Wednesday, December 19, 2007

our ladies of ottawa, montserrat and kyoto

Hey, just back from our nation's capital. (Okay, I got back last week, don't split hairs.)

But what a town, what a town! My first Ottawa evening was spent in the vibrant company of my sister-in-law's book club, gossiping about the characters in All the Good Pilgrims and consuming lots of Rioja wine. Saturday I spoke to the local Camino gathering, convened by the genial Austin Cooke, who was newly returned from a spectacular Camino that commenced at the shrine of the Black Madonna of Montserrat; talk about virgin trails! We had a fine turn-out of forty despite the fact the meeting fell plunk in the middle of Christmas shopping season. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did.

Saturday night it was off to rustic Dunvegan, where I celebrated Hanukkah in the bosom of the local Jewish community (ie. Ronna and Lionel) before spending the night at Greg Byers' cozy retirement villa. Finally, Sunday afternoon I spent talking up All the Good Pilgrims at Nicholas Hoare Books.

Which brings me to something that impressed me about Ottawa: the degree of Camino awareness. Just about everyone I talked to at Nicholas Hoare already knew about it, whereas at Toronto bookstores most people are hearing about it for the first time. Is this because Ottawa is so near Quebec and its Catholic traditions? Does it have something to do with long holidays in the civil service, or early retirement? Is it all the politicians doing penance for taking envelopes stuffed with thousand-dollar bills? I wonder...

Anyway, a little off the beaten track of the Camino, the Globe and Mail published my Japan article in their weekend travel section. Nothing to do with pilgrimages -- unless of course you want to make a Memoirs of a Geisha pilgrimage.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

live in kingston!

Seems like years, but it's only two weeks ago I was in Kingston, enjoying some local hospitality.

My first night's host, Peter Coffman, was also my partner-in-crime for the weekend's Chapters event. If you don't know Peter's work, find out about it. Three years ago, Peter walked the Camino with Canadian violinist extraordinaire Oliver Schroer. Along the way, Oliver composed and recorded the haunting melodies that are collected on his 2006 album, Camino. The recordings were made in acoustically perfect churches, giving the music a sublime resonance and brightness.

Peter, formerly a commercial photographer, chronicled the journey in powerful black-and-white images. These are featured on the album cover and notes, and won Peter the 2007 Independent Music Awards prize for Album Photography. You can see a few of these images in the Camino gallery on Oliver's website. For the rest, you'll have to be patient till the long-awaited site is finally launched. (Keep checking; Peter promises it's coming soon.)

As for my second night's hosts, well they don't really have anything to do with the Camino (though they crossed its path a few times on a trip to Spain earlier this year) but they're disgustingly talented too: Lise Carruthers, a landscape artist and painter whose tornado-and-wind funnel series make for a unique guest bedroom experience, and Rob Gonsalves, a Governor-General's award-winner for his whimsical, perspective-shifting paintings (see the children's books Imagine a Night and Imagine a Day (Atheneum)). And though Rob doesn't know it yet, he's going to do the cover for the reissue of Virgin Trails, whenever that happens.