A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[CAT] Shakespeare, looking up

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Shakespeare, looking up #toronto #dovercourtvillage #shakespeare #catsofinstagram #caturday #catstagram

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Written by Randy McDonald

June 16, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Photo, Toronto

Tagged with , , ,

[PHOTO] Three photos of towers in Yonge and Eglinton

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My lunch break at work coincided with the early evening, rains in the afternoon having cleared the clouds away. Walking north up Yonge in the midtown neighbourhood of Yonge and Eglinton, the towers stood out clearly against the blue sky under the brilliant sun. The Montgomery Square Tower condo development built on stop of the historic Postal Station K is nearing completion, while the red brick tower of 40 Orchard View Boulevard–home to the Northern District branch of the Toronto Public Library–stands just west of a vast pit that is surely going to be the base for another development. Yonge and Eglinton is fast becoming a high-rise district of some note in the City of Toronto.

Montgomery Square Tower against the sun #toronto #yongeandeglinton #postalstationk #montgomerysquare #condos #tower #construction

40 Orchard View Boulevard #toronto #yongeandeglinton #40orchard #tower #construction

Towers against clouds #toronto #yongeandeglinton #econdos #yongeeglintoncentre #tower #clouds #construction

Written by Randy McDonald

June 14, 2018 at 2:02 am

[PHOTO] Three photos taken on Eglinton Avenue west of Yonge

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I took a quick walk on Eglinton Avenue west of Yonge on passing first behind the Toronto Police Service’s decidedly postmodern 53 Division regional headquarters then taking a look at some of the low-rise brick apartment buildings on the street, in yellow and red. It’s a lovely street, but the Eglinton Crosstown construction occurred just to the east of these buildings is going to lead to a transformation. How many of these buildings will survive?

53 Division, 75 Eglinton Avenue West #toronto #yongeandeglinton #eglintonavenue #duplexav #police

Mid-century yellow brick apartments, Eglinton at Henning #toronto #yongeandeglinton #architecture #yellow #brick #eglintonavenue

Mid-century red brick apartments, Eglinton at Maxwell #toronto #yongeandeglinton #architecture #red #brick #eglintonavenue

Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2018 at 11:28 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the need to cultivate our gardens

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As Canada seems to be heading for an unpleasantly personalized trade war with Trump’s United States and as I and most of my friends in Ontario are dealing with a provincial election that made the decidedly discreditable Doug Ford Jr. premier–perhaps we are being unfair; perhaps The Globe and Mail‘s 2013 investigation suggesting that Doug Ford sold hashish in the 1980s was wrong–it would be quite easy to slide into despair. The world feels as if it is on the brink of general catastrophe, the climate changing and tensions rising and people fleeing disasters both human and natural by the millions with little apparent sign of anything changing for the good, and these things happen?

I keep coming back, though, these days to Voltaire’s Candide. More specifically, I keep finding myself caught by the very end of this novel, with its subtle ambiguities.

— Je sais aussi, dit Candide, qu’il faut cultiver notre jardin. — Vous avez raison, dit Pangloss ; car, quand l’homme fut mis dans le jardin d’Éden, il y fut mis ut operaretur eum, pour qu’il travaillât : ce qui prouve que l’homme n’est pas né pour le repos. — Travaillons sans raisonner, dit Martin ; c’est le seul moyen de rendre la vie supportable. »

Toute la petite société entra dans ce louable dessein ; chacun se mit à exercer ses talents. La petite terre rapporta beaucoup. Cunégonde était, à la vérité, bien laide ; mais elle devint une excellente pâtissière ; Paquette broda ; la vieille eut soin du linge. Il n’y eut pas jusqu’à frère Giroflée qui ne rendît service ; il fut un très-bon menuisier, et même devint honnête homme ; et Pangloss disait quelquefois à Candide : « Tous les événements sont enchaînés dans le meilleur des mondes possibles : car enfin si vous n’aviez pas été chassé d’un beau château à grands coups de pied dans le derrière pour l’amour de Mlle Cunégonde, si vous n’aviez pas été mis à l’Inquisition, si vous n’aviez pas couru l’Amérique à pied, si vous n’aviez pas donné un bon coup d’épée au baron, si vous n’aviez pas perdu tous vos moutons du bon pays d’Eldorado, vous ne mangeriez pas ici des cédrats confits et des pistaches. — Cela est bien dit, répondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin. »

Project Gutenberg’s English translation accurately conveys the sense of Voltaire’s language.

“I know also,” said Candide, “that we must cultivate our garden.”

“You are right,” said Pangloss, “for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle.”

“Let us work,” said Martin, “without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the[Pg 168] linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide:

“There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds: for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde: if you had not been put into the Inquisition: if you had not walked over America: if you had not stabbed the Baron: if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado: you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts.”

