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


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Discombobulated (or at least discomfited)

Been a bit quiet on my blogging front lately, but not for any major reason. Just that things have been a bit off—just off enough to prevent me from focusing on a blog post.

Canoe trip

Not mine, of course—Jean’s. He was away for two weeks in the northwest Ontario wilderness. No wifi. No cell service. Just a brief, one-way, satellite-delivered daily message giving location and brief status update.

Away from it all at Wabakimi Park

By a combination of organization and happenstance, I had enough activities booked at that time to keep me busy and stave off loneliness: barbecue with dance friends, dinner and lunch with other friends, an outing to Stratford with my sister and brother-in-law to see To Kill a Mockingbird, blood donation appointment, Canada Day fireworks, even an unusual number of meetings at work, including some over lunch and dinner.

But it was still all out of the ordinary: Jean being not only away but basically out of touch (I think “out of touch” is just harder to deal with in these days, when we expect everyone to always be in cell range), combined with so many other social activities.

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

— Alice, Alice in Wonderland

Renovation

Another activity during canoe trip time was cleaning out the main bathroom and master bedroom, in preparation for these rooms getting renovated. This involved going through piles of stuff and resulted, in a time, in these rooms looking cleaner than they had in years. A good thing, albeit with the side effect of making even my bedroom looking slightly strange, which was vaguely off-putting.

Buffy: But it seemed perfectly normal.
Xander: But disturbing, and not the natural order of things and do you think it’ll happen again?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Once More with Feeling

When Jean got back, we moved the big pieces out of the rooms. This proved somewhat easier than we’d feared (most items could be broken down into smaller, lighter pieces), and also put an end to parts of the house looking neater, as we had to find space for everything in the remaining rooms. We tried piling the mattress on top of the guest bed mattress, but that made the bed we had to sleep in comically tall, so instead we propped the mattress up against the wall, making the already cramped guest room considerably more cramped. Our second bathroom is, similarly, hopeless cluttered with items from the main bathroom.

The first day of renovation is what they call the “tear down,” when they take out all the old stuff to make way for the new. Here’s the before and after:

So if I thought the house felt a bit alien before…

Weekend away

Since we had tickets to Rocky Horror Show on a Thursday of that first renovation week (of a total four or five, they predict), I figured why not stay on and make a long weekend of it. Jean wasn’t able to get time off right after that long canoe trip, but that just meant a slightly commute for him back to work Friday while I explored Stratford.

Really, in the scheme of things, it was the most normal I’d felt in weeks.

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Me with my people

So now I’ll catch up on some recommendations that I might have have made had I been blogging more regularly…

Wining and dining

One of the dinners out in KW was at King Street Trio, which I hadn’t been to in years. It was a pleasant surprise. For one thing, it’s a nice quiet place, and those are increasingly hard to come by. For another, importantly, the food was quite good.

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King Street Trio always has oysters on offer

And while you might wonder a bit at the pricing, note that they offer 30% / 20% / 10% discounts on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, respectively. We were there on a Tuesday, so that worked out well for us! Apart from our waitress being in a bit of a hurry for us to order drinks before the group had arrived, it was a good night out, and I’d go again.

Friday night, Jean and I decided to book a fancier dinner in Stratford for our pending anniversary next week, namely at The Prune dining room. It has to be said that the service on arrival was a bit chaotic. They initially forgot to give us menus… It took ages, and a few repeated requests, to get water… Our matching wines didn’t always make it out before the food it was to match… And while it’s true we arrived at the time they would have been trying to get a bunch of tables finished in time for the 8:00 theatre, that should be something any Stratford restaurant learns to get a handle on. And The Prune isn’t new.

Still, they did such a good job with the food, and the wine matching, that we just couldn’t stay mad. (We never really got that angry, to be clear.) Talented chefs, my friends! Particularly with vegetables. Never had such fresh and light pea and ham soup. The smoked tuna with tomatoes and olive was astonishing. The chicken overshadowed by the creamy mashed potatoes and intense morels. Cheese tortellini similar outdone by the spring vegetable ragout it came in.

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Jean with his cheese plate finale (and new beard)

After Stratford, on Saturday, we headed off Goderich way to spend some more time touring before heading home. On the way, Jean recalled that someone had recommended a winery in these parts, so near Seaforth, we visited Maelstrom Winery.

We looked super eager, because we were there right at the crack of 11:00, when they opened. That meant we got the full attention as the only patrons. We talked to the wine maker about his trials and tribulations in getting the winery going. Being new, they’re still in the experimental phase, but we did find some wines we quite liked: A smooth vidal, a refreshing frontenac blanc, and a really nice blend of cabernet franc and baco noir. They also have this wine called the abyss which is a blend of five varietals, resulting in a truly unique taste.

You heard it here first (maybe?): Ontario’s newest wine region—Lake Huron.

It’s not TV, it’s Netflix

While cleaning out rooms, I did watch the much-discussed Nanette Netflix special. (If you haven’t heard about it, here’s a New York Times round-up of its many positive reviews.) I  would recommend it, as long as you know not to expect a barrel of laughs here. (There are laughs, just not a barrel of them.)

But I was struck by how many people said they’d never heard of Hannah Gadsby, which means that they’ve never watched Please Like Me on Netflix. A series whose four (short) seasons I recently polished off.

