Cultureguru's Weblog

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

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I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.

As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?

But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!

Stunned, I started the checkout process…

Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.

Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)

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Bright spots in December (other than the obvious one)

The Christmas vacation post is coming, but Jean hasn’t had a chance to select and process the Christmas photos yet. So in the meantime, here’s a list of items that brightened the per-Christmas period for me this year.

Gel eyeliner

I’m a makeup girl. (Woman. Whatever.) I never wear perfume, I rarely bother with nail polish, and I don’t like spending much time styling my hair. But makeup, I find fun. It seems worth than 10 or so minutes lalmost every day.

But eyeliner has always been tricky. Liquid eyeliner is too dramatic for day use. And hard to apply corectly for night use. Pencil eyeliners are easy to apply but often result in a rather pale line that usually smudges during the day, producing that terrific raccoon eyes effect.


Fortunately it rarely got this bad, but still… (photo from the Huffington Post)

I don’t know why I’m only learning this now, but makeup artists prefer gel or cream eyeliners—the kind that comes in a little pot. Having a good brush is vital, but with that, these eyeliners are pretty easy to apply. And they don’t set immediately, so if you don’t get it quite right, it’s easy to fix. And best of all, once you are happy with the results, it will set and stay with no smudging for the whole day. The line is distinct, but not as harsh as with liquid eyeliners. I love this stuff.

The brand I got was Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Gel Eyeliner in Stay Coffee colour. From The Bay. The brush that comes with it is fairly useless, but with a better one (that I already owned), the product itself is excellent.


T-shirt bra

The ThirdLove bra company advertised fairly heavily in the Washington Post this year, til I finally got intrigued. “Discover your best-fitting bra in 60 seconds.” No tape measure required. You just had to answer a series of questions about your breast shape and current bra-fitting issues.

Maybe other people have better mental self-image, but for me this took more than 60 seconds because I kept having to run from PC to the bathroom mirror to see which little breast diagram best reflected my shape and whether my current bra rode up or gapped. But it’s true I didn’t have to use a tape measure.


Nor, fortunately, were any of these sorts of calisthenics required

Having completed the questions, I tried to take ThirdLove up on their “try free for 30 days” offer, but it didn’t apply to Canada, so I abandoned the effort. Only to then be emailed me and offered a discount. I then went ahead with an order, that was promptly charged to my card.

Some days later I realized I had yet to receive a shipping notification, which seemed odd. Some days more after that, they did email again say there was some issue with my order, but that it would come eventually. And also here’s another discount for my next order. Then there was more radio silence, with the added small aggravation that every time I visited their website to try to figure out what was going on, they’d email trying to get me to buy another bra!

So I was a bit predisposed to be skeptical of their product when it finally did arrive, but damn if it isn’t the best-fitting, most comfortable bra I’ve ever had.

BBC Live Aid documentary

Lo these many years later, I retain fond memories of the 1985 Live Aid concert. It was organized by a singer I really liked (Bob Geldof); my favourite band, Queen, were the stars of the day; and it featured so many other artists I also like (The Who, U2, George Michael, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The Boomtown Rats…). And all for a good cause!

So I was pretty excited when YouTube coughed up this recommendation:


I also found this buried in a drawer!

Though produced in 2011 or so, I had never heard of this Live Aid: Against All Odds documentary—a hazard of not living in the UK, I suppose. Being 3 hours long (there’s a Part 2 as well), I had to wait a bit to start it—because once I did, I predictably didn’t want to stop.

I’ve watched other documentaries on Live Aid, I’ve read books and magazines, but still, I learned more from this one. Like just how demented and troublesome a figure Bill Graham was. And that the hosts on the BBC side had never done anything on this scale before and were petrified. There’s also considerable time spent on the degree to which Midge Ure (co-writer of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) was overshadowed by Bob Geldof—though Midge refuses to go into an all-out rant about it. (“That’s just Bob.”)

Definitely recommended viewing to anyone else who looks back on that day fondly.

Yoga mat and blender parts

These things are so prosaic, but still…

mat_group_sweep-COLOURFixMy old yoga mat was basically disintegrating. I was looking to add an item to an online order to get free shipping. I saw they sold yoga mats at what seemed a reasonable price, so I threw that in.

I guess I hadn’t particularly realized that, like anything else, some yoga mats are better than others. This yoga mat is just better than any I’ve had before (though admittedly, the “before” are all cheapie Canadian Tire ones). It’s thicker. It’s “stickier”. It just feels better to stand on. It’s the Halfmoon Studio yoga mat.

