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Hamlet "On Stage" 2015 at the Toronto Reference Library - Free Shakespearean Lecture

March 2, 2015 | Bill V. | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

"To be or not to be" is not the question!

Instead, ask how quickly can I get to the free Hamlet lecture, on Tuesday March 3rd, 7-8 pm at the Toronto Reference Library Appel Salon.

This is the first of a four part thought provoking series on Shakespeare and Ben Johnson, presented by Toronto Public Library and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival.


Original title page of Hamlet 1605 by Shakespeare


Speaker Dr. Jane Freeman is a faculty member at the University of Toronto and author of numerous articles on Shakespeare and classical rhetoric.  She is a regular lecturer at the Festival, a Senior Fellow of Massey College, a member of the Massey College Corporation, and a member of the Stratford Festival's Senate.

There is a bibliography about the play including speaker's suggestions - see here to download the pdf of the Hamlet Bibliography.  It's very easy to book 2 free tickets at this site. This program gratefully receives generous and ongoing support from the Friends of the Library - South Chapter. 


The other lectures in the series are as follows :

Matthew Henson: the first African-American Arctic explorer

February 19, 2015 | Beau | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Toronto's had a lot of cold weather and snow lately, but it still doesn't amount to much compared to what Matthew Henson experienced during his seven trips to the Arctic as a member of Robert Peary's expeditions. Henson, the world's first black Arctic explorer, accompanied Peary seven times over the course of 23 years, including their last trip in 1909 when they may or may not have become the first explorers to reach the North Pole.

Matthew Henson

Henson was born on a Maryland farm in 1866 and began working as a cabin boy on ocean-going ships at the age of 12. By the time he turned 20 he'd already sailed around the world and become a skilled navigator. During a rare spell spent working on land he met Peary, who recruited him as an aide after learning about his experiences at sea. Henson quickly worked his way up to "first man" status and proved himself an indispensable craftsman and dog sled team driver, and also mastered the Inuit language over the course of six grueling expeditions.

In 1908, Peary mounted his eighth and last attempt to reach the Pole; the first seven had been unsuccessful, although the 1906 expedition had set a "farthest north" record. After struggling across hundreds of miles of snow, water, ice and dangerous Arctic conditions, Henson and four Inuit guides accompanied Peary on his final push to the Pole. However, by that point Peary was incapacitated by illness and frostbite and sent Henson ahead as a scout while he was being pulled along in a sled, which meant he was actually the first person to step foot on the Pole and plant the American flag.


Robert Peary Sledge Party At The North PoleHenson and the Inuit members of the Peary sledge team posing at the North Pole

In the wake of the expedition Henson did not receive the credit and acclaim he deserved due to the racism of the day, but he did publish his autobiography, A Negro Explorer At The North Pole, in 1912 and collaborated with writer Bradley Robinson on a 1947 biography entitled Dark Companion. He was also admitted to the exclusive Explorers Club in 1937, was granted honorary doctorates by two universities, and was formally honored by the U.S. Navy, Congress and Presidents Truman and Eisenhower before he died in 1955.

A Negro Explorer   Dark Companion

Controversy still rages over whether Henson and Peary actually reached the Pole. Researchers have examined Peary's diary and the astronomical observations listed in his expedition records and concluded that they did not. However, in 2002 British explorer Tom Avery set out to recreate their journey using the same equipment available to the 1909 expedition and traveling the same route. His party completed the journey four hours faster than Peary's records indicated, which added credence to Peary's claims. Avery tells his story in the book To The End Of The Earth: Our Epic Journey To The North Pole And The Legend of Peary And Henson.

To The End Of The Earth

Whether or not Henson and Peary actually made it all the way to the North Pole, Henson's legacy as an African-American hero and one of the 20th century's greatest explorers is secure.

   Matthew Henson Keep On   Peary and Henson

Ma chere, je t'aime - nothing says love like Vintage Valentine Postcards

February 12, 2015 | Bill V. | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

My great-aunt Sophie's third husband, Gaston, was French. Growing up I would often hear him murmur to her "je t'aime, je t'aime". It confused me at the time, but in retrospect what could be more romantic?

