By DAVID MACFARLANE
Monday, June 17, 2002
As a constant comparer of apples and oranges, as an enthusiastic connector of things that cannot logically be connected, as an inveterate exaggerator of the meaning of meaningless chance, and as a frequent fabricator of metaphor from raw materials that have nothing metaphorical about them, I must say that even I was nonplussed to find myself thinking simultaneously about Owen Hargreaves, the Calgary-raised soccer star, now playing (though injured) for England in the World Cup, and Ydessa Hendeles, the iconoclastic art collector.
A dubious link, on the face of things. And as if that were not bad enough, it is a link that leads me, with customary illogic, to the more dubious still, and to the answer to a question recently posed by an aunt of mine. In the manner of all aunts everywhere, my aunt was quick to point out that I recently wrote in this space that I "road" my bicycle and that while she was pleased, at least, to see that I hadn't rowed it, she wondered if I couldn't be a little more careful with my verbs in the future, and by the way, she wondered, why did I call the column Cheapseats?
Well, I don't want to appear unduly defensive. Especially when it comes to verbs. Or aunts. But actually, I was roading my bicycle. That's what we do in Toronto. To road: a verb that describes the simultaneous act of dodging the gridlocked cars that like to pretend the bicyclists they are crushing are not there, slaloming around the potholes and sewer grates that make Toronto bicycle lanes so interesting, and avoiding police who, unimpressed with the fact that cyclists risk life and limb to move through the completely congested city without contributing to traffic jams and air pollution, give them tickets for not having a bell or not coming to a dead stop at an utterly deserted intersection.
Some people like bungee-jumping. Some go for sky-diving. Others swim with great white sharks. My own preference, when it comes to death-defying thrill-seeking, is to get on my bicycle in downtown Toronto -- a city where apoplectic drivers stew behind the wheels of toxin-spewing, steel-plated murder weapons and complain about how dangerous bicyclists are.
So there I was, roading my way down to the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation at 778 King St. W. to see what would prove to be an astonishing show. And on my way, I found myself considering my aunt's question. A subject of meditation that led me -- so you won't be surprised to hear if you're getting the hang of how my mind works -- to the Paris Opera.
When I lived in Paris I couldn't afford to go see any operas. So I went not to see them. There are seats in the Paris Opera that are so high and so skewed in their sightlines that they are called sans visibilité. And when Parisians say sans they mean sans. If an elephant appeared on the stage -- not beyond the realm of possibility in a city as devoted to its own grandeur as Paris -- there are seats at L'Opéra in which you'd never know it.
The seats did, however, afford an excellent view of the famous Chagall ceiling, and so I spent my time staring at one thing while listening to another. And even though what Chagall had on his mind rarely had anything to do with what Verdi or Wagner had on theirs, the experience was often instructive in a weirdly illogical, perversely idiosyncratic, preposterously subjective kind of way. I'd like to think the same might be true of this column -- on its good days. Thus Cheapseats.
Which gets my Aunt's question out of the way, but still leaves the topic sentence of this particular column dangling like the misplaced participles my relatives are always so careful to look for.
As you may or may not recall, this column began with the unlikely connection I happened to make last Saturday between England's celebrated midfielder, Owen Hargreaves, and Toronto's Ydessa Hendeles. At the time that this eccentric thought occurred to me, I was standing in the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation, knocked out by the show, Same Difference, that is currently up in that remarkable space. As I slowly took in the 1,800 photographs -- each one containing, somewhere within its frame, a teddy bear -- and as this eerie accumulation of hauntings took hold of me, I considered the so-very Canadian self-flagellation that had occurred when we learned that someone who is now one of England's star players had, only a few years ago, been living in Calgary and had not made the Canadian under-16 national team. Apparently the Canadian coach didn't like his style of play. But England did, and because Hargreaves's father had been born there, England was able to take the remarkable talent that the Canadians had once felt they didn't want.
This is hardly the first time that Canadians have managed not to see a treasure for what it is. Nor, I'm sure, will it be the last. So let me point out something that art critics and columnists have pointed out before, but is something that bears repeating. If the Ydessa Hendeles Art Foundation was situated in London, or Paris, or Berlin, or New York, and if an exhibition -- an installation, actually -- as brilliantly conceived and as beautifully executed as Same Difference was hanging on those foreign walls, the lineups for entry (Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m.) would be around the block. But since this is Canada, I just got off my bicycle and strolled on in.