An Incredible Book Journey: Time Was Soft There

Over the next six weeks, I will have the joy of visiting independent bookstores in 23 cities. Follow the trip and meet the many wonderful friends, book people and random characters I encounter along the way.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


This used to be a description of how this dangerous combination - a luxury hotel room, a gambling addict and a pack of cards - culminated in my cousin winning much money and a series of complaints from other hotel guests. Sadly, Dave has censored this entry.

Vancouver gig

Back to the gig after that luxurious respite in the mountains. I was at Fireside, a very young (three years old) but very impressive independent in Vancouver. Great fiction selection and right across from the best French bakery I have seen so far on this trip. Those in the photo are Crystal and Rob, the good people who managed the event.

The show was especially intimidating because of the family and friends in the audience. Aunt Sue, Cousin Brendan, Uncle Bruce, then Dave and Colin. I don’t mind being flat or underwhelming in front of strangers, but I do want to please the people I love.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Beret

My great friend Victoria ( me a beret before I left Marseille so I would have a bit of French culture on my tour. The mountains said ooh-la-la when they saw me.


After four weeks on the road, I was pretty much a wreck. Too much driving, too much drinking, far too little sleep. So Dave drove me up to his newly-purchased mountain retreat, just past the Continental Divide, to resuscitate me. The place brings to mind Hunter S Thompson’s Woody Creek retreat. It has a stream, a small orchard of fruit trees, a well for a private water supply, a splash of forest, and a mountain looming in the distance. With the main house and three small out buildings, it would make for an ideal compound. Revolutions could be started in such a place.

We essentially slept, gorged on vegetables, fruit and healthy foods, and soaked in the nearby Radium Hot Springs. After two days, I am back in fighting form.


The Calgary visit allowed me to visit with my grandparents for the first time in years, and in one instance, the first time ever.

Both my parents are from Calgary, born and raised. They arrived in Ottawa in the 1970s via Toronto, the White Dog Ojibway Reserve, and Pembroke. Their Calgary roots run deep. On my father’s side, it goes back through to the Mercers on his father’s side and the Williams on his mother’s side. This is the grave of my grandmother, Elma, who I never met because she died before I was born. I didn’t get to stay too long with her, but I was able to introduce myself and say a quick hello.

On my mother’s side, the Pashaks are as Calgary as can be. There are pictures at my parents house of the Pashak general store when it ran in the Mission district of the city at the turn of the last century. My grandparents are Harvey and Anne, two wonderful people who lived a good life. I inherited my manic competitiveness from my grandmother, whose intense card playing manner is the stuff of family lore.

It seems to be truism that at a certain age a person becomes more interested in their family history. Perhaps as death becomes more tangible, we seek comfort in the eternity of our genes; for me, at least, graveyard visits help provide context for my own life.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


There are many times one regrets not having a girlfriend, but few are as difficult as at 2 am when you are throwing a romantic dance party. We put on Cat Power's cover of Sea of Love, got all dressed up and and started to dance. The only problem is that Dave has a beautiful and smart and lovely girlfriend by the name of Tara. And I have nobody.

Tara was gracious enough to spare one dance for me, but after that I had to get creative. So I dressed up a foot stool in Tara's clothes and shoes and had me an instant dancing partner. Still, I would have preffered a real person.

Dinner with the Ebners

Anybody visiting Calgary should definitely meet Dave's family. They are wonderful wonderful wonderful. There is a garden and even a little greenhouse in the backyard for fresh vegetables it the fall. And a place to smoke salmon, built by Dave's dad. And great birdfeeders. And the wine room where Dave's dad turns grape juice into great wine.

It was simply so much fun eating and talking and schnappsing. We could have kept it up until 6 in the morning and we have promised that next time we will. Dave's dad is Erwin and his mom is Annelies. Good good people.

Another bar

Yes, there is a pattern to this trip, the constant lubrication of beverages. Constant celebration. This particular photo reflects our relief that the signing in Calgary came to a close. Aside from Dave, who you already know (very well if you read the book; he is an important and recurring character) you see here Bryn, a writer with Fast Forward magazine, and Alison, a friend of Daniel M.'s from Paris who used to attend KMZ events at the Paris squat and, oddly enough, once squatted my old apartment on rue Dauphine for week when it was under renovation. Strange world.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A tale of three fridges

Dave's fridge.

His girl Tara's fridge.

His mom & dad's fridge.

Calgary Dave

I recently got asked a question about my favourite person I lived with at the bookstore and I had to qualify out people who worked at the bookstore while I lived there (Luke), people who lived there after or before me (Quinn, Adrian etc), and people I knew before I lived at the bookstore but who came and visited me at the bookstore while I lived there (Dave from Calgary). I just figured it wasn't in the spirit of the question.

Essentially, Dave is one of my best friends in the world and this is him in front of the Calgary skyline. He is working as the oil and gas specialist for the Globe and Mail and learning much about the industry that shapes our world. I am very happy to say this is his car, a friendly and efficient Datsun that is some 20 years old.

And this an underground BMX track we discovered while scrambling down some ridge in urban Calgary.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Burning Cars in France

So people ask me about this all the time and I try to explain but nobody has explained better than my friend Nadia in a recent email:

"On gèle en ce moment, alors, comme tu le sais, les petits ont foutu le
feu aux banlieues – et notamment aux voitures -histoire de chauffer un
peu l’atmosphère. Toutes les grandes villes ont touchées, exception
faite de Marseille.

"Et, oui, ici, il y a peut-être des barres HLM mais elles donnent sur la
mer, c’est pas pareil ! Ah ! Massalia, ville ouverte, lieu de tous les
mélanges, port d’accueil du monde…mon cul ! On a tout simplement 15 ans de retard ici, mais lorsque je vois comment l’Europe évolue, je me dis que c’est déjà ça de gagner…

"L’investiture de Merkel, la commémoration de Franco en Espagne, la
milice de Sarko le nabot qui maintient le couvre-feu dans plusieurs
villes françaises ( Sarkozy soutenu par 70 °/ des français !), la
répression, la censure, la peur de l’autre…il est dans l’air de vieilles
odeurs rances bien connues de l’Europe, surtout lorsqu’elle est en
crise, qui m’empoisonnent l’existence mais dont le peuple entier se
félicite, et j’ai bien peur de n’avoir effectivement pas le même nez que
la plupart des français."

