Eagle Nest, New Mexico, 2012. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.

PHB

My Photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and an '86 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of '97 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 25 years--we're recyclers. I've published 2 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), and THE O'BRIENS (2012), and 2 collections of stories NIGHT DRIVING (1987), and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). Novel # 3, KARIN, will be out from Pantheon (US) and House of Anansi (Canada) in March 2016. More of my book stuff at www.peterbehrens.org I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I've been teaching at Colorado College, Wichita State, and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wychwood, U of T, The Annex

Been in Toronto for most of a week, book-touring. Last night read at an IFOA event in Hamilton with my fellow Anansi authors Lynn Coady, Stephen Kellman and Patrick DeWitt.



It was an excellent event at an art gallery in Hamilton, an old steel-mill town, but on the ride home we were all so exhausted from hearing ourselves talk that there was not a word spoken in the van during the 45-minute ride across the monstrous Greater Toronto sprawl.
       BTW if any Torontonians are looking for signed first editions of The O'Briens, there are a few at Book City, on Bloor St., and at the Indigo store on Bay Street, downtown.
        I spent most of today on foot, hiking between various meetings, and enjoying the October light and some of Toronto's neighbourhoods and buildings. My favorite neighbourhood is Wychwood Park, a bit of countryside tucked away in the middle of west end Toronto. No trophy homes, though. And lots of trees. A Canadian hardwood forest in the middle of this enormous, noisy town.





I found lots of buildings from different eras around the University of Toronto that were impressive. The Leslie Dan Pharmacy Bldg., corner of University Ave. and College Street, certainly caught my eye. During the Seventies, when I was starting to analyze my responses to buildings, most new buildings, especially in Canada, were brutal. It was a terrible time for architecture, and for Canadian cities, which were being built in hideous, urine-colored concrete.
      I still feel exactly the same way about the architecture of that era--we can't tear it down fast enough, as far as I'm concerned--but there have certainly been lots of graceful new buildings since then, and it's always encouraging to see a powerful statement of the modernist aesthetic, especially when it's not an office tower.



 Also much liked this U of T building (below): the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research:


The best thing about Toronto are the neighborhoods and while I walked from a meeting at College and Bathurst to another in Rosedale, I kept to the quiet and shady streets of The Annex neighborhood, which are thriving but don't feel triumphalist, yet, though I realize even the homeliest house in this part of town is well over a million dollars. Mostly they are simple, not particularly well-built houses from the 1880s-1920s. Almost all red brick, of an Ontario clay quite different from Montreal red brick. So much red brick that when I spotted this little yellow house, I had to catch it.








Saturday, October 29, 2011

Ontario Road

I'm on the book tour, which starts to seem endless. Airports and hotels. The only thing to do is to get in a car, get out of the city, find the country roads, and get lost. On Wednesday--no, Thursday--I headed out of Toronto, where I'm at the IFOA, for Belleville, Ontario, and a talk/reading the city's Public Library. Instead of zooming on the 401 freeway, I cut away at Port Granby/ Bond Head and followed a patchwork of little roads heading east along the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The road wound its way through rich alluvial farmland and tiny Ontario towns: a Loyalist/Irish Protestant landscape, "the Front" as it was known in Susannah Moodie's day. I kept coming across tiny brick schoolhouses---"separate (Catholic) schools" from the days when public education in Ontario (and Quebec) was denominational.


The road was...well, let me put it this way: it was not the 401 Freeway.



It woke me up to a part of Canada that freeway travel had obliterated from my consciousness. The "Eat Slow" movement suggests we also need a "Drive Slow" movement, when we're driving at all...preferably in a recycled vehicle at least 25 years old.
           It's all in the details. You don't see anything at 70 mph. People hate driving now, and road trips, because their experience out there is on freeways, interstates, nowheresville fastfood colonies. There is a whole country out there. It's gorgeous and strange. I met a stonemason working on the 19th church at Wesleyville, ON, and he let me inside the building to have a look. Nothing fancy, but I do love that plainspoken Ontario style of brickwork. And the robin's egg blue paint was clearly the right choice. And the little organ has been there for 100 years.







 I found my way into the town of Port Hope, and signed some copies of The O'Briens at Furby's Books. These Ontario towns look & feel so (Co. Tipperary) Irish to me. Settled as they were by Irish (Protestant & Catholic) in the 1830s


Not all brick either. Lots of stone foundations and stone buildings from the mid 1800s.


And the Loyalists were here, even earlier, and did their best to rebuild Georgian New England in Ontario.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Kubota and Queen

           I've been on the road (in the air, mostly) around Canada for most of the last two weeks, reading & talking on behalf of my new novel, THE O'BRIENS, which is out in Canada now (House of Anansi Press), and comes out in the U.S. in March 2012 (Pantheon Books).  At the moment I'm in a hotel in Toronto and having some trouble remembering where I've been in the last 10 days. Oh yeah....Calgary, Banff, and Edmonton; but I think I've already posted about those places.  Well, I flew back to Maine  for a couple of days R&R, but then flew out to Vancouver last weekend. The Vancouver Writers Festival on Granville Island was wonderful, as usual, and in the middle of it I took off for 24 hours to see old friends--Blake O'Brian and Jenny Lee and their family--at their farm--Orkney Farm--on Denman Island. The trip started with a ferry out of Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, heading for Departure Bay on Vancouver Island: a 1:40 hour trip from the mainland to VI, across the Strait:
leaving Horseshoe Bay

I landed on Vancouver Island and drove an hour up the island's east side to take another ferry to Denman Island

Spent Saturday walking and exploring the farm with Blake and Jenny (also did a talk/reading at the Denman Island Arts Center). Blake is very proud of his shiny new Kubota.

The best thing about book tours is getting off track, seeing old friends, and exploring astonishing parts of Canada, such as Denman Island. (Below) is a actually a view of Hornby I., from the beach at Denman. It was supposed to rain (this is British Columbia--the coastal rainforest, after all) but it didn't.


         Trees are large, out there.
         From Vancouver I flew to Ottawa for the Writers' Festival, and a talk reading at the Ottawa Public Library, and an early morning walk around Parliament Hill in bright October sunshine.

I ended up sitting in the morning sunshine, jet-lagged and dazed, at the foot of the Victoria Regina bronze on Parliament Hill; another grateful subject of Her Majesty.


This afternoon I flew to Toronto, where I'm reading at the International Festival of Authors this Saturday Oct 29 at noon. There's an IFOA interview, here. I read/talk at lunch at the Womens Art Association tomorrow, October 26; that's not open to the public, but an IFOA event at Hamilton 7pm Sunday October 30th, is; so is an event at the Belleville (ON) Public Library at 6pm on October 27th.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

1959 Cadillac Fleetwood Sixty Special

Our south Saskatchewan correspondent, Alex Emond, noticed the 1959 Fleetwood Sixty Special in Herbert, Sask. last week. Fifties exhuberance at its best, or worst. I think the perfect car for cruising the Great Plains, where parking is not a problem.

Oh and it's for sale, too.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

There is a there, there.

from Places and Novels, a piece I wrote for the blog, Canadian Bookshelf:
I need to seed a book in a place. In my mind I plant the idea of the book in one very specific patch of ground and hope it will grow from there. Until I know where that patch of ground is, I'm lost and the story, the book, that I'm trying to write does not come into focus. I can’t grasp it. I have no traction on a story until I have a place...


The place I'm focused on now. Anyone recognize it?