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


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Christmas 2017

The Christmas season started with a lot of dancing. Mid-December, our dance class event in community centre gym was very well-attended. For Jean and I, it was one of those nights where our dancing was just clicking and we were able to move around the floor with ease. (Which we could bottle that.) We also enjoyed the music choices (our dance instructor played DJ), which included a slow-fox version of Prince’s “Purple Rain” and a strict-tempo jive of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

The following night was a fancier dinner/dance at The Victorian Park Pavilion, which is a beautiful venue. We forgot to request seating with people we knew, though the people we ended up with were fine—until one lady started bending Jean’s ear about the wonders of raw-food veganism, or some such.

The meal served was not raw-food vegan, though, but a traditional turkey dinner—and quite good, particularly considering the $35 per person fee. No booze on offer, though! Since we couldn’t bottle it, our dancing didn’t click quite as well that night. Music was a bit more “traditional” as well. But still a nice night out overall.

Finally on this theme, one couple in our dance class hosted a house party that did not feature dancing, but was still a very enjoyable evening of food and conversation. Amazing what these dance classes have done for our social life.


Jean and I did not do a gift exchange with each other this year—though a few new kitchen gadgets still trickled in, as Jean had planned ahead in case, and figured we needed them anyway. But we did do a Christmas dinner à deux, featuring roast duck, wasabi mashed potatoes, broccoli with tahini, and cranberry-pear sauce. Served with a nice California Pinot noir. Then, sugar pie for dessert.

Though we haven’t had the greatest luck with Christmas air travel in the past, we decided to book flights to Timmins this year. Our departure was set for 11 pm the night of December 21—we thought that the airport would be less busy at that time. I had that day off, but Jean was working. Or, he was until about 10 am. At that point he called me to come pick him up at the office, as he was experiencing the serious low back and abdominal pain that indicated kidney stones.

At home, he sat in the tub and drank tea until the worst of it passed. It would still be a few more days, though, until he really felt right again.

It was snowing, and Christmas, so we allowed for a lot of time to get to the airport and check our baggage. Everything went really well, though, so we had a lot of time to wait. At least I got plenty of reading done.

We boarded the plane pretty much on time, but then had to wait in a lineup on the runway for de-icing, for what turned out to be an hour. After about 45 minutes I finally turned airplane mode off on my phone so I could email Dad that we were still in Toronto, so maybe he didn’t want to wait up for us. He agreed that he didn’t.

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Ornament from Dad’s tree

Timmins was nippy when we arrived, but our rental car was already running and setting out front of the airport exit. (And boy was the rental guy happy to see us. We were his last customers, at about 1:30 am, and he’d started at 7 am that day.) Dad didn’t even hear us arrive; the next morning, he wondered if we even had, until he noticed that the guest bedroom door was closed.

Friday and Saturday were pretty mellow, partly because Jean still wasn’t feeling up to snuff yet. We did visit with his Mom, of course, and saw some of his other siblings at her house. And Neal and Sarah-Simone came over to Dad’s for a visit on Saturday. We also tested out the Skype connection with Joanne and Jon ahead of Christmas morning, and ran an errand at the LCBO (booze store, for non-Ontarians). But that was about all the excitement.

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Though this might have provided some excitement, had Dad’s brownies actually contained the ingredient suggested on the lid! (Hilarously, Dad stores his homebaked brownies in a container that previously contained hemp products.)

Christmas Eve morning Michelle, Jackson, and John arrived—Hugh decided to stay in Toronto for the Macphie family Christmas this year. That livened up the house a bit. And in the afternoon we paid a visit to our friends Paul and Sylvie, which is always nice. We got tales of their new cottage, and Jean and Sylvie exchanged photography tips that Paul and I pretended to understand.

We had a nice salmon Christmas Eve dinner at Dad’s that night, then they went to church while we got ourselves (eventually; we did get a bit lost) to my cousin’s for Réveillon #1. Fewer people in attendance this year; my uncle Gilles, for one, was not feeling up to going. But that made for a nice opportunity to talk to those that were there—my cousins, their kids, and their kid’s kids, and my aunt and uncle.

