Poem 22: 'Select a dark night'

Select a dark night and
A single star
Sit in your backyard
Smoke cigarettes
Dream of oriental carpets,
Junk stores, mangy bears
w blood-covered lips.
Expect nothing from your life.
Wander an empty courtyard.
Wait in a deserted cafe.
Lie down, looking at nothing, in bed.
Hear your breath...  for what?
Stand alone, pacing.
Be among worlds, amid glimmers.
Find a black revolver
In a big empty ballroom.
Hide beneath a blanket
Eating an onion.

--David Stokes

Poem 21: American Wheels

I met David Berman in a dream last night.

He gave me a lift
and we went for a drink.

We had a good conversation and got along well.

He said he could only stay for one more drink. He had to leave early
because he had a show the next day.

Afterwards I tried to explain to everyone
that I talked to David Berman,
and we had become fast friends.
But everyone told me he was dead.

I could no longer remember whether we talked
before or after he was dead,
or anything else that he had said.
I think he drove a black Lincoln.

--Eli Fox 

Poem 20: Percy Allen Jackson

Pictures at the
Old Timey gangbang
never come out
so vividly

As the forest
in a phonograph

When we had trucks
we would race them on rails
laughing hysterically

When we had caravans
we would move like soldiers
luscious and careful

They said there was sex in the desert

--Eli Fox


Mexico Department

 moral, lobotomías,
 curo de sueño, orgasmos por teléfono,
 arcoiris portátiles....
             -- Octavio Paz, "Augurios"

One night, while living with my girlfriend in Mexico City, I had a dream. I do not remember the particular circumstances in the dream but when I woke up I remembered that in my dream a series of words had appeared to me. This was the first time I'd ever dreamt words, so I took note of them as I woke up. I turned to my girlfriend who was in the bed beside me waking up along with me, and I told her the words:


Such strange words. I wondered what they meant or if they would signify something, for I had a strange sense that they were prophetic words. For some reason I felt they were words connected to a message from God. I told my girlfriend that maybe that day I would see a rainbow. And all day I scanned the skies, but come afternoon I had seen nothing. It started to rain at around 4pm, as it often does in Mexico City in the spring, and I thought sure enough now I would see one.

But after the rain storm, as we were walking back to her place, I still had not seen one. When we got home, she and I went to the roof of her building, where the cages for the laundry were and where there was a beautiful panoramic view of the city and of the sky. There was a golden patch of sunlight emerging from the clouds, yet alas despite my mad hope, no rainbow appeared. I lingered up there for a while, looking and waiting, till I returned to her room.

Eventually, after driving her crazy since I was repeating the ridiculous words RAINBOW TO HUT SOLO RAINBOW TO HUT SOLO and pacing around the room, I went back down to the street, determined to heed the call of these mysterious words.

I looked at the sky again for about 20 minutes but saw nothing. It was beginning to get dark and I knew that time was running out to see a rainbow. So I thought again about what the words meant. There was a newspaper vendors stall up the street so I thought perhaps that was the 'hut' portion of the message. I examined the entirety of the now shuttered stall but could find no clue for what to do next. So I just stood there looking at the sky. Indeed I remained fixated on the sky, not looking at my phone or replying to the messages from my girlfriend asking me when I'd be back. But all I saw was the sky become darker.

When I had truly run out of any hope, I looked down at the street dejectedly. Some force or God had told me to spend all day looking for a rainbow and I truly believed that I would see one, but now I felt foolish and empty. That's when I noticed there was a parking attendants hut across the street, in front of the fence of a building. And I looked again and noticed there was another parking hut only 20 feet from the first one. TOO HUT meant TWO HUT?

I crossed the street and to my amazement I saw that each parking hut had the words SOLO on them. ("estacionamiento solo para residentes"). I felt a chill run through me and I knew this was the place I needed to be. I began looking at the sky again, sure I would see my rainbow.

But no rainbow appeared, only a darkening sky lit with the last glow of the day, a velvety grey and purple. I thought that perhaps this message in my dream, which I was certain was a message from God, was empty. I despaired of ever believing in it, it just seemed so stupid, here I was hoping at dusk to see a rainbow because of a set of impossibly dumb words in a dream. I think I said something stupid to myself like if I see that rainbow I'll know forever God proof of your existence, and I thought of all the silly and intensely private reasons for why we either believe in god or not.

Anyway, I looked again at the sky and saw nothing. I felt ridiculous. To have both totally but also jokingly place my faith on such a thing, to have spent hours under the spell of some stupid words. I stopped looking at the sky. Standing alone between the two huts, I took my first steps towards home, as a woman walked by, and as she passed I saw in the middle of her fabric grocery bag a single iron-on patch: of a rainbow.

(This occured in April 2017, in Colonia Napoles, on Calle Nuevo York, CDMX, Mexico)

--David Stokes

Poem 19: Heavy Bats (for Taylor)

Spit in my mouth
Spit on my grave
Spit on the lout
who shares all our loves' name

-- Eli Fox 

Poem 18: I put the mysterious compass on the table...

