Monday, July 31, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 2nd review - The Tattooed Woman

This collection of short stories was the last work that Marian Engel completed.  She was deeply involved in the selection of the stories, though she passed away before its publication. (Timothy Findley describes her working on The Tattooed Woman from her hospital bed.)  For those that track last works (and in particular unfinished last works), that honor goes to Engel’s Elizabeth and the Golden City, a fragment of a novel she was working on that was finally published in 2010 in Marian and the Major, edited by Christl Verduyn.  I have to be honest, Elizabeth and the Golden City appears to be so embryonic that it is more of a curiosity than something one would truly read for pleasure.  Thus, I can safely recommend The Tattooed Woman as the last thing Engel sent out into the world.  (I have to admit that I really have not delved deeply into Engel's work much beyond Bear.  Reading these short stories was a start, and I will try to get to The Honeyman Festival and Lunatic Villas in 2018 or so.)

The Tattooed Woman contains Engel's selection of her stories published between 1975 and 1985.  A few of them were actually written for radio (the CBC program called Anthology).  This is actually Engel's second short story collection.  Inside the Easter Egg came out in 1975 and collected her first stories.

Many of the stories on the same wavelength as Atwood's The Edible Woman, i.e. giving voice to women's interests and inner thoughts, even if those woman were "troublesome" or slightly off-kilter.  And Engel doesn't completely romanticize women's interactions with each other.  Mothers and daughters still have fraught relationships, and she also paints a picture of a dreary, selfish "friend" in "Share and Share Alike." What's interesting to me is that roughly the first half of the stories are slightly eerie (perhaps even channeling a bit of Angela Carter), but the second half tended to be more on the realist side.  Occasionally, there seem to be echoes of Carol Shields, though it is more likely that Engel served as an inspiration to Shields.  I don't think I am imaging the strong connection between Engel's "Could I Have Found a Better Love Than You?" and The Stone Diaries, for instance.  There were a few interesting stories in the first half, but on the whole, I preferred the second half of the collection.

I won't be able to go into all the stories at a great level of detail, but I'll highlight a few I found particularly worthy.  There may be minor SPOILERS hereafter.

"The Tattooed Woman" is a fairly sad tale, about a woman who starts cutting herself as a coping mechanism when her husband takes up with a young employee.  She does seem to making steps towards recovery by the end.  While I may never actually finish my novel, it has a character who scars herself as a sort of notching of the bedpost but on her own body (I suppose to try to cope with the whole madonna/whore thing that plays out in Western culture).  It's not the same motivation at all, but anyway, I just want to note that I had thought up this character well over a decade before I read this short story.

"Madame Hortensia, Equilibriste" is sort of creepy, precisely because Engel is so vague about the narrator's disability.  From the context, it seems as if she had no legs and eventually became a circus freak, then got married a few times (to admirers who fetishized her) and had a brood of children.  It's more of a character study than a full-fledged story.

"The Life of Bernard Orge" was fairly amusing.  It's about a woman who creates an entire alter ego after donning a pair of novelty glasses.  And indeed her life is mundane and unfulfilling, so almost any change is good.  Perhaps there are slight hints of Gogol (in reverse) in this story.

Interestingly, there are a few stories about middle-aged love (and second-chances) actually working out, such as "Feet," "The Confession Tree," "Could I Have Found a Better Love Than You?" and "Share and Share Alike," though it should be noted this isn't the main thrust of the last three stories, as there are other things going on.  There is a certain generosity of spirit in these stories, though it should be said that the only time couples seem happy is when men and women of approximately the same age pair up.  The man going through a middle-aged crisis and shacking up with a younger woman doesn't end up all that happy in Engel's world.

One of the last stories -- "Two Rosemary Road, Toronto" -- is an interesting and somewhat sad piece.  The story is structured as a letter that a widower is writing to someone he knew from his early adulthood.  She had apparently written a letter of condolences that mingled in some statements that he felt were unfair, and he is taking the chance to set the record straight about his wife's death from cancer.  He explicitly writes that if she is angling to catch him as her second husband, she should think again.  However, he doesn't send the letter, and tears it apart in the morning, apparently changing his mind and thinking that maybe life goes on after all, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to be the pursued one for once.  (Perhaps some slight echo of Benedick here: "The world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married." Though of course the letter writer already was married and it is highly unlikely that this second union, if it even comes about, would lead to children.)  Still, it's a bit of a downer to imagine being in Engel's shoes, writing about the necessity for the world to go on, even when she was aware that cancer was catching up to her.

On the whole I enjoyed this collection.  It will satisfy readers who are admirers of Atwood's early novels as well as Carol Shields' devotees.  There was variety in the stories (even a ghost story) and even a few happy endings sprinkled here and there and only one or two duds.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Busy Weekend with whale

I already riffed on the video for In the Belly of the Whale, so I'll forebear from using it a second time.  However, we did get to the ROM on Sat. to see the blue whale exhibit.  The skeleton is indeed quite impressive, and they also had some booths showing you how many people (of your weight) would it take to make up a blue whale or how much blood a whale has in comparison to a human.  Perhaps the whale brain was the most impressive, though if the whales have the intelligence of humans (clearly debatable), I think they would have found a way to communicate with us better.  Probably the centerpiece of the exhibit is the blue whale heart, as the ROM is the only museum in the world (apparently) with an intact, preserved whale heart.


We wandered around the museum and had lunch, though we were in a bit of a rush, since we needed to get back and stop by the library.  Also, my daughter really wanted to check out an open house on the street.  So this time around, we actually skipped the dinosaurs (though in the exhibit there were some ancestors of the whales that looked a lot like water-based dinosaurs).

Ambelocetus

We also skipped over the gem room.  I wasn't entirely sure it was open, since they are preparing to reopen the Queen's Park entrance.  I told the kids that the next time we visited (probably on the next AGO-ROM membership swap), that entrance should be open.  Best of all, we skipped the gift shop, since I didn't really want to be telling them no to everything...

I had actually intended to go off to work and pick up something, but it wasn't ready, so we went back home, with a stop at the library first.  The open house showed that they had done a lot of work on the place and it looked nice, but the footprint was still small.  We have quite a bit more space than that house offers, though I did wish we had the deeper basement.

After the kids were settled, I worked a bit in the backyard, trimming back the plants so that it was possible to get to the back deck.  It actually looked pretty nice for once.



Then I still had to go back to work (though I took the opportunity to bike it).  I made it back by 6:30, and by 7, I went over to Withrow Park with my son to catch Othello.  It would have been better had we made it a bit earlier, since the best spaces were already gone -- and they had run out of chairs to rent.  We were nowhere near as cramped and uncomfortable as at High Park, but still, sometimes we had raise ourselves off of the blanket to see anything.  I do wish they had thought a bit more about the sight lines, since quite a bit of the time the actors were on the floor, making it all but impossible to see.  It was a good performance, though I would have preferred to see it indoors in a setting with proper seats.  I haven't really changed my mind that things go far too well for Iago, and in particular Emilia could intervene much sooner in the matter of the handkerchief.  I find the play really falls apart in that moment, since she has no problem ratting out her husband later on.  My son was fairly blown away by it, so I'm glad I exposed him to it.  I'm sure in the next few years I should be able to take him to Macbeth and Hamlet.  I'll probably hold off a bit longer with Lear.

