Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Ultimate Road Trip has No Roads 

Rocky Mountain Flyover
Rocky Mountain Flyover - click left or right (or use the arrow keys) to see more.

As a kid - or even as an adult - I was never fond of the classic road trip. When you’re small and sitting in the back of a car all you see is the inside panel of the car door and all you feel, if not motion sickness, is boredom. Well now I’ve found the ultimate road trip doesn’t even have roads. If I told you, you could be ferried through some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes sitting in a comfy chair while someone brings you snacks and drinks and meals you may think I’m referring to a virtual reality video game. Yet in truth it’s the oldest form of road trip - the continental train passage from the lush verdant west coast to the pointed snow capped peaks of the Rockies.

Oh sure, you pay for the privilege of experiencing beauty esconced in luxury whilst uniformed staff offer sweets, savouries, wine or beer but hey you’re worth it. If not you then who?

I guess you could do this via the cruelty of the winding highway and common crudeness of gas stations but then you would have to pay attention to the road and not the mountains where the earth literally touches the sky. Or maybe you’d prefer to hike the trails with a rucksack and a mule full of supplies like out forefathers did. Trust me, I’m pretty sure our forefathers would have preferred a leather chair with a glass of ale and the occasional nap rather than risking life and limb. Plus, all the bugs? No thanks. You know there are ticks now that can make you allergic to red meat? Yeah. I may never go into a forest again unless I’m surrounded by steel and glass. That's the beauty of taking the train. You’re separated from the dirty bits of nature while simultaneously carving through it - with a glass full of your favourite beverage, with or without ice.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The End of Coincidence 

“Courage, it couldn't come at a worse time”

This morning I wanted to post a “Happy Diwali” image on behalf of the advocacy group I work with as a shout-out to Toronto's large South Asian community. An appropriate photo full of candles carefully placed looked interesting and when I selected it I was directed to the site for Getty Images. Scrolling down to see if there were other options I was shown not more images for the Indian festival, but images of trending topics. That’s when I saw an image of a young Gord Downie in performance with the caption, “Tragically Hip frontman, Gord Downie has died at the age of 53.”

“Oh. How strange?” I thought. Downie had been ill for some time and though his passing wasn’t unexpected it was still unsettling. Yet I was really curious as to how Downie’s death had “trended’ on a stock imagery site? Did the announcement of the musician’s death cause journalists to rush to their laptops, search their Getty Images account for Gord Downie thus causing that search to trend on the site? That seemed the likely answer, but still a weird way to hear the news.

It was a warm evening and I decided to take advantage of the weather and go for a run. At Dundas and Broadview a truck passed with the Tragically Hip’s “Courage” emanating from the driver side window. At that point I needed some courage to keep running and I wondered about the coincidence of hearing one of the band’s signature songs on the day of their lead singer’s death. Of course, it wasn’t a coincidence at all. Every radio currently playing in Toronto at that moment was probably playing any one of two dozen popular Hip songs in memoriam for the fallen frontman. In fact, after I got home and showered, I went to the kitchen to start supper and I turned on the radio and CBC was playing a special tribute to Downie, so I heard more of his songs. When I think of it, I recall when Elvis died and we were camping in Grand Falls, every radio from every campsite was playing nothing but Elvis tunes.

All of this made me think that seeing an image of Gord Downie or hearing his music at a certain time would never be a coincidence and in fact we may have reached the end of any such coincidences. After reading The Improbability Principle by David Hand, you start to understand that in this world, what seems improbable is surprisingly likely. When I see trending images in my browser, you’re seeing different ones. When I see ads on a news site, you see different ones. The scroll of posts on my Facebook page are uniquely tailored for me. All of this is because we are in the age of the algorithm. Our devices that we use daily aren’t just the most intimate objects we own — we hold them so close and caress them so often — but they are also cheating on us.
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Monday, October 16, 2017

Seen in… September 


Has there ever been a more perfect promotional photo in the history of cinema than Gregory Peck manning a two-stroke scooter with Aubrey Hepburn clinging to his sport coat? I doubt it.

In an effort to improve my viewing habits and to make up for not having seen a single film at the Toronto International Film Festival I thought I would embark on a film festival in my very own living room. I got exactly as far as I did with the film festival IRL (In Real Life for those not acquainted with the crude brevity of the world wide web). In my defence, September was unusually hot thus my living room was even hotter and so I spent more time than normal swimming, paddling and sitting in large vats of ice cream rather than watching much of anything. It should be noted that every episode of “television” was seen on my laptop while slurping on the season’s last mojitos in the comfort of my cold basement bunker kitchen.



Two young lovers, well, one young lover and one, maybe slightly too old for her lover, in Roman Holiday, image via the Movie DB

Roman Holiday
Aubrey Hepburn. Gregory Peck. Rome on less than $50/day. What’s not to love? Well - the naivety of it all is a little galling but hey, no, you know what? Just give in to the romance of it all. The turn happens with what seems like the most passionless mashing of flesh since… nope, I said I wasn’t going to do that… the moment when two icons look into each others eyes and become human, that’s what did it for me. Then the bittersweet awareness that all good stories come to an end, with an ending that Hollywood would never accept today (see Notting Hill). Though I’d love to see a remake set in the debauchery of Fellini’s Rome with an entirely spoiled brat let loose - sort of a film version of Pulp’s anthemic Common People, with a guileless but witless rich girl slumming with a “commoner”.
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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Modernity is Killing You 


An uncontacted tribe photographed from the air in the Brazilian Amazon.
“But at least dark chocolate is good for you. No it is not.”
Modernity is killing you, you know that right? I mean, let's go through the list:

Sitting too much is killing you, and not even exercise can stop it because our sedentary existence is taking up too much of our lives. It's shortening your life even while it pays for your lifestyle. It affects your circulation and breathing to a point where you may suffer from a condition referred to as "desk apnea" which can lead to serious heart conditions.

Standing too much is killing you. It's hurting your back, it's ruining your circulation, and even if you sit once in a while that's not enough because standing too much is killing you.
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Friday, September 08, 2017

Seen in… August 


Charlize Theron goes atomic in Atomic Blonde, image via themoviedb.org

My summer was soured by my own ennui but it was seeing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip to Spain that made me really ache to not just go on vacation but to get out more and enjoy the season by eating out, catching a show, sharing some drinks and generally exploring a bit. I didn’t get to do everything but I did see some movies.


Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan enjoying coastal Spain. Image via theMovieDB.org

The Trip to Spain
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue their series of trips to restaurants wherein they converse about life, culture, careers, women and anything that might lead to their duelling Michael Caine or Roger Moore impersonations. In the past these trips have been casually linked to writers such as Samuel Coleridge, Yeats, Shelley, and Byron while this trip is decidedly Quixotic with much inspiration from the 17th century Spanish writer, Cervantes. The two-hour version given a theatrical release is usually an edit of a six-hour long television series so I wonder if something wasn’t lost in the curious ending which the viewer can’t be sure whether it’s a fantasy, reality or just somewhere betwix the two.
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