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A scene from one of my favorite episodes of Please Like Me, in which Josh and his parents have a multi-course menu surprise at a fancy restaurant

I don’t know if that the show is everyone’s cup of tea? It’s basically an Australian comedy about a group of friends in their early 20s. It’s just that it also regularly, and honestly, deals with some heavy issues, notably mental illness (but also abortion, homophobia, STDs). So it too, definitely has laughs. Just not always a barrel of them. I grew quite fond of the characters, though.

Stratford culture

The two plays I’ve seen so far this season—To Kill a Mockingbird and Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show—have both been extended, so I clearly went with the popular picks. Both are indeed very good. To Kill a Mockingbird is framed by having the adult Scout look back on her childhood from the vantage point of the 60s civil rights movement, and that works well. The child actors are terrific and the story remains affecting (bring the kleenex!).

Rocky Horror, on the other hand, is presented as pure fun. This is actually the third live production of this I’ve seen, and of course—given that the other two were amateur productions—this had the best singers (incredible voices), the most inventive choreography (it’s the Time Warp—but updated!), and fantastic costumes: particularly flattering to fine male forms on display, I have to say.

But for all that, I don’t know that I enjoyed this more than those productions—I’d just say equally. This thing just really works live. So if you haven’t yet experienced it, Stratford is a good place to start.

My Friday afternoon matinee performance at Stratford was not a play, though, but a perform by Steven Page (formerly of The Barenaked Ladies) and the Art of Time, doing a series of songs by the likes of Leonard Cohen, The Beatles, Gord Downie, Jane Siberry, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, and yes, The Barenaked Ladies…

The Art of Time uses contemporary composers to arrange pop songs for piano, violin, saxophone, bass, guitar, and cello. I generally love the results. I was in the fifth row for this show, and the set list was right up my alley. Steven Page is interesting in how he can be so funny in his banter, and some of his performances, but also be “you can hear a pin drop” serious in conveying the angst of songs like Elvis Costello’s “I Want You”. The ensemble will be doing a number of shows in this, their tenth anniversary year, so you might to check that out.

They also did this one at Stratford: “Entourage” by Steven Page.


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The Mike and Micky Show (they were The Monkees)

smith: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.

depp: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It’s a great song. I don’t care what anyone says.

smith: “Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total happiness. It’s a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?

depp: I know, I know. It’s O.K. to like “Daydream Believer.” There’s nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It’s “Daydream Believer.” I’m justifying my own flag.

— Patti Smith and Johnny Depp (The Crowded Mind of Johnny Depp, Vanity Fair, 2010)

People were a bit bemused when we said we were going to The Monkees concert. “The ‘Hey, hey we’re The Monkees’ guys? They’re still around?”

They’re actually not all still around, Davy Jones having died in 2012. Peter Tork is still active in the music business—too active to go on this particular nostalgia tour. Leaving Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith to perform in what was dubbed “The Monkees Presents: The Mike and Micky Show”.

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and band: The Mike and Micky Show

The show was to feature the hits, along with some “deep album tracks.” Or from my perspective, songs I know along with songs I don’t know.

Because I’m not a deep, hardcore Monkees fan. Like most people my age, I suspect, I watched the show as a kid, and then again when it re-ran in the 1980s. I own The Monkees Greatest Hits album. So when I saw the show announced, it piqued my interest, but I wasn’t sure about attending. Then Centre in the Square sweetened the deal by offering Jean a photographer’s pass:

It turned out that said pass could only be exercised during the first three songs, which Jean reports is not a lot of time! But we stayed for the whole thing, and were suitably entertained.

A subset of the full band—there were more musicians to the right

The two original Monkees members were joined by nine other musicians covering guitar, keyboards, bass, drums (Micky did not play drums, but did joke about having taught the drummer all he knew), maracas, fiddle / banjo, and backup vocals. Mike and Micky took turns taking lead vocals, both proving that not everyone in their 70s loses their vocal abilities. They both sounded very good.

They did not do as much chit-chatting as I thought they might, perhaps weary of telling their history of being TV show cast-mates who became a real band—fascinating though I find that story. The songs I knew in the first half included “Last Train to Clarksville”; ”Mary,  Mary”; and (yay!) “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. The ones I didn’t offered more genre variety than I had been expecting (which was pure pop); in particular, a number had something of a country sound. But not in bad way.

(No idea, actually, if some Monkees songs always had a bit of country flair, or if they were reinterpreted the songs that way on this tour.)

Near the end of the first set, Micky did start talking a little more, asking if anyone had ever seen the movie Head and if so, did we have any idea what it was about?

Head was surrealistic, R-rated movie featuring The Monkees in the wake of their TV success. It was a huge flop. But at some point—probably in the 90s?—I got intrigued enough about to seek it out. I believe it required tracking down a rental copy from the alternative DVD store. (Now? Appears you can just watch the whole thing on YouTube.) It was so weird, but in such a fascinating way—they totally deconstructed themselves! And, it had a great soundtrack!

So I was very happy to hear a number of songs from the movie, including my favourite, “The Porpoise Song”. Those were followed by “Me and Magelena”.

