Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS October 20 1997
Opening Notes

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS October 20 1997

Opening Notes

BARBARA WICKENS

Big heart and the biggest art

When artist Eric Waugh decided to create the world’s largest painting to raise money for charity, he initially underestimated the scope of the project. “My first thoughts were, ‘How big can it be? It won’t take long.’ ” He now knows better. Since the abstract artist from suburban Montreal began painting in April, he has finished about one-eighth of his proposed 7,200-square-metre project. When completed, it will be the size of an Olympic stadium, and will be covered with 1360 litres of paint. Working in a warehouse with donated supplies, 33-year-old Waugh uses a power sprayer to quickly paint each 1.5-square-metre panel. When the nearly 3,240 pan-

els are connected by Velcro, they will form a replica of Hero, the artistis 1996 poster of a parent with an arm around a child, which has raised $50,000 for camps for children affected by HIV/AIDS in the United States. In all, he hopes to raise $5 million for the camps—and his painting is a big part of that plan. Waugh, a married father of three young children, wants to lay it out at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during a musical-artistic event that he is trying to organize for AIDS Compassion Day next June. Later this month, he will meet with promoters and potential sponsors in Los Angeles to raise money for materials to finish the painting and to start planning the special day. But, for now, he has another concern. “I’m really hoping,” says Waugh, “no one comes along and does a bigger painting before I do.”

Seating to spare

A year ago, airlines flying from North America to Asia were warning travellers to book early for trips coinciding with Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. Predicting that interest in the July 1 handover would translate into packed planes, many airlines, including the city state’s unofficial flag car-

rier, Cathay Pacific, demanded payment in full—usually about $1,500—months in advance. How times have changed—the anticipated travel rush never did materialize. In fact, some carriers saw traffic drop by as much as 67 per cent on some routes in July from previous years. In a recent letter to the airline’s staff, Cathay Pacific managing director David Turnbull noted that traffic was

down throughout Northeast Asia, resulting in “the worst situation for passenger revenue in decades.” Nor was Turnbull overly optimistic about the future: “We must be mindful of the possibility that the situation will remain difficult for some time to come.” Hong Kong, in general, may be booming under Communist rule, but at least one high-flyer has been brought a little closer to earth.

Dissecting his genius

The bizarre autopsy of Albert Einstein 42 years ago has a Canadian connection. When Einstein died in 1955, New Jersey pathologist Dr. Thomas Harvey removed the renowned physicist’s brain without permission. Harvey later lost his job at Princeton Hospital for refusing to turn over the brain (he keeps it in formaldehyde in a Tupperware container). Now, in this month’s Harper’s magazine, Harvey reveals to freelance writer Michael Paterniti that he has given about one-fifth of the brain to Sandra Witelson, a psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton. Harvey, 84, says he parted with the prized segment after meeting her in July, 1996. Witelson, however, is reluctant to talk. She originally told Paterniti that Harvey’s claims were “incorrect,” implying she did not have a piece of the brain. But now Witelson has acknowledged to Maclean’s that she has “a major portion of crucial areas of Einstein’s brain.” Her response was in a brief e-mail, and she has declined requests for an interview. Her e-mail message concluded: “It is difficult for me to give additional information until results are in the published scientific domain.” Einstein’s brain still inspires some deep thinking.

Cryptic, never clueless

It takes a special sort of intellect to create cryptic puzzles—mind-bending crosswords with clues relying on puns and other wordplay—and Fraser Simpson clearly has that turn of mind. The 35-year-old Toronto high-school math teacher is one of just a few dozen professional cryptic creators in North America. Simpson, who began creating crosswords in high school, has contributed to a variety of publications. Since April, 1994, his puzzles have appeared every Saturday in The Globe and Mail. Then, when editors at The New Yorker decided to introduce a weekly cryptic, they turned to Simpson. Since June, he has been in charge of puzzles at the New York City-based magazine, creating a crossword a month and editing others’ contributions. With some puzzles requiring up to 10 hours work, it can be a time-consuming sideline. “It really depends,” Simpson says, “on whether I’m trying to be really clever, or whether I’ve had a bad week.” That leaves him a little spare time for hockey, volleyball and (what else?) Scrabble.

Les québécois in New England

The city of Woonsocket, R.I., has had its share of hard times. Ever since the textile mills that once made it a boomtown started closing 60 years ago, it has been in a slump. But the townsfolk are capitalizing on another part of Woonsocket’s history to give it a shot in the arm: its French-Canadian heritage. More than half its 44,000 residents are descendants of French Quebecers who left Canada in the late 19th century to find work in New England. Their story is being told as part of a $3.9-million museum that opened last week in a onetime textile mill. Planners hope that 30,000 visitors a year will pay $7 each to see The Museum of Work and Culture, whose exhibits illustrate the history of unions and laborers. One traces the exodus of French-Canadians, many from small farms, who flooded into the region looking for jobs, and their efforts to keep their language alive. French is spoken mainly by the older generation now, but until the 1930s Woonsocket was known as the most French-speaking town in New England, with French schools, churches and a daily newspaper, La Tribune. “People j| used to say this isn’t an American city, it’s really part of Canada,” says Claire Quintal, director of the Institut Français in nearby Worcester, Mass. ‘The museum has become a kind of symbol that they haven’t died.”

The Dionnes wait for the past to pay

Two weeks before he became Ontario premier in June, 1995, Mike Harris agreed to something the surviving Dionne quintuplets had been seeking: to consider compensation for the province’s exploitation.

Born near North Bay, Ont., in 1934, the five world-famous babies were made wards of Ontario. They generated an estimated $500 million in tourism as thousands flocked to see them at Quintland, a government-operated park. Now 63, the three surviving sisters, Yvonne, Annette and Cécile, live together in suburban Montreal on a limited income. Since 1994, they have been asking the Ontario government for compensation—and they believed Harris would provide it. In a letter to Cécile’s son, Bertrand Dionne Langlois, Harris wrote that if he was in a position to address the issue after the election, their

request would “be given our full attention.” But according to Carlo Tarini, a Dionne family spokesman, there has been no progress. A spokesperson for the Ontario attorney general says the case “remains under consideration,” but is a complicated legal matter. A frustrated Tarini, says that the Dionnes expected more from Harris, a fellow North Bay native: “He knows the story inside out.”