(Also, did you know you can clean yoga mats in the washing machine? Cold water, delicate cycle, hang to dry. Works great, no manual scrubbing.)

brevilleAs for the blender parts, I was just glad those were so easy to buy. I used to have Cuisinart blenders. The units worked great, but eventually the bowl or the lid would break, crack, chip—somehow become unusable. And Cuisinart just made it really difficult to buy replacements (at least at the time). Hard to find, expensive… Once I bought a whole new unit just to be able to use the parts with my previous unit.

Now I have a Breville. For which I needed a new small bowl and lid before the cracks spread to the point of making them unusable. Remarkably, all I had to do was go to their website and order those two parts, which were then shipped to my house. Imagine!


This Netflix series has been out for a while, but it was December viewing for us. Set in the 1980s, it’s about a group of women cast as wrestlers for a television series. Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) is the main character we follow through, but all the women get some time in the spotlight. Marc Maron plays the failed B movie director Sam Silvia, hired by rich-boy wrestling fan Chris Lowell to direct the show. All the actors are really strong.

I’m no kind of wrestling fan, but I still enjoyed the pace, drama, and humour of this women-focused series (as did Jean). I even gained some appreciation of wrestling. And as a bonus, it also has a great 80s soundtrack.



Anniversary playlist

Wedding anniversary celebrations aren’t until later in the year, but since one has to plan ahead for those things, it’s consuming some mind-space now. One detail I’ve pondered is whether we can play our own music during dinner in the restaurant space we’ve rented. I’m guessing no, but if we could, I wouldn’t have to spend time creating the playlist.

Many years ago I made Jean a mixed CD sort of thing (back when one still did that sort of thing) of songs that reminded me of him / us. Since then I’ve continued to add to it when so inspired. (That being one of those things I do—maintain lists of stuff.)

Since it might not actually get played, I thought I would at least share it:

Anniversary playlist (Google music)

The list reflects different stages of our relationship.

In the beginning

Songs like Bob Geldof’s “Dazzled by You” and Alanis Morissette’s “Head over Feet” cover the wonder of new relationships. But I think the one that best captures our specific “I now see you in a different way” encounter at a dance bar is Madonna’s “Crazy for You”.

“We’re so close but still a world away / What I’m dying to say / Is that I’m crazy for you”

(Young love. It’s so wonderfully sappy.)

As for our first date, this is best summed up by a recent addition—“Satisfied” from Hamilton. It really captures that amazing rush when a conversation clicks so well.

“So so so— / So this is what it feels like to match wits / With someone at your level! … The feeling of freedom, of seein’ the light / It’s Ben Franklin with a key and a kite! You see it, right? … Ev’rything we said in total agreement, it’s / A dream and it’s a bit of a dance / A bit of a posture, it’s a bit of a stance. He’s a / Bit of a flirt, but I’m ‘a give it a chance”

(… Even though it didn’t actually work out for Alexander and Angelika. They’ll never be satisfied.)

Let’s not rush things

We were kind of young when we met. We dated for two years before moving in together, and another two before marrying. Carly Rae Jepsen’s “The One” definitely captures that “everything is fine, but don’t rush me” feeling of the earlier years.

“If you want to / You can stay the night / I don’t want to be the one, the one / It’s too much pressure”

We’re one, but we’re not the same

We are rather different personalities, and that required some adjustment, as expressed in, yes, U2’s “One” (though I think that might actually be about a relationship with God) as well Joe Jackson’s “Breaking Us in Two” and even Bruce Springsteen’s “Brilliant Disguise” (really a divorce song).

“You don’t do the things that I do / You want to do things I can’t do”

Secure in love

But there’s a lot more of these types of songs, among them “Automatic” by Prince, “Don’t Get Me Wrong” by The Pretenders, “You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac, “As Sure as I Am” by Crowded House, “Je savoure ton amour” by Swing, and the beautiful “Lost Together” by Blue Rodeo.

“I want all the world to know / That your love’s all I need”

Which doesn’t mean it’s boring

Come to think of it, maybe “Automatic” by Prince belongs in this category, but Sade is truly the queen of the naughty but lovely love song.

Your Love Is King: “You’re making me dance… Inside

It’s been a long time but it’s still great

“Still the One” by Shania Twain should be the ultimate of these songs, but it’s kind of ruined by knowing how her marriage to “Mutt” Lange actually ended up. Similar issue with Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are”, written for the wife he left he left for Christie Brinkley (and which didn’t even make the list).

But those Beatles guys were really into their wives. (The second wives, anyway, in most cases.) Paul McCartney wrote “Maybe I’m Amazed” about Linda. John Lennon has a bunch of great Yoko-inspired songs: “Woman”, “Grow Old with Me”, and my favourite, “Out the Blue”. And Sting, though he’s a bit intellectual about it, also has the lovely (and presumably Trudie-inspired) “Straight to My Heart”.

The actual ultimate of these, I think, is “You’re My Best Friend”, by Queen’s John Deacon, who to this day still with wife #1.