I put the mysterous compass on the table 
the needles were spinning rapidly in both 
because the universe is lost, 
the universe hit its head
and falls whistling through
white hot stars, blind
stars, people, and animals,
all bang their heads
statues of saints slip off the back
of flatbed trucks, tumble endlessly
into the void, they fall frozen in
their tears and prayer-clasped hands
flesh too falls from me, i am ashed out
and dissolved with a whirling spoon
into some black vinegar, put into a vial
a man keeps in his coatpocket, he looks down
drunk, desperate, scratches indecepherable
lines on the muck with a stick
and has no idea where to go,
for the vital human compass, the heart,
with its arterial concert, and small
understanding, is pulsing, spinning,
forever lost in its slow self loathing
and well-regulated movement

--David Stokes

Big Land City Guide: Mexico City

This post is dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico City, who prays over all souls in El D.F. 

Mexico City (called D.F. by the locals) is a stunning city. For the last three years I have lived in the city during the winter months and I am proud to be an honorary chilango. I have written this guide to the city in the hopes that it is as complete and honest an account of things you should know to make your trip to DF better.

Snapshot of Mexico City 

Mexico's capit6 is a city of immense energy and a crumbling glamour. Everywhere endless varieties of things are for sale under little stalls (puestos), marching bands wander past even on little residential streets, clowns and fire-breathers stand at street corners, twisting jacaranda trees bloom purple and rain down their confetti of lavender flowers all over parked old Volkswagen Beetles and Mexico City's strange earthquake-cracked sidewalks.

Everywhere in DF you will feel the differences between the rich the middle class and the poor, the indigenous and the colonial, who despite living in very different circumstances, rub shoulders with each other in the city centre. The city constantly brings together different identities and possibilities, where tradition and culture are possessed by the poor and the wealthy alike, mixing moods and styles. The people are incredibly friendly and full of warmth. Less people know English than I initially imagined, but thankfully the people are so kind and so used to visitors that only a very basic knowledge of Spanish is needed to feel like you can get by in the city.
And while Mexico City in total is a huge sprawling megalopolis with probably close to 21 million people (making it the tenth largest metro area by population in the world), the city that people visit is merely the inner hub of that huge wheel. This inner hub isn't really so crowded or overwhelming. It isn't truly connected to the other, vastly poorer outer ring of the city. In fact it's easier to go to another touristy town from Mexico City centre than it is to commute from the poor areas of Mexico City to the centre. This hub city is really just the 'nice parts' of town, like those we visit in any place we go as tourists. This inner hub is very safe, and absolutely overflowing with incredible trees, parks, museums, and pretty buildings (few of which exist in the poor areas). But despite mixing the rich and poor on a daily basis, it is certainly a bubble kept alive by favoring this sector of the city. {This is not to say that the outer areas are uninteresting or unworthy of attention; just that few visitors really see them, and that's totally by design of the city government. I had the pleasure of living for a few months in Ajusco - out of city centre by about an hour and a half of dense urban mountain roads, though not really that deep into the beast tbh - and I found life there to be very nice. I paid about $10 CAD a week for a bare bones room. The view over the city was incredible. And I could go to the city if I wanted, or take a bus in front of the house to a beautiful rural town about 20 minutes up the mountain, for hiking.}

DF is beautiful and spiritual, but definitely not the easiest place in the world to live, and I think a lot of people who might otherwise be charmed by it's art galleries and historic buildings would find it hard to settle down. The city is also really challenging for the elderly and anyone dealing with mobility issues.

Many of the following tips - or rules as I'm referring to them (they are my rules for myself here) - have to do with making some of the chaotic aspects of the city easier to manage. If you are only coming here for a few days and going to be basically hanging out in Polanco and Condesa, then you will probably not even feel much of the need. But anyone who stays here longer will definitely soon make up their own list of tips for surviving in el D.F.

Rule #1: Always carry extra toilet paper and always carry an emergency 10 peso to access the bathroom

Using the bathroom in Mexico City can be tough because many bathrooms are a bit rough. The thing is that you will most likely be using the bathrooms here a lot, because of the high rate of food poisoning. This is a fact of life for a foreigner in Mexico, and in my experience it is the worst aspect of my otherwise charmed life here in Mexico. There's a hilarious Guardian article ("Using public toilets all over Mexico City completely changed the way I viewed it") about this, and I remember reading it before I came and thinking that it was pretty quirky; now, it's all to real, and like reading a page from my own autobiography.

Often you need to pay between 5 and 7 pesos to enter the bathroom. An attendant will hand you a comically small amount of toilet paper. Somehow everyone is getting by with 3-4 sheets. But believe me you'll be happy you brought extra. Or, let's say you are visiting a public library or museum, and you go to the bathroom, only to realize while you're in the stall that it doesn't have any paper. Many public buildings simply never have TP or even soap (special shout out to the otherwise amazing Biblioteca de Mexico!). This is why you need to always have your own TP. And never spend your emergency bathroom 10 pesos. Due to the large denomination bills in Mexico, you will always be running out of change and  No matter how much you want to use that 10 pesos You will need it. Some washrooms don't have an attendant but a turnstile that requires change. Don't be surprised if a toilet doesn't have a seat; in this case you just sit on the ceramic part. These are very common in bus stations and public baños.

Rule #2: Throw toilet paper into the 'basura', not the toilet; and don't be surprised if a toilet has no water to flush

The plumbing in Mexico City (and the rest of Mexico) isn't very robust. Hence it's common practice to throw your used TP into a wastebasket beside the toilet. The women of Mexico have (mostly) mastered the art of throwing their TP used-side down. The men not so much. If a toilet doesn't flush when you press the lever that usually means that they are flushing it by pouring a bucket into the bowl. Ask for water. Often you will wash your hands using water from a bucket too.

