Calculating Truth and Beauty
by Kåthe von Nagy

        Do writers find it difficult to be in the company of other writers? Is the spontaneity of conversation lacking among those who choose their words so carefully; revise and edit them; present them formally like an eleven course dinner with a series of accompanying wines – at a table beflowered by a single orchid in a room that is never too loud or too quiet and service neither too formal nor too casual? A writer’s representatives are words – spoken or read – leaving what to discuss? Verbs? Plot development? It is one thing to speak to a reader or audience, quite another to speak to a fellow scribbler.

Perhaps writers tolerate one another’s company by avoiding shoptalk. I do not know. I am not a writer.

In 1913, at 15 av. Montaigne, 8e, Paris, a premiere took place that was so shockingly audacious, the audience howled and tore at the seats. Go look it up – this isn’t an encyclopaedia. The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées itself, designed by Auguste Perret, was as shocking as the performance to most Parisians, presenting as it did a startling new simplicity realized through the pioneering use of reinforced concrete.

Tony Garnier (1869-1948) stated that: "Truth alone is beautiful. In architecture, truth is the result of calculations made to satisfy known necessities with known materials." Eating is a known necessity. Calamari alone is beautiful, combined with oil and salt. Simplicity.

In the city of Hamilton, on the shores of Lake Ontario, decades ago in a small restaurant on James Street South, Bronzie's introduces baked squid on Fridays. Based on a mother's recipe, with Mom herself overseeing the production, the culinary scene had changed. It was the hint of a trattoria, and we were all tourists.

It used to be the case in Italy, that a trattoria was a family-run place; the cooking a little more like home; the prices a little less dear. A ristorante more extravagant, upscale; the chef might be a virtuoso. There is not so much difference now. Some trattorias have grown organically into larger operations based on merit and a deserved, widening reputation. On the other hand, some overpriced joints use the name the way my aunt used to use lipstick.

Before Bronzie's, calamari could be found, but it wasn't easy. In the years since, countless bars and restaurants have affronted visitors with baskets of rubber rings. Is it coincidence that training in the Heimlich Manoeuvre became widespread at the same time? Is it coincidence that if you Google Heimlich Manoeuvre, one of the top 10 hits is how to perform the manoeuvre on your choking pet? People were tossing those inedible elastic orbs to their Lhasa Apsos, tabbies, and parakeets. Many of them choked to death.

Finally La Cantina gave us their marvelous grilled calamari. If only they would give us back gamberi alla griglia. I have heard good things from my sister about the calamari at Mai Thai on John Street North, and at The Orchid on James North, but my personal favourite is 1010 Bistro where they present perfectly prepared ribbons of calamari.

1010 Bistro occupies what was once Lee McBrides in Westdale. I wonder what happened to Mike, the host at 1010 who was so charming in that special red-headed way? Years ago he had a place in Oakville, (or was it Mississauga?) that did very well. The next place, in Mississauga, (or was it Oakville?), was a money pit. Surely romance has something to do with his current mysterious whereabouts.

David is the chef at the Bistro. When asked where he learned to cook, the answer is what you hope to hear: "My mother and my grandmother. Then I went to school."

Restaurants are too often reviewed after one meal. Reviewers are too often surprised. Their companions wash down their meals with beverages. Please. After several meals, and calamari to go, the kitchen at
1010 Bistro  has never disappointed.

Stravinsky said that if "some Michelangelo were alive today – the only thing that his genius would admit and recognize is choreography." Nonsense. The only thing that Michelangelo's genius would admit and recognize today is good cooking in a restaurant, preceded or followed by the mummified trinkets that remain of music, dance, theatre, painting, or cinema. Michelangelo would be a chef.

For a time I could order quail anytime at 1010 Bistro and not have to wear a dress. You know what I mean. I hope the quail makes a comeback. One lunchtime visit I noticed Seafood Papardelle on the dinner menu. Parpardelle is wide strips of pasta. Between the strips you might find roasted wild boar, leaks, sausage. In this case you find lobster claw, scallops, shrimp. What did they say when I asked for something from the dinner menu? "We can build that for you." They did not say that papardelle was not available at lunch. "We can build that for you." If you build it, they will come.

Remembering the Quiet, Like October Mondays in Venice

Those that could leave, did. Others had no choice. Most were drawn, like me, sniffing around like dogs –cautious, curious, and finally hungry. I am remembering Hamilton, a Potemkin Village hosting the 2003 World Road Cycling Championship.

Flowers arrived. Rented fragrances, delightful and deceptive.

Gap-toothed windows. Abandoned buildings. Boarded doorways. Dollar store cemeteries. A second methadone clinic. Desperate. Deinstitutionalized. Downtown.

Every city dissembles when playing host to World Champions, Olympians, Popes. Look at the flowers.