Today was also a fairly cramped day.  I spent the morning cleaning the study (at least getting the clutter off of the floor).  Then I took my daughter to the Ontario Science Centre and we explored for about two hours.  I've gotten most of the items crossed off the list for the summer, though I would still like to take them canoeing on the Humber and ideally take them to Ottawa so that they can see the Parliament Buildings.  Now it seems like the main Parliament Building (Centre Block) will be open for tours at least through the end of the year (before it shuts down for a long rehabilitation period), the East Block is only open through early Sept.  That timing may not work to squeeze in a trip, but I'll see what I can do.  I'm also starting to think seriously about a trip to Quebec City, but I don't think there is any specific time restriction on that, and it might be nicer to visit in the late fall or even early winter, assuming it isn't too cold.

I got back in plenty of time for the actors for the table read.  I think it went quite well, though it was interesting that the pieces I thought were more or less settled needed a bit more conflict and they didn't see any real reason to chance the Meeting Mr. Mouse, whereas I had heard from another reviewer that one needed quite an overhaul.  At any rate, they seemed pretty enthusiastic and really liked a couple of them, so I just need to get a date settled for Sept. and then we'll do one more table read to make sure they are ready.  I almost wish we went back to the original plan for a full staging, but honestly, this will be better, and I can then focus on my more serious pieces.

I had thought pretty seriously about catching Burn This tonight, but in the end, I decided I was done leaving the neighbourhood for the time being.  As you can imagine, it was a very busy weekend, and I could use some rest (and perhaps work just a bit more on the quilt).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Follow up from tough day

In my last post, I discussed some of the more frustrating events of the weekend, along with the oasis of spending time with the actors from Hogtown.  I also said that the negatives might be ameliorated and in time I would dwell on them less.  I can report back that I was able to get my mobile phone service turned back on, though it meant going to the Eaton Centre and then getting on the phone with a service rep for almost half an hour before finally succeeding.  I'm more than a little worried the same thing will happen next month (I say it is better than 50%), and, if so, I am switching phone companies, but for now I am back in business.

I didn't want to go to the gym, as it was grey out and even a little damp, but I did push myself and I went for a shortish workout.  Those are the important times to go, where you really make it a habit (and not give in to temptation to take it easy).  I'll be doing more biking and maybe even some swimming this week, but I should still try to make it over a couple more times.  It will be a while before I see any positive results, but my core strength seems to be better.

And in fact yesterday ended on a positive note, as I managed to recruit the last of the actors I need for the staged reading, so I am in business.  I've got a lot of writing I need to do over the next few weeks, some technical and some creative, so I should probably wrap this up.  I do have a few too many distractions, so I'll probably have to cut back on the blog for the time being.

Coda: Probably it's just as well that I didn't open the mail over the weekend, since I just found out that my bank is summarily cancelling my Mastercard and switching me to Visa in a few months.  This is completely unacceptable, since several stores in the neighbourhood are Mastercard only.  So I'll be going through updating my credit card and monthly payment options one way or another (and probably struggle with the mobile company yet again).  I'll probably be switching banks as well.  I was actually leaning towards Tangerine, but it seems there is no way to actually deposit a foreign currency cheque with them, so that probably rules them out.  Just in general, I am fairly annoyed at the banking options available -- and don't get me started on the usurious charges that credit cards are now allowed to charge.  It is truly shocking that in my lifetime they have gone from under 10% (which at the time was astonishing) to hovering around 20%.  I think this probably is better regulated in Europe (with the notable exception of the UK), but perhaps not.  Anyway, just thinking about how few decent banking and credit card options are available to me always puts me in a funk.

To top it all off, I went from work to the Regents Park Aquatic Centre.  I don't think I'll ever time it as perfectly as today.  I got there at 6:25 (the lane swim starts at 6:30).  I changed and was one of two people ready to get in some laps.  And my goggles had snapped in half.  I tried to swim without them, but it was a complete non-starter, so I went into the whirlpool for a short time and then went home.  So frustrating.  Basically, all my good intentions were for naught, and I'm in an even worse mood now.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Frustrating day with bright spots

Yesterday was definitely a difficult day for me, though the afternoon was not a complete waste.

It started out with taking the kids to the Humane Society.  I've been thinking more and more seriously about getting a kitten or even a youngish cat (under 5 years), and the kids were interested in tagging along.  The cat that I was most interested in had quite a few behavioral problems that were not listed on the website, so it felt a bit like a bait and switch.  After pondering things a bit longer, I decided to wait until the fall when all the vacations were over, and I would have a chance to decide if I really could clean up the house enough to find room for a couple of litter boxes.  It's possible I'm not really ready to upend my life to fit a pet in.

Coming back we had quite a bit of trouble getting home, waiting on the King streetcar (only to find out that it was a Cherry streetcar -- and then missing 2 Queen buses before we could get back to the other stop).  I was generally pretty stressed, as I needed to get back downtown in time to volunteer at Hogtown.

Indeed, the TTC had totally upended transit from the east side, so the Gerrard/College streetcar only went to Parliament and then you had to transfer.  I just think this was a bad decision, since they also had shut down the 2 subway.  In the end, I made it with 15 minutes to spare, but it was still annoying and I was stressed almost the whole trip.

The show itself was very fun, and I saw a few different things on this performance, though I still missed some of the scenes.  I have a pretty good idea of the main events, but I think you need to see it 3 or perhaps 4 times to truly see everything.  I also got to hang out with the actors after the show at their post-show gathering.  They were a nice bunch, and that (and volunteering at the show itself) was definitely the bright spot of the day.  Then it was back to reality.

I went to work briefly and tried to deal with my cell phone company.  While I absolutely updated my credit card info, the information didn't "take," which actually happened before.  Their on-line systems are quite poor in my opinion.  This led them to completely suspending the account (without warning mind you).  After calling customer service, they said I would have to visit a store with ID in hand before they would even think about restoring service.  I gave them a few choice words and hung up, though I don't really have a choice.  I'll have to deal with it tomorrow over lunch.  But if this auto-payment thing fails again next month, I am through with them and will migrate to a different mobile company.

Then the TTC screwed me again on the way home, and I barely got back in time to get to the grocery store before it closed.  I was too upset (and tired) to go to the gym, which then put me even further in a bad mood, since it doesn't take too many missed trips to the gym before you fall out of the habit.  I'll just have to make the effort to go tonight.  The rest of the week I should be biking again, so it won't feel quite so urgent.

So that was my day of highs and lows.  On the whole, the bad outweighed the good, but maybe I won't feel the same tomorrow if I get the phone working again and I do make it to the gym.  Then it will be more of a bad (but passing) dream.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Outdoor Entertainment

It has been pretty difficult this summer to predict what will work out or not, given that it has been raining or threatened to rain most of July.  I already mentioned how I went to the Music Garden by the Waterfront but they cancelled the concert without telling anyone.  Shabby.  I still don't understand why they don't relocate the concerts to the covered stage near The Power Plant, particularly if it is only going to sprinkle (I can see this wouldn't work in a thunderstorm).  About the only thing I got out of it was a few photos of the Music Garden.



The following week, I ran up to Casa Loma with my daughter to see the Toronto Concert Orchestra playing Haydn.  She had wanted to see the castle again, so I thought it was a good enough reason to go.






But she started to get fairly antsy as we sat down and waited for the music to start.  I was actually feeling a bit cramped myself and there was still 45 minutes to go before the concert started.  And the piece I really wanted to hear was placed after the intermission.  I knew there was no way we would make it, so we just left, even though we had pretty good seats.  I am doubtful I will try this again next season, but never say never.