Rule #3: Don't eat the street food? Don't Eat The Street Food!  

Lots of people are worried about the crime in Mexico. Realistically I think they should be more worried about food poisoning. This is a more common terror, and it makes Mexico sometimes a land where you live in fear, desperately hoping that that last bite doesn't bring you great agony and destroy your plans for the week. Nothing has caused me more discomfort and despair in Mexico than the food poisoing, which seems to be an ailment particular to DF.

The street food is everywhere and looks amazing. And yes I've had delicious, utterly tasty street food. Regardless of whether I tried to eat it all the time to acclimatize myself to it, or avoided it save for very infrequent, oh-just-this-once nibblings, both has led to terrible food poisoning.

If you are here for only a short time and illness would totally ruin your stay, then don't eat the street food at all. All the normal advice you hear, like how you should only eat at a busy place, and make sure you can see how the food is being prepared and handled, applies, though again be very careful and you are better off to avoid it altogether. I have gotten the most sick from street food, but I've also gotten sick from food from restaurants that offered food prepared not much differently than street food. I've never been sick from any homemade food or food someone has served me in their house. And most of the food that has made me sick has come from places and dishes that weren't truly exceptional looking or tasting; generally the first bite wasn't amazing and I should have just stopped. But some of my food poisoning has come from delicious food.

The food poisoning I've had usually has an onset of 2 to 5 hours after the meal. 10 hours and I think you are in the clear. I've so far only gotten sick from food with meat in it. The illness is characterized by intense abdominal pain and vomiting and diarrhea. The intense pain and repeated vomiting usually passes after one very painful utterly delirious day or night. However, almost worse (and much more disruptive to your life) is the lingering problem of intermittent diarrhea and abdominal pain that can continue for 1 to 3 weeks. This makes even quick trips to the grocery store an exercise in worry, pain, and embarrassment. I think it's reasonable to pack a pair of adult diapers. I also always have a plastic bag in my knapsack, in case of sudden vomiting. My Mexican girlfriend laughs at me for this but I don't care. I'd rather wear a diaper than have an accident on a public bus. Mexicans tend not to get the food poisoning and do not understand the experience.

Absolutely avoid any risky food if you have any travel plans (bus, plane) in the next day. You do not want to get on a plane or a bus and discover you have diarrhea while on a bumpy 9 hour bus ride in a bus that doesn't have a bathroom and is careening around mountain roads at night in Guerrero. 

So remember. Admire the street food. Be envious of the street food. But really, it's only for Mexicans. It's there national treasure, their genetics blesses them with this, and it's not for you, for you are too weak.

(The one thing that I think is pretty safe is fruit cut-up on the street, where you can see the guy wearing gloves and using a clean-looking knife to cut up watermelon or oranges or jicama, etc. Also I've never been sick from orange juice freshly pressed in front of me on the street. The abundance of fruit street food is amazing and I stick to this much safer type of street food.)

Rule #4: Pay attention: keep one eye on the uneven ground; keep another looking for low hanging wires and other things

Due to decades of earthquakes and lack of maintenance, Mexico City's sideways are incredibly cracked, creased, upheaved, and riddled with holes. Even in fancy neighborhoods the ground is uneven and you'll need to keep an eye on making sure you don't trip or fall into a hole. Mexico City also has a lot of hanging wires to watch out for, as well as lots of low hanging roofs, especially of street stalls - puestos.

Rule #5: Be mindful of pickpockets

I've never been pickpocketted but my friend who had just arrived to see me had his phone stolen on the second day. We were walking in the historic center, a few blocks north of the zocalo, and the sidewalks were crowded. At a street corner while waiting for the light to change a group of short women suddenly mobbed around my friend and then dispersed. His phone was gone with them, lifted from his pants pocket. To avoid pickpockets I tend to stand directly on the curb at streetcorners, walk fast through busy streets, and I have also attached zippers to my pants pockets, though a safety pin works too.

Rule #6: Avoid Travelling on Public Transit at Rush Hour

Mexico City has a very extensive network of buses and subways, and they are incredibly cheap to use - only 6 pesos per ride. But they are crowded. At rush hours (8-10am; 4-7pm) so crowded that you may get carried into a bus or subway by a mass of people pushing and shoving behind you. This becomes especially intense and dangerous the further you are from the wealthy centre of the city; outlying subway stations often have people so packed together that you move as a herd, and will be unable to move forward or back or get out of the crush. My bag was once stripped off my back by the crowd in this manner, and my coat too, which ended up on the subway tracks. But the buses and subways are pretty chill at off peak hours. At all times people go up and down the subways and try to sell stuff, including beggars who often seem to be in serious states of distress.

Outside of rush hours the buses and subways are quite managable.

Also note that the metro buses and the subways have special cars at the front of the vehicle exclusively for the use of women, the elderly, the disabled, and children. Often there is a barrier guarded by a police officer making sure only eligible passengers get on, and these cars are often labeled with pink. 

Rule #7: Bring a small umbrella

When it rains in Mexico City (usually in the afternoon, between 3 and 7) it really rains. Sometimes it hails, and a hailstorm here can last for 20-30 minutes.