Something else that surprised me during the first set was that one or the other of Mike and Micky would sometimes wander off-stage when the other was singing. (Mike started joking about that at one point: “Where are you going? Hey, come back!”) So it was nice that second set started with a focus on just the two of them. Then with each song, more and more band members rejoined them on stage.

Did they do “Daydream  Believer”, a song famously sung by Davy Jones? Of course, they did, with Micky starting it off, then handing it over to us, the crowd, to take over. On a week with so much disturbing news (“tender-age shelters”?!?), we needed that moment of pure happiness that comes from singing along to “Daydream Believer”. And we also got “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer”, for good measure. These guys earned their standing ovation.

Link to the full set list, with song link for each track

 


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Sometimes political art

Concerts, plays, stand-up, and movies are sometimes an escape from current events, sometimes a reflection of it.

Beethoven 9 / Mijidwewinan

The two final concerts of the KW Symphony’s season, featuring new conductor, Andrei Feher, were both sellouts. The draw, besides Feher himself, was the performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, a choral piece better known as the Ode to Joy. It’s always a worry, when facing a 65-minute symphonic live performance: Will my pop-music brain be able to stay focused for that long?

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But Beethoven’s skill as a composer made that pretty easy, actually. And the lively conducting didn’t hurt, either.

The concert began, though, with an original piece by a native Canadian composer, Barbara Croall. It was a musical interpretation of a mystical, visionary ceremony in which Anishinaabe get in touch with nature—and humankind’s damaging effects on it. Croall performed as a singer in the piece, which takes us on a day’s journey from dark to light and back to dark.

It was very different from Beethoven, as you might imagine. But equally engaging and moving. Made for a very satisfying overall concert experience.

Jeans’n’Classics: Bowie & Prince

Jeans’n’Classics perform orchestrated versions of popular pop and rock songs. We used to go to all of their shows, but had stopped more recently, when they stopped performing with the KW Symphony (in favor of a smaller, and therefore cheaper, group of classical musicians). But, I really wanted to hear orchestrated Prince.

They played two sets, with an intermission. Both featured first Bowie songs, then Prince ones, each section handled by a different singer (understandably). The Bowie parts were fine; the man wrote some excellent songs. But the energy in the place would just go through the roof whenever the Prince would kick in. Just so much more funky! And very ably handled by Gavin Hope, taking a break from his usual gig with The Nylons, along with singers Kalalin Kiss and Andrea Koziol, who each got featured in a duet.

To me, much as I like Bowie music, this show could have been all Prince. But then, these orchestrations don’t write themselves, and maybe it was a challenge getting enough Prince songs ready. (Bowie has been in their repertoire longer.)

Prince covering David Bowie’s “Heroes” (mixed with “Dolphins”)

Set list:

Rebel Rebel
Let’s Dance
Blue Jean
Ashes To Ashes
1999
Little Red Corvette
Diamonds And Pearls
When Doves Cry
I Would Die For You

Space Oddity
Starman
Changes
All The Young Dudes
China Girl
Baby I’m A Star
Raspberry Beret
Nothing Compares To You
Let’s Go Crazy

Purple Rain
Suffragette City

Kathy Griffin: Laugh your head off!

Kathy Griffin put this show, and tour, together in response to the trouble she got into about a year ago after a photo of her holding a ketchup-dipped mask of Donald Trump was published on TMZ. There was an outcry that went to the highest levels of government. She was fired from various TV jobs, her live shows were cancelled, and she found herself under FBI investigation.

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Much of what happened to her isn’t all that funny, so her almost-three-hour long (yes!) show touches on many other subjects, such as the fun of living next door to Kanye and Kim Kardashian, the weirdness of doing a show for Donald Trump with Liza Minelli (before all that happened, obviously), what Wayne Gretzky is really like (a bit of a hoser), and life with her alcoholic but loving mom. In fact, Griffin switches subjects so rapidly ,and goes on so many tangents, that Jean had trouble keeping up.

It was an impressive performance. So much energy! And the crowd at Centre in the Square (she informed us that the people in Toronto thought it was hilarious she was going to Kitchener of all places) was very different from the symphony! Younger, gayer (as a percentage), livelier, and very warm. It was, mostly, very funny. She manages to bring humour even into (most of) the darker topics—the abusive and threatening messages she and her family received, the loss of support from people she thought were her friends, the interrogation itself, being on the no-fly list, the effect on her livelihood…

It’s great that she’s found a way back, even though she had to take a pay cut to do it.

Come from Away

This was a family outing in Toronto. We bought tickets months ago. But we saw it just days after the US administration imposed punitive tariffs on Canada and followed it up by insulting the Prime Minister, backing out of the G7 statement, and offering Canadians a “special place in hell”.

So it was bittersweet watching this musical about the residents of the small Canadian town of Gander doing everything they could to accommodate the thousands of mostly American travelers who ended up stuck there when US airspace on 9/11. (Aside: This was the musical that Justin Trudeau escorted Ivanka Trump to in happier (?) times.)

How do you make a story of an event like that? By focusing in on a small number of the thousands of travelers, people of different races, religions, and sexual orientations, and following their experiences in that small town (population 7000, doubled overnight). And interspersing that with the logistics that the Gander residents had to deal with: Where will they all sleep? (Among other things, people put them up in their houses.) How do we keep all this extra food fresh? (Re-purpose that hockey rink.) What about the animals on those planes? (Send out the SPCA lady!)