Buy Nothing Day

Having arrived safely in Calgary, I just wanted to remind everyone that tomorrow (Friday, November 25th) is Buy Nothing Day, the annual event organized by Adbusters ( which serves to remind us of the over-whelming role of consumerism and materialism in modern life by cutting us off from our buying addiction for 24 hours. Try spending the day at home with a book, making a stew out of whatever you find in the bottom drawer of your fridge, going for a walk ...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


As I write this, it is 1:21 pm in Minneapolis. I have to be in Calgary for a signing at noon tomorrow. According to MapQuest, this is a 20 hour and 55 minute drive. The math is daunting, the drive will be hell. Two thoughts run through my head. Thank Quinn he introduced me to proper ephedrine dosing while we worked ourselves to nervous breakdowns at the Kilometer Zero squat in Paris. And secondly, thanks to time zones, I have that Around-the-World-in-80-Days buffer of an extra hour. But still. Damn.


Things have gotten far too speed. Milwaukee, Iowa City, Minneapolis ... I am beginning to lose track to time and space. I am also feeling good people begin to slip through my fingers. At Micawber's bookstore, I had the briefest glimpses of two gems: Hans, the bookstore manager, and Patty, Peggy from Milwaukee's sister. Instead of proper conversations, though, I was left with the fumes of rushed words, the melancholy feeling that I should have gotten to know them, and a probably a dozen other people better ...

Of course, it must be said that I was utterly spoiled here too. My old friend from Paris. Rachel, who I met at Shakespeare, is here. She is now a surging star in the burlesque world with her Lily Vanderloo character and will soon captivate the world now that she is touring solo. (She used to be the shining light of the Atomic Bombshells. Kind Rachel gave me shelter for the night, made me sweet tea and fed me sugared rose petals and fresh-baked corn bread and ... and ... and ... well, once again I am amazed that I have so many brilliant and loving friends.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The wonders of Iowa

I must admit, Iowa City was one of the stops I was especially looking forward to. Prairie Lights is a universally renowned independent bookstore and, because of the writers' workshop, the city is a legend among literati. The bookstore lived up to all expectations - the people, the vibe, the boosk. It was also a flattering event as it was broadcast live on Iowa NPR and filmed for the University of Iowa television station. The only sad part is that I didn't get any photos because I rushed out of the store when I was done because there was this eerie madman in the audience who insisted that Enron had put out a 35-million dollar hit on him and he really wanted to discuss this with me.

Instead, I have photos of a really impressive cafe near the bookstore that served drip coffee; bar bathroom graffiti that you only find in a town of writers; and this great statue that was outside of the Cedar Rapids Public library. It will have to suffice until my next visit to Prairie lights ...

Monday, November 21, 2005

I love Bill Clinton

I think the Dooleys and I should be the model for modern political discourse. The Dooleys are diehard Republicans, Peggy even having worked for Tommy Thompson for a spell when he was Wisconsin governor. I, of course, think the Democrats are a more compassionate right wing party but yearn for a true socialist alternative in the United States. Yet despite this divide, we can discuss politics and eat our fish fries with out a single harsh word or thrown chunk of cod.

The Dooleys were even kind enough to take me to Katie’s Diner where President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at lunch back in 1996. I was one of the many millions who were charmed and inspired by Clinton (I even drove down to Hope, Arkansas with my parents' dog Britty a few weeks after the 1996 election.) And I am also one of a smaller group who wasn't completely disappointed by his White House passions. (Yes, he lied, but to protect his family, and I believe a President should have a fuller understanding of human temptations. I would respect George W. Bush a lot more if he had admitted to his cocaine use and told the nation that he knew first-hand why this is such a corrosive drug.)

When Clinton came to Milwaukee, the secret service chose Katie's for its authenticity and its security-friendly location. Lots of space for a helicopter to land in case an evacuation was necessary, mirrored windows so snipers couldn’t see where Clinton was sitting, and on a ridge above industrial Milwaukee for perfect surveillance. Everyone at Katie’s loved Bill and even if the Dooleys grimaced every time I said I hoped the Man From Hope would become First Man in 2008, they were good sports. We got to sit at Clinton’s table and Mom Dooley got to sit where Bill sat, complete with her Milwaukee special of a Bloody Caesar with a beer chaser.

Harry Schwartz

Have you ever watched a beauty pageant and fallen more deeply in love with each successive candidate? Miss Haiti, she’s the woman of my dreams. No, wait, it’s Miss Denmark. Wait, wait, no, it’s Miss Greece. That’s kind of what it’s like to do a tour of independent bookstores. Each one is so utterly complex and enchanting that you are sure it’s the best one ever … until the next one comes along.

So, needless to say, I am now infatuated with Harry Schwartz in Milwaukee. Very good people at the store, notably Jay, the writer/event coordinator just returned from New York City (pictured alongside the Schwartz sandwich board. Great books. And a really animated audience. (Perhaps my appearance on the ‘Milwaukee Midweek’ radio program filled the seats with more attentive bums.)

What is also energizing is that because my book is about France and everyone is still buzzing about the burning car phenomenon, at Harry Schwartz I was asked questions about current affairs. This allowed me to jump up on my soapbox, which is really my favourite thing to do in life. My spiel? France has been pretty smug, using its honourable anti-war stance to blindly ridicule all things American, so it is something of a relief to see the country knocked into the mud. France is an utter failure at giving its immigrant and lower classes opportunities to climb the social and economic ladder. As an outsider, I’m not affected by this inherent class-ism, but for my French friends who weren’t lucky enough to be born into a middle or upper class family, there is nowhere near the same cultural openness or upward mobility that you find in Canada or the United States.