Note on Earthquakes 

Mexico City sits near a fault line and on top of very soggy soil that increases the amount of energy transfered into buildings during earthquakes. The famous 1985 earthquake killed untold thousands. Thankfully, after that disaster, the city is one of only 2 major cities in the world to have installed an earthquake early warning system. The alarms will go off if an earthquake's seismic wave is heading towards the city. When an alarm goes off you have between 20 and 60 seconds to get out of your building and find saftey in the street. The alarm is a loud tone followed by the words 'Alerta Sismica Alerta Sismica'.

In general, for people who want to avoid earthquakes at all costs, the buildings built on hillsides and on rocky highland and volcanic soils tend to be barely affected (many of these areas are to the south of the city). The worst affected are those near the old city, Roma, Condesa, and thereabouts, which was built on the old lakebed. 

Note on Police Corruption and Bribes

Note on Sexism and Street Harassment 

An unfortunate reality of life in DF is the behavior of many men in the city towards women. Leering and wolf whistling is common. I have seen many a taxi cab driver slow my ride down just so he can keep ogling a woman on the street. Some men go further and either grope women while in the perennially crowded buses or daytime streets. My girlfriend chooses to avoid wearing skirts or revealing clothing in the city due to all these behaviors. Obviously people who do wear those clothes are not looking for those behaviors or responsible in any way for them. But this is just a head's up about the situation here.

Note on D.F. Fashion 

Nobody wears shorts in DF, but otherwise the city is very diverse in it's style. A guy passes on a motorbike with a t-shirt that says A.C.I.D.  Many cholo looks. I just saw one cholo guy in a paisely patterned sweater and a purple ska plaid hat. A t-shirt that reads BLACK and has small text in English explaining the virtues of the color, how it signifies night and mourning and hiddenness. A guy on the subway wearing totally normal clothing but one hand is in a black glove covered with silver spikes. You can get away with wearing any combination of patterns and fabrics and logos on your clothes. But don't wear shorts.

Note on Love in DF (i.e. PDA) 

Everyone, young, and especially, old, couples make out in public in DF. Be ready to see teenagers making out, young couples making out, and again, especially, older couples, making out, on buses, in parks, in the subway, etc.

Note on People and Children Who Come Into Restaurants and Try and Sell You Stuff 

Most likely this happens all over the world, but in DF don't be surprised if a very young child comes up to your table at a restaurant, even very late at night, and wants to sell you some candy, galetas, or other sweets. D.F. is also a city where if you want to buy a cigarette you may find yourself buying one from a child.


Good restaurants in Mexico City

#1: "Tortas Al Fuego" (aka 'the Sonora place')
Open 24 hours
Located beside Metrobus Sonora

I've never had the tortas here and the name of the restaurant is a bit of a misnomer, since they have a tonne of food options and everything is amazing and the prices are the best in the city. My girlfriend and I have eaten here countless times and it is our favorite place in the city. It's not fancy but it's very clean and the service is good and we usually sit upstairs by the window so don't steal our spot! It's also open 24 hours (!).

Try an agua de fresa as your drink, the sopa de tortilla or the sopa de pollo or the frijoles charros (all are amazing with a bit of lime, really I would often come here and just order like 4 soups as my dinner...), the enchiladas verde or mole (these are served only until 8pm), the costanza de res (a steak, and a bargain at 55 pesos, with chilaquiles! also served till 8pm), the alambres, and the 33 peso order of 5 tacos al pastor (notice the enormous trumpo of meat roasting outside). These tacos are definitely the cheapest good quality tacos in Mexico.

The seafood options at the restaurant are really good though not as consistent. I like the ceviche de camaron. Everything here is a bargain.

Pro tip: the sidewalk outside the restaurant has these Mexican pinball gambling games, and somehow, miraculously, they actually pay out serious money... I once put in a 5 peso coin, totally randomly played the pinball and just hit buttons blindly, and the machine began to spit out almost 100 pesos worth of coins! A machine started giving me free money, on the street, in Mexico. I couldn't believe it. That 100 pesos buys a lot of food at Tortas al Fuego. Try your luck.

#2: Potzollcalli
Various locations

I've only had one thing here but it's so good. It's the pozole de Jalisco (Rojo), a truly delicious soup, that also comes in a delicious chilangro verde option. The best part: it's already a good deal at 100 pesos, but on Thursdays this soup is 2 for 1. There's a knack though to getting the full extent of the flavor of this soup, which is sort of the Mexican cousin to Vietnamese pho, which also is all about how you garnish and accrutrament it.

First is too add lots of the onion, radish, lettuce, and lime that they bring each order with on a platter. Then crumble up the chicaron and avocado they bring. Then add the salsa de ajo (the salsa with burnt garlic in it). Then enjoy that perfect soup.

I have no idea if anything else here is any good. One time I had a milkshake here and it was pretty bad. Also the cakes here look really good and they display them like treasures in a glass fridge near the entrance, but whenever I've had them I've been disappointed.

#3: El Turix, in Polanco;
      Cobá, in Napoles

Two different options for amazing Yucatan food.

El Turix is a hole in the wall in Polanco, and it may be the only hole in the wall in tony Polanco. Certainly it's the only cheap food I've ever had in that neighborhood, and it's the only iconic restaurant there.