This year I offer no elaborate Valentine's Day blog post. Instead, please enjoy two visually unremarkable postcards circa 1908 with simple moving messages.

Vintage Valentine's Day postcard back of To My Valentine message says Ma Chere, Je t'aime
American Post Cards Sentimental Valentine's Series No 39  Publisher Ullman Manufacturing

"Ma chere, je t'aime" ... Miss Gertrude Eliot of Frost & Wood St John New Brunswick, in 1908 who was your French speaking paramour?

Vintage Valentine's Day postcard front To My Valentine woman smelling a rose
To my Valentine : The rose is fairest // When 'tis budding new // And hope is brightest when it dawns from fears. // The rose is sweetest washed with morning dew // And love is loveliest when embalmed in tears.


Vintage Valentine's Day postcard back of Sweetheart Think of Me message says To My Love"To my love" Miss E Rugg 448 Parliament St Toronto International Art Publishing Co.


Vintage Valentine's Day postcard front Sweetheart Think of Me
Sweetheart think of me - on the reverse "To my love" handwritten


Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (but it will be blogged about)

February 8, 2015 | Bill V. | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

Gil Scott-Heron was a Renaissance man. He's one of the early Black spoken word poets, singer, author and possibly the father of Rap. I dare you to listen and not be electrified.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was written in the early 70s as a poem/song. You can watch many versions on Youtube but it's helpful to have the lyrics and I think this clip has a strong visual aspect that illuminates the song.  The original conga bongo drum version is more spoken word than the full band version below.


You can see Gil Scott-Heron talk about the song below (he begins "you have to change your mind first" which reminds me of my blog post on Bob Marley's Redemption song "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds"). In one interview he says he meant it as satire rather than social commentary.



I liked his memoir which was partially autobiographical and partially a story of his concert tour with Stevie Wonder.  There is also a biography of him "Gil Scott-Heron: pieces of a man".

Gil Scott-Heron The Last Holiday a memoir


Gil Scott-Heron was a published writer and poet with two early 1970s novels and two books of poetry.

 Gil Scott-Heron's book The Vulture    Gil Scott-Heron's book of poetry Now and Then    Gil Scott-Heron's book The Nigger Factory

I also like this BBC documentary including interviews with Scott-Heron and commentary.



And, of course, there are his CDs of spoken word and song:

The best of Gil Scott Heron CD   The Revolution Will Not Be Televised CD

I'm New Here CD
"I'm New Here" was his first, and very different, album in 15 years and post prison. 


But the song I find most moving is the more personal "Home is Where the Hatred Is" which may have foreshadowed his own addiction issues. 


Gil Scott-Heron – Home is Where the Hatred is

A junkie walking through the twilight
I'm on my way home
I left three days ago, but no one seems to know I'm gone

Home is where the hatred is,
Home is filled with pain and it,
Might not be such a bad idea if I never, never went home again

Stand as far away from me as you can and ask me why
Hang on to your rosary beads
Close your eyes to watch me die

You keep saying, kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it
God, but did you ever try
To turn your sick soul inside out
So that the world, so that the world
Can watch you die

Home is where I live inside my white powder dreams
Home was once an empty vacuum that's filled now with my silent screams

Home is where the needle marks
Try to heal my broken heart
And it might not be such a bad idea if I never, if I never went home again

Home again, home again, home again
Kick it quit it, kick it quit it, kick it quit it, Kick it,

Can`t go home again

Gil Scott-Heron died in 2011. 



Walking the sidewalks of fashion with Yohji Yamamoto

January 23, 2015 | Valentina | Comments (11) Facebook Twitter More...


Fashion often begins with being 'in';  it's something that moves us to look and follow new trends. Identity and personal style are 'out' for the fashion industry.