It really is a heart-warming story, even as it doesn’t shy away from some of the darker aspects (such as the prejudice against Muslims). It’s often very often. And it has great fiddle music, which, my Dad pointed, really moves the story forward.

Come From Away Quotes {Taken out of Context}

Source: Come From Away Fan Blog

  • I’ll write S.T.F.D. Slow the fuck down!
  • For the love of God! Stop bringing toilet paper to the Lion’s Club!
  • And my boyfriend Kevin. We’re both named Kevin. It was cute for a while.
  • Excuse me, would you like some Xanax? Because you are freaking out and it is freaking me out and we are all freaking the f*ck out!
  • We ran through every movie we had: Legally Blonde, Doctor Doolittle 2, and…Titanic.
  • Oh my god, this is just so remote.
  • Now there’s the reason I drive slow. That there in the middle of the road? Yah. That’s a moose. She’ll move when she’s good and ready.
  • Safe and sound here on the ground in Iceland.
    No, Newfoundland!
  • I woke up from a dream that we were stuck in some backwater Canadian town and that my air mattress deflated.
  • I wanted to burn my socks.
  • Kevin puts on this plaid – thing. He says he’s “incognito”, and that he’s “going to blend in with the natives”, but he just looks like a gay lumberjack.
  • “We ended up in the gayest town in Canada.”

After a series of sold-out shows, it’s been extended in Toronto, again. I would recommend it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews almost scared us away from watching this Netflix movie, but then we were like, hey, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter got even worse Rotten Tomatoes reviews, and we liked that, so what the heck?

I don’t know what all the complaining is about. This movie is exactly what the title suggests: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Only, with zombies. You like the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy? You like seeing kickass women (and men, but mostly women) take out the undead? (These are basically the evil undead, not the nice “they’re just people with a problem” undead of iZombie / Santa Clarita Diet.) If yes, then you’ll like this movie!

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Nobody puts Elizabeth Bennet in a corner

Really. We enjoyed it. It was fun. (I thought maybe the bad guy had a point about the zombies and the placating them with pig’s brains, given that they reproduce so much faster than people, and that the good guys dismissed that idea a little quickly, but still. Overall, this is a non-guilty guilty pleasure.)


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Twitter break

We’d boarded, so I set my phone and tablet to airplane mode, and kept myself entertained with a novel. On the drive home from the airport, I decided: No more Twitter.

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Going cold turkey

I made no announcements (who would care?), did not delete my account, didn’t even uninstall the app or turn off the notifications. I just… stopped going to Twitter.

What struck me at first was that… I felt like I had so much time. To read other stuff. To get chores done. To talk to people (in person). To arrive places on time. Woah.

What surprised me next was that, I didn’t miss reading Twitter at all. But I did miss tweeting out links to interesting stuff.

A few times, I just broke down and did that, the tweeting. (Alysha Brilla liked one of them. That was cool.) But I stayed away from the reading of the timeline.

The reason was nothing so dramatic as online harassment, thank God. It was just the stress of it, the anxiety.

Twitter was just Freaking Me Out.


Ontario was about to elect an incompetent populist as Premier. Canada was getting into a trade war with the US. Immigrant children were being separated from their parents. And reading about this (and more!) on Twitter, I worried about all of it.

Yet, it’s not like a took a news break here. While not on Twitter, I was still reading and hearing about all of this (and other bad stuff going on). It just seemed so much easier to manage the information in the form of news articles, editorials, and TV reports than in the hot takes, inflammatory opinions, alarming speculation, and emotional responses on Twitter.

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Twitter never warns you. (Source: Pearls Before Swine)

Twitter is a social media, and there can be some comfort in knowing that others are worried about the same things you are. But only to a point. The point where you start out seeking validation about one issue only to find yourself, an hour later, in a tizzy about ten other issues, three of which might just be inventions or misunderstandings.

So, I stopped. The generalized anxiety didn’t immediately disappear. Initially, it transferred onto other targets (Inner monologue: “Is the cats’ ear infection back?” “How do you get a skunk out from under the deck?” “Wait, is this just a mosquito bite, or…?”), like the angst needed somewhere else to go now that it didn’t have Twitter to feed it. But with time that diminished also.

On election day, I was able to view the bad (but expected) results without getting overly emotional, and I managed have a decent night’s sleep afterward. Sure, it was mostly an infuriating result, but my candidate won (easily), and she’s a qualified, experienced women. And Ontario did elect its first Green MPP, a just reward for the party that had the best platform on offer.


Today, after about a week off, I dipped a toe back into the Twitter. For all its flaws, it is a good way for me to find out about things that I care about, that simply don’t make the headline news. (Queen and Adam Lambert have done a live version of “Lucy”! Rainbow Rowell is writing a sequel to Carry On!)

And all that G7 crazy-ness was pretty interesting. Until… I found myself getting kind of anxious about it.

And then… I closed the app.


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Finding things to do in Ottawa

  • Why don’t you use Air Bnb?
  • Why does anyone stay in hotels anymore?
  • A whole apartment in Budapest for just $60!