Coba is a local chain I think and doesn't have the absolutely realness of El Turix, but the food is almost as good, and they do have more variety. And tables. It's actually a really comfy, cute and casually elegant spot, though it's not really a hip place at all. Try a panucho de cochinita, or a panucho de lomitas, which are both really tasty. For fun you can try the panucho of shark, 'cazon', which sounds more exciting than it tastes, since it just tastes like any white fish.

Cobá has an amazing 2 for 1 tacos and panuchos deal on Mondays all day. That's the day to go.

#4: Mercado de San Pedro de los Pinos

The stall here with the green chairs is great. It's across from a candy merchant. The only mercado stall I trust for this type of food. Try the tacos de bistec con queso. Or the pambazo de papas con toda (lettuce, onion, and cremá). There's another stall here with a great flan, and another stall with great seafood. Everything else is sorta ok but not nearly as good as the stall with green high top chairs.

I will also here make a special shout out to the pambazo. Try a pambazo. I didn't fall in love on my first pambazo. But I am now in love with pambazos. It will happen.

#5: Dhaka Biriyani 
Calle Kansas 13, Naples, 03810 Mexico City: Closes 9PM

This place is amazing. By far the best Bangledeshi / Indian food I've had in Mexico City. Truly a great restaurant. The prices are fair and reasonable and the portions are very satisfying. The flavors are totally perfect. And the guys who run the restaurant are very nice. I really recommend this place! Can not wait to go back!

#6: Ka Won Seng Jia Wang Cheng 
and Yi Pin Ju

These are the two best Chinese restuarants that I've tried in DF. They are very good. Just make sure you ask the waiter if the meat has bones or not (one thing I ordered was mostly bone...). But absolutely amazing food. Avoid going to most Chinese places in DF, and especially avoid the buffet Chinese places. At Yi Pin Ju you can pay with Visa, but only cash at Ka Won Seng.

#7: The various fruit stalls and carts around the city

#8: Tiangias Nuevo York for the mixcote

#9: Ojo de Agua 

A popular and very posh looking place with very good juices. My favourite was the agua horchata de coco.

#10: Pasteleria Alcazar Quintana Roo

A comfortable and very simple coffee shop chain in the city. Good coffee, cheap, and elegant surroundings.

#11: La Mascota

This is a bar (a cantina) where they serve botanas - little snacks or small meals - free with your order of beer. The beer is about 70 pesos which is about 50 pesos more than usual but they will serve you tacos or carnitas or stranger offerings of your choice from the daily menu, like pigs feet or soup oxtail soup. A very charming and old world sort of place. You can also pay by Visa.

#12: Cantina la potosina

Another cantina, this one doesnt serve botanas (they will give you peanuts though). Just a very old school and charming spot, definitely few tourists come by here.

One of the ubiquitous pinball gambling machines in DF

Poem 17: The Gravy Tanker Disaster

The sky was becoming foggy
But certain names were becoming luminous -

Politicians and literati
Were sizzling steaks.

The gentle ones were bleating
The fat one's bellowed
The thin ones screaming
They were all tender and juicy.

The ether crackled with messages -
A host of commonplaces were transmitted
To the end of the world at the speed of light:
Steak for sale! Good blood-red steak! 

He looked at me with the eyes of a stranger.
A stranger with a fork
was stumbling over what he had just created:
The locomotive of thought had derailed.
Spilling everywhere burning
Twisted rubble of the intelligible.
And they all ran to the hot ashes
of Culture
To make the perfect steak

--David Stokes

Poem 16: Cancun Mechanical

A man with a Metallica tattoo
a sculptor’s daughter
and a ballerina who broke her foot
on the first day of the job

the muslim pilot
is kissing a detective’s wife
while driving the plane
as the co-pilot sits in the bathroom
no one else has noticed a thing

I can hear Eminem
on the night bus home
on a poor man’s headphones
“it’s not so bad,
it’s not so bad”

It’s not so bad.

--Raphael Elkabas-Besnard

Poem 15: The Chain

Only the dead die alone,
riding an ass to Athabasca
Acid rain, acid snow,
acid tongues

Got these shackles on my feet
like pigeons 
the language beyond language
I do not know

Golden chains of love
bind me to a dead and dying world
free me
and I will spire
like the sun
or the swallow in its womb,
womb and word

-- Eli Fox

Article 25: The Putin Anecdote

Recently, I was in an office at the rear of a bank in North York, a bank attached to a swanky mall. I was in a hurry and the young banker who was processing something for my account noticed that I was eager to leave.

'What's the hurry?' he asked. 'Oh, nothing', I answered. I didn't want to tell him that I wanted to leave because sitting in his office was putting me to sleep. Perhaps he sensed I was bored and thus let slip the following anecdote, which was sure to pique my interest, and I hope yours as well dear reader.

'You're not the first client I've had be in a hurry. Once I had a client who came in first thing in the morning and needed me to urgently do something for his account. I asked what was the hurry and he said that he was flying to Russia later that day to have dinner in the evening with Vladimir Putin. I didn't believe him but he came back in a few weeks and showed me pictures on his phone, of him and Putin sitting beside each other, laughing and eating. He told me that they were old friends.'   

Well I was no longer bored and in fact I wanted to stay in his office and ask him more questions, but something told me it wouldn't be a good idea to learn any more information. I left the bank very intrigued that someone who does his banking in North York near my house is an old friend of Vladimir Putin, and has the same banker as me. I wonder what's in his account.

