Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices

ABOUT THE PROJECT

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Musings by Publisher Tim Inkster
Photos by Don McLeod

This is not, in point of fact, an explanation of how the Fabulous Fictions project came into being, partially because Tony Calzetta's livre d'artiste, as it was conceived, had already come to a kind of fruition years before The Porcupine's Quill became involved; although, and yet, in an odd sort of a way (you can see I am hedging my wager) perhaps what you see before you is, in fact, a weird sort of an explanation. The Fabulous Fictions project is just that kind of a fantasy, an open-ended journey that dramaturge David Ferry has subsequently described as "Hanna-Barbera on acid", and printmaker Tony Calzetta has threatened to jettison, more than just the once. Both artist, and actor, I suspect, were thinking about author Leon Rooke, though proprieties and due consideration did prevail.

Tim Inkster

Tim Inkster

There was a meeting scheduled for 12:30 pm on an Easter Monday, April 21, 2014 at "Allen's" on the Danforth; south side, a bit east of Broadview, adjacent to the Danforth Music Hall.

I arrived early. I had a long drive, from Erin Village, and I wasn't completely certain how long the trip might take; and Toronto east of the Bloor Viaduct is not a part of the city I know well, particularly as to where to park.

I found a municipal lot close by the Broadview subway station, and was surprised when an elderly woman accosted me to ask for advice as to the mechanics involved in the automated parking ticketing machine on the lot. I have had issues, in the past, with automated parking ticketing machines, but the morning was sunny, and unseasonably warm. Fortune smiled. There were no issues, with the elderly woman, likely a Presbyterian, or the parking machine.

Bank President's Address...

Bank President's Address to Minions
on the Eve of the Release of the Annual Financial Report
Showing Profits Heretofore Unseen in the World.
Early Draft from Fabulous Fictions.

I paid my deposit, returned the receipt of purchase to the dashboard of Elke's Volkswagen, locked the car and set off on foot in a westerly direction towards Broadview, whereupon the thought occurred that I might avail myself of an apparent shortcut through the streetcar terminus in a south-westerly direction towards the Danforth. This bit of inattention on my part was countered almost immediately by the frenzied gesticulations of a large black woman who cautioned me in rather colourful language that I had just walked underneath signage that expressly prohibits entry.

Suitably chastised, I retreated, and then I did notice that the posted fine for illegal entry of the Broadview streetcar terminus is $500. I am reminded of the Rolling Stones' song in which Mick Jagger celebrates the running of twenty red lights in a row through the main drag of Bakersfield, California early on a Sunday morning and comes to no harm. Praise be.

Laden with sample Porcupine's Quill releases for Tom Smart, Chandra Wohleber and Stephanie Small, a briefcase with project notes, budget calculations of some complexity and a over-the-shoulder canvas expedition satchel I had purchased in Oxford some years earlier and of which I remain inordinately proud, I was careful to avoid stepping on cracks in the sidewalk on the Danforth. I had seen a wild turkey, earlier that same morning on Mississauga Road south of Erin Village. It could have been a portent, one can never be certain.

* * * *

"Allen's" is a bit of a throwback that reminds me, in some ways, of Myrna Metcalf's Elgin Street Diner in Ottawa, or the old Shopsy's on Front Street before Shopsy's white tile floor was taken up by the grout and the space gentrified into an up-market Oliver & Bonacini. Allen's decor features framed photographs of minor celebrities who had once commanded the marquee at the Danforth Music Hall next door. The wine list is impressive, and staunchly Canadian. I ordered a Corona, in a bottle, slice of lime on the side.

Don McLeod

Don McLeod

Don McLeod, editor of the Devil's Artisan, arrived first, with some startling news that he had just received approval for a $300,000 GLBT bibliographic project from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Don ordered a draft. There was some discussion, as I recall, as to the colour of the draft, but I was nervous and not paying a lot of attention to the waiter, or the several shades of beer available on tap. Don McLeod is the liaison librarian for Sexual Diversity Studies and Acquisitions Coordinator at Robarts Library in the University of Toronto. He is also very active in senior positions with the Champlain Society and the Bibliographic Society of Canada but on the Easter Monday in question at Allen's he had offered to serve as photographer, to document something of the stirring of what we fondly hope is the beginning of a Fabulous Journey that will take us to the footlights on center stage at the old Bathurst Street Theatre (now, the Randolph) perhaps two years hence when Marc Glassman will step into the spotlight to introduce a limited-run theatrical production of Leon Rooke's Fabulous Fictions as the opening night of Marc's Pages UnBound Festival.