After hearing reports like the above for a couple of years now, ith our Ottawa leg, we decided to give this Air Bnb thing a whirl. We wanted a place close to downtown, that would be self-contained, and cheaper than a hotel (or why bother)? We picked one that met those qualifications and otherwise seemed OK, per photos and reviews.

We got there and… Well… It sure was a contrast to the Château Frontenac in Québec City.

The place was kind of… run down. Creaky, uneven floors. What looked like a hole punched in the wall. Water pooling at the bottom of the fridge. Trash strewn around out back. An electrical outlet of dubious safety. And we could really hear the next-door neighbours.

On the other hand, it was basically clean, we spotted no insects of any sort, the location was very convenient, it had a strong the wifi signal, and after a visit to the Byward Market to add fresh fruit and Montreal-style bagels to our arsenal of produce from Ile d’Orléans, we made ourselves the best breakfasts of the trip.

Still, now I have an answer when people ask, why would anyone stay in a hotel anymore?


Ottawa during the golden hour

Unlike our accommodations, Ottawa looked very regal while we were there

Our first Ottawa dinner was at Fairouz, a restaurant specializing in high-end Middle Eastern food. It’s a smallish place, and somewhat noisy, but with very good service. We had with spicy olives, salmon pastourma, lamb kofte, and date cake for dessert. It definitely was a step above your typical Middle Eastern food—but that type of food still isn’t our favourite.

We then had to decide what to do with ourselves in Ottawa, a city we visit rather more often than Québec City. We decided to give the Museum of History another chance, now that the Canadian History Hall was open. They also had a special exhibit on The Franklin Expedition that was of interest, especially since we’d been watching AMC’s The Terror.

The walk to the Museum of History

The Franklin Expedition exhibit was really terrific. It was interactive and laid out in a way that gave a good sense of what the men went through. The bit about the recent discovery of the two lost ships was featured less than I expected it would be, but it was featured.

The Canadian History Hall, which is on two floors, is also really well done. It starts with Native history and their story gets included throughout, much more than if this Hall had been put together a decade or so ago, I suspect. We then get the stories of the French explorers and settlers (and the Filles du Roy), the Acadians, the United Empire Loyalists. We revisit Confederation, Louis Riel, the building of the railroad. Exhibits continue on to more current events: the world wars, Expo 67, Trudeaumania (the first), the two Quebec Referendum, the October Crisis, the legalization of gay marriage, the Idle No More movement, and so on.

It was all very interesting, and we ended up spending far more time at that museum than we’d expected to. At one point we took a lunch break to eat at the fairly indifferent (nowhere near as good as Apsara) Thai restaurant across the street (the Green Papaya), then headed back. We were there til 3:30.

The day had turned lovely, so we then did some ambling about Ottawa. I also stopped off at clothing boutique near the Air Bnb, featuring local designers. I tried on a number of items and did end up purchasing a pretty cute little black dress (about $120).

Look what happens when you have guests ... what a mess!

Ottawa

For dinner, we met up with some friends at Play Food and Wine. The service was a bit error-prone: a cheese plate including blue cheese despite an allergy having been reported to that very thing; duplicated dishes arriving when different dishes had been ordered. But everything got rectified and we did enjoy our various small dishes, though nothing especially stood out this time.

Saturday was predicted to be rainy, but in the end, less rain fell than expected. We started the day at National Gallery. It was partly under construction, and featured no special exhibits, but we hadn’t been in a few years, and so just enjoyed the regular collection, particularly the European and American works.

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Jean was there!

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So were camels!

We then had a decent lunch in the Market area, resisted the offerings at the Poutine festival on Sparks Street, and did some shopping around the Bank street area, mainly picking up books and magazines (like, on paper!). The independent coffee shops all seemed to be overflowing with patrons, so made our way to Starbucks at the Chapters.

Our final dinner of the trip was at the Beckta Wine Bar, and it was quite lovely. We started with some oysters, and both had the Parisian gnocchi (ricotta, asparagus, pine nuts, peas), which was worth doubling up on. (I suspect we had dessert as well, though I can’t remember what, now.) Service was very good (not error-prone) and helpful with the wine matching.

A nice ending to this leg of the trip. Then it a blessedly uneventful drive home on Sunday (during which we didn’t quite finish Ready Player One).


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The Green Party sign on the lawn

Ontario is in the midst of a provincial election, as evidenced by the lawn signs popping up around town. In our neighbourhood, the PCs were out first, and I’m surrounded by them. The NDP were next; they’re further up the street. Haven’t seen too many Liberal. Then on my way home yesterday, I’m like hey, there’s a Green Party sign.

Then: Wait, that’s on my lawn.

They actually shouldn’t have done that. I get why they thought they could—because at some point in the past year or so, I donated to that party. So few people donate to political parties, I can understand them thinking that, for sure, it must mean that I plan vote Green.

Except that I’m that rare weirdo who will donate to a party just to encourage them, secure in the knowledge that I will get 75% of my donation back at tax time. If donating meant that you could automatically plant signs in my lawn, in some cases, I would have had three or four different parties’ signs on my lawn. But still only one vote.

signs-for-indecisive

Signs of the indecisive

The Greens didn’t ask me if it was OK for them to put a sign on my lawn. So I could by rights call them up and ask them to take it away. Or more simply, just take it out myself put it in my garage.