--David Stokes 

Poem 14: The Innocents

Cascading slaughter
Like the buffalo
The city of Buffalo
The braying of the hounds

--Eli Fox

Big Land Design #2: "The Meeting of A Grasshopper and a Dog at a Street Corner" (bronze sculpture for Mexico City)

Description of the Sculpture 

Here is a sketch of a proposed and hopefully one-day realized bronze sculpture for Mexico City. It depicts the meeting of a grasshopper and a dog at a street corner. The two life-size bronzes will be anchored in place at a suitable street corner in Mexico City, preferably at the meeting of two quiet streets. Mexico City is a city full of dogs (some as pets and others as street dogs) as well as of grasshoppers (both the dried crickets that people eat here as snacks, and the famous Chapultepec Castle, named from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc which means "at the grasshopper's hill"). 

The sculpture is inspired by a sentiment by the poet Tristan Tzara, who wrote in his Sept manifestes Dada that dada, or free expression, should be seen as "the meeting place of contradiction, the point where the yes and the no meet, not solemnly in the castles of human philosophies, but very simply on street corners like dogs and grasshoppers." 

We hope that the sculpture delights with its innocence and whimsy, and makes it's viewers contemplate what beguiling people, places, animals, ideas, and thoughts they might meet at a street corner. 

Design by David Stokes 

Big Land Design #1: Sweet Cherry Beach


Cherry Beach on Lake Ontario in Toronto is a beloved spot for numerous leisure activities. It is the closest main-land beach to the city centre with water access and it is adjacent to an area slated for an enormous redevelopment, converting the current industrial land there into residential and commercial buildings.

While Cherry Beach is a delightful place, the condition of the beach surface is degraded. The beach has as much mud, silt, and construction debris as sand. Wading into the water brings cuts and scrapes to the feet.

We propose that Cherry Beach can be sweeter. Our proposal aims to improve site conditions and to mitigate the forces that have created the site's current state.

Here is an examination of what has led to the current site conditions. The following information is provided by Ken Dion, Senior Manager of Special Projects, Project Management Office, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority:

The sand at Cherry Beach was originally placed in its current location through coastal deposition processes from the Scarborough Bluffs. However, in the 1950s, the Toronto Harbour Commissioners initiated the construction of the Leslie Street Spit, later to become Tommy Thompson Park.  The construction of this feature effectively cuts off the continued transport of sand from the Bluffs to Cherry Beach, as such there remains no new supply of sand to Cherry Beach. 

Given the configuration of Tommy Thompson Park, and the Toronto Islands waves and currents along the Cherry Beach only come in from the west.  As such, sand placed on Cherry Beach generally moves in a west to east direction with little to no longshore currents that are able to move the sand back westward to Cherry Beach. As a result, the observed conditions at Cherry Beach reflect the results of continuous movement of finer materials towards the east, leaving behind the larger materials behind. 

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority conducted a study a few years ago which recommended the placement of a number of harder groyne structures perpendicular into the water so that they can capture and hold the sand close to the beach, however, there were concerns that it would too drastically change the character of the beach.

Our Site Plan
To make the site more user friendly, this project proposes three parts:

1. A series of sand replenishments, to make the beach more secure against erosion and more enjoyable to use

2. A series of distinct and attractive "cherry pile" groynes extending from the shore into the water, to keep the beach sand in place. It is hoped that the sculptural quality of these groynes will mitigate some of the concerns with the TRCA groyne study, namely that groynes are extremely unsightly (for example, see the grey concrete groynes that run the length of Toronto's western beaches)

3. A modest sculptural element on the beach, connecting the cherry theme of the groynes to the beach, and creating a new landmark

Design by David Stokes and Daniel Stokes

Article 24: Iranian Grocery Store Dating Request

Toronto Department

Arzon Supermarket is in my opinion Toronto's finest Iranian grocery store. They are open 24 hours and I go all the time, usually very late at night, typically ordering either the fesanjoon stew or some of the various kebabs, grilled over what in the wee hours are just little piles of pale charcoal dust tended by a kindly white haired old man. He takes a torn piece of cardboard and waves it over your food. And that charcoal dust, seemingly hopelessly spent, springs back into life red hot.

On a recent day I went to the store with my mother much earlier than normal, at around 8pm. My mom and I were there to get some baklava pastries. The two guys who are always there late at night manning the cash register were already there. They are both about late middle age. I see them all the time but I don't know their names. One of them is very handsome and I've always thought he looks like an Iranian George Clooney or Cary Grant. The other man has bulldog look of a beleaguered business man, which makes me believe he is the owner even though I don't think he is. I've always wanted to get to know these guys but other than pleasantries while paying I have never have really talked to them.

With their help, my mom and I chose some pastries from the glass cases underneath the cash register. And we told both of them how we were going to serve these pastries at a charity dinner at a church. This seemed to pique the interest of the handsome one, but there were a bunch of customers in line behind us so we moved on and perused a bit in the store. There are hundreds of products in their brightly colored Farsi wrappers, fresh flatbreads strewn on shelves, towers of lemons, hookahs and pottery on high racks, portraits of royalty, flags, posters for visiting singers - an attempt to fit all that is longed for into one little store.