We did have to leave before the game portion of the evening to get to Réveillon #2, at the Lefebvre’s. And now I have to apologize because Jean was kept so busy at this event—first playing Santa to hand out the kids’s gifts, then reciting the left/right story for the random gift exchange—that he didn’t take any pictures. And it just didn’t occur to me to do that instead.

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Ornament from Jean’s Mom’s tree. Not taken on Christmas Eve.

And this year’s gift theme was hats, so that would have made for a lot of amusing photos! Jean, for one, got right into it and provided a whole collection of ridiculous hats: a poop emoji mask, three pucks in a nylons (a hat trick! Think about it), and so on. I supplied this book:

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Which did greatly amuse the recipient, niece Natasha.

A large-format version of the following photo from our anniversary party was provided as a family Christmas gift to Jean’s Mom.

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The Lefebvre family (with part of the McNair family in the background)

The McNair Christmas gift exchange was still the stealing game, but with a couple differences this year: The price limit was set at $30, and the number of gifts to be bought was divided up such that Neal and Michelle didn’t have to buy extra just because they had kids. So each family bought three and Dad bought two, and that covered everyone…

(Except that Michelle was so busy she didn’t quite read all the rules, so she caught the $30 limit but not the fact that she didn’t have to buy as many as item, so we had a couple extras, but that’s OK.)

So we Skyped in Joanne and Jon for the whole thing. Jackson got Hugh in on Facebook on his phone, but only as required—that is, only when Hugh had to pick or was involved in a steal. Otherwise Jackson would just hang up on him. This turned out pretty funny, because I don’t think anyone was involved in more steals than Hugh! So he kept have to be reconnected and then brought up to speed on what exciting new items had arrived since he had last been with us.

The most laughs, though, were courtesy of Jean’s contribution, a leftover ridiculous hat.

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Jackson modelling the hat along with a VR headset, another contributed item

Also somewhat amusing was that Thérèse had accidentally grabbed an individualized gift (slippers for her grandmother) instead of one for the exchange. So we had to imaginarily include what was intended.

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Isaac with his “invisible” hammock

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Some of the kids, mid-play

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Caleb’s cozy gift ends up with Michelle

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And there were a few “Godchildren” gifts to hand out at the end

That afternoon, the temperature hadn’t quite plunged to the depths it was about to in the coming days, so we finally got outside. The snowshoe trails weren’t open at the Ski Club (not enough snow!) so we just walked on Carium Road.

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Outside!

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Winter wonderland, I guess?

The rest of the afternoon was mostly about food prep. Late afternoon Jean headed to the Lefebvre family dinner. Happily, Gilles had recovered enough to join the McNair supper, along with Terrie.

After dinner and cleanup, we played a game of Telestrations, which was one of the items Jean and I had contributed to the McNair gift exchange. It’s like the telephone game, except that you had to draw what the word was and then the next person had to guess what you had drawn. Very simple, but absolutely hilarious, some of the results. (Though should be noted that Neal’s family has enough talented artists that a number of items got through 8 people successfully.)

Boxing Day we were scheduled to fly out at 10:20 am; Jean had to work on the 27th. All seemed good as we boarded the plane and took off on schedule. It didn’t seem we were elevating as much as usual, and drink service seemed a bit slow, but I didn’t think too much of that until the captain came on and said: “I’m sorry for what I’m about to tell you.”

There was a mechanical problem with the plane. The good news was, we weren’t all about to die. The bad news was, we had to fly back to Timmins. The wheels of the airplane weren’t elevating into the plane as they needed to. The drag that caused on the plane meant there wasn’t enough fuel to get us to Toronto.

Then it was a waiting game. They did first try to see if the plane’s problems could quickly be repaired, but that turned out to be a no, and then it was flight cancellation and rebooking time. We recalled that we had purchased On My Way travel assistance for this flight, which was supposed to give us priority in being rebooked. When we called that number, and they suggested that we should be able to get on the 4:00 pm flight that day, but weren’t able to do that immediately as the flight was “frozen” while all passengers were processed. When we finally got our rebooking email, though, had us on a 5:20 am (AM!) flight the next day. We called again, and they said there was nothing they could do.