Having it out there feels like a lie, as though I’m saying I plan to vote for this party, and you should too. When really, the only thing I’m sure of in this election, is that because of Doug Ford, I will not be voting PC, and I wish that others would not, either. But as to whom I or anyone else should vote for instead…? It’s a tough one.

This is a sentiment difficult to express with any lawn sign.


Voting in an Ontario provincial election is very simple: Using a pencil, you put your x beside the name of one candidate from one party (or an independent), and you’re done.

But it’s a fairly complex set of factors you have to consider when deciding where to put that x.

Which party has the best leader?

It’s unfortunate that in our parliamentary voting system, where each party leader is just another elected MPP, that leaders have such focus and importance. But that’s the way it is.

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Provincial party leaders Doug Ford (PC), Kathleen Wynne (Liberal), Andrea Horwath (NDP), and Mike Schreiner (Green)

As I’ve said, I don’t think Doug Ford is qualified to be Premier. I don’t want to go on a big rant about it, so I’ll keep it to a little rant. His only political experience is a Toronto city councilor, where he was frequently absent, and always uninterested in learning the details of policy. Which is probably why the PCs are basically running without a platform. All evidence suggests he’d be a terrible Premier. (See: https://www.notdoug.com/)

“Vote for this guy, his worst ideas are so terrible the courts will save us from them and she’s just the worst” isn’t as novel a platform as it used to be and we’re already seeing how it plays out down south, but let’s give it another go up here. What could possibly go wrong?

Doug Ford’s politics of indulgence by Tabatha Southey

But who’s the best other option?

Would you rather vote for the incompetent incumbent, the profligate wildcard, or the fake conservative who refuses to show his work?

— Robyn Urback, being cynical

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not on the “I hate Kathleen Wynn” train. The woman is impressive. She’s smart and decent and qualified. Here I’m going to quote Christie Blatchford, a conservative I often disagree with:

…it’s why the decision facing Ontario voters on June 7 is so freaking difficult — or rather, she’s why.

Kathleen Wynne is so clearly heads and tails smarter, better informed and more capable than Doug Ford that it borders on the ridiculous.

Smarter, more capable Kathleen Wynne

But, the NDP’s Andrea Horwath is having a good campaign. Last election she came off as angry and aggressive, and it was rather off-putting. (I also thought the NDP platform then was dumb.) This time, she’s sounding much more positive and putting herself across in a reassuring way. These Paul Wells assessment is probably fair:

She has richly earned a reputation for being one of the least exciting politicians in the land. But there is something fascinating in her old-fashioned willingness to answer a question in detail.

Just how far can Andrea Horwath go?

The Green’s Mike Schreiner suffers from being excluded from a lot of debates, so I suspect the average Ontarian knows nothing about him. But I’m again that sort of weirdo who will make the effort, and he also comes off well. Here’s a report from a forum he was allowed to attend [and how much do you love that they also included the None of the Above party?]:

Perhaps neophyte fringe candidate Paul Taylor, representing the None Of The Above Party, summed up Thursday’s night’s all-candidates forum best.

Seating arrangements on stage at the Italian Canadian Club had the affable Taylor sitting to the right of Green Party candidate Mike Schreiner’s, meaning Taylor had to repeatedly address a question after Schreiner’s energetic, precise and crowd-pleasing responses.

“Oh shit. I should have sat down there,” said Taylor motioning further down the table.

Schreiner led the pack at the first local public all-candidates forum. He has been campaigning for months, he is by far the most experienced of the bunch and he is well versed on the issues and his party’s stances on them.

Schreiner shines at first all-candidates forum

If I lived in his Guelph riding, I’d have no doubt about my vote. Or the appropriateness of a Green Party lawn sign.

But I don’t live in Guelph.

Who’s the best local candidate?

Individual MPPs don’t matter as much as I think they should, but that is who we are actually voting for. And in this case, I have an answer to the question: NDP candidate Catherine Fife. She is the current MPP, running for re-election. And she has always been an impressive politician: articulate, well-informed, charismatic. If the NDP did manage to be part of some sort of government, she’d likely be in Cabinet.

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I did hear a debate between her and the local Liberal and PC candidates, and the other two sounded good as well. Just not necessarily better than Ms. Fife.

As for the Green candidate, I have yet to catch a debate that includes him, and I know nothing about him. (Except that he puts out lawn signs without asking.)

Who’s most likely to beat the PCs in my riding?

This is the strategic vote angle. If all I’m sure about is that I’d rather not have a PC government under Doug Ford, then I should vote for whoever is most likely to beat that party.

And in this riding, no doubt that means voting for Catherine Fife of the NDP. Despite this not being a traditionally NDP riding, she’s managed to win the last two elections with margins of 7% to 8%. One of those was a by-election, but the other case she managed to win despite it being a fairly disastrous election for the NDP as a whole. This time the NDP  is so far polling much better than last time, making her the horse to bet on with your anti-PC vote.

Who has the best platform?

Oh yeah, that. Which party’s policies do I most agree with?

According to the CBC vote compass poll that I took, that would be… The Green Party of Ontario.

