He Who Waits

Beckett croppedFive people, a fake tree, and some old boots. It’s certainly not an expensive production to put on. Nor complex: Two guys stand around waiting for someone, two other guys show up, leave, come back again, so does another. It has a beginning, middle and end only in the sense that it starts, goes on for a while and stops.

Samuel Beckett’s En Attendant Godot—known more widely by it’s English title, Waiting for Godot—broke new ground when it was first performed in 1953 at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. Bare even by minimalist standards, it’s enigmatic nature makes it possible to find all kinds of meaning in it, and people do.  Read more of this post

Learning from Escher

In 1990, Doris Schattschneider[1] wrote a book about M. C. Escher ‘s work entitled ‘Visions of Symmetry.’ The book focuses on the “regular division of the plane,” one of Escher’s favorite themes (Escher, in fact, wrote a book with this title in 1958). Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) first became interested in interlocking shapes[2] when he visited Alhambra, a fourteenth century castle in Spain known for its intricate mosaics.



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Finishing Da Vinci

Few people are as famous as Leonardo da Vinci. His paintings have become icons of civilization, his notebooks the quintessential expression of the creative and scientific mind. He is who we mean when we say ‘Renaissance Man.’ But he had a fatal flaw. For all his artistic and inventive genius, he rarely finished anything. Even his most famous work, the Mona Lisa, was never  ‘completed.’  Vasari, a contemporary of Leonardo’s, wrote in his biography of Leonardo (in Lives of the Most Eminent Italian Architects, Painters, and Sculptors, 1550), that “Leonardo undertook to execute, for Francesco del Giocondo, the portrait of Mona Lisa, his wife; and after toiling over it for four years, he left it unfinished.”[1] Read more of this post

Darwin’s Seal

In a letter dated October 24th, 1839, Charles Darwin wrote to his cousin William Darwin Fox, asking if he knew “what the motto to our crest is for I mean to have a seal solemnly engraved.” [1] Which, evidently, he did—a letter from Darwin to the Reverend Gilbert Smith dated November 20th, 1840, sports a seal featuring his family crest and motto.

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To err is human

In 1963, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), published a short story in the Soviet literary magazine Novy Mir (New World), called ‘An Incident at Krechetovka Station.’ It was translated into English the same year and published in book form (along with another short story, ‘Matryona’s Place’), under the title ‘We Never Make Mistakes.’ Read more of this post

The Good, the Bad, and the Obscene

New article up at Fine Books (The Good, the Bad, and the Obscene) on the making of the bibliography of the Olympia Press. Olympia  flourished in the 1950s and published The Naked Lunch, The Ginger Man, Lolita, and works by Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and (English translations of) the Marquis de Sade.

Behind Every Book A Story

Ten years after my father died, I finally sorted through his files, organized them and boxed them to be shipped to the Library and Archives of Canada. As I packed the materials, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand it was a relief to fulfill a promise made years ago; on the other hand sad to see the rows of filing cabinets and boxes gone, my last connection to a man I knew both well and not at all. 

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Hockey Night in Toronto

Toronto has not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, but it dominated the 1940s and 1960s, and Cup wins go way back, the first two coming in 1913-14 (pre-NHL) and 1917-18 (the first year of the NHL). My grandfather, Frank Carroll, was the trainer of both those early Toronto teams. His brother Dick, was co-trainer of the Blueshirts in 1913-14, and the coach of the 1917-18 team.

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On the Brink of Fame

“Know what,” she said, “I have to learn to smoke for my next picture. Give me a cigarette and you can take pictures of me practicing.” That sounded like a good idea, and Jock shot an entire roll of film while Marilyn Monroe, propped up on the bed in her hotel room, struck a number of different poses.

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The Royal Game

Long before chess had black and white squares, it had a checkered past. For some a passion, for others an obsession, the Royal Game has driven more than a few combatants to total madness and others to an early grave. The medieval Norse epic Olaf’s Saga tells us that in A.D. 1037 King  Knut made a terrible blunder during a chess game against Jarl Ulf. When the king asked if he could take back the ill-considered move, his opponent understandably – but foolishly – refused. In what can only be called an act of poor sportsmanship, Knut chased Ulf into a nearby church and killed him. Vikings, apparently, took their chess quite seriously. Read more of this post