“You’re the best friend / That I ever had / I been with you such a long time / You’re my sunshine … You make me live”

Unconditional love

The problem with this playlist is that a lot of the songs do make me uncomfortably emotional, none more so than “Everything” by Alanis Morissette.

“And you’re still here”. Jesus, it kills me every time.

Distinctly unsentimental

Still, it’s not just as an emotional breather that songs like Tim Minchin’s “Confessions (in three parts”, the “Bones Theme” by Crystal Method, and Spirit of the West’s “Home for a Rest” are included as well. But I’ll leave you to ponder just why they’re included.

“I’ve been gone for a week / I’ve been drunk since I left”



Rock of ages

At a recent dinner with friends, the opinion came up again that aging rock bands should just give it up, already, by age 60. This is a pretty popular opinion, with a long history (starting with the rock stars themselves, who once viewed anyone over 30 with suspicion). I once thought that way myself.

But I’ve changed my mind. For one thing, it is a pretty obnoxious opinion: Just because you don’t want to see older performers, everyone else should also be denied the experience? Musicians can’t decide for themselves how best to handle their own legacy? But beyond manners (and ageism), my own concert experience tells me it’s wrong. I dispute the notion that younger rock performers are always better than older ones.

Musical ability doesn’t disappear on one’s 60th birthday.

Barring a physical condition that affects manual dexterity, it doesn’t necessarily even decline for guitarists, bass players, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers.

Case in point: Queen. On his current tour, Brian May (67) feels he is playing better than he ever has. Certainly he sounds great to me. And while I’m no guitar expert, Brian May is, so I’m going to trust his opinion on this. (He is very smart, after all, what with the PhD in astrophysics.)

Brian’s opinion of bandmate Roger Taylor.(65) is equally high. Can Roger’s playing stand up to that of a younger’s player’s? You judge for yourself as Roger faces off with Rufus (his son):

Taylor on Taylor drum battle

What’s that sputtering I hear? That Queen doesn’t count because they tour with amazing singer Adam Lambert, who is only 33?

So this argument isn’t about guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, horn players, and drummers? It’s just about singers. Singers need to retire at 60?

Well, I do grant that everyone’s voice changes as they get older. It lowers, range is reduced, along with ability to sustain notes. It might become more raspy. However…

For some singers, the changes of age are an improvement.

And here I give you, Leonard Cohen, who is 80! And to me — though I love his songs — his own original recordings of them, recorded when he was young, are completely unlistenable. To me, that voice is awful, whiny, nasal.

Yet it has matured into this amazing thing, this low rumble of pure… sex, frankly. I could listen to that man all day (and go home with him later).

Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man (Leonard is admittedly just a child of 75 here.)

Is that more sputtering? That Leonard Cohen doesn’t so much sing as chant, and that his music is not rock, anyway, so that doesn’t count?

For some rock singers, voice quality is irrelevant, because they never had any.

Like, say, Bob Geldof, who is most definitely a rock performer. He can hit the notes, but nobody in the history of the world has ever said he has a beautiful voice, because he doesn’t. It’s sort of nasal and whiny (and come to think of it, if he ever sang Leonard Cohen, I would probably hate it).

So his musical career (still going!) has never been based on vocal quality. He’s an incredible songwriter. He’s an unbelievably charismatic performer. I love his songs despite his lacking vocal tone, because the lyrics are amazing, they are musically well constructed, he works with talented musicians, and he always sings with passion and meaning.

And Bob Geldof gives the best concerts I’ve ever seen. And the one he gave in 2012, when he was 60, was every bit as good as the one I went to in 2002. And just as good as Boomtown Rats shows from the 80s I’ve seen on DVD.

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Bob Geldof live in 2012, Ottawa (Mudslide)

Even great rock singers don’t necessarily and always give their best concerts at a younger age

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Who. Unlike Cohen, or Geldof, Roger Daltrey had a great voice as a young man: powerful and with huge range. He could sing high, beautiful, affecting emotional notes, then slide down the scale with the most macho growl. His vocal work on the 1973 Who album Quadrophenia could be used a lesson in “how to be a great rock singer.” And coming off the Tommy and Who’s Next tours, The Who were widely regarded as the very best live band in the world,

And yet, The Who Quadrophenia tour in 1973 was a disaster. In his biography, Pete Townshend calls those shows “the most shameful performances of our career.” Under-rehearsed, over-drugged (except Roger), and exhausted, they simply could not put the complex songs and stories of Quadrophenia across to the crowd. Audiences were bored and left unsatisfied.

In 2012, what remained of The Who toured Quadrophenia once again, performing the entire album. Roger was 70 (Pete 69). Some of the songs had to pitched down. He adjusted the phrasing to reduced ability to sustain. In terms of pure vocal technique, he wasn’t as good he was in 1973.

