31 May 2005

End of Tour statistics

[Atop Signal Hill in St. John's; behind me, in the distance, Ireland]

As mentioned in the Water Ceremony post below, the Tour is now officially over, and tomorrow we turn the car around. Notice, I beg, the licence plate in the photo above: how many cars reach St. John's with California plates? No one has commented on them since Montreal, but on this blog the world can behold our vanity.

Speaking of vanity, here are some end-of-Tour statistics.

Total days of Tour: 50
Days featuring a performance: 28
Days driving: 15
Days off / devoted to logistics: 8
Ferries taken: 7
Total kilometers travelled: 11 675
(=Total miles travelled: 7,254)
Total cups of Tim Horton's coffee enjoyed: as countless as the grains of sand in the Libyan desert
Total hours of documentary digital video footage filmed: 46
Total gigabytes of documentary digital video footage: 552
Number of print interviews given: 4
Number of radio interviews given: 7
Number of TV interviews given: 1
Number of blog entries: 61
Total schools performed at: 16
Total school performances: 29
Total public performances: 13
Total performances: 42
Total audience for school shows: 1315
Total audience for public shows: 292
Total audience: 1607
Average length of performance, in verses: c. 450
Total verses performed: c. 18900
Total verses in the Iliad: c. 16000
Average length of time to deliver one verse, in seconds: c. 5
Total length of time spent performing verses, in hours: c. 26

Dave and I would like to thank all the hosts at public shows and teachers at school shows along the Tour, without whom the project would not have been possible. Lorenz von Fersen and Jim Oborne provided invaluable assistance; our parents, Marg and Jim, always thought that we would make it to the end. Moira Johnson and Tracy Theobald at Moira Johnson Consulting did an extraordinary job on the publicity. Rudyard Griffiths and Alison Faulknor of The Dominion Institute, the Tour's sponsor, lent their remarkable talent for organisation and coordination to The Plains of Abraham Project, and the dedication of Annie Forget, who lined up all the venues (an immense task) and liased from start to finish, was almost superhuman. Lastly but most warmly, we feel a great debt of gratitude to the Tour's patrons, who believed in Canadian epic poetry. I hope we have been worthy of their trust.

He's looking away from the screen now, so I can sneak in one last comment: in praise of Dave. You know, there's not many people who could put up with a guy like me for a week, must less six -- and that almost 24/7. What a brother. What a guy. He's been as busy, or busier, than I've been the whole time, and he only grumbled when he saw I didn't want to grumble alone. Behind the cameras, at the wheel, on the phone half the time to media and contacts days in advance, his dedication is what's kept me going. I can't imagine a single instant of the Tour without him (and there wasn't one!); I'd take my hat off to him if I were the hat-wearing type. Salve, frater!

[Dave on the (Atlantic) edge of the continent]

Water ceremony - a mari usque ad mare

Just got back from the last show of the Tour, at the LSPU Hall Gallery in St. John's. The last show, can it be true? Well, it is, though I frankly cannot come to terms with the fact right now. Fortunately there is the "bonus" Tour-capping show coming up in Quebec City on Friday.

We celebrated with pan-fried cod at a pub on Water Street. Absolutely delicious. One really does begin laying plans in the back of the brain of how one could move to Newfoundland.

No pics yet from tonight's show, but it had a good success: about 12 people in the audience, and fine art by local artists on the walls of the Gallery around us. It was strangely hot under the lights! Also got the chance to shake the hand of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe, who stopped by and also warned us about the Moose on the Trans-Canada. I hadn't realised it, but they are apparently
attracted to headlights, so there are effectively several hundred thousand two-ton antlered torpedoes out there on the Rock, ready to zoom straight for you. Will I sleep better, knowing this?

Tomorrow we head off bright and early, but I can't forbear from blogging the Water Ceremony of yesterday afternoon.

[Bottling the Pacific]

The keenest reader of this blog may have forgotten that back on 11 April, the day before the Tour began, I wandered down to English Bay in Vancouver to fill up a bottle in the Pacific ocean. Dave and I pondered whether we should play it safe and use a screw-top bottle -- eliminating all chance of spillage -- or go for the classier wine bottle. The wine bottle won because we couldn't find a screw-top bottle, and every now and then throughout the Tour I would notice the bottle sitting in the trunk and think, "Whoa Nellie! I hope the cork doesn't come out." I had explained, you see, to Dave that, based on my experience on Epic Tour 2000, when I likewise brought a bottle of water
a mari usque ad mare (emphasis on usque), the shelf-life of bottled seawater is short. In fact, when I had opened it up in my grandmother Affleck's living room in 2000, I had unleashed an unholy odour.

But the cork held, and yesterday afternoon -- a gloriously sunny day -- I ceremoniously dumped the Pacific into the Atlantic. And Dave, standing 10 feet away with the camera with a strong breeze blowing, commented on the particular tang in the air.

[Pouring the Pacific into the Atlantic]

A mari usque ad mare. Literally, that motto encompasses more than the mind can easily conceive. This Tour has taught me a lot about this country and its people: we've seen mountains and prairies, vast lakes and quick brooks, islands and immense cities, snow and sunshine, and of course two seasides. But it's the people that make the nation, the young and the old; and even as we plan for the days to come, I hope we continue to look with interest to the epic past.

CBC radio interview in St. John's

The interview I'd given yesterday to Heather Barrett of Radio Noon was broadcast today -- and in a most wonderful way, as they played clips of one of yesterday's performances throughout the hour! Here's an audio file, in Quicktime format:

I've cut out most of the other material on the show. I was pretty wrecked -- had just performed 3 times and (you'll be amazed to read) signed many an autograph -- when I spoke to Heather, but in fact I'm oddly coherent (if I do say so myself)!

30 May 2005

St. John's school shows

[3rd show at Prince of Wales today; note stand-up mic in front of me]

Had a splendid time performing at Prince of Wales Collegiate today, the last school shows of Epic Tour 2005. Nice to go out with a bang! The students are really engaged, obviously bursting with creativity -- one had even constructed a diarama of the battle. Our host, Mr. Keith Samuelson, is really the paragon of the committed, can-do, think-outside-the-box high school teacher: one felt superbly energised in his presence. I was pretty impressed by St. John's already, but if this is what the city's youth are like, this province is headed for a bright future. (I see I'm mentioned on the school page, at the link above, with a picture; one student also added some flattering comments to the Final map of Tour route post below.) Thank you, PWC!

[2nd show. I used the projection screen to provide a white backdrop, which worked quite well]

Of the three shows, the third was the best, and also the first I've done in front of a stand-up microphone (which was collecting material for the Radio Noon broadcast tomorrow; see post below). I didn't quail in its presence, though it did forbid sweeping hand-gestures; but I didn't feel as cut off from the audience as I'd have expected. Still, I don't think I'll have one in front of me in the future if it can be avoided. Total audience today was about 130.

