take a city

Take a city. Any city.

Take one that despite its city status has a crazy small town vibe where people still say “Oh, you mean where the Boychyns used to live?” of a house where the Boychyns have not lived for decades. Where everybody seems to have gone to school with somebody that somebody else knows and where possibly one of the best chip trucks in the country is parked on a distinctly unglamorous corner.

And where, because it’s a city, terrible things happen—women and children end up in shelters and young men are sometimes shot. There are daily lineups outside the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and a crowd of smokers huddle outside the Timmy’s. There’s sadness on the streets, insanity too, but if you stop someone for directions chances are you’ll be surprised by kindness, by the thoughtfulness of the answer.

Take a city where you are stuck behind a woman at the corner shop whose husband has a new hip and the cashier wants to know how things are going with Ted. Be prepared to shift about, to be on the verge of muttering unpleasantries when you’re overcome with relief to hear that things are on the mend, that Ted is doing okay. And just as you consider taking up peevishness again, the silver-haired woman turns to you and says “Men, eh! The old farts don’t know how good they’ve got it!”  When she snaps her purse shut with a happy cackle, you can see her kitchen, the apron on a chrome chair, a kettle that’s always just boiled, her whole house smelling of pie and Hamburger Helper… and as she leaves you almost want to shout “Say hello to Ted for me!”

Take this city and its factories, its history of lunch pails, shift work and layoffs, picnics at the lake, fights at the bar, a gallery of fine art. A city where people who live there wouldn’t live anywhere else and those who’ve never visited have crystal clear misconceptions.

Where economic nose dives hit extremely hard. Hard enough to close down small businesses. But not all… people are loyal to old favourites.

And new favourites emerge from the rubble.

Take a city where, among the alleys and row houses, brick bungalows, flats over tattoo parlours, funky cafes, restaurants and thrift shops, among empty storefronts… a group of local artists have invadedfilling spaces behind doors that are normally locked with ‘For Lease’ signs in their windows… filling those spaces with people, art and music.

At least for a short while.
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Take a city that can’t be broke.

dear media people:

I mean many of you (not all, see p.s.) but especially you, dear CBC Radio, because you are the media people I often pay attention to and lately I’ve heard you mention a little too often, a certain store about to open in the Toronto area. Soft openings. Grand openings. Why and when and what and oh golly!— each time I switch off the radio and mutter bad words in frustration.

Worse, I fear there’s more of it to come as soft openings and grand openings approach.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: this [yet another] big American store doesn’t need our help although I’m sure it’s grateful for all the attention it’s getting. Free and regular promos. From our public broadcaster no less. And so, as someone who happily and proudly supports you in many ways, I have a question:

Why are you doing this??

I mean it’s not like big American stores opening up in Canada and selling loads of cheap stuff made under questionable conditions in countries far, far away is news. And if you’re worried that they might open and no one will notice and you feel duty bound to inform us of such goings-on, may you rest assured that word will spread even if you utter not another syllable about it.

Surely a store opening is not news, nor are the stages of its development worthy of monitoring. At least not this kind of store. Unfortunately, this store will do just fine without one bit of media interest.

Who might benefit from your attention, however, are the smaller, local indies that will suffer in the shadow of this most recent behemoth. Why not save your air time for THAT kind of news? News of butchers and bakers and candlestick makers that, despite being largely ignored by the media, and against the odds, continue in their Sisyphean task of slowing the rate of the world’s devolution to soulless Big Box status.

It’s the candlestick makers that keep us human.

Here’s the thing… No one will build communities for us. Builders only build profits. It’s up to us to build communities. And we build them by being informed of what’s out there and then supporting it. And I don’t mean only the new or funky patios in certain neighbourhoods but all manner of businesses across the city, the GTA, the province, the country—stores, restaurants, markets, manufacturers, service providers—real people who make a living despite the Goliaths, and who make those livings in real ways, and deserve real support.

If the Big Store Opening must be mentioned on your airwaves, although I have NO IDEA why it must be… then please leave it for the top of the hour news on the day of the opening. That’s more than enough ‘information’.

There’s worthier out there, and the power you wield is no small potatoes.

Please use that power wisely.

Yours sincerely,

carin makuz.

p.s. Thank you to THIS Magazine for continuing to be you, with *this*… WTF, indeed.


the long and worthwhile road…

—That leads to my bookseller’s door.

Please understand.

