Thursday, May 31, 2012

What it's All About

Great art is a wondrous thing. I don't know how it works, but it works on me. I don't have to understand it, or even always like it, but I relish where it takes my thoughts and feelings. I can't live without it.

As it happened, I saw two more operas this spring.

The Canadian Opera Company's Semele caused a bit of a sensation. Visual artist Zhang Huan set the Handel opera in a 400-year-old temple. An actual Ming dynasty temple. The story behind the production was fascinating: a Chinese man, who lived with his wife and son some 20 or 25 years ago in the temple, was executed by firing squad for killing his wife's suspected lover. The widow sold the temple bit by bit to survive. Zhang bought what was remained of it and reconstructed it in his studio in Shanghai. The opera itself has a story set in Greek myth, about a silly girl who wishes for immortality. Her lover just HAPPENS to be the god Jupiter, but Juno, his wife, isn't happy about that - no wonder - and sets about her revenge. Zhang saw a link and so his production was born. He brought the universality of suffering and the impermanence of life to the stage in a manner I cannot imagine bettered. The overture was played as a silent black and white film was projected. The temple's story was told by the villagers and the widow. As a time lapse sequence showed the reconstruction of the temple in Zhang's studio, so the curtain lifted, and there it was. I was surprised to find tears in my eyes.

There was some fuss about the saucier goings on in the production: the temple's horizontal beams were all huge, two-headed phalluses, a two-person-operated donkey sported a ginormous erection, etc., etc., but it seemed that the greater part of the audience were as struck as I was. Of course, the vocal pyrotechnics and delicious stage presence of such stars as Jane Archibald, sent it over the top.

The final touch was the addition of a temple sweeper, a woman who silently appeared on stage at the start and end of the performance. She was, in fact, the widow herself. Just another stunning night of theatre at the COC (OK, some of you know that I may be biased, but I mean it).

A fraction of the production costs of Semele provided a no-less thrilling evening when I saw Against the Grain's production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw. This is a small, roguish company, made up of a handful of Toronto's finest opera/music talents, many of whom have been associated with the COC in some way. They've been around a couple of years, and their Bohème, which was performed in a pub, garnered attention and respect, and I could kick myself for not seeing it. It's not too late though! Waste no time, readers: do yourselves a favour and check them out next time they're in production.

The Turn of the Screw
was performed at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse in a space that could hold no more than about 90, by my estimation. A long room, flanked on both sides by three rows of seats, with the performance area running down the middle, was simply decorated with broken tiles on the floor, and dried leaves gathered, no doubt, from the University of Toronto's playing fields just outside. The costumes were period, the piano was orchestral, the acting filmic, the singing excellent, the effect chilling. Afterwards, our small group retired to that lovely sunken living room to talk animatedly about opera, theatre and much more into the small hours.

Life is good. Art is necessary.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Bedside Tables, Because, Admit it, This is the Stuff you Live for, When you're a Reader of my Blog

Ruh Roh:


 Ok, so I have a stigmata-like blister on my palm, thanks to IKEA's aluminum-foil quality screws, but the blue is surprising and perfect for the bedroom. Very pleased. And a little smug. For reference, these are Hemnes "chest with two drawers."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Magical Night

Food, Film

I don't go in for official reviews much, but I wish I'd asked a few opinions before seeing Dark Shadows (2012), which reinforced the fact that I haven't enjoyed a Tim Burton film since Sleepy Hollow. I'm not sure I remember what Johnny Depp looks like without bizarre makeup. But the company was excellent, as was the Hot House, which offered to grill my calamari, when I asked if there was an option with the fried stuff.


We visited the TIFF Lightbox, Toronto's excellent home for all things film, and home to the Toronto International Film Festival.


Jiro Dreams of Sushi
(2011) is a beautifully constructed documentary. The photograph above is from the movie. 85-year-old Jiro runs a hole-in-the-wall sushi bar in Tokyo, which seats 10. He has dedicated his life to taking one thing and doing it well. How well? Michelin gave him three stars and you have to be prepared to book a month in advance, at least. The film was lovingly shot. I will never look at sushi the same way again and afterwards, we did what we had planned to do (thank goodness) and visited Fune. We consumed sushi at their lovely bar, where small boats float by on a little moat, carrying plates of food. So much fun, so delicious. An excellent evening.

I also saw Monsieur Lazhar (2011). I'd heard a lot of good stuff about this one. Here is the synopsis from

At a Montréal public grade school, an Algerian immigrant is hired to replace a popular teacher who committed suicide in her classroom. While helping his students deal with their grief, his own recent loss is revealed.

It seemed to be neither one thing nor another, and decidedly stopped short of excellent. Children can be remarkably intuitive, but in one scene, a student expresses the sort of perfectly composed insight that felt highly unnatural. One of my companions, a teacher, felt the same way. All three of us were left expecting more. What can I say... my favourite teacher/student film remains School of Rock (2003).

With the intense burst of work recently, and the hot weather, there hasn't been much interesting cooking going on at home, other than the regular fare, but I find baking relaxing, and this was Sunday's result.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull
of what you really love...
it will not lead you astray.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sonnet Number 2

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter'd weed of small worth held:

Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days;
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.

How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!

This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Maybe one day the madness will stop.

In the meantime, Obama just leapt higher in my estimation. It's a risky move, but a timely one. Maybe it will pay off, or maybe his nation will lurch backwards in fear. I think fear is at the heart of this issue. So I urge anyone who opposes the recognition of gay marriage to actually make some gay friends, so you can realize that they are like everyone else, seeking to have a fulfilling life, with a fulfilling partner... you know, like we all do. They're not scary!