Alas, though, no more school shows! It feels eerie to have no more to look forward to. I'd had my doubts, before the Tour began, about the prospect of performing in front of younger audiences -- wasn't I reviving an essentially elite art form? Didn't that mean that only a few could understand it? Yet some of the best performances, and the best responses, have certainly been at the schools. I guess I hadn't hung around much with people aged 12-18 for a good while: the fact is, they should never be underestimated, personally or in their ability to understand and appreciate art. I will miss performing for them.

Quebec City confirmed

We have confirmation on the date, time, and location of the Quebec City show. I will be performing the poem at 8pm in Kirk Hall, 44 St-Stanislas St. in the Old City (sponsored by the Literary and Historical Society). Here's a useful map; Kirk Hall is just across the street from Morrin College.

Of course, the final official stop on Epic Tour 2005 is tomorrow in St. John's, at 7pm in the LSPU Hall Gallery (Resource Centre), at 3 Victoria St. (itself usefully mapped). I just gave another interview (7th and luckiest?) for CBC Radio today; it will be airing on the Radio Noon show and will, I hope, help attract a large audience.

28 May 2005

Final map of Tour route

Having reached St. John's (see post below), I feel free to upload the final map of the Tour, covering the whole thing from start (in Vancouver, 12 April) to finish (well, we're not finished yet, but we're not leaving St. John's before it's over!).

We passed the 11 000 km mark today, just after Gander. We're now 200 km closer to Minsk than we are to Silicon Valley, where the first entry on this blog was written.

St. John's reached

[view from our hotel window overlooking St. John's harbour]

We have reached St. John's. 10 hours it was indeed, but through some of the most beautiful country we've seen so far. This island is rugged! Uniquely, too, the Trans-Canada is not populated in this province, instead acting as a highway linking regional highways, along which the many towns of Newfoundland are situated. So we saw a great deal of completely untouched wilderness: lots of gushing rivers (it rained most of the way), lots of towering rockfaces, miles and miles of trees (some strange kind of cedre; pine; avenues of budding birch), breathtaking vistas across lakes and sea inlets, and the whole topped by gigantic banks of fog, into which the hilltops receded. It was quite low-lying, and the last 100 km through the Avalon peninsula were completely fog-bound: I could only make out the highway signs as I passed underneath them. No traffic.

[fog on the TCH]

One of the great delights of travelling through Newfoundland is the way the towns and geographical features are named. A certain amount of whimsy went into naming this province, eg. Deep Bight, Mistaken Point, Witless Bay, Heart's Desire, Heart's Content, Little Paradise . . . Here's a fuller listing. My all time favourite is Random Sound.

[A detour, by chance?]

What little we've seen of St. John's (est. 1497) is really a delight. The freshness of the seabreeze permeates even the architecture; everyone is friendly. More to report on the scene here in days to come; for the moment we are going to fall fast, fast asleep (perhaps while watching the Memorial Cup -- gad, why can't the NHL be like this? And why are Ottawa teams a joy to watch in every hockey league?)

And lo & behold, while I've been typing this the fog in St. John's harbour has lifted.

Last stretch of Trans-Canada

[added this evening: known blogger blogging in Port-aux-Basques]

Reached Newfoundland safe and sound late last night (only got in at 11:00pm -- 11:30 in Newfoundland). Judging from what we can see from the parking lot, this is a beautiful province! A thick fog fills the harbour of Port-aux-Basques this morning. We are about to head off into it -- a good long (at least 10-hour) drive through the whole island to reach St. John's.

27 May 2005

On the Ferry to Newfoundland!

[The yawning maw of the ferry to Newfoundland]

So, we are on the ferry for Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland; amazingly, there is a first-rate internet kiosk here. No pic upload, of course. [Further Update: have now added pics in St. John's.]

[Dave at the ferry terminal in North Sydney]

We set forth yesterday morning from Charlottetown, taking the ferry from the Island to Pictou, NS. It's been raining fairly heavily for the last three days; our current ferry to Newfoundland was delayed four hours for rain and fog. Dave nobly drove from Pictou to Cape Breton, while I snoozed.

[aboard the ferry from PEI to Pictou, NS]

In St. Peter's on Cape Breton (the capital of Richmond county, the bottom quarter of Cape Breton) I performed at the Bras d'Or Lakes Inn; about 10 people in the audience, and about a 35 minute show.

[The Bras d'Or Lakes Inn in St. Peter's, Cape Breton, NS]

People seemed to like it, however, though the sound system gave me a strange falsetto.

[performing in St. Peter's. For the occasion, I used a special extended rhabdos with a light fixture on top]

This performance wasn't part of the "regular scheduled" programme for the Tour, but Mr. Richard McIntosh of St. Peter's had written me such a friendly note, asking if I might stop on the way to Newfoundland, and I've always held Cape Breton in such high regard as a centre of Canadian culture (particularly the musical aspect), that musique obligeait. The wind howled, like the Micmac beasts of legend only, past the window long past the time I fell asleep.

Rose bright and early this morning, and have now read every column inch of today's Globe, waiting in the ferry terminal. This ferry, I must say, is absolutely immense. Few passengers today, but one can guess what it would look like at high season! I am entirely surrounded by charming Newfoundland accents. We will be stopping tonight in Corner Brook, to cut down on the long drive tomorrow. How exciting to finally see the Rock after all these years!


: We're now about halfway to Newfoundland, and I'm reading Lieutenant Hornblower so as to profit from these nautical surroundings. This is certainly as far out on the briny deep as I've ever been -- I'm starting to see what they mean when they talk about "swells," for instance. But it's really quite calm, even for an Ontario stomach. I just had a full conversation with a gentleman from Newfoundland -- very friendly, but I have to admit I only figured out what we were talking about at the end of the conversation. But we were standing out on deck with the wind whipping by, so I don't feel too bad.

I guess we have now reached our sixth time zone! (Newfoundland is 3 1/2 hours behind GMT.)

25 May 2005

New Toronto show confirmed

It's been confirmed that I'll be performing the poem once more in Toronto this year, on June 30th at 7pm or just after, at The Cameron House (408 Queen St. W). If you're a Torontonian who missed the Toronto show this May, or you want to see the poem again, here's your chance!

