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Signing out neighbourhood "books" during the Human Library Project

CBC’s Giacomo Panico, one of the Human Library’s Books. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Getting a read of area’s hottest books
Sneak peek at two sides of the entertainment business

By Kathleen Wilker
Photos by Justin Van Leeuwen

The Human Library Project offers opportunities to broaden perspectives by signing out people for twenty minute interviews. This year, the second year that CBC and the Ottawa Public Library have collaborated on the venture, two Kitchissippi residents were on loan on January 26.
Using our media privileges, we ‘borrowed’ Drag queen Zelda Marshall and CBC personality Giacomo Panico before the event.

Zelda Marshall at the Rosemount Library. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

“I’m originally from Vancouver where the snow stays in the mountains where it belongs,” says Marshall who was the Grand Marshall of the Ottawa Pride Parade in 2011. “I came to Ottawa for the work and stayed for the drag.”

Zelda Marshall browses. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Considered a beloved and mentoring grandmother in Ottawa’s drag scene, Marshall notes that drag isn’t only about looking fabulous and having all the best dance moves. “There’s a long tradition of fundraising and giving back to the community,” she says. “And you absolutely have to be a great entertainer, to think on your feet, to shift gears quickly. Being a great human being makes you a great entertainer.”
Equally at home raving about the gorgeous sparkly clothes in XL sizes she finds at Giant Tiger, narrating the complete history of gay rights in Ontario and across Canada or sharing stories about her drag daughters and granddaughters, Marshall was looking forward to meeting the people who would sign her out.
“I can tailor my story to fit whatever they’re interested in,” says Marshall who uses her male name and identity at work.

Giacomo Panico outside Rosemount Library. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

West Wellington’s Giacomo Panico studied mechanical engineering at university and found himself drifting from his preferred role as educator at the Aviation Museum into project management when he decided it was time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
“I’ve been working for CBC for 5 years,” says Panico, explaining that he began his radio career with a Monday night show on CKCU that he took very seriously. “After two years, I did a short internship in Montreal and then cornered Adrian Harewood at a public function and managed to convince him to let me shadow him for a day.”
Turns out CBC was just the right fit for Panico who wowed editors and producers at the story meeting Harewood invited him to. As luck would have it, Panico’s first idea went on air locally, then nationally and then rebroadcast on The House. “I learned from that experience that you can try to do as much as you can. But sometimes an opportunity presents itself. And it’s about being ready when that opportunity hits, to take full advantage of it.”
These days Panico, a self-proclaimed news junkie, is loving his life, his job and his neighbourhood which he considers both practical and vibrant. “I love covering breaking news. I love the combination of the fast tempo and using a filter of rigor. The quick, critical thinking.”
He attributes some of his talent for grace under pressure to his early years as an air cadet. “You have to be fast, but you’ve got to be right,” he says, eyes lighting up. But as much as he was looking forward to the Human Library Project and to meeting everyone, he had some reservations. “I can be a bit more guarded about my own life,” he says.
Known at CBC as ‘the bike guy’ for riding year round, even in sub -30 temperatures, Panico notes he’s equally passionate about beautiful cars.
In addition to reporting for CBC during the week, Panico is hosting, on an interim basis, CBC’s Saturday morning show, In Town and Out. Although his Saturday’s start at 2:45am with a homemade latte, Panico considers being Ottawa’s brunch date a privilege. “Saturday morning is a sacred time. The pace is slower. There might be waffles and an extra coffee. We want to offer something special, something substantial.”

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