This blog post is already running to novel lengths, so I’ll just touch on three policy areas where the Greens impress.

Deficits

Not always a bad thing for a government to run deficits, but Ontario is in a bit of a precarious financial situation and none of the major parties are being honest about what that implies.

First of all, they are starting with numbers that are likely bogus, according to the Auditor General (see: Bad books: How Ontario’s new hydro accounting could cost taxpayers billions). Nevertheless, the Liberals plan to forge ahead with a number of new drug, dental, childcare, and mental health programs, along with a commitment to high-speed rail which (lovely as it sounds), just isn’t economically viable (see: Kathleen Wynne’s pledge to spend billions on a bullet train makes zero sense).

The NDP would do similarly things, but differently. Like drug plans for everyone, instead of only those of a certain age, but excluding those who have employee coverage. And not committing to high-speed rail. To pay for their commitments, they would increase taxes on the wealthiest and larger corporations, but that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the deficit.

The PCs? Their “plan” involves spending more (in certain areas) and reducing government revenue (lowering various taxes, getting rid of cap and trade). Oh, and they wouldn’t lay anyone off. How will they pay for that? Wave their hands and say, “efficiencies”, apparently. They unsurprisingly haven’t released any costing for this impossible plan. People sort of assume they care about the deficit, but there’s no evidence of it.

The Greens also support spending in new areas, but they at least have some proposals for how to pay for it: congestion taxes, parking levies, tobacco tax increases. “Even with a better range of public services, our projected deficit will be almost one third of the deficit projected by the Financial Accountability Office for the 2018 Ontario Provincial Budget. No other party has accounted for these higher budget deficits.” Source: Green Party platform

Hydro

Ontario’s hydro system has been mismanaged (mostly under Ontario’s previous premier) and a lot of people (not me so much, but) are angry about their higher utility bills. The Liberals, as already noted, are doing some accounting hocus-pocus to put off some hydro bills til later, even though that’s going to end up costing way more in the end. The NDP plans to bring Hydro One back into public hands, which may be is a good idea, but unlikely to be as easy to accomplish as they claim. The PCs will just lower rates, somehow. I don’t know, and I don’t believe they plan to undo the hocus-pocus.

The Greens, meanwhile, have a really specific idea: “Ontario can save $1.1 billion per year by closing the Pickering Nuclear station on schedule in 2018. We can replace high cost nuclear power with low cost water power from Quebec.” Is there something wrong this plan? I don’t know; they’re the Green party, nobody bothers to analyze their plans. But it certainly sounds more sensible than anybody else’s.

Marijuana

Canadian Senate permitting, marijuana will become legal this summer. The Liberal plan is to sell it only through government stores, à la LCBO, pushing out the small producers who have, for years now, supplying the product for medical marijuana users. The NDP have rightly criticized the very small number of stores the Liberals plan to roll out, but haven’t proposed a different approach. Doug Ford has mumbled something about supporting the free market there, but as always, without any details.

Whereas the Green Party were hot off the presses with an alternative plan to regulate and license small businesses to sell cannabis, way back in September.

Can you read the signs?

Clearly, I would like some sort of ranked ballot to better catch these nuances (and only the Greens support that). But in the current one-vote world? Three weeks to decide…

 


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Visiting l’accent de l’Amérique

Our next destination after Prince Eward County was Québec City—currently branding itself as l’accent de l’Amérique, which is kind of clever. The 6-hour drive there seemed rather long, and a bit of a waste of another nice day, but we passed the time listening to the audiobook of Ready Player One, a fun, near-future sci-fi novel recently turned Stephen Spielberg movie. (The audiobook was read by Will Wheaton, which made one detail in the novel especially amusing.)

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Guess what was playing in Picton while we were there? Didn’t see it, though; didn’t want to spoil the book

We had booked a room at the fancy and historic Château Frontenac, which was having anniversary specials. So we had the door man, and concierge services, and a great, central location. The room was just one of their “basic” ones, but it was still a good size and comfortable.

Chateaux Frontnac lobby

Our modest little hotel

And the outside of it. It’s huge! You can get lost in its corridors.

We had wanted to have dinner at Toast, but—cue the jokes—Toast was closed due to fire. So we booked (or really, had the concierge book for us) at their sister restaurant, Simple Snack Sympathique, or SSS. We found it just as delightful as we remembered Toast being, with creative food combinations and lovely presentation. I had the Québec Exquis special, which was a prix fixe of three courses all incorporating maple syrup in some way. (Québec Exquis was a one-week period in which Québec restaurants featured three-course, prix-fixe menus built around items from québecois food producers .)

First up for me was snow crab, then duck (the maple sauce was amazing), then maple éclair. Jean went with the regular menu for foie gras, smoked pork, then fromage fermier (farmer cheese!) for dessert.

Tastes as good as it looks

We enjoyed a selection of wines from the Languedoc region with that—also part of the Québec Exquis special. (By the way, we had no idea before leaving that all these restaurant specials would be on.)

Jean took to getting up early for photos, while I had more leisurely mornings. Worked out for both of us.

How the world looks to morning people, apparently

Our first full day there, after a joint breakfast (not at the hotel), we walked down rue St-Jean, the shopping street outside the Old Town. This time we didn’t find too many treasures worth buying, though: just a bargain-priced collection of sheet music, for me.

