Going on a wolf hunt

September 7, 2011

Last week I went to the ROM with the lovely William Yong and Lucy Rupert.

[ROM-judging aside: It was my first visit since the big crystal renovation (aside from the hard-hat tour I got of the place when it was still a construction site in 2006), and it’s not as good as it used to be. The dinosaur exhibit used to be awesome and spooky and you would run through the dark creepy underwater part over and over again for the thrill of pretending the swimming dino skeletons would get you. Now, all the dino skeletons are crammed into the badly lit and extremely noisy mezzanine and it’s just a loud stupid collection of bones and not scary or thrilling at all.]

Anyway, we had a lovely time at the ROM, and I had an equally lovely time watching the show last night. It’s always wonderful to see a full orchestra onstage in such an intimate venue, and the music was stunning. The movement was great too – William and Lucy are particularly lovely dancers.

Now this will be stuck in my head forever:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpoizq-jjxs%5D
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In the quaint Chinese town of Dali, our cellphones were starting to run out of juice and we needed a reliable way to wake up in time to catch a bus to Lijiang the next morning. Fortunately, we were in China, where things like tiny alarm clocks are made. Unfortunately, neither of us speak a word of Mandarin, not even “thank you”, which seemed to be pronounced differently in every town we visited. But on one of the main shopping strips of Dali, a clever man was selling tiny clocks. Trying to minimize our fairly obvious ignorant touristdom, we timidly approached the shop, pointed to a clock, and said “alarm clock?” The clever clock salesman rolled his eyes at us, picked up a clock and said “di-di-dit! di-di-dit!” Our eyes lit up with recognition and delight at the obvious universal phrase for alarm clock. And now we treasure our little pink di-di-dit.

It’s no secret that I’m a mega book nerd. And so it should come as a surprise to no one that my favourite place, per capita (does that even make sense? I don’t care), is Hay-on-Wye, a Welsh town where the main industry is used book stores.

I wrote about my brain-melting trip there in the National Post.

Some things about Hay-on-Wye that didn’t make it into my story:

Murder and Mayhem, the bizarre, experiential crime and mystery bookstore, is owned by the same people who run Addyman books across the street. On the day we were there, Murder and Mayhem was empty and locked, so the woman at Addyman came across the street to let us in, and then locked us in to browse among the Sherlock Holmes paraphernalia and weird mannequins.

Like her.

I still regret not buying this Miami Vice novelization.

My friend Nanna had no such regrets, however: she came away with a pristine copy of this old school Royal Wedding pop-up book. (She didn’t make the video, though, it’s the work of a kindred stranger whose love for kitsch matches ours.)

In short, there are books EVERYWHERE. Down alleyways, in courtyards, on front lawns. Hay-on-Wye is just the best.

Last week I watched the strangest and most elusive (well, until it was released on DVD last fall) Sondheim musical of all: Evening Primrose. Though I was aware of one of its lovely songs (I Remember, which was in one of my many Sondheim song books and which I sang with my voice teacher in high school), I had no idea that you can’t describe the plot to anyone without sounding that you are high on meth and hallucinating fever dreams. Anthony Perkins is a (terrible) poet who decides he is done with the cruel outside world so he moves into a department store and sings a song about how now his asshole neighbours won’t bug him anymore. But then it turns out he’s not so original – there’s a group of weird old people who used to be rich living in the department store already, plus Liesl from The Sound of Music, who fell asleep in the store when she was six and is now their maid (LESSON: Don’t fall asleep in department stores, no matter how cozy the fake beds look). At first he’s delighted, which doesn’t really make sense since he moved into the store to get away from people, but never mind. But soon he falls in love with Liesl and the creepy old people don’t like it and they threaten to call “the Dark Men”, who live in a funeral home and turn people into mannequins for some reason.

