We head out in the late-afternoon sun on July first to meet up with Cylla von Tiedemann, a wonderful photographer who has photographed many of my theatre designs at the Stratford Festival and other theatres. Though the weather is perfect for a shoot, it’s more than a little dicey due to wind. By the time we reach King Street, our rear flagpole flies off the bike into the middle of the intersection. Thankfully, no cars, cyclists, or pedestrians are in its path. I have to jump into a cab to retrieve the duct tape from my garage. Of course, this is the day our trusted companion did not make it back into the emergency kit. Take it from me, never leave home without colour-matched duct tape when riding an art-bike!
Adventure one complete, we tackle the anticipated second adventure of pushing the bike up the steep hills offered up by the bridges over/under the railway tracks and the Gardiner Expressway. If you are not familiar with this landscape, I introduce you to Toronto’s infamous no man’s land: an engineering scourge conceived in the late 1950s that destroys waterfront magic for a huge swath of the downtown’s shore. Our destination is Harbourfront Centre, one of the hugely popular band-aid solutions attempting to invigorate a portion of the thin ribbon of land trapped between one of the worst Canadian city-planning blights and our lost treasure: a lake more vast than some inland seas.
Thankfully, we are not too much the worse for wear for our photo shoot, and neither is Cylla! She is celebrating Canada’s birthday in high style: red and white from head to toe, not the least of which is a vintage ruffled tuxedo shirt edged with red thread. Our professional shoot consists of us weaving through the crowds gathered at the WestJet Stage while Cylla scampers right and left, deftly catching the last precious moments of the magic hour. Even though she captures hundreds of photos, it’s but a small percentage of the photos taken that evening. Every brown, black, and white Canadian, it seems, wants to have their picture taken with us. Fashionistas, insistent toddlers, attentive fathers, non-English-speaking grandmothers, offbeat youth, dudes, dudettes, librarians, and Canada enthusiasts, who, like Cylla, are sporting red-and-white everything. Except for the prevalence of maple leafs, it looks more like World Day than a specific national celebration, and yet, while the implications are impressively grandiose, it’s so utterly cozy. Paparazzi-overwhelm aside, I ride the wave of my warm-and-fuzzy reverence for the peaceful tapestry we call Canada, even if it’s not the whole truth.
The surprising thing about this experiment is that despite the crush for snapshots, our technical mayhem, and the pandemonium of crowd dynamics in large gatherings, we are sought out by just as many book-lovers as we are by spectacle-seekers. More than half the people approaching us are genuinely interested in hearing about our mandate. They love books enough to snake around the art-bike, waiting for the opportune moment to engage in a conversation. An even greater charge is unleashed when we talk about the need we perceive for readers and authors to come together outside of the corporate book infrastructure. “Everything, even culture, is commodified. What about cultural innovators, who typically don’t sell?” laments a screenwriter. “We hear about the same ten books the whole year. Noam Chomsky just published a fantastic book and no one is talking about it!” rails a frustrated academic. “I love reading. I’d love to know what other young people are reading and why,” says an undergrad student. “I’m a books-page editor and it’s virtually impossible for me to write about books published by small and less mainstream presses. I’d love the opportunity to write about the plethora of amazing books flying under the radar of the media, but the space for book reviews and commentary in newspapers and magazines is dwindling alarmingly.” It’s evident to us that there are far more avid readers who have a taste for the unconventional and the challenging roaming the streets of Toronto than the industry acknowledges. “I’m always looking for something interesting, unusual,” says a teenager. She who looks to be about sixteen.
Check out the News feed and Inspiration tab on danylyne.com as well as my public danylyne facebook page. Especially when you feel like you’ve lost the plot, plug into our intra-generational community keeping track of WHO’S MAKING WAVES in the literary world and beyond. Connect with us, get inspired and inspire us. Let us know who making waves that you think we should know about.