An interview with Walrus contributor Steven Heighton, author of Every Lost Country and Patient Frame
This spring, Steven Heighton has released two books, Patient Frame, a collection of poems, one of which appeared in The Walrus last year, and a novel, Every Lost Country, which was excerpted in the magazine’s April 2010 issue. I’ve written in this space before about the process of excerpting the exceptional new text, but after revisiting the finished book I found myself with more questions for Steven. He was kind enough to email back and forth with me over the last month.
This novel begins with a fictionalization of a real incident. How did you come across the story that you used to begin Every Lost Country, and how did it shape your writing as you moved ahead?
In September 2006 a group of Tibetan refugees, fleeing up a glacier toward the China-Nepal border in hopes of joining the Tibetan expat community in India, was pursued and attacked by Chinese border guards. At least two Tibetans — both of them young Buddhist nuns — were shot dead. A group of Western mountaineers at a base camp along the border, preparing to climb the Himalayan peak Cho Oyu, witnessed the event, and a Romanian climber caught images of it on his cellphone camera.
I heard about the shooting when the story broke a few days later. I also heard that there had been some debate among the climbers at base camp about whether to go on with the climb or instead stop and get the video and testimony out to international media, as soon as possible. Several of the climbers decided that exposing the crime was their priority. So the story got out and spread, despite the Chinese government’s efforts to hush it up and then, later, ludicrously, to maintain that the guards had shot down the nuns in “self-defence.”
For the last decade or so, I’ve been obsessed with the ethics of intervention — when is it necessary to get involved, to cross the border that separates my problems from yours? As soon as I heard about the Nangpa La shootings, I knew my next novel would start with a fictionalized version of the atrocity. I saw that it could be a powerful way of exploring the ethics of intervention while at the same time testing my characters to the limit. (more…)
Our intrepid food blogger discovers the pleasures of First Nations cuisine at Ottawa’s booming Sweetgrass Bistro
In Ottawa a few weeks back, I discovered a food trend I would dearly love to see catch on in our more fashionable urban centres. Expounding on our restaurant options for the evening, a friend of mine suggested Sweetgrass, which bills itself as an “Aboriginal Bistro.” The small room in the Byward Market area has evidently been open since 2003, but is still in such demand that trying for a weekend table without a reservation is close to useless.
Sweetgrass serves “unique seasonal menus that follow the ancient hunting and gathering traditions of North and South America’s many First Nation People.” It is owned and operated by Phoebe and Warren Sutherland: Phoebe is Cree and grew up near Mistassini Lake in Quebec; Warren, her husband and partner, was born and raised in Jamaica. Both were trained at the New England Culinary Institute, and the restaurant’s menu looks, while tasty, a touch heavy on gimmickry (the “Grilled Tatonka,” a 10-oz. bison rib-eye, conjures unwelcome images of Kevin Costner wearing a handlebar moustache, humpbacked, and rooting in the dirt like a senile truffle pig). On the other hand, dishes like Awazibi Maple–glazed roasted wild boar, elk dumplings, and sustainably caught pickerel served with fingerling potatoes and “christophes mushrooms” raise a tantalizing possibility: the popularization of cuisine inspired by the food of Canada’s First Nations peoples. (more…)
An interview with Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada
In October 2006, The Walrus published “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons,” an investigative feature by Marci McDonald that examined the presence, practices, and motives of religious organizations operating in Ottawa. That line of reporting has since expanded to become The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, McDonald’s new, much-discussed book about connections between this country’s religious right and Harper’s Conservative administration. Walrusmagazine.com’s Robert Parker recently spoke to the author — a former chief of Maclean’s Washington and Paris bureaus, and the winner of eight gold National Magazine Awards — about the controversies contained therein.
A major focus of your new book is Christian Nationalism. Can you explain that term?
When I use the term Christian Nationalism, I’m not referring to all evangelicals or all Christians who are politically active. There is a very small wing of the evangelical community — most of them Pentecostals, it turns out, but it certainly doesn’t apply to all Pentecostals — who believe firmly not only that the end times are coming, but that Canada has a very specific, pre-ordained role for the end times. This is spelled out in the seventy-second psalm, verse eight: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” That was written long before Canada was discovered, long before Jesus was born even. [These Christian Nationalists believe] that Canada’s geography was described perfectly, and so God has a plan for Canada in the end times as a refuge among nations.
