Tag Archives: Cemetery

Fall Colours In Yellow Creek

If I were a nature photographer, I’d be out driving through the countryside to view the fall colours. Maybe I’d stay at a hotel in Haliburton so I could be up early to catch the sweet light. But I live in the city and I’m too lazy to plan a big weekend in the countryside. Besides, if I went out of town to view the fall colours, my wife would want to come. She’d want a nice dinner. I’d drink a bottle of wine. I’d sleep late or, if I did manage to wake up early, all my shots would be crooked thanks to the wine. So I settle instead for the urban countryside, Yellow Creek to be precise, where I can see the fall colours in all their glory without having to drive anywhere. Not all the colours are natural, but they can be pretty in their own way.

The first is the closest to a straight up fall shot I’ve ever taken in Yellow Creek: a soft-focus shot of water pouring over rocks and yellow leaves. I wonder if the fallen leaves are what give the creek its name.

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Glenn Gould’s Grave

In May of 1982 I received a letter from the Royal Conservatory of Music informing me that I had passed my piano exam. Since I had already completed all the course work (History, Harmony, Counterpoint, etc.), that meant that I was officially an Associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music and could put the letters A.R.C.T. after my name. The first thing I did was phone all the music schools where I’d set up auditions and cancelled them. Screw it! I wasn’t going to be a musician; I was going to do something practical with my life. And so, in September, I found myself at Victoria College studying things like English Romanticism, Elizabethan Drama, and Medieval Latin Poetry. I have an odd view of what counts as practical in life. A couple weeks into my program of higher learning, news broke that Glenn Gould had suffered a stroke. A week later, on October 4th, 1982, his father removed him from life support and he was pronounced dead.

Glenn Gould's Grave

As with thousands of other kids who passed through the conservatory program, Glenn Gould was an enormous presence lurking in the background. I was one of those nerdy kids who collected vinyl. I bought everything by David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno … and Glenn Gould. I had both releases of the Goldberg Variations, both volumes of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Partitas, Haydn Sonatas, Mozart Sonatas. I even allowed for a recording of Brahms piano music, although it struck me then (and now) as strangely hollow. Even while he was alive, stories of his eccentricities had become the stuff of legends. During my piano lessons, Glenn Gould was invariably a reference point for conversations about technique: how close to the keys; how rotten the posture; how loud to hum while playing.

Glenn Gould's Grave

As a kid taking music lessons in Toronto during the 70’s & 80’s, I can’t honestly say that I ever rubbed shoulders with Glenn Gould. But there was one point of intersection between our lives. That was the piano tuner, Verne Edquist. My parents persuaded him to look after our Gerhard Heintzman upright grand piano in the years leading up to my final conservatory exam. I would sit in the room while he tuned the piano. He was a direct man and didn’t mind telling me what he thought of our piano. Years later, when my wife and I settled into a house of our own, my parents gave us the Heintzman and bought themselves a proper grand piano. I was annoyed they didn’t keep the Heintzman and buy us the grand, but I wasn’t in any position to argue with them. Ultimately, we sold the piano to one of Gerhard Heintzman’s great grandchildren and bought a Yamaha Avant Grand. Since the Avant Grand is digital, it never needs to be tuned, which means I’ll never have the kind of relationship Gould had with Mr. Edquist.

Glenn Gould's Grave

In 1982, I abandoned my musical education and it seems, in retrospect, like an act of self-sabotage. I was too something-or-other to do drugs or get nipple rings; the worst thing I could think to do to myself was to stop playing the piano. But decisions like that are never once-and-for-all-time. Last year, I started taking a master class for “mature” pianists who want to brush up on their performance skills. We meet at U. of T.’s Faculty of Music, that school I might have attended if not for my sudden fit of practicality. One of my pet projects is to work up Bach’s Goldberg Variations. It’s on my musical bucket list along with a handful of other big piano works. We’ll see how it goes.

Glenn Gould's Grave

It’s astonishing how, a generation after his death, Glenn Gould remains an enormous presence lurking in the background. And so I decided (finally) to pay my respects. His grave is in Mount Pleasant Cemetery on the east side of Mount Pleasant Road. It’s a modest marker in section 38: his name, his dates, and the opening passage from the Aria of the Goldberg Variations. I don’t know if my visit will give me inspiration or determination or emotional fortitude or what. Probably not. After all, his music isn’t there, at that site, in that plot of ground. It’s here and here and here, in the hearts and minds of the thousands like me who hold it with us wherever we are.

Glenn Gould's Grave

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Curved Paths

There’s something aesthetically pleasing about curves. I wonder if it has something to do with sex: it reminds us of the female form. If so, then it’s a very (straight) male-centred aesthetic standard.