I have probably gone to my last Shakespeare in High Park, however.  The reviews for Twelfth Night were generally quite good (here and here and here).  I had wanted to take my son, since Twelfth Night is definitely one of Shakespeare's best comedies.  I hadn't expected the weather to clear up, as the forecast had called for rain up until the day before, but it did.  I was then really surprised there were still a few reserved seats left, but I snagged a couple.  I was kind of worn out from work and dealing with the last day of my daughter's camp, so we started off 15 minutes late.  Also, I had wanted to show my son how cool it was that there was a streetcar stop literally in a park (well, just on the edge).
 


However, the streetcar was quite slow (at least 10-15 minutes slower than taking the subway over would have been).  We had maybe 12 minutes before they were going to release our reserved seats!  While I have been doing a fair bit of exercise, I don't jog anymore, so running was quite difficult for me.  We got to the gate, quite sweaty in my case, at 7:46, but they took pity on us and took us to the reserved seats.

We were able to get two together, but we were pinched on both sides by people who had brought their oversized cushions.  So we had no choice but to huddle together in a very uncomfortable position.  I think perhaps years ago, everyone sat on the steps and let their legs hang down, but that isn't possible anymore.  I think the only way to do it now is to reserve 4 or 5 spaces, and bring a blanket and then you can get a bit more comfortable.  But I was in agony at about the hour mark.  It's really a shame, as there were some very lovely scenes, particularly Orsino and Viola/Cesario dancing, and this was one of the better Sir Toby's I have seen.  I was so glad when we finally hit 85 minutes (since these shows only run 90 minutes), but wait -- there were still several key plots that had to be resolved.  It actually clocked in at 105 minutes!  I really had stopped paying attention at that point (though I did note it was a little strange how quickly Sebastian moved on from Antonio, despite how they were emphasizing gender fluidity a fair bit at the end), as I was just too uncomfortable.*  It took me quite a while before I could roll to my side and then to my knees to get back up.  I think if they can't get it back to the proper run time any other way, they need to cut out the musical interlude at the beginning and then probably cut the bit where they get someone from the audience to play the priest.  On the whole, I am glad my son saw the play and enjoyed it (it was a solid production), but I think this is the last time I go, just based on my discomfort and getting old.  I was still in a bit of pain the next morning.

It's a little hard to tell, but it does appear that we'll have clear skies on July 29th, so I can plan to see Othello in Withrow Park.  Driftwood does a nice job, but just as importantly, they have lawn chairs, so seeing the show isn't such a challenge.  I'll most likely take my son to this as well.

I haven't decided about She Stoops to Conquer out in Scarborough, though this review is positive.  I really have to look into the set-up more, including what the transit options are.  However, the fact that they don't have weekend matinees (only Wed. matinees!) and the fact that it takes at least an hour to get there by transit makes it somewhat unlikely I will actually go.  I guess in general, I am getting pickier and more set in my ways as I get older, but there is still quite a bit to do outside in the summer.  Now if the weather would just cooperate a bit more...


* I think it is largely due to the actor playing Malvolio kind of stringing out his scenes.  He just had a recent health scare, and I'm glad he is back in the play, but he is not the best Malvolio I've seen.  He's probably the 4th best, or actually the worst.  He starts out so disdainful and angry, and he doesn't have a lot of room to go from there.  Now partly I am just upset that the show ran long, but Shakespeare Bash'D had the best Malvolio earlier this year.  That show ran over 2 hours and could have used a few cuts, but at least I wasn't in pain throughout!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The end of summer camp

This year, we put the kids into 2 different camps, but staggering the weeks they went to maximize peace in the house.  However, this year, the camps were both downtown, not far from my work, so I ended up taking the kids to camp for the past 3 weeks (and not being able to bike to work at all obviously).  But it all worked out, not to say that there weren't some stressful moments, particularly once when I was running late and just barely signed out my daughter before the end of the after care period.

What was a bit surprising is that my son didn't feel that he got too much out of the stop-motion animation, partly because there was too wide an age range in the class and too much of the time was just filler (playing outdoor games rather than building the clay sets). 

On the other hand, he did get some good experience in navigating the city.  He was allowed to sign himself out of camp after the first day and walk over to my workplace.  On the second week, he was allow to take the subway home by himself twice.

My daughter was not happy about getting up early, but I think she got more out of the camp activities, and ultimately enjoyed it more.  She wanted to take everything she made home.  On the last day, I left work early to see the show and tell period.  Then we walked over and tried to see inside Osgoode Hall, but apparently the tours are far more limited than what is described on the internet.  We clearly weren't going to be able to see anything, and then she decided she wasn't that interested in seeing the building when she realized it just housed lawyers and their law library.  We stopped in at Campbell House, and they showed us just a bit, though it is in some disarray due to Hogtown.  I'll take her back some weekend in Oct. when it is back to normal.  It was just as well we left slightly before the peak of the peak, since I was carrying so much stuff from the camp, including this model of a hotel room made inside a cardboard box.



All in all, it was a decent camp experience, though I am glad I am not going to be responsible for getting them to and from camp on time for the rest of the summer. I actually am hoping that the older one go off to "away camp" next summer; I was doing that a lot by the time I was 12 or so, but that may be a step too far.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wrapping up the Fringe

It was kind of a strange day.  It threatened to rain, and perhaps it did rain a bit on the east side of the city, but I managed not to get rained on, which was great since I was in line outside of Tarragon for quite a while.  We got over to Tarragon about half an hour early for About Time, which was a series of humorous sketches about different eras (the repressed Victorians, the groovy 60s, the 90s, i.e. the dawn of the internet age).  It was fun, and it was over in an hour, which was good.  Sometimes good ideas do drag on a bit too long.

I grabbed a postcard for Lanford Wilson's Burn This, and it turns out it isn't part of the Fringe at all, but will be playing the two weeks after Fringe.  Apparently, this is one of those plays where the acting pretty much makes or breaks the play.  I was kind of leaning towards going, but it doesn't look like there are any tickets less than $40, and that is a bit steep for a play I probably won't fully enjoy.  I have been trying to impose just a bit of fiscal discipline on my entertainment spending, so unless I find a discount code, I'll probably pass.

We went to a vegan place right past the Dupont subway station for lunch after the performance.  I have to admit, the food was a lot better on a previous visit.  I didn't like my entree much at all.  And I particularly disliked that we were asked to move to make space for a completely obnoxious family.  I watched as both parents submerged themselves into texting on their phones and their two children started squabbling (mostly the fault of the little one, who then started walking on the table).  My mood was completely spoiled, and I shan't be going back.  I made a very clear point of not taking my children to restaurants if they couldn't behave, and so I don't have any tolerance for the selfish, self-absorbed parents you see everywhere today.

I had quite a bit of time to kill, since I had another show at Tarragon at 5:45.  If I had had a bit more cash on me, I probably would have caught one more show at the Tarragon, but instead I went down to the AGO to check out some art.  It was probably the right choice.

I went into the O'Keeffe exhibit.  It was more crowded than it had been on the last visit, since people are waking up to the fact that it will only be around for another 2 weeks.  It was good seeing some of the paintings again.  This will probably be the last time I drop in.

I was mostly there to see the new contemporary exhibit on the 4th floor (Every Now Then), and also Rita Letendre.  Unfortunately, I didn't have a camera or even a phone on me, so I'll have to go back and take pictures later in the summer.

The Letendre exhibit was really quite interesting, though it seems as though I prefer her early work to her later work, with some exceptions.  My favorite piece was Victoire, which is actually in the AGO collection, though I don't recall ever seeing it before.  It reminded me a fair bit of Norman Lewis, though when you get close up, the surface is far more built up (than Lewis's flat, controlled surfaces) with paint almost erupting from the canvas.

