Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Question of the Day: Bond Casting

Well, I've given this some thought. What part would suit me the best in a Bond movie?

Well, to start with, I don't think I'd be a good Bond girl. I'd probably make too many suggestions about diffusing the explosive device, none of them educated, but quite opinionated. And whatever Bond I would be with would find that annoying.

I like my comforts too much to do a lot of squid-wrestling and I wouldn't want to be the kept chippy of some of those nasty old Bond villains. I'm not athletic and you have to be willing to be tossed around in a rather violent way and to be dicing with death every five minutes - exhausting to think about.

I'm not an "M" in training as I'm way too soft hearted. I couldn't be Miss Moneypenny, pining endlessly for Bond. No thank you.

I considered being a kind of cohort of one of the evil guys, but not really my line either, I'm too fair and I'd be seeing the good guy's point of view.

Then I thought, what about one of those scientists in the background, with the clipboard and the blueprints for the explosive device? I could wear a nifty white coat and amusingly unattractive thickly framed glasses that would do nothing to detract from my background-scenery-sort of ravishability.

But then I came to the conclusion that the IDEAL role for me in a Bond movie would be that voice that comes in towards the end. The female voice that is broadcast loudly all over the secret lair as the imminent explosion or detonation is counted down.

"Estimated time to detonation sequence... fifteen minutes and counting..."

YES! I could just call it in. I could call in the part from my bed, eating bon bons, yawning (no-one could see), but I could just do the voice over - brilliant!

"Estimate time to detonation sequence.... twelve minutes and counting...."

So.... the question of the day is... what part would YOU best be suited for?

Internationally Read Ace Girl Spy

I checked my blog statistics today on Google Analytics. I have had readers from:


Which all feels very cool.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Big Dinner!

Last night we had the dinner for the Oscar Night winners, which can be explained more here.

Last week Laura and I met, watched Big Night, and planned the menu. We were cooking for the three guys and Dave and Mario offered to host.

So we all gathered at 5:30 yesterday evening and chatted first... then started the movie. We took a break half way through for the first two courses. Then after the movie, we had the last two courses. A lot of food... it's a good thing we stretched it out. The guys didn't crow too much about their win, which was a mercy. This was the menu:


Risotto di Pesce
(Shrimp and Truffle Risotto with Seared Scallops)

Timballo del Gattopardo
(Timbale of Pasta for the Prince of Salina)

Arista di Maiale alla Fiorentina con Asparagi e Pomodori
(Florentine Roast Pork with Rosemary, Asparagus and Tomatoes)



More descriptions of each course (click on the picture for a much bigger version):

Risotto di Pesce (Shrimp and Truffle Risotto with Seared Scallops, first picture.)
Pretty much as it's described. This was the only dish we served hot.

Timballo del Gattopardo (Timbale of Pasta for the Prince of Salina, second and third pictures.)
Also known as a timpano, this contains more types of meat than I've ever put in one dish before. The ingredients include: pork loin, veal loin, pork ribs, pancetta, prosciutto, beef meat balls, pork sausage, peas, hard-boiled eggs, mozzarella, parmigiano, marjoram, rosemary, basil, bay leaves, cinnamon, onion, garlic, pasta and of course, all wrapped in an interestingly-sweet pastry. The recipe is from Valentina Harris' Italia Italia cook book. She's a wonderful writer and chef and teacher. I might make this again for Christmas, but definitely this is only a special occasion dish, as it takes - no kidding - three days to make.

Arista di Maiale alla Fiorentina con Asparagi e Pomodori (Florentine Roast Pork with Rosemary, Asparagus and Tomatoes, fourth picture.)
This was so delicious. Instead of just coating the pork, Laura rolled the flavours into it. The picture doesn't show the whiteness of the pork - I photographed the wrong angle - but you can see with the tomato and asparagus, that we kind of paid homage to the Italian flag. All the food - except the risotto - was room temperature meaning it was just easier to serve and enjoy ourselves, also we could sit outside and not feel too hot.

