Sunday, January 20, 2013

Everyone's a Critic, part 1

The night is young middle-aged,  I'm holed up in my sitting room with a bag of potato chips and some great music, and I feel like spouting off, so...
This post is part one of several: I'm lucky enough to get to see several shows at the PUSH Festival this week, and I also saw a movie which bugged the hell out of me, so right now you get to hear my unsolicited opinions on several things:

First of all, the movie. I've been making use of my local library lately, but its dvd selection is pretty tiny, unless you happen to be a big fan of Vietnamese action movies. So when I saw this,  I was intrigued.

"Mermaid" billed itself as "the Russian 'Amelie'". Great! I LOVE 'Amelie'! I've seen it 5 or so times and my joy at watching it never really diminishes. So I started this film with great expectations. And I ended it a couple hours later remembering why you don't hear the words "Russian" and "humour" in the same sentence too often. It's interesting that you can compare and say that yes, on the surface these 2 movies share some similarities:

Amelie                                                                                                            Mermaid
*quirky female lead...                                                                                    * quirky female lead...
*...who has an indifferent parent                                                                                       * ...who has an indifferent parent
*falls in love                                                                                                                       * falls in love
*has trouble expressing that love due to maturity issues                                                   * ditto                      

but 'Amelie' radiates charm, thanks to the stunning beauty of Paris and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's wacky vision. 'Mermaid' features the, um, stunning charm (not) of Moscow and a vision that seems self-consciously wacky but mostly bleak, until the shocking and totally unnecessary ending. Basically, a little girl grows up in a tiny Russian town with an unloving mother; they move to Moscow and she falls in love with a shallow, greedy man who sells pieces of real estate on the moon to suckers with more money than sense. Mariya Shalaeva in the lead role has the same creepy loveliness that Cate Blanchet has in the Lord of the Rings movies, but she can't save this dog. Definitely not another 'Amelie'. Nice try, Russia.

Okay, so next up we have "The God Who Comes" a one-man musical (sort-of) performed by Canadian rocker Hawksley Workman. A loose re-telling of the myth of Bacchus, it tells the story of a rigid king who is incensed at the licentious behaviour of his subjects (including his mother), who are going up a local mountain and indulging in pagan rites, including sex, drinking and animal sacrifice. The king dresses as a woman, sneaks up the mountain, hides in a tree, and observes the rituals. Unfortunately for him, his mother pulls him down from the tree and- totally caught up in her pagan frenzy- rips her royal son's head off.

I have a beef with Mr. Workman because last year I worked at a toy store and during my shifts there I listened to CBC Radio endlessly plugging his annoyingly catchy song "Warhol's Portrait of Gretzky":
Warhol's portrait of Gretzky
Pretty fuckin' sexy
Pretty fuckin' sexeeeeee

...except, being radio it was edited to "pretty bloody sexy" instead.
But after seeing this show I basically forgave him, because Hawksley Workman has an amazing singing voice that is best appreciated live. I could listen to him singing the phone book for heaven's sake. However, the show itself was uneven at best. Workman came onstage at the beginning, told us the basic outline of the legend and then launched into the song cycle which re-told the story he'd just told us. My date was glad he'd done the pre-show summary, because he didn't think that he would have understood the story without it. I see where he was coming from, but I think there's a better way of staging it so that you don't get the same story twice over. And while the music was pretty good, it wasn't great. Because he's on his own, Workman relies on a lot of looping, which is cool, but after a while it just started to seem like a gimmick as he moved from drums to keys to guitar and back again. And while he's a charismatic performer, he's no actor. I would rather have seen Workman stick to his instruments and have a couple of actors or puppeteers flesh out the story. However it was a cool idea, and I'd rather seen something like "The God Who Comes" which fails in some ways but is trying something new, than some trite rom-com play that I've seen a million times. 

So... "Mermaid" gets an F and Hawksley Workman gets an A for effort but only a C+ for overall execution for "The God Who Comes". 
Next up, I'll have a review of "Svadba", which is a 6-woman a cappella opera based on Serbian music. I'm really looking forward to that one! I also managed to get 2 comps to see a home-grown Canadian musical sensation called "Ride The Cyclone".

* A caveat: I am a performer and a musician, but my opinions are just that- my opinions. They are personal and unsolicited and you may very well disagree with them. That's wonderful. Opinions should be disagreed with. Even when I am being picky about stuff I am very rarely so disgusted with a piece that I won't be happy that I got the chance to go see it in the first place. I am always thrilled to get a chance to see theatre and music, even if I don't always love everything about it. I think that what makes art exciting is that it makes us think. Art should make us happy and excited and enraged and offended and entertained. And it should make us talk about all of our reactions to it. So this is just my long-winded way of saying that I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou about stuff when I'm reviewing it, I'm just making a note of my reactions, And you can agree or not. Just go and see stuff- that's the important part.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

salad days.