Rita Letendre, Victoire, 1961

Perhaps after the exhibit closes, they will put this back into regular circulation.  Interestingly, in the main Canadian section there are two Letendre's (added fairly recently, if memory serves me).  One is quite nice, so I'll put up a picture of that soon.  Neither of these are in the catalogue.

I wasn't sure I was going to buy the catalogue, but the second half is quite intriguing, as it shows different murals that Letendre did around Toronto, with basically all of them out of commission now.  However, Letendre did have a piece of art in the Glencairn TTC subway station.  It looked like this, but was removed over a decade ago.


The good news is that the subway art is being refurbished and replaced.  I'll try to make a visit when it is back in place.  The show may come a bit too late for Letendre, as she is suffering from macular degeneration, and she is largely blind now, though she was still pleased that they had put together a good overview of her work.  Sadly, my grandmother also suffered from macular degeneration, and it is something I worry about getting one day, though perhaps there will be better treatment in another 15-20 years.

Even after a fairly thorough visit to the AGO, I still had some time to kill, so I sat down and read for a while before finally heading back up to Tarragon.  The second time around the wait in line wasn't quite so long.  I was a bit surprised that there were no artists trying to sell me on the merits of seeing their show, but it was the last day and pretty much all the shows were over.  I didn't have the time to try to see any of the Patron choice awards, also that same evening.  (I think the last two years, some of the best of the Fringe migrated up to North York, but it isn't clear to me if that is happening or not.  While I was poking around, I saw that in early November, one of the Jewish theatre companies is doing Arthur Miller's Broken Glass.  This is fairly heavy and also got mixed reviews on Broadway (but better reviews in London), so I'm a bit more likely to go to Broken Glass than Burn This (even though I still am looking for a better deal on tickets).)

Anyway, I was there to see George Walker's Adult Entertainment, which is one of the Suburban Motel plays, produced by Triple Bypass.  It has his trademark mix of caustic wit, violence, darkness and nervous laughter.  Very little turns out quite right for Walker's characters, particularly in this cycle of plays.  I thought it was quite well done, particularly the cynicism on display when one person objects to a kid being called scum and everyone else (including a criminal defense attorney) says, no he is just scum.  I will say that this one and Problem Child are a bit more plausible than Risk Everything where aspects of the plot are a bit too cartoon-ish.  At this point, I've seen 3 of the 6.  Somehow I missed Triple Bypass doing The End of Civilization in 2015, which is a bit annoying.  I probably need to get on their mailing list.  It looks like Factory Theatre did the whole cycle in 1997-98.  I was already gone from Toronto at that point.  Perhaps had I gotten into the doctoral program at UT, I would have been in town and plugged in enough to see them at that point.  I passed up a really great opportunity to see the whole cycle in Vancouver in an actual motel room, but the timing was bad and I was very stressed at that point.  It will just have to remain a decision I regret, although perhaps if Triple Bypass gets big enough they will stage the whole series at some point.  On the whole, it was a good Fringe for me, but I didn't indulge quite as much as I might have.  Maybe next year...

Canadian History Plays at Soulpepper

It is definitely Canadian history month at Soulpepper.  In addition to the 2-part Confederation plays by Video Cabaret, there is another remount of Eric Peterson in Billy Bishop Goes to War and then another play about WWI - Vimy.  I'm not planning on seeing Vimy (and the reviews have been middling at best), but the other three were quite good.

I've consistently been blown away with the Video Cabaret plays.  Depending on how they split them up and mount them, it looks I have 8 to go.  If they only put on one or at most two a year, it will certainly be a while until they finish the cycle, and there is no guarantee they will get back around to the War of 1812 for instance.  (I'm a bit more concerned about their longevity than my own.)  I'm most disappointed that they haven't been able to come up with the funding to film the series, since this is something that deserves to be properly recorded.  Mac Fyfe was quite brilliant as Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  I would have to say that the biggest stand-out this time around was Michaela Washburn as Louis Riel, though the others were quite good as well.

Billy Bishop Goes to War has been kicking around for quite some time, and, indeed, around 2011 John Gray and Eric Peterson revised the script to make it more of a memory play, i.e. Billy Bishop is an old man, thinking over his youthful exploits.  Oddly, the Toronto Library only has the original edition, not the revised edition.  I'm not quite sure how different the two versions are, but I will try to get ahold of the revised edition (Pratt Library has a copy but they are on restricted summer hours) and then I'll do a comparison (and publish a more comprehensive review at that time).  There is also a DVD from 2013, so it captures the revised version, and preserves Eric Peterson in one of the roles of a lifetime.  This actually makes the 3rd time I've seen Peterson.  While I was impressed with him in The Model Apartment, he takes it to another level with Billy Bishop, since he has to impersonate a Scot, several upper-class Englishmen (and a wealthy English heiress) and even a cabaret singer!  Interestingly, this review suggests that in the first act he is bumbling a bit but he was totally sharp in the second act, and that it may have been an intentional strategy.  I'm not really sure if either Peterson was just much better this afternoon or if they decided to tweak the show and rein in any bumbling or indeed if I am just more forgiving, but I didn't notice anything like Peterson forgetting his lines or running out of breath.  That said, there are only a few more times that they can remount this show (with the show's creators that is), so I am very glad I had this opportunity to see it.  I was a little surprised that they didn't go into any of Bishop's adventures and misadventures after he returned to Canada and married Margaret, the girl back home.  Not only did he go back to the front and win well over 20 more air battles (far surpassing England's Albert Ball), but then he had a long career promoting Canadian aviation, and he was pressed into service as a kind of cheerleader during WWII.  I don't know if the first version of the show touched on this more or not.  I think some of the critics who aren't as thrilled with the show, probably would have wanted to hear about Bishop's ambivalence (if any) of promoting another war after having lived through the hell of war himself.  Anyway, here is a general article about his life.

I would recommend all three shows, though Billy Bishop is essentially a simpler show, not capturing quite as many sides to history as the Video Cabaret Confederacy plays do.  On the other hand, it is a prime showcase for a very special actor worth celebrating.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Austen-mania

I didn't realize that this was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's death until today.  There are a variety of events set to mark this occasion, including putting Austen on the UK's 10 pound note.  Of course, the best way to honour her is to read her works.  I've read Northanger Abbey and either Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility (back in my undergrad years).  I know it is kind of crazy not to know which I've read, but it was a long time ago...  I have several Austen novels on my long reading list, but I will have to move them up to ensure I get to them by the end of the year.  In terms of pacing, I'll make sure I read both Pride and Prejudice (1811) and Sense and Sensibility (1813) in 2017.

I'll see if I can get through the rest: Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815) and Persuasion (1817) in 2018.  I don't intend to either reread Northanger Abbey or to read her unfinished novel Sanditon (although this commentator makes a strong case for it).  I've also been intending to reread Barbara Pym, and I'll sneak a couple in along the way, since I've often thought of Pym as one of the chief successors to Austen.  In general, I'm making more of an effort to fill in those gaps in my reading (like Jane Eyre, which I'm starting this week for the first time!), so the Austen project comes at a good time.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Thumbs down for Harbourfront

I should state up front how tired I am of this weather.  We are having long stretches where it rains at least for a while each day of the week.  And the humidity makes things unpleasant even if it isn't raining.  This is throwing all kinds of events into disarray and forcing the cancellation of most outdoor events, to say nothing of the Toronto Islands, which will basically be closed for business for the entire summer!