But nevertheless, by all accounts, those concerts were better than the 1973 ones (that I have seen footage of, and it is pretty painful). The band was large enough, sober enough, and well-rehearsed enough to convey the power and complexity of the album, now reconceived as a tribute to the past, and to The Who themselves. (And for me personally, I thought Roger sounded the best he had in years at the Quadrophenia show I saw. “Love Reign O’er Me” gave me chills.)

The Who: 5:15, 2012 tour

Rock is old (and middle-aged) people’s music.

This might be a painful realization, but rock is no longer the music of youth. It started in the 1950s and has had a great, long run. But who was the last big rock group–Foo Fighters? Founded in 1994? Look at the current charts;  it’s all pop, EDM, rap, funk, and R&B. Nobody young plays rock anymore!

If the old coots don’t get out there and play it, then rock really is dead, Are you sure that’s what you want?


Shaking up the Christmas playlist

I should warn that my Christmas playlist isn’t much of a traditional one to start with: The only Bing Crosby is a duet with David Bowie. The most frequently appearing orchestra is the one accompanying Brian Setzer on rockabilly takes of Christmas tunes. I have more versions of “Christmas” by The Who than “Silent Night”, by anybody.

Still, I can only take the playlist in small doses. I get sick of it! And lest you think that means I’m a Christmas curmudgeon, I would point out that my favorite Christmas song remains Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun”, with its “I really like Christmas!” sentiment. Because I do. But much of my favorite music could be characterized as loud or angsty rock. And that is pretty much the opposite of most Christmas music.

Still, the seasonal sound is nice on occasion through December (not every day!), and when else are you going to listen to most of this stuff? So it is nice to rejuvenate it with some additions. Some of which I thought might interest more than just me.

A lively take on tradition: “Joy to the World” by Earth, Wind, and Fire

I first heard this on CBC radio, and Google Play is currently giving it away for free. A completely original take and a welcome reminder that Christmas should be about joy. “Somebody clap your hands!”

Joy to the World by Earth, Wind, and Fire

The mashup: “Tommy’s Royal Christmas” by DJ Schmolli,

Nothing’s taking the place in my heart from Spiraling’s amazing mashup of “Do you hear what I hear” and The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, but I will say that this combination of Pete Townshend’s demo of The Who song ”Christmas” with Lorde’s “Royals” is pretty interesting.

Tommy’s Royal Christmas

A hilarious celebration of Christmas food: “La Tourtière” by La Bottine Souriante

There’s nothing about Christmas in this song, so you just have to know that French Canadians mainly eat la tourtière (meat pie) at Christmas time. The song is lively and danceable, and the lyrics—if you understand them—are hilarious.

La Tourtière by La Bottine Souriante

A song about another late-year holiday:  “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah” by The Barenaked Ladies

These guys give a wicked Christmas concert that I was privileged to see a couple years ago. This lively take on the Jewish holiday was the song that stood out for me, giving Adam Sandler’s “The Chaunukah Song” a run for its money as best non-Christmas Christmas song.

Hanukkah, Oh Hannukkha by The Barenaked Ladies

Inappropriately sexy: Mon Beau Sapin by Garou

“Mon Beau Sapin” is “O Christmas Tree” sung in French. This Garou version was an iTunes freebie. Is it just me, or does he sound unnaturally attached to this tree? Maybe he means it as a metaphor?

Mon Beau Sapin by Garou

A great singer at work: “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by “Glee Cast”

This song was used on episode of Glee, but except for the narration, the voice is all KD Lang. And I never get sick of that voice…

KD Lang sings You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

The great Christmas song that never was: “She’s Right on Time” by Billy Joel

Most modern Christmas pop songs are basically love songs set in December, with the singer wishing / bemoaning / celebrating that their loved one is or isn’t around. “She’s Right on Time” falls into that category, but seems to have slipped through the cracks of ever being treated as a Christmas single. Too bad; it’s an excellent song from Joel’s best album, The Nylon Curtain, in which he celebrates that his girlfriend has chosen to forgive his “far too many sins to mention” and return to him right at Christmas time: “I guess I should have known it; she’d find the perfect moment!” (I especially love that he spends most of the song running around getting the house in shape for her…)

She’s Right on Time by Billy Joel (I think this goofy video may not have helped this song…)

And, Band Aid 30 has released a new version of Do They Know It’s Christmas. Sure, the original was better, but this one is helping to raise money for the current Ebola crisis. You should get it. (Or, just donate to Médecins sans frontière.)