I guess it's no surprise; in January, there are a lot of people switching to salads after the excesses of the holidays. Actually, I switched to salads during the excesses of the holidays, as my dad and his ladyfriend were in no shape to cook large dinners while battling seasonal bugs. Their deliciousness and simplicity delighted me- look! It's a meal in a bowl! (A healthy meal, at that.) And so, when I got home again, I started making more salads, and actually enjoying them. Here are some helpful hints for making a salad you'll actually enjoy:
  • Choose a green that you like the taste of. I really want to like raw spinach, and I don't dislike it exactly, but I've finally realized that I don't love it. I quite like mixed greens, especially the mixes that come with some herbs, like dill, but right now what's really rocking my world are Romaine hearts. (Thanks, Dad.) Yes I know they're not as healthy as mixed wild greens, but I'm adding a lot of other veggies to my salads so it's not the end of the world. Romaine lettuce hearts are crunchy, sweet, and sturdy enough to sit at the bottom of the salad bowl and put up with whatever I put on top of them. 
  • The more, the merrier. For me, at least, greens are just the jumping-off point in a salad. If I just have greens I'm gonna overload on dressing and the salad will be boring and unhealthy. It's all in the extras: add as many veggies (and fruits! Don't forget the fruits!) as you want. Carrots. Beets. Radishes. Apple. Pear. Celery. Cucumber. Fennel or Anise root (a lovely cross between celery and licorice). Not to mention the real reason we eat salad: so we can feel self-righteous while eating fun things like cheese, meat and nuts. Right now I'm loving my salad topped with pear, a sprinkling of blue cheese, and veggies like radish, carrot and beet. Mmmmm. 
  • If you get creative enough with the toppings, dressing don't mean a thang. Salads used to be a vehicle for dressings when I (infrequently) ate them, and let me tell ya: I haven't found many dressings that I liked. But now, I usually just squeeze a little lemon on top of my salad, pour a tiny bit of olive oil over things to moisten them up a bit, sprinkle a little coarse salt and pepper, and Bob's your uncle. If I want to get really crazy I add a touch of apple cider vinegar.
  • Get a mandoline. My dad gave me a cast-off one this Christmas and I promptly julienned my thumbnail with it because I reached into my backpack and... ow. But now it's home and I'm realizing just why people will risk losing parts of their digits to slice things with them. Anyway, mine has a safety thingy that you stick the veggies on so you can't cut yourself and believe me, use that safety thingy, because mandolines are wicked sharp. Here's the thing, though: they make your veggies look so lovely (either sliced paper-thin or julienned, depending on the blade you use) that you will hardly want to eat your salad because it's such a thing of beauty. And it's not just aesthetic- thinly sliced things are light, and that means that they will mix nicely with your greens rather than sullenly hanging out at the bottom of the bowl while you dutifully chomp your way through the boring stuff.
  • They are a great way to eat a lot of healthy stuff in one sitting. I know,  I used to look at the Canada  Food Guide and go "7-8 servings a day? Really?!" But since I got my juicer and started eating salads, this may actually become a reality. 
  • And finally, because a picture says a thousand words:
Couldn't you fall in love with one of these?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to Make A Suprisingly Passable Beef Stew

Go to the supermarket the evening after your first day back at school. Marvel at the stupidity of a gigantic store that has no stewing beef. Make do with stirfry beef. Not as good. You will need:
  • beef
  • potatoes
  • pearl onions
  • carrots
  • beef stock
  • herbs
  • leeks
  • dark beer
Think ahead. You want the stew for dinner tomorrow. Chop the veggies the night before. Not the potatoes though. Blanch the pearl onions so their skins will slip off. Put all the chopped veggies in the fridge overnight.

Get up early next morning. Shake the beef in a bag with some flour, salt and pepper. Brown the beef and the veg with some oil in a pan. Cut up the potatoes. Put it all in the slow cooker, making sure you get all the good stuff out of the pan. Pour stock and dark beer over the meat and veggies. Look at the clock. You're doing well- still time for breakfast before you have to leave for school.

Move the juicer out of the way of the cooker. Somehow manage to get juicer tangled up with slow cooker. Watch in horror as the slow cooker tumbles to the kitchen floor, spilling beef, vegetables, and stock all over the place. Scramble to put spilled stuff back in the cooker as quickly as possible. Spend many precious minutes mopping up kitchen floor so roommates won't slip on greasy gravy. Discover that slow cooker is dented, so that lid no longer fits snugly on top of it. Sigh, and go for the hammer. Try and hammer pot quietly, so roommates won't be awakened. Give up and look at clock. Oh no.

Stuff some bread in the toaster and whip up a salad for lunch. Run to catch your bus.