Since 1927 these races had taken place outside of Europe a mere six times. What were these creatures doing in Canada? In Ontario? What were they doing outside omnivorous cannibalist Toronto? What were they doing?

Speaking in tongues. Constructing the Tower of Babel. Grandstands and tents. When had the word 'Malta' last appeared anywhere here, never mind 'Uzbekistan'?

The WHACK WHACK WHACK of helicopter blades. Snatches of conversation: Dutch, Italian, Danish. An atlas of places. Places where figs grow; where vines have been cultivates for centuries; where a slow food movement has rebelled against the titanic encroachment of clown food.

A man from Germany dressed in a red devil costume becomes a local celebrity. We would elect him mayor if only he would stay.

If only.

For a few days in October of 2003 the schools closed. Roads closed. Compared to the east coast, crossing the streets in Hamilton is like a Stephen King novel. Yesterday pedestrians were fair game, cyclists a challenging moving target, and the elderly tolerated by engine-gunning SUVs only when riding in ambulances. Today, a cycling race has made life peaceful and unnerving. We walk like humans, not potential road kill.

Local newspapers, recently fixated on houses filled with mistreated cats, now chart a change among the citizens: skeptical bumpkins become cosmopolitan enthusiasts. Cycling is cool. Cool like European advertising. Cool like Celliers des Dauphins. Cool like Shimano. Cool like Liquigas, (bar-b-que fuel? Unspeakable flatulence?). We endorse them like trusted deodorants.

The Hamilton chapter of Critical Mass plastered the race route with signs: "Where are the Bike Lanes?" Details. Is it irony that cycling is risky here, or something worse?

Behind the Bank of Montreal, a sign says bruchetta. I pay for two and drop them in the nearest garbage can – tomato paste topped hamburger buns hard as sailor rations do not equal bruchetta. Wouldn't it have been nice to have a piece of apple or pumpkin pie? Canadians are good at pies: peach, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb. Yum. Where is our fruit belt going? Orchards were our equivalent to vineyards, but we just didn’t know it; wouldn’t accept it; couldn’t market it. Shame! Faux vineyards and fruit that has to hitch a ride from across a border or two. Shame!!

The top of the Jackson Square shopping mall is a wasteland in the centre of the city, lacking trees, shade, shops, stalls, chairs, chestnuts, oranges, heirloom tomatoes, pies of any kind, coffee, and people. A Rooftop Festival of the arts is an alien wonder. Artists of uniform enthusiasm show and hope to sell their work. Pop music. Aboriginal music. Hotdog vendor after hotdog vendor.

What do Grey Cup fans do at the end of the 2nd quarter? Grab a beer and avoid the halftime show. The cycling championship embraced its art component the way goldfish need hammers, but this sporting event challenged culture; demanded a visual, aural, and gastronomic response. The Rooftop Festival succeeded by existing in a zone of non-existence.

At Ferguson Station the Rib Fest was finger-licking fun. At Bayfront park you could find corn soup. It was like a treasure hunt without clues or a map. And a map is really what was needed, because this was uncharted territory. This new Hamilton was as unknown to me as it was to our visitors. Here is where you will find treasure, but here and here and here and here be dragons and wieners. And at midnight the coach becomes a pumpkin.

The city sprawls, and in the new subdivisions, hanging laundry on a line is déclassé; meanwhile, in Venice the laundry hangs proudly. Details.

There were many visitors to the Canada Pavilion behind City Hall. Was there a Hamilton Pavilion? Wouldn't that have been the place for buttons and pins and maps and food samples and coupons and real estate agents and, well, our history? Couldn't Hamilton have had the biggest banner on the race route? Maybe a 1-800 number to answer questions, entertain offers, and say where the pies were at?

By most accounts, the World Road Cycling Championship was a success. The CBC said we looked good on camera. How could we not? The Niagara Escarpment is here, and you cannot pave an escarpment. We have a lake – A LAKE. A harbour, waterfalls, and trails. Blessed with train stations, churches, and parks. Even the steel mills have Blakian magnificence. It is in the details that we have lost the way.

Hamilton had a green space called the Red Hill Valley. They paved it. David Suzuki said it was a bad idea. They paved it anyway. Suzuki’s got no pull here. They say it will take five years to see whether the expressway is a success – whether it works. Lewis Black should spend some time here.

The world championships marked a stage in Hamilton's own race. There is a long way to go, and the route isn't clear. It demands vision, dogged determination, and a bit of spice. By the way, I like hot dogs. I really do. At baseball games. In Chicago.

Igor Astarloa of Spain won the 2003 World Road Cycling Championship. Hamilton is in a different race. There's a fork in the road, and it is too soon to predict a winner.

I'm not finished yet. Did you know that Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who cared for Christians and later became a convert? Despite restoring the sight of his jailer's blind daughter, he was clubbed to death on February 14th, in the year 269.

This may not be the best topic of conversation during a romantic dinner.