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”

What did Voltaire mean when he had his hapless protagonist conclude, after years of travel and torture and witnessing the best and the worst that the world had to offer, that he and his friends had to join to “cultivate our garden”? When I was introduced to Candide, it was suggested to me that this final sentence represented Candide’s withdrawal from the world, that it marked the defeat of Candide’s optimism and a decision on the part of all concerned to secure some safety. It was only later, after I read Adam Gopnik’s 2005 essay in The New Yorker, “Voltaire’s Garden”, that I became aware of a different reading.

Against the horrors of religious cruelty and the emptiness of religious apologia, Voltaire proposes—what, exactly? Burton Raffel, the more daring of the two new translators, takes that most familiar ending, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin,” and translates it not as “We must cultivate our garden” but, startlingly, as “We need to work our fields.” (Raffel is a translator who doesn’t mind shocking his readers—his version of “The Red and the Black” was one long provocation.) His change of the book’s famous moral is obviously meant, in one way, to protect Voltaire from the charge of Petit Trianonism. After so much suffering, cultivating our garden seems too . . . cultivated. (“Crush the horror! Crush the horror!” Voltaire’s friend D’Alembert wrote to him once. “That is easily said when one is a hundred leagues from the bastards and the fanatics, when one has an independent income of a hundred thousand livres!”)

But Raffel is wrong, surely, in thinking that by cultivating one’s garden Voltaire meant anything save cultivating one’s garden. By “garden” Voltaire meant a garden, not a field—not the land and task to which we are chained by nature but the better place we build by love. The force of that last great injunction, “We must cultivate our garden,” is that our responsibility is local, and concentrated on immediate action. In the aftermath of the tsunami, William Safire argued that this “surge of generosity” actually “refutes Voltaire’s cynicism,” as expressed in “Candide.” Yet American charity is not a refutation of Voltaire’s cynicism; it is Voltaire’s cynicism, an expression of the Enlightenment tradition of individual responsibility that he promoted. Voltaire was a gardener and believed in gardens, even if other people were gardening them. His residual optimism lies in that alone.

The horror that Voltaire wanted crushed, cruelty in the name of God and civilization, was a specific and contingent thing. His satire of optimism is in this sense an optimistic book—optimistic not only in its gaiety, which implies the possibility of seeing things as they are, but also in its argument. Voltaire did not believe that there was any justice or balance in the world, but he believed that bad ideas made people bad. The villains in the book are not, as in Samuel Johnson’s exactly contemporary and parallel “Rasselas,” the fatality of the world and the mortality of man. The villains are the villains: Jesuits and Inquisitors and English judges and Muslim clerics and fanatics of all kinds. If they went away, life would be much better. He knew that the flood would get your garden no matter what you did; but you could at least try to keep the priests and the policemen off the grass. It wasn’t enough, but it was something.

This reading appeals to me. Is the world at risk of burning down? Fine: Surely there must be something we can do, locally at least? If not the world, what of our country, our province, our city, our neighbourhood? What of the other communities, geographically dispersed or united by shared commonalities, that we belong to? Even if nothing can be done to change the great impersonal sweep of world events, we can still do things locally. It’s just a matter–“just”, I know–of finding something, some angle, some corner.

This is not meant only for others, mind. It’s for me, too. I try to garden. I’ve a garden right now, in fact.

Peonies growing over garlic in the night #toronto #dovercourtvillage #gardens #garlic #flowers #peonies #pink #night

What should I cultivate, I wonder?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 11, 2018 at 12:00 am

[CAT] Shakespeare, looking down from the red

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Shakespeare, looking down from the red #toronto #dovercourtvillage #shakespeare #caturday #catsofinstagram #catstagram

Written by Randy McDonald

June 9, 2018 at 10:00 pm

[PHOTO] Five photos of Fayum portraits at the Met (@metmuseum)

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a fantastic display of Fayum mummy portraits, samples of Roman portraiture preserved by the dry climate of ancient Egypt. Here, the people of the past look at us.

Portrait of a Young Woman in Red #newyork #newyorkcity #manhattan #metmuseum #egypt #fayumportraits #latergram

Young Woman with a Gilded Wreath #newyork #newyorkcity #manhattan #metmuseum #egypt #fayumportraits #latergram

Fragmentary Shroud with a Bearded Young Man #newyork #newyorkcity #manhattan #metmuseum #egypt #fayumportraits #latergram

Portrait of the Boy Eutyches #newyork #newyorkcity #manhattan #metmuseum #egypt #fayumportraits #latergram

A Man With High Coloring #newyork #newyorkcity #manhattan #metmuseum #egypt #fayumportraits #latergram

Written by Randy McDonald

June 8, 2018 at 3:30 pm

[PHOTO] Six photos of the sakura of High Park, seen from the north

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I headed over to High Park to catch the sakura last month, but forgot to bring an adequately charged camera. These six photos are the best of the ones I was able to take that day. For a full view of the sakura, I had to come back later, on a different evening.

Sakura from the north (1) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Sakura from the north (2) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Sakura from the north (3) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Sakura from the north (4) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Sakura from the north (5) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Sakura from the north (6) #toronto #highpark #sakura #cherryblossom #latergram

Written by Randy McDonald

June 8, 2018 at 12:26 pm