Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


1 Comment

Bit of a rocky road north

Jean’s Mom, who’d never been quite the same after a stroke in February, passed away in late August. The family decided to have a small memorial service. The date selected was Saturday, November 5.

Wednesday

We left around 10:15 AM, intending to stop over in Sudbury on the way to Timmins. The drive started uneventfully enough; we were diverted by the audiobook of State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny.

But after an hour and a half or so, Jean noted that the car seemed to be losing power periodically, during which it was quite reluctant to accelerate. Maybe just gas quality? he suggested. As we Googled to find the nearest gas station, I suggested options. We still had time before we really had to be anywhere. Maybe we could get the car looked at. Maybe we could rent a car for this trip.

Well, let’s just try gas first, Jean suggested.

And indeed, filling it up did make it run smoother.

For another couple hours, anyway. But then it started doing the losing power thing again. Hills were a problem.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

One weekend, two concerts

This hasn’t happened in so long, it was almost confusing to see it in the calendar. But we had a concert date on Friday night, then another one on Saturday might.

The first was a Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Pops concerts, Thorgy and the Thorchestra. Thorgy Thor is a classically trained musician who plays violin, viola, and cello (!). And she is also a drag queen who has been featured on RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Despite knowing the drag queen part (and not the musician part, actually) before going, this was more of a gay pride kind of event than I was expecting. It was conducted by Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser, who is gay, and in between Thorgy’s comic antics and demonstrations of musicianship, we got the history of gay rights in Canada (to the tune of Oh, Canada) and a documentary featurette about the Brunswick Four, three of whom were arrested for performing a parody song, “I Enjoy Being a Dyke”. This was followed by a performance of said parody.

Thorgy was very funny, and is quite a talented musician, but she wasn’t the only guest performer. Keiko Larocque from Wilfrid Laurier provided vocals on some numbers, and the Eastwood Collegiate Dance Team performed some choreography on others, from ballet to Vogue-ing. Along with a rainbow of humanity, we got a range of musical styles, from Brahms, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky to Rogers & Hammerstein to Cyndi Lauper and Lady Gaga. It was a fun night!

Saturday we had to make the slightly longer drive to Stratford, Ontario to see the Art of Time Ensemble perform A Singer Must Die: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen. The Art of Time musicians are a sextet who play piano, saxophone, violin, cello, bass, and guitar. They seem to specialize in performing new and novel arrangements of popular songs. In this case, of course, it was all songs by Leonard Cohen.

The featured singers were Steven Page (formerly of Barenaked Ladies), Gregory Hoskins (of Gregory Hoskins and the Stickpeople), Tom Wilson (of commercials and Lee Harvey Osmond), Sarah Slean (of… Sarah Slean), and Tamara Lindeman (also known as Tamara Hope, apparently). Each singer brought their own style. Page could handle the serious and the light, as he does in all his work.

Sarah Slean flitted happily onto the stage, even though, as she then noted, some of the songs covered were a bit devastating. (“But that’s how the light gets in.”) She also apologized for a voice somewhat damaged by weeks of colds (not that I noticed), which even required one song substitution from the program (but I was happy to hear “Take This Waltz”).

Tamara Lindeman was a bit more earnest, and I believe she’s the one who handled “The Partisan”, the one song not written by Leonard Cohen, though famously covered by him. (Hadn’t actually realized til this that he didn’t write it…) Quite lovely.

Tom Wilson was pretty funny, and possessed the most Leonard Cohen-like voice of the bunch. He covered “Closing Time” and “Who by Fire”. Gregory Hoskins was very intense! His version of “Treaty” was particularly striking.

“Hallelujah” wasn’t on the program, but was performed as the encore, by Page and Hoskins.

I quite enjoyed the whole evening. Jean, as less of a Cohen fan, struggled with the first half but ended up enjoying the second.

(And both performances featured a pretty good amount of masking in the audience. In the case of the symphony, even the musicians were masked—except the singers and wind instrument players, of course.)


Leave a comment

Visiting Le Plateau during a plateau

The weather gods were smiling on us during our recent trip to Montréal, Québec, which made for a very pleasant five days and four nights (October 2 to 6, 2022). Though we’ve visited many times, we still found new things to do, along with revisiting favourites.

I’ve learned how to do anchor links in WordPress, in case you want to jump to a particular part…

Covid precautions: Got my bivalent vaccine 10 days before leaving, which also happened to be six months since my fourth dose, so that worked out well. Also purchased 3M Aura masks, Enovid anti-viral nasal spray, Salinex Protect nasal spray, and a portable charger.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

You deserve clean air (take two)

Don’t go looking for Take one of this post; it’s hanging out in my Drafts folder. Big long post, as yet unfinished, having trouble getting to any point.

Sometimes it seems better to just start again. I think this is what I was trying to say.

There is good news on the Covid front

Mainly, the vaccines are great. In Canada, most of the population has had at least two doses. And yes, people previously infected (a majority of the Canadian population by now) have gained some protection against reinfection, for some period of time.

Also, there are some better treatment options now (Paxlovid). This combination of factors has protected many people against hospitalization or death from infection.

But by some key measures, the Covid situation has never been worse

More Canadians are dying of Covid now than ever. 2022 has already surpassed 2021 in number of deaths, and is well on its way to surpassing 2020’s total.

