This guy has kindly loaned me a film and negative scanner. I’m looking forward to making copious use of it, as I’m running out of ideas for my Monday Morning Photo Blog (and I don’t seem to be creating many new photos — at least not interesting ones).

I have thousands of negatives and contact sheets in the basement, just waiting for a chance to be seen. Most are crap — just stupid pictures from my university days — but there are a few gems in there, I think (I hope). I had a few negatives scanned professionally a few months ago and was very pleased with the results. But going that route is both time- and money-consuming. Hopefully this loaner will do an acceptable job so I can scan many negatives, gratis.

arctic hareThere is also the issue of the thousands of colour slides I have lurking in the basement. Most of them are edited and categorized, and carefully tucked into clear sheets. Unfortunately, most of them are crap too (more on that next week), but again I hope to find a few gems.

In fact, I have already. This week’s Monday Morning Photo Blog entry is the result of my first test with the scanner. It’s a shot of an arctic hare that I took in 1991 when I was working for the summer above the arctic circle. The hare itself is mildly interesting — what works for me is the crazy context.

Click the picture of the hare to see the full image. While you’re there, click on the “Places” link in the “Categories” section on the sidebar — in my photos with tagged “Places” you’ll find half a dozen or so other images from that summer, all in black & white. This hare shot is the first time that any of my colour images from the arctic have been seen publicly.

Those were the days…

Vancouver-based Brian Nation reminisces on his blog about a beery Montreal summer night in 1967 when he and a few friends enjoyed the company of the likes of poets Robert Lowell, George Barker, and Robert Creeley. The venue was the long-gone but well-storied Swiss Hut on Sherbrooke Street, near Ave. du Parc.

I’ve seen many references to the fabled Swiss Hut over the years. In the 1960s, it seems, there were fewer choices when it came to boozy libations. There were plenty of seedy taverns — for men only — and a number of music venues that sold drinks in the evenings (after you paid a cover charge to get in), but not so many places where you could go for just a sociable and civilized drink or three.

For some reason the Swiss Hut — which I assume was a licensed restaurant, not a bar — became a popular spot for what today we might call “the alternative crowd.” Hippies, draft dodgers, poets, pundits, gadflies, commies, and separatists all gathered at the Swiss Hut — most likely in separate booths — to drink beer, scheme their schemes, and generally thumb their noses at the dull ordinaries.

What a time that must have been. I feel nostalgic for those days even though I wasn’t even there — I was far too young and far too distant. Still, those references. You can’t read a ballsy book about Montreal in the 1960s without finding a couple of them, maybe a lot.

For example, there’s an obscure book by Ronald Lee called “Goddam Gypsy,” which is part novel, part memoir, and all cocksure swagger from a self-proclaimed Montreal Romani. While the book is no great feat of literature, it did provide me with an understanding of the Roma, where they come from, and what they’re about, despite (or perhaps in spite of) Lee’s gushing boosterism.

There were many scenes in that book in which the bell-bottomed and bekerchiefed Lee repaired to the Swiss Hut to lecture some ignoramus or other about the high moral qualities of that Roma who just picked his pocket, and how the sudden loss of his wallet was his own damn fault as he had let the obviously superior Roma gentleman (or woman, or child) outsmart him.

All this talk of a fabled restaurant makes me wonder if such a place exists today. Sure, we have many hip places where smart and odd and daring people meet, but are any of them legendary? Or will they ever be? Perhaps the problem is that we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to bars, cafes, and pubs. So many that the movers and shakers of our generation are too widely distributed across them to make any one of them stand out.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’d rather have too many bars than not enough — especially since, as I get older, I am becoming more and more disdainful of noisy crowds. But still, there’s a part of me that wishes I could go back in time for a couple of weeks and hang out at the Swiss Hut with all those poets and gypsies and other n’er do wells (many of whom did rather well).

On the other hand, I’d likely be disappointed. It probably wasn’t the beehive of activity I like to imagine. History and nostalgia have a way of compressing things while at the same time expanding them. Back then, the denizens of the Swiss Hut probably had no sense of the one-day legendary status of their hangout. All they were doing was sitting there, drinking beer, smoking, and talking — and probably wishing there were a few more watering holes around.

Another kitchen rampage

It began with a simple bean salad, enough to supplement a few lunches during the week. A can of mixed beans, some chopped up red and green peppers, a bit of grated carrot, some slivers of red onion, all tossed with olive oil, lemon juice, a bit of white vinegar, and a handful of fresh herbs (thyme, basil, and Italian parsley). Oh, and a sprinkle of salt and a generous scratching of black pepper.

Next up: chick pea curry, to serve as a side dish on Monday night (or Tuesday, depending…) as well as a lunch or two during the week. It’s my basic recipe – supposedly Thai, but it uses Indian curry powder in coconut milk with tomatoes, potatoes, some aromatics, and a lot of basil. Mmmmmm, yummy!

Then it was a chicken tikka masala – main course for Monday (or Tuesday). This was no great feat since I used ready-made sauce from a jar. Still, I had to skin and bone the chicken breasts. I also added a couple of roughly-cut onions. I just have a thing about chicken tikka masala – it’s gotta have onions.

While the chick pea curry and tikka masala were bubbling I set about making dinner – a Sunday roast. Specifically, a small pork loin roast.

I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I stuck with the classic approach, I scored the fat on top and rubbed in some fresh thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. I arranged some small onions around the rack, and plunked down the roast. What the heck, I also peeled an orange (a mineola) and arranged the chunks on the rack. Then I got the bright idea to arrange some finely chopped onion bits, garlic, and celery at the bottom of the pan, along with some water, in anticipation of a sauce.

That went in the oven with some chunked-up, oiled, and herbed potatoes.

Next, a salad. Lettuce, arugula, red onions, and endive. A vinaigrette of olive oil, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, pepper, and basil. Shake shake shake!

Time for the side veg. Chunks of carrots cooked in orange juice until reduced to a glaze, and topped with a bit of cilantro.

The roast is ready. Tent it in foil for a few minutes while I add some stock and white wine to the pan drippings. Reduce, strain out the lumpy bits, reduce again with a very light sprinkle of flour to thicken it. (I would have used demi-glace instead of the stock and flour, but I didn’t have any on hand.)

Bingo. Three-and-a-half hours of intense kitchenery, and we have a great dinner, plus another dinner ready-to-go, and lunches for the week.