Friday, March 23, 2012

An Upper Canadian in Lower Canada

Breakfast is served in the basement of the hotel. Very disappointing (and a mistake I think). Usually it is my favourite meal but I peck away at a lonely pancake and then escape to my room to read over my notes for the conference. The atmosphere in the basement is depressing in contrast to the prettiness of the rest of the hotel.

Day 2 of the conference begins at the University Club at Dalhousie University in the Great Hall. The cab ride was an entertainment in itself. I probably could have walked it in 30 minutes but did not sleep well - coughing (and annoying myself) all night along. I ended up watching Coronation Street until 1am and the news thereafter. It was comforting to see my favourite soap while here and I am missing R and J with whom I usually watch the show.

The cab ride to Dalhousie was well worth the six dollars I paid. When the cabbie, named Murray, heard me coughing he asked where I was from. "Aah Toronto, that's why you're coughing ... you're not used to the fresh air are you?"

He asked if I was here for a conference. Yes, a writers' conference, I answer. "Not fiction I hope?" he murmured, "I don't read fiction myself ..." Alas, I said, yes, it's fiction as well as non-fiction.

He said that he knew Toronto and lived there in the 60s, that he knew Yorkville well. "Ahh," I thought "You were a bad boy." "I was a hippie," he replied. Later: "Imagine me with my red hair and freckles in Toronto, they thought I had jumped off a cornflakes box." I smile.

"They thought we were all welfare bums because we were from the east ..." Yes, Torontonians are terrible snobs but then again, sir, you called me an Upper Canadian during the ride and I don't think it was said affectionately. I remember this particular epithet when I was working in my first job in the drug industry and had many Atlantic Canadian customers who were hostile to Torontonians. They didn't like us either. Everyone loves to hate Toronto. It's a national past time. I must say that I find it amusing.

As he drops me off, I say, "Dalhousie's campus is beautiful ..." Yeah," he says, not missing a beat, nor looking at me. "It's old."

Yes, that was worth way more than the six bucks I paid.

I read my essay during session 2 with my friend Venera Fazio who reads a suite of lovely poems after me - one is particularly affecting about her mother's hands. The session is listed as a literary reading but it's more a personal essay on identity and what direction we should be going in as Italo-Canadians. I talk about how I dislike the title "Italo-Canadian writer" and how I think it places us in a ghetto, an amiable ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless. I am hoping that my voice will hold out. No coughing fits, I don't shame myself during the reading.

An attentive reception of the piece ... I think I pushed a few buttons though. Some mixed responses but mostly receptive and an active dialogue ensues. The piece will be published by the conference committee some time this year. Perhaps I will publish a portion here on my blog.

Interesting presentation by the owners of Guernica Editions and a relevant point is made that the reason it exists is because Italo-Canadian writers were having trouble being published by mainstream publishers in the 1980s and how even Nino Ricci struggled to find a publisher for Lives of the Saints.

Lunch is hosted by the French Dept. of the university. Afterwards I wander outside and sit at a lunch table which is situated on a bit of a slope on the grounds of the university. As soon as I am comfortable the picnic table tips towards me and lands on top of me in such a way that my legs are trapped between the slats of woods and I am having trouble extricating myself on the grass. I saw three men in the distance to my right and vacillate between "Oh my god, are they going to save me?" and "Oh my god, did they see me tip over??" Finally, finally ... I escape from the picnic table and I see the three men surround me. I cannot look them in the face. I cannot look up. I see only their boots. I make a motion to move. They say, "Don't worry, we'll take care of the picnic table." "Okay, " I murmur shamefacedly, "I'm going to go hide in that building." I slither away quickly. How do you spell m-o-r-t-i-f-i-c-a-t-i-o-n ...?

I am asked to introduce the next session of six literary writers right after lunch - poetry and prose in English and Italian - including works from Paolo Matteucci, Delia DeSantis, Gianna Patriarca, David Bellusci, Tony Pignataro and Bruna Di Giuseppe-Bertoni. This will be tricky: introduce four writers then move to another room to introduce the next two as we need to leave the Great Hall by 3p. This is a lovely group of people; they are gracious and supportive. But it is worrisome that there are so few people under 30. Where are the writers of the next generation who will represent the Italian community in Canada? It is an issue I raise later.

In the next session, there is a discussion about the value of food in the community. Delia de Santis and Loretta Gatto-White spoke about compiling an anthology on this that will appear in 2012 or 2013 and I really liked what I heard today. It concluded with Giulia de Gasperi discussing Italo
The Sebastopol Monument – Old Burying Ground 
at St. Paul's Anglican Church
We break at four ... cab back to the hotel to relax and I will meet my pals at 7p at the Lord Nelson Hotel, where most of the group has rooms, to congregate for dinner. Before that I make my way west along Barrington St. and discover a few interesting historical spots: there is an Old Burying Ground at Spring Garden Rd. and Barrington established in 1749 which was used until 1844. Now it is padlocked but very beautiful to behold. Across the street is the St. Matthew United Church and further down Government House which was built in 1800. 

Government House on Barrington Street
I go back to my room to await my dinner date then cab it to the Lord Nelson. A group gathers in the lobby. Some want to go to Il Mercato Trattoria, an Italian restaurant at 5650 Spring Garden Road, but the majority of us go to Chives, 1537 Barrington St. at Sackville St., which is just a few blocks from my hotel. I might question their definition of a Greek salad (a piece of fried feta on some sliced tomato and olives with what appears to be French dressing) but decent food and great company!

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