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Bob Geldof and the Great Pumpkin

The timing of our Ottawa vacation was actually determined by one Sir Bob Geldof, who was doing concerts in Eastern Canada for the first time in 9 years. Perversely, I suppose, we decided to see him play at the city farthest from our own. (But really, would you rather visit Hamilton, Oshawa… or Ottawa? Right?)

Now, I’ve already produced a rather long website review of the whole concert. This post will focus on a few points that made the concert really special.

Best seats in the house

Thanks to me contacting the theatre more or less the minute tickets went on sale, we were sitting in the very centre of the very first row, which the usher declared were the “Best seats in the house!”. Certainly was nice having no blocked view of the stage whatsoever. And when Bob did stroll to the front of the stage, he was really right in front of us.

And, it wasn’t a bad vantage point for taking pictures.

Bob Geldof and band

Closer view of Bob

Jean’s review

You know, I do bring my husband to many concerts of interest more to me. Sometimes he’s bored by them, sometimes he’s slightly mystified by them, sometimes he’s mildly entertained, and occasionally… He loves them.

At the end of this one, he had the biggest grin. His comments included:

  • That was really good!
  • He just made it so entertaining!

(I’m figuring, since he’s not the big, life-long fan, his opinion means more than mine.)

How do you think he does it? What makes him so good?

  1. The band is large—six musicians—and highly skilled. They convey Bob’s songs extremely well.
  2. The show, about two hours long, is very well programmed and paced. The hits interspersed amongst maybe lesser-known songs, light music to start leading to more thoughtful than to dark ones, and concluding with completely fun ones. It never lags, whether you know all the tunes or not.
  3. Bob is a really charismatic guy, and he really gets into the songs. You can’t take your eyes off him, and there’s no way to not get caught up in his passion.
  4. He is fascinating guy who has led (well, is leading) an incredible life. When he talks, it’s as interesting as when he sings.

Bob Geldof caught up in the moment

Mr. Chuckles

Geldof, of course, often deals with really serious issues of world poverty and whatnot, and therefore has a reputation of being an angry, grumpy guy. And maybe he is, but he’s also really funny. And he doesn’t trot out the same old jokes each time. No, the ones we heard were definitely customized for us.

  • Complaints that he thought he was playing the big city of Ottawa, but instead found himself miles from nowhere, on “Little House on the Prairie”. [Centrepointe Theatre, in Nepean, kind of is in the middle of nowhere, in fact…]
  • Amusement that the biggest highlight of the Ottawa Market was this 900 pound pumpkin on display.
  • A recurring trashing of the recently visited Oshawa, a city that apparently makes even Ottawa’s “little house on the prairie” look good.

Some set highlights

Our video of Mudslide, always a favorite of mine

  • Hearing some Boomtown Rats songs that aren’t as famous, and that he hadn’t played on the last tour, like “When the Night Comes” and “Joey’s on the Street again”.
  • Getting the backstory to “Scream in Vain”, which, on record, is an odd song about yams. It had its genesis in his return  to Ethiopia ten years after Live Aid, and finding lush fields where previously there was death, dust, and desert. And seeing that helped him start to get out of his own severe depression, from his wife leaving him. And then they played “Scream in Vain”, and it just came across so powerfully…
  • An astonishingly sexy, extended version of the lustful “Mary of Fourth Form”.

Age is just a number

Bob Geldof is 61 years old. So all these people commenting on “Oh, he looks so old, now”–well, he is old. Of course he doesn’t look 30 anymore. And, he’s just not the type to run to the Lady Clairol, so with that crazy shock of long, completely gray hair… Kind of looks like a mad professor, or something.

But his voice has lost nothing of its range and power. He can still cover that octave and a half of “I Don’t Like Mondays”, still “scream in vain” during some songs, and sing softly and gently during others. Rather nasal, it’s never been a beautiful voice, but he has sure does a lot with what he has.

He’s also very energetic during the entire show, bobbing in place at times, moving around the stage at others. He remains very lean, and apparently very fit.

And up close, with the crazy hair partly hidden under a hat, and smiling, he still looks pretty handsome.

Me and Bob

Final tip

If you ever do go see Bob Geldof in concert—as you should, before you die—you might want to stick around after. He’s often nice enough to come out and meet with fans. Or so I hear.

More photos in SmugMug Gallery

Full review on website: Bob Geldof live in Ottawa

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A capital time

Our fall trip was cut down from its usual week to a couple days (four with the weekend), but we made the most of it by leaving Friday afternoon, and staying in Ottawa until Tuesday afternoon. On both trips, we stopped for dinner in the Toronto-ish area around rush hour time, thereby successfully avoiding traffic tie-ups. The worst we experienced was just trying to get out of Kitchener Friday afternoon!

