Sunday, November 30, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Some of the dullest people in the world are in this room. There are gold medalists in the Boredom Olympics here. Anything you say will be more interesting than anything they've ever said."

Bill Nighy as Lawrence in The Girl in the Café (2005)

This is More Like it

A long walk through the city...

Waving at Winston Churchill outside City Hall...

The robins outside the Forestry department at the University of Toronto...

A warming dimsum on Baldwin Street...

And back home to the DVD fireplace and bison burgers.

How Canadian is that? Er, okay, don't answer that.

Son of... "Christmas Windows at the Bay"

On Queen Street, the windows become more Christmassy, with scenes featuring moving parts and seasonal music. My pictures feature a lot of glare, so you can sort of see the happy walkers with their children, reflected in the festive windows.

Christmas Windows at the Bay

The Bay is not just Canada's olded corporation, this flagship department store in downtown Toronto also features snazzy Christmas windows that find me walking by them at least once a season.

First off, along Yonge Street, was a rather odd but very glamorous fairy/jewels display. I didn't quite get it, but then I was a little thrown by the use of mannequins (as grumpy looking as the models they are based on) as the ethereal fairies. Nonetheless, the displays were colourful to this human magpie.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Okay, okay!

I got it wrong last week. Now I know that for some goofy reason *tomorrow* is Thanksgiving for all my Mmmrcan friends. Have a good one, saucepots!

Time and Music

"Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding" (Time is a strange thing.)
~ The Marschallin, Der Rosenkavalier

"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." ~ Aldous Huxley

When I lived in London in the 80s I spent many evenings at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I couldn't afford a good ticket so was relegated to the "slip" seats, up in the roof of the opera house, which consisted of two rows of hard wooden benches and an old iron railing to keep you safe. As soon as the performance started, everyone shuffled down to the back as far as was possible to get as much view of the stage as we could manage. As it was, I generally only saw 3/4 of the performance. If I really liked it, I would return the following week and see it again from the slip seats in the other side of the house. Tickets cost 2 pounds. Some time later I splurged and bought 11-pound tickets to see Alessandra Ferri's last performance as Juliet in 1984 with the Royal Ballet before she headed off to the States. It's been recorded for posterity, thank goodness. But I read tonight that it was only in 2007, at the age of 44 that she retired as a dancer, performing Juliet one more time with American Ballet Theatre, after 22 years with them. 44 years old...

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." ~ Maya Angelou

As for that night 24 years ago, it was magical but I missed the camaraderie of the slips and returned there for subsequent performances. During the intermissions we would hang over the railing and watch those occupying the boxes receive their champagne and smoked salmon. Beside me a young couple opened their picnic of pork pies and carrot sticks. Closest to the stage, in seats from which you could see nothing, stood music stands with lights for those who wished to study the score as they listened. Harried young men dashed in with seconds to spare, wildly looking around realizing that after running up several flights of stairs to get there, they had forgotten to get a house program. "It *is* Baltsa tonight isn't it?"

"Without music, life would be a mistake." ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

It was Baltsa indeed, the night I saw Der Rosenkavalier. I was 20. It was directed by John Schlesinger, with sets designed by William Dudley and costumes designed by Maria Björnson. The whole thing was like a dream. The Greek mezzo Agnes Baltsa was Octavian, Kiri te Kanawa was the Marschallin and Barbara Bonney was Sophie. The film of the opera has Anne Howells as Octavian, but it is the same production and I love to watch it. In the final trio, the three performers stepped forward, letting the set seem to dissolve behind them as they sang that indescribably beautiful music. That same music has the power to work miracles on me, and for this I am more grateful than I can express. Tonight, I was collating a must-listen selection of opera for a friend, and this was the first piece I thought of. I hardly remember walking out of the theatre, but I know that my feet were about a foot above the ground. It was a foggy night and people were spilling out of wine bars and drinking and laughing in the streets, as they have a way of doing in London still. It was all a beautiful haze and doesn't seem that long ago.

"It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness of pain: of strength and freedom. The beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and everlasting beauty of monotony." ~ Benjamin Britten

On a bit of a Strauss kick, last week I watched the DVD of the Met's Arabella
with Kiri te Kanawa and Wolfgang Brendel... I highly recommend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hello Mmmrcans!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Mmmrcan (American) friends! I hope you all have a wonderful day with people you love or doing something you love and I shall raise a toast to you all and wish many exclamation marks upon you!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reading Season is Upon me

We had the first snow today, just a little, but it settled, and looks very pretty. My thoughts this time of year, with the dark evenings and cold nights, turn to books.

