All posts by Andrea Cordonier

Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows

It’s simple. It’s brilliant. And it’s better than tv.

Instead of tucking doggy daycare in the back of a building, why not put it out front? Add plate glass windows and a busy pedestrian street and you have universal entertainment and an instant joy generation machine.

In the few minutes I stood there watching, a small crowd gathered –  smiling, laughing and exchanging pleasantries – before carrying on with their day.

Guess we can’t make fun of cat cafés anymore because it seems they’ve had it right all along. 

Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows
Streetside visitors to Ma Langue Aux Chats on Rue St. Paul in Quebec City, QC


Looking at Dogs (and Cats) in Windows
Curious cat and visitor


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Alex Janvier at the National Gallery of Canada

Alex Janvier is among the most important figures in the development of contemporary Indigenous art in Canada. This retrospective presents more than 150 works created from 1950 to the present day and recounts the story of a life devoted to art and the re-empowerment of Indigenous cultures. Over a prolific sixty-five-year career Janvier has produced thousands of paintings and many public commissions, all in a unique style, recognizable for its calligraphic lines, vivid colours, Dene iconography and forms that evoke land, sky, galaxies and microscopic life. Janvier is part of a distinguished group of artists in Canada who have brought Indigenous beliefs, issues and aesthetics to the foreground and successfully combined them with Western art styles and techniques. ~ National Gallery of Canada website

Yesterday marked the opening of painter Alex Janvier’s gorgeous retrospective at the National Gallery of Canada. I slipped in for the members tour before catching the 6:00pm opening ceremony, which included traditional dancing, honour songs, prayers and a speech by Janvier in his signature white cowboy hat and black suit.

Alex Janvier at the National Gallery of Canada
The Great Hall was so full that guests numbered three deep on the upper floor galleries and stairs.

There’s so much to tell about the background to the exhibition, but I’ll substitute my usual history lesson for a photographic preview of Mr. Janvier’s work (see below).

I invite you to see the exhibition in person, then cross the river to see his domed masterpiece of muraling, Morning Star, at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau. Finally, because art is a bridge to sharing and understanding cultures, and, in this case, our shared histories, I encourage you to delve into the history of Indian residential schools in Canada, cultural genocide, the Indian Act, and the possibilities for reconciliation amongst all the peoples of this country.

The catalogue for the exhibition, sold in the museum bookstore and online, is a great place to start.

For information on guided tours and other associated activities click here.


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Julia Child Cooks Thanksgiving Dinner

This is Julia’s house.

Julia Childs Cooks Thanksgiving Dinner
This is Julia Child’s former home in Cambridge, Massachusetts where all the magic happened.

This is Julia’s kitchen.

Julia Childs Cooks Thanksgiving Dinner
Two views of Julia Child’s kitchen, removed from her home and installed in its entirety inside the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.


This is Julia cooking thanksgiving dinner with Jacques Pepin circa 1999. In her house. In her kitchen.

Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. May your year be filled with blessings.

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Manhattan’s Divine Intervention

Unless you leave room for serendipity…how can the divine enter? ~Joseph Campbell

A few minutes one way or the other, heading south instead of north, a conversation, a distraction, a photo or lunch. There’s no good reason I stepped into St. Paul’s Chapel at that precise moment and not another. Filled to the brim – standing room only – I felt I’d stumbled in on a private event, a funeral perhaps. Not so, the man in a dark suit whispered back. You are perfectly welcome.

Crossing the threshold at 12:59 (not earlier, not later) was a flash of serendipity, a flourish of divine intervention, the kind that occurs every minute of every day all around the city. But then St. Paul’s, part of the Parish of Trinity Church and the oldest house of worship in Manhattan, is no stranger to miracles.

Bordering the east side of the World Trade Center Plaza, it remained unscathed – not a pane of glass broken nor foundation shaken – by the 9/11 attacks on the two towers. It is said that in the churchyard a large sycamore tree, in the line of the flying debris, bore the devastation. Torn to bits, it gave its life to protect the unity of the chapel, a sanctuary for huddled workers, the homeless and other tempest-tossed souls in the weeks that followed. In 2005, its stump and roots were cast in bronze by artist Steve Tobin and installed in the courtyard of Trinity Church near Ground Zero.

St. Paul’s earned its nickname The Little Chapel That Stood from the 2003 children’s book written by A.B. Curtiss and illustrated by Mirto Golino.

A solace to presidents, help to the poor, no one was ever turned away from its door.

An immigrant’s refuge, a sojourner’s peace, where hope is born and sorrows cease.

And then, oh unthinkable thought, they fell, one tower then the other.

They fell with a rush and they fell with a roar, the sky was blank where they’d been before.

The giants around it had come to a fall, but not the chapel of old St. Paul.

It was something of wonder, a symbol of grace, the steeple still there, not a brick out of place…

There were firemen’s shoes on the old iron fence, where they’d earlier hung them in haste quick and tense 

As they pulled on their boots and raced to the towers…climbing melting steel to flaming showers.

Oh such gallant men we did lose, who never came back to get those shoes.

Rescuers worked through the night and the day in the chapel they’d pause then go on their way. A hot cup of coffee something to eat here firemen, welders, policemen would meet. All would come to rest from their labour, volunteer, doctor, brother, neighbor.

Manhattan's Divine Intervention
Interior of St. Paul’s Chapel just after 9/11.
Photo by Larry Racioppo/Used with permission

I leaned back against the wall, closed my eyes and fell into the music, a reverie inhabited by Bach’s motets and cantatas and presented within a liturgical context. A devout Lutheran, Bach composed 200 cantatas using both sacred and secular texts. 