What France needs is a 20-year program that invests heavily in education, most importantly, an education relevant to its new population. My friend Nadia is a teacher at a lycee and she is continually horrified that the French culture that is taught is still the lily white, overly romanticized tradition of Voltaire and Balzac with nothing to represent the reality of the five million Magrebian immigrants or any other French subculture. The thing the government needs to do is take a long term perspective so that those born in the French ghettos in 2010 arrive at the age of 15 with hope and optimism, not utter despair and bitterness. As I said at Harry Schwartz, if I had been born in St. Denis and given no hope or help, I would have been setting cars on fire too.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Frozen Custard

At least three times I was told that when in Milwaukee I must try the frozen custard. Sure, I said, why not. But little did I imagine it would be such a profound experience.

The most renowned frozen custard stand in Milwaukee is a place called Kopp’s. As we drove up, my wonderful host in Milwaukee, Peggy Dooley, explained to me the incredible history of Kopp’s. It was the inspiration for Arnold’s in the classic television series ‘Happy Days.’ This opened my eyes to the entire hardcore Milwaukee sitcom scene: Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Joanie Loves Chachie were all based in ‘a great city by a great lake’. (This is Milwaukee’s old city motto.), Even Mork & Mindy started here when Mork was a subplot for Happy Days. (An alien as a subplot? As Peggy says, it was late in the series and the writers were clearly desperate for ideas when they decided to mingle the Fonz with an alien..) In any case, it seems for a while there, Milwaukee was the epicentre of television comedy.

The frozen custard? Sublime. I had the Grasshopper Fudge, Peggy had the Butter Brickle, and as Kopp’s offers a ‘flavour of the day’, I intend to visit every day of my Milwaukee stay.

The Winnetka Bookstall

The drive north from Chicago was charm in a car. For once, I forsook (forsaked?) MapQuest and decided to just drive along Lake Michigan. I was rewarded with a tour of Chicago’s mansioned suburbs and constant views of dusk over water though a 20-minute drive turned into a one-hour-and-forty-minute drive after repeatedly getting lost those suburbs ...

Winnetka is one such suburb and the Book Stall is a well-thought-of independent bookstore in the heart of it. The reading went well, even though I was head-to-head with the author James Morris and his book about churches. The best part was a woman in the audience who had once lived in Big Sur, met Henry Miller and attended Anais Nin’s funeral. She has plenty of archives and if all goes well, I shall get to thumb through them in the near future.

Photo: Jay of Bookstall fame ...


My first major publicity gig for the British version of the book (yes, Books, Baguettes & Bedbugs) was an interview with Kate Mosse on the BBC. I was a tad dough-headed as it was far too early in the morning, but it was utterly brilliant as I was in the Chicago National Public Radio studios and I have a fetish for all things public radio. After the interview, Mary gave me a tour, showing me the studios, the rainbow-wired sound room, and the view of Chicago from their perch at the end of Navy Pier. She also gave me a really cool mug from Chicago Public Radio.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


This funny thing happened to me. I ate lunch at Taqueria, one of the two Mexican joints around the corner from Jaime’s, and then ducked into the Internet café to do some email. After a while, this beautiful and staggeringly pregnant young woman came in and sat down at the computer next to me. Conversation arose and I learned she was from Minnesota, she was 24 years old, she played hockey and rugby at university, she used to work as a nurse, she was due to give birth to a boy on January 2nd. She also complained about her 44-year-old boyfriend, the father’s child, who rarely made time to see her. She lived on the North Side of Chicago, he the South, and it seemed they saw each other about once every 10 days.

So, it was one of those pleasant, unremarkable encounters that happen on the road. Until this woman asked me for computer help. She needed to post an ad on, which is some kind of escort network. It turns out, that under the name Moné, she had been working as an escort for the past ten months.

“It’s the best job I ever had,’ she told me. ‘You earn 300 dollars an hour and you just have to be able to separate having sex from making love.’

Maybe … but I wasn’t so convinced by the happy hooker thing. For my research on my next book (the murderer was an aspiring pimp) I read Iceberg Slim’s ‘Pimp’ and Moné’s story seemed like one of Iceberg’s stories. She met her ‘boyfriend’ in a club and began prostituting herself less than two months later. The man didn’t seem to care much about her or the child. And she was from rural Minnesota and the word was that Chicago pimps loved to prey on young women from rural Minnesota because they are blond, blue-eyed and incredibly naïve.

Then there was the whole question of the baby. Moné was still working, still taking calls at nearly eight months pregnant, putting on great shoes and slinky maternity dresses and arriving at the downtown hotels to service clients. My great love, the woman who saw me through the book and is now, sadly, my ex-great love, had a theory about pregnant sex. She thought the baby could feel the father’s energy and that the splashes of the father’s sperm were healthy for the baby. I believe this too, so the inverse must be true. How does the baby feel about his mother’s hooking? There must be incredibly bad energy there.

After the Internet café, Moné took me to the Salvation Army to try and buy me a warmer jacket and the whole thing was extremely disconcerting. A part of me was charmed because she was such a lively and fun woman (a Gemini); part of me wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her (she would have none of it; her mother tried to talk out of hooking but to no avail); part of me hated men, especially asshole pimp men; and part of me hated myself because there was a tremor of titillation to be shopping for used clothes with a beautiful pregnant escort.

In the end, there was nothing to be done. Moné drove off to try and track down her boyfriend and I drove up north along Lake Michigan to Winnetka, wondering where Moné and her child would be in two, five, ten years. I am optimistic by nature but I have a hard time seeing a happy ending here.

Barbara’s Bookstore

Reason number 48 for Sparkle Hayter’s magnificence? A veteran of a dozen book tours, in Europe and North America on the way down to Boston she counselled me on the pitfalls ahead. Don’t worry if nobody shows up, she said, it happens and when it does just smile and retire to a bar for drink.

So, indeed, it does happen and thankfully I was well warned. I blame the Chicago weather of course. Scalpel winds, burning snow flurries, temperatures near zero and not in a happy Celsius kind of way. I sure the hell wouldn’t have left my apartment to go to a bookstore reading so I am pleased to report that my readers are wise people too.