Canada reported Covid deaths: 15700 deaths in 2020; 14500 in 2021; 13700 in 2022 so far; but on track for 20808
This is a bit old; 2022 has by now surpassed 2021

Covid is the third leading cause of death of Canada. It is five times more deadly than the flu.

Many of the dying pass through hospitals first, contributing the unprecedented level of crisis, with emergency rooms repeatedly closing across Ontario for the first the time in history, and serious problems in other provinces as well. While Covid is not the only reason—understaffing, low pay, structural flaws, etc. are others—it’s a really significant contributor.

Number of Covid 19 patients in hospital in Canada

Remember why we did all that social distancing in 2020 and 2021? The main reasons? It was to save lives and to preserve hospital capacity. All our efforts are being undone now.

This is happening because the government went too far in removing restrictions

I’m not saying we need a return to the full social distancing of those years. Policies such as business closures, remote schooling, social gathering limits, and travel restrictions had very clear downsides, and given the good news I started with, can defensively be added.

But getting rid of mask mandates almost everywhere; essentially stopping meaningful vaccination efforts after teens and adult Canadians had two doses, and before children had any; and changing the isolation requirements such that the infectious are definitely out amongst us—the damages of all that on society outweigh the minimal individual benefits.

Tools to manage sixth wave (coffins, body bags)

Why are they doing this?

Because it benefits them politically. I’m not going to pretend to know exactly why they think it’s a political winner, but they clearly do.

And Public Health is very much under the yoke of provincial government direction. They are more motivated to to please their political masters than protecting you and your family. (Ontario proof: Disbanding the Ontario Science Table because they insisted on providing independent advice, and not just saying what the politicians wanted them to say.

Being beneficial to a political party’s election prospects doesn’t make it good or wise policy. Doesn’t mean it benefits you personally or the province generally. Doesn’t mean it’s in our collective best interest, long term.

Why should I care, I’m young and vaccinated

The young and the vaccinated are indeed unlikely to be hospitalized with or die of Covid. But Covid spreading so widely is still a problem for that group (which includes me—at least, in the vaccinated part of that category).

Being sick sucks

Those people who dismiss it as the flu—the flu is terrible, what are you talking about. When I had the flu as a very healthy 21 year old, I literally couldn’t get out of bed, I was so sick. I had to call for help!

And I realize some people truly have a very mild acute Covid case, but most people, at least for a couple days, feel pretty damn awful. And some people it’s more than a couple days.

And even if it’s the sniffles… The sniffles also kind of suck! Sore throats aren’t great!

And you can catch Covid again. It’s not a “one and done” disease.

You might need a hospital for some other issue

Our whole healthcare system is built around hospitals. (Probably it shouldn’t be, but it is, and changing that won’t be fast or easy.) And just because you’re unlikely to need it for a Covid infection, doesn’t mean you or yours won’t need it for something else—an accident, a serious infection, a troubling test result, intractable pain, an overdose… And then it’s going to be big freakin’ problem for you personally that you can’t the care you need in the time you need it, in part because of all the Covid patients in there.

It’s affecting other services

While, again, it’s not the only cause, Covid is a definite contributor the flight delays and cancellations that have been the ban of travelers; to supply chain shortages; to labour shortages; and to other cancelled events (most recently for me, a play at Stratford).

Long-term, Covid might still bite you in the ass (metaphorically)

There’s that Long Covid risk, for one. Yes, vaccination does seem to reduce the risk, thankfully, but not to zero! Not even always that low a risk, depending which study you look at. And there’s no good treatment for it yet. Sometimes people recover, and sometimes they don’t.

And then there’s that whole cornucopia of unpleasant diseases you’re at higher risk of in the year following an infection, “even mild”:

  • Heart disease and stroke (the number 1 cause of death in Canada, so Covid is “contributing” in this way as well!)
  • Diabetes
  • Brain disorders
  • Kidney disease
  • Shingles (though there is a good vaccine for this one!)
  • Immune dysfunction (leaving you at higher risk of catching, among other things,colds, flus, and Covid again)

But what can we do, Omicron is so catchy

You can keep everything open at full capacity while also making indoor spaces safer from infection. We know exactly how to do so. You follow a plan such as this Equity Schools Policy Plan, whose advice would work for pretty much any public space. The key points:

  • Support vaccination
  • Plan for mask mandates at the start of surges
  • Support testing
  • Improve ventilation and filtration
  • Support isolation when infectious

How do we make any of that happen?

Well, that’s a bloody good question, isn’t it? Because government sure doesn’t want to do it!

I’d certainly like to try to do something, as that seems more productive than merely fretting or raging.

Contact politicians / public health officials

Personally, for me, writing letters to or phoning government officials is not terribly satisfying, as it feels like screaming into the void. However, they apparently do at least somewhat keep track of what calls / emails / letters they get on what subject, so it’s good if some people express disapproval about the current path.

File a human rights complaint

This group of Ontario Physicians, Nurses, Scientists, and Education Professionals has written this amazing letter, urgently requesting an inquiry into the human rights violations represented by the current policies (discrimination on the basis of age, disability, family status, and sex): https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ceci-kYmOLz19LZHdNCLijnP4Ux4WxRb/view (PDF)

These people have particular clout (and deep research at hand), but anyone can file an Ontario Human Rights complaint.