I don’t have to drive. I can call the store, phone in my order [and have, often], or place it online through the shop’s website. I can have it delivered to my doorstep—but I prefer the thirty minute drive to pick up the books in person, see how the shelves are stacked, see what’s in the windows, chat with staff about new favourites, gift ideas, book club picks, the best food in town, the latest author reading or event being held in Blue Heron’s studio space [where among this summer’s inaugural events was a Neil Flambe camp for kids with Kevin Sylvester], or just wander about neighbouring shops. It’s the kind of town where you feel encouraged to wander, discover things, where you end up getting back in your car with not only books but goat cheese, olives, pastries, fresh bread—the fixings for a perfect rest of the day.

The bookshop is merely the town’s heart. Stuart McLean named it among his ten favourites in the country.

Recently ordered, collected, or waiting for me, are Joe Brainard’s I Remember, Alice Zorn’s Ruins & Relics, Brenda Schmidt’s Grid, Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat, Alice Peterson’s All the Voices CryLorri Neilsen Glenn’s essays on poetry, Threading Light, the re-release of Sheree Fitch’s classic, Toes in My Nose, and the short story anthologies Riptides  and Bridges. 

All of which has arrived, or will, without a glitch. The phone will ring and I’ll pick a day when I need goat cheese and good bread and head out.

Lucky us for having all that.

And congratulations to Shelley Macbeth, the creative genius and owner of Blue Heron Books, who, this year, [so well deservedly] received the CBA Libris Award for Canadian Bookseller of the Year.

And thanks.

how to spend a day in peterborough

If the day is Saturday…

…start with the market.

Buy potaotes from the Potato Guy who has a dozen different varieties at least and can tell you the history and origins of every single one. He will also tell you which ones make the best potato salad, the best for mashed, scalloped, boiled, baked, fried, potato-pancaked, you name it, he will tell you. He is the Potato Guy.

Buy mushrooms from the [you know what’s coming…] Mushroom Guy. Only in this case it’s the Mushroom Gal. But she’s not there in person in winter [though her ‘shrooms are]; in winter she’s in her lab figuring out how to cultivate morels.   I think she’s doing a PhD in mushroomology. Seriously. The Shiitake are always spectacular. And the Portobello are fresh and don’t need their insides scraped out before you eat/grill/sautee them the way they do when you get the ones from Outer Mongolia at the grocery store.

Buy chocolate from two lads who call themselves ChocoSol and whose [better than fair trade] endeavours are worth supporting. Not to mention the chocolate. Which is worth eating. Expensive, but that’s because it’s ethical and real. And that is the price of ethical and real food. The recipe is simple: buy smarter, eat less.

Buy clean, fresh greenhouse greens from the guy right near the entrance at a tiny table where you never know what he’ll have from week to week, but you know it will be excellent.

Buy apples from the St. Catharines guy, also apple cider; and for god’s sake, don’t forget the pulled pork pastry from The Pastry Peddler or a jar of freshly jarred honey—or cheese, or perogies, farm fresh eggs, homemade pies and cookies, sausages and a few samosas.

Buy flowers to feed the soul.

Remember to thank the buskers for their delightful ambience.

And be absolutley stunned that you spent all your money but applaud yourself for spending it so wisely and in a way that will directly help others, rather than helping already-doing-just-fine-thanks grocery store gazillionaires who bully farmers.

Make a mental note to get cat food on the way home.

Visit a 94 year-old uncle who has a fractured femur but that doesn’t stop him lighting up at the bag of mudpie chocolate cookies you bring him from the market. [p.s. bring him reading material also; Harlan Coban is a good choice.]

Have lunch at Elements. Have the wild boar pate. Have the mussel and fish stew. Have the vino verde. Smile. Sit back. Breathe. Be thankful.

Pop into Titles Bookstore. Buy a copy of something local.

Decide against visiting the many second hand bookshops on George Street [you can’t do it all] and walk west, along the river instead. If you see litter, pick it up. If you fancy a sit down, well then, for pete’s sake, sit down. [Make a note to try the patio at the Holiday Inn once the weather heats up; lovely view.]

Walk all the way to the art gallery, one of the best you’ll see anywhere, where you might find an exhibit by the students at PCVS, a local, downtown high school under threat of closure—and then wonder at the madness of the powers that be.

Choose as your favourite, an installation comprised of one large pink velveteen sofa with dark and ornately carved trim, above which are four standard paint-by-number style formal landscape paintings in gilt frames, each of which has been over-painted in Norville Morriseau style interpretations of ‘landscape’.

Second favourite installation: a text written on the wall, denouncing art. Heart-breaking in one way, given that the artist feels there’s no point in art because no one really gets it and it changes nothing. Oh dear. I want to find this person and say: it doesn’t matter. Do it anyway.

