shakespeare have a fight with his lover the day he conjured the balcony scene? Was Bach embroiled in a petty bureacratic battle with his autocratic bosses while jotting down the Goldbergs? Was Bart Howard swooning over the memory of a tender kiss when he wrote the second half of his most famous song:

Fill my life with song

And let me sing forevermore

You are all I hope for

All I worship and adore

In other words please be true

In other words I love you

As a creative writer, I hope I may someday cobble together a phrase or two as successful as these, capable of stirring the souls of readers I'll never meet but who will come away from my words a little richer, a seed planted in the heart, and, when recalled, knowing the world is less black-and-white, and reality a little less harsh, discovering that we live our true lives inside, not outside, our skins.

(And it will be my secret what I was wearing, or thinking, or tasting, as these paragraphs slid from my fingers into electrons for you.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tuesdays with Tao: Five - Impartial Nature

A Doorway to the Way of Tao?

:: Every Tuesday, I've been publishing one more chapter of my personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Despite being written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight. The opening chapter, The Essence of Tao, is here.

Lao-tzu sometimes uses the word "nature" as a synonym for Tao. Taoism recognizes, profoundly, in a way overlooked by most religions, that we are one with the world, a part of the physical reality we call the earth, and our power comes form being a part of it, not beyond it, or temporarily hampered by it. Alan Watts makes a delicious observation that we don't "come into the world" but "come out of it", like a leaf on a tree ... we are not a separate piece of matter in the world but rather an extension of the "one piece of matter" which is Tao.

Five - Impartial Nature

Nature is not sentimental;

it faces the world impartially.

The Sage is neither kind nor hateful;

he treats all he meets with parity.

Like a bellows, Nature is empty;

yet in moving, inexhaustible as a giver of breath.

And so the Sage, in witnessing Nature,

finds his own wisdom constantly replenished.

Just as Nature's power lies internally,

your own good is found within.

Comments welcome!

Sunday, October 12, 2003

On The Road Again: A Weekend In Chicago

:: What's a boy to do? DJ, my roommate, loves to travel; and I hate to disappoint him. So when he says, "Let's drive to Chicago for Thanksgiving Weekend [Columbus Day for my US friends] to visit my grandson Joshua", how can I have the heart to disappoint him? Hence I am now blogging in the burbs (North Shore Holiday Inn, Room 205, in Skokie, Illinois, to be exact) on a very pleasant sunny, but chilly, Sunday afternoon. DJ is off at church and brunch (Joshua is eight months old); I've just got back from the mall (!) and am settling in to some coffee and surfing on his laptop. Holiday Inn has low cost WiFi here -- US$5 a day. They said it wouldn't work from our room but the signal is good enough.

(I'll be posting without pics, and in smaller chunks, just in case the signal gets flakey. But I was listening to CBC Radio One this morning with good success ....)

So it's still a very nice day and I've surfed around and had some chips and coffee. :-)

Best of all ... I ordered tickets to "Naked Boys Singing" at the Bailiwick Theatre for tonight at 8 pm. Wooohoooo! Eight naked guys sing their hearts out for $10 a tic! For some reason, this very popular show has not made it to Toronto. DJ will be very pleased. :-)

Last night we had a FABulous greek salad (wih anchovies! yahhh!) and then strolled up and down Halsted St (Chicago's main Boystown, also known as Northalsted), checking out the sex stores and novelty stores (Hallowe'en is almost here) and three bars.

Roscoe's was too busy to get into when I was last in Chicago -- Market Days, August 2002 -- but this time we got in. What a lovely collection of sexy young men, many watching the baseball game (the Cubs won). Later we hit SideTracks -- an amazing space with many different cruising areas, heading over to Gentry (a piano bar) where we had a nice chat, and shared a cigarette with, Angelo, who was one very cute man. Yummy!!

The night before we had spent in Lansing, Michigan and had a late night pint at Frank's Press Box -- 100 str8 guys and babes watching about 20 TVs -- again the pre-World Series match, and again the Chicago Cubs won. I was struck by how str8 men do NOT bother to take care of themselves. The gay boys at SideTracks wouldn't be caught dead looking like those slobs at the str8 bar. Don't women care if their guys are hot? Gawd, I am glad I'm gay!!

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Tuesdays with Tao: Four - Limitless Tao

A Doorway to the Way of Tao?

:: Every Tuesday, I've been publishing one more chapter of my personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Despite being written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight. The opening chapter, The Essence of Tao, is here.