But you know what? Things turned out. I got to spend some good time with some good people. Kevin was there because he is the manager type at Barabara’s Bookstore. Incredible guy who organizes circus parties and keeps this intriguing blog about is material purchases and his attempts to have a weekly ‘Buy Nothing Day. It’s at: Give it an eye.

Then there was Mike, a writer with ‘Stop Smiling (The Magazine for High-Minded Lowlifes)’. He came to do an interview, which we happily conducted at the Skylark, an authentic Chicago bar recommended by Bookstore Kevin which served collard greens and artichoke-spinach dip and, clearly, beer. Hunter S. Thompson once said that the key to interviewing was to get your subject drunk and record everything he says. I am pleased to report Mike seems to be in the Thompson school of journalism.

The Art Institute of Chicago

This is one of those museums you need about 18 visits to do justice to. A few hours was enough to awe me.

I saw a new van Gogh I loved, some men getting drunk at an outdoor fair.

Then there was a Magritte that posed an interesting translation challenge. The painting is of a train emerging from a fire place and his original French title was ‘La durée poignardée’. The English title became ‘Time Transfixed’ and Magritte hated it. I agree it doesn’t capture the depth of the French but I haven’t yet come up with a better translation. Anyone?

This painting by Archibald Motley Jr. pretty much depicts the atmosphere at the Green Mill, which I iterate, is one of my favourite bars in my history of barring.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Jaime Verdugo

I met Jaime (he is of Mexican extract, so his name is pronounced ‘Haime’ because ‘J’ is ‘H’ in Spanish) at Shakespeare and Company in 2000. He was broke with no place else to go and asked George to stay and was allowed two weeks at the bookstore. I am exceedingly happy to have met him.

Jaime has lived in big cities. New York, Mexico City, Los Angeles, detours through Paris, Amsterdam and Austin, and now Chicago. He is one of those people who definitely has a file at some government agency, either through his work with or just his general subversive ways. He writes too, which you can experience for yourself here.

Jaime moved to Chicago three months ago and still has nothing in his apartment. When I say nothing, I am barely exaggerating. He has a bed roll, two guitars, some books and CDs. But no furniture, no wall art, no plants, a starkly empty fridge. The lack of comforts makes everything seem a little more real. If you are poor and rootless and new to a city, why bother to pretend otherwise?

A windy city ...

So, suddenly I remember what if feels like to be cold. Ever since moving to the south of France, I have been telling people I am a proud Canadian who has unfortunately become allergic to Canadian winters. Now the story makes sense again.

I got into Chicago last night and the wind was blowing fierce. How fierce? The local ABC affiliate reported that one young man was crushed under a roof that got blown off a building, a hundred billboards were toppled and trees lost their branches across the city. In more clinical terms, the temperature, with wind chill, was something like 3 degrees, which is in Fahrenheit, which, if my calculations are correct, makes for minus 79 Celsius. This kind of cold makes every minute outside unpleasant. My muscles ached from tensing, my ear froze, my teeth hurt. But the amazing thing … well, there are two.

First, despite all this torturous wind, this isn’t the reason for the city’s nickname. Chicago is called the Windy City because of all the corrupt politicians who have blown hot wind here. The name apparently dates back to the 1920s. Three separate Chicogoans, all huddled against this vile cold wind, told me this story in an ‘Isn’t that ironic’ sort of way.

And the second amazing thing is that I absolutely love Chicago despite my physical discomfort. Everyone I have met, everything I have visited, it all feels tremendously real. It has got me thinking of that old saying about how adversity builds character. If you live in a tough place, whether it be my town of Marseille with its poverty and crime, or a place like Chicago with its six months of hard weather, it takes a little fortitude to endure it. That fortitude makes for strong and interesting people. Though I love places like Paris, I think that for the mainstream population, the city is too easy to create real characters, that the BoBos who thrive there end up like those damn hollow chocolate Easter bunnies, real sweet and alluring on the surface, but when you really push, nothing inside.

Of course, my opinion of Chicago might be affected by the fact that within two hours of my arrival, I was in perhaps the best bar of my life. The joint is called the Green Mill, it is a jazz bar that has been operating continuously since 1907, it has booths and a real stand up bar and mirrors and four types of bourbon and music that makes you want to spend your whole life in one of those booths drinking that bourbon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Suzanne, Martin, David

As I am using the free computers at Cleveland State University, I can't really complain about micro problems, but the pictures didn't go up last time so here we go again ...

Craig's List

I have been using Craig’s List ( as resource to find good bookstores, offer ride shares, and, when all other possibilities fall through, find a place to stay for the night.

The Cleveland Craig’s List community was especially open to hosting a wayward writer and several people offered up a spare room. I ended up staying with a woman name Julie and her roommates and friends in a suburb of Cleveland called Euclid. She really did the spare room up, even leaving me a fresh bar of soap and little package of tissues beside the bed. The next morning, we drove into Cleveland State University (which you see out the rainy window) where she both works (in the marketing department) and studies (music). She even lent me her password so I could do free Internet in the university computer lab. Though we may differ on certain religious issues (she is a committed Catholic, while I continue my pagan ways and worship many gods from many religions), she is very kind indeed.

Serendipity in Cleveland ...

When I was sitting in Marseille calling independent bookstores to try to organize this book tour, the reaction from Cleveland was especially uplifting. Suzanne of Mac’s Backs was enthusiastic and thanked me for calling and made sure we booked a good date together. (As a general rule, all the independent bookstores have been kind on the phone, save for several in Alberta, Canada who made me feel really vulgar for calling and clearly didn’t want anything to do with me.)

With Suzanne’s phone welcome, I imagined Mac’s Backs would be a great time but never guessed it would have been so fateful. Beyond the wonderful store and people at the reading, there were two visitors who knew George and Shakespeare and Company extremely well.

The first fellow of note was a man named Martin, who owns the Barking Spider tavern in Cleveland (where we retired to after the reading for two bottles of Chilean red.) Martin eloped Paris in the 1960s and he and his new wife Nancy had walked into Shakespeare and Company. George, in his typical fashion, offered them a meal, a job and a place to stay. Martin remembers being asked to clean out the basement - a mission most impossible - and cooking soups with George on the third floor.