Tiramisù (Tiramisu, last picture.)
Laura used a recipe from a baking class she took a while back with James. I think I took the same class a year or two later, but we never made this. She made the lady fingers from scratch and it was the tallest Tiramisu I'd ever seen. Utter bliss... creamy, tasty, smooth, soft heaven. Thank goodness there were left overs of this too! I love Italian desserts - never too sweet!)

The guys provided the wine and we had a lovely time with lots of good conversation, ranging over every topic imaginable! The evening ended at 12:30 a.m. And all I'm saying is.... next year I'm winning the Oscar ballot! Hee hee.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Nobby" Hegel and Non-Naturalistic Ethics

This has to be my favourite comedy clip of all time, the the famous soccer match between the German and Greek philosophers, courtesy of the genius of the Pythons.

The commentary by Michael Palin is played absolutely straight and is brilliant.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Big City

I was on the subway this morning and a seemingly-harmless, but very crazy man approached me. He disappeared before long, very alone in his odd world.

Then later, on the street, some distance ahead of me, an old woman tripped on a paving stone and fell into a puddle. The younger man with her went beserk, grabbing her bag and throwing it to the floor in what looked like a temper tantrum. All around people were sitting on walls eating ice creams, or in cars eating hamburgers and only one other woman ran up - as I did - to help out. The man was still picking up her bag and flinging it hard to the ground. I knelt down and did the usual, "can you move, are you feeling okay" and finally - alone - picked her up. She whispered apologetically "My son doesn't have much patience with me." As I helped her dry off, he went nuts again. I was about to whirl around and give him a piece of my mind, when it occured to me that he wasn't quite playing with a full deck. I felt clutched with sadness at their situation. She assured me that flinging her bag around was the worst he would do.

On the streetcar later, the Don Jail was surrounded by sirens, firetrucks, the works... plus the news trucks. And further down the street, a huge fight had broken out outside Jilly's (possibly our nicest strip joint in town, relatively speaking) and people were busy trying to subdue others.

I wondered what the hell was going on. Then I saw a couple standing at a street car stop, on the other side of the road. She was behind him, her arms around him, her cheek pressed against his back. A woman on the street car was chucking her son under the chin and he - very much at the age where he would hate PDAs - was still able to enjoy his mum's affection. At another streetcar stop I saw a quite elderly couple flirting with each other. He was practically toothless, she was practically shapeless, and they were both radiant in their wrinkliness. I came home and had a cup of tea and a painkiller (my back trouble was not aided by picking up the old lady, but for crying out loud, who thinks of stuff like that at that moment?) and thought how happy I was to live right in the city, with all its stories. My idea of personal hell on earth: gated communities.

The Nightingale

This song was used in the 1990s series, Twin Peaks. It's written in the style of a 50s torch song, very romantic, but - more than anything - slightly eerie and very haunting, especially as sung for the soundtrack by Julee Cruise.

The nightingale
It said to me
There is a love
Meant for me.

The nightingale
It flew to me
And told me
That it found my love.

He said one day
I’ll meet you
Our hearts will fly
With the nightingale.

The nightingale
He told me
One day
You will be with me.

The nightingale
Said he knew
That your love
Would find my love one day.

My heart flies
With the nightingale
Through the night
All across the world.

I long to see you
To touch you
To love you
Forever more.

Monday, July 23, 2007

There's a Half-Naked Man in my Bathroom!

He claims he has a movie coming out this week. Refused to put on his rather iffy-looking blue pants until I promised to attend an opening-week showing. How could I refuse?

I think he was lured here by the porkchops.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sweet, Scary Dragons

I don't actually have tchotchkes... those useless little ornaments that serve no purpose. What I do have are the occasional useful whimsies. Like this one. This dragon (left) holds incense sticks in his mouth, and when he's not... he just has a permanent look of surprise on his face.

He was the official "muse" when our department at work created this dragon cake, to depict Fafner, the terrifying dragon in the Ring of the Nibelung. The picture is blurry unfortunately, but kind of scary in its blurriness I think!