This week, the limitless nature of Tao is invoked, as it will be a number of times in coming chapters. Consisting of everything, and beyond everything, it's a concept we can't quite grasp because for us as humans, we define something partly by what it is not. Tao is something like snow in a snowstorm on a moonless night; hard to see because there nothing other than snow to look at. ;-)

Four - Limitless Tao

A yawning limitless abyss, Tao is never filled yet never drained -- so deep! So stratospheric!

A container for everything in the vast, expanding world, it will never reach the brim.

Embracing, taming all, with an ever-quenching, inexhaustible abundance, it:

  Softens sharp edges;

  Resolves all confusions;

  Tempers glare into gentleness;

  And unites the loose with the whole.

Whence comes Tao? Before infinity itself began!

Comments welcome!

Friday, October 3, 2003

Timothy's on Church: On Being Scene

The Writer's Lost Art -- Writing

:: Dear Bloggary:

It's only been a couple of weeks now -- blogging for the very first time -- but I have to know: does that still make me a virgin? (Or is that ... a virgin again?) I feel as if we are just getting to know one another. Perhaps I am feeling a tad impatient for fame -- I'm ready for my close-up, Mr De Mille!. Call me impetuous but I want more! Maybe I need a slogan?

Slogan idea: I was thinking of "I Blog Therefore I Am" ... but it seems too obvious. Besides, I'd rather invoke Bacon, not Descartes, the former being gayer than the latter. This Canadian bacon is no Cartesian plain! And who doesn't want to bring home a little Canadian bacon nowadays? (Especially now since we can get married! Finally!)

But I dunno ... maybe "You are what you blog"? Still, I'm the writer and you're the reader so maybe I'll try on "I Am What You Read".

A gay Toronto Blogger, MightyMaloney ... I love this town! :-)

I've been poking around (the net, nicely) and am finding a lot of blogs are little more than glorified, and often perverse, rants. There are a surprising number of right-wing Canadian rants, too; but thankfully a lot of interesting, sexy, off-the-wall homos pouring their hearts out, too. If you check out my list to the right (oops! faux pas!), you'll find some local gay bloggers worth checking out. (Some of these guys are soooooooooo cute! MightyMaloney (at left) aka Too-Many-Heartbreaks-Recently, is definitely among the sexiest. *sigh*)

:: My most heartfelt blog desire, just as if we were meeting face-to-face, is to show you a good time. I want you to leave our encounter with a smile on your face and a warm silky glow in your tummy. I certainly want you to come back for more. In what not only seems like, and was in many ways, another lifetime far, far away -- the late 1970s -- I did write regularly. I even managed to get paid for it, from time-to-time, albeit earning less than a subsistence wage. Starting over at this stage in my life, I am aspiring to be a waiter; in the meantime, I write. I hope you'll agree, as an editor said of my work once: "Alexander, it doesn't really matter what you write about. It's just got to be a good read."

Slogan idea: A bloggary of buggery? Hmmmm .... I think that's best used with a different blog ID.

Hey! This is hard work! It ain't just purdy typing (and occasional hunky pics)! A silent room's a tough room. (Hint, hint: use the comments facility I've installed. See signature line below.)

Sign on Church St advertising the 24 hr gay tv channel PrideVision

:: It's not as if there aren't lots of interesting things going on in the gaybourhood. I live in the heart of the gay village of downtown Toronto -- steps from the doorway of Pittsburgh's most famous gay bar, Woody's on Liberty Ave, as seen on Queer as Folk -- the real Woody's, that is.

Which means I am also around the corner from Timothy's World Famous Coffee on Church Street. In fact, I am here now, writing this note, as I often do on a weekday afternoon. I tend to sit inside, usually, and all too frequently, alone. The place seats about 20, including about 10 comfy wingback chairs next to wobbly round tables. As the temperature falls, the four seats next to the faux fireplace may require "extra service" to obtain. ("Fresh cream in your coffee, sir?") Yes, this is the same Timothy's location I have been slaving over my Tao Te Ching so someday my ghost might haunt the joint, like Hemingway's does up the street at the Selby Hotel. I wonder what he would have thought had he known it would be a successful gay dance club some day?

(For those of you westies who think this blog is too Toronto-centric, let me add if I were living in Vancouver, I'd be at Delaney's on Denman, instead, every day.)

Slogan idea: "It's mainly because of the meat". Hmmmm .... quite apart from the risk of having my ass sued by mogul Conrad Black, noted Dominion Store empire ravager -- acccckkk! Or worse! His wife Barbara Amiel! *shudders* -- modesty forbids me adopting such a line.

