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


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The City That Never Sleeps and Québec’s Metropolis

New York is one of the world’s great cities. Montreal is often considered Canada’s best. On our recent trip, we visited both. This was our itinerary:

  • Saturday: Fly Hamilton to Montreal late afternoon; stay in airport hotel.
  • Sunday: Fly Montreal to New York. Visit Museum of Modern Art.
  • Monday: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise. 9/11 Memorial Museum. B&H.
  • Tuesday: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. School of Rock on Broadway.
  • Wednesday: Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall tour. Grand Central Station.
  • Thursday: New York Library. Fly to Montreal late afternoon.
  • Friday: Musée des beaux arts. Old Montreal and Old Port area.
  • Saturday: Mile End Local Montreal food walking tour. Mount Royal.
  • Sunday: McCord Museum. Fly back to Hamilton late afternoon.
Radio City Music Hall

Just now noticing the Canadian flag flying between the Japanese and US ones in uptown New York. No idea why.

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The view from our Montreal hotel (not the airport one)

Museums

Our last trip to New York was in 2008, and we’d bypassed a lot of the major museums to avoid line-ups, then ended up regretting that. So this time we plunged in.Lord, New York has amazing museums.

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) was up first, where we followed the good advice to start on the fifth floor, where all the major works are—famous Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s, Dali’s, Goya, Chagall, Monet. They had an online app to use an audio-guide. The other floors couldn’t measure up, but I did enjoy the pop art section.

The Ellis Island Museum had an interesting focus on the US immigrant experience, as it is housed in the building where they were processed back in the day, when immigration rates were staggering.

A statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island

We had pre-bought timed tickets to the very popular 9/11 Memorial Museum, but still faced a significant lineup to get in. It’s located where one of the World Trade Center buildings once stood. And the layout, all below ground, is somewhat confusing—still not sure if we saw everything.

It’s definitely an emotional experience, visiting there, being vividly reminded of a “historical” event I remember so well.

911 Memorial museum .... sobering!

What remains of the World Trade Center

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge and just fabulous. Of course, we didn’t try to see it all. We did get a Highlights Tour to get some sense of the Egyptian, European, American collections, with a close focus on some superb works in each. We went back to visit the American collection and the sculpture garden in more depth.

Pondering the lost of a continent!

We both happen to be reading An Inconvenient Indian, which discusses art depicting Natives, such as this

The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is a maritime and military history museum. There we got to tour a nuclear submarine; get on board a large military ship (the Intrepid) and see many war planes; and have a look at the Space Shuttle Enterprise—bigger than we expected! You do get a lot of US military history and a sense of what it would be like to work on these various vessels. Very interesting.

USS Growler Submarine

Inside the USS Growler nuclear submarine

Every Young Boys Dream Plane!

Yes, it’s a war plane, but this is an admittedly gorgeous design

New York has some of the great museums of the world. Whereas Montreal can’t even boast the best in Canada. But, the Musée des beaux arts (Fine art museum) was featuring an exhibit about New York artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and that was well worth seeing. They had an extensive collection on display, and if you didn’t know at the start, you’d realize by the end what an amazing photographer he was.

The McCord Museum attracted me for its exhibit of Montreal rock photography, but it was really small. The best part was their permanent collection on the history of Montreal, told by street and neighbourhood.

Historic buildings

Jean told me I had to see the New York City Library this time, and he’s right; it’s pretty stunning. (And free to tour.)

The Amazing New York City Library!

Be quiet and admire the art

He wasn’t so sure about my idea of touring Radio City Music Hall, but that was great also—and not only because we lucked into free tickets from two ladies who’d decided they just didn’t have time to take the tour they’d already paid for. But it’s gorgeous in there, and amazing to think it was originally built as a movie theatre. Now, of course, it’s used for shows. most famously those featuring the Rockettes. The tour takes you backstage, below stage, and to special guest rooms. You also get a meet a Rockette.

Our Montreal food tour also happened to include a stop at a former movie theatre that is now being used for shows. This one, the Rialto Theatre, has had a much rougher ride than Radio City Music Hall. It has suffered some unfortunate architectural and design changes, and actually lay vacant for a number of year after being declared a heritage site. But the new owner is determined to restore it to its former glory.

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The Rialto Theatre’s future is now looking brighter

Nature in the city

Part of what makes both New York and Montreal great are the vast parklands available right in the core. After being art-exhausted by The Met, it was great to amble back to our hotel through Central Park on a lovely sunny day. (We were lucky weather-wise this trip; mostly all lovely sunny days.)

In Montreal, when we had some time to kill between walking tour and dinner reservation, we took to walking to, up, around, and down Mount Royal.(That was a high calorie burn day, I think.)