I believe wholeheartedly in recognizing gay marriages civilly. And as for church recognition; well most of that will take time. But no God of mine could possibly have a problem with it. I mean, really, come on.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Appreciating Clouds Over Toronto

Early Morning Trees

Now that the weather is warmer, the trail becomes harder to deal with, as the Tour de France seems to come through on an hourly basis, or that is certainly the attitude of the bikers.

So I have taken to very early morning walks, which I prefer anyway. Trees, shadows, water... heaven.

Why, Yes! Yes I Am...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Sunday Nights and First Steps

So I was willingly watching The Walking Dead on Sunday nights (often through my fingers), and getting more and more engrossed in the personalities on the show. What about that season ending... Dale! Shane! Meshone! I'm very attracted to survivor stories: to the emotional and logistical challenges when life itself is at stake; at how groups of people interact and how the dynamics evolve. Blimey, and now I have to wait MONTHS for the next season.

That disappointment was softened by the return of Mad Men. Interesting... there seems to be no particularly strong story arc going through this season, but I'm revelling in the characters and their evolutions. It's feeling very soap-opera-ish. So much so that I'm losing interest in the ghastly Frank/Carla business on Coronation Street (remember we're about 3 months behind the English schedule).


On Mad Men, I found Megan's decision to go back to acting interesting. She's obviously thrilled with that, and why not? As Joanie said, she's got a rich husband, she can afford to be a failed actress. But I bet she gets somewhere, because, as Peggy said, she's good at most things. Roger and Don are bemused... Roger because he was told my his father what he was going to do for a living, Don because he was a child of the depression and his dream in life was indoor plumbing. Neither man probably had the opportunity or turned their imaginations to what life might hold for them if they followed their dreams. I think Don will be lost at work without her, as I think she's been the reason he's been enjoying it these last few months. And now with her taking classes and doing auditions in the evening sometimes... well, we'll see what happens. I wish we could have Chris Hardwick run a post-show chat segment like Talking Dead for Walking Dead, but I'm lucky to have some very intuitive friends to swap notes with on Monday mornings.

I'm also so excited for a friend who is currently on a long road trip of several months, rediscovering old friends, making new ones, just seeing what's out there for him, accompanied by the most excellent doggy companion. His reinvention of himself at 48 is so inspiring. Happy trails you two!

Whatever demands life makes of us, we all need dreams, and the occasional nudge to help them happen. It's funny how something can seem so onerous and unattainable, until you actually take the first step.

Here endeth the ramble.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Moon Over Saturday

Romeo: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops - 

Juliet: O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Juliet was a very smart young woman... up to a point. But I cut her some slack; she was only 14.

On Saturday morning I rose early to walk. It feels so good to be in shorts again, to feel the morning breezes on my legs and the crisp spring air. By the end of the day, I looked back on my walk and it seemed an age away. Saturday was that busy. Appointments and shopping were followed by an excellent evening, in which the Canadian Opera Company's double bill of A Florentine Tragedy and Gianni Schicchi were a wonderful pairing; the former by Zemlinsky, rife with Art Deco styling in the set, and late Romantic ravishment in the music, and a stellar cast, of whom Alan Held was the star... he was the star also of the Puccini, and the whole thing so well thought out and directed by Catherine Malfitano, that all memories of A Room with a View (not my favourite movie) were eradicated. A relief. And then, with friend and parents, we repaired to my roof to freeze over pizza and wine, and admire the supermoon. No meteors, apparently we were too early in the night for that, but the moon was splendid and I was reminded of Kaos (1984), by the Taviani brothers, and the "Mal di Luna" segment of the five Pirandello stories they told in that excellent film. Does anyone reading this know that film?

I often think the moon has me in its thrall.

Lilacs and Lemon


Friday, May 4, 2012

I Just Heard It!

The first time the ice cream truck visits our neighbourhood each spring is a wonderful moment. I just heard the same little melody it has played for years as it slowly made its way down our street. I'm not indulging, but it's a sweet moment, coupled with the gentle plop of basket balls going through hoops and the laughter of the players. That sound will continue well after dark. I may not live here forever, but I love the sound of a city neighbourhood on a mild evening.

I'm sitting in my papasan watching the sky turn beautiful colours. Magic!

Grateful for the Week that Was

~ The lilacs are just appearing in downtown Toronto and I shall make the most of them.

~ Walking through an unattractive section of the docklands on one of my regular 5kms, I stopped to see a large bird taking off from the canal, over the road bridge, and slowly back down. The setting sun blinded me and I thought for a moment it might be a grey heron, but it was a swan, white and beautiful in the dusk.

~ New white sandals. Any sort of white clothing feels so good in the summer, fresh and flattering.

~ I'm coming out of the work/winter funk I often find myself in this time of year and making delicious summer plans: friends, New York, Montreal, movies, cottage, music, eek!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Life will Find a Way

"No, I'm, I'm simply saying that life, uh... finds a way."

"If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territories, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, ah, well, there it is."

Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park (1993). I loved Ian Malcolm and his Chaos Theory, his slightly nerdy ways and undeniable hotness.

Walking the Martin Goodman Trail today, I wondered what was pushing up this relatively fresh asphalt. Life finds a way. Thank you, Alan Weisman.

But back to Ian Malcom for a minute. Remember when he was injured and all bare chested? That's some chaos I could appreciate.

As for me, it's been a melancholy spring, as I see the blossoms come limping slowly in, battered as they have been by the wretchedly schizophrenic weather. The trees and I will give it our best shot. Life will find a way.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Home Still Lifes

A chair for the cushions for the bed. Uh huh.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012