At very least, that's the plan.

In the interim, there are innumerable intermediate pieces knotted into the puzzle, some of which are known, certainly, and some not. Known knowns, and known unknowns, for sure. Possibly unknown unknowns as well. The logistics of the Fabulous Fictions project will not be as complicated as the American invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, but, close.

* * * *

Marc Glassman

Marc Glassman

Marc Glassman is revered in Canadian literary publishing, not only as the proprietor of Pages Bookstore on Queen Street, north side, just a bit west of McCaul, but also as artistic director of the TINARS series of readings that tried to be more than simply talking-head sorts of events and included one spectacular night at Koerner Hall on Bloor Street where the Porcupine's Quill launched composer Murray Schafer's autobiography with the considerable support of the Esprit Symphony Orchestra. It wasn't the most elaborate book launch event we have ever organized, but we did sell 90 copies of My Life on Earth and Elsewhere, which may partially explain why Marc Glassman subsequently let himself be persuaded to launch Bob Bossin's memoir, Davy the Punk at the Randolph Theatre this past spring as the kick-off event for the newly rebranded Pages UnBound Festival + Conference. Bossin brought remnants of his 1970s-era folk group Stringband, including vocalist Marie-Lynn Hammond, and Bob also brought along his old friend and one-time parliamentarian Bob Rae to host an on-stage interview and also to contribute something of his (Rae's) acuity on piano, which is considerable.

And we sold a bunch of books, a sport that aging publishers and venerable booksellers can relish with equal enthusiasm.

Later that same night I was sitting with Marc Glassman at the appropriately-named Victory Cafe on Markham Street in Mirvish Village, a convenient half a block walk north from the Randolph Theatre. Celebratory drinks were readily available; beer, and wine, in a fulsome choice of colours. Stephanie Small was there. And there was this iPhone device thing, lying on the table, not doing anything at the moment, so I seized the opportunity to ask Marc Glassman if he had ever heard of the painter and printmaker, Tony Calzetta?

"Well, maybe no," Marc replied, diplomatically. The hour was late, his mood was mellow. "Maybe yes," he continued, raising an eyebrow.

Armed with this bit of intelligence I pressed my case.

"Well, what about let's have a look at this (Tony Calzetta's Fabulous Fictions website)", I queried.

We had a bit of a look, Marc and I, on a screen that was maybe two inches wide. Marc admitted as to how he wasn't completely sure that he completely understood what he was looking at.

"I'm thinking of turning this thing into a theatrical event that I'd like to launch at the Pages Festival," I suggested. "Next year?"

"This will cost?" Marc inquired.

"David Ferry tells me $50,000," I replied.

"Of which you will contribute?" Marc pressed.

"I can do $3,000," I cringed, a bit.

"And I come up with $47,000," Marc asked for clarification.

"I could maybe do $5,000," I offered, somewhat boldly.

"Deal," Marc confirmed, much to my considerable astonishment. "You will talk to Tony Calzetta?"

* * * *

Marc Glassman sidled across the banquette at Allen's and took a chair next to Don McLeod. I can't remember if Marc ordered draft, or red. I think, maybe, red. Perhaps a blend. I don't remember. I was nervous. Driving across the Bloor Viaduct an hour earlier I had been thinking about Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin on a Lion, and about the nun who fell from the bridge. I was raised Roman Catholic, and educated by Jesuits. I remain fearful of heights, and the image of the nun falling troubles me. An hour later, esconsed at table safely on solid ground east of the Don River, I am thinking about Roddy Doyle's novel The Commitments, and Jimmy Rabbitt's futile wait for Wilson Pickett.

* * * *

Tony Calzetta

Tony Calzetta

Tony Calzetta designed the "Bloor Street Diner" for Stephen Centner, proprietor of an uber high-end hamburger joint that was originally located on the second floor of Holt Renfrew, then later moved south across Bloor to the ManuLife Centre. Elke and I ate there, once, at the original venue. It was very busy; we didn't much care for the bustle, I remember that. I do not remember much about the decor, other than a vague recognition that it was "arty".

Likely about the same time (1984) Elke and I were pretty much instructed, by Barry Callaghan of Exile Editions, to attend an exclusive private party at Stephen Centner's home in Lower Forest Hill at which we were made to feel distinctly unwelcome. Stephen Centner was a restaurateur who made a great deal of money with Les Copains and Café des Copains on Wellington, and then Markelangelo's, on Colbourne, that was designed by the Mohawk painter Robert Markle. I remember being introduced to Leon and Connie Rooke, once, at Cafédes Copains, for some reason that I do not remember. It is conceivable, even likely, that Tony Calzetta may well have attended Centner's party that night in 1984 as well, but our mission was to secure a few author photographs of Robert Zend for a bizarre two-volume book project called OAB that we were printing for Exile Editions. We completed our bit of business, and we left.