For instance, the long-range forecast is showing that Wed. and Fri. will have rain for the next two weeks, effectively wiping out the possibility of seeing Twelfth Night at High Park.  Considering the way that the reserved seats from those rain dates spill over onto the other weeks, things really get hairy.  There is a small chance that the rain today will have cleared out by 7:30, so they will go ahead tonight, but it is impossible to reserve any seats, and I am definitely not bringing a blanket to sit on the muddy slope...  I suspect I just won't make it to Twelfth Night with my son under these conditions.

Anyway, I am far more upset by Harbourfront and its cavalier treatment of people who are trying to see the Thurs. night concerts.  They are over in the Toronto Music Garden, which is a nice space but nothing all that special as parks go.

There is no legitimate reason for them not to move the concerts from the Music Garden to the covered stage right next to the main Harbourfront building in the event of rain.  In addition, they make no attempt to come up with a rain date, so the concert is just completely cancelled.  They say to call the information line, but it turns out if the weather is iffy, they don't make the call (on cancellation) until after 6 pm, but they don't have extended hours to actually speak to someone after 6 pm.  So there were quite a number of us that showed up right before 7 (it was overcast and a bit damp but not actually raining) just waiting to see what would happen.  There was no announcement, not even someone running over with a piece of paper to tape to the signboard saying that the concert was cancelled.  I call that really shabby treatment.  It really behooves them to at least notify people one way or the other.  We waited about 15 minutes and then left.  I suppose there is a tiny chance that either 1) the concert was delayed but ultimately went on (but again people need notification) or 2) official word was eventually passed along to the audience.  But I am extremely disappointed in how disorganized they are -- and how disrespectful Harbourfront is of its audience.  This will definitely colour how I think about them in the future and will make it far less likely that I attend concerts or other events that they sponsor.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 1st review - Peacock Blue

This volume, Peacock Blue, contains all the poems that Phyllis Webb decided were worthy of being collected.  It contains 6 previously published books (including Naked Poems, Wilson’s Bowl, Water and Light, and Hanging Fire) and a generous selection of unpublished poems.  Webb is somewhat unusual in that she abandoned poetry in the mid-90s (more or less at the same time as her mother died) and turned to painting.  Two reviews of Peacock Blue can be found here and here.  I must admit that despite Webb winning a Governor General's Literary Award, she doesn't seem particularly central to Canadian poetry.  My own biases certainly make it difficult for me to take her seriously, since most of the poems in her earlier books are formal (with only passable rhyme schemes) and largely deal with questions about the nature of religion (I would include Even Your Right Eye and The Sea is Also a Garden in this category though some might disagree).  The only unapologetically Christian poet (past 1900) that I have ever really been able to stomach is Fanny Howe, and Webb just isn't in her league.  I'm sure some critics would say that she is often inverting or undermining a traditional understanding of religious faith or indeed searching for a new one (she was interested in Buddhism), but I still find many of these poems steeped in a fairly traditional belief system (or search for spirituality) that the poet isn't able to escape (at least in these earlier collections).  Along the same lines, Webb viewed herself as broadly feminist in her work, and yet acknowledged that almost all her early literary influences were male (and she had to be prompted to write a poem to Margaret Atwood as it didn't come of its own accord).

Curiously enough, I only came across Webb through Timothy Findley who was a close friend of Webb's.  Findley praised the poem "Leaning" from Water and Light and said that it inspired him to completely rethink Not Wanted on the Voyage and complete the novel.  Indeed, while the cues are subtle, Naked Poems (from 1965) is one of the first series of lesbian love poems, certainly in Canadian literature.  Adrienne Rich became a major influence on Webb, perhaps as early as the mid 1970s, as Webb became more consciously feminist in her writing.  Rich is also one of the key figures that drew Webb to the ghazal format that dominates Water and Light.  Many critics feel that Water and Light is Webb's finest work, though personally I prefer Naked Poems, which seem far more compact and concise and seem reminiscent of Charles Reznikoff's best work (not that he appears to have been a specific influence on Webb).

Here is one particularly concise poem I liked from Suite I of Naked Poems:
"Tonight / quietness.  In me / and the room. // I am enclosed / by a thought // and some walls."

I was a little surprised at "A Model of the Universe," the opening poem of Hanging Fire, since it seems to aim its ire at scientists who are trying to understand the world (or rather the nature of the universe): "The arrogance. The above it all. / ... /  For instance, superstrings, / immense smallness of, tangled / spaghetti ..."  Then she moves from the arrogant cosmologists to the medical researchers who ingest cancerous toxins into mice.  I don't think one has to force people to side with science versus humility? or wonderment at the universe? or even an appreciation of arts.  (I'm honestly not quite sure what point she is trying to make.)  But if one does draw the line this way, then I would definitely be on the side of the scientists.  I have to say Webb really lost me with this poem, and she relegated herself to being only a minor curiosity in my literary universe.

I'll close this review on "Edmonton Centre, Sept. 23/ 80" one of the uncollected poems that has just a bit in common with Frank O'Hara's Lunch Poems.  She is in the mall, listening to a concert being given by some members of the Edmonton Symphony.  The music ends.  "Man in cowboy hat wanders off. Chinese gentleman / moves urgently towards Exit. Maureen takes / the escalator, strolls into Mappins. / ... / Thirty / years later, almost, I am here / carrying nonbiodegradable plastic shopping bags / back / to the scary carpark / jangling my keys."  I thought the casualness of this poem (slightly offset by the repetition of keys throughout the poem) served it well.  I would have liked to see more poems in this vein (or in the very compressed, Reznikoff-like observations of Naked Poems) and far fewer rhymed poems about spirituality.  But I can only review the Peacock Blue that exists (which didn't do a lot for me) -- and not some alternate universe collection I would have much preferred to read...

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stratford 2017

I am still recovering a bit from the trip to Stratford.  I think this is the first time that I saw two plays on the same day and caught the night bus home.  Normally, I either binge on 3 plays in a weekend (2013, 2015), so I stay overnight, or I see a single play in the season (2014, 2016).  I was particularly worried that the bus wouldn't get in until 1:30 or so, and I would miss the last subway from Union, so I actually biked down in the morning and left my bike in a locked bike area.  That meant that when the bus did drop us off at Front St (just about 12:45), I still had to bike home!  The traffic was very light, but I was still worried about being hit by a car not expecting to see a cyclist out that late.  Obviously, I made it, and then slept in a little bit this morning.  However, I had briefly contemplated adding one more Fringe show (a burlesque version of Lysistrata) to today's itinerary, but decided that would really be overdoing it.

Traffic was a little heavy, but we still managed to get in around 12:15.  I had thought I would have a seat to myself, but at basically the last minute, a couple turned up, and a young woman sat next to me.  I perhaps should have offered to switch seats, but that would have meant moving even closer to a fairly loud couple (and presumably the couple that I enabled to sit together would also have been far more talkative).  Still, not one of my finer moments, though to be fair, no one actually asked me to switch.  I was taking a break from Rousseau and his Confessions, and was reading Amit Chaudhuri's Odysseus Abroad, about a young student and his uncle living in London in the 80s.  So far fairly interesting.

I decided since I was going to be eating lunch and dinner in Stratford, I would just grab something cheap (pizza) for lunch.  I had about an hour to explore, and I looked at the shops, including the overpriced sale books at one book store, and then Fabricland.  I didn't see anything that grabbed me, largely because the selection was about the same as the Toronto Fabricland, but I may make a bigger purchase next year.

I won't write a lot about the plays, but that was my main reason for going.  And despite them being hundreds of years old, I will still be SPOILING the plots if you haven't seen them.