In Ottawa, we did our usuals of enjoying some of the city’s finer restaurants, visiting museums, walking around the parks, and shopping in the Market and other areas. But two things made this year’s trip specially special. The first was that we followed up on an idea from last year’s high school reunion and met up with friends there! And that was a total hoot.

The second I’ll get back to later.

When we first arrived in Ottawa, it was just the two of us for lunch. We were staying in a hotel right by the Market, so that’s where we headed. Jean recalled that we had really enjoyed Play Food and Wine last time we were in Ottawa, so we found that place again. They offer small plates, each optionally matched with a 3 or 6 oz glass of wine—two things we love (the small plates and the wine matching, that is).

Dining at Play Food and Wine

I started with a nice pumpkin salad with goat cheese and cinnamon tempura (!), served with a really good red blend from Organized Crime winery (want to seek that wine out), while Jean had excellent seared trout, served with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. My next course, pictured, was pasta with littleneck clams, served with a Gruner Veltliner (from Austria, of course). Jean had the gnochi served with sage and mushrooms, accompanied by a New Zealond Pinot Noir (Appleby Lane).

And we finished by sharing a cheese plate, me with a French muscat, while Jean had an Ontario late harvest. Everything was very good. We sat upstairs this time, and still found the atmosphere quite nice, with good service.

It had been sunny when we arrived, but started to cloud over in the afternoon. It was still pretty nice, though, so we walked around, and Jean took some photos.

Long view of Ottawa

Long view of Parliament

Outside the War Museum

Outside the War Museum

City art

City art

That night, for dinner, was our first occasion for meeting up with friends. Sylvie and Paul had driven up from Timmins that day. They had suggested we try Sidedoor. Saturday ended up being the only night that worked for that, and we couldn’t get reservations until 8:30 pm!

This turned out to be another “small plate” kind of place, but not with wine matching this time. We ordered a variety of items for sharing: fried tofu with veggies, buttered lobster tacos, tuna sashimi, sockeye salmon seviche with coconut, shrimp dumplings, pan-roasted duck, chicken in chili sauce. And steamed rice. We went with a bottle of Spanish tempranillo for the lot, and that worked pretty well.

Dining at Sidedoor

Not sure what the drunken angle is about, but does indicate the variety of dishes being shared…

The food was, in general, very nice. Sylvie and Paul voted for the salmon and tofu as their faves; Jean and I were more inclined to the tuna and dumplings. But it was all worth eating. We didn’t order dessert, but we did all have ports to finish.

The place was… lively. It was reasonably sedate when we first arrived, but not long after, an entire wedding party showed up, and in no time, every seat in the place was filled. Mostly with people younger than us, which tends to be unusual, for your higher-end dining places. It made for conversation at our table a bit challenging; I had to fill Jean in after on some of the items Sylvie and I had discussed.

Sunday started out drizzly and was predicted to just get more rainy, so we decided this would be a good day to use our pre-purchased tickets to the Museum of Civilization. Jean had been there before, and I thought I had as well, but I soon concluded it was my first visit. It was quite interesting, especially the Canada Pavilion, where you are really immersed into Canadian history, east to west, old to new.

Native sculpture at Museum of Civilization

Part of the Native display at the museum (and cool photo)

We had lunch at the museum, and that was pretty good. I convinced Jean that a one-course lunch would suffice; I had fish, he had duck, with the matching wines (where available). And we concluded with cappuccino.

Though we had considered walking to the museum, we finally chose to drive. This proved a good decision as it was raining harder by the time we were ready to leave. So we took the car to some more distant driving locations, such as MEC, and did some shopping there before returning to the hotel.

Dinner that night was at Murray Street. We were meeting with Sylvie and Paul again, but also with MJ and Michel. (We were also supposed to meet with Jacinthe, but she had to back out due to a badly timed asthma flare up.) Where we had seen Sylvie and Paul semi-regularly over the years, this was our first extended visit with MJ and Michel in a long time. We had a great evening! Though a pretty casual spot, the sound level at Murray Street made conversation much easier than at Sidedoor, and there was much merriment over our plates and individual glasses of wine or beer.

Dining at Murray Street

We’re back to drunken angles…

Despite the one-course lunch, given that Murray Street has pretty hearty food, I decided to go with two appetizers as my meal: A Po Boy of fried oysters (don’t always like cooked oysters, but these worked), with a sparkling Ontario wine; and a B, B, and J: Beets, butter and… I don’t know what the J is, actually, but it came with fried cheese. I had a red with that. Jean had an appetizer—I don’t remember what—then, as shown in the photo foreground, the duck leg confit with lentils.

I was the only one with room left enough for dessert, which was a take-off on s’mores, with graham, chocolate mousse, and marshmallow. Very good! And, most of us had port to finish. (Apparently Jean and I are quite the port pushers.)