Support (or launch?) legal challenges

Threat of legal action has caused the Ontario government to act on vaccination (opening up fourth doses, making the vaccine available to children under 5). This parent’s group is raising money to legally challenge the Ontario government’s lack of Covid protections in schools: https://gofund.me/e0a4840d

Do you have a case, or can you support others who do?

Stay home when sick if you can

Our society needs to get past this idea that it’s heroic to work, and that it’s any kind of acceptable to go out in public with an infectious disease. If you are privileged enough to have sick days, to be able to work from home, please do isolate if you feel unwell.

And if it turns out to be Covid, please stay isolated until you test negative on a rapid test.

But an awful lot of people just can’t do that. And now public health has told those people they can head right back to work 24 hours after they start to feel better, no matter that they’ll likely be infectious for many days yet.

Canada needs paid sick days, like other civilized countries have. Consider voting for political parties that support workers, maybe?

Support masking

With apologies to people who work in these areas (except that this might protect their health), I do think masking should have stayed in place on transit, in schools, in grocery stores, and in pharmacies—in essential spaces, in other words. And I think they need to stay in place forever in hospitals, long-term care homes, and for other medical services.

I don’t know how to make that happen. I’m not about to organize a pro-mask rally.

I’ll do what I can to support mask mandates wherever I can. Currently, a few universities are among the few institutions willing to have them. So instead of giving a donation to Waterloo U, my alumni that doesn’t have a mask mandate, I think I’ll give it to Wilfrid Laurier, the local university that does. And I’m going to tell them both of them why.

And, I’ll keep wearing a mask myself in public indoor spaces. Yes, it’s mainly to protect myself. But I also know that a huge reason most people don’t mask is simply that most people don’t mask.

That is, nobody (or not very many people) wants to be the one weirdo in the mask. An unmasked person surprised to walk into a sea of masked faces might very well put one on themselves (if offered). Someone feeling a bit nervous about their risk of infection but not wanting to stand out alone might then feel the courage to put one on.

Elastomeric mask
Me in an elastomeric mask that I have yet to wear in public, because my masking courage also has limits. (Elastomeric masks are the most protective available, but yes, they look a bit weird! Fortunately, N99s are also quite effective, and these days look fairly normal.)

Maybe because they feel a solidarity.

Maybe because they think I’m walking around with an active Covid infection, per latest public health guidelines.

You deserve clean indoor air

No, we cannot quickly, widely, and cheaply improve public building’s ventilation and filtration systems such that indoor spaces are nearly as safe as being outdoors.

But most indoor spaces can be improved to some degree by measures that are pretty quick and cheap—opening windows, moving furniture to improve air flow, setting HVAC fans to run continuously, using better furnace filters, adding HEPA filters or Corsi-Rosenthal boxes… That sort of thing. Which can be built on with time.

And any improvement has the potential to reduce the number of people in that space that get infected. Furthermore, improving ventilation and filtration:

  • Requires no individual action—no masking, no hand washing, no distancing (although layering on these things remains helpful to the individual!)
  • Benefits health in other ways—improved cognition, allergy control, headache reduction, energy levels…
  • Is a good investment into the future, a building improvement that remains helpful beyond the purpose of suppressing Covid.

This feels like one of the most positive things that can be done.

I bought a CO2 monitor a while ago, as it’s a useful proxy as to whether an indoor space is well-ventilated or not. But having found out, I really wanted the ability to share the information. And I craved a way to find out without going somewhere first myself, only to be sitting there for hours knowing it’s terrible (which has happened).

So I was very happy when the Raven CleanAir Map launched.

It’s in the early stages. But these people have plans, and now, some funding. I have been to some meetings, I have contributed some readings, and so are more and more people, every day.

You can’t fix a problem you don’t know about. You can’t see or smell bad ventilation. Somehow, you have to measure it. This is one way. This is step one. Which spaces have a problem.

Next, we do small fixes. Then, bigger and better ones.

Clean air. It’s not the most glamorous battle, but to me, it’s one worth fighting.


Leave a comment

Getting out(side) while the getting is good

While it’s a hot, sticky day today again, there are hints of autumn on the way in the cooler nights, the changing leaf colours here and there, the shorter days. And while some outdoor activities hold an appeal in winter, not quite as many, and not for as long.

So we tried to rack up a few more outdoor events in the later part of August. And by “events”, I mostly mean eating and drinking outdoors. But with some travel and pretty locations involved.

Continue reading


Leave a comment

Corsi-Rosenthal, Elvis, & Juliet

February 2022

American Express “Front of the Line” offer: Elvis Costello and The Imposters, live at Massey Hall in Toronto in August. Sure, why not get tickets to that? Massey Hall is a great little theatre. And surely everything will be fine by summer.

March 2022

Tickets now on sale for & Juliet

Created by the Emmy®-winning writer from “Schitt’s Creek,” this hilarious new musical flips the script on the greatest love story ever told. & Juliet asks: what would happen next if Juliet didn’t end it all over Romeo? Get whisked away on a fabulous journey as she ditches her famous ending for a fresh beginning and a second chance at life and love—her way.

