travel - places

Bar Stray Biker Bar in Toronto Ratchets Up the Local Dive Bar Scene in Toronto

Bar Stray Biker Bar, 532 College Street, Toronto

The first impression when you step in the door of Bar Stray is that Ted’s Collision has gotten a makeover and grown up a little. It’s dark and rock and roll without being gloomy or stale, more Post Malone than Metallica. Neon signs and license plates reflect in the burnished gas tank of the massive motorcycle perched in the window. The pool table is a fresh geometry of endless possibilities and long nights of drinking cocktails.

The ‘Sid Viscious’ at Bar Stray

Owner and Barkeep, Irina Rotar, has made the small, welcoming space a labour of love. Centred around the pool table, a neon blue glow settles on the hand-stained concrete floors and catches on the well-stocked and beautifully lit bar. The cocktail program is stacked with tongue-in-cheek drink names that are as approachable as they are sessionable.

Do What You Love

There’s something for everybody who likes a drink in a laidback watering hole and enjoys the nuances of a properly made cocktail. The ‘Sid Vicious’ ($13) is an easy drinking garnet-hued vodka drink with hibiscus and rose petal, garnished with an orange curl; it’s as easy to drink as it is potent. While the ‘Four Seasons’ ($12) , a poke at the smarmy upscale brand, is a summer-ready seasonal cocktail with a delicious strawberry-basil shrub that bubbles in the sunlight spilling in from College Street.

The ‘Four Seasons’ and ‘No Ray Jose’

But my favourite drink on the menu is the ‘No Ray Jose’ ($13), a crushed ice wunderkind of Wray and Nephew rum and plum wine, sparkling with ginger ale and bittered with Campari. It’s a grown up kid’s summer treat, like a spiked snow cone that goes down faster than it’ll melt in muggy Toronto summer. After all the drinks, I order a pulled pork sandwich ($11.50) off the small menu of comfort food classics. Think grilled cheese or charcuterie, hummus or edamame.

The Pulled Pork Sandwich at Bar Stray

The food is a delightful shock: tender, juicy meat braised in Lost Craft Lager served with house roasted red peppers that would belong on the menu of any of Toronto’s upscale gastropubs. I’m less surprised after Irena tells me she makes everything herself, all in house and by hand. She has tailored her menu to the kind of finger foods and share plates she likes to snack on when she hosts her own friends and the hospitality shows in the flavour.

The lineup of cocktails at Bar Stray, 532 College Street, Toronto

Overall, Bar Stray Biker bar was a great experience, a fantastic midweek spot for an after work cocktail when you don’t feel like eating a full meal at Woodlot or a perfect place to drink on Friday night when you’re over lining at Bar Raval, or have moved on from headbanging at Ted’s Collision. Hop across College Street to the north side at Euclid.

Bar Stray is at 532 College Street, Toronto.

Bar Stray will have an extended patio and liquor license open for the entire weekend during Taste of Little Italy 2019, June 14-16.

Check out my video from last year’s Taste of Little Italy for a sneak peak of this year’s event.

All illustrations in this post were based on the photography of Kyrsten Galang.

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A Visit to the Gardner Ceramic Museum in Toronto for the Ai WeiWei: Unbroken Exhibit

The artist breaks ceramics, the artist makes ceramics

Ai Weiwei is the subject of a thousand stories, documentaries, profiles, interviews, Tweets, shares, likes, etc, all of which have created an aura of larger than life fame surrounding his brand. Prisoner, dissident, international exile, bad ass who destroyed the old to create the new (he famously broke Han Dynasty vases) and, literally, gave the middle finger to the cultural icons of the west that would try and claim and write the story of his identity (middle finger pics). His is a great story, and brands are made iconic and enduring by their stories and our collective belief in the power of those brand narratives.

Pots and blobs

Our cultural worship of brands is what makes them important. The Kardashian brand is currently associated with women’s body products and reality television, as opposed to the criminal defence brand of the Kardashian father made famous by news on television. Likewise Ai Weiwei has become a brand name, one that was built upon the idea of resistance to the central power of Beijing, made famous by a combination of news media and social media.

