Krista Foss Paris Lectures #11

In Paris Lectures
At our first Paris Lectures event since early spring and since having a baby, we inaugurated a new venue (courtesy of the Arlington, thanks guys!) and welcomed local writer-in-residence for the County of Brant Public Library, novelist Krista Foss, author of Smoke River.

The theme of the evening was “place”. How do we influence where we are, how does it influence us? How does a place change under observation? And what do the details we notice say about us? Several attendees walked away with inspired views about Paris or whatever place they happened to be thinking of, and though we have been utterly exhausted since, we are also inspired to keep – as one generous man told us we were doing – shining a light on what’s awesome about this particular place.

We began the evening with Mark’s homage to place through the lens of history. We were beyond excited to be hosting an event in the historic Dominion Telegraph Event Centre, the location of the very first long distance phone call in the world. That one-way call, from Brantford to Paris, traversed telephone lines all the way from Brantford to Toronto then back to Paris, proving it was indeed possible to communicate in real time over long distances. World-changing. And here we were in the same spot where once stood Alexander Graham Bell.

Alexander Graham Bell receiving the world's first long distance phone call in Robert White's Boots and Shoes store, Paris Ontario
Alexander Graham Bell receiving the world’s first long distance phone call
in Robert White’s Boots and Shoes store, Paris Ontario

“The conception of the Telephone took place during that summer visit to my father’s residence in Brantford in 1874, and the apparatus was just as it was subsequently made, a one-membrane telephone on either end … The experiment of August 10, 1876, made from Brantford to Paris, was the first transmission, the first clear, intelligible transmission of speech over the real line, that had ever been made.”
Alexander Graham Bell at Boston, Massachusetts, March 13, 1916

Mark also shared the origins of Paris Lectures as the Mechanic’s Institute, the hosts of another lecture series that began here in the 1800s. We didn’t know when we began Paris Lectures that we were continuing an age old tradition, but it’s a comforting idea that a place can have an unalterable magnetism, attracting similar outlooks and initiatives whatever its period in history, and that the idea of Paris Lectures is much bigger than we are. We also shared some laughs about the riveting old lecture topics like “The Adaptation of the Economy of Nature to the Physical Condition of Man”, “Reason Its Exercise and Uses”, and our favourite, “Pornography”, commissioned to rack up better attendance and delivered by the Reverend Mr. Lightbody who hailed from our more worldly neighbour, Brantford.

The Mechanics Institute
Rules and Regulations of the Paris Mechanic’s Institute

After our brief hiatus over the last couple months this event also offered us an opportune moment to reflect on the series so far. We tallied up some figures and realized we had hosted ten events, 30 speakers, and registered 302 tickets. That may not sound like a lot of tickets cumulatively over a year but we remember beginning the series knowing virtually no one in town and feeling downright lucky if fifteen people came.

Before moving on to the main event we asked attendees to bear with us for our tradition of “stoking” the crowd, or participating in a creative warm-up. We had developed twenty weird prompts to be used in a game of visual “telephone” in honour of our historic location. And you guys cracked us up. The results of translating a written prompt to a drawing and back to words again guarantees hilarity. Here is just one of the amazing sequences.

Awkard Hug → The Fish Was This Big → Fly Fishing In Hand
Awkard Hug → The Fish Was This Big → Fly Fishing In Hand

Finally, Krista engaged us with her stories of growing up in Ancaster as one of a slew of kids (any number greater than one qualifies as a slew in our book), spending countless hours outdoors and in her imagination. We loved what she said about doing the memory of a place a disservice by glossing over any kind of darkness, and that the cruelty of nature is something children naturally understand and do not shy away from. This perhaps was an allusion to (and maybe an aspirational perspective) toward Krista’s loss of her sister and best friend throughout childhood. Krista recounted cycling through Nepal after her sister passed, a remarkably humorous tale in which she admitted her naïveté. It was during this trek that she discovered how looking at a place hard enough can make it seem like any place. Though Krista attributes some of these ideas about observation to Annie Dillard, we found this particularly astute; recently our jaunts to the country here in Brant County have felt like shades of England, or Luxembourg, or Florida and Texas, even.

We wrapped our evening with some decidedly great questions from the audience, philosophical and moving questions well beyond the scope of that trite probing, “Where do your ideas come from?” Well done, crowd. Made us think we should host a philosophy debate soon!

Krista Foss, writer-in-residence for the County of Brant Public Library
Krista Foss, writer-in-residence for the County of Brant Public Library

Krista announced her community initiative, the County of Brant Anthology (Cassie humbly suits on the committee for the project with several outstanding members of the community). The project invites residents to write about their strongest memories tied to nearby physical locations. The anthology will accept submissions through the fall and will be published sometime next spring. You can stay up-to-date with that project on the Facebook page here.

This event we were excited to see someone beat us to the punch in publishing a recap, someone with faster typing fingers than our own! A first-time attendee and new friend Susan Gibson wrote this excellent review of the event on her blog. She truly did it justice so be sure to read on if you’re curious about what else was discussed.

A new start, a new lease of life for our Paris Lectures sign

Lastly, although we rushed through it and may have confused people, we announced that the next two Paris Lectures events are in the works. On September 28th we will host an event at the lovely new Wincey Mills. Our speakers for that event will be announced and tickets will be released on Monday August 29th.

Our October event will then bring us back to the DT Centre on the 18th for a doozy of an event, a Pecha Kucha night with many different speakers all adhering to a five minute presentation with 20 slides that automatically progress at 15 seconds each. It’s a challenging speaker format and should prove to be so much fun for everyone involved! We will announce a call for those speakers sometime in the next few weeks.

Until then, thank you again for all the support, we will see everyone again soon.

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