SPOILERS

I enjoyed Sheridan's School for Scandal, though I had a lot of trouble believing in Charles' reformation (or his uncle favouring him just because he wouldn't sell off his uncle's portrait).  Is there really a good reason for Maria to see through his current dissolution to understand that he is a good person underneath?  I guess one of the two brothers has to prove worthy (in a comedy), and Joseph is definitely the worse of the two, being a hypocrite and a liar.  We don't really see Charles' getting rid of his entourage, partly because the playwright is in such a rush to end things at that point, but it might have helped make the reformation a bit more believable.  Also, the whole side plot with Lady Sneerwell and the forged letters is kind of confusing and rushed.  It is probably one complication too many, particularly when they decide that paying Snake twice as much to get the truth(!) will somehow brush the whole matter under the rug.  This is definitely a subplot that could have been excised.

This makes it sound like I didn't enjoy the play, and that isn't the case.  The scenes with Geraint Wyn Davies as Sir Peter Teazle are always delightful.  Joseph Ziegler as Sir Oliver Surface is nearly always as good, notwithstanding his perhaps somewhat hasty positive judgment of Charles.  The single best moment is when Lady Teazle is hiding behind a screen in Joseph's lodgings and Sir Teazle is almost convinced it is just a French milliner.  This reaches French farce levels before all is revealed.  Also, when the gossips are all sitting about gossiping about everyone, this was also very good.

I saw School for Scandal back in 1999 with Brian Bedford playing Sir Peter Teazle and Steven Sutcliffe in the Joseph Surface role.  I have to admit, I simply don't remember too much about this production (and I so wish they were videotaping these productions! -- or more likely it was taped but hasn't been made available to the public), but I suspect they gave a bit more weight to the Joseph Surface-Lady Sneerwell scenes.  This was a slightly livelier production (from what I do recall) and it is a bit more tied in with today's issues of people's reputations being smeared instantly on social media, so it does feel more relevant.  I would certainly encourage people to go before the season is out (and I do hope they start releasing DVDs of the non-Shakespeare plays that Stratford mounts).

I had time to kill, since I didn't want to have dinner too early.  I sat down in a new plaza they have built next to the city hall.  This used to be a second row of parking, but it was often taken over by a mini farmers' market.  I can't tell if the farmers' market comes back into the plaza on Sundays or if it was relocated.  (They would have to watch out for the new fountains!)


I took the opportunity to read another large chunk of Rousseau's The Confessions.  I was pretty disenchanted by the point, and I basically forced myself to get through book 9 (of 12) and then I threw in the towel.  The book is pretty much unreadable at this point where he spends all his time talking about the many false friends who have turned on him (at least before you had some idea of what he was up to, though he still almost never really talks about his important philosophical ideas and how he came to them).  I really never saw the charm of Rousseau in the first place, particularly after he gave away his 5 children to a foundling institution and then after he admitted going in halves to buy a girl of 11 or 12 to serve as a mistress!  While in this particular case, he had to leave town before consummating the deed, he had sex with another underage mistress later on but made sure to confess to his main mistress (with whom he had those 5 children he abandoned to a life of poverty) and then of course to his future readers.  Basically, he seems like an appalling hypocrite on all accounts who had a hair-trigger sensitivity to slights and argued with just about everyone he knew.  What a guy...

I had dinner at the second Thai place (just off of this plaza).  It is quickly becoming my go-to place for dining in Stratford.  Then I wandered down to the river and the Tom Patterson theatre.  I am still gathering impressions of the other side of Stratford in case I ever do write this pilot for a TV show set in Stratford (trying to balance between the glamour of the Festival and the everyday aspects of a small town (with a big tourist industry)).  I saw the swans again, but this time there was a boat going up and down the river with a jazz trio playing.  That was a bit different!




I was there to see The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley.  I keep trying to see more Middleton, but it is hard.  His plays really aren't staged that often.  I did see an adaptation of The Roaring Girl in Chicago and then Women Beware Women out in Vancouver.  Unfortunately, I don't think ticket sales have been great for The Changeling, so I don't know whether Stratford will put on more of his work, and I may have to pin my hopes on UT student theatre and perhaps George Brown's Theatre School.

More SPOILERS

I'll just put down a few random thoughts on The Changeling now.  I may circle back later.  It is actually almost shocking in how daring it was for its time, with the henchman De Flores insisting on sleeping with Beatrice as the price of killing off her unwanted fiance (to clear the way for her to marry Alsemero).  There are plenty of bed tricks in Shakespeare but I can't recall any where a man actually slept with someone he wasn't actually married to or at least was engaged to (or had some attachment to in the case of Measure for Measure).  In this case, not only has Beatrice lost her virginity to the wrong man, but she performs the bed trick to not get caught out.  And her finance actually does sleep with her maid Diaphanta, who enjoys it so much that she stays the whole night (for multiple performances) rather than leave at midnight as had been arranged!

It was a little odd that De Flores was made up to only have a hideous visage on half of his face, not the whole thing.  I do wonder if they were going for a bit of a Two-Face effect here (the Batman villain), though De Flores is pretty much 100% villain.  I thought the scenes in the madhouse were a bit drawn out, and I wasn't really convinced that Lollio would back off after he discovered his master's wife Isabella kissing one of the inmates.  Probably too much doubling of the plot going on in The Changeling, and I think there could have been a better way to cast suspicion on Antonio for the death of Alonzo than have this long, involved subplot.  The most confusing thing to me was that there didn't seem to be a scene where Beatrice's father rages about Alonzo running off and abandoning Beatrice, then pivots to marry her to Alsemero.  It wouldn't necessarily be a long scene, but no one comments on Alonzo's disappearance at all, until his avenging brother turns up after the intermission.  That was kind of weird.  It's quite bloody and a lot of people die, but slightly fewer than The Revenger's Tragedy and perhaps also than in Women Beware Women.  I'm definitely glad I saw it, and I think it is worth checking out, since it won't be coming to you soon in any other venue. 

We had to wait quite a while for the bus, so that was a bit of a drag, but the ride back was quick.  Someone on the bus commented that the changeling referred to the changes that the living people would make, based on the example of Beatrice and De Flores, but I don't think that is accurate.  I think it is a reference to how a bad seed could be planted in a good house by imps or demons (and while the conventional reading would be that De Flores is the monster, it is more likely that Beatrice is actually the bad one).  I had planned to read just a bit, but the driver never turned on the lights, so I think I actually caught up a little bit on my sleep.  So this is my 2017 report on Stratford.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The plot thickens

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about plot and plot requirements lately.  Partly this is because the folks at Toronto Cold Reads want a quite formally structured plot for ThreeFest this year.  While that in itself is not a huge issue, they also want to limit the characters to 2 or 3 and for the plot climax and resolution to be completely internal to those characters.  That is a taller order of business, though I should be able to come up with something.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with all the strictures, particularly that all important characters need to be introduced early on.  Maybe it is just I am more used to picaresque novels where the main character learns something along the way from each of the secondary characters he or she meets along the way (without the secondary characters taking over).

But this got me thinking about my short plays and then my longer ones, and many of them seem to suffer drawbacks in one way or another.  The Corporate Codes takes a bit too long to get to the point (I already started cutting out scenes) and breaking the codes isn't itself that interesting to a general audience.  I think I started to recognize this by having the main character raise some internal road blocks to the relationship by getting jealous, and that has to be overcome, though it is probably still too easy.  I could make both mothers bigger roadblocks.  Personally I think is quite amusing that one mother is only dealt with on the phone, though actors seem to hate this.  I may be on the right track by making the boss more severe and reworking the second act to be more about can the relationship survive Ethan being laid off due to the screw ups of Li (plus a bit of interference from the mothers).  Probably it is a good idea for Li not to understand or recognize his sacrifice for her at first, but then to flip it and say that he needed to consult with her, not just make decisions for her.  I could get some mileage out of that.  I'm mostly trying to rethink the whole booking a room in Paris thing, as it was a bit over-explained.  It's probably salvageable, but I still need a lot of tightening in the next round of revisions.