I finally finished The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. My mistake was trying to read it in dribs and drabs. This didn't work. I couldn't keep everything straight. So, finally, almost through the book, I just started it all over again and read it over two days while away at a lake. It was a delicious read, full of poetry and fire, ravishing women, power-hungry men, exotic locales and plot twists that leave you wondering what is real and what is fantasy. Almost every character existed in history in one form or another and the research Rushdie did is mighty impressive. The character of the Mughal emperor, Akbar, is one that stays with me. His self-reflection is beautifully written and possibly will be all that I take from this ravishing book, that seems in some ways, a wonderful in-joke, possibly written for a very clever and informed bunch of Rushdie's friends.

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson was very satisfying and thought-provoking. The story starts during the Black Death. 99% of Christian Europe is wiped out, and they become a footnote in history. The Chinese and Muslim nations sweep west and discover the new world. The characters reincarnate, as a sort of Buddhist sensibility is at the heart of the book. The reincarnations are identified only in that the characters come back with the same first letter of their name and within groups of the same characters. Everything else changes: their genders and relationships. History seems to repeat itself with a haunting inevitability. I won't say anything more. It's a great read and gets my recommendation.

Seen on a Bumper Sticker

Warning! Driver under the influence of

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

22.60%... and counting

Yep... I might be a bit too busy to blog just now, but it also means I've been exercising like a good Blog Princess. I'm trying to catch up with everyone's blogs... and enjoying you all tremendously.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yes, It's Truffle Time

200 truffles, waiting to be coated with chocolate. Only 160 are needed, so the extra 40 are so I can pick out the "uglies", not that they won't be given a good home. :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Four Happy Ingredients

Any guesses as to what I'm up to?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Song of the Day

Love Song For A Vampire

Come into these arms again
and lay your body down
The rhythm of this trembling heart
is beating like a drum
It beats for you it bleeds for you
it knows not how it sounds
For it is the drum of drums
it is the song of songs

Once I had the rarest rose
that ever deemed to bloom
Cruel winter chilled the bud
and stole my flower too soon
Oh loneliness Oh hopelessness
to search the ends of time
For there is in all the world
no greater love than mine.

Love o love o .... still falls the rain
Love o love o .... still falls the night
Love o love o .... damned forever

Let me be the only one
to keep you from the cold
Now the floor of heaven is laid
the stars are bright as gold
They shine for you they shine for you
they burn for all to see
Come into these arms again
and set this spirit free

Written and performed by the wonderful Annie Lennox.

Why Thank You!

Lavinia from the Birdbath Chronicles has honoured me with this charming award. And what an ace girl photographer she is!

Thank you Ms Ladyslipper. :)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

He Just has one Question

We popped the cork and celebrated as Obama made his speech in Grant Park last night.

Tibby has just one concern:

"A PUPPY????"

(Tibby on the morning after the night before.)

19.17%... and counting... AGAIN

No improvement, as I'd already guessed. Oh well, next time. :)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Lashings of Books!

The newest acquisitions:

And now for the gently-used ones... I can hardly believe it's been nearly four months since I did my big book purge. I got rid of over 200 books and it felt good. I have to tell you though... the fall had me feeling a little nervous. The big college book sales were coming up and we all know what that means! For those of you who don't, let me explain: four of the big colleges at the University of Toronto hold annual book sales. This isn't about selling text books. The selection is made up of donated books, so it's like a GINORMOUS second-hand bookstore. Oh boy! Can you see the trouble I could get into? The smell of old books! The musty intoxication! The low prices! The promise! The madness!

Well, I only attended one, and this was at Trinity College just last weekend. Bruce accompanied me. It took place in the college's lovely Seeley Hall. It's pictured here.

Now... a little introduction to Enid Blyton for those of you who might not have heard of her. Blyton was, still is, one of the most successful and popular children's authors of all time, recently beating out J. K. Rowling in a British poll. According to Wikipedia, over 400 million copies of her books have been sold. She was born in Britain in 1897 and died in 1968. Her books were loved by children, reviled by many adults, and are still in print. Part of the appeal for me was that irresistible element of independence for her young characters. The children of the Secret Seven series and the Famous Five were always having adventures away from the scrutiny of grown ups. Instead they went on wonderful camping adventures and usually ended up helping the authorities apprehend villains, usually of a strange, foreign background. This takes us to the controversial bit, overblown by the media, but not - in my opinion - without its reasons. Her books are sexist, classist and somewhat xenophobic, and the woman must have had major food issues. Yes, kids like food. But Blyton's "slap-up teas" were neverending. Why she didn't weigh 500 pounds is beyond me. They generally consist of ham rolls and "lashings of ice cold ginger beer."