The biggest challenge of blogging, on a more or less daily schedule, is that I lead a pretty mundane life. I need to get out more -- but that, alas, requires money. Did I mention I am for hire? At the moment, it's only words on offer, not my private giggly bits; but it looks like another long, cold winter coming up ... so you never know. Anyway, if you need someone who indents well ... I'm your man! (Please see the boxed ad under my sexy pic at top right.)

Timothy's coffee hangout, on Church St, in Toronto

:: This afternoon, a little after 1 pm, I headed over to Timothy's and was pleasantly surprised to find Julian sitting here chatting up his friend, and sometime colleague in the film biz, Cindy. If you've been taking notes, you'll know Julian is my long-term ex-ex who had an emergency appendectomy in Barrie two weeks ago. Naturally, he showed it to me when I asked: the scar is lovely.

"They don't use sutures anymore. It's more like duct tape to seal you up," he said, pointing to the incision.

"Here's your chance to get creative with a tattoo", I parried.

Otherwise, he was looking well, if a bit tired. He's been in the big city for a couple of days for a check-up, renewing meds and friendships (not necessarily in that order), and having a couple of baths at his friend's condo (it's a very nice bath). A quick catch-up, and a slurp or a few of my coffee, and he and Cindy were off to catch the 2:30 Greyhound bus back to the wilds of the north.

With Julian off, I was able to get back to scribbling some notes about life, and sit back and enjoy the second "medium; black; in a mug; caramel vanilla nut" cup of coffee. And cruise, of course. (Cruising is so civilized at Timothy's ... you can just sit there and smile; none of that strenuous dancing, or shaving your nipples before you go out.) I paused, closed my eyes for a moment, and began to mull over what to write about today.

A found-on-the-net local boy ... did I mention I love this town?

:: I felt the cool breeze as the main door swung open and in walked -- gasp! -- HIM ... The One I'd Shave My ... for. *sigh* He's about 30, I'd guess Pacific Islander ancestry (maybe Filipino with a little latin blood, or some Hawaiian influence?), medium height, olive skin with a hint of a tan, and an electric grace in the way he moves. As on the other occasions I have chanced to see him, I greedily gobbled him up. Oh, and he dresses with such class, a bit on the preppy side, but matter-of-factly so, with no pretence, simply making a statement. He's got a bit of that classic V, shoulders-to-waist, and he's trim but I don't think particularly athletic. (I imagine his arms could wrap around me quite securely, however.)

He stood in line a moment, got a coffee, and sat on the padded bench opposite me but at the far wall, as he usually does, opened his book and started to read. He'd caught me staring, indiscreetly, on past occasions while I was trying to write; so he already knows my goofy, slightly embarrassed smile.

This time I was determined to be strong. I buried my head back in my notebook and tried to think what to write about.

"Um, hi", I heard a soft tenor purr tentatively ... at me! I looked up. It was him -- HIM! -- standing right in front of me, book tucked under his arm, coffee mug in hand.

"Mind if I join you for a few? I've noticed you come here, sometimes." He paused.

"Sure!" I mumbled, finally, half out of breath. And gesturing, "Have a seat." Tripping over my words, I added: "Glad to meet you. My name's Alexan- " but he interrupted me as he accepted my handshake.

"You're SensualPoet, I think. That *is* you, isn't it? You posted some pics." He paused. I lit up. "My name's Randy, by the way."

"Oh my gawd," I blurted out. Well, giggled out. "You've been reading my stuff? I thought you might think I'm a stalker." I laughed, nervously, there being a ring-of-truth to that.

Randy smiled. "Nope. I've been enjoying your writing. You're obviously not a stalker! I thought I'd recognized your pic from, er, another site but when I came across your blog pic I realized that it was you."

Not giving to fainting, I didn't ... but it's a good thing I was sitting down 'cause I was swooning just then.

"I laughed really hard through the Sperm essay. I hope you don't mind that I showed it to a bunch of friends." He paused again, knowingly. "No, of course you don't mind ... you're very good at self-promotion, aren't you?" His eyes twinkled at me and he broke out into a warm grin. "Could I give you my number?"

Did I mention he has a very sexy Adam's apple? And now I know about the smile, up-close-and-personal, too. I closed my eyes, just for a second, to savour the moment.

Where'd he go?!? I demand a recount!

:: Just then I felt a shudder of cold air -- that darned door again! -- and then my shoulder being jostled. I looked fondly to take in Randy's gorgeous hand resting on my shoulder. Startled, I discovered it was a uniformed Timothy's person. "You finished with that newspaper, bud?"