Juliet’s new story bursts to life through a playlist of pop anthems as iconic as her name, including Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time, Larger Than Life‚ That’s The Way It Is, and Can’t Stop the Feeling—all from the genius songwriter/producer behind more #1 hits than any other artist this century. Break free of the balcony scene and get into this romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo. The only thing tragic would be missing it.

Well, that sounds fun. And hey look, it’s playing in August. We’re going to be in Toronto anyway. Why not get tickets for this the day before the Elvis Costello concert?

July 2022

“What are we going to do with this?” Jean asked, about the Corsi-Rosenthal box that he’d agreed to build, to humor me. And which had turned out much larger than we’d expected.

Corsi-Rosenthal box with teen builder
A Corsi-Rosenthal box, with the teen who built it (because I don’t have pictures of ours, but it looks pretty much like this one)

Literally four MERV-13 furnace filter duct-taped to a floor fan, a Corsi-Rosenthal box is a kind of homemade HEPA filter. Viruses and other nasties get trapped in the filters, and the fan blows out clean air. Thus replacing bad room air with cleaner air.

I mumbled something about it being useful when we had people over, but had to concede we don’t really have much by way of visitors these days.

“It could also be useful if we ever have to isolate from one another,” I mumbled.

One week later

“Where did you put that Corsi-Paranoid box?” Jean asked, using his “affectionate” nickname for it.

“In the closet,” I said. “Why?”

“We might want to run it for a bit…”

We had a plan (of sorts) that we executed. Jean got the upstairs rooms, running the C-R box. I got the downstairs. Main floor was the masking zone. Windows open. Doors closed. Cats rather confused.

His symptoms started two days after exposure, and were confirmed by rapid test after three. Thanks to four vaccine doses, the worst of it was two days spent in bed, feeling achy and exhausted, and the only lingering symptom a bit of cough. With ongoing positive tests, though, the isolation had to continue quite a few days after he was on the road to recovery.

One week later (August 2021)

Jean gets a call from his sister, reporting that she’s not sure how much more time his mother has. (She had a stroke in February.) He reconsiders his plan to wait until Labour Day before visiting her again.

We’re both tired of the in-house Covid protocols, but having stuck with them this long, it seems important to continue. It would just suck to get infected at the very end, after making so much this effort to avoid it for so many days.

One week later

Finally his test is negative. I have never developed symptoms, and the tests I subsequently take are negative as well. Jean thinks he should visit his Mom.

I had a nice visit with Jean’s Mom in June. (Jean was there too, to be clear!) He’s OK with me not travelling with him this time. I’m OK with doing my Toronto activities with my sisters instead of with him. Brief first hug in two weeks, then we’re each off to different parts of Ontario.

Elvis & Juliet

I’m not one to drive myself to Toronto, so I have to research what transit options have survived the pandemic. It’s pretty sad, people! Via Rail has only a single train running on Sundays, and it won’t get me there in time. Go Bus is a possibility (Go Train does not run on Sundays, why would anyone want to go to Toronto on a weekend), though it’s a convoluted route. Then I find: Flixbus! It’s cheap, the stop is nearby and reachable by local transit, and it’s a direct route to Toronto that gets me there in time.

CO2 reading of 78
Bus CO2 reading is pretty good, too. (Did I mention Jean was infected in a car?)

It’s the first time I have taken transit since early 2020. Except for a bit of trouble finding the actual Flixbus stop, everything went well. Local bus to Ion to and Flixbus, all stops were close to one another (and to my house)., and all were on time. And no big traffic tie-ups on the way to Toronto, either… We actually arrived early.

Despite the heat warning that is to persist all weekend, I do the half-hour walk to my hotel. So many people on the streets! So many people in the hotel lobby! It’s all a bit mind-bendy after two weeks of studiously avoiding everyone, even my husband.

The hotel room is fairly uninspiring, despite its high cost (cheapest decent hotel we could find; Toronto is not a cheap city normally, and it’s still not quite “normal” times), and slightly high in CO2. Can’t do anything about the price, but I am able to quickly improve the CO2 reading by opening the patio door for a bit, letting in all the steamy, humid air!

But then I have to be off. Juliet, and my sister, await.

I grab some lunch on the way. We mwet up at the Princess of Wales theatre (six air exchanges per hour, MERV14 filters, yes I asked). I soon forgot about all that, though, because we have excellent orchestra seats, and the show is so freakin’ fun!

It’s all music by producer / writer Max Martin, so that means songs by Britney and Katie and Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson and even Adam Lambert...! Between that, and the Shakespearean premise, and the themes of girl power, and being your authentic self, and… I don’t know, I was just so entertained. I would see this musical again in a heartbeat.

Then it’s a nice family dinner with my sister, then a call with Jean back at the hotel. His trip is less entertaining than mine, but between naps (hers), his Mom is happy to see him.

Next day

After my hotel patio breakfast, with pigeon companion, I had planned to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But I checked first, and learned that it’s only open on holiday Mondays, not regular Mondays like this one. It’s another steamy day. I decide to just amble up to the Yorkville area, and take in some of its nice shops, plentiful park seating, cafes, and gelato shops.