I still buy the occasional copy, if only to read out loud with my friends M and D. I have been rendered helpless with laughter from some of the prose, especially after a Guinness. The girls are generally described by the boys as "good little mothers", the boys are described by the girls as "jolly clever", and often have to show the girls who are in charge, and will punish them if necessary, and the villains have names like Dirty Dick. In the children's section at the Trinity College book sale, Enid Blyton was the only author with HER OWN BOX! Step away from the box BPG!

Trinity College Chapel is a gorgeous building:

We explored the quadrangle:

And wandered over to Queen's Park to look at the statue of King Edward, which is pretty impressive:

Food and Laughter... What's not to Love?

I was at a fundraiser last week at the Winter Garden Theatre and worked my way conscientiously through the delicious food stations that were set up. One of the appetizers that was brought to me as we were sitting with one of the many tasty plates we consumed was this little morsel. Well, not so little really. My companion made the clever point that in some restaurants, this bacon-wrapped sirloin bit of heaven (topped with truffle cream) would be the main course. And you'd get to pay handsomely for it. Here it was just an appetizer and as I type about it my mouth waters... do you know the feeling when your mouth waters and your teeth sort of feel soft and achey? I'm such a carnivore. GrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrr. The actual show was very good, all stand-up, with Mike Wilmot as a stand-out stand-up, among several, and headliner Lewis Black topping the bill. Er... excuse me? How did I not know about this man before? My (face) cheeks were aching the next day from the laughter. Of course several glasses of wine certainly got the audience in a giggly mood. I love outrage and Mr. Lewis is a master (and my new secret boyfriend).

Then I roasted a chicken, and tried brining for the first time. This lovely organic specimen came out juicy and crispy. Mmmmmm...

The chicken in his brine:

Mr. Chicken all ready to roast:

Oh boy!

New food fun of the week took place on Saturday when I baked up a batch of Betsy's soft and chewy ginger cookies. They are delicious! The recipe makes heaps... something like six or seven dozen. I lost count as we sampled them... hee hee! Thanks Betsy. You are such a brilliant baker! I downed - er - a couple - while delving into a new book on Sunday afternoon.

Howdy Neighbours!

I've been watching and listening up here, and paying far more attention to your election process than I did to our own federal election back in October. I voted though, as I am so grateful to be part of that process and I know all my American friends will be voting. I know that some of you will vote one way and some the other. To all of you, all the best for a safe and peaceful election day.

(Gobama! Hee hee!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Just Now...

Just now I'm doing some work, but in the background the television is on and TFO is showing Bergman's Magic Flute (1975) otherwise known as Trollflöjten (in the Swedish). Most of the film was shot in the Drottningsholms Palace Theatre in Sweden, which seats 400 and is still actively producing opera. The film made a star of Håkan Hagegård, although I'm sure he would have made it big in any case. The colour seems very washed out. I'm wondering if it's been remastered?

[sounds of BPG doing a search]

Uh oh... I just found out that Criterion has it in their catalogue, featuring "lush colour transfer". Sigh... Criterion is one of my weaknesses, but... hey! $23.96! This is way cheaper than some of their other sets. Mmmmmm, I know what I'm treating myself with this week.

Okay, I'm going back to my work now. Hee hee!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some Recent Films

I like this extra hour we got thanks to Daylight Savings. It's given me time to blog! I know I've forgotten a bunch of movies I've seen in the last couple of months, but here are the ones that come to mind:


Sir Robert Morton: "Oh, you still pursue your feminist activities?"

Catherine Winslow: "Oh yes."

Sir Robert Morton: "Pity. It's a lost cause."

Catherine Winslow: "Oh, do you really think so, Sir Robert? How little you know about women. Good-bye. I doubt that we shall meet again."

Sir Robert Morton: "Oh, do you really think so, Miss Winslow? How little you know about men."

(Jeremy Northam as Sir Robert and Rebecca Pidgeon as Catherine in The Winslow Boy, 1999)

This is a favourite of mine, and I just watched it again yesterday. The Winslow Boy is based on a 1946 play by Terrence Rattigan that was - in turn - based on a real event that took place in 1908. In the story, a family fights to save the honour of their 13-year-old son, expelled from Osborne Naval College for allegedly stealing a postal order.