The cake was built with no plan on paper, we just winged it really, and it took one day to do (and one evening to bake lots of chocolate cake!) We made the form from carved pieces of cake. Rolled fondant was then coloured green, and carefully laid over the cake base. It was hand dusted to create shadows and texture. The background mountain was made of painted, crumpled paper, with a covered flashlight in the cave to provide the glow of the hidden gold. The details on the dragon, ridges, claws, eyeballs, tongue etc. were shaped from fondant too, as was the dragon's naked victim, Mime (seen on the right). The tongue glistens thanks to piping gel. The earth was sugar, chocolate cake crumbs and food colouring. We then eviscerated him, as the story required, and filled his torn up side with trifle. Lots of red goo! Everything about the dragon and his victim was edible and was designed to appeal particularly to the young among us. I seem to recall several 11-year-old boys being very impressed. Can't go wrong with the blood and guts with that age.

The Fossil Mystery, Part Three

By popular request (well... one cowboy's request), here is my fossil, photographed from all angles. The theories so far are that it is either a fossilized corral, or a femur.

UPDATE: As I said, it measures about 2.25" across at its widest and 2" in height at its tallest.

I just weighed it: 6 ounces.

Friday, July 20, 2007

My First Esther Williams Movie!

I watched On an Island With You (1948) tonight, with Esther Williams as a Hollywood swimming star who is engaged to her co-star, Ricardo Montalban. The cast is rounded out by Cyd Charisse, who has two good dance numbers with Ricardo, who - surprise, surprise - is a pretty good dancer! Also Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat.

*SPOILER ALERT* It's a goofy film. Peter Lawford plays a navy pilot who is hired as a technical adviser on a film that is being made on some unnamed exotic island. He has met Esther once several years back when she was an entertainer for the troops. He's convinced he's in love with her, but she's not interested. So... he kidnaps her and takes her back to the island 500 miles away where they met. Yeah, he's pretty much a stalker! At least, that's the way it feels with Lawford playing it. If only he could have done it with more panache, more bold intent. But he kept peering at Esther as though she were an accounting anomaly. So... ultimately he was just off. Well, in the end Ricardo and Cyd fall in love and Esther - for some goofy reason - decides to go off with Peter.

This was my first Esther Williams film, although I've seen lots of clips. She made some great titles, I mean... read these: Pagan Love Song, Skirts Ahoy, Neptune's Daughter, Dangerous When Wet, and Million Dollar Mermaid. And, from what I've seen tonight, she probably inspired the invention of waterproof makeup. As for the gowns..................... THUD. They were designed by Irene, and the ones for Cyd Charisse - particularly - are inspired.

There's also a cute scene with a little girl auditioning for assistant director Jimmy Durante. She gives her little speech in a perfect English accent and he storms off saying "Too British!"

She turns to her grandmother and says "Can one be too British?" Mark - you'd have loved her delivery!

Damn you, Summer Fruit!

Summer fruit has me in its limpet grip.

First it was the strawberries. Now the cherries. I mean... look at them: firm, juicy, sweet.

I ate too many today. How many is too many? I'm not sure. I just know they're all gone. Go ahead... take the huskies, leave me here to die. Ugh... too many cherries.

And today I saw the Ontario peaches are in. I'm in trouble now.

Damn you, summer fruit and your fabulous fruitiness! DAMN YOU!!!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mad Men

It's been literally years since I followed a t.v. series. Tonight on AMC, I watched the premiere episode of Mad Men, from the producer of The Sopranos. It's about advertising in NYC in the 1960s. It's got a great, great script and characters that have got my attention. I can't wait for next week!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Recent Movies