Japanese designer, Yohji Yamamoto creates clothing for people who are creative, independent and in search of their own individuality. Indifferent to stereotypes, he molds fabric into original, intellectual, texturized pieces and teaches us how to love them, live with them and never treat them seasonally. Layered and comfortable, often oversized, his clothing is for protection. His aim is to protect bodies but also to protect clothing itself from fashion.

 My Dear Bomb by Yohji Yamamoto  Yamamoto & Yohji by Rizzoli Press

When Yamamoto presented his first collection in Paris 1981, his style was considered a passing fad, marginal, a mere copy of the contemporary street looks of the East. As with any acquired taste his creations were never in or out of style. He remains provocative, a brave rebel challenging "nowadays, especially in Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles, (where) everything is covered by fast fashion. Faster, faster, cheaper, cheaper. People have started wasting fashion".

Talking to myself by Yohji Yamamoto  

Notebook on Cities and Clothes is a documentary film about Yohji Yamamoto directed by Wim Wenders. Not interested in fashion or clothes himself but faced with this assignment, Wenders decided to make a documentary about the designer whose shirt and a jacket he was wearing, whose clothing made him feel as safe and protected as "the knight in the armour". They search for originality and humanity in the world that is becoming a commercialized copy.

In 1994, Yamamoto received the Knight Order of Arts and Letters from France. In 2011, the Victoria and Albert Museum held a retrospective exhibition of his work, and in 2013 Berlin’s Gallery Weekend had a four-day marathon of iconic pieces from the last 30 years of his career.


Now 72 years old, Yohji Yamamoto is still an anti-fashionista and an introspective conceptualist who takes a critical stance on the fashion world: “I hate fashion. Or the word fashion, which sounds colourful, extravagant, expensive and gorgeous, I never wanted to walk the main street of fashion. I have been walking the sidewalks of fashion from the beginning, so I’m a bit dark.” As he insists, his "soul comes through his fingertips": "If one keeps these things in mind and looks very carefully, the fabric itself begins to speak. This is the type of clothing I wish to become."

 Yohji Yamamoto by V & A publishing  Yohji Yamamoto by Assouline Press 

His work can be found in all general books about Japanese fashion designers.   

    Japanese Fashion Designers


January Art Shows in Toronto

January 20, 2015 | Brent | Comments (1) Facebook Twitter More...

If you are ready brave to the cold, January is bringing an unusually generous number of big art shows to Toronto which will tide art lovers over at least until March. Whether you're preparing for a cultural expedition or settling down with a big cup of cider afterwards, Toronto Public Library has books to help enrich the experience.

Royal Ontario Museum and MOCCA

On January 31st, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art will collaborate on a major retrospective Douglas Coupland: everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything. Work by the artist/novelist/essayist will appear at both venues. A week earlier on January 22, Daniel Faria, Coupland's Toronto gallery, will launch an additional show.

What exactly does it mean to be "modern" in the 21st century? And does being a modern Canadian mean something different? Coupland's work fuses traditional Canadiana with arch appropriations from American Pop and sly references to a generation of media savvy Canadian artists such as General Idea, Michael Morris, Vincent Trasov and Tim Jocelyn.

                      Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything       Worst, person, ever

Art Gallery of Ontario

Suzy Lake's major retrospective is still in full swing until March 22nd. Her long career survey--including huge photo murals--explores issues of identity, representation, feminism and aging. A huge influence on the early work of Cindy Sherman, her catalogue is a must see, especially for viewers interested in the history of Women's art.

Introducing Suzy Lake

Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A Retrospective follows his early work (like the notorious "Garbage Pail Kids"), through his pioneering magazine RAW, his Pulitzer Prize winning Holocaust memoir Maus, and his memorable tenure at the New Yorker. The show closes on March 15th.  