Monday cleared up some again. We were meeting Sylvie and Paul for lunch, so we did some walking in the morning, and Jean got a few more photos.

The Unknown Soldier

The Unknown Soldier

Lunch was at Whalesbone, on Bank. It is a seafood place in general, but especially known for oysters. It’s small, with a really cool, casual atmosphere. A good place for our final “with friends” meal.

We’d had breakfast at Dunn’s Deli again, where it’s hard to get a really small breakfast, so we weren’t starved for our 12 noon lunch. Jean decided to have just the 18 oysters, but with willingness to share with me. I went for the Nicoise salad, which Jean also helped me with. We had a half liter of a white wine he recommend, that was really good with oysters—but I can’t remember what it was. But I do remember there were three types of oysters, one from BC (the biggest and meatiest; our favorite) and two types from the East Coast. They also had a variety of dipping sauces available, including Scotch! (We still don’t like Scotch.)

Oysters at Whalesbone

The coolest picture of oysters ever!

The salad Nicoise was also very nice. Paul had that as well. Sylvie went for the fish and chips, and reported that was good. Certainly looked like it.

Monday afternoon we did a bit more Market-ing. We had an early, fairly light (and wine-less!) dinner at a Thai restaurant across from Murray Street that was perfectly fine.

And then we were off to the Bob Geldof concert. Which was the second thing that made this trip special. But I’ll report on that part separately.

More photos in the SmugMug Gallery.

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On being a fan of Bob Geldof’s music

Apparently it’s quite weird that I want to go see Bob Geldof in concert. (For the third time, no less.) People seem to find it as strange as if I said–I don’t know–that I had tickets to see Bill Clinton. Play saxophone.

In that, it’s not as if Bob Geldof isn’t famous. He’s the Live Aid guy; the one who gets interviewed about African issues; who is an occasional guest editor of national newspapers; who won the knighthood decades before Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bono, and Mick Jagger did; and who is the father of all those girls with weird names (Pixie, Fifi, Tigerlilly, Peaches…).

It’s just that he’s no longer thought of as a musician.

A friend of mine kind of summed up what the world thinks: “Really interesting guy. But I don’t like his music.”

To which I say, Oh, really?

Because it appears to me that most North Americans know exactly two Bob Geldof songs:

  1. I Don’t Like Mondays
  2. Do They Know It’s Christmas?

And that they love both of them. One is the prototypical 1980s song; the other one the prototypical pop Christmas song. When Electric Thursdays does 80s music; “Mondays” is the big encore everybody is thrilled about. At their Christmas concert? Yes, the Band Aid song gains the standing ovation at the end.

I heard this song first via this video–on TV Ontario, of all things

But people have no idea what else Bob Geldof has done (musically).

So this is how I became a fan.

I stuck with The Boomtown Rats longer than most

This seems largely forgotten now, but everywhere except the US (where, thanks to “Mondays” getting banned, the Rats weren’t even a one-hit wonder), the Boomtown Rats were a very popular band in their time. They spent 123 weeks on the UK charts, including two songs at number one (the other being “Rat Trap”). In Canada, they played hockey arenas, and appeared on SCTV.

I became a fan of the Rats the same way everyone else did—after I heard “I Don’t Like Mondays”. It’s just that I stuck with them longer than most. I was not deterred by the “world music” sounds of Mondo Bongo (the album after the “Mondays” one), nor the dark themes permeating the amazing V Deep, VI Shallow. Judging by sales figures, others were a little put off by this. But I remained a fan to the end (that being the sixth and last album, In the Long Grass.)

One of my favorite songs from V Deep VI Shallow: Talking in Code, live

I saw Bob Geldof live

Bob’s first solo album, Deep in the Heart of Nowhere, in wake of Live Aid and all, was something of a success, with the hit single, “This Is the World Calling”. I got that at the time (my favorite song was “Pulled Apart by Horses”), but honestly, like most people, I then lost track of his musical career. “The Great Song of Indifference” was a big hit most places, but Canada followed the States in ignoring it.

A live version of The Great Song of Indifference

So when I went see him in concert in 2002, it was mostly due to Boomtown Rats nostalgia. And he did a reasonable sampling of those tunes, but also quite a few from the solos albums I had missed, and therefore didn’t know: the Irish jig-infused Vegetarians of Love and The Happy Club.

The fun My Hippie Angel, from The Happy Club

But no matter: I loved the show. As I wrote at the time, it was–and remains–one the best I’ve ever seen.

I bought all his solo albums

After that show, I picked up the two albums I’d missed, and I listened more to the one I’d picked up shortly before the show: Sex, Age, and Death. It would prove to become one of my favorite albums by anyone, ever.

One for Me by Bob Geldof, clearly inspired by now late but then merely former Mrs. Geldof, Paula Yates

And when his new one, the hilariously titled How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell came out last year, I bought that. It’s quite varied in style, but consistent in high quality.