The second guest was David Burke, a neighbour of George’s in Paris. It should be said that George and his neighbours often don’t get along. After all, George runs a chaotic Bohemian bookstore with people and animals scurrying about at all hours of the day and night, thus disqualifying him from any Serene Neighbour award. David says George was always somewhat gruff and distant with him, which is a side of George’s personality that only people who know him for a while are privileged to see. I’m not sure if David took it as a compliment or not ...

Photos: Suzanne at Mac’s Backs, Martin at the Barking Spider, David at the Barking Spider.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Toronto Island

On the list of places I have always wanted to live, Toronto Island has a prominent spot. For those not familiar, it is a short ferry ride from downtown Toronto and it is green and beautiful and tranquil. My friend Julia, who is a friend of Anicee who I shared an atelier with in Marseille, needed to go out to the Island to pick up some bicycles so I tagged along.

It turned out to be one of those destiny type events. Julia’s bicycle was with her friend Jay Gazley, who is an artist in residence at the Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts, an artists’ colony on the island. Jay gave me a tour of the centre, which is in an old school, and it immediately flashed that I could come here and work on a book one day. You can get a studio and bedroom package for just 475 Canadian dollars in the winter (it goes up to 650 in the summer) and it has everything you need: a great community of people to keep you inspired and fight the writer’s loneliness; but quiet studios with doors that close so you can actually get work done. These kinds of possibilities make me want to live to about 140 so I can do everything I want to.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

This Ain't The Rosedale Library

I am discovering there is a correlation between how many friends I have coming to a reading and how anxious I am before that reading. With friends in the audience, I feel slightly more pressure to put on a good show because they have taken time out from their inevitably busy lives to see me. Thus, for the Toronto gig with Sarah and Mike and Harmon and Lisa and Kelly and all the As It Happens people and Kari from HB Fenn and ... well, I was absolutely stricken with panic. Thankfully, Charlie, one of the pillars of This Ain’t The Rosedale Library (perhaps the best bookstore in Canada), was kind and welcoming and my friends were, were, my friends, meaning incredibly good and supportive people. So all went well.

After the show, we retired at Ted’s Collision on College for a refreshing beverage and I quickly rediscovered the Canadian drinking pace. (In France, people generally order a ‘demi’ of beer, about 250 ml. My friends in Toronto are more comfortable ordering by the pitcher. Messy messy messy but any evening that involves mad table dancing with my cousin Amanda and Dara from Thunder Bay is an unqualified success. As for those memory holes, blame Harmon.

Pictures: me and the wonderful Sarah Martin; the general chaos of This Ain’t The Rosedale Library; my cousin Amanda and Mike Miner

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Can you believe this kid? Not only is he dead handsome but he carries himself like a young viscount. In what is a surprise to nobody, Sarah and Xavier are superb parents. This just drives home what I believe: All of my friends should start having many many babies because my friends are good people and their babies will become good people and it is our job to keep the forces of good replenished.

Talking Leaves

Talking Leaves is Buffalo’s oldest independent bookstore and famed in American bookselling circles. It was honour enough to be invited to sign books there, but what turned out to be even more rewarding was getting to know the store manager, Lucy. As a rule, bookstores attract good people and Lucy proves this rule 7 times over. Kind, intelligent, socially active, book loving. And listen to this: we both have red hair and blue eyes, I’m left-handed and she’s ambidextrous, and both of our fathers are guidance counsellors. How wonderfully eerie is that?

Global Freeloading ...

As you might already know, I am trying to make it through this entire 42-day tour without paying for a single hotel room. In many cities, I am lucky enough to have friends with couches or bedrooms to spare. But there remain a few cracks and some of these cracks I’ve been filling with This is an online community who offer up free space in their homes or apartments to fellow travellers. In Pittsburgh, a wonderful journalist by the name of Violet Law arranged this extremely comfortable bed for me on the bottom floor of her apartment. Live cheap, I say.

Friday, November 11, 2005


I was especially excited to visit Pittsburgh because it was the first ‘virgin’ stop on my tour. It is exhilarating to visit a new city, to see the skyline and landscape for the first time. Pittsburgh completely awed me. There are houses that rise up along the slopes of the river banks, creating an European feel. The downtown is perched on the meeting point of the famous three rivers. People were unhesitatingly friendly. Joseph Beth is a great bookstore. And there was the Andy Warhol Museum. (This is a photo of the Jesus punching bags, my favourite installation.) In short, I could live in Pittsburgh, based on my 18 hours in the city.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Vitamin of Champions

During the hard years in Paris, I experimented with all sorts of chemical solutions to my sleep-deprived state of chronic fatigue. Amazingly, the answer was an over-the-counter miracle called Pharmaton with its tidy combination of ‘Vitamines, Mineraux, Ginseng.’ When Sparkle visited me in Marseille and was suffering from a fractured bone leg, I fed her Pharmaton and she became a devotee too. In New York, a veteran of many chemicals tried one of my vitamin pills and asked for another the next night. What further proof do you need? On this trip, I take on of these midnight black horse pills 45 minutes before my gig and then let the warm soothing energy flow through me.

The Chapters Crisis

My reading in Washington was held at Chapters, a wonderful independent bookstore in downtown Washington run by Terri Merz and Steve Moyer. The store has just celebrated its 20th anniversary but there is great concern it won’t reach its 21st.

The store faces the challenges of all independents: a nearby Barnes & Noble, the deep discounts offered by online booksellers, and the dwindling audience for quality literature. To save the store, Terri and Steve are trying to turn it into a non-profit organization, a brilliant idea, but an idea that needs a lot of support. For the moment, they are hoping 1600 people will make $50 tax deductible donations to the store which will provide the financial base for the non-profit foundation. Thus far, more than 200 people have donated. What can you do to save this independent?