Come home and find that one of your roommates has actually managed to fix the slow cooker and turn up the heat so that your meal is actually cooking. Think that you will try and be more patient next time this roommate tells you chapter and verse about her latest tv/ theatre audition.Go to the Vietnamese restaurant across the road because it's 3pm and your stew won't be done until 7 and salad isn't enough to get you through the mid-day.

Enjoy a bowl of beef stew late at night. It's kind of salty (you panicked because your last stew tasted of water, so you maybe put in too much stock and cooking wine, but it's better than watery stew). Think that you have a way to go before you master the art of cooking.
Managed to survive an unplanned trip to the floor and still taste okay!

Friday, January 4, 2013

getting high

As the friend who took this picture wrote me: "What a year it's been already!" He's absolutely right. So far I've:
  • danced for hours and made new friends
  • had a perfect, lazy snooze-in-bed day the day after I danced for hours (technically the same day, actually)
  • been invited to play a really cool gig
  • gone snowshoeing up a mountain and looked down on my lovely city, still half-shrouded in morning clouds
  • ate Lemon-Buttermilk pie
  • took a mini-roadtrip with a pal to visit friends of his, where we played music and boardgames and went for a late-evening ice cream excursion
  • been for several long walks with my mom, and another roadtrip today with her as well.
Phew. I think I'll take the rest of the year off! Kidding. Hopefully I'm just getting warmed up...

I have to give a huge shout-out to my mom, who isn't mentioned in this blog as much as she should be. Which is how she would probably like it, since she's a modest sort who doesn't really approve of blogging. "Why don't you just keep a journal?" she has asked me in the past. (Because I'm an attention-seeking egotist artist, Mom.) She has been my rock these last few months, giving me rides, money, advice and support. Sometimes I look at her and I can't believe that one day in the not-too-distant future, she'll be too old to go for 2-hour-plus walks with me. I am so lucky that my family is blessed with health and longevity. My mom often sometimes drives me crazy, because that's what mothers do. But we have rediscovered a sweetness together in the last month that has left me feeling grateful and lucky.

My loooonnnnng vacation has shrunk to a couple of days. My little Christmas tree has to come down tomorrow. I cling to the last lazy hours while hoping for excitement ahead; the eternal conflict in my soul between peace/comfort and challenge/excitement.
I've already climbed a mountain this year. What's next?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


It was one of those moments that became bigger than it actually was, alive with resonance.
I got taken to a New Year's Eve party last night, like many other people all over the world. And like many people, it was a party I didn't particularly want to go to: I didn't know too many of the other guests, I was tired, and angry with my date, and to top it off I knew there would be language barriers, as most of the other guests were French or South American. In fact, I very ungraciously snarled "If I hate this party, I'm going to leave," to my poor date when he phoned me. But there was no viable alternative: no one I knew had invited me to a party, so I couldn't counter with a better offer. I resentfully showered and made myself look as pretty as I could, given my bad mood and the extra pounds the holidays had left behind.
It was slow going at first. I was unable to shake off the resentments that I was feeling, and although the other guests were gracious, there were language issues and I felt a bit isolated, and unwilling to make the effort to integrate myself into the party. But slowly, things began to change- no, I began to change- and it was all because of the music.
You see, if you put a bunch of Latinos in a room with some good speakers and a huge iTunes playlist, there will be dancing. And so we danced: sexy 20-something women, an older lady in her seventies, our assorted husbands/boyfriends... and eventually, me.
I love to dance. I'm not all that good at it, especially when it involves dancing with someone rather than just hurling myself around a room by myself, but I am very committed. And at this party, that was what counted. And quite quickly, all the anger and negativity and nasty thoughts and insecurities I'd brought with me simply left my mind as I moved my body in time to the music and bonded with the other partygoers despite our age and cultural differences. I couldn't even remember why I'd had those ugly feelings in the first place. It was a beautiful moment of shedding all the bad things with the dying of the old year, and feeling nothing but happy as 2013 was born.
I know there will be plenty of storms this year. My blissful month of rest and laziness is almost over and I have mixed feelings about going back to the whirlwind of school, followed by another superbusy summer up north (probably my last one as it's time to move on). My relationship will probably continue to provide both moments of beauty and moments of supreme frustration as we try to juggle all the demands on our time as well as the challenges of our different ages and cultures. I know I still have to work on subduing some of the sneaky little demons that hold me back in life.
But if I can just hold on to that wonderful, weightless moment when all the bad stuff just rolled off my back, if I can remember that the worst day can be scrubbed away with some exercise or exertion,  if I can make time for the friends and family who hold me up, if I can look past all the ego of ME to the bigger picture, then this year will be truly wondrous.
Happy 2013 to you all.
I want to be as fabulous as THIS girl. Oh wait, that's me!