The Good German (2006) was one of those experiences where I wanted it to affect me more than it did. I love Steven Soderbergh's films, always have. The choice of filming it in washed out, grainy black and white, was jarring at first. But even after I got used to it, it felt gimmicky. I mean, I know that when the story took place, this is the kind of film that would have been available if someone was making a documentary, or some such. The film quality isn't that velvety silver screen sort of black and white: it's very naturally lit and grainy in texture. I just wanted it to look real. But that's a choice, an experiment, and it was interesting. Emotionally I was there until the end, where it kind of fell apart for me. The homage to Casablanca just served to emphasize the triumph of that film and the iffiness of The Good German. It's like when I saw Rent in NYC. I believe this musical would have stood a better chance of working if its composer had lived to edit it through it's growing pains. But I just sat there, and as the strains of Puccini's La Bohème were woven into the score, it just left me wishing I was at the opera instead. And that doesn't happen every day! Having said all that, The Good German stars Toby Maguire (who knew he had such range! I do now), George Clooney, and... the chameleon-like, ravishingly talented, and timelessly beautiful Cate Blanchett. People talk about George Clooney being our new Cary Grant. What a rough comparison for any man to live up to. But if we ever had a true star, a magical presence on screen today, it's Goddess Cate.

As much as The Good German hasn't stayed with me, Little Children (2006) has. It's one of those films that just sneaks back into my conciousness every day or two since I saw it three weeks ago. Director Todd Field started out acting. The first time I really noticed him was in Ruby in Paradise (1993) with Ashley Judd. Now he's making films, the only other one I've seen being In the Bedroom (2001). Little Children is searing and discomforting, with an assortment of emotionally scarred characters, who seem as helpless most of the time as the vulnerable children in their care or their community. I won't go on, I'm still digesting it. Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Noah Emmerich and Jennifer Connelly are all superb with an Oscar-nominated performance by Jackie Earle Hayley, who is about as removed from his character in Breaking Away as he can be.

Le Placard (The Closet, 2001) is delightful French film with a very satisfying array of French actors. Daniel Auteuil is Pignon, a mild-mannered accountant who discovers that he is about to be fired from his job at a condom factory. His wife has left him, his teenage son despises him and he is about to chuck it all in. His neighbour, the wonderful Michel Aumont, comes to his rescue, of sorts. He suggests to Pignon that if he subtley let slip that he his gay, his company won't dare fire him, fearing sexual harrassment issues. The plot is a bit of stretch, but this is comedy, with some serious undertones. Michèle Laroque, who was so charming in Ma Vie en Rose (1997), is Pignon's gorgeous boss; Gerard Depardieu is the thuggish, rugby-playing colleague who torments Pignon; Jean Rochefort (who I loved in Le Mari de la Coiffeuse - The Hairdresser's Husband, 1990), is the director of the company; and the always suave Thierry Lhermitte is a mischevious co-worker. Both my thumbs up and all my toes!

Well, here's an example of a master-director, Billy Wilder, filming a movie in 1959, setting it in the late 20s, and going with black and white, a very risky venture at a time when - if you were starring Marilyn Monroe, you wanted that blond bombshell in Technicolour at the very least! And apparently that blond bombshell needed some persuading. Thank goodness it worked. With Some Like it Hot (1959), words ALMOST fail me. I don't know how many times I've seen this movie, and yet it remains fresh, delightful, eternally funny. According to the trivia notes on imdb.com, a preview audience laughed so hard in the scene where Jack Lemmon announces his engagement that a lot of the dialogue was missed. It had to be re-shot with pauses (and the maraca gimmick) added. Marilyn Monroe is enchanting. It's a dreadful thing when starlets have tried to imitate her over the last forty-odd years. There is no-one like her, there never can be. She was radiant, innocent, sexy and funny. ("Real diamonds? They must be worth their weight in gold!") Tony Curtis was at the height of his matinee-idolness and even in drag he is oddly attractive. Jack Lemmon is most likely - in drag - the most unattractive woman imaginable. The script is brilliant. What can I say? If you haven't seen it, run to the video store tonight!