1) Become a donor by contacting Chapters at 202-737-5553

2) If you live in Washington DC, do all your holiday shopping at Chapters

3) Get involved in the Chapters community by volunteering to organize events and readings that will bring more people into the store.

I repeat here my mantra about bookstores. All are good, for a book is a noble item and to sell them is a noble endeavour. But independents are precious because they do the one thing the chains and internet sites don't: they build communities. Independent bookstores are more often than not drop-in centres and social clubs. They provide help and advice and inspiration that you just can't get from browsing an online bookseller. They need to be kept alive. Do your bit in Washington.

Look who came to the reading ...

From the deep and murky jungles of the Kilometer Zero past: the Barry sisters (Katerina and Jecca) with their friend Jay.

My agent's birds ...

When I come through Washington DC, I stay in the Arlington Wildlife Sanctuary. My agent, Kristin Lindstrom, and her husband Perry, have a collection of household fauna:

Elsie: An apple-loving dog who looked like a cow as a puppy.

Hugo: Much hairier and a little more Zen than Elsie, he was named after the French writer.

Peewee: A Senegal parrot, adopted from the Phoenix Landing shelter for abused and neglected birds.

Timmy: The newest arrival, he is a Timneh African grey parrot and is also a rescued bird.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Jonny and Amanda

You’ve already met their dogs, so now here are Jonny and Amanda, two dear friends who fall into the top micro-percentile of all living beings on earth.

Jonny is a fellow Canadian who I met when he came through Paris and Shakespeare and Company back in 2000. We became close when we road-tripped to distribute Kilometer Zero magazine in 2001 (though he still hasn’t forgiven me for trying to pin a car theft on him) and then even closer when he moved into the Chateaudun art squat in Paris in 2002 (we played petanque at 5 am and then watched the sun come up on the squat roof his first morning). He is now a stealth bomber of subversion, slipping all kinds of hyper-progressive material into the columns of The L Magazine where he is executive editor.

Amanda is an artist and editor who Jonny and I (along with this freak of humanity named Adrian Hornsby, but that, as Hammy Hamster said, is a story for another day) met when on the 2001 KMZ distribution tour. Amanda, a fellow Aquarian, owns Clovis Press, the best bookstore in Brooklyn (229 Bedford Avenue - you MUST visit). Since that meeting in August 2001 everyone has become best of friends, except for Jonny and Amanda, who have become best of LOVES and are going to be married in September 2006 in what is certain to be the top wedding held in America at anytime over the past 7 years. (How do we know this? Well, I am the official wedding gardener and I have all the inside bumf and all that inside bumf is sensational.)

Jonny and Amanda came down to Philadelphia for Jim's party and we spent a lovely day wandering the city. This picture is taken in the back of a horse drawn carriage while we were taking the historical tour. We all loved CJ the horse and Amanda even trekked several blocks to buy the horse a rosy apple.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

America and Taxes

As something of a neo-comm, I am a big fan of taxes. As I see it, the more taxes we pay, the better our community. Taxes pay for roads, school, police, libraries, museums ... all the stuff that makes a city and country great. More taxes, I say. In fact, it has always confused me that America hasn’t recognized this for America is usually a nation of astute consumers. Every American knows that if you pay more and buy a Lexus instead of Cavalier, the extra money is worth it because you get a better product. But, when it comes to taxes, Americans want to pay less and have an economy country instead of paying more and having a luxury country. So strange, so strange.

Why am I thinking about this? Because on a historical tour of Philadelphia, I learned of one of the first American tax evasion schemes. Back in the day, the King (who really shouldn’t have been taxing without representation, so glory glory to the Revolution) taxed houses based on how many panes of glass you had in your windows. So, all of a sudden, there was a rage for shutters and on tax day all the houses closed their shutters so the tax assessor couldn’t count the panes. Pretty clever stuff ....

Ride Sharing

As you might know, in an effort to promote ethical car use, I am inviting people to ride share, that is to come along with me on the trip to save gas and make better use of the car. So far, every mile has been ride-shared. First it was my hero and mentor, Sparkle Hayter, and then it was the lovely Rebecca Dolgoy (pictured in front of the Liberty Bell, or at least the building where the Liberty Bell is kept) who made sure I paid attention to important road rules such as ‘Don’t Block the Box.’

Jim Gladstone's Party

What has been so incredible so far is how friends, old and new, have gone out of their way to make this journey special.

Take Jim Gladstone. We met in Paris where he was working on his second novel and generally living the good life. He is a writer - The Big Book of Misunderstanding, Gladstone’s Games to Go, Skin & Ink (editor) - and an idea man of astonishing capacity. Anybody in search of a million dollar idea should just stand near Jim for a half hour or so and wait with an ear cupped. Fortune and fame will ensue, so long as you can execute well.

Jim lives in a brilliant apartment in Philadelphia that could pass for a solarium. It is about 150 feet long, which means you can dash about with abandon, and there are windows everywhere. He threw me a party (we were soaked in wine and cheese) which attracted a great swath of Philadelphia’s more interesting folk, including an opera singer who awed us all.

If you are going through Philadelphia, Jim will probably even give you a tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary, one of his favourite spots in the city. It was built by Quakers early in the 19th century and is the first modern vision of a prison. Just contact him through his website,

(Note that the picture of Jim and myself was taken by Jim’s old friend Jeff, who is in the other photo. I was in such a fever party state that I forgot to take pictures, except for the opera singer, who you can see in full flight.)

New York City Marathon

Not only is Williamsburg Brooklyn’s style ghetto, it is also on the marathon route. Jonny, Amanda, and I walked the half block from their apartment to Bedford Avenue to watch the runners. It was so exhausting watching them speed by (we were at Mile 11) that we had to go eat a whopping Spanish breakfast to restore our vigour. Exercise is good like that.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Wonder Scott

It is not often I am with someone who outenthusiasms myself, yet once again Scott Stedman has left me choking on his superlatives.