Montreal_HDR-161015(0021of0021)

See what I mean about the sunny days?

Both, of course, are also islands, and we enjoyed walking the Vieux Port in Montreal also—an area we haven’t visited as often. New York’s harbour, of course, offers some special views.

Lady Liberty Entertainment

We unsurprisingly failed to win tickets in the Hamilton lottery. Instead, we went to see runner-up for best musical, School of Rock. I chose that over The Color Purple for the fun, which it certainly had in abundance. But I did find a few moments surprisingly touching, particularly the “If Only You Would Listen” song by the kids.

And man, were those kids amazing musicians!

We did wish we had tried for Daily Show tickets—didn’t think of it in time. We did end up walking past their studio, though, on the way to the Intrepid.

Shopping

We did not do much shopping, but Jean was determined to get to B&H store, which has a lot of photography items along with some tech stuff. The challenge was that they were closed for several days for Jewish holidays that week. But we fit it in a visit (barely) between our 9/11 visit and downtown dinner reservation.

And you know who’s the only one who bought anything at Jean’s mecca? Me. The Huawei phone I’d been eyeing looked lovely in person, and was discounted by $50 US. Combined with my Nexus 4 showing signs of age (irritating on this trip, as we were somewhat Google-reliant), I went for it. Then found out it came with not only a case and SD card but premium ($80 US) earphones and case, and various photography attachments.

But tip: Don’t try setting up your new phone on hotel wifi. Recipe for frustration.

In Montreal, I got my hands on case for my new eReader, and also bought a tiny wallet to go with the tiny purse I’d purchased for the trip.

cof

Photo taken on new phone

Eating out

Both cities are great foodie destinations, but we didn’t book at any of the very top restaurants: no Toqué, no Per Se. And where we used the Michelin Guide on our last trip to New York, this time we relied on a mix of Frommer’s, Trip Advisor, and Google to find places to eat. Some highlights:

  • Our first lunch in New York was at Joe’s Shanghai, which doesn’t sound too promising, but it was very good Chinese, especially the soup dumplings, which had won some of kind of award.
  • Our lunch in the Financial District, at Southwest, an upscale Mexican place, was also quite good.
  • Forlini’s, an old-school Italian.restaurant, were quite amused I’d made reservations on a Monday, and even more so when I called to say we’d be late. “Hey, Cathy’s here!” he announced when arrived. On ordering the ravioli, I was told that was no good and they’d bring me the manicotti instead. The manicotti was indeed delicious!
  • Blue Fin, our pre-theatre restaurant, had some excellent sushi and a great cheese plate for dessert. Unfortunately the mains were a let-down; fish somewhat overcooked, mediocre pasta.
  • Despite being a chain (though one not available in Canada), Le Pain Quotidien, with a focus on nutrition and environmentalism, became our go-to for breakfast.
  • Best meal overall might have been at the bustling Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. We each had an amazing Manhattan clam chowder (best ever, perhaps), then shared a seafood plate of 10 oysters, mussels, and shrimp.
Great Restaurant at Grand Central Station!

New York has some very fresh seafood on offer

In Montreal, we were guided more by Where to Eat in Canada. We went to a quite good Indian restaurant in Old Montreal called Mirchi on our first night. The table d’hôte was a good deal there.

Our more splurge dinner was at Bouillon Bilk. A bit noisy, but very creative and nicely prepared food, and excellent service. Good ability to match wines, also.

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Liked that the mains were as creative as the appetizers: Scallops with buttery cauliflower; guinea fowl in foie gras jus with figs, bacon, and shitake

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Ricotta meringue in the forefront; chocolate mousse and cake with fig in the back

Our food tour of the Mile End neighbourhood in the Plateau area was very good, giving history of the place and its inhabitants along with the food samples. The group participating was a good mix of Canadians and Americans (including another couple from Kitchener). Over three hours, we got:

  • Falafel at an environmentally friendly vegan restaurant
  • Gourmet chocolate
  • Montreal bagel from St. Viateur (but of course!)
  • Gnocchi with tomato sauce (this is not a good tour for the gluten intolerant)
  • Charcuterie (cheese and meat) from an organic boucherie (the stuff did taste notably better than the usual)
  • Two chocolate pastries from a boulangerie

So you see why we walked up Mount Royal after.

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Unlike hot dogs, it’s just fine seeing how bagels are made

And we still went out for dinner in that neighbourhood late, at Le Comptoir, which features small plates. All very good! We had a charcuterie plate, beet salad, smoked salmon with aioli, and agnoletti with cured beef and tomato.

