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The Decline of Halloween 


Monday, October 31, 2005



I thought all my lights would welcome trick-or-treaters.

I even "borrowed" the squashes from work (and my mother's sandals) to add to my menagerie:



My menagerie:

Eviscerated Eddie:



Gutted Gary:



Brain Tumour Benji:



Pillaged Po:



The Franken Furbies:



We bought the good candy too, not licorice or healthy crap. Aero, Caramilks, Kitkats, Crunchies and Smarties is what our kids would be getting.

Now if they only came to our door.

Around 6:30 PM we began to worry that the kids missed our house. We stared out the window to an empty street.

Finally a couple of princess-looking little girls came. They took but one chocolate each. Then two little brothers, just as polite. A group of five kids, boys and girls, came next to ask for water instead of candy. At least we would have enough candy for a deluge of trick-or-treaters that would surely soon arrive.

We kept a list: fifteen trick-or-treaters the whole night. Our last batch of boys apologized for ringing our doorbell after 8 PM. They had a small bag that - though up to the rim with candy - equaled only half of one of the loot bags from my youth.

8 PM? Fifteen kids? One measly half-bag of candy? What happened to the Halloween I exploited?

In my day, trick-or-treating began right after school. By 6 PM, we would have already started on our second bag. On my first Halloween - probably the peak of trick-or-treating in North America, I collected four bags of candy. We would have gone on to 10 PM, or even 11 PM if we stumbled upon a neighbourhood that forgot to turn off their lights.

While I felt pity for these children cheated out of their Halloween, at least I could celebrate the maturity of mine with a horror film.

Yet, flipping through the channels for over an hour turned up only the ubiquitous The Exorcist.


Rule Number One 


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

After a year, I picked up Roméo Dallaire's book again. It's a huge book and I can't hide it in my bag. So I carry it around and many people tell me they are reading it too. This makes for a great social experience. I love talking about what I am reading and, with a good book, veritably itch to yell to the world, "Hey, read this, you ninnies, so we can discuss page 156!"

The other results of the book is that, first, I've cemented my resolve to visit Rwanda and the genocide sites and, second, I am finding other books about Rwanda to read while I plod through Shake Hands with the Devil.

I picked up Machete Season, a collection of oral histories by the Parisian journalist Jean Hatzfeld with some of the killers.

Jean-Baptiste Murangira, a civil servant, explained the rules of genocide: "The only regulation was to keep going until the end, maintain a satisfactory pace, spare no one, and loot what we found. It was impossible to screw up."

Pancrace Hakizamungili, who left prison on May 5, 2003 (not finishing his 12-year sentence), understood it more simply, "Rule number one was to kill. There was no rule number two."


Marie-Thérèse 


Friday, October 21, 2005

I woke up suddenly, with an aching desire to know what happened to Marie-Thérèse Walter.

She surfaced then disappeared.

She slept (while masturbating) and slept and stared at her (pregnant?) self in mirrors.

Marie-Thérèse might have been just a sixteen-year-old on the beach when she had the misfortune to meet Picasso. Others say she was fifteen when Picasso saw her by the Galeries Lafayette and said, "Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to paint your portrait. We are going to do some extraordinary things together." (From the biography by John Richardson, Through the Eye of Picasso.)

Picasso had dumped Fernande Olivier for Eva Gouel. Eva luckily died of TB before Picasso could inflict any damage and he went on to ballerina Olga Koklova, who eventually went mad. It was while he was with Olga, in his forties, that he met and wooed and impregnated the teen Marie-Thérèse. Then on to Dora Maar, who went on to a future of electroshock therapy in trying to get over Picasso once he dumped her for Francoise Gilot.

Francoise was the only woman who ever dumped Picasso. In art history circles, we gossip about how her daughter, Paloma, was the only one of Picasso's children who had a decent life.

Jacqueline Roque, the final woman in Picasso's life, shot herself in the head in 1986.

Marie-Thérèse committed suicide in 1977. She hung herself in her garage.