So we’re following up with Air Canada about that.

Meanwhile, we took a taxi back to Dad’s (who then had to dash out to the grocery to get more food for his now larger number of dinner guests). One upside is that it did give me a chance to visit with my Aunt Irene, who is 88, and my cousin Monique and daughter Simone. They dropped by at Dad’s on their way to bringing Simone to the airport. It was also nice having more time with Dad, Michelle, Jackson, and John. And the lasagna dinner was very delicious.

Getting up at 3:00 am for our next flight was less delicious, particularly as it was -35C at that point, but we did it. Dad very kindly drove us to the airport at 4:00 am. And yes, that flight took off in time, and managed to get all the way to Toronto. Where it had snowed considerably and was pretty darn chilly!

Wishing everyone a happy new year.


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Where’s Waldo: Symphonic dancing edition

Last weekend we to a reprise of the KW Symphony “Dancing through the decades” concert. At this show, they open up a dance floor in front of the stage for the use of those in the audience who are inspired to move. Once again, it was great fun—even though they move quickly from the slow fox / jive / disco era to the modern “what is this beat?” time.

The Symphony posted a (somewhat fuzzy) video of the event on their Instagram. Jean and I are in it. Can you spot us?

Answer to follow.

 

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A “smart” Dirty Dancing?

When I was describing weekend plans to go see the musical Strictly Ballroom in Toronto, a friend asked if it was like a smart Dirty Dancing.

Must say that I’ve never thought of Strictly Ballroom as such. Or spent much time comparing those two movies.

But it is true that they have the same basic plot line: Hunky male dance instructor teaches promising if slightly gawky young woman (from a different background) to dance, and they fall in love.

So how do they differ? I’m not so sure it’s on IQ points.

1. Point of view

Dirty Dancing is Baby’s story. It’s about her coming of age. It’s directed by a woman, and we see most everything from her perspective. Johnny is there to support her narrative.

Whereas Strictly Ballroom is about Scott. It’s about him breaking free of family expectations and becoming his own person. Fran helps on that journey. Yes, she does that blossoming thing, but that’s really just to make her attractive enough to become Scott’s love interest.

2. Setting

Dirty Dancing is a bit of nostalgia for a time that was and no longer is, when teenagers would happily go off with their parents to a summer vacation resort. Whereas Strictly Ballroom both salutes and mocks the world of ballroom dance competition, in which everyone is trying to preserve a form of dance that—let’s face it—is no longer current.

And as I write that, I’m thinking maybe that’s another similarity: That both movies are about the struggle to preserve a tradition against the forces of change. Hmm.

3. Style

Despite the romance at the centre of it and plenty of humourous moments, Dirty Dancing  is basically a drama, the story told in a “realistic” way. Whereas Strictly Ballroom is very much an over-the-top, exaggerated comedy, albeit with some touching moments.

Which is why Dirty Dancing opens itself up to criticism when some of the dialog is clunky or if a character seems more like a caricature. Strictly Ballroom is in-your-face with ridiculous dialog and absurd characters; that’s part of its charm.

And that also may be why, in my opinion, another difference between these two is that Strictly Ballroom made its transition to the stage much more effectively than Dirty Dancing did.


It’s been a while since I saw Dirty Dancing: The Musical, but I recall thinking that they shouldn’t have stuck so close to the movie. That this might have an opportunity to, for example, fix some of the sillier plot points.

Strictly Ballroom also stuck pretty close to the movie template. But in this case,  just the nature of the stage presentation improved the product.

A lot of it is ballroom dance competition, for example. In the movie, these scenes are largely funny and absurd. On stage, they still have that to a degree, but they also enchanting and beautiful. It just feels more “natural” to see that kind of dancing and those wild costumes on a theatre stage than a movie screen.