Logistics

Well, our flights (all on Air Canada) were short: Takeoff, get your drink and pretzels, then get ready to land. Flying out of Hamilton made for an easier drive, parking, and checkin than Pearson would have—worth the flaky wifi and limited restaurant options. But really, things were fine at Trudeau and LaGuardia airports as well. We were amazed how quickly we got through security, customs, and baggage pickup.

Neither city has particular good non-taxi airport transportation, though. We tried taking the Montreal airport bus back, but they wouldn’t accept a $20 bill—we would have had to come up with $20 in change. Really? So back to taxi we went. And the initial New York taxi ride was complicated by roads being blocked for a Columbus day parade.

Once in either city, though, we were well-served by public transit. New York’s was definitely confusing—despite Google help, it took a while to realize that more than one line could use the same track, such that getting on the first train that pulled up wasn’t always the best bet. But we got better at it. Both cities give you cards with fare loaded, that you then tap (Montreal) or slide (New York); weird that Toronto doesn’t have that yet.

We were happy with our centrally located hotels in both cities—and frankly surprised how large the New York one was. The only problem at Park Central were the elevators, which simply weren’t sufficient in number, so more than often than not incredibly crowded and slow (stopping on every floor for people who had no room to get on).

City culture

If I had to sum up New York, I think it would be “efficient”. Yes, the lineups were long, but man, they were processed fast. Even with all the extra security checks. No time for niceties; just get everyone through.

At restaurants, there’s no (or very little) wondering what the delay is, but also not much lingering over your meal. Get them in, get them out.

The streets are crowded. You have to keep moving. One night in Times Square, always the busiest part of town anyway, part of the street was blocked off for an Alicia Keyes concert. We were simply caught up in a crush of people trying to get by that part of the street. We all had to walk at the same pace. When another group filed past us in the opposite direction, Jean and I were separated and I moved ahead faster—til I finally found a small open area I could wait for him to catch up.

She is Forever 21!

A relatively uncrowded Times Square; not Alicia Keyes night

 Montreal seemed super-mellow by comparison. Spacious. Lower buildings (law that none can be taller than Mount Royal). Linger over your meal if you’d like.

And it’s good they weren’t hell-bent on efficiency, because there was construction everywhere! Main streets, middle of all Old Montreal, all over. (In preparation for a big city anniversary next year, apparently.)

And, Montreal is famously bilingual. Everyone must greet you in French by law, so we’d respond in kind, but then they might switch to English after overhearing our English conversation, but then back if we’re using a French menu…

Though it must be said we heard a lot of French in New York as well. And that Met tour we did? Tout en français, as we didn’t want to wait an extra 45 minutes for the English one.


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My Internship in Canada (Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre)

My Internship in Canada is that rarest of things: a comedy about Canadian politics. The only other I can think of CBC’s adaptation of Terry Fallis’ fine novel The Best Laid Plans, which CBC rather made a hash of.

My Internship in Canada is more successful. It tells the story of independent MP (another rare thing!) from northern Quebec, Steve Guibord, who—in a parliament where the Conservatives have a very slim majority—finds himself with the deciding vote on whether Canada should join a war effort in the middle east.

My Internship in Canada (official trailer) – YouTube

Following all the drama with great excitement and interest is Guibord new Haitian assistant / intern, Souverain. Souverain proves of great help to Guibord, as he’s intelligent and very well-read on the subject of Canadian democracy. (His explanations to his fellow Haitians back home are also useful to any audience who might themselves not be so familiar with the intricacies of Canadian democracy.) He’s also not above sneaking around behind Guibord’s back, if it’s for the greater good.

Several women play important roles as well: his wife, who’s for the war; his daughter, who’s against it; a local reporter playing out the sometimes-tense relationship between media and politics; and the mayor of one of the main towns in his riding, who becomes increasingly (and hilariously) exasperated with Guibord’s last-minute cancellations.

Geography is also incredibly prominent. The riding is very large (“30 fois la grandeur de l’Haiti!”), and Guibord’s fear of flying make him entirely dependent on the highway system, targeted for protests by natives and truckers.

The laughs at the expense of a stuttering union spokesperson (get it?) are unfortunate, and I’m not entirely sure about the portrayal of the Haitians. Overall, though, this is a good-spirited, funny, and intelligent comedy.

In French with English subtitles.


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Swing in concert: Tout le monde debout, c’est le temps de danser!

Swing is a franco-Ontarian band that we first discovered at a Canada Day concert in the Ottawa region about seven years ago. As soon as they came on and started playing, the whole crowd was on their feet, and pretty much stayed there. (Whereas they sat for the headliner.) And I became an instant fan of their music, a fusion of traditional folk with elements of hip-hop and techno: Technotrad, they call it.