           The best of Comix Book       MetaMaus

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Now's the Time will run from February 7 to May 10. In the middle of the 1980s when German Neo-Expressionism dominated the art world, Basquiat reasserted Modernism's roots in African art. He melded graffiti, cartoons and Abstract Expressionist scrawls with images from Black history including African artifacts, jazz pioneers like Charlie Parker and political figures like Malcolm X.
    Reading Basquiat   

The Power Plant

The Unfinished Conversation: Encoding/Decoding draws from the writing of media theorist Stuart Hall who argued that viewers actively interpret television messages according to their personal social contexts. But this process of communication doesn't end at reception; messages are further reinterpreted and reproduced within those social contexts. Hall's essays, especially 'Encoding and Decoding in the Television Discourse,' are standard texts for both media studies and Black History students. Many visitors to this group show, opening January 24th, will be particularly interested in the work of artist Steve McQueen, the Academy Award winning director of "12 Years a Slave.",204,203,200_.jpg    12 years a slave    Steve McQueen Works

This is just a small sampling of what the city has to offer this season. To learn more, why not pick up a copy of Slate or visit the Arts Department on the 5th floor of Toronto Reference Library?

Good eats make for great tweets!

January 13, 2015 | Irene | Comments (4) Facebook Twitter More...

Have you ever gone out to eat and taken a picture of your plate or drink before tucking in? Are your friends obsessed with posting pics of their food adventures, via Twitter, Facebook or Instagram? I know my own phone is filled with images of meals prepared for or by me as well as restaurant meals. 

Kale sandwich

Above is Ann Esselstyn’s Kale and Lemon sandwich – before the kale -- and with pickled red onion instead of tomatoes. It's versatile and totally delish. Did you know that Meyer lemons are the sweetest but any lemon will work.

Picton peas

                   Fresh peas from Prince Edward County.   

Bar volo

A delicious platter from Bar Volo. 

Wolfville cottage

Wolfville, NS cottage – before the food.

Even the format of cookbooks has significantly changed over the years. No longer are they just a list of ingredients and directions with a couple of illustrations thrown in. Many now take the form of travelogues or lifestyle books with lots of beautiful food styling. One of my all time fave cookbooks Seductions of Rice is by a duo of Toronto authors Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. They did several award winning cookbooks together and in the style of a travelogue each one stunningly documents their time spent researching the food and customs of a specific region.

Mangoes curry leaves  Hot sour sweet salty  Beyond the great wall

In recent years many cookbooks have evolved from successful food blogs. The production values and photography make for some great eye candy as well as dinner get togethers!

Oh she glows  Smitten kitchen  Thug kitchen


The forest feasts  Food in jars  Isa does it

I still have a very tattered recipe book in which I record my favorite recipes.

Recipe book
Technology will never replace the recipe book above or my growing collection of cookbooks. I also play with digital ways of keeping track of recipes. If you don't want to be bothered with keeping track of recipes but want access to them this article from Digital Trends provides a nice list of recipe apps.

It seems that wherever we look there are beautifully styled, mouthwatering images of food. You can even take classes that help improve your own food "phoneography" skills. “Why we Tweet before we eat” a Toronto Star article by food writer Corey Mintz from October 2014 takes a look at the food phoneography phenomenon.

Whether you aspire to keeping your own food blog or just want to document recipe successes and failures or memorable social gatherings in a more visual way, here are some suggestions from the stacks.

Food photography for bloogers More digital food photography

Food photography

Food styling 

Mid-Century Modern Complete

January 3, 2015 | Bill V. | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

A great book, Mid-Century Modern Complete, recently arrived at many local branches. It's big and heavily illustrated with large scale photographs. The arrangement is thematic: furniture, lighting, glass and ceramics, textiles, product and industrial design, graphics and posters, houses and interiors and lastly A-Z of designers and makers. Each section is internally arranged alphabetically by designer. There's a lot of useful text and information that work wonderfully with the illustrations. 

I highly recommend it as both easy to browse through and easy to look up specific designers. I also like how it crosses many genres.  

Toronto Public Library has an extensive collection on mid-century modern design. Our Pinterest board has most of our books listed on it (enhanced by select images pinned onto the board). 

Mid-Century Modern Complete Dominic Bradbury

Amazing Grace Kelly

December 24, 2014 | Muriel | Comments (0) Facebook Twitter More...

