Paul Pierre

Photo courtesy of Pierre-Paul Pariseau     

Artist Spotlight: Pierre-Paul Pariseau

Pierre-Paul Pariseau

June 10, 2024

 

Pierre-Paul Pariseau has been doing illustrations for a multitude of publications in North America and Europe for many years now. He also regularly exhibits his personal work internationally. His art has been graced by many awards throughout his long career.

One of his works is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Avant-Garde in Mendrisio, Switzerland, which reopens in 2025. In 2019, some of his illustrations were included in the book The Illustrator. 100 Best from Around the World, published by Taschen.

 

Why or how did you become an artist?

I studied computer science a long time ago but didn’t last long in the field because passion wasn’t there. I was doing art on the side (collage with paper, glue, scissors) so I decided to try to be an illustrator. As I succeeded, I persevered in this way until now. I am self-taught as an artist. I regularly exhibit my personal work internationally.

Can you describe your art style in a few words?

Mainly surreal. I think it is instantly recognizable.

What media/medium do you work in?

Collage and digital transformation.

What advice would you give to your younger self? What advice would you give to someone who would like to pursue art?

Listen, observe, look carefully and be interested in the cultural and social lives of the world around you and beyond. This will enrich your visual vocabulary and allow you to better translate your ideas and emotions. Consider your personal works as important as the commissions and vice versa, because they nourish each other.

What inspires you? Are there other artists or figures that inspire you?

At the beginning of my career I was inspired by surrealist artists, now from everything that surrounds me.

What is your favourite piece that you created so far?

Most of the time, the last one I just did. The pleasure and the surprise that I felt doing it is still in me.

What is your favourite artwork by another artist?

I love the work of René Magritte, especially Empire of Light.

What does art mean to you?

Freedom, self-discovery, pleasure, education.

What are your interests, hobbies, etc. outside of art?

Reading, bicycling, travelling, visiting exhibitions.

Train Rocher
Pyramidal Cult
New Yorker
Landia
Glacier
Desert Train
Cowboys
Chaperon Rouge
Train Rocher
Pyramidal Cult
New Yorker
Landia
Glacier
Desert Train
Cowboys
Chaperon Rouge
previous arrowprevious arrow
next arrownext arrow

Babka and Braciole

Illustration by Katharina Davoudian

Babka and Braciole

Jenna Carellini

June 4, 2024

 

It’s a Wednesday afternoon when I got to Vita Siano’s house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. She’s 86, my Italian American grandmother has lived in the same house since 1942 and has a love for Jewish food. Of all the facets of her life I wanted to learn more about, her love of Jewish food struck a particular chord. The young Italian American that I am has always felt connected to Jewish culture, maybe this was why.

It took all but seconds for her to begin to tell the part of her story that related to Jewish culture, specifically the culture that was happening in Bensonhurst. She moved to her two-family home on 19th Avenue and Cropsey Avenue at the age of 8 and it was soon after, at the age of 12, that she met her Jewish best friend, Gloria Kofsky. “We met playing on the street, I kept seeing her around the block, and over time, we just became friends,” she shared.

This friendship, which would last over 70 years, blossomed quickly, with a basis in food—the two became immersed and passionate about each other’s culture and traditions.

“Every Friday, I would sleep at Gloria’s house and we would have bagels, lox, whitefish, and the whole spread on Saturday morning, I loved it. Other Italians did not like the ‘real’ Jewish foods as I did. They liked brisket. I liked everything except kasha,” my grandma recalled.

She spoke of Gloria’s love of spaghetti and meatballs and how she adored Gloria’s Bubbie, who kept a Kosher household. Their friendship grew with them and their families, causing their own children to be culturally immersed as well. Gloria’s daughter Rhonda, noted, “I didn’t even know I was Jewish, all I ever ate was Italian food, your grandmother taught my mom how to cook and I was always jealous of the Easter dresses your mom wore.”

“This friendship, which would last over 70 years, blossomed quickly, with a basis in food—the two became immersed and passionate about each other’s culture and traditions.”

Weathering Gloria’s move to upstate New York and Florida, the two remained close friends until 2003 when Gloria passed away. But the influence this friendship had on my grandmother did not end with Gloria’s death, “It was such a shock. No one even told me she was sick. I was really heartbroken but my life would have been so different if I didn’t have a Jewish best friend, I would have been so different,” Vita said with a bittersweet tone.

While the story of this friendship and the cultural influence that the two families had on each other is quite personal, this connection between the Jews and Italians of Bensonhurst is seemingly universal.

According to the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative, in the early 1900s, Bensonhurst Jewish immigrants, many of them Syrian or Egyptian Jews, joined the mix in the mostly Italian neighborhoods, and it was during this time that the connection between these groups formed. Margret Mosseri, an Egyptian Jew from Bensonhurst, who was quoted in an article regarding the Jewish Italian connection, noted that she grew up above an Italian bakery, and Aimee Cohen spoke in the same article stating that she felt this connection was built on the idea that at the time, Italians and Jews both shopped at the same grocery stores.

On a phone call with Arthur Schwartz, Italian and Jewish cuisine extraordinaire, restaurant critic, and former executive food editor of the New York Daily News, he shared some insight on the topic: “We had our own Italian restaurant and our own Chinese restaurant and our own Jewish deli, like every Brooklyn neighborhood, does.”