Zodiac in Legos and Colourful Vases

But then there is the actual art, the thing in the institutional white room. When I show up at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics, I am expecting to see and desire to touch precious ceramics, even though I know I will be separated from the objects. Human contact is disallowed from the objet d’art, objects of beauty are kept at a distance to preserve this veil of value and preciousness. Like at any fashionable nightclub, or celebrity spectacle, I’m  also made to pay and then wait to enter the exhibit. There is a line up (myself and two elderly ladies) guarded by security. At the front of the line up is a wall adorned by a much larger than life portrait of the artist. In fact, an extreme close up of his face has been blown up and turned into a wall wrap to two meters high. 

Portrait of the artist

Inside the exhibition, there is a collection of seemingly random crap, which I know is art because it has been imbued with meaning by the Ai Weiwei brand and placed in the room by the curators. There is a large pile of beans or seeds on the floor. There is a life-size tree, dead, desiccated, held together by bolts and visible hardware. There are more photos of the man himself, smashing vases, smiling. There are vases that have been painted with pop culture references to other brands: Coca-cola. There are paintings, a series of twelve depictions of the Chinese zodiac, made pop art by their use of another brand’s materials, Lego’s famous building blocks instead of oil paint. 

Lego Bricks

There is a shelf with jars and a few ceramic watermelons and a set of jugs, which the description informs me are painted with automotive paint, which imbues them with what exactly? Some kind of referential connection to the factory and production line and Fordism, and the entire industrial complex of America which has been superseded by China? 

There is a bottle of Absolut Vodka in a glass case with a very long piece of text that I don’t bother to drink, but it’s message is certainly not lost on me. I want a drink. 

Totem

Lest I forget, there are two marbles doors leaned against the white wall, leading to nowhere bu their own shadows, and a marble surveillance camera on a pedestal, watching no one. On the floor, there are a series of large black blobs that resemble overgrown ink blots, an overgrown Rorsach test that might be questioning your sanity, or offering escape, perfect little metaphorical blackholes that you might wish you could fall right into and through to another dimension. 

People and Art

Also, and perhaps most importantly, there are people, like you and me, and they are all taking selfies of themselves in front and above and below and behind all of these objects, assuring us of their existence and reality and value as objet d’art, and somewhere out there in the ether is R. Mutt dreaming of flushing them all and all this random crap down a very large ready-made toilet in the sky. I highly recommend you go and see for yourself, and stand in the room and take a selfie in front of your zodiac. I’m a year of the pig.

Ai Weiwei: Unbroken runs at the Gardiner Museum until June 9th, 2019, entry is included with price of general admission. Tickets can be purchased online. Exit through the gift shop.

Gardiner Museum

111 Queen’s Park
Toronto, Ontario
Canada, M5S 2C7

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travel - places

A Visit to Puebla, Mexico – Street Photography Portraits

Puebla is one of those Mexican cities that is supposed to be beautiful. Everyone you meet while travelling tells you to stop there for a day trip. They will inevitably tell you about the architecture, the history of the French invasion, the battles, Cinco de Mayo, and the incredible local foods: Poblano peppers, Mole Poblano, and Tacos Arabes, all originated in Puebla, as did the Mexican tricolor dish, Chiles en Nogada. Anthony Bourdain claimed that every decent chef in Manhattan could trace their lineage back to Puebla. And the best climb in Mexico, Pico De Orizaba, is not far from Puebla.

Old Man with Hat, Puebla, Mexico

Frankly, I’ve never liked the place. Not for any one reason, I’ve been a bunch of times. Puebla is a perfect day trip from Mexico City. There is great food and beautiful architecture, and one of the best import beer bars in all of Mexico, Utopia.

Girl with Brother and Mother, Puebla, Mexico
Man with Mother, Puebla, Mexico

But every time I stop in Puebla, something off happens. The first time I went, I met a girl and we were having a romantic evening and stroll, then she got sick and vomited all over the gorgeous cobblestone streets. The second time, I watched a teenager get robbed and cracked over the head with a rock, and no one (except yours truly) stopped to help him get up or staunch the bleeding. The third time, it poured rain incessantly, torrentially, and sadly, as the Poblanos marched in the streets vociferously protesting the rash of violent crime against women and the lack of a police presence or government action.