Admire the light.

Walk back along the river to your car and make a mental note to wear better shoes next time.

Stop to take pictures of a dilapidated building that was once a place to eat and drink and be merry.

Go home. Eat, drink and be merry.

[But not before picking up some cat food, otherwise there will be hell to pay.]


More Travel:

Prince Edward Island
Niagara Region

making a list

Of course the holidays aren’t about gifts. Who said they were?? Gifts shmifts. We’re above that, right? It’s all about feelings and togetherness and kumbaya, man. Yessirree Bob it surely is. Still, I have the feeling that if a few gifts don’t cross a few palms there will be some questionable vibes floating around amongst the joy and the shortbread crumbs.

Having said that there’s no rule about what the gift should be and between you, me and the lamppost, I don’t like shopping and most of the people I know already have too much stuff. (Books don’t count. We all need books.)

So for the past few years I’ve been moving to non-stuff gifts (except for books, which, just to make it crystal clear, are NOT included in the ‘stuff’ category, not in any land or galaxy because, among other things, and unlike stuff, they’re fun to buy).

I was, therefore, super chuffed when a friend recently sent me a list of “Out of the Box” gift ideas. Nothing especially mind-blowing, but that’s the point: to consider some of the basic things that everybody needs but don’t treat themselves to. Like new underwear, only better.

— gift certificate to an art supply store
— or hair salon, barber
— garden centre
— car detailing (someone to clean my car—they do that??)
— lawn mowing service
— snow ploughing
— ski hills/trails
— restaurants, cafes, diners, bistros, a really great mom & pop breakfast joint
— house-cleaning for a day
— window washing service for spring
— eavestrough cleaning for fall
— local art, pottery, scarves, jewellery, etc.
— subscription to local theatre
— membership to museum, gallery
— chimney cleaning

Lots there to appeal to mums and dads, grandparents or older friends/relatives who have mown enough lawns and cleaned enough gutters that the lustre has faded a little from those particular DIY jobs… and it helps support small businesses.

Then there’s food: homemade preserves, baked things (markets sell this stuff year-round), or (for people you really like): Community Supported Agriculture and similar farm programs that deliver baskets of fresh veggies all summer. There’s magazine subscriptions and favourite charities of course. And donkeys… You get the idea.

In fact, if you do get any ideas, or come across other sites that are doing unusually fun gifty things worthy of note, please let me know.

So here’s to keeping out of the malls and, as much as possible, supporting community and independent retailers, book shops… and always, always… FARMERS!

Happy trails!

Via Melwyck–— give the library!

Via Eating Niagara –— give ice and rock climbing, outdoorsy adventures, nudist dining, and more!

love... it's all in the detail(ing)s

goats are (were) one of my dreams

From the new glossy pages of The Globe and Mail (Sue Riedl’s ‘The Spread’) comes a piece about a family that moved from Israel to Kelowna and opened a goat cheese business named after their two daughters. I read it thinking: that is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do, despite not having the requisite two daughters.

I just like goats. And not only that—although I do have a story about taking one for a walk in the Austrian alps when I was nine (that got away from me because it was not used to being taken for walks by strange young Canadians and was both confused and frightened and so galloped through the village with me in hot pursuit trying to think how to say Stop Little Goat! in german)—

—but I also happen to like goat cheese.

So running a goat cheese business has always been something that seemed right up my street.

Two problems continue to prevent this:

1) They don’t allow goats on my street; at least I’ve rarely seen any, and

2) I haven’t finished the novel so don’t really have time to be milking and walking and otherwise entertaining them.

Oh, wait. There’s three.

3) Despite my general crazy love for cheese, and no matter how hard I’d be willing to try, I just know I’d never be able to describe it in these terms (from The G&M):

“Misty and Moonlight are two cheeses that stand out from the pack…. Misty is immediately distinctive with its dark ash rind made from kiln-charred root vegetables. The cheese has a mushroomy, yeasty aroma and a nice balance of flavour–salty with a soft tang that leaves a pleasantly long linger. “

The other—Moonlight—is, apparently, “smooth and creamy on the palate with mineral notes and a pleasant earthy aroma.”

Gorgeous, yes, but I’ve only just learned to describe wine as not merely tasting ‘grapey’. Now it seems it’s not enough to describe cheese as mmmm, nice

So, notwithstanding my love of all things goatish, I’ve gotta say this is one dream I just may have to let go of.

Ah well. I’ll always have the alps.