Son of... I Sense a Theme Here

I thought I had gathered together all the examples, but a good friend has pointed out that more than once, I have a current theme running through my more lurid writings. From a selection of my tandem tales (writing exercises written with various good and talented friends):

From Springtime in Zurich:
Dr. Dietrich Jurgen opened the large window of his spacious office and gazed at the twinkling waters of Lake Zurich in the distance, now bathed in the light of the late-afternoon sun. He closed his eyes and breathed a sigh, running a hand over his fine wide forehead and back over his chestnut hair. His sideburns were slightly touched with gray. His deep green eyes were tired and seemed to have lost forever the bright gleam that had set him apart from his fellow students at university. There in Vienna he had been recognized early on as a brilliant mind and a great thinker and it was widely believed that he would surely contribute profoundly to his chosen field of psychiatry.


Jurgen sighed again, picked up his coffee and walked back to the window.


Emerging at last from the bathroom, Jurgen wrapped a towel about his lean hips and leant against the window jam of his bedroom, looking out over the walled, oleander-lined garden, a cigarette dangling from one hand. It was still too early to begin his rounds.


Moments after Magda had left, Dietrich stood by the window, gazing out at the gathering darkness. He kept picturing her lovely form in repose, her hands resting lightly in her lap, the way the lamplight cast a shine upon her dark mane, and her rosy lips as she told her tale.


Dr. Jurgen smiled, held her close for a moment longer, then arose and went to stand by the window. The stars twinkled down in the velvet night sky, and inmpulsively he threw open the french doors which led to the terrace and led Magda out.

From Bramwell Pemberton, Gentleman Spy
Bramwell Pemberton stepped out of his shower and wrapped a towel loosely around his lean hips. Leaning against the window sill, he lit a cigarette and gazed thoughtfully over the view that stretched before him. He hadn’t been in Buenos Aires four hours, and already three people were dead. War was Hell, and they were calling this the war to end all wars. In a gesture of frustration Bram (as he was known to his friends) ran a hand through his hair, letting the unruly curls fall becomingly on his noble brow. There was a knock on the door.

From The Grimoire of Pengannon Castle
Seth emerged from his bath and walked over to the tall sash window of his hotel room, a towel loosely wrapped around his lean hips. Leaning against the jam, he lit a cigarette, folded his arms, and gazed broodily out onto the rain slicked streets. He was more irritable than usual. He hated the city and especially the people who populated it. Bankers were the worst.

From Trouble in Paradise
Taichu woke suddenly. His body and every nerve in it were alert. He espied the full moon outside the window, and taking up his watch from the rickety nightstand, saw that it was 3:30 a.m. He had only been asleep a half hour. Standing up, he crossed to the window. The moon slanted in and across his lithe, well-toned, naked body.


"No. Goodnight!" barked Banner, pushing the old fellow firmly from the room and shutting it behind him. He locked the door, and flung his small suitcase and trenchcoat on the bed. Then shaking a cigarette out its packet, he lit up and leant against the window jam, gazing out at the street below.


He reached out a powerfully whip-corded arm and pulled back the thinning curtain from the window above his bed. The surly yellow sky bespoke a dank humidity and an intolerable heat for the time of morning. Cursing silently he rose up, and - standing - stretched his lean, well-muscled form. Pulling on a shirt, he crossed to the window across the room and stood there, his arms folded, a lit cigarette greeting the new day.

From The Curse of Castle Kinvara
Arsalan Musulmani took a sip of the dark, aromatic Arabic coffee and placed the porcelain cup upon the window-ledge. He looked broodingly out the window upon the lavish formal gardens surrounding the house. Tall date palms swayed gently in the midday breeze, their fronds billowing like large green fringes.


Arsalan tied a towel about his lean hips and went to stand by the window, opening the lattice a little to gaze off into the high mountains. The sun was now setting a golden glow upon the land and Arsalan the warrior felt his soul soften and his body tremble with sensual anticipation as he remembered the form of the woman he had purchased that very morning.

From The Vampires of Scorpio Hall
Once alone, Snape cast off the long black cloak stretched his long, powerful limbs. He sat briefly on the huge canopied bed but a restlessness bestirred him and he got up again and walked over to the leaded diamond-paned window which looked onto a gloomy, deserted courtyard. An old stone fountain, dry and dusty, stood in the centre.