I've kind of completely rethought Dharma Donuts with the main character, Parvati, actually wanting to get out of the store and away from her mother, so I really don't know where this is going, but it should succeed in generating a fair bit of conflict and probably resolving itself internally.

I'm a little worried about Straying South, though mostly it is whether the original ending was too open ended.  You don't really have an ending for the lesbian couple, only Jonathan and the immigration officer who has been hounding him all through the play.  Also, there is a limit to just how far I can push things on-stage, and I think I have scaled that back the right amount, but still it is largely a cliff-hanger.  We hear that she is going to take him to Buffalo and thus his stay in Canada has unraveled (due to the lies that started off the play), but we don't have closure for others.  I think that might work for a novel, particularly one setting itself up as potentially the first in a series, but it might be too frustrating for a play.

I'm definitely wondering if the conflict betweeen the school children along the way in Final Exam is really enough.  Maybe this really just should be a short story.  Also, the alien at the end is almost a perfect example of Deus Ex Machina, though in this case he causes problems rather than resolves them.  We don't see enough of what happens after he turns up.  (On the other hand, the aliens are discussed incessantly, so it isn't completely out of the blue.  This is just the manifestation of the man against the universe conflict.)  Do the characters stay firm to their resolutions or do they lose their principles?  Maybe it doesn't matter for a Fringe show if things end on such an open note.  Anyway, I'll have to deal with this some way or another.

Finally, The Study Group seems to have relatively low stakes throughout, though there are certainly tensions and attempted betrayals.  It just isn't particularly amplified, and I have to decide if the characters really are interesting enough to stick around to see them showing off their knowledge to each other.  And while I think the reference to time travel (at the Back to the Future level) might be amusing, it's hard to say if tonally it works with everything else.  I mean I like the idea that they aren't able to humiliate the odd boy out, but did they really think this would work in the first place?  That's my biggest issue.  Well, I'll just have to sort it out after all these other plays I am working on.

Maybe I can't completely work these issues out, and they may or may not be fatal flaws for a specific play, but the more I work on them upfront (keeping in mind the strictures about plot), the better the final product.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Indy Time

Summer always brings out the most interesting, experimental work.  Not only is there Fringe (I have tickets to 3 shows and will probably be adding one more) but then Summerfest is the first two weeks of August, with many (most?) of the shows at the Factory Theatre.  I've sort of tentatively penciled in two.  Often these shows ignore the basic "rules" of theatre, which can make them really interesting but also increases the odds that they will flop.  One of them is called "Reality Theatre" and it involves a number of interconnected sketches, which worked quite well for The Best Dad in the World at Red Sandcastle.

Speaking of Factory Theatre, I'm more interested in their line-up this year than last year.  While it is quite long (unless the writer has trimmed it), The Fish Eyes Trilogy looks pretty interesting.  Then Kat Sandler has a play called Bang Bang, which is mostly about a white male writer trying to write about the shooting of a Black man.  While I assume much of the play is about cultural appropriation (and this is a debate I am frankly tired of having, since the local arts community has so heavily landed on one end of the scale), Kat Sandler plays are almost always worth watching.  To get to the magic number 3 (for a half-season pass), I'm leaning towards Prairie Nurse, which is about 2 Filipino nurses coming to work at a Saskatchewan hospital, so it is a fish out of water comedy.

In other news, Unit 102 has apparently found a new home in Parkdale and will be launching their season with Miss, a drama set in a private school.  I'll be giving this a miss, as I just am not in the mood for heavy dramas lately, but I am really glad they are back in business, and I'll loop back around to write more about them if they announce a full season.

I'm still waiting for Coal Mine to announce.  I'm fairly sure they will be doing Annie Baker's The Aliens in the fall, but still no official word.

Somewhere in here, I have to find time to do the table read and staged reading of my pieces, and once I have the date for the staged reading, I will certainly post it.  I was pretty bad this weekend in terms of the writing, but some ideas are now starting to percolate.  More soon.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Changing of the plans

While it was a bit of a last-minute idea, I had hoped to canoe on the Humber River today (since I have the day off).  However, my daughter really wanted to rest, since I had taken them several places yesterday.  My son isn't that much of an outdoors person anyway, though he would have eventually been cajoled into going.  We do have a few days that might work at the end of July, though today would have been particularly good since it has rained so much that the river should be high and it wasn't so hot.  Oh well.  I'll just have to see if the same conditions hold true at the end of the month.

On Sunday, I did take the kids to the Eaton Centre.  I had hoped to get some headphones on sale at Best Buy, but that place looks horrible now.  It should be called Last Legs.  Anyway, they didn't have what I was looking for.  We then went to the food court, and I managed to find something they could both agree to eat.  While we were there, a major fist fight broke out right in front of the KFC, though I refrained from jumping up and being a rubber-necker.  I still don't know exactly what happened.

We did just a bit of shopping in the mall proper, though I didn't see nearly as much Canada Day stuff (on major discount) as I had been hoping for.  We then headed over to City Hall, so I could show them the fountain.  There wasn't any band on at the time and it was too light out for them to do any kind of light display, so that was a bit disappointing.  I took them over to the large yard in front of Osgood Hall.  I told my daughter I would try to get her into the Hall soon (since it seems it is open to the public Mon-Fri, perhaps we can make a quick stop off after her camp in a few weeks).


We then got down to Harbourfront.  We actually got out a stop early and walked, partly because I was getting tired of the crowds, and I wanted to make sure she didn't get sick.  Maybe I am just not remembering how crowded it was at the water front (even a few years ago), but it seems jammed with people.  (I suspect I never spent much time over by the ferry terminal, however, since even in years when the water front was kind of slow, plenty of people went over to the Islands.)  Maybe it is a combination of Harbourfront Centre getting more interesting programming, plus they finally finished rebuilding the streetcar tracks and more or less connected the bike path along there.  Anyway, it was crowded, maybe even a bit too crowded.

We were there to see the huge duck (and to compare how large it was compared to the one we saw in Vancouver -- well, really the Richmond Night Market).  But first, we sat for a while on the boardwalk and watched a somewhat smug contortionist.  He was pretty good, though I could have done without all the patter.  Anyway, here's the duck.


We just didn't want to brave the crowds* any longer to go all the way around to see the face.  We walked over to the street and just missed getting on a heritage street car.  It was actually heading the other direction, but we probably could have still taken it, assuming it went up Spadina.


We then caught the next one going to Union Station and then headed home.  At one point I had considered going back out for more of the Jazz Fest, but I didn't really feel like it (it was already 4 pm or so by the time we got back).  Instead, I went to the mall and picked up a couple of t-shirts and then worked out for a bit.

So it was a busy day, and it wasn't such a bad idea to rest today.  It's also true that my allergies are acting up a fair bit and two days spent entirely outside might not be the best idea...  I did sit outside for a while, however, and caught up a bit on my reading.  I didn't really write much this weekend, and that will catch up to me soon enough.

On the other hand, I sewed together two of the rows.  It looks pretty nice, though I'll have to press everything when it is done.  In this photo the top two rows are actually sewn together and then the next two are just laid down in the proper sequence.


I think it is looking good, but what an undertaking!