However, this connection, which again felt seemingly universal, came to a conclusive head when Vita brought up Hy Tulip, her favorite Jewish deli in Bensonhurst. An Italian American from Brooklyn that not only likes Jewish food but has a favorite Jewish deli, was something worth delving into.

She merely mentioned the deli was on 86th Street and that she went there “whenever she felt like having a hotdog.”

Of course, this topic seemed loaded and historical, which felt exciting, but it was at this moment that my quick internet search of “Hy Tulip Deli Bensonhurst,” received little to no historical information or evidence. There was no ground-breaking story on how a Jewish immigrant started the deli with two cents in his pocket or how this deli survives today with lines down 86th Street. What I was met with were countless recollections of Italian Americans from Bensonhurst and their feelings on the deli. None of the information factual, professional, or published, but instead from the fingers of “Joey from down the block” on Chowhound and Bensonhurst fan pages.

“While the story of this friendship and the cultural influence that the two families had on each other is quite personal, this connection between the Jews and Italians of Bensonhurst is seemingly universal.”

It was on these fan pages and food websites that these Brooklynites recalled a deli of their past: “Also fondly remembered was Hy Tulip’s Deli, to which I would make forays, usually over the busy street by way of the El Station, to get takeout orders of hot dogs and leaden but delicious knishes. This was back in the late 40s and in the 50s” and “I also lived on Bay 25 St near 86 St. much later. I was walking distance to Lenny’s pizza and Hy Tulip, what could be better?” noted two fans on the topic of Bensonhurst on ForgottenNY.com.

It was during this time that I read the pages of these comments and spoke to friends of my mother’s and grandmother’s and was told stories of hot dogs, corned beef sandwiches, and lunchtime meals between the local Italian Americans and Jews of 19th Avenue. I read of Ralph Scotto, an Italian delicatessen owner who had his start at Hy Tulip, ”My father broke his neck diving into a swimming pool,” he recalled. ”I took a bus to 86th Street, and there was a delicatessen called Hy Tulip. I walked up to the door. Marty Sachs, the owner, was throwing his dishwasher out. He gave me an apron, and I worked in the kitchen next to the guys making knishes.”

Next came a clipping from the 1970’s Daily News, noting the closing of Hy Tulip until 3 o’clock on Monday, June 29th. The picture and article noted that the deli was closing “in support of many good friends and customers on their Italian American Unity Day.”

The last and perhaps most iconic connection came from a page of Philip Carlo’s “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer,” where Nino Gaggi, a capo in the New York Gambino crime family, is seen double-parked in front of Hy Tulip in Bensonhurst. This Bensonhurst deli was a Jewish deli for Italian Americans and it seemed like they knew that.

According to my mom and grandma, the talk was that this deli closed sometime in the past couple of decades. But to the Italian Americans of Bensonhurst, it was just yesterday that they went to this deli on 86th Street when they “felt like having a hotdog.”

 

 

 

Jenna Carellini is a student and creator in the food space. She is passionate about the intersection of food-based knowledge and personal writing.

Illustration by Katharina Davoudian and Sandro Spagnolo

“Night Hiking by Simcoe County” (After Robert Frost)

Vera Nekrasovsky

June 2, 2024

 

The difference I never understood
To be so vast and startlingly stark
Between the darkness of an older wood,
And lazy shadows of a tame, worn city park.
The last like sleepy spectres seem to drift
Yielding to headlights of each quickly passing car;
They are the sparser sort that shyly aside shift
Upon the lighting of a small cigar.

The first and foremost is a different matter;
It puts to shame the feeble efforts of the last
My lamp could easily bend and twist and shatter,
For this one pools around the golden ring we cast
As oceans cross their arms round bubbles of air:
By fractions of a second kept at bay,
Before the fragile membranes cannot bear
How much the tons of water on them weigh
And burst and let them fill their pockets in.

 

 

Vera Nekrasovsky is a Canadian student of English and History who was born in Israel but grew up in Canada. Previously, her poem “Sweets for the Starving Sparrow” was published in the Trinity Review in January 2021. She likes writing nature poems with a surreal twist.

Poznan old town square | Vinci

Poznan’s beautifully painted Old Town’s Square.  Photo courtesy of Katarzyna Gabryelewicz

Poznań and a Day in the Country

Marie Marlo-Barski

September 21, 2021

 

My husband Andrew and I did what sensible adults only talk of doing: we quit our jobs to salvage what was left of our souls and went on a four-month tour of Europe, or as I call it, a two-for-one mid-life crisis. We stayed mainly in Eastern Europe as it is more affordable and because we have relatives there. It was grounding to reconnect with places from our younger days, see how we changed in three decades independently of one another, and glimpse into the lives of people we hold dear but know only superficially as they live three consecutive plane rides away.

I’ve learned by now that when we say “we’ll get together soon” that day never comes unless we firm up the plans right then and there. When the invitation from Kasia and Jeremy comes to spend an upcoming weekend at their country house, we pull out the calendar and confirm. We repack our suitcases for the second time in less than a week and are on our way again the following morning. The cab arrives just on time and this one smells of aftershave. It is overpowering but a huge improvement over the more common fermented cabbie odour baked into vehicles by the summer heat.

The train station is crowded. People are gathered under the announcement board, the kind they used to have at airports before electronic ones came along, with the little black cards that flip very fast listing upcoming departures and corresponding platforms. Andrew says that paying extra for reserved seats is not an option here, like with the nicer and newer German trains. A ticket means you can get on but doesn’t guarantee an actual seat; often, it is standing room only.