Meanwhile, my other sister and I are emailing, trying to figure out dinner plans. Rain was threatening later in the day. I came across a list of covered patios, and found that one was near Massey Hall: the Rabbit Hole, and make a reservation there.

Sis and I meet at the hotel, and walk over. I “convince” her that we want to sit outside, despite the steamy heat. After some water, and sitting, it’s not so bad. And hey, we’re in time for “happy hour” $5 glasses of wine! We both settle on fish dishes: mackerel for me, salmon for me. They are really good! And are their nice, light desserts: the lemon posset, and the strawberry rhubarb trifle.

Then over to Massey Hall for Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with special guest Nick Lowe. Rather good seats for this show as well! (And I’ve finally stopped thinking about air exchanges—mostly.) And it all starts quite promptly.

Though I’m not as familiar with Nick Lowe and his oeuvre, he and his band (who did a few familiar instrumentals) were very good. And he did conclude with “Cruel to Be Kind”!

And Elvis Costello was just fab, and far more chatty than he had been when I’d last seen him live, many moons ago. He praised Nick Lowe, reminisced about previous trips to Toronto, mentioned the El Mocambo, talked about his musician father… And he played plenty of old favorites along with some from the new album and few others he just felt like including (Set list). His voice was still good, his band terrific, and his stage presence compelling.

And yes, he played Peace, Love, and Understanding with Nick Lowe

Tuesday I was on the early Flixbus back to Waterloo. And I had it all to myself! (Except the driver. Which is good, because I can’t drive a bus.)

Two days later

Jean back, me still testing negative, we go out with a couple friends to the local Babylon Sisters Wine Bar. It was great to meet with them, and we were very impressed with the venue, both with the interesting wine selections (very flexible on how you can make up a wine flight), and the delicious food (supplied by Little Mushroom Catering).


3 Comments

Goderich exceeds expectations

I was mainly motivated by the thought of going somewhere that I hadn’t visited recently. Jean, who’d been going semi-regularly, but only for canoeing purposes, was dubious there’d be enough non-canoeing activities on tap to avoid boredom.

But, we only had a couple days off, and were not looking to fly anywhere, so options were limited. Goderich, Ontario, a small town on Lake Huron, came up the winner as our destination.

Map of Port Albert and surrounding, including Goderich

In researching, I was pleased to discovered that a number of wineries had sprung up in the area, and that’s where we headed first, for lunch at Dark Horse Estate Winery—which is actually closer to Grand Bend than Goderich. (Grand Bend is not on the above map, but it’s located between Sarnia and Bayfield.)

We knew their patio was covered, meaning we’d be fine rain or shine (although not near-tornado, which they’d experienced the day prior), but it was at any rate a beautiful day. It was also a lovely setting.

Jean on Dark Horse Winery patio, with water and wine

Jean selected a glass of their Baco Noir, while I went with a glass of Marquette, and we were both convinced we’d made the best choice—which of course means we each did. Surprisingly for Jean and less so for me, we both ordered their wood-burning oven pizza.

Me with pizza and wine on patio
Super talented pizza chef in background

We both agreed—this was one of the best pizzas we’ve ever had. The crust… My goodness.

After paying for lunch and purchasing a couple bottles of wine, we drove further up the road to the little town of Zurich, for a stop in at Schatz Winery. There’s also an Inn and Restaurant on the site, and having arrived, Jean recalled that he’d attended a work function here years before, predating the winery’s existence.

We opted to do the tasting in the vineyard instead of indoors, and while between the two of us, we had the option of tasting almost every wine they have, Jean thought tasting 8 was a bit much, so we shared a tasting of 4. I was also intrigued by this beer / coffee blend they had on offer that day, so I got that as well.

Schatz winery with four wines and a Thanks Ale Latte
Four wines and a coffee beer

We liked all of the wines, actually (keeping in mind that we prefer food-friendly wines that don’t necessarily have the big fruit “wow” factor). But based partly on price, we purchased a bottle of 1984 Frontenac Blanc, and the Rusty Petit Pearle (a red wine).

As for the beer, it was terrific! Even Jean enjoyed his sip, and he’s really not a beer guy. It was by a local brewery, and their idea was to create a beer that was reminiscent of a latte. They came darn close! I also got a couple cans of that. Thanks Ale Latte. Heh.

We then drove on and checked into our accommodation, the Dreamz Inn, just outside Goderich. It proved a perfectly serviceable place, offering good size rooms, an adequate continental breakfast, and few nice touches like fluffy bathrobes and free bottled water and chocolates. The only issue was the last morning, when a plumbing problem meant no hot water for showering! But they did give us a $50 credit for that, without us asking.

But that afternoon, we finally headed into Goderich proper before dinner time, and did some walking around the beach and downtown area. It is a pretty little town, and nicely rebuilt from the devastating tornado in 2011.

We had dinner on the patio at Part II Bistro, the best-rated restaurant in Goderich. It was quite good. I started with the pear salad, and followed with mushroom-infused sacchiette pasta. Jean had an arancini-type appetizer (a special that day) followed by the pork and broccollini ravioli. Their wine list featured wines from local wineries (not exclusively, but mainly). I had an Alton Farms rose while Jean fell in love with the Dark Horse Sinful Red.