And then there’s what musicals do, which is allow the characters to give voice to their inner thoughts in song. And that really brought a lot of depth to the story, making many of the characters less cartoonish. They even bring in some of that Dirty Dancing nostalgia by including popular songs of the 1980s as part of the soundtrack. It really widens the range of emotion of the whole enterprise.

I love the movie Strictly Ballroom. But I think I loved the musical even more.


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Wasn’t that a party

I’ll be writing in more detail later, but for now just wanted to report that our long-planned 25th wedding anniversary party went really well.

We drank.

The Macphie’s in the house

We dined.

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Smoked pork loin with sweet potato and sunflower seeds

We spoke.

Sister Michelle in fighting form, speaking sweetly

We joked.

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Jean’s eldest brother and sister, bringing the laughs

We danced.

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Let me teach you how to jive, and well

We reminisced.

Me and Mom on my wedding day

We had a time.

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More photos (still being updated)


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Round-number birthday

Last weekend was when the first digit of my age increased. It wasn’t so traumatic. Maybe because I’m not that given to self-reflection anyway. Maybe because I made sure it was a pretty busy weekend.

Friday night we went to see Shaping Sound: Behind the Curtain at Centre in the Square. Shaping Sound is Travis Wall’s (from So You Think You Can Dance) dance company. The show presents a continuing, 90-minute story (with intermission). It starts with a whole lot of text—in the form of surtitles showing the story that Ttavis’s character is typing out—and not much movement. So many characters are presented, I was a bit worried: How was I going to follow all this and keep track of everyone?

But as it progresses, the dancing increases, and the narrative becomes increasingly fragmented: Literally, as the surtitles become just parts of sentences, and finally just a few letters. And you realize this isn’t a plot you’re meant to follow linearly. This is an emotional journey. This is the mind coming to terms. With coming out, among other things.

Shaping Sound preview from Ellen

I thought it was pretty great. Jean said I got way more out of it than he did. But he still enjoyed the time in the lovely member’s lounge, as we always do.

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Jean lounging, pre-show

My friends got wind of my round-numbered birthday this year and offered to take me out, which was really sweet. Especially as they selected the finest restaurant in the area, Langdon Hall. We were there on the Saturday night, and though nobody had the multi-course chef’s menu, we still managed to stay there for four hours and barely realized it. That’s some fine conversation!

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The ladies at Langdon Hall

The food didn’t suck, either. The amuse was a pork roulade. We were offered a choice of bread, and the gluten-intolerant were given a separate, very fresh alternative bread.

As an appetizer, several of us had the light and delicious crab with apple and sorrel sauce.

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Appetizing appetizer

As the main course, lamb was a popular choice, but I went with the venison with cabbage and foraged mushrooms.

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Rich and delicious main

For wine, we shared a bottle of a 2005 French burgundy (I think that was the grape), and I was very impressed at the staff’s ability to dole it out in tiny increments among the five of us so that it more-or-less lasted through the two first courses. (Though Sherry and I, who didn’t have to drive, did have another glass of a Syrah of completely different style.)

Dessert ran the gamut of options at the table, but I couldn’t resist the dark chocolate with coconut, cilantro, and lime.

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Possibly the meal highlight

And Sunday? Well, here’s the thing. Before this friend outing was arranged, I saw that Langdon Hall was having March specials, whereby if you booked a meal (supper / breakfast) and accommodation package, they gave you a $100 credit to use. March 5 was one of the nights the special was in vogue, meaning that Sunday… I returned to Langdon Hall. This time with Jean.

We first drove past the place, though, to go for a walk along the nearby river. It was a nice sunny day, albeit cooler than it had been, and we did get some nice views. On the way back, I got a call from my 87-year-old aunt. She used my home number, but I thereby confirmed that the VOIP app (this is new to us) worked in my being able to pick up home calls on my cell phone. It was good to talk to her.

Then we went to check into our room.

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Very tall bed!