I also cooked a fair bit today.  I made cherry pancakes, which turned out pretty well.  (These weren't the most flavourful cherries, and I think the heat released some of the sugars.)


I also made a vegetable paella.  I didn't really want to at this point, but I had promised, so I pushed on through.


I spent most of the remaining time trying to organize my music library and track down missing albums (or really the mp3s I ripped from the albums).  I found almost everything this time around, except for some Barney Kessel.  I hope that turns up.  There are still some misplaced CDs, and I guess one of my big projects this August will be to try to go through the piles of data CDs I have and look for actual music CDs that may have slipped in accidentally.  It's probably not the best use of my time, but if I don't do this, I won't really be able to get the basement organized.

Then I realized I had to run to the store to get snacks for the kids' camps, so I did that, and made one more trip to the gym.  I realize it sounds I am a bit obsessed, but I won't be able to bike the next 3 weeks, and I would so like to make sure I get into the habit of going while it is nice out.  If I start seeing results by the end of summer, then I am more likely to keep it up when it starts getting chilly (and dark!).  All in all, a moderately productive day, even without the canoe trip.

I actually forgot to mention a few other changes of plans.  I had hoped to go to High Park this Friday or next Friday to see Twelfth Night with my son, taking him there straight after camp, but both nights it looks like rain.  Drat.  We could attempt next Wednesday, but that may be a bit too inconvenient, given that he has to be up somewhat early on Thurs.  Also, I found that this year, the Driftwood Bus Tour's residency in Withrow Park is down to just a single night (from 4-5 shows).  While in general, I applaud their outreach to other parts of Toronto, the parks they have chosen are not really transit-friendly, so if it rains on the 29th, I'm not going.

* In terms of people I ran into, it was only about 25% of people who either made an attempt or wanted to see the duck, and the other 75% thought it was a fairly silly waste of money, particularly since it had nothing to do with Toronto or Canada more broadly.  However, the festival organizers seem convinced that thousands of people came to see it and that the return on investment ($30,000 or $160,000 depending on what you count) was extremely high.  Hard to say, but I guess perhaps I shouldn't have pooh-poohed this rubber duck quite so much, if in effect it stimulated tourism to more than pay for itself.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy Canada Day 2017!

It looks like the weather will be a bit up and down today, but I'll try not to let it get in the way of any celebrating I happen to be doing.  I'm not sure if we will actually head out anywhere early (my daughter wanted to go to the Eaton Centre for some reason), but I have plans to see a play by Video Cabaret (on the topic of Confederation -- how appropriate) in the early afternoon, and then most likely I will pick up my son so we can see a free jazz concert by the Claudia Quintet tonight.  That sounds like a pretty good day, though it will be better if it doesn't pour on me while I am getting around.  Assuming all goes well, and it doesn't rain, we might head over to the Pape bridge to watch the fireworks they are launching from the CN Tower.

Actually, yesterday the rain held off last evening, though the sky was "spitting" just a bit at the end of the concert and during the short firework show in Nathan Phillips Square.  I was running a bit late and I really wanted to get my final review of the 10th Canadian challenge submitted before I headed down to face the crowds at Nathan Phillips Square. In the end, I missed all of Buffy Ste. Marie's set, which was too bad.  I did see some First Nations dancers who performed between the sets.  You can hear a bit of the drumming in the audio of this video of a light show they had at City Hall (the columns alternated between red and white).

video

It was interesting, but did seem to go on a bit long.  I was fairly far back, but I could see the stage.  (The dancers were in the fountain area actually.)


Of course, right as the show was starting, a very tall man scooted up a couple of people ahead of me and completely blocked my view.  Then I moved over behind some moderately tall man, who kept moving his head in ways that largely blocked me.  Kind of frustrating, though I mostly just focused on the music and sometimes the video screens.  I also had to watch out for some large inflatable balls (red and white naturally) that bounced around the square.  Towards the end, I did have to fend one off.  (I was kind of glad that the young girl on her father's shoulders managed to touch the ball.  She seemed to find it thrilling.)  It was a good, though somewhat short show (maybe 1 hour 15 minutes).  They played "Brian Wilson," "The Old Apartment," "Pinch Me," "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," the theme from "The Big Bang Theory."  They may have worked in some newer material, but ended with crowd favourites "One Week" and obviously "If I Had a Million Dollars."  This video was a fairly good representation of what it was like to be there.  I liked the various impromptu raps they added throughout the show, including one about inflator pins (that could be used to pump up the sagging balls in the audience) and where they also riffed off Snow's "Informer"!  I'm hoping that more of the show (and in better quality) surfaces soon.  Anyway, it was a nice show, and they tried to pull out the stops for the hometown crowd.  This is probably the fourth time I've seen them, having somehow missed their Massey Hall concert last year.  The fireworks were nice too, though they didn't last a full 6 minutes!

Anyway, I'm feeling in a somewhat contemplative mood this morning.  It's hard to believe that I've been living in Canada for five years (early fall will be the start of my sixth year).  I was happy to make the switch, and of course since last November I have been completely convinced I made the right call to move north.  Not that there aren't plenty of problems in Canada, including increasing inequality and child poverty rates, plus the difficulties with Reconciliation.  But it doesn't feel like the entire country is moving backwards (of course, I may feel differently about Ontario if the Conservatives take over next year, which is quite likely to happen).

I managed to get through quite a number of classic Canadian authors during the 10th Canadian challenge.  I kept track here, and the round-up for the entire challenge is here (plus the link for where to go to sign up for the 11th challenge, starting today in fact!).  While it is a little surprising I didn't read any Atwood, I ended the previous challenge with her The Heart Goes Last.  During the 11th challenge, I will almost certainly read Moral Disorder and perhaps The Stone Mattress and possibly I'll get to her dystopian trilogy.  I'd like to try at any rate, and then start rereading Robertson Davies's trilogies.  I'll bring over the Bissoondath and Vanderhaege and Skvorecky from my "possible entries" post, and I'll definitely be getting around to Mordecai Richler's early novels this time around.  I also hope to read Miriam Toews's A Complicated Kindness before I decide whether to tackle any of her other novels.  I think during this challenge, I'll read Laurence's The Tomorrow Tamer, and then during the subsequent challenge I'll read her major novels plus A Bird in the House.  One of the few literary Canadian authors I haven't tackled at least once is Wayson Choy.  I'll add his The Jade Peony and then the sequel All That Matter.  Finally, as if this wasn't ambitious enough, I'll try to get to Vincent Lam's Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures.

One thing that I probably ought to do is read a bit of Canadian history.  I mean, who knows, I might be filing for Canadian citizenship one of these days.  (In fact, I just went and looked.  Apparently the Liberals have not rolled back the changes to the citizen eligibility requirements that Harper pushed through.  So the very earliest I could apply would be late fall 2018.*)  In any event, I may start by reading the scripts for Michael Hollingsworth's The History of the Village of the Small Huts for Video Cabaret, as they really compressed Canadian history (up to Brian Mulroney) in a very digestible and often hilarious way.  I have another general history of Canada.  After that (though not necessarily for this next challenge), I have a 2 part biography of Pierre Eliot Trudeau.

Anyway, I should get a bit of rest before the day really gets underway.  Happy Canada Day, y'all!

* (Added July 3)  Apparently the residency requirements do get relaxed this fall, so I probably could apply for citizenship over the winter.  I do plan on applying for citizenship, but maybe not at the very first opportunity.  After all, I do need to read up more on Canada's history in order to pass the test.  Probably the hardest thing is to name the politicians who head up the other political parties, since this is still very much in flux!