Yes, Lord Sidious

Palpatine: Ah, there you are, Master Yoda.
Yoda: Morning, it is good, Chancellor.
Palpatine: Now then, Yoda, what's this I hear about young Skywalker?
Yoda: What is it you hear, Chancellor?
Palpatine: That's what I'm asking, Master Yoda. What do you make of it?
Yoda: With respect, Chancellor, what asking are you, I, Jedi Master though I be, uncertain am.
Palpatine: What I'm asking, Yoda, is, is whether you sense a disturbance in the Force this morning.
Yoda: Many are the disturbances in the Force, Chancellor, and many the nondisturbances are. Whether a disturbance is a disturbing disturbance, or whether, balance on, a disturbance, though disturbing, found to be a nondisturbance is, for the Jedi to decide must be.
Palpatine: Thank you, Yoda, I think I'm perfectly capable of deciding whether the Force is disturbed on any given morning, don't you?
Yoda: Of course, Chancellor. That's why you're the Chancellor, and we are the Jedi.
Palpatine: So I am capable of that, we're agreed?
Yoda: We're agreed that you think you are, Chancellor.
Obi-Wan: Anything less would be disturbing.
Palpatine: Thank you, Obi-Wan.
Yoda: You mentioned young Skywalker, Chancellor?
Palpatine: Yes. I want him to serve on the Jedi Council. Be my liason, my eyes-and-ears, you understand. Just to keep me up-to-date.
Yoda: Ah.
Palpatine: Ah?
Yoda: Ah yes, Chancellor, an excellent idea you have. Skywalker on the Council must be. When mature his powers are. When the time ripe is.
Palpatine: No, Master Yoda, I mean today. As of now.
Yoda: In what sense do you mean "now," Chancellor? The Jedi all things, all times must care for. For us, the future, the past, all one are.
Obi-Wan: I don't think the Chancellor means that Skywalker should serve on the Council in the past, do you, Chancellor?
Yoda: Using the word "past" to refer to your own place on the Council are you, Obi-Wan?
Obi-Wan: No, Master Yoda, I only mean that when the Chancellor uses the word "today," he is making a temporal reference, and a temporal reference really takes its meaning with respect to the moment of utterance, so when he says he now wishes Skywalker to serve on the Council, then "today" must refer to today's today, not to a hypothetical today which we, as Jedi, might perceive in the past, nor to a potential today which, though not operative today, might be tomorrow's today, or the day after tomorrow's, bearing in mind that tomorrow must come after today.
Palpatine: Thank you, Obi-Wan, that is exactly what I mean. I want Skywalker to serve on the Council as a Jedi Master. Starting today. This instant, in fact.
Yoda: Really, Chancellor, so certain are you? Untried young Skywalker is. Untested. Unready is he.
Palpatine: Untested? Didn't he just save me from that kidnapping attempt? I didn't see you piloting a flaming starship down to Coruscant, Master Yoda. You were probably testing out this office, just waiting for the Chancellor to go down in flames, is that it?
Yoda: I, Chancellor? Humble Jedi Master am I, not Chancellor. Not wise in the ways of the Senate am I. No desire has the Jedi Council to take over the Republic.

Etc. . . . . . Gotta admit, the resemblance disturbing is.

24 May 2005

Quebec City interview

Just gave another radio interview, this time to CBC in Quebec City. We don't have an audio clip of it, however, as it was live and I only heard I was going to do it a few hours ago. This makes six radio interviews all told! What invaluable people publicists (like Moira Johnson) are -- everyone should have a publicist.

[introducing poem & period before the performance at Bluefield. Note exquisite hand-drawn map]

Today I performed at Bluefield High School in PEI. What an intelligent bunch of students -- a Grade 12 History class no less, so they were very much on the same page as I was. I have to confess it was particularly nice to perform for older students, essentially adults.

[performing at Bluefield]

It had not occured to me, but of course the students, as Grade 12's, were in University-contemplation mode, and I fielded lots of questions about Classics. I could truthfully say that Classics is an excellent field of study in this modern world of ours, because it develops an understanding of language. One needn't have poetical ambitions to benefit from that; in fact, as the general level of literacy declines, there is more and more demand for people who can both write well and read very carefully, which is essentially what the intensive study of classical texts teaches. It's analogous to my own efforts in epic, actually. I recall having dinner with Egbert Bakker and a friend of his one evening, and at one point (it must have been 2am, after much wine) I began remarking that there wasn't much appreciation for performance-based verbal art these days. Bakker, with a sensible Netherlandish eye for the bottom line, commented that neither was there much performance-based verbal art being produced, and I might feel glad at the low supply and consequent high demand. I must admit that he was right!

By popular demand, in fact, I've added a show to the Tour and will do two more performances after St. John's. The first will be on Thursday evening in Cape Breton, at the Bras D'Or Lakes Inn at 7:30pm. It's not a very long drive (max 4.5 hours, including ferry) from Charlottetown to St. Peter's (the town where the Inn stands), so it seems well enough to try performing on a driving day (which I have not done so far).

Of the post-St. John's shows, the first will be in Quebec City (I was in part pitching this on the interview just now), either on 3 June or 4 June (haven't quite figured it out yet). This is great because I had been feeling fairly guilty that the Tour would not include Quebec City; as soon as I know more I will add time&date to the schedule and to the entry at the bottom of the welcome page of the website. The second post-Tour show will likely be in Toronto on 30 June -- details TBA. In the meantime, I will perform at Stanford University on 9 June, in the Terrace room in Margaret Jacks Hall (the English dept. building). I had to turn down a further invite for Quebec City for 2 June -- "I've got 1000 Ontario high school students coming on Thursday," the guy said. Alas, we can't, geographically speaking, make it to Quebec from St. John's in two days. It never rains but it pours, as they say quite often in Vancouver.

[PEI countryside]

I should add a word in praise of PEI; this will be superfluous for anyone who's ever been here. Basically, everything is exactly the right size. There are rolling hills, but they don't roll too much or too far. There are beautiful country houses, but they are neither too elegant nor too utilitarian. The people are friendly, but they don't want to be your best friend before they've learned your name. The sky is blue, but not oppressively so. The only extreme is the colour of the soil, which lends a seriously surreal edge to everything: the rich dark red of it brings all the other hues towards the front of the spectrum.

[the rich red earth of PEI]

Of course, the Island struggles with a sort of curse, which is the Anne of Green Gables legacy. This attacts tourists from every corner of the earth -- most of all from Japan, where the Anne books have a major cult following -- and brings in untold billions every summer. For unquaint economic reasons, therefore, large sectors of the Island economy must embrace quaintness.

[Gable-free house in PEI]

Myself, I have never found the Island quaint. It is not living in the past. You can go for the Gable here, of course, if you feel so inclined; but most of all the natural scenery, and the experience of a society which, though modern, has not been super-sized, is a wonderful balm for the spirit.

[Trees and field]

I don't know if that's much of an encomium; obviously I could deploy adjective after adjective in praise of the vistas, etc., or indulge in cliche/. But Gorgiasm and cliche/ alike are profoundly alien to the Island sensibility, as I've observed it. It will be sad to leave, as on Thursday we must. In the meantime, tonight we're going to grab a lobster roll and see (at last!) the new Star Wars movie. The suspense is intense: will Anakin embrace the Dark Side, or will the Dark Side embrace him? Will Yoda embrace someone? Will all 1,100 unresolved questions about the saga plot be gathered into a single skein? And what exactly does the best lobster taste like?