Between the birth of their daughter Maya in 1935, when Picasso got bored of his sex slave, and her suicide, the only other snippet of a life is that she had a catfight for Picasso's benefit.


Film Commentary 


Thursday, October 20, 2005

When DVDs came into their own five years ago, their special features thrilled me. Extra stuff! More for my money!

Then I discovered the special features usually meant trailers of the movie I had just seen or cast descriptions with such piddling text that I couldn't read it off my primitive life form television.

Luckily, with Deep Blue Sea and Titus, I discovered features commentaries.

The directors droned on about the making of their films, the entire film, as it replayed. I knew it was my duty as a miser to digest every word and stretch out my rental dollars to a maximum impossible with mere VHS tapes.

I was getting something out it: education - I remember something about the license plate tribute to Jaws in the former and green pool tables that director Julie Taymor rejected for red ones to fit her colour scheme in the latter.

Later on, when I rented movies with next-day return, a mild irritation nagged at me, that I somehow missed out on something.

Then, DVDs made their way into my possession. Once I owned a DVD nothing stopped me from watching the feature commentary. And I was getting a director plus an actor. Woo hoo. Will life never cease to amaze?

Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp, it turned out, make terrible hosts. In-jokes and perfunctory "How are yous?". I've done more entertaining vaccuuming sessions.

Directors and actors, for all their familiarity with their own movie, are just to too close to their baby. They are like parents who bore the rest of us with meaningless anecdotes about their newborn. Yeah, like the rest of us care about your exclusive club and your matching tattoos.

Recently I gave a film commentary one more try.

The last of Hitchcock's British films, The Lady Vanishes, had a notable commentary - by "film historian Bruce Eder."

Eder explained untangled the conspiracies in this 1938 mystery, relating them to actual pre-war machinations and British complacency.

Most memorable are the trivial tidbits:
  • Director Alfred Hitchcock's cameo near the end.
  • The McGuffin at the beginning - the device that drives the plot - in this case, the viewer does not know it until the end of the movie.
  • The fictitious country, Vandreka, has a made-up language of snips and pieces from thirty other European languages.
  • The Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) and Chambers (Basil Radford) characters, while not gay, were just overgrown schoolboys and became so popular as a result of The Lady Vanishes that they paired up for the screen many more times.
It turns out film historians are better informers than directors or actors.


The Cherry Bank Again 


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Matt wrote and illustrated our adventures at the Cherry Bank last weekend with his wonderful photos:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

It's spooky!


Exploitation Films & Baby Penguins 


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

After a perfectly normal day of reading children's books and watching cute spy movies from the 30s, I should know better than to develop an interest in gorefest films at midnight.

Now, having read about (and looking at pictures of) Cannibal Holocaust, Japan's Guinea Pig films, Men Behind the Sun and too many others (did you know that Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for sexploitation film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?), I need fluffy penguin babies to cure me.

Think, think of baby penguins. Ah, here is the first image: tour guides in Antarctica warn their charges to keep a five-metre distance from penguins. Yet the penguins are under no obligations to keep away from the humans. Now imagine being swarmed by fluffy penguins. Good, I am much closer to not being disturbed.

I can see penguins with their beady eyes - I know sea otters are the hamsters of the sea but baby penguins are the hamsters of the Antarctic.

Think of moulting baby penguins, leaving tufts of penguin dust-bunny down all over the place. Think of making a nest out of all this penguin fluff.

Ok, the gory side effect cannibal murders are gone. I'm ready for bed. Thank you, baby penguins!


Smurfs in the News 


Sunday, October 16, 2005

As the proud parent of a smurf figurine (Viking Smurf - guards my toothbrush in the bathroom), I am as thrilled as any other smurf lover to see that smurfs are on everybody's radar once again with the recent furor over the UNICEF bombing of the smurf village. So what if Smurfette died? Now I have Handy Smurf all to myself.

For the longest time, rumours swirled online with "proof" that the smurfs were communist*. Written by brainwashed schmucks who probably wear Che Guevara t-shirts, these websites purport that the smurfs are communist starting with the revelation that Papa Smurf ripped off Karl Marx's beard.