Over the years we have slipped, in their estimation, from this prophetic role, or from the preparedness for this prophetic role. We’ve gotten rid of laws against abortion; we’ve brought in same-sex marriage. We are not able to fulfil our destiny as a Christian nation, so God sent us a wake-up call. It was on May 24th, 2006, when the clock on the Peace Tower stopped where the verse is written [at 7:28]. They often pray unto the Peace Tower, unto that verse, and they felt it was a clear sign that God had said, “You better get this Christian nation thing going before it’s too late.” That may sound ridiculous, but these are not uneducated people. They have very strong ties to elements of the government: they’ve been hosted by Stephen Harper; they have had a letter from him at their rallies; they have met over 300 parliamentarians; they’ve been at VIP receptions; they’ve been used in campaign spots. (more…)
Our noble Sportstrotter roots for his beloved Canucks behind enemy lines: the nosebleeds at Chicago’s United Center
CHICAGO — “Hey, you! The Canucks f***ing suck! You f***ing suck! F*** you and go the f*** home to Canada!”
To be fair, the 300-pound gentleman waiting in line to buy nachos had a point. What was I doing here? A Vancouver Canucks fan clad in blue-and-green, wandering along the upper concourse level of the United Center in Chicago between periods of Game 5 of the NHL’s Western Conference semifinals, barely managing to squeeze through a 99.99 percent homogenous crowd sporting the home team’s red-and-black jerseys. What was I thinking? And more importantly, what gave me the nerve to show up with explicit hopes of crashing the Blackhawks’ party, where all but a handful of paying attendees planned to clinch a seven-game series that their team led three games to one?
It didn’t help my situation that the Canucks had taken a 2-0 lead in the first period on a pair of goals by defensemen. I’d been careful not to celebrate too lustily after each goal, allowing myself little more than an instinctual yelp and fist pump. It wasn’t that I felt anything less than thrilled to see those two pucks find the back of the net. No, it was the fact that, as far as my eyes could see, I was the only person in section 314 not rooting for the Blackhawks. I didn’t see a single Canucks jersey in our adjoining sections, either. In fact, by the end of the game, I’d picked out a grand total of five other Canucks fans in the entire announced crowd of 22,192 — five guys who’d have my back, and none of whom were within shouting distance. If the worst came to pass, all I’d have to protect me from an angry mob were the three friends I’d come with, the three buddies who’d each dropped $170 US for tickets to this game – Matty, Helen, and Odom – and all three of them lived in Chicago, so who knows?
Showing up to cheer for the road team during the regular season is one thing, but once the playoffs start, you’re just begging for inhospitality. My best friend in middle school, a fellow by the name of Derry, once wore a New York Rangers jersey to school during the 1994 Rangers-Canucks Stanley Cup finals series; he was sent home after recess, covered as he had become with a thick layer of Coke, raw eggs, and various other powdery substances. Another guy I knew in college, a guy named Tug from Cleveland, was such a big fan of the Indians that during a couple of early-2000s playoff series against the Boston Red Sox, he wore head-to-toe Indians gear every day and tried to pick fights with every Sox fan we passed on the streets of Boston (in other words, every single person in Boston). (more…)
I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous.
I had expected the premiere of David Sieveking’s David Wants to Fly to be a modest proceeding. The premise of the documentary — recent film school grad devotes himself to Transcendental Meditation because David Lynch tells him to — is ridiculous. There couldn’t be that many people who would skip Still Alive in Gaza for it.
I arrived late, then spent ten minutes looking for a seat. The place was packed. Eventually I squeezed myself between a slight grey-haired man and a boisterous couple who traded Lynch anecdotes as a Hot Docs programmer took the stage. “So, how many of you are here for your interest in Transcendental Meditation?” he asked. The small man next to me and a few others raised their hands. “And how many of you are here for your interest in David Lynch?” Hands shot up like reeds around the theatre. There was even some whooping. Of course! This was a Lynch fan event.