I needed a good laugh and I can't really watch myself dancing.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Mysterious Fossil - UPDATE

Update on fossil mystery:

I spoke to the ROM and they told me that the fossil ID sessions are once every two or three months and that there are none in the summer because.... the scientists are "out in the field." How exciting! Digging up dinosaur fossils no doubt and testing the viability of doomed new theme parks off Costa Rica. I wonder if any of them look like Sam Neill?

Seen on a Car Bumper-Sticker this Summer

"Dance like no-one's watching...
We all need a good laugh."

Seen on a T-shirt this Summer

"I'm not with stupid.
We broke up."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Corona Borealis

It is true that I love star-gazing, although I don't know much about it. It is also true that several years ago, at a cottage, two very saucy fellows decided to rename the constellations in my honour, after several items of jewelry that I might like.

So it is hardly surprising that my favourite constellation (thank goodness you're being spared another top ten list) is Corona Borealis, the Northern Crown. Mmmmm... my very own tiara!!

The image was lifted from a website and then played around with by me, but I'm sure they won't mind!

This small constellation is shaped like... well more like a horseshoe than a tiara. It's located between Hercules and Bootes, kind of nestled up against the Milky Way, and visible between February and October I believe.

It's very small but very distinct. You don't lay there next to a haybale going "Andromeda, my eye!"... It's very apparent what you are seeing and like all constellations, once you can identify it, it's like seeing an old friend in a crowd... a very, very large crowd. And by the way, since when did anyone think that that was Orion's BELT?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Big Popcorn, Empty Brain... and Son of Big Popcorn, Empty Brain

I saw the original Die Hard about 13 times. It had what made any good thriller good - a great villain in Alan Rickman, accompanied by a glamorous, follicly-blessed posse of Euro-trash villain/super-model blokes. They were silly. He was fabulous. Live Free or Die Hard was just what I was looking for the night we went to see it. The fourth in the series doesn't have a good villain, but it had enough references to the original to make me smirk between chewing my nails. The best part had to be the casting of young Justin Long who played a similar role (hapless computer nerd) in one of my favourites: Galaxy Quest.

The new Harry Potter movie is fun... as long as you have read the book. So much has to be left out, so really what you are going for is a visual representation of what you have been imagining, and - as usual - you are not disappointed. I'm very loyal to the series, so I'm hanging in there till the bitter end! But, to nitpick, I wish now that another villain could have been fought in these last two movies, saving Voldemort for the last, say, two stories. I mean, it's just another "ahh... we live to fight another day, Harry Potter" kind of ending. Come on already! Imelda Staunton is a creepy Dolores Umbridge, who seems to be channeling Margaret Thatcher if she had received fashion advice from Elizabeth II. A stand-out for me was the eerily remote Evanna Lynch as Luna "Loony" Lovegood. I was convinced I'd seen her before, so was my dad when we compared notes, but it seems that this is the first professional tv/movie job this young lassie has had. The rrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrr factor was overwhelmingly satisifed with Jason Isaacs worth the price of admission alone, reprising his role as Lucius Malfoy; and Gary Oldman very focused and magnificently committed (no pun intended) as Sirius Black.

Mysterious Fossil

No, I'm not referring to myself.

I found this fossil on a riverbed a couple of winters ago, in south-western Ontario. You see it there photographed from the side and from overhead. It measures about 2.25" across at its widest and 2" in height at its tallest. Click on the picture for a much larger view.

It has a lovely honeycomb pattern except it's way too small to have been made by bees, so obviously another type of insect created it.

I recall that the Royal Ontario Museum had a twice-weekly fossil ID service some years ago. So... watch this space...

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

And Speaking of Trees

I was walking today (not a very long walk) along a beautiful trail. The sun was so intense. And so whenever I came across a large tree, I paused under it where a perfect breeze cooled me off. There is nothing like the shade of a tree. I suppose as the leaves are stirred by the breeze, they in turn build on the strength of the breeze.