The last time I went to Puebla, I decided to talk to as many locals as I could. They have an odd reputation, as second city to Mexico City, and nearest neighbour, they are the butt of many Chilango jokes. Most notably and crudely, they’re called Pi-Po-Pe’s, which you can look up yourself if you’re inclined to slang. But as I got to know the place a little better, I started to think that Bourdain had been onto something.

Puebla is a city with an underdog mentality. Always struggling to prove itself, whether it was against the French invaders or visitors from the capital, it was, and continues to be, the home to many immigrants who can’t afford life in the big city (there were large waves of German and Lebanese), and more recently, it is the landing spot for many deportees from the United States. As a result, Poblano’s juggle many perspectives and the city is paradoxically both welcoming, and always on guard.

If you’re interested in prints or commissions, get in touch with me.

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My 10 Favorite Things to do in Beautiful Antigua, Guatemala

1. Arco de Santo Catalina

Anitgua, Guatemala is one of the most beautiful cities in Latin America, and one of the oldest. Originally founded by Spanish Conquistadors after their 15th century arrival, the cobbled streets are lined with gorgeous ruins of monasteries created by an 18th century earthquake, and painted with striking colours. Its affordable cost-of-living and plethora of Spanish schools make it one of the best places in Latin America to slow down for a few months, or sign up for language lessons.

2. Mercado de Artesanias El Carmen

In front of the ruins of El Carmen, vendors setup a market full of Guatemalan textiles and, local artwork and housewares. While you wander and shop, stop at one of the many cafes and restaurants tucked inside the courtyards hidden behind the coloured walls.

3. Cafe in Antigua, Guatemala
4. Courtyard restaurant in Antigua, Guatemala

In the middle of the old city, Parque Central offers a perfect place to chill out and read a book, or watch the locals and other visitors, as you relax and people watch.

5. Parque Central, Antigua, Guatemala

Calles de Antigua Guatemala
Facade, Antigua, Guatemala
Vintage Pick-up, Antigua, Guatemala
El Volcan looms over Antigua, Guatemala

The city is chock full of palaces, churches, museums and ruins, buried in the layers of history that have accrued over six centuries of European and indigenous contact and cultural overlap. It’s one of those places where it feels like there is a new discovery on every corner, and a different cathedral on each city block.

6. Palacio del Ayuntamiento
7. Antiguo Colegio de la Compañía de Jesús
8. Ruins of La Recoleccion
Las Ruinas, Antigua, Guatemala
Museo del Santo Hermano Pedro
Old City Walls, Antigua, Guatemala
Iglesia, Antigua, Guatemala

Certainly, one of the most popular https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2018/mar/30/antigua-guatemala-city-guide-what-to-see-where-to-eat-drink-stayattractions in Antigua, Guatemala is the Cerro de la Cruz, or the Hill of the Cross, which looks back over the city and up at Volcan de Agua, the live volcanos that loom in the distance.

9. Vista from El Cerro de la Cruz

But my favourite thing to do in Antigua is to relax, find a gorgeous bed and breakfast with a lush, green courtyard and a hammock, then kick my feet up and enjoy the peace and quiet.

10. Bed and Breakfasts, Antigua, Guatemala

As always, all of my images are available for purchase, contact me directly for info on prints and shipping.

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A Visit to Copan Ruins in Honduras: THE MAYAN STELAE OF COPÁN

Stella and Sky, Copan

If you visit my blog regularly, you’ll know I’m a sucker for ancient ruins and art. Angkor Wat is one of the most spectacular places in the world, a combination of the holy and mundane; the intricate details of the sculpture and the vast open plains of the land create a magnificent juxtaposition.

Stella front view, Copan

A half a world away, in Honduras, Copan is equally majestic, yet because of its locale, often overlooked and ignored. From its heights, the Mayans could see a vast expanses in any direction to the horizon. We visited the ruins after and incredible, tumultuous rainstorm had washed out the roads in the village and the verdant greens of the distant hills were glowing in the light after the storm.

We took a tuk-tuk moto taxi out of the town, bumping and jostling over the rocky turf and around the flood pools that swelled across the earth. At a tiny kiosk, we paid and entrance fee to the grounds, no more than a pittance, and when we walked in, only a pair of stark red parrots greeted us.

Parrots, Copan
Stela of the King close-up, Copan
Stela of the King, medium, Copan

There was an air of stillness and silence on the grounds. The lawn manicured flat as a putting green, our footfalls muted by the slick wet grass. We walked through the open courtyard, past the massive staircase, at the zenith of the steps, warriors hearts were cut out in sacrifice to the gods, so that blood ran down to the stairs and back to the soil.

Stela, profile, Copan

Alone with the stelae, pillars of stone carved a thousand years ago to solidify the enduring presence and looming nature of the rulers and kings in the people’s eyes, I felt watched. Stone eyes tracked our movements. The avian twitter and caw of the birds and the shrieks of the monkeys lent depth and perspective to the loneliness of the ruins. The animal presence of the jungle remained the one constant in this luscious hill country, since before the conquistadors had arrived in the 15th century. On one of the stela, the name of a Spaniard is scratched, the first European graffiti in a new world, a man made blemish older than the founding of most nations.

Stela in relief against the sky, Copan

We walked aimlessly through the trees and and across the lawn till we found a path that circled up and into the woods. An eerie calm remained among the wet boughs, as they dampened the sound of our breath, so only the rustle and drip of water in the leaves remained.

Lone Tree Above Copan Ruins

At the top of the climb, a tree arched out over the edge, and we were greeted with a panorama that stretched out across the plains, limitless, a vision that seemed both timeless and immediately present. At the end of our visit, there was no lesson to be learned, only the act of arrival and departure endless repeated, and the beauty of temporal memories that will soon be forgotten.

Panoramic landscape above Copan

As always, prints of my artwork are available for purchase. Contact me for more info, and thanks for visiting.

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eat - reviews, travel - places

The 5 Best Street Foods in Mexico City

The key to understanding street food in Mexico City is to understand that a taco is a loose concept, like a pizza or a sandwich, with infinite variations, that resemble each other no more than long lost cousins.

Tacos Al Pastor at ‘El Tizoncito’
Late night Tacos al pastor
  1. Tacos Al Pastor

The undeniable king of street food in the nation’s capitol is the taco al pastor. A beautiful confluence of immigrants abutting in a a huge diverse city, the al pastor takes the best parts of a taco (small, biteable, corn tortillas and epic salsas) and the best part of a donair, juicy marinated pork meat (marinated with pineapple) cooked on the ingenious Arabic invention, the vertical frame-broiled spit. Hand’s down the best, you can find these juicy treats all over the city, but my fave is in Centro Historico at the Take out window of El Huequito. I also love the stands on the corner of Insurgentes Sur and Avenida Alvaro Obregon in Roma, after a late night of mezcal and beer chasers.

Tacos dorados

2. Tacos Dorados

This deep-fried tube of delicious is the forebearer to 7-11’s taquitos, one of the tastiest and most gut-curdling snacks in America. In Mexico, the original taco dorado (hard) is perfectly crunchy cigar of corn. If cooked properly, a taco dorado is as satisfying to bite into as a crunchy nacho, and it’s stuffed with juicy, tender meat, then topped with acidic lime and fiery salsa and cooling, fatty crema (like a sour cream, or breakfast cream). Usually served in 3s, tacos dorados are probably best eaten at a taqueria with seats because these will get messy.

Tamale llena de guisados

3. Tamales Oaxaquenos

A tamale is the classic example of ugly delicious, a prepackaged lump of corn masa hand-pressed around a guisado (stewed-meat/sauce and protein combo). The whole tamale is folded in a leaf and steamed, and anyone who has spent time in Mexico City will recognize the famous calls of the street vendors, who peddle around the streets first thing in the morning, hollering “Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos…Tahhh-mal-eeeees….Wa-ha-cane-yoooooos” as everyone gets prepped for work. Solid breakfast to go, not to be missed before a big day of walking and wandering the enormous monstruo that is CDMX (Ciudad Mexico).

Ricas Tortas Calientes “Tasty Hot Sandwiches”
Tortas

4. Tortas

A torta is the Mexican sandwich. Stuffed with rotisseries chicken and avocado. Filled with meatballs and drenched in spicy tomato sauce (Tortas ahogados i.e. drowned sandwiches of Guadalajara). Pork cracklings layered with tomato, lettuce, onion salsa and a shot of lime (Guacamayas from Leon, GTO). There are variations for every city and every state in Mexico. These are a favoured street food in CDMX, for locals and foreigners alike, and often offer the best bang for your buck and a huge satisfying meal on a crispy, white bun. I love Ricas Tortas Calientes “Tasty Hot Sandwiches” near the Glorieta Insrugentes, and Metro Insurgentes, at the corner of Puebla & Orizaba in Roma Norte.

A ‘slice’ of Tlayuda con chapulines

5. Tlayudas

A tlayuda is an indigenous Oaxacan dish, akin to a pizza, a huge circular bread, almost like a paper-thin, crunchy cracker with a ‘sauce’ of refried beans and stringy Oaxacan cheese, then topped with a variety of bite-sized bits and pieces. Usually there is some avocado, meat, or tomato slices, and traditionally there are citrus-flavoured chapulines, crisped grasshoppers. It’s a fun dish to share, and can also be set in the middle of a group of friends and picked at while they enjoy drinks and chatting.

Bonus: Hamburguesas

I’m not going to lie to you and say I never touch “American” food when I’m living or travelling in Mexico. In fact, I’d argue that some of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life were south of the border. There is a long tradition of hamburgers from street vendors in the capital city, and the classic is a patty off a sizzling flattop (a la parilla), served with a slice of tomato, crispy lettuce, and a squirt of mustard and ketchup or mayo (you can’t do moth, that’s disgusting). My favourite spot for burgers in Mexico City is ‘Hamburguesas a la Parrilla’, Morelia 85, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico.

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My 10 favorite things to do in Roma, Mexico City

  1. Stroll through the early 20th century art deco architecture
Art Deco Balustrade, Roma, Mexico City

Roma is one of my favorite spots in Mexico City, a washed up art deco neighbourhood, once covered in graffiti, twice rocked by earthquakes, and now half-gentrified and made famous by a Hollywood movie that portrayed the colourful streets in monotone. Though Alfonso Cuaron’s historical/personal narrative of eponymous name was a great Mexico City movie, it speaks to a place (his Roma) that no longer exists in 2019. Today’s Roma is chill, flooded with ex-pats and rich kids, those privileged enough to live a laid back lifestyle in Mexico’s Capital.

2. Have an espresso at one of the cafes in Roma, CDMX

Cardinal, Roma, Mexico City
Cafe Toscana, Roma, Mexico City

3. Check out the street art, murals and graffiti

Mural across from Forever Vegano, Roma, Mexico City

I’m pretty sure there are outfits that give street art tours, which you could search up if organized tour are your kind of thing. There’s also dedicated instagram accounts for CDMX street artists, that will tell you where to find murals in Roma, Mexico City.

4. Lunch, Brunch, Lounge on a sidewalk patio

Molletes, an open-faced breakfast sandwich

There are a bunch of beautiful little spots to eat in Roma. The more tourists and ex-pats and money that arrive, the more cafes and restaurants open. I like to imagine it has that run of the century Paris feel, when everyone was an artist living in the eye of the storm between the two world wars.

And lest you forget, for most of the years I was living in Mexico during the 00s and early 10s, it was the most violent country in the world. More people were getting killed every year here, than in Iraq. And if you’re under the impression that it’s gotten less violent, you are mistaken. It’s just fairly safe if you’re a foreigner, or a tourist, only staying for a while and hanging out in a posh part of town.

5. Maxim Bistrot

Agua Mineral & Cocktail, Maxim Bistrot, Mexico City

Maxim Bistrot in Roma, Mexico City is one of my favorite restaurants. Chef Lalo, also, has a brunch spot across the street, aptly named Lalo. Eat at both. Go back for seconds.

6. Visit one of the galleries spattered around Roma

Mosaic of Aztec Gods

There are a ton of little galleries around Roma, niche places selling art to the uber wealthy socialites and consignment places, where artists are trying to make a buck shelling the work from their studios.

7. Mercado Roma

Rooftop Patio, Beerhall at Mercado Roma

Mercado Roma is both everything that is ridiculous and wrong with a gentrifying neighbourhood, if gentrification is the kind of thing that bugs you, or you’re into resisting, and yet surprisingly lovely. A wonderful spot to tuck into an overpriced afternoon beer or salt-rimmed cocktail.

8. Street food: puestas, taquerias, pan, enchiladas, quesadillas

Guacamole con chapulines y tostados
Panederia, Roma, Mexico City

As in the rest of the city, the street food in Roma is often better than the food in the restaurants. People setup stalls for a specific number of hours or days of the week, so you might not find your favourite taco from Saturday when you go back Monday, but the food is hot, fresh and delicious when it’s being cranked out. Your best bet is to walk down Avenida Alvaro Obregon, then turn off one of the side streets, Calle Frontera, or Calle Merida or on the weekend head to Jardin Pushkin and Calle Morelia, where there is actually an amazing Hamburger stand. There are also some good stands farther north, near Glorieta de los Insurgentes, by the corner of calles Puebla and Orizaba.

9. Get out your camera, your sketchbook, or just open your eyes

Volskwagen Camper Vans, Roma, Mexico City

The Roma that I love and lived in for a while, when I had nothing to do, no distractions and no bills to pay, had just graduated from school and was wandering around looking for love, is not going to last forever. Nothing ever does. So you better just go down there and take it all in before it gets swallowed up by earthquake-proofed condos, or a terremoto swallows the whole city.

10. La Bodeguito del Medio, Mojitos & Salsa (the dancing kind)

Selfies at La Bodeguito del Medio, El Mejor Mojito del Mundo

This Cuban spot, a spin off of the place made famous in Havana, has been visited by anyone and everyone, and lasted through several reincarnations of Roma and Condesa and the whole surrounding area. It’s walls are covered in vintage photos and handwritten love notes, and I was heres… it’s the right kind of sentimental, and I used to live in the alleyway behind the restaurant, so I could hear the sound of salsa music and cocineros smoking cigarettes drifting up and into my bedroom window. Don’t blink.

As always, contact me to purchase a print of any of my artwork.

Ricas Tortas Calientes, ‘Tasty Hot Sanwiches” at the corner of Puebla & Orizaba, Roma Norte
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travel - places

A Visit to the Confucian Temple of Shanghai

Pond & Pavilion at the Confucian Temple of Shanghai
Wenmiao Road (文庙), Shanghai

I love walking around temples, and often smaller temples, like the Confucian Temple of Shanghai are the most serene and untrammeled spots for a visitor to relax and enjoy a taste of the monastic life, free from the diversion of tour buses and throngs of people, so common at many large religious sites. Located in Shanghai’s old city, off of Wenmiao Road (文庙) in Huangpu District the temple is just around the corner from Wenmiao Market, and was a short walk from my hostel near People’s Square.

People’s Square, Shanghai

The Confucian Temple of Shanghai is small, not nearly the size of its equal in Beijing, but on the afternoon I visited, it had the relaxed, cloistered feel of an oasis in the midst of the largest city in the world, and the constant buzzing roar of Shanghai traffic and swarms of pedestrian masses.

Jade Rock in Landscaped Garden at The Confucian Temple of Shanghai

The koi pond was silent, balanced by a jutting stone and a pure stillness. There are a pair of small benches on an island, a perfect place to read a book or write in your journal and get away from the prevalence of too much screen time.

Lighting incense at Confucian Temple of Shanghai

Across a walkway from the garden, into the courtyard of the main temple I bought a few sticks of incense and lit them on a candle to make an offering.

Stone Confucius at Confucian Temple of Shanghai

Hanging in the tree branches and all along the front of the temple, prayer cards with notes to Confucius swayed in the gentle breeze of afternoon, the sound of paper rustling hanging leaves.

Prayer cards tied to boughs
Prayer to Confucius for help write a book.