My mom and I wandered over to the middle of the store. I showed her the freezer filled with sunshine-yellow saffron-and-rose-water ice cream. There are tubs of the ice cream alone, and some of it is sold in plastic cups where the ice cream sits swirled atop a pile of what look like white noodles. My mom and I have never seen ice cream with noodles and we wondered what it might be. The line at the cash had dissipated and I asked the guys there what these noodles were. They told me that they are made of rice, powdered rice. Persian heartthrob showed me a little bag of it in the form of flakes.

Then he came around the counter and asked me and my mom to follow him. The three of us went over to a narrow aisle in the store where they have bulk bins. He reached down and handed us these little white things, misshapen bits like from the bottom of instant noodles. Mixed in with these were flakes and odd gravelly stone shapes very small and tiny. He motioned that we should taste them, and right as we put them in our mouths he says, "I want to ask for your help, can you help me find a woman?" Immediately I'm thinking this guy wants to ask my mom out or something, my newly widowed mom, but he kept going, "Do you know anyone? I've tried but all the women I meet are bad, they like to drink too much and do drugs and smoke. Do you know anyone at the church?" My mom looks at him with both kindness and sadness and says that she had met her husband at church, and then with a laugh that not all people at church are good. And we asked him about online dating and he said it didn't work. He said he didn't care about ethnicity or religion or anything, he said he was just desperate to meet a nice woman. Can anyone help him?

My mom and I left with our pastries, not sure of what we should think. The white flakes we tried were totally flavorless and tasted like chalk, like the bitterness and emptiness of a life without love.

--David Stokes

Big Land Video 3: Looking For A Place In the Community, with Federico Rosendo and his friend, standing on the roof of his house, in Temalacatzingo, Guerrero

Guerrero Department

--shot by David Stokes

Big Land Video 2: Your Life Store

Toronto Department

--shot by Daniel Glassman

Poem 13: 10,000 More

Magnetized fishes
with eyes that glow
impregnate the wounds
of a thousand men

Ten thousand more would die
to be granted such an audience
with Bozo the clown himself,
pulling the strings of the slipstream

We have traveled such great distances 
to fish the eyes of man
that there is nothing left
but incremental change
tumbling backwards
atrophied, like the sprouting of ways 

--Eli Fox 

Article 23: Saturday Night Breadmaking at the Church of St George

Toronto Department

Every Saturday night a holy ritual occurs off Don Mills Road between an LA Fitness and some industrial buildings at the Church of St George, an Egyptian Coptic church, where in the basement a group of young men gather to bake the Hamal - holy bread - the body of Christ.

My brother, despite not being Egyptian or Coptic, has been helping bake the bread with his Egyptian friends for a number of years now.

The many sensations of the bread-making room arrive all at once. It has bright white light like an restaurant kitchen and a high ceiling like it reaches into heaven yet is cramped at the bottom with equipment and six guys kneading dough elbow to elbow around a marble table. The air is sweet, humid, dusty, hot. The walls are decorated with tapped down posters of Coptic popes, saints, and Jesus, all painted in that strange kitsch style that makes them look both old and still to come. No surface escapes decoration - numerous saints can be tapped to a humidifier. The posters look supernaturally bright and vivid since every other surface of the room is coated in a thin white layer of flour. The dust floating in the air seems shaped by the melodically chanted Arabic that comes out of a grimy computer speaker atop a minifridge atop a countertop, and the room hums with the sound of these ceaselessly sung psalms.

The singers are across the hall in a small wooden-pewed chapel that smells of incense and has finely decorated altar. Three men sing into a microphone and their words get piped across the hall to the bread-making room to bless the bread throughout its making. Sometimes these chants combine with the sound of the dough mixing machine spinning loudly.

Other than the young men kneading dough, there is an older man, Uncle Atef, who the young men just call Uncle. He's the one who is in charge of the bread-making. He's the one who tapped up the pictures to the wall and the only one who can point to any picture on the wall and tell you who that saint was and what they did or which grey-bearded pope was which. When one of the young men leaves the break-making for good, moving say for school or marriage, Uncle Atef will pull down a poster of a saint and give it to them as a parting gift. Other than his faith, Uncle Atef holds no official religious title. He's in charge of the bread-making because he's done it for a long time, starting back in Egypt, and it's difficult work done late at night and he's the one willing to keep doing it.

There's only three ingredients: flour, water, yeast. The final addition is labor. "It's actually a workout," says one young man. My brother, Daniel, adds, "Some days, it's work." Someone else shows me a scar from accidentally touching the oven. To make the bread they use 10 kilos of flour a batch. So much is made because there are five masses a week and communion at each one. At the end of a service there is a thing called bouraka where all the bread that isn't blessed is broken up and given out. There's definitely a lot of skill to making the bread. From slapping the hamal on the table, then bending it over your palm, then stamping it with complex wooden cross patterns and putting little holes in it to let off steam. The end result will be a round, fluffy loaf of bread with crosses on top. 

"Round 2! All over again! Guys lets do it!"

As the night goes on there's more and more joking around. Overheard: "Oh baby let my people go Pharaoh pharaoh ohh baby yeah yeah yeah"; then some christian rap; "no it was when Spongebob ripped his pants..."