Pork and broccollini ravioli from Part II Bistro.

The following day was lovely weather again, and we struck out for a beach walk to start the day, after breakfast.

On boardwalk of Goderich beach.

We then ventured to walk part of the recommended Tiger Dunlop Trail, including over the Menesetung Bridge. Jean had low expectations going in, but this turned out to be a beautiful walk with great views. We weren’t able to do as much of it as we would have liked, so something for next time.

View of the Goderich salt mine
Goderich salt mine in the distance
Duck in the water
View from the Menesetung Bridge

Though we considered a few other options for lunch, they were found wanting, so we did a part two at Part II Bistro. It didn’t disappoint. I had the vegetarian risotto, and Jean went with two appetizers, the escargot and the gnudi (along with his beloved red wine).

We had been planning to visit Maelstrom Winery in the afternoon, as a few people had recommended it, but it proved farther away that we thought. (I mean, 20 minutes, but that still seemed too far at the time.) So we instead visited the nearer-by 2nd Streetlight Estate Winery, whose Sauvignon Blanc I had enjoyed at lunch.

Again we were able to do outdoor seating, and this time Jean was up for trying all eight wines (sharing, so 1 oz of each per person). This was the only place where we got the personal description of each wine as it was poured, which is always a nice touch. And maybe we were just in a good mood (quite possible), but we pretty much liked everything. We didn’t buy everything, though. We were both quite impressed with the rose, Jean quite liked the sparkling Kin, and I thought the cleverly named Good Red was, indeed, a good red.

Then we had to figure out dinner. When first researching Goderich, we considered staying at the Benmiller Inn, a historic spot with a once-great reputation. But my email inquiries to them went unanswered, and the more recent online reviews were a mixed bag, so we shied away from it. Still, their posted dinner menu looked quite good—and we didn’t really want to eat at Part II Bistro a third time!

So we gave them a call, and after some debate among the staff, they agreed they could accommodate us if we arrived for an earlier dinner, like 5:30. We were amenable to that and realized, when we got there, that it was because they were also hosting a large wedding party (rehearsal dinner, not the wedding itself).

We sat outside in their really gorgeous garden setting. And you know… The food and service was just primo. Jean had an amazing bouillabaisse to start. My yellow fin tuna entree was smoky and perfectly cooked, with great sides. Jean said his roast duck was one of the best he’d had in ages. And the chocolate mousse dessert we shared… Lovely.

Salmon cakes with salad and mustard and white wine
I started with salmon cakes, which were also very well prepared
Yellowfin tuna incrusted with sesame and nest made of carrot

The Benmiller might be having its troubles and needing to rebuild, but on this night, at least, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders.

On our last day—the no hot shower day—we started with a walk originating in Point Farms Provincial Park, mainly known for its waterfall. Jean canoes these waters in spring, when the levels are really high. He was struck by how low they were in July.

Falls in Benmiller

The rest of the walk didn’t prove as interesting, though, and with the sky threatening, we decided to turn around early. We did experience some rainfall on the walk back, but it was blunted by trees. Having emerged, we decided to head home at that point, foregoing tentative plans to have lunch at Maelstrom Winery.

So that remains on the list for a future visit, along with doing more of the Tiger Dunlop Trail and its offshoots, and potentially:

  • A brewery tour (or two)
  • Visit to the Huron Historic Gaol, which is supposed to be pretty interesting
  • Hanging out on the beach (not just walking by it), maybe even swimming!


Leave a comment

I want to ride my bicycle

Friday, one of Canada’s major Internet providers had a country-wide outage, which affected (as in, disabled) my home service. As a result, I went to the office to work. Although they use the same provider, so things weren’t entirely normal there either, even after they routed us connectivity through our European office.

But this post isn’t about that.

Last night (Internet still out), we went out for a patio dinner at S&V Uptown, and the food was just lovely.

Me in front of plate of pickerel
(Also, I have a new dress)

But this post isn’t about that, either.

It’s about the fact that I rode a bicycle to both of these locations. As I did to a friend’s house when we there for dinner last month. As I did to Shopper’s when I had to do some errands. And just out for the heck of it Friday night (when we had no Internet, and therefore no TV).

Now, I’ve hardly become a hardcore cyclist. None of these places are particularly far. None of these trips were undertaken in especially bad weather.

But, the fact that I happily opted for the bike when the car was right there… is a change. And not one brought about by high gas prices. The key factors?

It’s an e-bike

With any electric bike, you get assisted peddling: an electric battery motor that helps you move along at your set speed as you pedal. It’s way less work—Jean (who also has one) went biking with a very fit friend who was riding a conventional bike, and thereby realized just how much help one gets from the motor.

Being less work means you end up less sweaty and can wear kind of normal clothes, even if heading somewhere that showers aren’t readily available. (I managed the dress by wearing exercise pants underneath, that I removed once at the restaurant parking lot.)

But what with the pedalling, you are still getting some exercise. Definitely more than just sitting in a car. (Per the video at the end, more than I thought.)

The type of e-bike we got

And the particular type of electrical bike we got, the Rize all-terrain fat tire bike, is very sturdy and stable. This is important for me, as on a standard skinny tire bike, I’m rather wobbly.