Why I’m fan

It’s pretty simple, really. I’m a fan of music of Bob Geldof’s music because I listen to it.

You are not a fan only because you do not listen to it. It is not played on radio, it is no longer a big hit, you have seek it out.

If more people listened to it,  more would like it. Not everyone, obviously, but more. His tunes are catchy. They have intelligent lyrics. His band is fantastic. There’s plenty to like. (And Ontarians, please note: You have an exceedingly rare opportunity this week and next week to see him play live, in Hamilton, St. Catharines, Oshawa, Ottawa, and Brockville. They’re small venues, not expensive, and if it’s anything like the two shows of his I’ve seen, you won’t regret it.)

Closing out with Bob’s life in song, in the amusing hidden track from his latest album, Young and Sober. “In the year of 75, that’s when I sang myself alive.”


White Wine in the Sun

Today was “our” Christmas celebration, in advance of events with the extended family on the actual days.

As a result, it seemed apropos to play the “Christmas” playlist. (Particularly as I received a new iPod dock I had to try out.) But though all 82 songs are self-selected and heavy on the non-traditional, I gotta say that it’s just not my favorite type of music.

However, there are a few stand-outs.

* Sting’s “Gabriel’s Message”, a simply gorgeous song proving that not all rock star Christmas songs for charity have to suck.
* The Kink’s ”Father Christmas”, a somewhat dark yet catchy tune, that unfortunately seems timely: A poor kid just wants cash for Christmas, or “give my Dad a job ’cause he needs one.” All those toys? Gives them to the little rich boys.
* Adam Sandler’s Hanukuah Song which, OK, isn’t about Christmas at all. But though I’ve heard all the jokes in it many times before, it still makes me laugh. “OJ Simpson… Not a Jew!”
Do They Know it’s Christmas? Truly the weirdest set of lyrics ever penned by an atheist, and ones I’m sure Geldof, now an expert on Africa (as he wasn’t then), must wince over. Still, too many good memories around this song. And I love its jingly-jangly sound.
* Last year’s YouTube discovery, Spiraling’s mash-up of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”, producing the most awesome guitar riff in a Christmas song ever.

And this year’s YouTube discovery, courtesy of @eoutwater of the KW Symphony: Tim Michen’s “White Wine in the Sun”. Lovely, funny, and true, Minchen’s explains his fondness for Christmas despite his reservations about “the commercialization of an ancient religion, the Westernization of a dead Palestinian”. But you get to be with your family in a relaxed state, and that’s what it’s all about. 5 stars.

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How to Compose Popular Songs That Will Sell

No, I can’t tell you how to do that. Trust me, if I could compose popular songs that would sell, I wouldn’t be toiling away in the tech industry. Just like Hugh Grant in About a Boy, I’d be living a life of leisure paid for by my song royalties, all cool toys and artfully tousled hair.

Another person who doesn’t feel he really knows how to compose popular songs that will sell is Bob Geldof, who therefore mockingly uses that as the title of his new album. Now much better known for his ongoing humanitarian work with Africa (Live Aid and all all that), as a musician he’s mostly remembered for one song: 1980s “I Don’t Like Mondays.” (Mind, if you’re only going to be remembered for one song, that’s a really excellent one to be associated with.)

It’s not entirely correct that’s been his only success. Particularly in the UK, the Boomtown Rats had numerous top 40 (and other number 1) hits, and even as a solo artist, “This Is the World Calling” and “The Great Song of Indifference” were pretty big hits. Not to mention his being the cowriter of everyone’s favorite rock Christmas song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?

He is a rich man, but the fact is, that’s more from his TV productions (did you know he created Survivor?) and other business holdings than from song royalties. He loves making music but, he says, doesn’t feel comfortable trying to sell it.

So the title is amusing, and apt, and layered in meaning. But is it any good? Well I think so. I’d say it’s better than any of his other solo albums, other than Sex, Age, and Death. Geldof calls this new album the companion to that one. That one, written as he emerged from a deep depression brought on by his marriage ending, was very dark, deeply personal, and hauntingly intense. This one, written as he amazes in the restorative power of love in second marriage, is much brighter, still fairly personal, and incredibly varied in musical styles (including a couple hauntingly intense numbers).

A lot of the songs are pretty catchy. There aren’t any I don’t like. I already love “She’s a Lover” and the hidden track at the end, “Young and Sober”, which synopsizes his entire life in an amusing three minutes. So will it sell? Unlikely, given the decline of album sales in the music industry as a whole. But the mighty few who find their way to this record won’t be disappointed, I don’t think.

PS Excellent 15-minute documentary about Bob Geldof, the musician, then and now: