Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tempting Providence

This week I saw a most surprising play. "Tempting Providence" by Robert Chafe. What is surprising is that Mr. Chafe, who is about my age, grew up in the Goulds and has written the story of Myra Bennett, an English nurse who arrived in Daniel's Harbour on the Great Northern Peninsula in 1921. Originally only planning a two year stay, she eventually married, had children and stayed the rest of her life. Her story was one of pulled teeth, set limbs, birthing children and saving lives. This is not the Robert Chafe I knew (I guess it's a common enough name for more than one Robert Chafe to have grown up in the Goulds) but I know at least another Myra Bennett.

I'm probably not the only person who ever thought that the telling of his parents' life story might make for interesting theatre, yet I feel oddly singular in watching someone else telling it. I'm even more surprised that this was the first I'd heard of this play. The video clip above is, like most video clips of live theatre, inadequate and makes the acting seem, well, "stagey" but the show itself is really pretty moving, inventive and somehow, magically draws you in to a world 80 years ago where frozen harbours and overheated kitchens are populated by a generation of people skirting hardship and poverty with humour and grace.

The play only runs until Sunday at The Factory Theatre, but if you have chance to see it somewhere - Cowhead perhaps, then do. You won't forget it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Track of the Day

If you know me, you know I subscribe to an annoyingly long list of podcasts. One of which is CBC Radio3's Track of the Day, wherein a staff member pitches a song that has recently caught their attention. It's not a new idea - NPR's All Songs Considered has a similar podcast. Well, not one to re-invent the spork, I too give you my track of the day. Normally, I could just point you to the CBC3 podcast where I first heard this, but it seems it is rather embedded in a Flash player, so I've had to do the same thing.

Suspense be damned, you've waited long enough...this is Royal Wood (not, as you might think his Porn Name, but his given name), the track is Mirror Without (as in "what good's a mirror without a face..." If a mirror breaks in the bathroom but no one is there, does anyone get bad luck?) from the album A Good Enough Day. I think I read somewhere that Wood's music runs a lineage of Randy Newman, Jeff Buckley, to Tom Waits. As I only know a couple songs, I don't hear it. Personally, it reminds me of a young Billy Joel... okay, I'm no good at this 'musical heritage' game - and maybe what I've said doesn't bode well for the young man. Decide for yourself (Note: this track probably won't appeal to those who like their Rock to Roll, or their Punk to spit - but may be enjoyed by kinder, gentler, Rufus Wainwrighty types)

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Soak Your Ribs in Whiskey

While I'm feeling much improved, there is still a small area still healing on my tongue. Unlike before however, it is not keeping me from eating anything out of the ordinary. Why just yesterday, I ate a bagel. Now that may not seem too extraordinary but the bagel is one of humankind's chewiest and toughest breads. Eating and chomping on a toasted bagel requires the sort of tongue acrobatics best left to politicians and other social deviants. That was the first significant piece of bread that I've eaten in almost 3 weeks. This morning I ate another bagel and baked a loaf of bread. Not just any old bread, for after 3 weeks without it, one craves a savory, satisfying kind of bread.
Eating a toasted bagel requires the sort of tongue acrobatics best left to politicians and other social deviants.
I diced some olives and mixed them with a sun-dried tomato tapenade, and concocted a sun-dried tomato and olive loaf. At first I was a little worried as straight from the oven it smelled a little like ketchup. Yet it tastes fantastic and easily bests the sort of $4 "artisan" bread found anywhere in the City (of course, I can make this boast because I will have eaten the loaf before anyone would have a chance to make a comparison).

I've also been back to work for the last week or so. I'm working on something top-secret for Research In Motion. It's not that "top-secret" really, but it is easier than describing the work and
adds an air of importance and mystery which is often lacking when designing a Web site for someone (this contract is happily NOT a Web site). I've had my fill of Web work recently. I could go into detail but I'm afraid the tedium of it would immediately force your brain to jump ship from your head and hitchhike to somewhere more interesting - Oshawa or Foxtrap. I did recently get paid for a couple of things. Did I mention, I did some "voice-over" work? For a friend of mine in Seattle. She works at a publisher (actually, they refer to themselves as "book producers") and they make books and toys that include audio effects. In particular, they are making a door hanger, which, when the door is opened, sounds an alarm saying, "Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!" The robotic drone is actually my voice, recorded and altered on some simple software. It was a bit of fun to do - even if the neighbours, who could no doubt hear me, thought that our home had been comprised in some way. The recording is scarcely 3 seconds long so playing it would be pointless, but I'm sure you've all heard me yell at some point, "Intruder Alert!!" so you can probably imagine what it sounds like.

Angela continues to be busy. The York/Sheridan Gradshow is on this week at a Distillery District gallery so she's been busy with that. I'll crash the Industry Gala tonight with a friend while Angela is on hand to be cornered by concerned parents. Gala? Sounds like Miami Sound Machine will be playing or there will be a tribute to somebody important. I'm sure there will be wine, if not cheese (I heard through the rumour mill, not far from the Fermenting Mill - sorry, Distillery District joke - that one of the show sponsors was Parmalat, the cheese and dairy concern), so I'm pretty sure there will be cheese. Note to self: bring mints. Angela has also been busy finishing up her grading and reviewing a Masters candidate's thesis - some kind of info-graphic electoral map of Canada or something. So as usual we're busy and in various shades of Healthfulness .

I almost forgot to mention... last Sunday, whilst poor Angie was spending a long day at the gallery space for the show, I was marinating my ribs in Whiskey. That's right. Short ribs, marinating in a bbq sauce and whiskey. Ok, well, we were out of true bbq sauce so I improvised with some ketchup/chili paste/garlic/Cayenne pepper etc. and the key ingredient - liquor. I let that sit for a couple of hours then added the other key ingredient, heat + time. That slo-lo technique is the way to go, my brothers. 275° F for about 2 hours, lid on the pot to keep all them juices in. Now, in the words of Carl Weathers, you got yourself a stew on, friend. It was hard to believe that this was $2.50 worth of meat. It was "fallin' off the bone" good! I think I have now freed myself from the sticky bonds of Phil's Original BBQ. Sure it took 4 hours, but it was worth it.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

The Power of Nightmares

Recent bombings in Algeria and Morocco reminded me of the BBC series, The Power of Nightmares.
An illusion that Western democracies back to protect their own interests.
You can watch the episode The Phantom Victory here. If you have a high-speed connection, you can download the series at In it, we see how the American government has created the fear of a Chimera, that being Al-Qaeda (not that Al-Qaeda doesn't exist, just that it's not responsible for every act of terrorism nor is it representative of every extremist group, as the Bush Administration would have the world believe). We also see how the suicide bombings of Fundamentalist Islamists has failed to force their own populations to their side and how they've created an illogical, unresolvable political philosophy - that being, take political power so they can institute Sharia Law and declare a Muslim state which would in effect, make democratic political institutions meaningless. Yet to keep the Islamists from power, the military-backed governments have already made their own democracies a sham. An illusion that Western democracies back to protect their own interests.

This clip below is just the introduction to the episode and is only a couple of minutes long. The entire episode can be seen at the links above in two 30min. segments. It really is worth seeing.

The Areas of John Hodgman's Expertise

Well - we can tell from this clip, one area of John Hodgman's expertise isn't pronunciation. I thought I'd share this humorous retelling from John Hodgman's book "The Areas of My Expertise" of how the Vikings came to North America and met the Beothuks. The book is Hodgman's take on Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac. The only difference is, Hodgman's almanac consists of mostly inventions of his imagination (such as Hobo lore, or the naming of beard styles) which I may post at some later date or not at all.

The Areas of My Expertise

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

(not quite) A Hallmark Hall of Fame Production

Here's a little video message we recorded today to Lucia who apparently likes video of relatives - kids these days - weaned on the boob(tube) or is that YouTube™.
Happy Easter

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Bleo Injection: Day Nine

Two words. Solid. Food. I've been (almost, nearly) drug free since Tuesday and have been eating solid food again. Well, small bits of solid food in creamy sauces at least. I hope the worst of the healing up of my tongue is done. There's still some sore, raw areas, but I can chew on one side, and swallow and that's enough to give hope to this sad old epicurean dreamer. That's right. Epicurean Dreamer. I know during Easter, being an outright Delusional Hedonist would be over the top and in poor taste but can't I be someone who can dream of epicurean delights? It's not as though I'm trying to be some kind of Gastronome Bon Vivant - I just want to take a huge bite out of Life and experience a country of flavour! To be honest, at this point I'd settle for a duchy of flavour, or even a salty hectare. A peppery patch?