The character of King Xerxes - in Handel's opera Xerxes - sings to his favourite tree, in a beautiful Largo, sort of a love song to it. Yes, it's a little odd, but it works. The words are as follows:

Ombra mai fu
di vegetabile,
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

The literal translation is:

Never was shade
of dear and amiable vegetable
More sweet.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky, the wonderful Russian baritone, is seen here singing the aria.

In a very different take, Jennifer Larmore, an American mezzo-soprano, made a video of it, sung very slowly (too slowly IMO), in which the ravagement of the environment is a moving backdrop to the words.

My favourite YouTube version has to be this one, by American counter-tenor David Daniels. He sung in a production done here in Toronto, but he played Arsamenes, Xerxes' brother.

I love it any way I can get it.

Jack Pines and a Fat Cat

If you were to ask me to name my favourite tree (and I know you were all planning to bring this up casually in conversation), I would answer confidently and decisively: The Jack Pine! I love these trees. They stand taller than most around them. And they have a wind-tossed irregular shape that speaks to me of refusal to comply to any sort of rule. My sort of vegetation. I like all trees. I am a self-confessed tree-hugger when out on a hike. I love the rough bark and their strength and height.

There have been few times in my life where I have lost my temper, I mean really lost it. One such time was when I was googling images of jack pines and found pictures of ... wait for it ... bonsai versions of them. I saw red. This was tantamount to footbinding baby girls or something!!! How could anyone do this??? I went nuts, called Ange, and vented. After giving me my head for a few minutes, she told me to pull myself together, and, in one of her many creative bursts of talent, wrote a brief short story involving me, and a hero called Jack Pines, who was based loosely on a handsome fisherman I had actually met in Maine many years ago. As for the fictional acocunt, I remember it involved a wharf (as all Ange's stories do) and a debacle at a seedy bar, frequented by rough characters. I was momentarily soothed... momentarily.

Anyway, above my desk (pictured) I have a framed print of Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay, by Frederick Varley (c. 1920). There are four more pictures of jack pines around it. I find it so soothing to look at, redolent of the Canadian wilderness and that refusal to be conventional.

As for Tibbles, he had his annual check-up. What a drama king, you'd think we were killing him by putting him in his travelling box. He had a great check-up once he was there. He is in amazing shape for his age (11) and the nurses all love him for his gentleness. We asked some advice on his diet as he has put on some weight. Yes, he's now 22.5 pounds!!! His food intake portions have been small all this time. Now they will remain small but he'll be on calorie-reduced cat food. Also, no more yoghurt (long story!) I'll keep you updated on his progress.

Pennies from Heaven

A long time ago
A million years BC
The best things in life
Were absolutely free.

But no one appreciated
A sky that was always blue.
And no one congratulated
A moon that was always new.

So it was planned that they would vanish now and them
And you must pay before you get them back again.
That's what storms were made for
And you shouldn't be afraid for...

Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven.
Don't you know each cloud contains pennies from heaven.
You'll find your fortune falling
All over town.
Be sure that your umbrella is upside down.

Trade them for a package of sunshine and flowers.
If you want the things you love
You must have showers.
So when you hear it thunder
Don't run under a tree.
There'll be pennies from heaven for you and me.

Lyrics by Johnny Burke, music by Arthur Johnston

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Stratford 2007

Summer in south-western Ontario is beautiful as usual. And the renowned Stratford Festival (in the beautiful little city of Stratford) is one of the great pleasures to be had. Aside from the theatre, there is the setting along the Avon River and especially the part of the river that has been damned, creating the small, shallow Lake Victoria. Driving along the lake yesterday we saw a mother duck and a flock of little ducklings all in a row behind her were crossing the road. Waddle, waddle. So cute you could spit. And the cygnets are at their classic ugly-duckling phase - downy but turning whiter each day. There are lots of ducks, swans, willow trees to be enjoyed as you walk or drive around the lake. There will be pictures posted here once I get home and download them.

The shows have been variable, but I'm so happy to have seen them. It's been a long while since I've had such a glut of live theatre.