23 May 2005

Charlottetown show

Just got back from the Charlottetown show. There must be a Harley rally going on -- either that or per capita Harley ownership is enormous here on the Island. We must have passed five or six on the way back to the hotel. No sign of the tourists yet: The Season is yet to begin.)

(This is really the ideal hotel, incidentally. Affordable, tasteful, free (and good) breakfast,
reliable Internet access, hot water. What more could one ask?)

Right, the show. For starters, I performed inside what is arguably Canada's most historic building, Province House, where the Fathers of Confederation met back in 1864. A web pic:

[Province House in Charlottetown. It looked just like this today, with half as much sunshine, some cloud, and fewer flowers]

One naturally wonders if Confederation would be in better shape these days if our
patres conscripti (and matres conscriptae) had continued to meet beneath virtuous Doric instead of laviscious Gothic.

The show went quite well, though turnout was modest. I may have gone slightly overboard in the "song tones," though Dave assures me all was well. My voice began to give out towards the end; I'm still recovering from my Saint John cold.

[folding brochures prior to the Charlottetown show. Everyone gets a brochure]

I need to start thinking of how, eventually, to perform other segments of the 1758-1760 cycle of material I've developed. I presume that the main focus of popular interest will continue to be the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, since that's by far the most famous event before Confederation. But perhaps I can someday collect a large enough group of fans that I could try a two- or three-day series of performances. Or should the Tour Episode be extended significantly? One presumes that this is how the Achilles story, which is the main plot of the Iliad, was filled out to 14 000 verses: people just wanted more and more Achilles, and what had been one incident among many at the Siege of Troy gradually usurped the whole cycle, gobbling up minor incidents as it grew.

[simile in PEI]

The similes went particularly well tonight -- that is, I could feel the audience enjoying them. Funny how some like them and some don't, for no discoverable reason. Interesting, too, that I feel more of a bond with audiences now than when I began the Tour, not less, despite the fact that I really have a set text memorised by now, from which I depart only at will. (Though lately I have been bungling the burial of Montcalm in various ways; there must be some internal illogic to the sequence of details there which my subconscious keeps coughing up -- I shall have to review it.)

We have, alas, accidentally deleted the pics from St. Paul's in Halifax; to make a long story short, Spektakl' imyel bolshoy uspekh.

Congrats to my good friend Don Lavigne, who just hours ago defended his doctoral thesis at Stanford! Don is an expert the anti-epic poetry of Archilochus and Hipponax, and will be professor next year at Texas Tech. Io doctorem!

22 May 2005

Charlottetown reached

Well, as noted below, it was one heck of a storm swept through the Maritimes today. But if we had to drive through the rain, at least it was driving rain, eh? Eh?

We have reached idyllic PEI, after a mini-Tour of part of Acadia. Foreign readers may not be familiar with the Acadian flag, which flies proudly throughout the region: it's the French tricolour with a gold star in the top-left corner.

[Acadian flag (below Maple Leaf) on a stormy day in Memramcook]

Acadia is really one of the most beautiful, and most civilised, areas of Canada. Of course, it's been under cultivation for longer than anywhere else (vanished Iroquoian cities apart) -- it was first settled in the mid-17th century. But the whole region is beautifully tended, on a house-by-house, field-by-field basis. Few areas or towns would look good in weather like today's, but Acadia looked great. It's a tribute to the inner spirit of its inhabitants that they take pride in outward form.

[view from our friends' Nick and Elodie's place, looking towards the village of Pre-d'en-Haut; the vast Petitcodiac river to the left]

We stopped in at our friends' Nick and Elodie's place for a splendid lunch; and also saw (briefly) Sackville, NB. Besides being my birthplace, it's also the birthplace of the Tour Episode (the segment of the larger cycle of material I have), as I composed the first version of it in the bohemian Bridge Street Cafe there, back in 2000. We had a quick cup of coffee to commemorate that manic 9-hour burst of inspiration.

[Bridge Street Cafe in Sackville, NB]

It's a slightly complicated story, but I had stopped in Sackville on my bike when I first was going East -- just to see the town I was born in, which I had only visited once (when I was 9) since my first months alive. Eventually I found myself in Louisbourg, NS (which we will soon visit again on this Tour), where I camped under the shade of a single tree for four days, hoping I could work the material I had into a useable, performable chunk. There I realised that my initial idea, which had been to start the story at the beginning of the Siege of 1759 (in June of that year, with the arrival of the British taskforce), was unworkable. So I sat trying to square the circle under my tree, until (under the strain?) I lost a contact lens. The pain, I recall, was brutal. My parents had sent me some more lenses, however; but they were sitting back in Sackville, many hours' ride away from Louisbourg. Not entirely daunted, I rode out to Sackville, claimed the lenses, camped in the rain, and that morning found myself drinking coffee at the Bridge Street Cafe. For whatever reason, the stars aligned and I generated the first version of this Tour Episode sitting there all day til closing.

To get back, though, we're now in Charlottetown, having crossed the enormous, 13-km long Confederation Bridge, which joins Prince Edward Island to the mainland and is now the main artery for on-Island, off-Island traffic.

[Dave filming the Confederation Bridge (on the PEI side). Only a very small part of the bridge is visible, of course. Note the red soil of PEI.]

The experience of driving onto the bridge from the mainland side is one of the most vivid memories I have of the 2000 tour: the highway appears to vanish somewhere in the clouds, and you just keep going up and up and up for about 4km. It's a little less breathtaking in a car, where you're lower down and can't see above the traffic so well; but still a great experience.

Now we're in Charlottetown. I will save description of PEI for later: we're here for three days, with the public show tomorrow at Province House Theatre (7pm). Speaking of public shows, I see I promised pics & desc of last night's Halifax performance in St. Paul's Church; but the sinews are weakening, the fingernails brittle with fatigue. I must sleep the happy sleep of a Prince Edward Islander.

Farewell to Halifax / Dartmouth

[took this picture (looking across the harbour from Dartmouth to Halifax) minutes after blogging the below: note whitecaps. Incredibly, 9000 people were running a marathon in Halifax today]

Just about to hit the road -- shall blog last night's Halifax show this evening -- through what looks, from our window, like the Great Halifax Wind & Rain Storm of 2005. The wind is positively screaming past our window.

Dave: "Jesus! Look at the rain! It's horizontal!"

Visited the spot of the first ever performance of the poem last night, on the Halifax docks; and lo & behold there was a lone busker there, playing the accordion. Finding we were from Ottawa, she inquired if there were many squeeze-box virtuosos there in the summer, and basically decided then and there she would move her operation West. An eerie repeat of my own busking experience as epic poet on that spot.

Dave: "A suggestion? Let's do the Drive Through at Tim Horton's. Let's not get out of the car."