As I process this information, he continues, “When the train comes, I will run and get on, then you’ll pass me the bags through the window.” He is only half joking.

Sure enough as the train pulls in, everyone runs towards it and crowds at the entrances like nails on an oversized magnet. Any notion of personal space disappears instantly. Andrew, an old pro from his youth in this once communist country, is already on when I realize that I too will have to elbow my way in. Someone asks me a question and I lose Andrew from sight. I manage to get on the train and turn right when I hear him call from the left. He secured us seats. I am relieved to reach him in the crush of people.

This train is divided into compartments, each seating eight in a space that should only seat six. Again, my North American proportions are off. There is only another couple seated by the window, facing each other. This isn’t so bad, I think to myself, when a hefty woman pops her head in and asks if there is a seat available. She sits down, taking the space of one and a half persons according to the seat numbers.

Just then, the train is overrun by a horde of green uniforms, the Polish equivalent of boy scouts. Each has a man-sized backpack, probably weighing as much as the kid carrying it, and as wide as the train’s passageway. A young woman, one of the monitors, quickly determines there are still three seats in our cabin and promptly stuffs three boys in. We are now filled to capacity. Andrew and the other man manage to squeeze one of the giant back packs on the overhead luggage rack, along with a couple of smaller ones. The other two are left in the passageway, a scene that repeats itself for each compartment.

I remark to Andrew that this is a major safety violation as the bags block the passage, making a quick exit in case of emergency impossible. He laughs at me again. “You’ve got the window,” he replies.

 

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore
As the train starts to roll, I suddenly notice many hands waving outside the windows: moms and dads seeing their kids off, the smiles not completely hiding the worry in their eyes. The boys are about ten or so, with no hint of puberty or teenage drama yet to come. Here I have to compliment Polish parents, their children are polite and well behaved. The boy next to me is sure to offer me and everyone in the compartment whatever candy or snack he is having. Polite does not mean quiet, and they chat and laugh incessantly. I don’t mind. It is nice to see this unencumbered joy of life, something we forget about later on. We learn they are off to a lake some eight hours away for the next three weeks. They all go to school together and live in the apartment’s vicinity that is our home base in Poland. We talk a bit about travelling and Justin Bieber, whom they don’t like. Their English is quite good, largely thanks to the miracle of the internet, I imagine. I am struck by how well socialized they are, speaking clearly and intelligently, looking us in the eyes, none of the squirming, eye rolling, and nodding I’ve seen in North American kids.

“Andrew laughs at the absurdity of such a precise schedule; not noon, but 11:59 although no train is ever on time. In that aspect, nothing has changed in the thirty years since he has been living in Canada.”

The train stops at every station, and sometimes inexplicably between stations, to sit and wait on the tracks. We are to arrive at 11:59 AM. Andrew laughs at the absurdity of such a precise schedule; not noon, but 11:59 although no train is ever on time. In that aspect, nothing has changed in the thirty years since he has been living in Canada.

We reach Poznań, say bye to the boys and wish them a nice summer. The train is forty-five minutes late and Kasia, who is waiting for us, had to move her car twice to avoid a parking ticket. Kasia is Andrew’s niece once removed, and she calls us “aunt and uncle,” which is endearing. I’ve liked her very much since I first met her. She was eight years old and happy to sing me a little song she had learned in English. She was a sweet and caring girl and is now a lovely young woman.

Many country intersections feature a crucifix or a statue of the Virgin Mary | Vinci

Many country intersections feature a crucifix or a statue of the Virgin Mary. Photo courtesy of Katarzyna Gabryelewicz

We zoom through the city and onto the highway, which takes us into the Polish countryside. Four lanes of traffic merge into two and then become a narrow country road. Kasia doesn’t slow down; she is still doing ninety down what should be a maximum forty kilometers per hour road. There is no speed limit sign in sight. I strap on the seat belt and make a silent prayer that no child or animal make a sudden appearance from the countless intersections hidden by tall stalks of corn. I notice that I never pray as often in Canada as I do when I am in Eastern Europe.

Kasia and her husband Jeremy bought a run-down property half an hour out of town (an hour if I was driving), which they have been renovating since their wedding a couple of years back. The day is clear and warm and the country is beautiful. I like the openness of the undulating fields, poked by an occasional farmhouse and barn. Many rural intersections feature a crucifix or a statue of the Virgin and flowers. It seems many locals also feel the need for divine help on these roads.

Kasia and Jeremy’s house is a lovely storybook brick cottage with flower baskets on every window. We are enthusiastically greeted by Ginger, their three-year-old beagle. With my dog far away in Canada I have been missing doggy companionship, so it is nice to pet his little furry head. We find Jeremy in the rear of their expansive yard, with a couple of helpers, landscaping. Jeremy is handsome and a little sunburned from working outside all day. He looks a bit like a young Marlon Brando, brooding, until he smiles and his whole face lights up like a child’s.

The house is as nice inside, full of rustic charm. We sit down to a lunch of pasta with spinach and chicken in tomato sauce. Ginger keeps my feet warm. I don’t mind, although it is a hot day. After coffee, the three of us get back in the car. Kasia has reserved a tour of the nearby castle for us while Jeremy gets back to his yard work.