Only one lone writer, whose site I can't find, pointed out that smurfs are a capitalist creation to sell toys.

Hopefully the renewed interest in smurfs will lead to an upsurge in smurfiness; this is the perfect moment to prosletyze smurf comics.

About the size of Tintin or Asterix comics, the smurf comics, even in translation, are hilarious.

Take Smurf of One and Smurf a Dozen of the Other, from 1975's The Smurfic Games. The story revolves around the two smurf dialects, the Northern (i.e. corksmurf) and the Southern (i.e. smurfscrew).** Based on Belgian language wars, the story has demonstrations, hi-smurfings, artificial frontiers, fistfights, and smurf-kebabs.

Which reminds me. The UNICEF attack on the smurf village is bad but the smurfs faced such dangers before.

In the 1976 The Smurfs and the Howlibird, the avian predator hurtles boulders at the smurf village, destroying many of the mushroom structures.

Likewise, in the following year's King Smurf, the smurfs turn once again on themselves and even bomb their own village.

Smurfs are resilient. They'll get over it.

Update: Paramount will release a feature-length smurf trilogy starting in 2008.


*The other appearance of smurfs was in rumours that they were satanic.

**Handy is a Southern smurf. Jokey is a Northern smurf.


The Cherry Bank Hotel 


Monday, October 10, 2005

On Saturday night, I rushed over to Vancouver Island for a date with some ghosts.

That's a long drive, then a 1.5 hour ferry ride and a one-hour bus ride away. I made it just in time to find out that the Quality Inn gave someone else the room I would have gotten had I been five minutes earlier.

"Can you recommend anything else nearby?" I asked.

"There's the Marriott," said the middle-aged lady behind the counter. "It's about $120 a night."

"I'm looking for something cheaper," I said.

The lady hesitated. "There is the Cherry Bank. But it doesn't have a TV or a phone."

"Sounds like my kind of place," I said.

The 108-year-old Cherry Bank Hotel started as a private residence for architect James Graham Brown and was named for its situation on the slope of a cherry orchard.

From 1912 to WWII, the Cherry Bank served as a boarding house until owners S. Edwards and A. H. Macon added a coffee shop in the 1940s and the cocktail lounge in the 1950s.

In the 1990s, the Cherry Bank got an outdoor patio, with an open barbeque pit, and a glass wall lounge expansion in 1991.

In 1996, what is now known as "Mr B's Race Place" (with televised satellite wagering) replaced games of Trivia Pursuit.

To get to the lobby, I walked under the white rotating mermaid, past the bar, down a dark corridor with red walls to a lobby only big enough for three people and no luggage.

The night clerk seemed skeptical. "Yes, we've still got two rooms, but with a shared toilet."

"I'll have a look and decide for myself."

Room Ten required a trek up a set of stairs with a bannister buried in the wall, then through a fire door to a very red hallway. In front of the door was Room Four. Then a right turn down another corridor, to a sign pointing up to Rooms Ten and Eleven, and up some more stairs to a secluded alcove. On the left, closer to the stairs, was Room Ten.

The lights in Room Ten did not work.

From the light in the hallway I saw a lamp on a night table to the left and groped at it until I found its switch near the base. Then I looked around.

There were two beds, one by the door near the lamp and the other by the window with no lamp but a mirror hanging on one of the walls next to it.

To the right of the door was a dresser - the upper drawers were lined with oil paper. The towels and two bars of soap - non-frothing, no doubt - lay in front of the large mirror. The mirror covered two prints of generic landscapes.

At the foot of the bed with the lamp were a table and two chairs. One of the chairs blocked a door that only reached to chest height.

I pulled away the chair and looked inside. A closet, with a handful of wire hangers. And, on the outer side of the building, a little door.

"Don't open it!" said my travel companion as my hand reached out to open that inside door.

I decided to take the room.

Then I went off to meet some ghost experts.

When I arrived they were talking about their hotels.