David Wants to Fly is about whackos (David Lynch), lost film school grads (David Sieveking), and exploitation (Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his “TM movement”). It’s told through Sieveking’s personal narrative: He wants to make great movies, like his idol, David Lynch. At home in Berlin, he hears of a TM conference at Fairfield, Iowa’s Maharishi Peace Palace where Lynch will be speaking about, or rather advocating for, the practice. (more…)
Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, is a never-done-before, 304-page work of experimental journalism. Based on thirty hours of raw digital footage shot by producer/publisher Alex Jansen and filmmaker Jason Gilmore, written by me — Richard Poplak* — and illustrated by Nick Marinkovich, the book tells the story of a Toronto man whom the international press dubbed “the most prolific bike thief in the world.”
In the summer of 2008, Igor Kenk was arrested on suspicion of stealing a bicycle. Kenk was a legend in the Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood, infamous for trading in bicycles of unknown provenance. The story turned weirder and weirder: The scruffy street merchant had a gorgeous Juilliard-trained pianist for a wife; police searches of his shop, home, and rented garages turned up almost 3,000 bicycles and plenty of drugs; Kenk made outrageous claims inside and outside of his court appearances. The city, and indeed the world, became fascinated with this outrageous character. Folks wanted to know more.
And so we have Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, which is an attempt to bridge an in-depth investigative profile with a graphic novel. The following pages are extracted from Chapter II, where we learn about Kenk’s childhood and his time back in Slovenia, which he generously terms “the old shithole.” (more…)
The Walrus is proud to announce that it has received a leading thirty-three nominations in 2009′s National Magazine Awards. Our contributors were nominated across several categories, and included twenty-three written, seven visual, two integrated, and one special nomination. The winners will be announced at the 33rd annual National Magazine Awards gala on June 4, 2010 in Toronto.
The Walrus congratulates all of our nominated contributors, listed here. See for yourself why we’re so pleased by this news.
Art Direction for a Single Magazine Article
“Alice in Borderland” by Charles Foran
Best New Magazine Writer
Carol Shaben (“Fly At Your Own Risk“)
Best Single Issue
“Turning the Page” by Noah Richler
“Fly At Your Own Risk” by Carol Shaben
Please Forgive Us (December 2009)
“The Most Hated Name in News” by Deborah Campbell
“An Arboreal History According to the Guild of St. Luke” by Lauchie Reid
“Extraordinary Canadians” by Graham Roumieu
“Schematic Diagrams for Proposed Objects” by Marc Bell
“Spiritual Citizenship” by Jason Logan
“Walking the Way” by Timothy Taylor
When I am old, I want to look like Swetlana Geier, with her wide eyes and swishing skirts, and her long white hair swept up in a bun. I want to talk and think like her — with wit and depth and unfathomable understanding, in images and allusions to history and art. I want to live in her house — or, if that sounds too creepy, a house like hers, set in dark green woods but close to a market square where I can buy lettuce from the local lettuce lady, who parcels it in newspaper, that I will use when preparing dinner for my adoring flock of grandchildren, who come to visit often.
Geier, Germany’s pre-eminent translator of Russian literature, is hunched over and moves slowly, and often ends her thoughts with a softly spoken “yeah,” like she can’t believe how profound she is, either. Is it the Dostoevsky? I wonder, watching her. Is it reading the “five elephants” (i.e., great novels) of Dostoevsky — repeatedly, constantly, and with the intensity of focus required to translate them, as Geier does — that makes a person this aware and this beautiful? Or is it a natural side affect of being hyper-intelligent, sensual, and eighty-five?
These are probably not the questions that the director, Vadim Jendreyko, meant for me to ask. The themes of The Woman With the Five Elephants, raised in the context of Geier’s life story, are grand — literature, language, connection, reconnection — and I’m probably supposed to be dwelling on those. But I’m obsessed with Geier. (She cooks! She cleans! She saved Crime and Punishment from being known in Germany as Guilt and Atonement!) Everything else becomes important only insofar as it reveals her character and is shaped by her articulation. This isn’t a fault in the movie so much as proof of Geier’s power to take it over.
Unless Jendreyko made her up. He could have spun her, edited her into what he wanted her to be. It almost seems like he must have, she’s so perfectly wrought as Inspirational Character. It wouldn’t upset me if he had. Even if Geier were a fiction, she would still be full of truth.