I blinked and looked across the table. Empty. I searched the other side of the cafe. No sign of Randy. I need more caffeine, obviously. Daydreaming like that sucks.

And, Lordy, I need a boyfriend, too, don't I?

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Ontario Election Night: We've Seen Worse

Ontario's Provincial Legislative Assembly, Queen's Park, Toronto

:: In Ontario, every four years or so, this Canadian province has an election. An election has to be called within five years of the previous election; the current Premier usually has the privilege of deciding when an election is called. During approximately a forty day window, candidates for all parties are signed up and the election is held. Ballots are counted (by hand) in about 3 or 4 hours election night. Then it's hands-off again for another four or so years.

Since I have lived in the province -- March, 1956 to present day -- we have had a steady stream of mainly Tory (Progressive Conservative or PC) governments. Most of those have fit the "Red" Tory mold -- fiscally somewhat conservative and reasonably liberal socially. But since the forty-two year Tory lock on successive governments was broken in 1985, the usual opposition party -- the Liberals (Grits) -- have been in power a couple of times; even the more extreme left, the New Democratic Party (NDP), have had one stint at the helm.

Dalton McGuinty, Liberal leader and newly elected Premier of Ontario

Tonight, the current eight year Tory reign was ended at the hands of the Liberals and its leader Dalton McGuinty. The new government won a comanding majority of 72 out of 103 seats in the provincial legislature (located here in Toronto, just down the road from where I live, on a grassy knoll called Queen's Park); the Tories, under Ernie Eves (who was fighting his first election as Premier), were reduced to 24 seats from 59, and thus became the official opposition. And while the NDP, under Howard Hampton, garnered almost 15% of the popular vote, they only managed to grab 7 seats; when the dust settles they will no longer be recognized as an "official party".

McGuinty is a "new style" politician: he looks good on tv; he sounds direct while being vague; and, as so often happens in politics these days, he's won his chance at the top job more because people dislike the current guy than have any special desire to see him as leader. He has four years or so to win the trust of the voters and put together a decent cabinet to nudge the province in a Liberal direction without upsetting too many people. McGuinty will do best if he turns into a "Blue" Grit.

Ernie Eves, Progressive Conservative leader, exiting Premier and new leader of the Opposition

:: Ernie Eves was the Finance Minister under the previously elected Premier (Mike Harris, who ran under a more strongly right wing platform than Ontario voters generally opt for; he resigned in 2002). To be blunt, Eves ran a dismal campaign that, to the casual observer, looked like he wanted to lose. After 16 months as Premier since the retirement of Harris (in Ontario the man or woman leading the party in power becomes the Premier between elections), Eves had shown himself to be a generally likeable, but lack-lustre -- and even directionless -- leader.

With the power blackout in August, he finally rolled up his sleeves and looked like "a decent chap" who might be capable of being in charge -- after a string of bad luck disasters from the Walkerton tainted water scandal, SARS in the city and, at the outset of the election, a meat packing plant brouhaha. There was a sense that in education, health and hydro -- three traditional Tory achievements of generosity and fairness -- Eves had dropped the ball. He looked good reasurring the people during the blackout; but what happened during the election campaign? Some would say he showed his true colours.

Some men are simply not cut out to be leaders and Eves strikes some (me, anyway) as the quintessential right-hand man -- not a leader. In his new role as leader of the Official Opposition he might actually shine -- although his generally quiet demeanour suggests otherwise. He will, at least, be well prepared. And his days are numbered: a party convention is likely to be held in early 2006 to replace him. After over 20 years in the legislature, Eves is not likely to try to hold on to the leadership.

Logo of the Green Party of Ontario, founded here in 1983

:: For all this, the real story of the night was not McGuinty's triumph -- who many felt for the past year to be likely to win this election -- nor the failure of Howard Hampton, the leader of the NDP since 1996, and who is also likely to be cast aside in about two years time by his party; the real story is that of the Green Party of Ontario.


The Greens are linked to others Greens sprouting up across the Western world (especially in the UK, Europe and the US), although this is a "spiritual" link, not an organizational one. Possibly for the first time in Ontario history, a fourth party has gained 3% of the vote. It will be a very tough slog to make further gains in 2007, the likely date for the next Ontario election because the system discourages new parties; but there is room for a fourth voice.