We are indeed sad to be leaving the Tim-Horton's-rich enviornment of Halifax. We had breakfast at one down the road here in Dartmouth, walking a record four blocks before we found one. Only to discover later on that there is one actually on our block. This is indeed Timmie's Eternal City; Nova Scotia his Papal States. The Dominion Institute may be sponsoring this Tour, but the Tour is sponsoring Tim Horton's rather heavily. (Question at one of the Halifax West shows on Thursday: "How many times have you rolled up the rim?" Answer: "As may are the grains of sand in the Libyan desert . . .")

21 May 2005

Globe and Mail piece

So, I'm in the Globe! It's a fairly extensive profile, by Julie Traves, in the Review section (page # varies by region).

Needless to say I'm feeling extremely pleased this morning. I just tried nipping out to the dep, but it was closed unil 9am. Dilemma: do I buy all the copies of the Globe at a given store, in a spending spree of vanity, or do I let them be bought by the regular patrons and thus spread my kleos in Dartmouth?

Update: Finally managed to find a copy (3 copies) of the Globe, and have scanned in the photo you see above, which isn't available online. It's the work of Mr. Brian Atkinson, a talented photographer and heck of a nice guy; he told me he's about to travel to southern Africa these next few weeks, in keeping with his international career.

20 May 2005

Halifax school shows

[me with Mr. D. Smith and Mr. B. Khan, teachers at Halifax West High School, yesterday after the fifth performance. Like many a teacher along the Tour, these gentleman gave us a warm welcome]

Two more schools today, Prince Andrew High School and Caledonia Junior High: one show each. Good students, I must say; probably 60 between them. Seven shows in two days! I'm fairly beat, but in good spirits. I think Tour's end and poet's end may coincide.

Seriously, though, they were good shows. Lately I sometimes lose track of what I'm saying, without missing a beat or losing any degree of expression; is this what it's like for Shakespeare actors at one of those ten-year runs of The Taming of the Shrew? What a cushy life!

A couple of notes: halfway through the performance at Prince Andrew today, the PA system (ironically enough) interrupted to make an announcement, and straight away you could see the students rubbing their eyes and coming awake, literally as though they had been dreaming. (I don't usually get to see this, as I bow my head modestly during the applause at the end of shows.) It took a special effort to get them back in the game after that -- it happened just at the death of Wolfe -- but most interestingly I myself was thrown off a bit, not on delivery or memory but on my train of thought: I repeated two key lines without realising it! They were:

But as he spoke, a man rode up : a trusty friend and aide-de-camp
He cried, "They run, my lord! They run! : The French, they flee in headlong rout!"
But red-haired Wolfe just closed his eyes : and with a groan he answered thus
But as he spoke, a man rode up : a trusty friend and aide-de-camp
He cried, "They run, my lord! They run! : The French, they flee in headlong rout!"

You can see that only someone who had been mentally discombobulated could make this kind of error (a sort of aural homoioarcton).

We are looking forward to scoping out the venue for tomorrow's show, St. Paul's Anglican Church in downtown Halifax, before the performance at 7pm. While we're doing that, we shall also visit the site of the first ever performance of The Plains of Abraham, the Halifax docks, where on a bright brisk day in June 2000 I set up shop between two talented Cape Breton fiddler buskers and hoped for an audience. I didn't yet have the big white "Epic Poem" sign featured a few posts ago (I only got it in Sudbury); rather, I had fashioned a very primitive sign out of two brown paper placemats I had stolen from a nearby fish-'n'-chips restaurant. I still have them somewhere.

Tomorrow there should be a piece about me in The Globe and Mail. Needless to say, I will blog it immediately.

19 May 2005

Ongoing octametric coverage

Okay, this is frivolous, but I doubt anyone else is providing up-to-the-minute octametric coverage?

So then, behold, the House of Commons : that most glorious institute
Where never member squawked : in days long gone : nor hooted like a bird
Upon the nineteenth day of May : convened upon the lonely Hill
And many were the squabbling parties : bickering amongst themselves
And they were four, the NDP : the partisans of Douglas' name
And Layton was their glorious leader : bearer of a bold moustache
The Tories too were there : an ancient group : the party of Sir John
The great Sir John, a mighty man : who liked a scotch in th' afternoon
And when the sun was sinking back : and falling to the Western sea
And when at morn there rose : towards the east : the soft pink palm of dawn
And they were led by Stephen Harper : sombre in his sombre suit
And then the fearsome Bloc : which led the charge : to ruin Canada
When once upon a time : Lucien Bouchard : the single-legged man
Had founded them, in ancient days : amid the smoke and blood of Meech
And they were led by Gilles Duceppe : the Maoist of steely gaze
And last of all the Liberal Party : legacy of Jean Chretien
The Government indeed : for many years : yet shorn of power now
For when the votes were counted last : they had but a minority
And Martin was their glorious leader : patient through the empty years
So now when all had found their places : there upon the lonely Hill
So then, behold, the Speaker rose : and opened the profound debate
And first of all he named the member :

. . . will be updating this as soon as somebody says anything interesting on Cpac.


Update. So, the NDP amendment passed, Cadman voted with the Government, and the Newfoundland Tories were spared their decision.

Such was the excitement, however, that I feel rather burnt out; also, I wonder if octameter is really the right metrical genre for covering these things. Something Aeolic, perhaps, would better convey the sensation of Cadman's rising for Yea. And lyric has no place on this blog.

One last outburst: Obviously the Tories are now in a serious bind. They've pledged to let the Government govern after this, so barring some unforeseen development (and how rare those are these days) they can't, politically speaking, table a confidence motion. But what do they do if the Bloc irritably tries for their own confidence motion? Do they vote that they have confidence in the Government?

Lastly, Dave raises the interesting question of what would happen if the NDP amendment came up for third reading (this was, I believe, the first reading -- or was it the second? No, the first). The Speaker, as he made very clear in casting his tiebreaker today, votes to continue debate; he does not vote to accomplish anything. What then would he do in the case of a third reading? A vote with the Government in that case would be a vote to approve the amendment, ending further discussion. (Update: a constitutional expert informs us that the proper course is for the Speaker not to vote to defeat the Government, as makes sense.)

Epic budget vote

[Kilgour & Cadman]

Just got back from the 5x30-40 minute show stint at Halifax West High School -- c. 175 students in the audience in toto today. I would be absolutely shattered, but for better or for worse I'm glued to the TV (Cpac and Newsworld). Dave just stepped in the door with rootbeer, beernuts, and 5 Alive: this could be a long haul.