It’s good weird fun, and it’s less than an hour long. But the real discovery, for me, is the writer John Collier, who wrote the short story that Evening Primrose was based on. A bunch of his stories were turned into episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which makes sense because Evening Primrose is very much in that vein, only with songs. And one of his stories, Green Thoughts, which is so supremely creepy I’m shivering just thinking about it, is said to be part of the inspiration for Little Shop of Horrors. Anyway, I found a weird little edition of Collier’s collection Fancies and Goodnights at a used bookstore, and I love them – most of them are strange little morality tales, contemporary fairy tales for grown-ups, which an appealing retro flavour since they were written in the 1930s.

The Aikido Network

February 11, 2011

My high school started in grade seven, but wee little seventh graders were exempt from exam week, and instead we were forced to participate in a series of random activities (a week which included, for some reason, a screening of Forbidden Planet, which completely baffled even the nerdiest of a very nerdy auditorium full of 12-year-olds in 1994). Anyway, my favourite of those activities was always Aikido (maybe because we were not just allowed, but encouraged to wear pyjama pants). Evidently, I liked it so much that I didn’t try it again for almost 20 years, when I wrote about it for the Post last week. It was a much more comfortable (for me) atmosphere than the high-aggression Krav Maga class I took a few years ago (I won’t lie, though, Krav Maga was pretty rad).

And apropos of nothing, last week’s Popcorn Panel was about The Social Network because nothing good is opening this winter so I’m getting caught up on Oscar nominees.

How novel

January 25, 2011

It is obviously no secret that I am a mega book nerd and, after half a dozen years working as a bookseller in one of Toronto’s loveliest bookstores, I’m a bit of a book snob too. So I’m completely in love with Laurence Cossé’s A Novel Bookstore from the always-appealing Europa Editions. It’s both a noirish mystery and a celebration of great books and bookstores. And it indulges in a pleasant little persecution complex for people who think they’re smarter and have better taste than everyone else. But mostly I’m in love with it for lines like “She blessed the sky that augured bad weather: by this evening she’d have finished Cities of the Plain. She knew she was about to spend an unforgettable day.”

And today someone on Facebook shared this wonderful little site, and now I am desperate to visit this incredible hotel in Thailand. After my November pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye, the tiny Welsh town with over 30 bookstores (more about that later, I’ll be writing about it for the National Post’s travel section), I see no reason why all my future vacations can’t be about books.

Canned popcorn

September 22, 2010

Don’t worry, Dad – just because I’m not on this week’s Popcorn Panel doesn’t mean I didn’t organize and edit it. It’s still my thing. I just needed to not watch couldn’t get to Resident Evil: Afterlife, but fortunately some wonderful panelists could.

In non-zombie news, I learned how to make pickles and jam last week. Dawn Nita is a cool lady who is great at putting all sorts of things in jars, and Good Eggis one of my favourite stores in Toronto.

The Big Huge Guy

August 17, 2010

Hm. It’s been awhile. I mostly use this blog to keep track of the articles I’ve published and to expound on the various thoughts that flit through my brain about my various professions (this summer, you can add radio producer to that list) and sometimes to share very important otter news.

What I don’t tend to use this blog for is personal life venting. But sometimes big things happen and who cares about personal vs. professional and I’ve been trying to find the words to write about Wayne for two months, which is why I haven’t had any words for anything else.

At the end of May, the Canadian theatre and film community lost a fantastically talented actor and advocate and I lost a dear family friend. You can read all about Wayne Nicklas’ career in this memorial in the Winnipeg Free Press by my pal Randy King. Wayne’s passing is a huge loss to the community, but it’s also a huge personal loss to anyone lucky enough to have known him. He was only 59.

Wayne and his wife Judy (the adorable redhead on the right) are family to me. As you can see, we go way back (yeah, that’s me in the overalls being held by my mom). In our house he was known as the Big Huge Guy. You can’t tell from this photo, but Wayne stood at least six and a half feet tall. But the nickname would be apt even if Wayne had been a little person, due to his Big Huge heart, his Big Huge personality, and his Big Huge sense of humour.

