Carol Shields asks some interesting questions

October 10, 1997

What’s it like to be a man at the end of the 20th century? Carol Shields had no idea. So she put the question to a variety of men she knew—her husband Don, her friends (she doesn’t have many who are men, she says), teaching colleagues, acquaintances from her busy life as a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and University of Winnipeg chancellor and English professor. Continue reading

Martin Amis, man of extremes

 

October 25, 1989

Writing about sex is something Martin Amis is famous for, but he calls it a writing challenge. Few modern writers, he says, do sex “without embarrassing us slightly.” Even Updike he finds slightly embarrassing. “Lawrence is full of it—again, embarrassing to me.”

What makes him really squirm is “when I think the writer is actually getting into what turns him on—I think you lose universality and it becomes rather pathetic. They let you look where you don’t want to see.” Mind you, people do tend to think that writers have lived through the sexual experiences they describe, which makes him afraid that “people think I must be weirder than I am.”

He’s lively and quick in conversation, with a smart wit built on shared references and shared humour. In his writing, he says, he enjoys “heading toward the cartoon and the caricature. I like extremes rather than complexities and subtleties. It suits the way I write.”

He has a Swiftian mercilessness to his satire, but thinks the term “disgust” is too strong to describe the moral stance that shines like a beacon through his work. “All writers are basically keen on life, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the business of putting it down on paper … and putting it down means celebrating it, in my case through vicious laughter.”

 

The Mark diaries

 

October 24, 1991

WINNIPEG: Mark[1] told me today he was HIV positive. We were in his car; he was giving me a ride to a radio interview about the Evy book[2]. We stopped at a gas station so he could fill up, but when he got back into the car he didn’t start it, he just kept us sitting there beside the pumps. “I just got some bad news,” he said. “Though you probably guessed.” It was a quarter to nine: the morning rush was still on, and people in the gas line were honking. I had no idea what he was talking about. Continue reading

Hugh Hanson Davidson: evergreen

 

Composer, arts activist, arts patron, philanthropist, music advisor, music critic,  traveller, raconteur, spiritual seeker. Born May 27, 1930, in Montreal, died Victoria, B.C. July 14, 2014, of complications following heart surgery, aged 84.

 

The qualities that people loved about Hugh were his generosity, his gregariousness and his gratitude for the joys of a life in art. They spilled onto you as a kind of blessing: he was the genial uncle who could always make you feel better. Uncle Hugh, not just to the family, but to us all. He was always happy to do what he could to increase the store of beauty and goodness in the world. Continue reading

A beer with Ronnie Biggs

In the late fall of 1994 I was in Rio de Janeiro for a meeting of the International Federation of Food, Wine and Travel Writers—a junket, really, largely financed by the Brazilian tourist authorities. Of the 60 or so people at the conference only a handful were real journalists (as opposed to people who write about restaurants and travel) and none of them were there to do any serious digging—not that the Brazilian tourist authorities would have encouraged it, though they did set up a press meeting with the local police chiefs, who gave us the usual warnings about sensible conduct on the beach.

 In terms of stories, I wasn’t really interested in the food, wine and travel angles. You can only digest so many meals and attend so many receptions. I was more interested in the underside of the place (the local criminals call tourists filet mignon). One afternoon a writer from LA and I took a taxi into the favela that was the main drugs pipeline out of Colombia, and I let it be known that I’d be interested in meeting Ronnie Biggs, the Great Train Robber who was in hiding in Rio from British justice, if anyone knew where he might be.

I thought it was a long shot, but on the day I was due to go home someone drove up beside me as I was walking in the street beside my hotel and slipped me a piece of paper bearing a phone number. When I called it, Ronnie himself answered. “Sure, come on over,” he said. 

The nervous taxi driver insisted on dropping me a few streets away from the actual address, a twisting, cobbled street in a village-style neighborhood of Rio called Santa Teresa, and I found the house with the help of a passing local who asked if I was looking for “Mr. Biggie.” Mr. Biggie was taking a nap when I knocked, and answered the door in a green singlet and khaki shorts, his long, silver hair pulled back in a ponytail. Here’s my diary entry. Continue reading