I’d say the difference between Langdon Hall and other reasonably nice places we’ve stayed in are in the details, such as:

  • The little bag of welcome snacks were freshly baked cookies with fresh raspberries.
  • The in-room coffee maker makes espresso.
  • The complimentary bottles of water include sparkling.
  • The fireplace is a real one, not gas, and already set up with a firestarter, paper, and wood (though you can ask for help if that’s still too intimidating for you). It was nice having it going, but did leave everything in the room with a “burning fireplace” smell. Not unpleasant, but kind of odd.
  • When we went out for dinner, they came in and “turned down” our room, leaving a chocolate on the pillow. (Haven’t had that since the Alaska cruise.)
  • Bathrobes are provided (had that before) in men’s and women’s sizes (never had that before).
  • TV channels included HBO and TMN. I did take advantage to watch John Oliver interview the Dalai Lama.
  • Bathroom had both a full tub and a full shower—separate.
  • Privacy fence outside the window meant we could keep the curtains open longer.

And dinner was very fine again! Though somehow it didn’t take Jean and I four hours to get through it on the quieter Sunday night.

As on the Saturday, we discussed wine options with the sommelier—given that there are a crazy number of options here. Jean got him excited, though, by asking about the possibility of a Grüner Veltliner wine with the scallops. We thereby found out that it’s actually a quite versatile, food-friendly wine, but because of the richness of the scallops, the sommelier suggested something else, and since we were clearly “adventurous”, ran off to the wine cellar to figure out what (though we dampened his enthusiasm a bit by giving him our wine budget).

We ended up with a German pinot blanc that was quite enjoyable. It tasted semi-dry even though it was not, which made it quite fine on its own as well as with the scallops.

The dinner menu was the same, of course, but they brought out a different amuse, this time a nice, light crab mousse. The breads were also different—really nice raisin hazelnut option this night.

Cathy's Birthday Dinner at Langdon Hall

As appetizers, I went with the borscht en gelee with trout roe, which was quite fine as long as you’re good with beets and “popping” fish eggs, which I am. Jean had the sweetbreads with those delicious foraged mushrooms.

Cathy's Birthday Dinner at Langdon Hall

The afore-mentioned main course of scallops and cauliflower, which we both ordered

For dessert, Jean was all about the cheese, while I resisted the chocolate this time and tried the honey mousse with peanut butter sable and chocolate fudge (OK, I guess I didn’t resist the chocolate at all).

Breakfast the next day consisted of one “kitchen selection” plus access to their nice buffet of fruit, smoothies, pastries, and such like. I had the fried duck egg with pork belly. The duck egg was bigger than a chicken egg, but tasted much the same. Jean enjoyed the soft scrambled eggs with crab and trout roe. (Yes, they’re very big on crab there.)

And then we both had the rest of the day off work, which was nice in itself.


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Guanaquita! We tried something new

Guanaquita is a Salvadorean restaurant. The second and fourth Tuesday of every month they have a salsa night. Friends of ours suggested we go check it out.

It was our first time for Salvadorean food—we couldn’t tell our papusas from our pastelitos. Fortunately, the waitress was helpful in guiding us through and pointing out the most popular options.

Salvadorean food is something like Mexican; indeed, part of the menu was “Mexican with a Salvadorean touch”. Jean and I shared the Guanaquita platter of pork papusa (a stuffed, Naan-like bread); zucchini pastelito (similar, only deep fried); a chicken enchilada, and corn tamale (corn in a soft tortilla-like bread). That was actually a one-person sampler ($10.95), so we also shared Mexican pork enchilada entree, served with rice and beans ($8.95).

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Picture of Salvadorean food taken by someone–not us

It isn’t gourmet cooking, but everything was quite good, really. They said they made it all fresh and we believed it, as it took a good hour to get our food! In the meantime, we enjoyed the decent bottle of off-dry Pinot Grigio ($28) that we shared.

Then it was time to shake our booties. It started with a lesson in a Latin dance called, I think, the Kizomba. To me, it seemed similar to the Merengue. He started by showing the basic steps to everyone in a line. (We missed some of that, as we were finishing dinner.) Then we paired up to learn a couple’s routine.

Keep Calm and Dance Kizomba

(Or whatever the heck dance it actually was!)