When my parents moved to Toronto from Winnipeg in the 70s, they became an unofficial guest house for all their friends and acquaintances who passed through town from the Prairies. So growing up, we saw Wayne and Judy more often than most of our blood relatives, because they usually came to Toronto a couple of times a year. (Which was fine by me, because Wayne and Judy were more fun, frankly. Also, they were COOL AND GLAMOUROUS because they were ACTORS!) I always got a kick out of seeing Wayne show up in a movie (among many other roles, but these are the most memorable to me, he’s Fairuza Balk’s cop dad in The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick, and one of the board members in The Saddest Music in the World – the only movie star he ever got excited about meeting was Isabella Rosellini).

Wayne and Judy picked me up from the airport (and once, memorably, the train station) whenever I visited Winnipeg. They would buy me lunch and we’d talk about life and exchange Seinfeld quotes. Wayne especially liked bringing up Kramer’s unseen friend Bob Sacamento, for some reason – I think he probably just liked the way the name sounded. Wayne had a way of making you feel like the funniest, most clever person in the world: if you cracked a joke he liked, he’d repeat the last line out loud appreciatively and laugh his Big Huge laugh. He was warm, kind, and full of great stories. Even in the middle of summer, Winnipeg will be a much colder place for his not being there.

I miss the Big Huge Guy. Hugely.

I got caffeinated in an unusual way a few weeks ago, and wrote about it this weekend in the Post. Te Aro is one of the best of the many excellent coffee shops in my neighbourhood, and they will teach you how to taste coffee properly.

To be honest, I don’t have the most sophisticated palate, at least not coffee-wise. I’m a colossal food snob, but I wasn’t actually very good at identifying the specific flavour notes in the different coffees. I can appreciate good coffee, but I’m just as happy with a Tim Horton’s double double as anything else. Still, it was fun to concentrate really hard on slurping coffee for one morning, and I learned a few things about beans.

High and Low

May 13, 2010

It’s 80s week! Well, it was 80s Monday and Tuesday, anyway. My boyfriend interviewed the guitar player of a-ha for the Post, and scored tickets to their show at Massey Hall on Monday night. So we went, expecting a fun, cheesy time, bracing ourselves because we only know a few songs. Well, J. knows a few songs – he lived in Europe for a year in the 80s when a-ha was massive over there. My main experience of a-ha is typically North American: I just love Take on Me. When I was in Australia for six weeks in 2006, I heard Take On Me everywhere I went. At least once a day, sometimes more. (And then, obviously, this video is hilarious.)

So imagine my surprise when a-ha at Massey Hall TOTALLY BLEW MY MIND. They’re excellent performers, and so much fun to watch (and dreamy, frankly). They have magical Norweigen powers and turned everyone in Massey Hall into a shrieking teenybopper. (I’m surprised people didn’t throw panties!) Their music – even the songs I didn’t recognize – was fantastic, and sounded huge, and the visuals were awesome.

Ain't no pop music like lizard pop music.

Yes. a-ha. Most underappreciated band of all time.

Tuesday night, unfortunately, wasn’t nearly so joyous. Rock of Ages was the opposite of joy. Glenn Sumi gets it right in NOW. It just made me sad, really – the show was so clearly written by people who have nothing but contempt for theatre. The whole thing feels like a big fuck you to theatre lovers. Also, rock music. And humanity in general. I feel like a cranky old snob when I complain about shows like this, and maybe I am. But it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t even particularly funny. It was aggressively stupid, with lazy storytelling, and annoying mashups of songs that used to be great. But I’m not going to win this round. Everyone in the theatre was laughing their asses off at the lamest jokes, and shrieking with delighted recognition at the opening riffs of their favourite songs. There’s no point in listing off the problems with the idiotic book – we’d be here all day, and the writers and fans would just throw off my criticisms with a “who cares, we know it’s dumb” anyway.

The one good part is the performances – Elicia Mackenzie has a great voice, and totally proves that she won’t be typecast as Maria. So that’s nice. And everyone else does their job well and looks like they’re having a good time. So that’s nice too. I just wish things like this didn’t happen to theatre.