I went to see the Grace Kelly exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on King Street West (it is on until January 22).  I was surprised by how intimate a portrait of her it presented, with many of her personal possessions on display, from letters, home movies, clothing and jewellery to items from the public realm such as her film posters.  Luckily for her curious fans, Grace Kelly described herself as " of those people who keeps everything."  Growing up in Philadelphia, Grace Kelly knew by age 11 that she wanted to be an actress.  She performed on stage and then in films, and at age 25 won an Academy Award for playing Georgie Elgin in The Country Girl.  The dress (seen below) which she wore to accept that Academy Award is on display at the exhibition.


Examples of Grace Kelly's classic elegance are plentiful at this exhibition.  In 1955 Grace Kelly went with the famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head to Paris to buy accessories at Hermès for Alfred Hitchcock's film, To Catch a Thief.  It was at Hermès that they bought the bag which became known as the Kelly bag, after Grace.

GraceKelly,jpg     GraceKellyStyle     TheHermesScarf

In May 1955 Grace Kelly attended the Cannes Film Festival and it was there, at a Paris Match photo shoot, that she met Prince Rainier of Monaco.  The following April, Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier at a lavish wedding ceremony in Monte Carlo.  Helen Rose designed her wedding dress, and an exact replica of it is on display, along with archival footage of both the religious and civil wedding ceremonies.


After her wedding, the now-Princess Grace's world became even more glamorous than that of a Hollywood film star.  In 1956 Van Cleef & Arpels became official jeweller to the Princely House of Monaco, and Princess Grace wore haute couture gowns.  There is a strikingly modern purple Givenchy evening dress on display, as well as a delicate blue chiffon Christian Dior evening gown, amongst other couture gowns and outfits.  Grace Kelly was nearsighted, and extended her style to her eyeglasses, which included several pairs by Oliver Goldsmith.

SetinStyle           ChristianDior     Eyewear

Princess Grace had a passion for pressing flowers and there are several large framed examples of her artwork.  She even wrote My Book of Flowers about flowers and her techniques.  The greatest treat in the exhibition for me, however, is at the end where home movies are shown of a relaxed and very happy Princess Grace with her family.

PreservingFlowers           HighSociety           GraceKellyYears

The best Christmas song 2014 is... Es ist ein Ros entsprungen

December 23, 2014 | Bill V. | Comments (3) Facebook Twitter More...

This year I've gone more traditional in my choice for best Christmas song. It's a bow to my husband Richard and his cousin Elizabeth. At the same time it's a lovely carol that will be familiar to many.

"Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" ( Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming ) is a traditional German song printed in Cologne in 1599 and with later harmonization written by German composer Michale Praetorius in 1609. The song was translated into English by Theodore Baker in 1894 as "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming".

There are many versions online but for me, one of the most moving is the version below:


There is a fun flash mob version here which is a bit more contemporary:


 An English version by John Rutter and The Cambridge Singers (amateur score included):


And for something completely different, there's even a version by Sting:


I would also like to suggest one of Toronto Public Library's online resources - Naxos Music Library.  You can listen to great music spanning medieval to modern and find expert educational content as well. If you like organ music, you would likely enjoy the Brahms' version "Es ist ein Ros entsprungen" found through Naxos as well.

I tried a quick search of "Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen" and listened to many different variations for free through online streaming.  All you need is your Toronto Public library card and your PIN. In our catalogue simply search for Naxos and it's very easy to use after that. 

                                 Naxos Music Library

There are 24 CDs in Toronto Public Library's collection that have this song. You can borrow most of these from your local library branch and there's a wide variety of singers and styles. We also have sheet music for it available to borrow.

 Measha Bruegger-Gosman's Christmas  Noël! Christmas! Weihnachten!

  Christmas with the Trapp Family Singers   In dulci jubilo  beautiful Christmas melodies

If you're interested in some of my earlier song choices, you may enjoy them below:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The library's blog devoted to the discovery of diverse artistic and cultural works in the library and Toronto. For more information on what the library has to offer please see our Theatre & Performing Arts page