"Oh, that one's haunted!" said Kate to one of the guests.

"How about the Cherry Bank Hotel?" I interrupted.

Kate looked at me. "That one is very haunted."

Then she asked, "You're not staying in Room Four, are you?"

An elderly couple who once stayed in Room Four woke in the middle of the night to hear banging from within their room. They found the room's bathroom door removed off its hinges and laid against the wall. Their room was locked from the inside and no one from the outside could have gained access to Room Four.

Kate told me that the Cherry Bank has two ghosts. A little girl and a little boy. Paranormal investigators, who heard nothing while recording sounds in the hallway, later heard the little girl's voice inviting them to tea:
A team of filmakers came in once, to see what they could record. They noticed scratching on their video tapes, that got louder and louder as the recording went on. On this recording, they were able to detect a little girl's voice, "I'm having a tea party, and you're invited!", over and over again.
The little girl also appears to guests in the hallways.

Before returning to the hotel that night, I drank up some courage at a neighbouring pub. I slept in the bed beside the door (far easier to escape by) and didn't open my clenched eyes until the morning light.

Before leaving, I asked the morning clerk about ghosts.

"Oh, we've got three of them. A little girl and an old woman and one I don't know about. Only the kitchen staff have seen them."

The old lady ghost is Kathleen:
The spirit of Kathleen, a long time resident of the hotel, is considered by many to still roam halls. Kathleen was an extremely prim and proper woman. A new waitress was once setting tables but was not quite sure what to do. She left the room and when she returned she found the dishes on the floor perfectly laid out. Often the kitchen staff arrives to find the lid of a cooler has been left opened. It seems that someone once perished in the cooler and people suspect that Kathleen opens it to let out her fellow ghost.
In a recording, a mysterious voice purported to be Kathleen's pleads for help.

The Cherry Bank Hotel was to be demolished last year to make way for the Cherry Bank Condos but won a one-year reprieve.

Update: Matt, my travel partner, also wrote about our entrance to the Cherry Bank Hotel. It's pretty funny to read about the same experience written by someone else who was present. Matt plans to add a part two in the next few days. Check it out.

Also, my photos of the creepy Cherry Bank Hotel are coming soon.

Save the Cherry Bank Hotel!!!

Update: Chief-Ten-Bears commented about her experiences at the Cherry Bank:
I wanted to forget the Cherry Bank Hotel since I had my College Grad dinner there in 1991. I remember that insipid rotating mermaid and the (pervvy) sculptor who got his pic in the Times Colonist when it was installed. I recall the hot pink dining room and the indignity of the tatty children's pyjama flannel cloth bibs for those who ordered the ribs. I and a fellow grad were the only ones who asked for salmon and it was the worst I'd ever had, like a 3"x3" meat pincushion loaded with bones. Afterwards, everyone got wrecked on cheap beer and ran off to trash the tables in the 'Trivial Pursuit' bar.
Any other memories of the Cherry Bank are most welcome.


New York 


Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Yep, I went there again.

And I loved it just as much as I did the first time.

I am, at heart, a big city kind of slicker. I love the world's biggest cities and capitals: Paris, London, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Addis Ababa, Tunis, Bucuresti, Cluj, Vienna, Budapest, Strasbourg...

New York is my new love, supplanting my last current favourite (Budapest).

Consider the following:

Central Park 6

and

Central Park 3

Rather fools you, doesn't it? It could be Europe.

But New York doesn't stop there.

Check these out:

DSCN2620.JPG

"Hey, Joey, watch me spin this clam on my finger!"

and

Merry-Go-Round

(this horse is demonic)

and

Stubble Duck

"Donald's Lesser-Known Cousin, Stubble Duck"

and

Win Big Bunny

"Bunny escapes the Titanic"

and

Feed the Clown

"Robot charity towards impoverished clowns"

and

Husky Whale

"Turn your husky into a sperm whale"

and

Fried Shrimp Chicken

"Ugly Hitler shrimp"

Yeah, New York rocks.

(You can see the rest of the New York pictures here and there.)


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