It’s also good on gravel, can handle bumps, mud, grass, light snow (yes, I’ve even ridden it a bit in winter!), even ice (to a certain point, anyway). I personally don’t particularly enjoy bumpy or icy trails—it’s just jarring—but the bike can handle it. Jean loves taking it out on rough trails. I do not. But I do love not having to worry about cracks, bumps, or soft patches on the way.

Waterloo has pretty good bike infrastructure

Years ago, when we did make a little effort with standard bikes, I absolutely hated driving on busy city streets. The cars just felt too close, and fast, and it was just uncomfortable.

But over the years, the city, and the region, has done a lot of work on both bike lanes on city streets and walking / biking trails you can use to avoid the streets. And Jean is really good at finding those and mapping them out for me.

To get to the office (admittedly not far), I only have two very brief patches of bike trails on somewhat busy streets. The rest is all trail.

To get to downtown Waterloo, we have a lot of options while still staying mostly on trails and a few quieter streets. To downtown!

And although we haven’t tried this yet, the region’s Ion trains are built to accommodate bikes, given another option for travelling some distance with the bike when time is short, or weather turns, or some such. (Also not yet used but available: a hitch to attach the bikes to the back of the car.)

Bigger picture?

I got the idea for the e-bike after reading about someone who explained that their e-bike was a key component to them being able to give up their car. (Another was living in a city with decent transit.) While I wasn’t looking to give up my car, I did like the idea of having a bike for those trips where walking would take too long, but could be easily accessed by bike.

I mentioned it to Jean, who also got intrigued by the idea. After trying out a friend’s e-bike, he became genuinely enthusiastic about it. (And lucky for me, then did all the research on which one we should get.)

Since getting them, and finding that they do replace some car trips (along with just being another option for getting exercise outdoors for its own sake), I’ve been interested by articles pointing out these vehicles could be a key component to a greener future in general.

Like Forget About Electric Cars…Electric Bikes Are the Future of Urban Transportation (writing is a bit awkward, but it makes good points)

With due respect to the electric cars for what they have got to the table, electric bikes are the most interesting thing to happen concerning urban transportation. Electric cars help to reduce CO2 emissions and prevent global warming and so on but they don’t answer the question of un-ending traffic in the cities or the countless number of lost hours on the road. So, after all, the benefits of electric cars in cities have been somewhat shadowed due to those reasons.

Sithara Ariyarathna

And from CBC: E-bikes, not electric cars, may hold the key to greener transportation

Electric cars have long been viewed as the most effective way to decarbonize the transportation sector, but Macdonald believes people are waking up to the benefits of a smaller, stealthier ride. For one thing, they’re cheaper: Whereas the lowest-priced electric car is about $30,000, a new e-bike is in the $1,000-$5,000 range.

Macdonald said a typical adult rider can get a range of about 30-40 kilometres on a single charge, which makes e-bikes well-suited to the average daily commute (provided the weather is nice). If you get a slightly larger e-bike with a bit of storage, you can transport your groceries and even other people.

“It’s not that [e-bikes are] going to replace cars wholesale, but they’re going to replace trips made by cars,” said Macdonald. “A $3,500 [US] e-bike is going to allow many families to think about going from two cars to one car.”

CBC News

Waterloo Region’s various investments in active transportation have engendered a fair amount of whining from some drivers, who’ve felt it’s been a lot of money for a minority, and who don’t like their driving encumbered by reduced lane widths and such.

I never joined in the whining (at least not publicly!), but I also never thought that infrastructure was for me. I never figured I’d be strapping my laptop into a backpack, putting on a helmet, and riding to the office.

If you build it, at least some of us will come.


Leave a comment

Ontario election dilemma

Ontario’s having an election in a few, and I’d rather Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives not win the most seats. The main reason is that climate change remains our biggest problem, and this party has been and will continue to be terrible on the environmental front. We can’t really afford that for another four years. Not only are they not trying to reduce emissions, they really seem to want to increase them. Their main campaign point is that they more people in more cars on more highways, producing more greenhouse gases on the paved-over wetlands.

But, the PCs also weren’t great on (just off the top of my head):

  • Healthcare—Freezing wages, cutting public health
  • Long-term care—Failing to protect seniors in care (like, seniors died of starvation and neglect, not Covid…)
  • Autism—Cancelling the Liberal autism program because the wait list was too long, and replacing it with nothing but an even longer wait list
  • Opioid addiction—Arbitrarily capping the number of needle exchange centres in the province while overdose deaths soared
  • Open government—Paying lawyers to keep secret information citizens have the right to know, such as ministerial mandate letters and taxpayer-funded reports on municipal amalgamation
  • Municipal government—Cancelling the ranked ballot option (why?), changing the number of Toronto city councillors mid-election (!)

So, clearly I would like people to… well…. do what exactly?

Vote for a member of another party, of course. But that’s the issue: which one? This ain’t a two-party system. And none of the other main alternatives—NDP, Liberal, or Green—are clearly the best choice. At least to me, anyway. But I think to a lot of other people, also.

Which is why we have this split. A chunk who will vote PC, because you always have a minimum 30% or so who will, with the remaining majority of voters dividing up support in such a way that the PCs are well on track to win more seats than anyone. Quite likely a majority of seats overall, which will allow them to govern and do whatever the heck they want.