At first I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the instructor’s plan for us to move around the room, switching partners til we danced with most everyone. Did I mention that one of the moves involved the guy raising your arms above your head, then sliding his hands down your arms (which you have raised, at this point), your sides, and onto your hips?

But I decided to get with the program—it didn’t hurt that there were a number of young and frankly quite good-looking men participating. (There were also a good number of people our age and older, so didn’t we feel like we had crashed a university kegger or anything.) And it was interesting to partner with people of such varying skills: those counting the steps out loud, the many staring down at their feet —contrasted to those who actually knew how to lead!

The instructor was quite good, though, and whatever the level each person started with, it seemed that everyone could keep up, basically.

Then it was lights down, music up, and time for free-range Latin dancing. We learn some styles as part of ballroom lessons, but this place offered a wider ranges of beats, so we had to improvise on that. Some people were really good! One guy asked me to dance while Jean was settling the dinner bill, and he was an effective enough leader that I could pretty easily follow even though it wasn’t in the dance style to which I was accustomed. (Though it did seem as though that song went on forever… Maybe it was a medley of songs.)

The place was very hot (temperature-wise I mean, this time) on this steamy September night, and it was a school night, so we didn’t stay out that late. But we had good time. Good enough that we’d like to try it again sometime…


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A feast of festivals

In Canada, weather dictates that outdoor festival is pretty short. That’s why I found that timing and programming of Kitchener’s Summer Lights Festival pretty smart. This night of “exploration and discovery” in downtown Kitchener, ran from 8 pm to 1 am, which meant that it started right after the Multicultural Festival in nearby Victoria Park ended. And, it was held in coordination with the Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound and the Our World Festival of Music.

Not only a clever way of allowing people to attend many festivals at once, but it also made the one event much more big and interesting than any of them would have been alone.

They blocked off part of King Street in Kitchener, so you ended up exploring it in that way. (I got suddenly curious about Fritsch Fragrances, Inc., which looks like it’s about 100 years old. Does it really only sell fragrances? Is that a viable business model?) A number of the restaurants and stores were open. Food carts and trucks were on the streets, as were installations such as:

  • The community couch (sit and talk to strangers—which I didn’t)
  • The black light post (get painted and glow)
  • Painters of the night (artists painting on the street, that is)
  • Board game zone
  • Henna tatoo station

Etc. The public buildings were also transformed—the KW Symphony building became a 90s house dance club (pretty dead one at first, but it did liven up later); the inside of City Hall an old-time arcade and Rock Band performance site; and The Museum a live concert venue (featuring a Very! Loud! rock band when we walked in), with an “alternative” market.

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Lighting up the City Hall fountain at the Summer Lights Festival

The range of music and sound on the streets was quite astonishing. Open Ears brought in the weird but cool experimental stuff: the art installation featuring percussion instruments the public could bash away on; the arrangement of different musicians and styles all around the city hall fountain; the classical musicians providing a live soundtrack to a silent French surrealistic movie.

Then there was the AcaBellas, doing their best Pitch Perfect mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with, well, two other songs that I’m sure are really famous and popular… And the jazz group performing ‘”What a Wonderful World” in front of a dance floor. (Jean refused to shake his groove thing, though, citing improper footwear and a dislike of rhumba.) Along with the more expected folk guitarists and bands doing classic rock covers.

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The lovely Alysha Brilla

The definite highlight for us, though, was the performance by the woman who convinced us to get out there past by our bedtime in the first place: Alysha Brilla. Her style of music is mix of jazz, pop, and Latin. We know of her mainly because CBC—even the news channel—plays her music a lot (for which she thanked them during her performance). We started watching her from afar, then got closer, until I, at least, couldn’t resist joining the crowd dancing right in front of the stage. She was terrific at egging us all on.

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Dance party in Kitchener!

I did not, however, volunteer to go up and dance on stage. Those who did, had some serious skills!

All in all, one of the funnest concerts we’ve been to in a while. We really got lifted.

Alysha Brilla – LIfted, live (Toronto performance)

Alysha Brilla, Two Shots – official music video