Scott came through Paris in the year 2000 and stayed at Shakespeare and Company at the same time I did. He was working on a Walter Benjamin project (which is well documented in my book), has a head full of eccentricities (which are well documented in my book) and is a genuine friend (which I hope comes across in my book). Scott fears my rendering of him might leave readers with the impression he is somewhat limp. Far from the truth! Rigorous, sturdy, studly, that is our Scott Stedman.

Scott is also the mastermind behind The L Magazine, which is a potent (potent!) mix of listings and progressive content. He has sacrificed about 4 years of sleep to get this magazine up and moving and it simply wouldn’t have happened without his optimism and moxy. Take a look at the online version if you don’t live in New York:

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Chelsea Hotel Party

Do you ever have one of those nights whose very existence is so special that you are are stunned and that you know you will remember for the rest of your life? Friday evening was one such night for me.

With the help of our dear friend Musa Gurnis (wondrous smile), the eternally generous Sparkle Hayter (working on her computer pre-fete) organized a party for me at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street. Not much hasn’t been said about the Chelsea. Sparkle lived there for many years and one of her Robin Hudson books (The Chelsea Girl Murders) is set in the hotel. For the party, Sparkle rented a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the 8th floor that has been lived in by the likes of Viva and Ethan Hawke. There were flowers and lovely spreads of food and more varieties of liquour than I have fingers and toes. But most important were the people.

Dozens of Sparkle’s old New York friends came (that's her with Victor Navasky), as well as a swath of our Paris friends, all of the people from The L Magazine, and Musa’s New York circle too. Every last one of them was engaging and eccentric and a joy to be around. The party went until 4 and though there were many moments of high excitement and melodrama, there was only one really scandalous event which must remain anonymous for the next several years at least, though I do tip my hat to Musa’s friend Joshua who deftly resolved a delicate situation.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

St. Martin’s Press

How do I love my publisher? Let me count the ways:

1) They were the only ones to take a chance on me.

2) They are in the Flatiron, perhaps the most inspiring building in New York City.

3) There is an endless supply of kind and talented people who work there. For example:

Mike Flamini: This is my editor who has show remarkable faith in me and has thus far taken me out to two superb lunches. The first was for sushi back in the fall of 2004 when I first signed with St. Martin’s. Even though I was a minnow in the publishing ocean, Mike made me feel like a fair-sized tuna. Yesterday, he took me to BLT Fish, a restaurant governed by this French chef and which offers such delights as cream filled jalapenos. This time he made me feel like a smallish whale. I’m not sure what it means that we ate fish.

Elizabeth Coxe and Vicki Lame: Ahhh, the perks of dropping by your publishers’ office. Elizabeth and Vicki do tremendous work in the publicity department at St. Martin’s, so after my lunch with Mike I stopped in to say hello. As I have more than a hundred hours of driving ahead of me (St. Paul-Calgary and Denver-St. Louis are two of the more daunting stretches), I wondered aloud whether St. Martin’s had any books on tape they could lend me. Elisabeth and Vicki took me to the fourth floor (they are on the 14th) and it was like trick-or-treating, but better because it was audio books instead of little packs of Smarties. In my bag? ‘The World is Flat’ (Thomas Friedman), ‘Running With Scissors’ and ‘Dry’ (Augusten Burroughs), ‘A Year in the Merde’ (Stephen Clarke), ‘Snobs’ (Julian Fellowes), and ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ (Susanna Clarke).

Harriet Seltzer: We just randomly bumped into Harriet while waiting for the elevator, which was nice because we emailed a lot when she setting up a very special event in Dayton for me. I would normally not include this picture because I look like a bit of a ninny, but Harriet looks so lovely, how could I exclude it?

There are also many other wonderful people at St. Martin’s, such as Katherine Tiernan, but I didn’t get to take their pictures because my camera ran out of battery.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Faolain & Miika

Faolain (speckled grey, white & black) and Miika (lovely brown) are two fabulous vegetarian dogs who are owned by two fabulous vegetarian people. (The people you will meet very very soon.)

Gig # 2

FreeBird Books
123 Columbia Street
Brooklyn, New York

What a brilliant little bookstore. It’s in the Red Hook bit of Brooklyn, and it faces out onto the river and you can see the Manhattan skyline from the front window. Inside, it is the kind of place where the books jump out of the shelves at you and you end up with something in your hand that you never knew existed but might have been written specifically for you.

The evening featured two very young talented writers, Nikki Westfall and Leslie Campisi, and me with my show and tell. I think it was a good mix, one of those perfectly balanced plates with dorade, rice and asparagus arranged all photogenically with a slice of lemon. I think I was the asparagus.

What really impressed me were the people who came. Amy Sather, an old friend from Paris who was actually supposed to be in the book until her ex-fiancee ordered me to bump her out. (Long story.) Leah Hayes, who edited the music section of Kilometer Zero Issue # 3 and showed divine taste and inspiration in doing so. Oliver, one of the founders of Atlantis Books in Greece, and his lovely partner Ryan, who lived at the bookstore in the summer of 2004 and travelled with George to the south of France. Then, there were all these Shakespeare people who I had briefly crossed or barely missed while in Paris and filled me with me with their memories of the bookstore, our art squat, and that general scene. I felt incredibly spoiled and lucky to have everybody there and I wish I had bought everybody a drink but instead Amy bought me a bourbon and that was the perfect finish to the evening.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Boston to New York

A bit of nastiness in Connecticut. Sure I cut off a truck driver while pulling into the Dunkin’ Donuts. And, yes, immediately after I did run through a stop sign because I was so flustered. But still, you wouldn’t think everybody would react with such anger. Nobody got hurt, nothing got dented and the sun was shining. People need to relax a little more or else the stress of driving will kill them.

Gig # 1

Brookline Booksmith
279 Howard St.
Brookline, Massachusetts

I am not a fan of readings. Stories and poems are written with a reader in mind and reading is an internal process, an intimate relationship between the author and the reader. From my experience, written work often loses its thrust and elegance when read aloud to an audience of 30 or 40 people perched awkwardly on folding chairs. When we organized our Kilometer Zero Venue series in Paris, one of main motivations was having to attend other readings in Paris and sitting numb and bored while a writer droned on for 40 minutes. There had to be a better way for a writer to interact with an audience, so we urged people to become performers, we limited their stage time, and we asked them to, at all costs, avoid long monotonous passages.