A taste of Swing: Bouge, bouge

I’d been wanting to see them in concert again ever since, but what the singing mostly in French, Southern Ontario is not a regular destination for them. So I was very excited to see, up on the ad screen at the Princess Cinema, that Swing would be performing at Victoria Pavillon on November 14, courtesy of L’association francophone de Kitchener-Waterloo.

I was wondering how the KW crowd would respond to them compared with the Gatineau one. I’ve found KW audiences to be rather staid and quite reluctant to get up and dance—to a frustrating degree, at times. So I wasn’t too optimistic on that front.

I did predict that part of the crowd might be drawn from Swing’s occasional appearances at local French high schools, and that age group was represented, along with older association members (one assumes). I wasn’t expecting quite so many little kids as there were, however. (Let’s hope those kids aren’t too, too familiar with French Canadian slang, as some of their lyrics are a bit—edgy.)

And did the crowd all jump to their feet at the first note Swing played? No! Absolutely not.

But to be fair, they started with cover—all in English—of “Born to Be Wild”. It was a serviceable version, and I like the song, but I didn’t want watered-down, anglicized Swing.

I needn’t have worried. The rest of the set was almost entirely their music, and when singer Michel Bénac pointed out the big dance space in front of the stage, a stalwart four headed right up there to dance, and stayed pretty much the whole evening.

Furthermore, to my surprise, they were joined by more and more people as they evening went on. I was up there by about song 4 Jean resisted until about song 10, and the other couple we went with finally made their way up there as well, for the final set of songs. The band’s music is just irresistible, the singer determined that we are all going to have a good time!

“C’est un party avec Swing!” And it was.

They definitely included most of my favorite songs of theirs—La tête me tourne encore (“You make my head spin—in a good way”), Au nom du père et du fils et du set carré (“In the name of the father, the son, and the square dance”), Belle débousollée (“Beautiful distraught woman”), La vie comme ca (“Life as it is”), and “One Day” (the song wherein they rib anglophones).

Hey, everything’s OK, because one day soon, we’ll all be just…

The crowd’s favorites (which I also like) were La Goutte (“The Drip”)—“You know this one!” commented Bénac appreciatively (in French)—and  the encore, “CB Buddy”.

La Goutte (y’a pas d’high speed, y’a pas d’download, y’a pas d’Livefeed…)

But we were also treated to some of their very latest songs, such as the single released just last week, “C’Okay” (it got to number 6 on iTunes, by the way), and songs from their recent EP, such as “One Thought”, and even a song that won’t be released for a few months yet. So at least at two live premieres of their music.

And, when we all needed a rest from dancing and hopping—including Michel Bénac (who appears to me to be in amazing shape)—we partook of a camp sing-a-long of eighties classics such as “Billy Jean”, “Every Breath You Take“, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun“ (for the girls), and for the guys—“Baby” by Bieber! Psych!

The between-song patter fun and friendly and all in franglais, except for one shout-out to the anglos in the audience, who were thanked for coming and “being the minority for once. Feels weird, eh?”

Apart from Bénac, the band has a DJ who also does some hip-hop dancing, a violinist, a guitarist, a bass player, and a drummer. Unfortunately, the acoustics (or the sound system?) in that room were not very good. Nevertheless, we could tell they had a high degree of musicianship.

Swing is really one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.

“So good they can even get Kitchener-ites and Waterloo-vians to their feet”


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Movie review: Secret Things

Secret Things poster*** Secret Things (April 2003) – Rental

Coralie Revel, Sabrina Seyvecou. Two young women band together to use their powers of seduction to take advantage of a wealthy, powerful man. Only to find the tables turn…

She says: By the time zip.ca sent this to me, I had no recollection of why I’d added it to my zip list, except for a fuzzy idea that Roger Ebert might have covered it. Reading the description on the envelope, I was expecting it to be kind of trashy, and kind of bad. But hopefully in a fun way.

And it did open on a big, erotic strip tease. But overall, it really wasn’t that trashy. It was definitely aspiring to be kind of arty, with all this religious and other symbolism. And despite all the nudity (attractive people of both sexes), it wasn’t all that sexy, either.

Also, it was French (with subtitles, though the translations weren’t always quite spot on). Another thing I wasn’t expecting.

But overall, I found it pretty interesting. A story of people using each other in often cruel ways, it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I didn’t mind it at all, despite it being nothing like what I was expecting.

He says: Definitely more arty than trashy. Pretty girls, but not a very sexy movie. But yeah, it held my interest. Not a bad movie at all.