Kornik Castle, originally constructed in the 14th century and remodelled in 1855 | Vinci

Kornik Castle, originally constructed in the 14th century and remodeled in 1855. Photo courtesy of Katarzyna Gabryelewicz

Kornik is an actual castle, complete with a moat and ghost. The original structure dates to about 1430. It went through several owners and renovations, including Teofila of Dzialynski, or the White Lady as she became known, named after a portrait of her in a white dress that still hangs in the castle. She lived from 1714 to 1790 and gave the castle a baroque feel, including a French style garden. According to folklore, she never really left and is the resident ghost of the castle. And like all good stories, there is treasure to be found. During a renovation, a treasure hidden in the basement went missing. The ghost will rest in peace once the treasure is recovered.

Our guide is a lovely young woman who speaks English well. She takes us from room to room where we admire the inlaid parquet flooring, the very elaborate wood mouldings and doorways, and the antique furniture. She points to hidden passageways. The tour ends in the library that houses not only rare books, but collections of trophies and memorabilia brought back from exotic places by some of the castle’s globe-trotting residents. After the castle, we tour the expansive grounds and talk about life. We get back to the car and Kasia takes us to a nearby palace, the former family residence of count Raczynski in Rogalyn, now a museum. The expansive palace was recently renovated. The cream-coloured façade and white accents seem even brighter in the late afternoon sun. There is a live concert in the garden, and we get to hear the last three songs. One low building on the grounds, which I imagine must have been a stable long ago, is converted to a small restaurant. We sit outside and order iced tea. The place is crowded so we share a table with a couple of strangers, but no one minds, everyone one is relaxed and having a nice time.

Raczynski's Palace, completed in 1776 | Vinci

Raczynski’s Palace, completed in 1776. Photo courtesy of Katarzyna Gabryelewicz

We make our way back to the little brick house. Kasia gives us a tour of the property. There is a well dating from 1909, probably the same year as the house, and a brick barn that could itself become a lovely rustic house if renovated. I can’t help but think of all the shows I’ve seen where couples with passion and money undertake such projects. We go to the far end where Jeremy, now by himself, is still working hard pouring cement. They show us the work they did and explain their vision of what is to come, a terraced garden complete with fruit trees, herbs, flowers. I admire them for being so young, yet having such a clear vision of what they want out of life and working hard to get there.

For dinner we are joined by Tadziu and Kamil, Kasia’s father and brother. We help set the table outside on the brick patio. The evening is warm with a slight breeze and the conversations flow as does the wine. I think: This is what we need more of in Canada, evenings like this, with family and friends.

“The evening is warm with a slight breeze and the conversations flow as does the wine. I think: This is what we need more of in Canada, evenings like this, with family and friends.”

Kamil grills sausages made by a neighbour, while Ginger runs around investigating, disappearing into the tall grass to emerge again, face full of pollen. It is already dark when we disperse. Tadziu must catch the last train home to Ostrow; Kamil has a long drive to Warsaw, while we settle on the foldout sofa in the living room and promptly go to sleep.

Everything is peaceful until the first light of dawn, when the neighbourhood roosters start their opera. It is about 4:30 AM. Then the flies awaken and decide to examine me thoroughly. They tickle my bare arms and face. Waving them away doesn’t do much as they return time and time again, keeping me from getting back to sleep. I question my personal hygiene. I manage to dose off around six. When we get up at eight o’clock, Kasia and Jeremy are already up and dressed, making pancakes for breakfast. I take a long shower, scrubbing extra hard. It is already warm and we have pancakes and coffee outside. We are going to spend the day in Poznań, one of Poland’s oldest cities.

Poznan City Hall. The original structures dates from the 13th century, the present facade was completed in 1560. | Vinci

Poznań City Hall. The original structures date from the 13th century, the present façade was completed in 1560. Photos courtesy of Katarzyna Gabryelewicz

Like so many European cities, Poznań has a nicely restored historic plaza with cobblestone streets, tall, narrow buildings which have been lovingly restored, and churches. We find a crowd gathered outside City Hall. At noon every day, the City Hall tower offers a brief show: two mechanical Billy goats emerge slowly to face the people. They turn to each other and butt heads twelve times (I find myself counting along with the other spectators), then slowly return inside. This seems to entertain the adults more than the kids.

We turn left and head to what looks like a cathedral, calling from a narrow street at the end of the plaza. The Church of St. Stanislaus is an impressive structure in baroque ornamentation, one of the nicest I’ve seen. Next, we walk to the National Museum, which houses an extensive collection of Polish art and a few Renaissance pieces, including a gorgeous work by Botticelli of the Madonna and Christ child. After about three hours of “feeding our spirit” we are ready for actual food. Even Andrew has enough of looking at art; I thought that day would never come.

“The palace is beautiful [and]…I am tempted for a moment to be one of those people. I see myself as the chatelaine, running the household and hired help, and organizing huge parties. Then I think of the heating bill for such a place and snap back to reality.”

We settle on a nearby Greek restaurant. The décor of aqua blue and white is more Greek than the food itself, but we get a decent lunch and are on our way again. We visit the “Old Brewery” converted to an award-winning shopping center, a Gothic church begun in the 10th century entirely constructed from brick, and a park. We talk about many things, including Polish porcelain, and I fantasize about opening a shop in Canada.

On the way back, we drive to see an abandoned palace. There are many in the country, just waiting for a new owner to breathe life into them. The palace is beautiful, white and elegant, completely private, surrounded by a forest and a pond. I am tempted for a moment to be one of those people. I see myself as the chatelaine, running the household and hired help, and organizing huge parties. Then I think of the heating bill for such a place and snap back to reality.