Turns out the concert I stumbled into is part of the Bach at One series, brought to life by the Choir of Trinity Wall Street and Trinity Baroque Orchestra under the beneficence of principal conductor Julian Wachner. According to Wachner, this day’s program contained the most difficult music in the western canon performed by the finest brass musicians in North America, a number on period instruments of uncommon form. It would be some of the finest music sung and played in the city that day.

Ill-versed in classical music, it was like nothing I’d heard before: “a feast of beauty for the ears,” as Wachner described it, and an unexpected passage into a body of music I might have easily missed. 

I passed out of the chapel into the sunshine and jumble of Lower Manhattan, refreshed by an hour of aural meditation. How perfectly divine.


For upcoming events at St. Paul’s Chapel and Trinity Wall Street click here.

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Don’t be like this idiot

On the gravel shoulder of the road sits an abandoned clothes dryer wrapped in official-looking crime scene tape bearing the words “Under Investigation.”

Beside it, a canary-yellow lawn sign screams DON’T BE LIKE THIS #IDIOT. This curious tableau did what it was meant to do: It caught my eye and stirred my imagination.

I hardly expected such roadside drama from the rural Township of Langley, but the Township’s once-idyllic spaces are feeling the development crunch, pressured on all sides by the neverending suburban expansion of Surrey and Langley. Rural areas are traditional dumping grounds for cities and suburbs, for people anxious to lose their junk without the expense of tipping fees, and the area has evolved into an illegal dumping ground at an annual cost to the Township of $400,000.

Now $400,000 per year can fund a lot of parks, recreation facilities and other resident-friendly services when it’s not being used to clean up (what should be) other peoples’ problems.

Enter Ion Brand Design.

Partners David Coates and Rod Roodenburg work with municipalities, cities and communities on creating campaigns that aim to change public behaviours around issues such as organic waste management and recycling. Invited by the Township of Langley, they developed a two-part approach to address the dumping problem: 1) Discourage littering and illegal dumping by calling attention to the issue; and 2) Inspire public involvement in catching those behind the dumping.

The challenge, Coates said, would be to come up with a concept that sticks.

We knew being authoritative – commanding people “Do Not Dump” – doesn’t work in these kinds of campaigns. We wanted to be edgy and funny. We came up with the acronym IDIOT, which stands for “Illegal Dumper In Our Township” and we figured it wouldn’t be contentious to call illegal dumpers “idiots.”

The IDIOT campaign would be “a bold statement for a big problem” according to Ryan Schmidt, Manager of Energy and Solid Waste for the Township.

With the slogan in place, Coates and Roodenburg drew up extensive campaign guidelines that included t-shirts, videos, signs for the sides of garbage trucks and, of course, the yellow emergency tape and and lawn signs. They recommended tagging and rotating a used couch and old clothes dryer across the Township, introducing them to key roadside locations that would reach the most drive-through traffic. The methods of implementation were at the discretion of the Township who could control the budget.

If the volume of direct feedback, editorials, and news stories is a reliable metric, Ion’s ideas have been wildly successful in raising awareness of the illegal dumping problem.

Whether the #IDIOT campaign, including whistleblowing and fines, has a longterm impact on the reduction of illegal dumping requires more time to assess. Implementation of additional supportive Township strategies could be necessary to address all of the underlying systemic issues that keep people from “doing the right thing.”

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Would You Let This Man Sell Your House?

would you let this man sell your house

I’m guessing that someone somewhere at sometime told this fellow that he looks like Owen Wilson’s male model in Zoolander. It’s the only reasonable reason I can imagine he would slap his ‘Blue Steel’ face on gigantic posters around White Rock, B.C., to push his unique brand of real estate sales in Greater Vancouver’s steaming housing market.

In a market where the product is selling itself, regardless of price, condition, and, arguably, the agent at hand, this approach may not seem foolish or cheesy at all. Maybe it’s the new normal. Maybe I don’t know anything.

If I’m feeling charitable, this is brilliant satire and clever public art rather than one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. And the more I think about it, the more likely I am to ring him up and have him send me the entire set of posters. Autographed.

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Hello, This is The New York Times Calling

It’s not every day that The New York Times calls one for an interview. But I arrived home recently to find a message from Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir. The topic? Charity house tours in New York City and the potential breach of privacy that cellphone cameras pose to homeowners.  Continue reading Hello, This is The New York Times Calling

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The Pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs was a noted urbanist, writer and activist whose book The Death and Life of Great American Cities has become the go-to tome for community planning and urban development.

Like the Camino de Santiago, there are prescribed stops on the pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs, including her two former residences in Toronto and New York City.

Since I explored her ‘hood in New York’s Greenwich Village last year, I needed to visit her former home in Toronto’s Annex to complete my journey and close the circle. With family waiting in the van, this would be the world’s fastest micro-exploration, leaving plenty for later (solo) visits to the neighbourhood. Continue reading The Pilgrimage to Jane Jacobs

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Caplansky’s Delicatessen Toronto

There is nothing I like better in this world than serendipity, except, perhaps, a great smoked meat sandwich.

So there we were at U of T, hungry and cold, and Husband suggested eating at Subway to which I replied with a choice expletive or two. We’re in Toronto, for God’s sake, surely we can do better than banal blandness, yes?

So I grabbed the wheel and drove, one eye on the road, one eye scanning (always scanning) for the perfect eatery. I want what I want and I knew I’d found it when I spotted Caplansky’s sky-blue sign and a line streaming out the door. If I’d any lingering doubt, it was crushed when I spied a jar filled with hundreds of these: Continue reading Caplansky’s Delicatessen Toronto

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Giving Grace to Utility

Excerpt: John Ruskin ~The Relation of Art to Use, 1870

Our subject of enquiry to-day, you will remember, is the mode in which fine art is founded upon, or may contribute to, the practical requirements of human life.

Continue reading Giving Grace to Utility

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