by Marie Wilson

Mars Food

IMG_5234_phixrA guy shuffles out of the kitchen with a cornmeal muffin on a plate, puts it in front of me & places a fork & knife on a napkin beside it. He pours my coffee, while chewing on something which he now swallows so he can ask: “Cream?” Shuffling off he mutters to his coworker, “Those cornmeal muffins are pretty good.”
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Mars Food, a diner on College Street, opened in 1951 and hasn’t changed its decor since. I used to hang out in the back booths in the late 70s, smoking and drinking coffee into the wee hours, reading books by Susan Sontag and letters from my friends who were travelling, friends who’d let me hole up in their places while they were away (and even when they returned – thank you, friends).IMG_5238_phixr-2

Also known as the Muffin King, Mars is famous for – wait for it – muffins. Back in the day, I think it was Mars that invented the oversized morning-glory version that we now take for granted.

IMG_5242_phixr My server was right, this cornmeal muffin is pretty good, not amazing but a suitable companion for the Mars cup of coffee, and they come hot out of the oven.

IMG_5239_phixr-2 Mars Food is on the north side of College Street at Bathurst.


Mr. Pecknold, Picasso & Me

Originally published in The Globe & Mail, the following story is a tribute to my Gr. 9 English teacher, Lynn Kenneth Pecknold.  I hadn’t seen “Mr. Pecknold” in 46 years when my story reunited us in 2014. We met each others’ spouses (& few family members), posed for some photo ops & did some serious catching up.

After Picasso

After our parents’ divorce, our mother moved her bedroom to the den and my brother took over the old conjugal quarters. Like a 1960s version of Tom Sawyer, he sloshed a purple-wash over a beige wall, then got his teeny bopper little sister to finish the job. I was only too happy to turn the whole room into nighttime for his new black light.

I was a skinny girl of 14, limbs flying loose from oversized wooly sweaters and mini skirts, flailing in this direction and that; legs dancing, leaping, flying; just as free as all those answers blowin’ in the wind Bob Dylan sang about. But when the school buzzer sounded its mechanical call I stifled the wild child and filed into the drab hallways and classrooms of Como Lake Junior High, an institution where I was about as far from free as my hem was from the grey linoleum floors.

Forced to sit still in a little prison they called a desk, I clenched my fists and dug my nails into the palms of my hands while my hormones raced to the beat of some wild symphony only I could hear. While the teacher’s voice droned on in the stale air, I sought salvation in daydreams but if I was called back to answer questions, I had to confess I hadn’t been listening and I didn’t know the answers; they were blowing in the wind.

What is the square root of Free?

My creative and theatrical impulses made themselves evident even in school. When I had to sneeze I made the loudest “aaa-choo” in the land, making kids laugh and teachers scowl – except for my English teacher, Mr. Pecknold, who encouraged that sort of bold expression. “Bravo!” he would say after a volcanic sneeze punctured the sedate pen-scratching soundtrack of his classroom. He was also an Art teacher, although not mine, and when he found out how much I liked to paint, he lent me a handsome volume with page after page of colourful plates of great works of art.

I decided to copy one of the paintings onto a canvas board in my brother’s studio. Every day after school, I rushed home to my very own Girl Before a Mirror in progress. With a kind of ecstatic concentration I endeavoured to mix the same blues Picasso had once mixed. I squeezed and stirred the oozy colours, rust red, spring green, tar black. The smell of the oil paints as I slathered them on was as fragrant to me as the hyacinths that grew in our rockery.

On the closet door that used to hold our father’s tie rack, my brother painted three fluorescent hearts. In one he inscribed “Sonny and Cher,” in another I put “Romeo and Juliet,” and in the last he wrote: “Mom and Dad.” Since our mother and father’s marriage had ended in nasty betrayals and terrible battles, this neon pink inscription made us smile ironically beneath the black light, glowing teeth concealing pain, confusion, fear.

One day while I stood before my easel in breathless abandon, a blob of turquoise paint landed on the book my teacher had given me, right next to the Girl, on a border as smooth and white as virgin snow. I was mortified and hurried to wipe it off, but the pigment had seeped in and left a vivid blue stain. I had deflowered the Girl, and the repercussions I imagined for this deed gave me nightmares.

When my masterpiece was done, I took it to school to show my teacher. Appraising the two-foot by three-foot canvas he smiled thoughtfully, and in a voice full of warm approval, said: “Call it ‘After Picasso.’ ” He told me to enter it in the school art show. I scrawled its title on the back and entered it that day.

Then, mustering all my courage I gave my teacher his book back. Quivering in my white go-go boots, I opened it to the blue blemish and apologized. He eyed the blotch with the same critical eye he’d given my painting. Then he looked at me and said: “I am honoured.”