Ginger is excited to see us all and runs back and forth, unable to make up his mind about whom to greet first. We have dinner outside and talk about Vegas. I’m not sure why we got on that topic, perhaps because it is the polar opposite of the beauty and history we experienced today.

 

 

 

Marie Marlo-Barski is originally from Yugoslavia. When Marie is not travelling, she is plotting her next adventure from her home base in Victoria, British Columbia, where she lives with her husband and their three dogs. She holds a BA in History of Art from the University of Winnipeg. Besides travelling, her interests include writing, painting, photography, and animal rights. English is her third language.

 

 

 

I Want you to Read The Idiot

Photo courtesy of Grace Cameron

I Want You to Read The Idiot

Grace Cameron

May 28, 2021

 

“Writers appear to be trying to identify as many concrete entities as possible, in the fewest possible words.”

—Elif Batuman, Short Story & Novel

This year, my favorite book is The Idiot. I’m not referring to the Russian tome I’ll one day bully myself into reading, but to the near 500-page book by Elif Batuman. The Idiot is about an awkward Harvard freshman to whom absolutely nothing happens. There is virtually no action in the book, little drama, few discernable conflicts, and no real character growth. So far, my evangelizing has been effective on both my partner and my best friend. The reviews are mixed: my partner liked it and my best friend warned me to never again recommend a book so boring.

This essay by Batuman has been rattling in my head ever since I read it. The directive to buck the accepted literary standard of brevity seems, to someone who has been charged thousands of dollars to be told to be more concise, downright scandalous. It feels like advice given by a novelistic giant, sitting atop a throne of decades of accolades and widespread veneration, like offhandedly recommending that you only date people who have pursued you for a minimum of three months. It doesn’t feel applicable.

“The directive to buck the accepted literary standard of brevity seems, to someone who has been charged thousands of dollars to be told to be more concise, downright scandalous.”

Unlike a return to old school courtship however, Batuman’s suggestion is neither anachronistic nor relevant to only a niche audience. While her novel has been successful among New York Times types and humanities students, she is far from a household name or consistent literary darling. If the suggestion came from Joan Didion or the late David Foster Wallace, it would be easier to dismiss as a well-intended piece of non-transferable advice. But The Idiot is Batuman’s first novel, not her fiftieth.

I loved the book because it felt like reading an unremarkable person’s journal, who poorly navigates through feelings and situations too mundane to be ineffable but nevertheless difficult to convey. The Idiot reads like a love letter to writing, one that isn’t blinded to its fundamental flaws or significant margin of error.

The Idiot reads like a love letter to writing, one that isn’t blinded to its fundamental flaws or significant margin of error.”

The novel’s main thread is the relationship between the protagonist, Selin, and a guy she met in Russian class, Ivan. The crux of their relationship is the intimate and undefined nature of their regular email exchange. They exchange long, pretentious emails discussing linguistics, abstract mathematics, and their Russian class. Their correspondence resembles a bizarre mixture of diary entries and half-baked grant proposals. They rarely acknowledge or respond to what the other writes, yet the mutual reinforcement of their beliefs that they each have unique and fascinating theories about language and people propagates a quasi-connection that is as affective as it is confusing.

The novel is verbose and boring. Batuman shows us how writing builds complex and meaningful relationships and then, with as much care and sardonic retrospection, how those relationships painfully deform off the page (or in Batuman’s novel, the screen). The substance of the novel is in Selin’s head, in the way she writes and rewrites her life and the people she knows. It’s the repetition that gets to you; reading exchange after exchange of ultimately meaningless emails from a guy who cares more about making sure his idea comes across than he does about the person it’s coming across to.

My partner and my best friend hated Ivan very quickly, it took me until my second read through. Batuman inundates the reader with absolutely pointless and mundane details, offhand comments about a supposed emotional affair between tertiary characters, the marginalia that we never come back to. The book could be described, arrogantly and in earnest, as an extended analysis of marginalia. Both structurally and narratively, The Idiot lingers on the inconsequential realities of (slowly) becoming a grown-up, stubbornly following every observation to its logical conclusion.

“The novel is verbose and boring. Batuman shows us how writing builds complex and meaningful relationships and then, with as much care and sardonic retrospection, how those relationships painfully deform off the page (or in Batuman’s novel, the screen).”

Although I’ve written a jacket quote taken directly from a publisher’s worst nightmare, I love this book and stand firm in my conviction that everyone should read it. There is no sense of embarrassment for the book’s length and lack of satisfaction. Batuman argues that “the single greatest obstacle to American literature” is “guilt,” writers’ internalized belief “that all writing is self-indulgence” (Batuman n+1). The Idiot is not a bound and published account of navel-gazing, the product of an extended vacation taken by someone with the privilege to ‘just’ write. Her words are there on purpose and warrant neither apology nor explanation.

 

 

 

Grace Cameron is a graduating student at U of T majoring in English and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Equity Studies. She is a lifelong resident of Toronto living in Little Portugal who loves biking around Toronto’s numerous parks. In the fall, she’ll be starting a Masters in Women and Gender Studies at U of T.