My foreign readers will need some explanation. Basically, the minority government of the Liberals is being challenged on its budget. Budget votes are "confidence votes," which a government must win or else resign (go to an election immediately). The governing Liberals have forged a shaky alliance with the socialist party (NDP), at the price of a budget amendment which sends more money in the direction of social spending. Opposed to them are the official opposition, the Tories, supported by the separatist Bloc Quebecois; both are keen to bring down the government because the Liberals are suffering heavily under the scrutiny of the Gomery Inquiry into Liberal corruption in Quebec. As of Monday, the Liberals and NDP together had 150 votes; the Tories and Bloc had 153 votes; there were three independents.

Sensationally, however, on Tuesday the fair Belinda Stronach, political newcomer but apparently fearless political virago, "crossed the floor" from the Tories to the Liberals (she received a mid-level Cabinet seat), ditching not only her party but also her boyfriend, the Tory Deputy Leader. This means it's all tied up, because the Liberals have one of the independents (who had been kicked out of their caucus for being anti-American):152 pro-budget, 152 against, with only two independents -- David Kilgour of Alberta (a former Liberal) and Chuck Cadman of BC (a former Tory) between them deciding whether the budget will stand or fall, and whether we will get an election pronto (or not). Of course, there are a number of wildcards, including whether various MP's will show up to vote, be hauled to hospital (as happened yesterday), etc. etc.

Update: David Kilgour has just announced he will vote against the NDP budget amendment (though apparently in favour of the Liberal budget itself). Chuck Cadman . . . I very much doubt he will back the government after l'affaire Stronach. I would be amazed, myself.

The Tory MP's from Newfoundland. It's all about the Tory MP's from Newfoundland. You read it here eighth.

Actual epic note: I tried the experiment of using the "song tones" / quasi-chanting manner of delivery with some audiences and not others; and the palm certainly goes to the song tones, which undoubtedly enhance audience focus and concentration for the whole poem. I had suspected this was the case, but it's reassuring to have made this empirical comparison. I should blog more on this, but I simply must get back to Cpac. (How many times have you heard that in your life, I wonder?)

18 May 2005

Halifax reached

We have reached the great city of Halifax (or rather Dartmouth . . . if I crane my neck from the hotel balcony I can sort of see Halifax). A very pleasant ferry ride into Digby, NS, this afternoon over calmest seas. Dave fell asleep reading about the Spanish Civil War (he informs me that 1930's Spain makes 14th century France look like kindergarten), so I took the opportunity to smash the Ms. Pac-Man record at the ferry arcade (pushing it to 420289). Unbeknownst to most, I retain awesome Pac-Man skills from days long gone. Unfortunately, the game is so primitive (c.1981; of course, I was only 4 when it came out) that it doesn't let you input your initials. I can only hope some hapless ferry employee will come in tomorrow morning and find his precious record blasphemed. Only he will know.

I see that the Ottawa performance was written up in Embassy Magazine (11 May), read by the diplomatic community in Ottawa. Perhaps, even as I type, a cultural attaché is drafting a note to the Swedish Academy:

Ottawa native Jack Mitchell is reviving epic poetry for Canada. Drawing from the classical Greek tradition of the epic, Mr. Mitchell, currently a Ph.D. candidate at California's Stanford University, blends his love of the classics with his pride of Canadian history into a 50 minute epic poem performance delivered in verse recounting the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham, which took place in Quebec City with the English defeating the French as part of a series of battles for control of North America. Mr. Mitchell was in Ottawa May 8 and 9 performing his epic poem, the sixth of eleven stops on a cross-Canada tour, sponsored by the Dominion Institute. Now Canadian history's Gen. James Wolfe and Marquis Louis-Joseph de Montcalm have all the glory and heroism associated with Homer's Achilles and Hector at the Siege of Troy.
We must run to get food, we are famished. Tomorrow is a big day: I'll be performing at least 5 (perhaps as many as 8) times at Halifax West High School. This may smash the endurance epic record set at York Street Elementary on May 9th: was that Ms. Pac-Man game an omen?

17 May 2005

Saint John Miscellany

[me in Sault Ste. Marie during the 2000 Tour; this was the sign I used to attract audiences. I had a taste for loud shirts in them days]

Well, it's certainly been an interesting day
in Canadian politics, by golly. I've finished the Barbara Tuchman book about the 14th century, though, so nothing fazes me anymore. No one has even been poisoned yet.

In other news, I just noticed that www.plainsofabraham.ca has been moving up the Google rankings. It's #1 under "plainsofabraham" (displacing www.plainsofabraham.com, the American rock band's site), and #9 under "plains of abraham" (following, in order, someone's pictures of their trip to the battlefield; the Battlefields Park site; the CBC People's History TV segment; wikipedia; and two history-oriented sites). As Google rankings pretty much dictate the divine will by now, this is nice to see.

(Update: #1 for "plains" & "epic"; #1 for "abraham" & "epic"; a dedicated link to the site at #3 for "epic" & "canadian." Not even in the Top 10 for "epic" & "performance," however.)

Speaking of random Google searches, I noticed some rather striking, Ani DeFranco-esque lyrics to a song titled "Plains of Abraham." Yet more proof of the strikingly Biblical resonance of the battlefield's name; it goes to show that once a phrase gets out into the popular consciousness it will be reinterpreted. What, one wonders, is the imagined relationship between plains and Abraham? Caanan is not, to my shoddy recollection, described as flat. In my mind, Abraham is associated with mountains. Does he walk across plains to get to the mountain? I can't find anything about that in Genesis, though Cecil B. DeMille would certainly have insisted on it.

The true story of how the Plains of Abraham (Canadian version) got their name is that they were named after Abraham Martin, called "The Scot." (This Abraham was a pilot; piloting was a very international profession at the time.) He apparently settled inland from the shore upriver from Cap Diamant; the Heights along the shore were thus called, logically enough, the "Heights of Abraham," while the plateau at their top was called the "Plains of Abraham." Curiously enough, the battle is still known as the "Battle of the Heights of Abraham" to the British. Even though this phrase would seem to correspond more adroitly with the Patriarch's story, it seems that the word "plains" carries a much more biblical resonance in and of itself than does the word "heights" (which has all but disappeared in contemporary speech except in the "fear of heights").

People sure are friendly in the Maritimes. There I was today, driving like mad to reach a rendezvous with a Globe and Mail photographer at Fort Howe downtown and faced with an unexpected toll bridge across the bay; and not a single coin on me, or anywhere in the car. (I know; I searched madly while actually parked in the toll lane at the machine.) And what happens, of course, but the big pickup behind me starts honking its horn and blinking its lights, and the thought is crossing my mind that I'm about to be scaled, when lo & behold the guy walks up to my car and hands me the coins for the toll with a smile. Perhaps this is a regular occurance here, or indicative of something or other, but for someone used to the take-no-prisoners highway ethos of California, it was deeply unsettling.

Tomorrow morning, we take the ferry to Digby, NS. My memory of it from last Tour is less than 100% cheerful: I had camped in the Annapolis valley somewhere or other, in the pouring rain, and was profoundly damp all the following day, crossing in the other direction to Saint John.