My painting won a prize. I was awarded a sketchbook.

Thirty-six years after Pablo Picasso painted the Girl, I laid eyes on her for the first time in my teacher’s book. Thirty-nine years after that, I finally saw the original at MOMA. That was last year, and as I gazed at the painting, so large and vibrant and colourful, I became intensely aware of something about the Girl’s face. One side of her face is a soft lavender pink, the innocent child; the other side of her face is bright yellow accented with rouge, lipstick, and eye shadow, the emerging sexual woman. I realized then that I had painted a self portrait.

I had come a long way since tying my blonde Twiggy hair up and wearing bell bottoms. As the seventies kicked in, so did my sun-yellow woman, but I was still the lavender girl, too. Picasso painted the Girl’s future as contorted and anxious in her reflection in the mirror. I too was destined to know the dark night of my soul.

Violet, ochre, rust, black, verdigris, they’re all me. But mostly, I am that renegade splotch of turquoise paint that landed in my teacher’s book so long ago, that dash of joyful colour that didn’t go where it was supposed to, that runaway blob that made its worthy mark. And to be all those colours, I am honoured.


Night of Wonder

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Was the ghost of Frederico Fellini walking among us? Or had the carnival come to town? Bells tinkled, tea lights flickered, creatures lumbered and danced down a hillside. The air crackled with magic and wonder.

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Voices sang quietly, lazy notes from a clarinet wafted on the summer breeze. A big round glowing moon floated down the hill. Was Glinda stopping by to greet Fellini? The moon came to a stop and –

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– a shadow king appeared on its illuminated surface. A story was told in both English & Mandarin. It was acted out in silhouette behind the luminous sphere, while people in white prepared colourful lanterns off to one side.

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More people in white, lit by tiny red spotlights, moved rhythmically in a circle and began chanting. Now it seemed Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival had arrived in the park. Something wicked this way comes…

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Was that ET’s mom looming over the small crowd that had gathered to watch, ghostly white and expressionless? The chanting grew till it seemed a holy frenzy would ensue. Then all came to a hush & finally to a halt.  People & creatures bowed as applause erupted from the crowd. This had been a presentation of the Bain Arts Collective, a creative & questing group of artists, of which I am one.

Thanks to the many wonderful souls who made this a great event. And a special thanks to Aaron Schwartz for his support and for doing the post on the top photo here.


Hubbard Park

I submitted the name “Hubbard” for a new TO park then pestered everyone to vote for that name. And it won! Next I wrote an article for NOW magazine about the man for whom the park will be named: William Peyton Hubbard. That article earned me a nomination for a Heritage Toronto Award for Best Short Publication. There was some really worthy competition in that category – of particular note for me were Daniel Rotsztain’s drawings of all the Toronto libraries. Alas, neither I nor Daniel won the award. But, for my part, it was sweet just having won the Name Our Park contest (run by Councillor Paula Fletcher). Also sweet was bringing to light the remarkable history of Toronto’s first African-Canadian politician. Up until now, nothing has been named for the man in our city (save for a Hydro One award) & hardly anyone I talked to in my campaign for votes knew who he was.

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William Peyton Hubbard (above) in a portrait by W.A. Sherwood (City of Toronto Art Collections). Below, Hubbard mingles with the paper hoi-poloi on TO’s finest hoarding in a flyer I made for the “Vote for Hubbard” campaign. I handed these flyers out and posted them everywhere in my neighbourhood; I had to – the competition was fierce: Jack Layton Park was the other name in the running. Everyone knows and loves Layton, while few know Hubbard. More will now! And we look forward to Hubbard Park’s Official Opening on October 22, 2016 at 11 am.

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Marilyn & Mimosa

Marilyn had a good cool-off trick in The Seven Year Itch: she put her “undies in the icebox”. As good: put an iced bottle of bubbly between your thighs, as you sit on the patio in your sundress or shorts. Better than a cold compress to the head! Now pop the cork, squeeze some oranges & pour the fresh oj into a chilled flute, add the champagne. Kick back & let this sparkling mimosa tickle your innards.

Marilyn-Monroe-cocktailIn Part Two of The Gorgeous Girls, Wanda and Constance drink mimosas at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, while figuring out what went wrong with Wanda’s relationship. Believe me, mimosas can help with your love life. Now go put your iced knickers on!

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Breaking Up Into Small Pieces

Yvonne’s hands glide over your body with a touch as smooth as velvet as she takes you deep into the relaxation provided by Lomi Lomi Hawaiian Temple Bodywork. Relax your muscles, open your heart, be transformed.