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Movie review: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi poster***1/2 Jiro Dreams of Sushi (July 2012) – Rental

Japanese documentary about the 85-year-old chef at the best sushi restaurant in the world.

She says: Jiro Ono works to perfect the art of making sushi. That’s all he’s done his adult life, and that’s all he wants to continue to do. This documentary tells his story, shows some of his food preparation techniques, and reveals the challenging situations his two sons are in, having followed their father into the same profession. The oldest is 50 and still waiting to be master chef, as his father has no intention of retiring. The younger has opened a companion restaurant.

The sushi really does look amazing and you get very hungry watching this, while knowing that anything called sushi that you get around here is not going to compare. Tuna is very much prized ingredient by the chef, and I wondered if they would touch on the over-fishing issue; they did, and in a way that made these types of chefs appear to not be the problem. (They are conscious of the issue, buy only what they need, when they need it, and with the small restaurant always to capacity and serving some of the world’s best food, nothing is wasted.)

Not that much happens in this film, and yet it’s fascinating—at least to a foodie, I suppose.

He says: We have no idea what real sushi is. And we’ll probably never find out.


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Movie reviews: Never Let Me Go, One Week

Never Let Me Go posterWithout intending this, last weekend we ended up watching two movies on the cheery subject of human mortality, as depicted through the prism of young adults facing a death sentence:

Never Let Me Go, 2010, starring Keira Knightly, Andrew Garfield, and Carey Mulligan

One Week, 2008, starring Joshua Jackson and Liane Balaban

Based on a novel, the premise of Never Let Me Go, a British film, is an alternate world where cloning technology was perfected in the 1950s, leading to a world where clones are created for the purpose of providing life-extending organ donations to everyone else. We first meet the donors as children in a British boarding school, then move ahead to their lives as young adults. The focus is on three characters who form a love triangle.

One Week is a Canadian movie in which the protagonist receives a terrible cancer diagnosis in the first scene. Instead of immediately going into treatment, as recommended, he decides to take a motorcycle road trip across Canada first, to take stock of his life.

As you might imagine, Never Let Me Go is sad. But at least, blessedly, you’re never made to wallow in the sadness. It’s there, it’s built into the story, but it’s all underplayed, somewhat interior, all very British. It never brought me to tears. It’s very well-made, with a lot of attention to the look, the dimmed color palette. It moves along at an appropriate pace. Both the child actors and the young adults in the film are quite good in their roles.

Most striking about how the story plays out if how accepting all the clones are of their fate. It never seems to occur to anyone to run and try to escape the transplant surgeries that will ultimately kill them. If they had, that would have been a whole other movie. (I think it was called Logan’s Run.) If still wondering why this story was told in these terms, watch the extras! It is explained there.

One Week movie posterI was going to say that One Week is therefore a contrast, as it’s all about escape, but that’s not really true. Lead character Ben knows perfectly well he can’t outran cancer. He’s just looking for a slice of time before he becomes a patient.

Everything in this movie takes place with Ben basically still feeling well, so it’s much less sad than Never Let Me Go. The whole story is approached with wry humour.  It’s also a real love letter to Canada, as you see a lot of the iconic and beautiful Canadian sites Ben travels through, including the Big Nickel, the Terry Fox statue, the rolling prairies, the gorgeous beaches of Tofino.

The script does not have the fullness and depth of Never Let Me Go‘s, but I still found it interesting to participate in Ben’s examinations of the choices that had led him to a job he isn’t passionate about, and into an engagement with a lovely woman who nevertheless may not be The One. And of course, leads you to wonder why you might do if you had a week before entering into likely hopeless cancer treatment.

Jean’s take? He found Never Let Me Go really sad, and overall thinks I should rent more comedies. As for One Week, he was strongly critical of Ben’s treatment of his fiancee, but did enjoy the travel through Canada aspect. I think his attention reasonably well, for another movie that is more about self-realization than plot twists.


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Movie review: Let the Right One In

Finally one we agreed on…

Let the Right One in poster***½ Let the Right One In (March 2009) – Rental
Swedish, with dubbing or subtitles.

Bullied 12-year-old boy’s life takes a turn for the better when he befriends the strange “girl” who lives next door.

She says: The poster makes this look like a horror movie, but despite some bloody murders and a scene of disfigurement, it’s not really that. It’s more about the rather sweet relationship that develops between the bullied boy, Oskar, and the mysterious Eli, who turns out to be a vampire perpetually stuck in a 12-year-old’s frame. Given their ages, this movie doesn’t go with the usual vampire = sex (or even puberty) theme, making for something of a refreshing look at this archetype.

He says: This movie is so weird, I don’t even know why I like it. But I do.