16 May 2005

Route up to Saint John (map link)

Here's an updated map of our route so far. We've come 9 052 kilometers, or 5,624 miles. The car is in great shape, but I must say one looks ahead to the Newfoundland portion of the Trans-Canada with something approaching dismay (or so one would if one hadn't heard of the spectacular scenery there and the fine city at journey's end -- neither Dave nor I have ever been to the Rock before, and we are psyched in that regard).

Once again, your browser will probably shrink the map to fit it; click on the image to zoom in.

I'm to be interviewed again tomorrow, this time for Radio-Canada's Atlantic radio; and will be photographed here for the Globe and Mail piece. I believe both will appear on Saturday.

15 May 2005

Religion in the poem

Having just returned from the Saint John show, where I performed in St. Paul's Parish Centre (adjacent to the church itself), I thought I'd briefly comment on the role of religion in the poem, and the audience's view of it.

First of all, though there is a bit of religious background in the poem, it couldn't remotely qualify as a religious poem. Religion is basically confined to the following points:
  • when Wolfe's soldiers burn a church ("Ste. Anne's inviolable temple") and kill its priest, the latter's "dying cry" for vengeance is responsible Wolfe's sickness
  • Wolfe's dream mentions that "the angels and the saints" now refer to the Plains of Abraham as "the Fields of Grief"
  • in some performances, "gentle sleep" is shed by "some demon" on the sentries' eyes at L'Anse-au-Foulon
  • whenever the Ursulines appear, they're described as having vowed to be "the brides of Christ"
  • occasionally a priest says Mass, in which case the following 2-line formula is deployed:
And there the holy priest : with silent step : brought forth the bread and wine
In pious sacrifice to God : the vessels of the Word made flesh
  • The mother of the Ursulines at one point prays to the Virgin, and in response the Virgin is explicitly said to weep (resulting in "mistiness and fog" on earth)
  • they bury Montcalm in the chapel of the Ursulines, which is described as "the holy place of Christ" a couple of times
  • various references throughout (in lines of 3-part metrical shape) to "Heaven's power"
It will be seen that these "religious" points basically add period detail: everything is implicitly "focalised" (perceived from a character's point of view), perhaps through the habitants, as in this couplet:
And soon they reached the holy chapel : where the painted altar stood
Before the English soldiers came : across the cold Atlantic sea
and this applies even to the Virgin's tears as rain on the battlefield. Also, everything is quite vague. In this, I follow Homer, whose religious material is Panhellenic in scope, incorporating no local peculiarities and consequently representing a Greek religion that is, as it were, slightly out of focus. In my poem, I'm vague precisely so as to maintain that inclusive point of view.

(Sometimes, indeed, I am apparently too vague -- or too Homeric. All the way across the Prairies, Dave, who has never tried to pass for a theologian, kept discreetly mentioning that one line, in the mouth of the mother of the Ursulines no less, was perhaps rather theologically incorrect:
And none was yet to woman born : who tasted of eternal life
Being stubborn, I tried to defend this, but ultimately there's no denying that this idea doesn't sound authentic. So I dropped it for a while, though I'm now saying "Few were yet to woman born" etc., which I think is OK.)

To return: could one compose a poem whose action takes place in New France and not mention religion? I doubt it. Yet it remains a tricky subject. Partly, there are a lot of secular people around who just get a bad taste in their mouths at mention of the word "God" -- as do a lot of religious people. (A secular person myself, I think such a reaction is foolish -- an inherited peasant superstition if there ever was one.) Partly also, "religious" people nowadays don't know how to react to my injection of the fairly Gothic, quasi-medieval 18th-century Catholic point of view, the Christian religion being basically unrecognisable these days (very Jesus-oriented, I find, even apud Catholicos). A couple of times, older women have sheepishly blessed me after the show.

Overall, though -- and this is the important thing -- nobody minds the presence of religion in the poem; the worst reaction I've had was at a Catholic school, where the students temporarily lost interest at the first appearance of the holy priest's silent step (neither he nor the Ursulines reappeared that performance). No one mistakes me for an 18th-century Catholic; no one accuses me of propagating some heresy. I attribute this excellent response to the ability of epic to present potentially divisive things -- first and foremost the English-French rivalry, but also religion -- in an elevated manner, separate from reality and therefore detached from the real purpose of the poem, which is historical.

This is fortunate for me, because while I've had to eliminate almost all supernatural elements from and can't get away with having Olympians charging to and fro across the battlefield (much less debating the plot chez Zeus), I seriously wonder how else I could achieve the instant long-term perspective you get by invoking things like Fate, Heaven's power, etc. I would have to digress every time in order to achieve that, using five lines where I can (as things stand) use half a line or less -- thanks to the shorthand we call religion.

14 May 2005

Saint John reached

[Me in front of the Longest Covered Bridge in the World, in Hartland, NB]

So, we have reached Saint John, NB! This is officially our
fifth time zone (after BC, Alta/Sask, Man, Ont/QC). If I could smell anything, I would probably smell the unresting sea.

[Besides driving heroically, Dave elected to make an extraordinary fashion statement today]

It was a
long road: 12 hours door to door, probably our longest of the Tour. The cold has hit me full force; Dave magnanimously took the lion's share of the driving, and moreover during my stint he read aloud from Barbara Tuchman history of the 14th century. But I am dosing myself with OJ, and frankly a bit of stuffiness rather pales in comparison to the Black Death.

[Dave getting footage of sunset over the St. John River]

As to performance tomorrow, I am hoping for the best. Many times I've noticed that my use of "song tones" in the performance of the poem (which gives each line a melodic contour, emphasising meaning and metrical structure) has the additional benefit of allowing me to project my voice no matter what shape my throat is in (and it is often fairly wrecked at the end of an hour-long show). Hopefully this will also deal with any sinus issue tomorrow evening.

[Onstage in front of the Regimental Colour of the 78th Frasers yesterday. Who could guess I was about to keel over?]

Re: feeling wrecked, I must say that it's a great pleasure, after the show, to answer questions from the audience about the poem and the Seven Years War, which I always do; and to chat with people after that. But I often find that by then my mouth is simply no longer working! My cheeks seem to go flabby, and the tongue does not obey the brain. No complaints, of course! Perhaps this only strengthens a listener's impression of "divine frenzy" on my part: surely someone as inarticulate as this could not have delivered the poem we just heard? Ah, but yes, the power of the Muse! The Muse, my dear! In fact, post recitationem omnis poeta tristis est.

PofA implicated in commandites?