Switchback into the quarry behind the Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto

Switchback into the quarry behind the Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto

Maybe the appeal of curves is something more elemental. Elemental? you ask. What could be more elemental than sex? How about our need for order? Curves are inherently balanced: they go one way, then they go the other way. A good curve eases our anxieties.

Curved paths in a cemetery? Maybe there’s something pastoral about the juxtaposition. The comfort of the curve answers the angst of the grave:

Approach to mausoleums in the St. James Cemetery, Toronto

Approach to mausoleums in the St. James Cemetery, Toronto

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Poem: 10 Billion

I’m depressed. Today, as I waited
for the elevator, a scream,
my neighbour: Oh God! Oh God!
Harder! Yes! More! Oh God!
Into the car and the door closed
on the fading cries above. Smiled
at my dog, spayed years ago,
prancing, impatient to pee.

Scientists just announced it:
10 billion Earth-like planets
in our galaxy alone and
10 billion galaxies, maybe more.
I could fuck and fuck and fuck
a river of cum until I die
and still not pump out enough
for a solitary spermatozoon
on each of the habitable worlds
that glides the star-pocked black.

If an alien dropped by for a beer,
how would I explain myself?
Especially my lack of utility,
my list of daily habits, a thousand
bullet points long, that guides me
to no particular end? Would the beast
understand my elevator trips, my
devotion to a barely sentient thing,
the way I trail it with a plastic bag,
my habits (which verge on obsessions),
my hobbies (which I pass off as passions),
my ruminations, scattered thoughts,
preference for the colour orange?

Would it get my need for clothes
of this design, not that, my tendency
to laugh when what I mean to do is weep,
my faith in your indifference, the way
I start from sleep to memories
of dreams of things that never happened,
places I’ve never been, faces never seen?

Does it hear a nattering voice,
as I do, reminding me of what
I ought when even can is beyond me?
Proper shoes. A hat in the cold.
Money saved for a rainy day (as if
bad weather is the worst calamity).
Ten billion ten billions
and you tell me to be reasonable?
How can I be reasonable when
the only safeguard against my absolute
diminishment is the blessing
of unreason? Go away. I’m depressed.

ten-billion-1

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St. James Cemetery in the Rain

Photography in the rain is a pain the ass. Water on the lens can wreck the shot. Water in the lens can wreck the lens. And yet rain produces reflective surfaces. Colours – especially fall colours – are more saturated. Rain also produces a heightened feeling of intimacy, moreso with a macro lens. With that in mind, I tramped in the rain to the St. James Cemetery to shoot wet autumn leaves and slick granite surfaces.

 

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Fall Colours – St. James Cemetery

In Toronto, it can be easy to overlook the change of colours if you spend a lot of time in the downtown core, or walking through the PATH, or commuting by subway. An antidote to all the concrete is a walk through a cemetery. Most of the urban cemeteries were established in the early 19th century and so they have mature trees and forested areas that dampen the noise and offer moments of solitude and reflection. One is the St. James Cemetery on the southeast corner of Bloor & Parliament. Here are some photos that capture the fall colours:

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Scary Photos for Hallowe’en

It’s October 31st, the day of the night when the dead cast off their shackles and mingle for a time with the living. To get us into the mood, a few scary photos:

Sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle (detail), GOMA, Glasgow

Sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle (detail), GOMA, Glasgow

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Playing With “Toy”

I am a toy:

Toy-David-Allan-Barker-3

I like to play with Toy:

Toy-David-Allan-Barker-1

I am a dead Toy:

Toy-David-Allan-Barker-2

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Bronze Doors

These doors are to die for:

Mausoleum-Door-David-Allan-Barker

But we need to give them context:

Gooderham-David-Allan-Barker

This is the A. E. Gooderham mausoleum in St. James Cemetery. Gooderham was the grandson of William Gooderham, co-founder of Gooderham & Worts, the reason Toronto has its so-called Distillery District. A. E. Gooderham was also involved in the family business, serving as its managing director and later as its vice-president. More interesting (to me) is the fact that, following the stock market crash of 1929, he kept the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from bankruptcy. Clearly, there is a connection between fine spirits and fine music.

 

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Graveyard Kitsch

After writing a piece about Barthes’ principles of studium and punctum and how I read them in light of Milan Kundera’s meditation on kitsch, I went for a bit of a photowalk through Toronto’s St. James Cemetery. I like walking through cemeteries. I find the experience calming. But walking with a camera, I find myself framing monuments in the viewfinder and discovering kitsch everywhere I look. Funerary kitsch. Monumental kitsch. Kitsch springing from the ground and declaring itself like a neon sign at an all-night burger joint. Perhaps it declares itself most kitschily with plastic flowers.

Plastic flowers at grave site

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