From the worst - in my opinion - to the best:

The Merchant of Venice
Indescribably awful. I'm not sure if they decided to play up the anti-semitism in order to make Shylock more sympathetic of out of some misguided bloody mindedness, but it was appalling. The language suffered horribly, most of it unintelligible. Graham Greene mumbled his way through Shylock. He's a tricky one to cast, no doubt, and I suppose the powers that be thought it might be palatable to have a representative of one put-upon people represent another. He was entirely incomprehensible. "fff oo cut ushhh, do we no' blee?" The design was ugly and matched the petulant performances. I can only assume the designer suffers from a terror of going through life un-noticed. Portia came across as a suburban spinster offsetting age with a bad blonde rinse and a series of God-awful outfits that did absolutely nothing for her. Her Bassanio was like a 15-year-old school boy who looked upon her like he'd never seen a woman before. I won't go on, it's too depressing.

The Comedy of Errors
Deeply unfunny. Directed by Richard Monette in his swan song year. Well, the swan's dead but it won't lay down. It was hammed up in the most dreadful, church-basement-community-theatre way. In-jokes and additional bits of dialogue like "hey dude!" left most of the audience cold. Embarrassingly weak.

My One And Only
This wasn't as good as Anything Goes last year, but it was fun. Cynthia Dale was lovely in the lead (rough English accent though, why did she have to even try?) and the rest of the cast were enthusiastic and energetic and charming. I think it just doesn't work as well as a show. Cole Porter has a wit and energy that works so well theatrically. The limpidly lovely Gershwin songs just didn't seem to hang together, and with actors who have to dance as well as sing... well, something had to suffer and it was the singing. And I reckon you can't do that with Gershwin. It was sweet though, and the final curtain call moment when they are all dancing on top of the plane's wings actually brought tears to my eyes... that kind of fantasy, good-times, nostalgic moment. I'm being a fuss-pot so this gets my thumbs-up!

King Lear
Surprisingly good. Brian Bedford had balls to direct and star in this two years after Captain von Trapp did it to such acclaim. The costumes were thankfully simple and classic (not that I mind other takes, but at least this design wasn't fighting for attention). I could understand everyone (WOW). Bedford was a realistic, pathetic Lear, and brought to mind my theory of the old king, that he is suffering from early-stage dementia, hence the mood swings and extremes of emotion. The fool (Bernard Hopkins) was a little to "regular", a little too like the rest of the court to suggest someone who could have got away with the things he said. I like an odd, eccentric fool. Rather like myself!

Really strong! Again, not that I need costumes of the period, but there was no attempt to do anything but play this straight. Fuck - that can be such a breath of fresh air. As an actor friend of mine had told me the previous week, in this production the characters are BEING, they are not carrying on and showing off. It's also the first time I've enjoyed the staging of a production at the Tom Patterson. I find that space very awkward most of the time. My only quibble I guess is that I found Philip Akin as Othello just a bit frenetic. His switch from calm, strong general into wildly jealous husband was very sudden and threw me off. Jonathan Goad was a fabulous Iago, Lucy Peacock a wonderful Emilia and Claire Jullien a lovely Desdemona. They were ALL good!

FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC!!!!! I was not looking forward particularly to it, feeling somewhat resentful that, in a festival that is supposed to pay homage first and foremost to Shakespeare, the musicals get most of the attention. Well this one has it all. Donna Feore as choreographer and director, has done a wonderful job. The set was brilliant, with large light boxes of different shapes running across the stage, that reflect the amazing lights and represent the huge, endless skies of the prairies. The dancing was superb (all on a small set for its purposes), the acting delightful. The singing suffered a tad, as - again - you are requiring the performers to do it all, but that's nit-picking. The amplification sometimes seemed a bit much, but I got used to it. The performers carried the songs off with such zeal and gusto and the music... wow! I forgot how it is just one delightful song after another. Curly was a manly leading man, not classically handsome, but he had IT. Laurie was just delightful: flirtatious and capricious without being shrewish or silly, as is so often the case in musical theatre. I highly recommend it!

So that's it... for now. Not sure if I'll get out to any more shows this year, but if I do, you'll read about it here.