Cultureguru's Weblog

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


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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the world of ballroom dance competition, in which everyone is trying to preserve a form of dance that—let’s face it—is no longer current.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).

Food of El Salvador

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


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Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. 🙂

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. 🙂

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.