The David Mamet-directed 1999 film version is intriguing. The cast includes Nigel Hawthorne as Mr. Winslow; Gemma Jones as his wife; Rebecca Pidgeon as their daughter Catherine, a suffragette; and Jeremy Northam as Sir Robert Morton, the brilliant barrister who takes the case.

It may be set in 1908, but this isn't Merchant-Ivory fare. You won't find a single golden-light-bathed moment, and for this I give thanks. What makes this film magical for me, is that there isn't evidence of art direction anywhere. I get the distinct impression that this might be about as real as it gets when it comes to recreating that time period. Nothing is designed to invoke oohs and aahs.

The idea of family is powerful: the relationships between members of the Winslow family are beautifully drawn. You know Mr. Winslow loves and respects his prickly, intelligent daughter, and there are times - no doubt - when, as much as he loves her, he might dislike her. Her mother is a simpler woman and doesn't quite understand the suffragette she spawned. The older brother is a little hapless, the younger one is endearing. Sir Robert is brilliant and enigmatic.

I like Roger Ebert's review and you can read the entire thing here.

As to the business of casting his wife in the role of Catherine, I think David Mamet did a grand job. Her English accent is impeccable and her prickly reserve and lack of people-pleasing skills is pretty refreshing from the regular line-up of Brit-dram fluffballs.


"Osbourne Cox? I thought you might be worried... about the security... of your shit."

(Brad Pitt as Chad)

I finally got out to see Burn After Reading last night, the latest Coen brothers film. What a cast: George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, Brad Pitt and J.K. Simmons. The cast list alone would imply that we were going to see something with heft, some intellectual weight, but basically this is great slapstick with some thought. It's surprisingly short too, only about 90 minutes. This film marks two occasions: the enrolling of J. K. Simmons (the dad in Juno) as my new secret boyfriend, and the first time I've really enjoyed Brad Pitt in anything, and that includes Fight Club, which I thought was great, but I didn't actively enjoy it in a "woo hoo!" sort of way.

DRACULA (1992)

"I... love you too much to condemn you."

(Gary Oldman as Dracula)

Halloween night we'd planned to see... well, Halloween (1978). I'd never seen it and thought, hell, isn't it supposed to be a horror classic? 10 minutes in I reckoned not, so we switched over to Bram Stoker's Dracula. This film just fascinates me. It's the best of things and the worst of things. Visually it's stunning. Some of the casting is successful, with Gary Oldman in the title role, head and shoulders and fangs above the rest; Keanu Reeves is on the other end of the spectrum, deeply miscast, as he was to be even more magnificently the next year in Much Ado About Nothing (1993).

My romantic self particularly loves the framing backstory of Count Vlad from the 15th century and his tragic love story with Elisabeta. As operatically overwrought as it is, it seems by far the most authentic part of the film. There's a lot of ham elsewhere, including Anthony Hopkins who seemed to be in training for his scenery-chewing turn in Legends of the Fall (1994). (Damn, I forgot how much I loved that film, or rather, loved laughing at it, especially Brad Pitt - him again!. In LOTF he takes off for France to do some fighting in WWI, with his freshly-shampooed and well-layered long hair. My friend F and I were respectful of the sniffles and sobs we heard around us in the movie theatre, but once we got outside... well, we never stopped laughing over it. I think my favourite moment was the old First Nations retainer stomping his way around the dead bodies in the last scene - who the hell cares about spoilers for this one? - with his deadpan voiceover: "I was hungry for scalps but it wasn't my kill." I hope a First-Nations committee got up in arms over that one. SOMEONE had to!)

ROBERTA (1935)

This film potentially has the most over-the-top tagline in history:

A Heart-Load of Maddening Beauties... In Gasping Gowns... A Fortune in Furs... A Ransom in Jewels... In a Song-Studded Romance of Paris in Lovetime!

Blimey! It's also got Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Irene Dunne, and Randolph Scott (surely the most beautiful man in film history?) It boasts a fictional (I hope) musical troupe named the Wabash Indianians (I kid you not) and the first film outing of the song Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

It's sentimental, heart-warming, stylish and indulgent. If this is what the Great Depression managed to pull out to distract the public from their very real sufferings, I sure hope this current economic crisis we are in can at least create some similarly-enchanting diversions.