Olivia MacDonald

Photo courtesy of Olivia MacDonald

Artist Spotlight: Olivia MacDonald

Olivia MacDonald

May 6, 2021

 

Since the winter of 2018, Olivia MacDonald creates one ink drawing every day to post to her Instagram to provide daily positivity and hope to others, as well as practice her skills. She now has a collection of over 850 drawings that continues growing and a following of 19.4k. Her work is inspired by her everyday life and feelings, along with her loves of nature, the complexities of mechanics, literature, and things that have soul. She enjoys the rawness and contrast achieved by black fineliner pens. Her work also includes many juxtapositions that combine different objects or ideas into one piece. Some are silly and some are deep, but in all, her hope is that viewers take a moment to ponder the message and imaginative combinations.

Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
Olivia MacDonald
previous arrowprevious arrow
next arrownext arrow

 

Olivia MacDonald is a 23-year-old ink artist from Boston, Massachusetts. Art has been her passion since early childhood. After graduating college with a creative writing major and illustration minor in 2020, she now works as a full-time artist which she considers her dream job. She is able to connect with so many people around the world, learn about their unique stories, and design commissions, tattoos, logos, product labels, album covers, and book illustrations that have a far-reaching impact.

Website: inkbyolivia.com

Instagram:  @inkbyolivia

Tiktok:  @inkbyolivia

Illustration by Jaynielyn dela Paz

Ode to Earth

Aasfi Sadeque

April 22, 2021

 

Dear Earth,

We are never taught to love you. Instead, we are born with that love deep within us: with every wish made on a dandelion, every skipped stone across an endless lake, every dewdrop nestled in the morning haze as you house us in the infinite void we call the universe.

Since the dawn of time, you have been our muse. Countless bards ruminate on your marvel. In the presence of your wonder, we are but mere shadows and dust, yet you shower us with a warmth that rivals that of the sun. And the scent of your roses, well, they’re as intoxicating as the moonlight. It’s hard not to be enamoured by your beauty.

Our lives, its noise, are so entangled in the roots of your being. With each breath, you sustain us.

Why are we so hellbent on destroying you? Soon we will be seas apart from the streets that raised us, displaced by a monster of our own creation.

I apologize that we don’t care. We don’t care to give our children a chance at the childhood you gave us, a childhood where we climb trees, breathe air unencumbered by pollutants, and see lush valleys rather than seas of smog.

I apologize that we’re so passive in your destruction. So adamant about trying to convince ourselves that climate change isn’t real when the proof is clearly in front of us. With veins alive, eyes alight, we are overwhelmingly oblivious to this heaven presented before us.

Each generation that you create is an exemplification of your beauty, each mountain an homage to your strength. Yet we squander it, all of it. All of you.

The good in you radiates. Manifested by sunrises, fireflies, and the lone patches of daisies in an asphalt crack. While the bad in us percolates into indigenous lands, melting ice caps, and now uninhabitable ecosystems.

I wonder if the tenderness of the sunset air is your attempt to comfort us in this time of grave urgency. After all, false hope is better than drowning.

Dear Earth, please inhale our chaos and exhale your beauty that we all take for granted.

In the end, as waves sway softly to a gentle percussion, minute wildflowers grow in unkept yards, and sunlight shines on our fragile skin, the melody of Earth is one that we cannot let end.

Dear Earth,

The Flora, the Fauna, and the Finite

 

 

 

Aasfi Sadeque is a first year Social Sciences student at the University of Toronto.

Jaynielyn dela Paz is currently a third-year student at the University of Toronto studying a degree in Life Sciences. When she’s not studying, she’s busy as a co-owner for an Etsy shop which she produces art for. In her free time, she also loves to draw and write calligraphy.

Artful Anorexia

Illustration by Katharina Davoudian

Artful Anorexia

Isabel Armiento

March 2, 2021

 

I was starving when I read Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist.” This is different than being hungry: where hunger pounds at your ribcage, loud and violent, starvation quietly settles across your body, resigned. Hunger motivates you toward action; starvation convinces you you’d be fine if you never ate again, as long as you don’t have to do anything else either.

During my struggle with eating disorder, everything became exhausting – and I mean everything, even watching Netflix from the comfort of my couch. Yet Kafka’s prose energized me. I found myself rereading “A Hunger Artist,” circling phrases that revealed some profound truth I had failed to articulate to my worried, uncomprehending friends: “He alone knew…how easy it was to starve,” Kafka writes of the titular hunger-artist, “It was the easiest thing in the world.” My excitement grew as I realized that this great writer had once starved himself, too, and in this moment I was connected to genius.

I leapt eagerly into the large body of scholarship arguing that Kafka, an artist so important that he has an adjective named after him, suffered from anorexia. His letters, his diaries, his fiction – all of it trembled with the weight of his affliction, our affliction. I reasoned that if Kafka had an eating disorder, then maybe I wasn’t suffering because I was “frivolous” or “vain” – words that are so often used to talk about traditionally female struggles.

I am ashamed to say that I grasped hungrily at “A Hunger Artist,” at Kafka’s depiction of a defeminized anorexia.

 

In Kafka’s story, a hunger artist is locked in a cage without food for forty days. His starvation is a public spectacle witnessed by fascinated crowds; his self-flagellation is lauded and rewarded. At the peak of his career, the hunger artist’s “magnificent productions” are “cheered by thousands;” the well-fed masses are enchanted by his fleshless frame, his poking button-ribs and sharp smile of a collarbone.