[a modern peavey; ours is much older, much badder]

Before we hit the road in a few minutes, driving the length of the St. Lawrence in Quebec, I wish as a matter of prudence to make two announcements:

a) we happened to pick up a peavey in an old junk shop here on Thursday. For those who do not know the peavey, it's a logging tool: you put the log between the claw and the main stick, and the claw automatically grips the log as you pull. It is essentially the most brutal instrument Medieval Germany never invented.

b) the report in La Presse is perhaps less alarming than it might seem. The truth is, the poem did not even exist in 1998, and in any case I have submitted multiple drafts of earlier versions of the poem to the Gomery Inquiry. But I felt particular consternation, as I stopped for a beer in St. Henri on Tuesday (prior to being photographed by Christian Fleury), to read sentences like these:
Dans son témoignage devant la commission Gomery, le 17 mars dernier, Bernard Thiboutot, fondateur de Commando Communications, avait souligné avoir embauché quelques firmes de consultants en 1998 pour une stratégie de mise en valeur des plaines d'Abraham.

. . . .

Or, a révélé M. Bastien il y a quelques jours, le mandat de 10 000 $ accordé par M. Thiboutot n'avait rien à voir avec les plaines d'Abraham.

. . . .

«Je n'ai jamais fait de contrat pour les plaines d'Abraham. M. Thiboutot m'avait appelé pour avoir des fiches d'information sur les régions du Québec», a précisé M. Bastien, qui est actuellement chef de cabinet du ministre de la Justice Yvon Marcoux.
In other words, with the populace as peevish as it is these days, it never hurts to own one's own peavey.

13 May 2005

Farewell to Montreal (catch-up)

Farewell to . . . ? What the . . . ?

Yes, we are about to leave Montreal tomorrow morning, heading to Saint John, NB. I just took a Tylenol PM, so I may fall headfirst on the keys before this post is done; but let's back it up a little.

We left Toronto feeling great, after the successful performance at Fort York described below. Never did the road from Toronto to Ottawa -- well known to both Dave and me since we could drive -- seem shorter! It was a happy homecoming. On Sunday we had the Ottawa performance, in the afternoon at the theatre in the Public Library.

[taking questions after the Ottawa show]

The show went quite well indeed, I may say: a good-sized audience of 55, and I was pumped up. Not only was the show on Mother's Day (with our dear mother in attendance), but it was also the 60th anniversary of VE Day. Very nice to see many friends in the audience; Christina Leadlay took a number of pictures of the show, and will be writing it up in Embassy magazine.

A minor note on VE coverage these last two weeks: while often very moving, the various specials on TV could have used a bit more hard fact, IMHO. It is extremely important that we remember our soldiers' sacrifices, but somehow the purpose of the sacrifice was always glossed as "defending freedom," "liberating Europe," etc. This is quite true, but the sacrifices were also for things like: taking the last bridge; cutting the German resupply line; securing the hilltop; etc. Perhaps TV commentators think this sort of thing is boring or somehow requires more knowledge on the part of viewers than they possess; but that's a self-fulfilling logic if there ever was one. I get the impression that the Canadian army never once doubted that it was freeing Holland from brutal tyranny, and that this idea was always a sustaining factor through those last few months; but that idea is easily grasped today. What is more difficult for us, in our peaceful era, to imagine is that a man could be blown to smithereens with the single idea on his mind that he would shortly have to advance across a small field and find cover in the next hedge. Or that this was the last machine-gun nest his company would have to clear out that day. Or what have you. But this is not an opinion blog, so I move on.

Ah yes, Ottawa. Having spent a good deal of time praising other cities, I deserve a few sentences on my hometown. How perfectly Ottawa in the summer expresses my idea of the good life! The cafes are full of people; the food is affordable but well cooked; the conversation is heavily political (as it was in Athens, Rome, 17th century London); no one spends any time whining at the federal government. People are bilingual; no one flinches when you resort to a French expression. It is taken for granted that relaxed civilisation is the foundation of true friendship.

Okay, back to the diary. This Monday I had my only Ottawa school visit, at York Street Elementary -- just a few blocks from our house there. Though it was only one school, I performed it six times in one day: twice in the morning and four times straight in the afternoon (with just enough time to glut my thirst between classrooms). I'm not sure this is the most effective economy of performance, but I was glad I made it; admittedly, the shows were only 20-25 minutes long. Still, by way of endurance epic, this must be some kind of record.

That evening, after a nice farewell dinner at Chez Lucien (terrific pub, I must say), I drove to Montreal; Dave stayed for a couple days as he had a couple eye-doctor appointments to take care of (he had the laser eye surgery a couple of months ago). Rolled onto the Island with "White Rabbit" playing off the iPod; some David Bowie, too, IIRC. How strange to be passing in the car, and visiting on foot, all these places I know so well after so long being unfamiliar with my surroundings!

Yes, we have no passed the 1 month mark in terms of the Tour -- yesterday, in fact. Should have blogged it, but I'm staving off a cold (whence the Tylenol PM; it hasn't kicked in yet). I had two school shows here, on Tuesday at Options II High School in St. Henri, and then on Wednesday at Lower Canada College in NDG. They both went quite well, though I kept to 30 minutes for both. Once again, it was shown that socio-economic status has absolutely zero to do with aesthetic response to epic poetry; not that the LCC students were less interested than the Options II students, but I become more and more aware that Plato was entirely right about the ethical bond between performer and audience. And philosophical ethics of this sort are non-cultural.

Well, maybe the Tylenol is kicking in after all.

[music, passion, and Portuguese soccer are always in fashion here]

In summa: I visited the Copacabana bar on the Main, that perfect establishment, on Tuesday, seeing my old friends Michel and Quinlan, and supped chez Q the following night. All my old friends here now have beautiful and accomplished francophone girlfriends. Dave got in that night too, and we had a pleasant day off yesterday. Woohoo! He is reading about the Spanish Civil War; in between bouts with the ancient Homerist named Aristonicus, I'm reading Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, about the end of the Middle Ages. Much recommended. We've had such pleasure just walking around; the weather has generally been wonderful here (26 on Wednesday), releasing legions of Montreal women onto the streets after a long winter. One formulates a new theory about their collective beauty every time one comes here.

Tonight was the public show in Montreal, at the Stewart Museum on Ile Ste.-Helene
(specifically in the Large Powder Arsenal). It went quite well: I started weakly, without much passion, but by the time I reached the deaths of the two characters I was doing my best impersonations yet by quite a bit. It's curious how the feeling of imminent doom prior to performance is crucial. This was the epicentre of Fraser Highlander activity in North America, site of the original garrison: Bruce Bolton of the Stewart Museum was most welcoming and helpful, and I got to meet the OC, a fine gentleman just back from Holland: he had been at Juno Beach. My great aunt Jean was also there.

I have a lot more to write, but I can feel the medicine spreading past my kneecaps. Or is that the effect of reading too much Minority Government Gossip in the papers? Dave and I are working up a Star Wars: Episode III allegory for it all; we note that holding the budget vote on May 19th, which just so happens to be the release date of the final movie, may be the most underhanded parliamentary ploy yet.