Ms Smith Is Hard Put...

Ms Smith Is Hard Put to Explain To Her Husband
How She Came to Spend the Night
Unexpectedly in Philip’s Nightgown.
Early Draft from Fabulous Fictions.

The Porcupine's Quill did a lot of printing for Exile Editions through the 1980s and into the early 90s. Perhaps once a month I would be summoned to lunch with Barry at the Courtyard Cafe in the Windsor Arms Hotel on St Thomas Street just south of Bloor. This was at a time when the Windsor Arms, and the Courtyard Cafe in particular, was at the epicentre of everything excessive in Toronto. I do not think it would be inaccurate to suggest that George Minden "invented" the concept of fine dining in Toronto in the 1980s. The Courtyard Café spawned many competitors, some more successful than others. Dante Rota opened Noodles, on Bay Street, for example; and there was Fenton's, on Gloucester, where the maitre d', for a time, was Mario Amaro, who later opened Opus on Prince Arthur with his brother Tony, each of whom we knew, a little. Elke and I dined at these venues infrequently, but we often enjoyed the quality of service, when we could afford it.

I remember one occasion in particular, when Mr Callaghan's "usual" table at the Courtyard Café was not available for lunch at the customary time, and we were forced to repair to the bar to wait, and drink, for something like three hours through the afternoon. There could be no possible consideration of any "alternate" table, clearly. Ego would not permit. In retrospect I suspect the maitre d' who stood her ground was probably Mary Tsimicalis, whom we came to know quite well, for different reasons, but not at this time.

Almost a decade later (1992) John Metcalf took pains to involve the Porcupine's Quill in a so-called "limited edition" book project with Tony Calzetta and a dealer who struck me as less than completely forthright. I was uncomfortable with Metcalf's notion that we could sell copies of the book for more than I thought they were worth. Metcalf was likely frustrated by my acute sense of business ethics. I was a printer; Metcalf was an editor, and a bit of dealer on the side. We completed the one project, a selection of love poems by Irving Layton, and declined a second. Many years later I was amused when Metcalf tried to buy an archival copy of said book out of our warehouse, and complained that Elke had not sent him the "jacket". In fact, there never was a jacket; Metcalf had forgotten.

How God Talks in His Sleep

How God Talks in His Sleep
Early Draft from Fabulous Fictions.

We met Tony Calzetta and Gabrielle by chance in October of 2008 outside the chapel at St James Cemetery off Parliament after the memorial service for Leon Rooke's wife Connie. It was a sombre occasion, difficult to manage. Tony admitted he was concerned about Leon, and about how Leon would cope, or possibly could even begin to consider how he might cope without Connie, and Tony also admitted that he was trying to collaborate with Leon on a livre d'artiste as a way, possibly, to attempt to gently shift Leon's attention to life, after the brutal reality of Connie's early death, which had stretched over months. We continued the conversation at the Rooke's home on Brunswick, at the wake after the service and the cremation. I remember wishing Tony well, in his quest, but also suspecting that Leon might just as likely drift into despondency, from which Tony's livre d'artiste would never emerge.

But it did.

And the bookbinder involved, Keith Felton, has a shop in Georgetown which is located a scant twenty miles south of Erin Village. Tony and Gabrielle had reason to visit Keith Felton, decided to make a weekend excursion of it, and telephoned to inquire as to whether a visit to the Porcupine's Quill might also be possible, which it was, so we booked lunch for four on the summer patio at "Bistro Riviere", overlooking the millpond, and then Tony unfolded a presentation copy of the limited edition of Fabulous Fictions which Elke and I were invited to experience first-hand for the first time in an intimate, ane very private, showing. I felt privileged, and confused, because I couldn't quite fathom why Tony was making this significant effort to accomplish what, I did not know.

Magic, of course; a kind of trompe l'oeil, for certain.

But, what IS it, about this thing?

A book, less or more; or a collection of garishly-coloured casebound books in a slipcase, but the first volume in the series opens like the thrust stage at Stratford and offers the wonder of the first time you watched live theatre and realized that cinematography can never be as challenging, or as potentially artistically rewarding. I am neither an artist, nor a schooled art historian. I really did not know what to make of it.

Continued on next page...

 

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Read on: About the Project Continued »

The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.