When faced with presenting my book, I wanted to live up to the Kilometer Zero standards. With the voice of the legendary Tom Pancake ricocheting in my head, I came up with a bit of a literary show and tell, something I hoped would engage and entertain people. Did it work? I obviously can’t know for sure, but I think everyone at the Brookline Booksmith had, at the very least, an interesting evening. One person told me she had confused dates and thought it was a reading from a book about the coach of the New England Patriots. She said 'Instead, I was treated to hearing about Shakespeare & Co. Thank you for that animated and interesting presentation.' No, thank you Claire.

Boston is a great book town and the bookstore people were fabulous, especially the coordinator Janet Potter, who kept the panic away before the show started and gave me the wonderful gift of Cloud Atlas at the end. (She is the one smiling widely in the picture.) Janet was in Paris in 2000 and knew Shakespeare and Company so it was ideal. The other amazing thing was the old friends who turned up. The parents of Scott Stedman, a dear friend from Paris and a character in the book, were in attendance and were incredibly supportive. And another Paris fellow, Ethan Gilsdorf, biked madly to the Brookline and almost made it in time.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Onna & Craig

One of the greatest benefits of living a wandering life is all the people you meet and how you can just show up in their cities and demand to sleep on their couches. Seriously, the extended Kilometer Zero family acts like a worldwide shelter system, offering kindness, meals and bed whenever possible. In Boston, I am lucky enough to know two incredible people.

The first is Onna Solomon, who was in Paris during the Paris years and worked with Kilometer Zero to organize the 24 Hour theatre project at the Chateaudun Art Squat. She is now in Boston, taking an MFA at Boston Univeristy and writing really magnificent poetry. Here is one of my favourites.

Things Begin To Change

As workers scour the storefront windows clear,
Their plastic buckets slosh, a squeegee rakes
What’s left of winter down the stairs into
The streets. You don’t know what it means

To be anything but a pale-skinned girl
Men with drenched sleeves turn to watch in the early spring.
The knuckles of their bare hands gleam like pearl
Above the muck of sandy snow along

Your route each morning – so when they’ve gone
You think of how their gazes guided you:
The easy way your eyes met theirs while everything
Was opening – you smiled generously:

You knew that every lustrous day this year
Was still untouched and just ahead of you.

The second is Mr. Craig Walzer. He goes around telling people he is 24 but he is clearly lying. How could a 24 year old have attended Brown and Oxford, travelled the world, and spent two years opening the most joyful bookstore in Greece? (Atlantis Books. Visit sometime. I will be there February to May, 2006.)

Now Craig is taking a four year international law/human rights/hyper genius program at Harvard. He and his classmates had lunch with John Kerry last week. That’s the kind of place it is. (I find it amusing that Craig lives in the zip code 02138 which, according to him, is the zip code which writes the most letters to the editor in America.) This morning, Craig was such a gentleman and kind soul that he invited me along to a class taught by Michael Ignatieff. It was about how religions and human rights clash and it was brilliant for everyone but especially brilliant for me because Michael Ignatieff is Canadian and there are rumours he is going to enter politics. I accosted him after his class and vowed to support him. If he becomes prime minister, he could be Trudeau II.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ottawa to Boston

Me, Sparkle, dark highways, the just released Tragically Hip collection. What better way to spend 8 hours?


For those unaware, Canada is blessed with a most wonderful public broadcaster. CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is sort of like the BBC, without as many radio frequencies but with just as impressive content, news, and music. Recently, CBC management locked out employees because they are trying crush the souls of the journalists by hiring casual workers who don’t have any job security or extended benefits. Why are they doing this? Because they care more about cutting a few taxes than protecting Canada’s cultural identity. This is why you should get involved in politics. Because if the good people sit on the sidelines (and I know you are a good person) than the visionless and the vain will seek public office and destroy all that is beautiful and worthy in government.

My family has been a CBC radio family since forever. Among my first memories are sitting on the heat vent on a winter morning, eating a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and listening to the local Ottawa CBC morning show. It made me happy then, and when I visit my parents’ house, it still makes me happy, though the Cheerios are replaced by strong black coffee now.

All this is to say that is an honour to be interviewed by the CBC about my book and tour and it was a thrill for my whole family to welcome Lucy van Oldenbarneveld to our home. Long live the CBC, long live Julie Delaney.


There is a very important reason why I am leaving for my book tour on the morning of November 1st. I had to spend Halloween at home.

Halloween is without a doubt my favourite holiday of the year. There is no religious tie, so everybody can participate without spiritual discord. Everyone becomes a sculptor when they face a pumpkin with knife in hand and everybody becomes an actor when they don their face paint. And the kids and their costumes are the epitome of adorable. And the candy - who doesn’t like candy? And the macabre subtext to it all ...

With all modesty, I believe I my parents’ house was the best decorated house on the street.(Though sadly the photo is all blurry.) We had six pumpkins, plus a pumpkin display in the front window, plus strings of lights wrapped around spooky branches attached to the porch, plus strings of skeletons and ghosts. My cousin Mike (that’s him carving a pumpkin with my dear friend Sparkle Hayter) is an extremely talented carver whose intricate designs put us all to shame, while his wife Laura stunned us by carving the symbol pi onto her pumpkin to create ‘pumpkin pi’.

Sparkle, who is coming along with me from Ottawa to Boston to New York, took dozens of photos of the costumed children. Her favourite was two girls dressed as ying and yang and you can see the picture of her taking a picture of them.

The only sad part of this Halloween is that I didn’t get to execute my full pumpkin installation. Last year I had a theme of giant pumpkins crushing smaller pumpkins to death in their jaws. This year I had an incredibly wonderful plan but it involved wooden stakes and a dozen pumpkins and I just didn’t have time to pull it off. Next year, oh sweet next year. If you are in the neighbourhood - 4th Avenue in Ottawa - drop by. We give away superb treats.