Daniel is holding a garden hose tube, cleaning the big mixing bowl. "Dude you's got ho's!" someone shouts. "No just one!" Everyone laughs. Someone else leans over and says, "And that's exactly why they have the chants: to go over us." Another guy looks at the hose seriously and says, "I remember one time I left it in and flooded the room." Daniel mimics a heavy Egyptian accent and pretends to act like Uncle when people are being bad and he is angry: "Get out! Get out!" Uncle probably has missed the meaning of the last few comments and just smiles. When Uncle's not looking, little balls of dough get tossed into each others mouths.

Eventually, the bread is all shaped and the next step, the baking, requires waiting for it to rise. Only two helpers need to stay for that portion. Everyone gathers in the hall and drinks orange crush and plays monopoly cards before heading out for the night. Daniel and his friend use the break to run over to a late night Chinese place and Daniel brings back some food for Uncle Atef, who keeps trying to pay him back the $7 for the chicken. Daniel refuses. "You've given me such a blessing Uncle."

Beneath a mosaic of Christ feeding the 5000, they eat their Chinese food from Styrofoam boxes. Soon they will have to finish the baking, and get home around 4 am.

--David Stokes

Article 22: What Happened to the Toronto Reference Library's Fabric "Jungle"?

Toronto Department

When I was 13, living in the suburbs, a rare trip downtown made a big impression on me. And no place then was more enchanting to me than the Toronto Reference Library. It is still the loveliest indoor public space in the city, but something beautiful there has since been lost. Here's what my youthful mind remembers: 

When you entered the doors of the library you immediately saw an indoor fountain and pond, and above it, an insane mass of white fabric, both messy and elegant, rigorously ordered and overgrown. And you needed to walk beside the fountain and pond and beneath the folds of this fabric to get to the library proper, like passing through a jungle narrow to reach a lost temple of books. With this strange little space - lush, intimate, messy, soft, so different from the hardness and professional order of the city - and then the sudden vast open space of the library's wondrous 10-story atrium, the Reference Library was the most romantic and perfect of places in the entire city. 

So I was very sad to grow up and become a frequent visitor of the library but find the "jungle" gone. The pond was still there, but no sign of the fabric forest existed. Over the years I asked a number of people working at the circulation desks about it and they didn't know what I was talking about. Eventually someone suggested that I check out a certain binder that the library keeps amid the stacks on the top floor, a binder filled with newspaper clippings and documents about the library itself. There was the answer to what the jungle had been. 

It was "Lyra", a sculpture that the library had commissioned specially for that location by the entrance, created by artist Aiko Suzuki, a Japanese Canadian like the building's architect, Raymond Moriyama. 

A photograph of Lyra’s unveiling in 1981 shows dancers surrounded by the aerial sculptures: members of Toronto Dance Theatre performed in the library lobby’s emptied fountain pool at Suzuki’s request. According to a Toronto Star article by Lotta Dempsey July 26, 1980 Suzuki " sees the strands of white and earth tone fibre moving delicately with air currents - "breathing" - and catching light as its visual harp like music.... "I am not a weaver, or a craftsman" she says firmly "I am an artist." Lyra was made of 1 million feet of white nylon fiber and was the largest fiber sculpture ever commissioned in Canada, suspended from 146 points in the ceiling. It took Suzuki eight months to complete her 45 by 23 foot sculpture. 

So what had happened to Lyra? 

I wrote an email to someone at the library's art desk and in response I received this email from the manager of the library:  

Dear Mr. Stokes,
I was passed along your inquiry about Lyra. Although I’m relatively new to Toronto Reference Library, I was able to discover the following information. If you’d like to know more, please let me know and I’ll see what I can dig up.

Lyra, a textile sculpture by Aiko Suzuki, hung at the entrance to the Toronto Reference Library from 1981 to 2003, at which time it was taken down at the request of the artist due to its deteriorated condition. The sculpture’s location near the main entrance, suspension over water and requirement to have fire retardant coating all contributed to physical deterioration of the textile over time. The Library then proceeded to secure an assessment to determine if the sculpture could be cleaned and restored to an acceptable level and what the feasibility of achieving that would be. Test results from the Canadian Conservation Institute concluded that the significant risk of the conservation treatment and the associated cost far outweigh the anticipated benefits of this work. Unfortunately, the artist’s original intent would not be able to be satisfactorily recaptured.

Following the artist’s passing and with the test results available, library staff had a number of meetings and discussions with Ms. Suzuki’s daughter, we reached a mutual decision to decommission Lyra.

Gillian Byrne
Manager, Toronto Reference Library 

There was the answer, with new and more melancholy questions. I sent Ms Byrne a number of these follow-ups and never received a response. But what answers would satisfy me. Something beautiful was gone. 

Lyra fiber sculpture Toronto Reference Library by Aiko Suzuki

--David Stokes

Poem 12: The Infernal Machine

In the year 20,000
there will be steel and cobalt,
sawdust in candlelight
Blacksmiths forging the blackened air, and
famine's skeleton mouth extending past the prairies 
Thieves who know where they are, 
breaking into tallest towers of the crescent moon 
but not what they steal 

Like a thief I steal donkeys 
from the heavy metal parade
I set up boxing matches in the town square
take bets from the roaring crowds 
The men always think they will win 
It's something I have to do
make money on love, 
etenal love

20000 years have culminated into love, 
dancing under a broken moon

--Eli Fox