We’d never been to Ile D’Orléans before—an island about a 30-minute drive from Québec—and had been planning to visit it this trip. But after driving around Prince Edward County, which is nearly an island, visiting various food-related destinations, we weren’t sure if we wanted to get back in the car and do the same here? On the map provided by the hotel, though, I noticed that there were bus tours we could take to the island. So we signed up for La route des saveurs, starting at 2:00, and running for 2.5 hours

Joining us on the tour—which started right at our hotel—was a friendly couple from Carolina, on an anniversary vacation, and two young women from South Korea, in Canada for what seemed like an absurdly short time for such a long trip. We found out that a popular South Korean show was filmed in Québec City, leading to an increased number of Korean tourists going there and looking for the “red door”. (CBC story: How a popular Korean soap opera is drawing Asian tourists to Quebec City.)

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Not the red door, but still a cool shot of Old Québec

Our guide was a lively young man with an enthusiasm for both Québec and the culinary products of Ile d’Orléans. Being early spring, with snow still in the fields, the island landscape wasn’t as lovely as it presumably becomes when plants are in bloom. So, we don’t have too many photos from this part. But, we did enjoy the tastings at each stop.

  1. Chocolaterie: Your typical artisanale chocolate shop, except that they also had an ice cream shop with chocolate-dipped cones. We enjoyed the chocolate maple sample, and bought another set of maple-based chocolates for later consumption, but resisted the ice cream, figuring that would give us a sugar overload too early in the tour.
  2. Maison Smith: A coffee shop where we sampled a maple latte. Normally I don’t care for sweetened coffees, but this one had a very light touch with the maple, and I quite enjoyed it. The owner gave an interesting overview of his business as well. We bought some ground coffee here, for planned use at our Ottawa accommodations.
  3. Sucrerie: Probably the most interesting stop, as the maple syrup was currently being gathered here and we got an overview of the whole process. We tasted various strengths of maple syrup and the maple jelly, which we bought a jar of.
  4. Cidrerie Bilodeau: Here they make dry and sweet apple ciders of various types, from dry sparkling to iced apple, any of which we were able to sample. We bought a cassis / apple blend that we figured could make interesting kir-like drinks. And also a jar of the most delicious apple butter I’ve ever had. Should have bought more. [There was no obligation to buy things at each stop. We just did.]
  5. Nougaterie: Run by an originally European couple who immigrated to Canada and established this business. They had nougat in an extraordinary range of flavors, all super-fresh as it was made on the premises. We restricted ourselves to purchasing a single salt caramel bar. Amazing-tasting caramel, though.
  6. Cassis Mona et Fille: Probably the most famous destination on the island. They make a range of products based on cassis (black currant), and gave us an overview of them all. In the summer, they also run a restaurant that is supposed to be quite good. All the drinks were lovely, but we especially blown away by the creme de cassis, which we bought (more kir!). We also got some cassis mustard (yes, it’s purple).

All that eating did not stop us from going out to eat later! We went back to an old favourite, Thai restaurant Apsara. We had one of the set menus that is a real bargain, even when we upgraded the included wine to be a Blanquette de Limoux. Each course was fresh and delicious. And the ladies got a lovely change purse as a gift at the end.

Assortment of Thai desserts—and note the cool teapot

The next morning we spent more time wandering in the Old Town, as we’d previously been rushing through it.

 The afternoon we spent at the Québec Art Gallery, which has only modern and contemporary works. Our favourites were the Inuit sculptures, which were just amazing. The building was formerly a prison, and we also had a look at the old cells. Not big!

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One of the exhibits at the Quebec Art Gallery. (Photo by me, hence the blurri-ness.)

Our last dinner in Quebec, on a somewhat rainy evening, was at Le St. Amour. We’ve always loved Le St. Amour. It’s in this gorgeous, high-ceiling roomed with a sunroof. And the food is always amazing. It didn’t disappoint this time, either.

We started off the evening trying to work in French—French menus, speaking French to the waiters (an ongoing amusement of the trip was Québecois complimenting Jean on how good his French was, for an Ontario. Well, I hope so.). But we detected a bit of an anglo accent from one of our waiters—bit unusual in these parts—and it turned out he was originally Australian! And still had that accent in English.

L’amuse bouche at Le St. Amour. Or as they call it in English, the amuse bouche. (Food just sounds better in French.)

So he was happy to English-it-up with us, and then we were hopelessly back in English-land with everyone, with even the native Québec waiters. Oh well!

This part will come as a shock to you all, but I had the Québec Exquis special, while Jean ordered off the regular menu! For me this meant a main course of escargot and Jerusalem artichokes, a main course of duck, and a chocolate mousse-themed dessert.

Dessert

Jean started with foie gras, then had a lamb leg and ground lamb ravioli, and concluded with a cheese plate. We shared a bottle of Languedoc red, a Grenache-Syrah blend (no Mourvedre). With dessert I had a red banyuls (“a little French love letter to chocolate”, is how this wine is described) while Jean was recommended a sherry, which he enjoyed.

Cheese for dessert

A great capper to a very enjoyable visit. Our next stop on the way home was Ottawa.