I remember Trevor Hamilton, recently the chef at the Coach House in Dundurn Castle, saying shrimp should be kissed by the heat. Chefs say things like that about food. Ages ago Trevor worked at that French restaurant down at the Delta – what was it called? And wasn’t that same place formerly The Danish House restaurant – do you remember the little sandwiches? Between the Coach House and the forgotten French Restaurant, Trevor was at The Gallery Restaurant on King William, and that kitchen really cooked. If I am not mistaken, Trevor owned something like 5000 cookbooks. Is there still a restaurant at Dundurn Castle?

Shrimp should be kissed, and saffron should be steeped gently in hot water like tea according to David Lewis at the Bistro. Use the saffron tea to make rice or a sauce. I’ve tapped David for more tips than any other chef, resulting in better soups, better osso buco, a better understanding of vanilla.

I imagine chefs and cooks reveling in each other’s company. I always enjoy talking to them – they are open, usually joyful, and willing to share tips and advice. I always ask, and they always answer. Our conversations are a prelude to an experience, perhaps short-lived, but genuine.

These are people who know things, like Ben Leonetti who used to run the Terrace on James South. Ben, who could talk to me about heat in diverse cuisines. Chilis here, horseradish there, mustards and peppers. Ben was born in Italy, but grew up on the Isle of Man with his father. Every day, as instructed, Ben would heat the sauce his father had prepared. 'The Sauce' continues to be one of Ben's passions. He tells me that after it is made it must cool for three hours, by which I think he means the flavours need time to find their balance. Earlier on, Ben worked at a very hip restaurant called Lo Spazio. Do local artists still exhibit in local restaurants?

It was Ben who told me one last thing about shrimp and seafood. There should be a vegetable in the pan, a tomato or something similarly hot-blooded, to keep things moist.

The shrimp landed on my tongue and I waited for the flavour as if I was listening. A voice I wasn’t listening for said Hamilton’s day will come. Another voice said it might come. A third voice said that gloves are a traditional gift on Valentine's Day.


Notes
"Lauded as one of the most influential events in the history of American art, the Armory Show has a mythic legacy that rivals the raucous opening of Igor Stravinsky's ballet, The Rite of Spring in Paris. In the wake of previous large independent art exhibitions in France, Germany, Italy, and England, from February 17th to March 15th, 1913, New York's 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between 25th and 26th streets was home to approximately 1250 paintings, sculptures, and decorative works by over 300 European and American artists. While the purchase of Cézanne's Hill of the Poor by the Metropolitan Museum of Art signaled an integration of modernism into official art channels, the shock and outrage proported from Duchamp's Nude Descending the Staircase and Matisse's Luxury connected the Armory Show, officially known as The International Exhibition of Modern Art, with an historic avant-garde whose duty was to question the boundaries of art as an institution."
Address: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~museum/armory/entrance.html   Visited: 20 January 2008

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Théâtre des Champs-Élysées – 1913 -- police arrive after audience members rip up the seats in outrage. Le Sacre du Printemps, The Rite of Spring, written by Stravinsky, choreographed by Nijinsky, and produced by Diaghilev.
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Festival celebrates love, kindness and non-violence
McMaster University Daily News  by Lisa Caines, October 03, 2003

Steady growth and a budding reputation for inclusiveness have brought the Gandhi Peace Festival into its eleventh year.

"Gandhi's teachings of non-violence are particularly important today," says biology professor Rama Singh, a founder of the festival. "Historically speaking, there has never been a stronger peace movement than we've seen against the war on Iraq."

Saturday's festival, co-sponsored by McMaster's Centre for Peace Studies and the India-Canada Society of Hamilton, will feature an information fair, the annual Gandhi peace walk, and an address entitled "Power to the people: the agenda of the peace movement" by this year's guest speaker, Tom Nagy, George Washington University.

The festival will also offer food, drumming, activities, and a chance to learn about organizations with a peace or human rights focus. At noon, participants leave for the annual peace walk, with drummers keeping pace.

"We try to keep the festival appealing to all types of people by offering variety and inviting good speakers who will focus on current topics," says Singh.

Despite limited resources, the festival continues to grow. Last year, organizers implemented a Gandhi essay contest for high school students. Essay topics change each year, and they're separate for younger and older students.

Another popular event that precedes the festival is the annual Gandhi Peace Lecture. This year, Acharya Ramamurti, director of a non-governmental organization and the Institute of Gandhian studies in Varanasi, India, spoke about "the new culture of peace."

After a decade in the Hamilton area, the festival has been temporarily moved this year from City Hall to Gage Park due to the World Cycling Championships. Organizers are running a shuttle bus from a location near Wentworth House to Gage Park, at 9:30, 10:30and 11:30 a.m
Address: http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/story.cfm?id=1963 Visited: 20 January 2008


     [Distillate © HA&L + Kåthe von Nagy  |  {from the Greek bios} -- the course of a life.]