PCs at 36% vs Liberal at 28%, NDP at 24%, and Green at 5%.

The other parties should combine and stop this from happening

I keep hearing this, even now, from people whom, I guess, don’t really know how our political system works?

The election has started. The ballots are printed. Heck, people have already voted! It’s too late for the Liberals and NDP to collaborate and agree to split the ridings and govern as a coalition—which is not really how our system works anyway…?

In the end, after the vote, if the non-PC parties have, combined, more seats than the PCs, they could look to eventually defeat that government and indeed, offer to govern in some sort of partnership as an alternative to making everyone go to the polls again. But not before the vote.

(Also, you know, you can’t just assume that people who like the Liberals like the NDP second best and vice versa. If those parties were to collaborate ahead of time, it could well annoy loyalists into voting for some other party entirely…)

Strategic voting

Is the other big idea, and is at least is in realm of possibility (unlike the fantasy of an NDP-Liberal coalition forming mid-election campaign). But it’s not as easy as it seems, even despite all the tools and movements to help, such as https://votewell.ca/ and (for Toronto) https://www.notoneseat.ca/

The idea is that you vote for whichever party your riding is most likely to defeat the PC candidate.

The problem is that it’s largely based on polling at the local riding level, which is simply not accurate, mainly because it isn’t done! At least not on any mass scale. Polling is mostly done provincially, and then they try to extrapolate to the local level to estimate how the seat count will work out (considering historical data for that riding, etc.). It gives you an idea, but that’s it. It’s not really solid data.

Squaring my own circle

All I can 100% control is my own vote, so what are the considerations?

Party leader

My favourite for sure is Mike Shreiner of the Green Party. He’s smart, he’s likeable, he’s been a constructive presence in the Legislature the last four years, and in my opinion, he was the best at the Northern Ontario leaders debate (one of the better debates I’ve seen a while, actually).

Steven Del Duca (Liberal) and Andrea Horwath (NDP) also seem smart and reasonably likeable, but do somewhat lack in charisma. Del Duca was somewhat better in the debate, in my opinion, for what that’s worth.

Platform

If you look at my Vote Compass:

Liberal 73%, Green Pasrty 64%, NDP 63%, PC 43%

The Liberals have it.

But, I feel like each of these parties has some promises I really like, some that I’m meh about, and a few I’m not quite on board with but, overall, any one would be an improvement over the PCs.

Local candidate

The only local candidates I know anything about are incumbent Catherine Fife of the NDP, and Shefaza Esmail of the Green Party, whom I talked to briefly on the phone. I’ll have to nerd out and watch a local debate to see how the others are, but Catherine has been a good MPP: smart, engaged, well-spoken. At this point, she certainly seems like the best local option.

In sum

I have my own three-way tie: Green, Liberal, NDP.

If the election were held today…

I’d likely vote NDP, to support Catherine Fife, and because, despite my serious doubts about strategic voting… She still seems like the smart choice if you’re going to consider it at all.

(For what it’s worth, VoteWell has Waterloo pegged as more of a Liberal / NDP battleground, and says you can therefore vote for “the candidate you prefer”. I dunno. Last time the PCs did come in second, but that was also the Great Liberal Collapse election, so… Who knows. Strategic voting is a mug’s game.)

Anyway. Making up my own mind isn’t really the problem.

The problem is how to you chip away at the soft part of the 37% currently planning to vote PC, and try to get them to vote some other way?

… When you can’t even quite tell them what that other way should be…?

I do still love this ad…


Leave a comment

A quick one about movies

Yesterday we went to see Everything Everywhere All at Once, in a theatre, and—wow! I was just riveted. It was one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen. And so funny! And even makes you think of about the big questions: the meaning of life, the universe, and… everything.

Jean, who is not as into surrealism as I am (did I mention I’m also rewatching Russian Doll?), wasn’t quite sure what to think. But I assure you he wasn’t bored, or complaining about lack of plot. And he agreed it was quite funny.

(Much to my annoyance, I forgot my CO2 monitor and so am not able to add Landmark Cinemas to my list of ventilation ratings. Being in a newer building, and given that the high-ceilinged theatre was not at capacity, I suspect the reading would have been fine. But it will have to wait til next time to confirm. This time, about 40% of movie attendees were masked.)

A few other movies Jean and I have watched at home recently-ish, and both enjoyed:

Trainspotting 2—No idea if this would hold any appeal to people who haven’t seen Trainspotting the first, but Jean and I enjoyed this “20 years later” revisit of the characters, with its clever callbacks to the first film.

Empire Records—The script for this 1995 flop kind of is a mess—a story intended to take place over two days was edited down to appear to all happen on one, and it’s not entirely coherent. But it is fun. And the soundtrack is great. And the cast and characters, especially the women, Renee Zellweger, Liv Tyler, Robin Tunney, are appealing.

Palm Springs—Also surreal-ish, this romantic comedy has a different but appealing take on how the couple ends up stuck together. Stars Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti.

The Long Shot—Romantic comedy starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron. Is Seth way out of Charlize’s league? Yes! But the movie absolutely addresses that point. It basically worked for me. And there’s sort of a wish fulfillment part in Charlize’s character running for President…