Tonight, we even went for out for a meal with some friends. Toronto is full of these kind of unassuming places that actually offer good fare and fair prices. Sheesh - listen to me? I'm like the Toronto Board of Trade's Restaurant booster all of a sudden.
It's like I've come under the influence of a Jimmy Buffet concept album.
Yet, it isn't Toronto's finest I'm craving. I have no idea why but foods that I never really think of are first and foremost on my mind. Pizza pies, burgers and fries and cherry pies have the stars in my eyes. Hopefully this will all pass by the time I actually can wrap my chompers around some heinous fat patty and all my worst cravings will be satisfied by a simple slice of toasted spelt-wheat bread. Fat chance.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

"U" is for "Unfortunate"

I rented 5 videos in a rush of what I thought would be a week of me doing nothing. Fortunately, I've been a lot more cognizant than expected but that means I've been more discerning of my movie viewing. I promised I would quickly write-up my thoughts on these so here they are. Unfortunately, not much to recommend.

Hailed as Jet Li's "last" Wushu film? Traditional martial arts? I'm not really sure what is meant by this, but my guess is it's like Clint Eastwood saying "Unforgiven" was his last "Western". Too bad. The melodrama that usually works in these Chinese Epics is way over the top here. Probably as the topic, based on a genuine Chinese sporting hero, has an almost spooky reverence and creepy theme of Chinese superiority.

Ben Affleck as George Reeves as TV's Superman, Adrien Brody, miscast in a poorly written role of a seedy LA private eye and Diane Lane as the rich kept studio executive's wife with a kept man of her own (Reeves). An interesting unsolved mystery is made dull with a focus on Brody's badly conceived character, and an almost lack of concern over the leading man's fate. Jeffrey DeMunn is great as Reeves' hopeful agent and Lane gives heat to her role, but when you have more fun spotting the background locales (Toronto's Sunnyside Pavilion on the Lakeshore and the Royal York lobby) than watching the movie, you know you're in trouble.

Tanner '88
Robert Altman's and Gary Trudeau's seminal satire of a congressman's attempt at the Democratic Presidential Nomination made for HBO, is apparently the parent of political satirical television for American critics. Seminal to some, out right dull to others. The low-brow video production, Altman's meaningless wandering camera and encouragement of overlapping dialogue winds up feeling like unedited set-up shots. The slowness of every scene seems so clumsy in comparison to the freshness of editing and lightness of handheld camera work in other "mock-umentaries" and what may have been thought of as cutting-edge looks pretty much out of touch with it's own technique. Add to this the overlapping dialogue with Trudeau's tactical political name dropping and overly obvious political speeches and what we imagine is intended as subtle just doesn't come across at all (I'm sorry, I don't really know which "Joe Kennedy" they speak of, and who the Hell is Bob Babbet?) I'm guessing, much my boredom is just as American might feel watching a Canadian TV movie on Trudeau-mania (our Trudeau not Doonesbury Trudeau) or "The Night of the Long Knives". The only surprising thing is the number of actual politicians who show up in the opening episode (Gary Hart, Bob Dole etc.) The filming also reveals Altman's lack of ability to generate the type of pacing you'd expect from 1 hour television episodes.

The "other" Capote movie. Despite a technique of threading in staged interviews throughout, I thought this was the better film. Unlike Seymour Hoffman who did a wonderful job of a large man portraying a diminutive imp, Toby Jones is Truman Capote. Even Sandra Bullock is a surprise as Nelle Harper Lee and Daniel Craig as Perry Smith is great. For me, this film did a much better job of showing what an oddball Capote was to anyone outside of Manhattan but also how his charms and genuine curiosity won over the small town characters and the criminals themselves. It also better reveals how the book "In Cold Blood" broke Capote emotionally and just how shocking the crime was to many Americans and how distasteful and pointless capital punishment can be.

F for Fake
Last on the list - still to be watched. This description from IMDB:

"Orson Welles' free-form documentary about fakery focusses on the notorious art forger Elmyr de Hory and Elmyr's biographer, Clifford Irving, who also wrote the celebrated fraudulent Howard Hughes autobiography, then touches on the reclusive Hughes and Welles' own career (which started with a faked resume and a phony Martian invasion). On the way, Welles plays a few tricks of his own on the audience."