After writing my own prayer and fastening it to the bough of a tree with a length of red satin, I entered the temple, said my piece, and then passed by the scrolls of Confucian saying on the way out.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. -Confuscius

Confucianism

Thanks for visiting. If you’d like to purchase prints of any of my artworks in this post, get in touch and via my contact page.

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Hong Kong Central and Hong Kong Island – Cityscapes

Construction Worker, Hong Kong

I fell in love with Hong Kong, when I was wandering through the alleyways and navigating the circumspect and meandering hallways of its endless apartment blocks. The city present infinite options for those looking to get lost. It’s an artist and photographer’s dream, an urban kaleidoscope. There are people everywhere, at all hours, usually ignoring you and your camera.

Back Bar, Hong Kong
Man on Bike, Hong Kong
Country Club, Hong Kong

The city has that odd dreamless quality that Manhattan used to have, before Giuliani kicked out all of the homeless and itinerant people and turned New York City into a tourist attraction. It never feels safe at night, there is always an element of discord, but it’s beautiful and shocking in how it surprises.

SoHo Alley, Hong Kong
Tourists, Hong Kong
Mirrored Skyscraper, Hong Kong

The odd juxtapositions, of rich and poor, foreigners, ex-pats, Cantonese speaking locals and the influx of mainland Chinese speaking Mandarin makes Hong Kong an incredibly diverse and miscegenated city. The intense competition for real estate on a tiny island keeps the price of owning a home out of the reach of most, but that is in turn what leads to the maze-like halls and paths of the city’s clustered apartment, stacked and teetering like so many matchboxes over above the bay.

Cafeteria, Hong Kong
Photo Crouch, Hong Kong
Ex-pat Girls, Hong Kong

As always, all my illustrations are available for purchase as prints. If you see one you like, contact me. Thanks for reading, and get in touch.

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The 5 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World

This post is for the bibliophiles. If you find yourself wandering around the stacks of a second hand bookshop in a city you don’t live in, after midnight and a few glasses of wine, this post is for you. Title is self-explanatory.

1.Shakespeare and Company, Paris, France

Obviously, this is the sexiest bookshop in the world, the history of Joyce, Stein, and Hemingway. The inspiration and setting of many a Hollywood romance, if you haven’t been you’re missing out. Also, Sylvia Beach was a legitimate groundbreaking and rule breaking publisher, which is beautiful in and of itself.

2. Cafe Pendulo, Mexico City, Mexico

Cafe Pendulo is a booklover’s wet dream, a place where you can have a cappuccino or a glass of wine. There is a veritable hanging garden and incredible collection of Spanish language and foreign books; also, the location in Polanco has got to be one of the poshest bookstore in the world.

3. Munro Books, Victoria, BC, Canada

This one is a bit of an outsider, like Canada, it’s a bit drab and plain, housed in a turn of the century bank converted by the Munro husband and wife. Munro Books is famous now for its former shopkeep, short story writer of New Yorker and later Nobel laureate notoriety, Alice Munro. It is a bit out of the way, and beautiful in a very understated Canuck way, but if you find yourself on Vancouver Island, it is worth a visit every time.

4. Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers, Brooklyn, NY, USA

This is one that probably shouldn’t have made this list, and definitely wouldn’t have made the list, if it was someone else’s list, but I love the place. Less well known than the bigger Strand on Broadway, these lovely booksellers in the heart of hipster Williamsburg always have a gorgeous collection of art and coffee table books, and there’s usually another cute page flipper or two around, to catch eyes with while you peruse.

5. City Lights, Chinatown, San Francisco

If this list were about the best, or most valuable or important bookstore in the world, I would definitely have City Lights Bookstore at number one. Home to the readings of Kerouac and Ginsberg and the Beat Generation’s founding publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has a street named after him, and if you’re lucky you might still see him hobbling around North Beach. It’s not just a venerable institution, though, the upstairs reading room, looking across Jack Kerouac alleyway at his old haunt, Vesuvio’s bar, really is beautiful.

The wildcard: Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice, Italy

I’ve never been to Libreria Acqua Alta, but by all accounts it is the bookstore of mine and your dreams. Gorgeous, on the canals of Venice, you can drift lazily up, ferried by a gondola to the front door, with espresso in hand, to have you pick of the day’s paperbacks.

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