Kafka depicts the anorexic man as an artist who starves himself according to “the honour code of his art.” Even when his audience loses interest, he remains hopelessly devoted to his craft, giving new meaning to the phrase starving artist: “Try and explain the art of starving! It needs to be felt, it’s not something that can be explained,” the hunger-artist laments. Kafka does not see his hero as the “victim” of an “illness” – words I used to describe myself as I struggled to recover from my eating disorder. No, Kafka’s hunger artist does not want to be cured; to him, starvation is not a symptom, but a product. His body of work is literally his body.

“Kafka’s hunger artist does not want to be cured; to him, starvation is not a symptom, but a product. His body of work is literally his body.”

Kafka’s hunger artist starves himself in service of a lofty, even sacred vocation, creating a model of male anorexia tied to not only artistry but also spirituality and monastic discipline. The hunger artist starves for exactly forty days, Christ-like, as the “heavens” watch, casting down benevolent wishes to “this pitiable martyr.”

This discourse of male anorexia is wildly different than how we speak about female self-starvation, which is often hidden beneath dangerous pseudonyms like “dieting,” or worse, “self-care,” and is seen as a habit of privilege, even a luxury. A woman’s anorexia is often dismissed as upper-class malaise, rather than revered as “the lofty endeavour, the good will, the great self-denial” of Kafka’s hunger artist.

“A woman’s anorexia is often dismissed as upper-class malaise, rather than revered as ‘the lofty endeavour, the good will, the great self-denial’ of Kafka’s hunger artist.”

 

Notably, Kafka does not explicitly discuss female anorexia, yet the story’s gendered implications still exist, made even more evident by this ellipsis. At the time Kafka was writing, “fasting girls” were already a major phenomenon. The real-life female equivalent of Kafka’s hunger artist, a “fasting girl” could survive for extended periods of time without food, a feat which she claimed was due to religious fervor, not mental illness. Kafka’s decision to make his hunger artist a singularly male character although “fasting girls” were a fixture of Victorian culture feels strangely intentional. Clearly, Kafka depicts male anorexia as somehow separate from female anorexia.  

The intentions of “fasting girls” were a subject of much debate in the 19th century. Were these women fasting in service of a noble spiritual goal, or was their refusal to eat a womanly weakness, a symptom of hysteria? Fasting girls were given one of two diagnoses: anorexia mirabilis – in which fasting is seen as a divine miracle, a triumph of asceticism – or anorexia nervosa – in which fasting is a hysterical pathology, often present in particularly independent or stubborn women. Kafka’s male hunger artist emblematizes anorexia mirabilis, offering a neat answer to the “fasting girls” debate: a fasting woman was nervosa; a fasting man, mirabilis.

 

“A Hunger Artist” ends with the debasement of Kafka’s smaller-than-life hero: he is now locked in a neglected cage at the circus, where spectators stroll by without noticing his emaciated body buried in the hay. He is as close to nonexistence as a person can get; yet absurdly, he is empowered. He is exactly where he wants to be. This is a problematic ending for a character with a chronic mental illness, yet it also feels deeply unjust. My eating disorder made me feel trapped, while the hunger artist’s enables him to feel free. Even when suffering, he has agency. After all, he chose his cage, locked it himself.

An anorexic woman’s cage is not a choice: it is her birthright. She clings to the bright metal bars as they tighten around her; they are fashioned from a society that intuits thinness as an automatic marker of her social currency; from a multi-billion dollar diet industry; from a culture that told her that to gain value, she must shrink; from the majority of women who, at any given time, are actively trying to lose weight.

“An anorexic woman’s cage is not a choice: it is her birthright…from a culture that told her that to gain value, she must shrink.”

How to escape a cage gifted to us by our mothers, sisters, friends, mentors; a cage passed on like a legacy? Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” leaves no room for women and their complex history of fasting and fat-shaming – and for this, it fails profoundly.

Years later, I read the story again, no longer starving but still nursing a fraught relationship with my body. This time, it lost its appeal. What made me like it the first time around – it’s masculinization of eating disorder – now made it seem lustreless, simplistic, overly concerned with its own gravity.

“A Hunger Artist” may satisfy a very specific male reader. However, I think the average woman – who is wearied and disillusioned by a lifetime of celebrating starving bodies – will likely dismiss it as sparse and unnuanced. She will be left frustrated; hungry.

 

References

Fichter MM. “Franz Kafkas Magersucht [Franz Kafka’s anorexia nervosa]”. Fortschritte der Neurologie-Psychiatrie, 1988, 56(7):231-238.

Heywood, Leslie. “The Metaphysics of the Flame: Fasting Girls, Kafka’s Letters to Felice, and “A Hunger Artist”.” Dedication to Hunger: The Anorexic Aesthetic in Modern Culture, University of California Press, 1996.

Kafka, Franz. “A Hunger Artist.” Metamorphosis and Other Stories, Penguin Classics, 2015.

Martin, Crescent B.; Herrick, Kirsten A.; Sarafrazi, Neda; Ogden, Cynthia L. “Attempts to Lose Weight Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016.” National Centre for Health Statistics, 2018, No. 313.

 

 

 

Isabel Armiento is an MA student of English literature at the University of Toronto, where she works at The Varsity newspaper and is the co-founder and Managing Editor of Mnerva Literary Journal. Her creative work can be found in Oyster River Pages, Lines + Stars, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere.