IMG_2363_phixrOver the course of two hours you’ll feel like you’re flying with frigate birds over the sea (whose sustained flight has inspired Lomi Lomi Flying Dance) or just floating in a world where there are no thoughts. Beautiful Hawaian music fills the room as Yvonne practices the ancient technique of Lomi Lomi, which means “breaking up into small pieces”.

“In other words Lomi Lomi breaks up old patterns in one’s life and presents an opportunity for new awareness and conscious choices for one’s life to move forward.” – from Yvonne’s website:alohalomi.com. Check it out: you’ll find testimonials, information, & a video of Yvonne in action, moving like an ocean breeze over a happy client.


Mimosas & Monroe

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Marilyn had a good cool-down trick in The Seven Year Itch – she put her “undies in the icebox”. As good: don a sundress, sit, put an iced bottle of bubbly between your thighs. Better than a cold compress to the head! Now pop the cork. Squeeze some oranges & pour the fresh OJ into a chilled flute, add the champagne. Kick back & let this sparkling mimosa tickle your innards.

Marilyn-Monroe-cocktail

In Part Two of The Gorgeous Girls, Wanda and Constance drink mimosas at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto, while figuring out what went wrong with Wanda’s relationship. Believe me, mimosas can help with your love life. Now go put your iced knickers on!


Noir Universe

Disillusionment & paranoia descended on the American Dream in the 40s just as the titular characters in The Killers descend on the Swede as he lay in the shadows awaiting his fate. The Killers (1946) was directed by Robert Siodmak, one of a handful of German emigre directors that brought expressionism to Hollywood to add to the black & white rain-soaked visuals that came to be known as “film noir”. Based on a Hemingway story (1927) of the same name, which is also thought to be the inspiration for Nighthawks (1942), the iconic painting by Edward Hopper, The Killers delivers the existential goods that defined the postwar noir sensibility.

One finds many such nighthawks & diners in the noir landscape; they go hand in hand with the bleak outlook of their cynical heroes & disaffected anti-heroes. As the Swede (Burt Lancaster) says in the opening sequence of The Killers: “I did something wrong…once.” That’s all it takes to doom an otherwise good man, his downfall often aided by a bad woman (Ava Gardner in this case), who’s just trying to stay alive in a hostile man’s world. It’s a story audiences couldn’t get enough of as they grappled with the wide-spread angst & despair following & preceding two wars (WW2 & Cold).


A Beautiful Dog

Kelly was an Irish Setter & a master at finding lost balls in the grass. When she died at age 14 her owner brought her ball stash to Withrow Dog Park to share. He put a photo of Kelly (see below) in the box with a note telling us to enjoy what she had enjoyed for so many years.

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Nixie was very excited about all these toys on offer. She couldn’t decide which ball to choose but once a selection was made she had great fun with it. She then returned it to the box and took another. And so on. Kelly’s thoughtful owner continues (at the time of writing) to enjoy & care for Kelly’s longtime companion, Seamus, another Irish Setter. Both beautiful dogs.

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Champagne & Imperfection

“Trouble in Paradise” is a Lubitsch rom-com made in pre-code Hollywood that drips with sexual innuendo & gorgeous jewelry. Herbert Marshall plays a charming thief & Kay Francis is the rich & alluring lady he intends to rob.

Marshall lost part of a leg in WW1. He had a wooden replacement & never walked much in his pictures. Francis couldn’t say her “r”s, so in her movies she avoided words with that letter (with help from screenwriters). In “Trouble in Paradise” she floats elegantly around all her dialogue with the exception of “ruined reputation”. Marshall delivers his lines with characteristic elan whilst lounging about the glorious Art Deco set. This was a Hollywood of perfect men and flawless women.

Those with “afflictions” had to hide them. There were a few exceptions: Lionel Barrymore was in a wheelchair in real life & it worked for his many cinematic character roles (e.g. Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”); Sammy Davis Jr. had a glass eye but it seemed to add to his elfin charm; Jack Elam had “wide eyes”, meaning the iris in his left eye was skewed to the outside, giving him a wacko badass look, perfect for the many villains he played.

And then there was Harold Russell. Russell lost both his hands while serving in the army during WW2. He was not an actor but got cast to play the young war vet in “The Best Years of our Lives” (1946) then won two Oscars for his moving & believable portrait.

As for “Trouble in Paradise”, by 1935 the Production Code was being enforced, & TiP was considered much too racy for reissue. It was not seen again until 1968, the same year Kay Francis died. It’s interesting to note that she left the bulk of her million-dollar estate to an organization that trains guide dogs for the blind.