Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…
Actually, the threatened winter storm started mildly (especially for those of us from the prairies where real winter lives), and held off until today. (It is snowing, but not at all bad as I type.) Nonetheless, the Royal York Hotel was booked up, as prudent partygoers chose to take a room and stay downtown rather than risking a tricky late night drive home.
The BLB is one of the great formal events of the year in Toronto, held in support of the Toronto Public Library system, which is, in fact, the busiest in the world. Tables are seriously expensive in a good cause, bought by corporations, banks, brokerages, businesses of one kind or another, with single seats going to … well, to book lovers who want to see authors in tuxedos and evening gowns. Here, just for the record, is one (1) ‘official photo’ proving that some of us can manage the dishevelled thing, even in a tux. My current theory is that dudes who consistently keep both tuxedo shirt wings under the bow tie are cheating with tape or velcro. Just sayin’…
There is a silent auction and cocktail reception beforehand, which is where you may actually get a chance to see people. The ballroom itself is huge, dark, and you are (mostly) at your tables, though people do wander in search of friends, or authors to talk to. Two of the sleek Penguin marketing mavens chased me down at mine, for example, to grin and repeat how obviously right they’d been to harass me into Twitter. Proof: the very first words of one of my table companions were, ‘I see you managed to get the bow tie on!’ (I had been joke-tweeting in the afternoon about my expected four hour wrestling bout with it.)
My table was an outright win (though I have to say I have always enjoyed the people I’ve been with at these). I sat with execs from the construction company and the architectural firm that built the magnificent Toronto Reference Library where, by coincidence (or not?) we are launching River of Stars in April. I talked about how splendid the central Atrium is for such events, the architect just grinned. I told a funny story ( well, I think it is funny!) from the Calgary Authors’ Festival. One senior executive told a story about being in L.A. and their very young waitress in a restaurant, learning she was from Canada, asked him where to see the Northern Lights. He tried to make clear how big this country is, but finally said she should go to Winnipeg in February and might have a shot (in fact, she really needed to go much farther north for best chance). He did add, ‘It is cold. It is really, really cold.’ And she said, ‘I get it. Like, an extra sweater?’ After, one of his table-companions in L.A. turned to him and said, ‘You realize, you have just sent that young woman to her death?’
The entertainment, as always at BLB featured ‘get everyones’ attention’ soundtracks and some seriously hard bodies of both sexes on stage (modelling agencies volunteer their people). But for River, as I mentioned here last week (scroll!) we were treated a performance by the genuinely extraordinary Liu Fang, one of the very greatest pipa artists in the world. (The pipa is often described as the Chinese lute.) She’d helped me with research for Under Heaven, we’ve kept in touch, and she agreed to come into town to participate in the fund raising and celebrate River of Stars. She brought class and grace and exceptinal talent to a version of ‘The Ambush’ which is probably the most celebrated and one of the most challenging pieces in the classical repertoire. Her husband, Risheng took a few photos (he took the one of me above, too). Here is the last image on the big screens of the very short video Penguin ran before the performance (full video is being shot this month):
And here are shots he took of Fang performing:
And this shows one of the screens and some of the crowd:
Here are Risheng and Fang, after her performance
I am so genuinely pleased that they came in to share in this. Video of her was shot, and with luck we’ll get the footage to edit into something that can be shared.
It was, as it always is, a good night, underpinned by an awareness that it is for a really good cause. It also felt, and this I hadn’t expected, as if this was the coming out party for River of Stars. Seeing it on the screen, listening to Fang perform… Plus being interviewed about an upcoming book while wearing a tuxedo is not normal. I could consider asking the marketing team if we want to make me in formal wear a ‘signature’ idea for the upcoming media gigs and readings and … no, scratch that thought.