Bob Rae, Premier of Ontario under the NDP from 1990-95

Ontario is a place of centrist views and, for the Tories, Grits or NDP to hold power, they need to move into the centre while making the other parties seem extreme. There is a natural argument for Tory vs Grit; the NDP, normally identified as being the furthest left, have the hardest task. The only time they ran the government (1990-95) they won with a mere 37.6% of the popular vote but managed to win 74 of the 130 seats. Once in power under leader Bob Rae, they did not heed the call of "centre" and were tossed out dramatically after one term.

Ontario Election Summary:

  From 1943, six PC leaders in a row ending with Frank Miller in 1985;

  David Peterson (Lib) 1985-90; Bob Rae (NDP) 1990-95;

  Mike Harris (PC) 1995-02; Ernie Eves (PC) 2002-03;

  Dalton McGuinty (Lib) 2003-?

Seats and Popular Vote by Election Year
PC 52 (37.0)16 (24.7)20 (23.5)82 (44.8)59 (45.1)24 (34.7)
Liberal 48 (37.9)95 (47.3)36 (32.4)30 (31.1)35 (39.8)72 (46.4)
NDP 25 (25.7)19 (23.8)74 (37.6)17 (20.6)9 (12.6)7 (14.7)
Green 0 ( 0.1)0 ( 0.0)0 ( 0.7)0 ( 0.4)0 ( 0.7)0 ( 3.0)

:: So how do the Greens fit in? Well, for one thing, they are so darned nice; you can smell mom's apple pie warming in the oven. Their party platform has "Ten Key Values" including: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Grassroots Democracy; Nonviolence; Decentralization; Community-Based Economics; Feminism; Respect for Diversity; Personal and Global Responsibility; Future Focus/Sustainability. Red Torys, Blue Grits, Far Left Socialists and Far Right Libertarians will all find acceptable centrist turf in the Green platform.

No other party even mentions violence, except ina law-and-order context. Community-based economics is likely to result in lower taxes; feminism, diversity and grassroots democracy appeals to anyone who feels dis-enfranchised -- and with the skepticism about politicians in general these days, that is almost everyone. The problem is the Greens have not been tested anywhere in Canada yet: they have yet to elect a member to Parliament or a Provincial Legislature, let alone gaining official party status, graduating to opposition party or taking power. Each of Canada's main three parties -- left-leaning rightist Tories, right-leaning leftist Liberals and left-leaning leftist NDPers -- has managed to form a government provincially. Is there room for a fourth party? And if so, is it the Greens?

Gabriel Draven, Green Party candidate for Toronto Centre-Rosedale

:: Tonight's election provides some hope: disenchanted Tories, Liberals and NDPers could all vote Green if the party itself grows in credibility over the next four years. In my riding of Toronto Centre-Rosedale -- a drastic mix of old-monied Toronto, a large working class, a large welfare class, and a highly visible gay vote -- the openly gay Liberal incumbent won handily against PC and NDP hopefuls. George Smitherman, a strong candidate for the next Cabinet, won 51.6% of the vote against a slate of five others, and a substantial increase in plurality from the previous election. The Green candidate, Gabriel Draven, captured a respectable 4.5% of the vote. In the riding next door, Trinity-Spadina, the Green candidate Greg Laxton managed nearly 6%; the incumbent NDP Rosario Marchese won handily with almost 48%.

Although I have been a member of the PC party off-and-on since 1970, I have voted NDP and Liberal on occasion; and while my first choice is PC, my vote is based more on the merits of the local candidate than the party. This election I voted Green and I intend to keep an eye on the party in the future.

With a federal election looming late next spring, after the coronation of Liberal Paul Martin as next Prime Minister succeeding Jean Chretien when he retires in February; and the NDP led by Jack Layton (currently not a member of the House of Commons); and the "right wing" in disarray with a shrill, extremist Stephen Harper as leader of the Canadian Alliance and a non-entity Peter MacKay leading the PCs -- it might be the time for the Greens. Alas, the party's website doesn't even mention the name of its federal party leader (it's Jim Harris). In the 2000 election resulting in a solid Liberal victory, the Greens actually came in sixth scooping up just under 1% of the national vote; the NDP came in fifth.

Frank de Jong, Green Party of Ontario leader, and candidate in Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey

You do have to admire the hutzpah of the leader of the provincial Greens, however. Frank de Jong pulled in a respectable 6.1% of the votes in the riding of Dufferin-Peel-Wellington-Grey, beating the NDP candidate by 13 votes to take the third spot. The guy who won the riding took a commanding 56.7% of the votes, winning by a landslide. His name? Ernie Eves.