Uliana Hlynchak in Windsor, Ontario

The author, Uliana Hlynchak, in Windsor.  Photo courtesy of Uliana Hlynchak

Road Trip to Windsor

Uliana Hlynchak

March 24, 2021

 

We travelled to the end of Canada’s 401 highway to Windsor. At least, that’s how I imagined it. The road was empty; hardly any cars. The landscapes bathing in the afternoon sun promised the velvet evening of an Indian summer. 

The Detroit River met us with a light chill breeze. Across the river, the urban landscape of Detroit glistened in the setting sun. Along the river’s Canadian side was a strip of hotels. We didn’t book any room ahead. During pandemics there’s no problem finding a room on arrival day. Or so we thought.

“Let’s check this one.”

We walked to the hotel entrance: Temporarily Closed. 

“Let’s go to this neighbouring one…”

After a short walk we met the same sign: Hotel temporarily closed for business. We walked further. Finally—an open hotel. But we didn’t go inside; all this room hunting made us hungry for dinner.

Behind the main street there were two patio restaurants. Italian was busy and French was empty. Italian had music and a lovely crowd. We took the last table on the patio.

The perfect dinner and slow service let us enjoy every moment of each other’s company. Our trip was long overdue. We love travelling and move easily without specific plans; before the pandemic, we explored cities in Europe or South America. Now, we were happy for the opportunity to travel locally.

Outside Café Amor & Art

Enjoying breakfast at Café Amor & Art. Photo courtesy of Uliana Hlynchak

The hotel registered us in a flash. My partner went to park the car while I enjoyed a bath.

“There’s no showercap in the room. Could you get one at the reception please?” I texted and smiled at the absurdity of my request. But I didn’t want to wet my covid haircut, since my hair had grown long and it took some time to manage. Tomorrow I had a livestream appearance.

“Disaster,” he texted. 

I laughed. He did bring me that showercap. I did save my hairdo.

 

“We love travelling and move easily without specific plans; before the pandemic, we explored cities in Europe or South America. Now, we were happy for the opportunity to travel locally.”

 

In the morning, the Detroit River lay in full beauty. The busy cityscape behind it was in its Sunday best. I imagined a time when this river was busied with boats and barges, with heavy smoke coming out from smokestacks.

“We need to rush to the unveiling ceremony, but first let’s find a nice breakfast place,”  he said.

And we did. On Ottawa Street. Café Amor & Art: where South American food, literature, and art are served. Their chef explained Latin American items on the menu: chicken or sweet corn tamales, pupusas, empanadas Colombianas, and many more. They proudly served our breakfast in South American style pottery with bright and beautiful ornamental decor. 

Café Amor & Art

Inside Café Amor & Art (top) and their patio breakfast (bottom). Photos courtesy of Uliana Hlynchak

We made it on time to our engagement as it was only a block away. The Ukrainian National Federation held a mural unveiling on the side of its building. The ceremony was heartfelt as most public events are online these days. Steve Romaniuk’s mural depicted two dancers whirling in Ukrainian dance costumes; I could almost hear the music. 

After the unveiling, I hoped to return back to Café Amor & Art for their Latin American soup dish, but our Ukrainian hosts didn’t let us go without welcoming us with a full buffet of Ukrainian dishes. What beautiful people of Windsor; we will be back.

Oh, yes. I brought the showercap with me. Not taking any chances to end up somewhere without it until I cut my hair. But again—where will I go?  For now, it’s a no to nonessential travel.

 

 

 

Uliana Hlynchak is a Toronto-based producer and journalist for KONTAKT TV, a weekly Ukrainian TV show. She works with young talents on developing the show Kontakt Next Gen. She is a member of the Board of Directors at the Canadian Ukrainian Art Foundation and volunteers for the Toronto Ukrainian Festival. Her most recent projects are interviews on the contemporary art scene Art Talk and the webinar series Contemporary Ukrainian Émigré and Diaspora Literature. Uliana writes articles, poetry, and short stories in Ukrainian and English. 

Mango Sorbet

Illustrated by Katharina Davoudian

Mango Sorbet

Enri Boshti

March 7, 2021

 

Tucked away in Toronto’s vibrant Kensington Market is Dolce Gelato—a café serving coffee, desserts, and of course, gelato. Their mango gelato is arguably the most wonderful treat on a hot summer day, which I was looking forward to indulging after a particularly chilly winter. Unfortunately, quarantine crushed my gelato dreams and I was left to improvise. I scoured the internet for an alternative to mango gelato to satiate my craving and realized I could make mango sorbet, where water substitutes dairy. As I don’t own an ice cream machine, a little manual mixing was involved during the freezing process, but the effort is worth it for delicious mango sorbet!

Recipe

 

 

Mango Sorbet

Ingredients

  • 3 mangoes cut up and cubed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • lemon juice from one lemon

 

Mango Sorbet

Steps

1. Cut your mangoes into cubes and add to a blender.

2. Add sugar, water, and lemon juice to the blender.

3. Blend on high for a few minutes until smooth.

4. Transfer mixture to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in freezer.

5. To prevent the formation of a giant mango popsicle, remove mixture from freezer and stir well every half hour for 4 hours before placing back in freezer.

6. Remove from freezer and allow to thaw before serving and enjoying!

 

 

Enri Boshti is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto, having studied neuroscience and biochemistry. Looking at the world through the lens of a vintage camera, she’s inspired by the simple pleasures in life like a warm mug of tea and a view of the moon on a clear night.