Sunday, 21 December 2014

In the warm darkness of the solstice

As I've mentioned in this blog before, we have an annual tradition of attending the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert. Some of the concerts stay with me for days, even weeks afterward; others are pleasant, but forgettable.  This year's show will probably be one I won't remember, except that I suspect that this was our tenth concert.

About ten years ago, the Resident Fan Boy and I decided to splurge on Vinyl Cafe tickets and wound up in the last row of the upper balcony where we heard the story "Christmas at the Turlingtons" for the very first time.  If it was 2004, that would be about right, because Stuart McLean published the story in a compilation the following year.  I remember rocking with laughter in the warm dark balcony.  After that, I don't think we missed a year.  Ottawa is usually one of the final stops for the tour before the musicians and crew return to their homes in Toronto, so there's an atmosphere of "almost ready for Christmas" about the whole thing.

Stuart told an abbreviated version of the story this afternoon; he often picks an old classic as a warm-up before introducing the new stories.  One of the new ones was funny, and other was longer and very sentimental.  McLean is leaning more and more towards sentimental tales, it seems.  He's getting older and they seem to be crowd-pleasers.  I nodded off.  I'm getting older too.

Here's a sampling of the original version of "Christmas at the Turlingtons".  Whoever posted it has it in three parts and you can find them all at YouTube.

However (and I've said this before too), my very favourite Vinyl Cafe Christmas story is not the classic "Dave Cooks the Turkey".  It's a fine story, but it's not my favourite.  This one is, and if you can spare 23 minutes, I don't think you'll be sorry.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Focussed and critical

Some years ago, I took a course on documentary film.  I have never forgotten it.  It was taught by a National Film Board of Canada film-maker, and among the many things he pointed out to us was the fact that a documentary film can never ever be totally objective, no matter what you've read about cinéma vérité.  We are looking through the film-maker's eyes; s/he has chosen what to shoot and where to zoom or pan out.  We saw many classics, among them Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, about the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts.  I chiefly remember a chilling scene where a prisoner declared insane by the state articulately argues that he is sane, and how the staff, after his departure from the meeting, explain among themselves how everything he has said proves his mental illness.

Today, I remembered that National Gallery, Wiseman's latest film, was showing at the Bytowne Cinema.  There was a huge line-up to see it, but I managed to secure a seat on the far aisle.  The movie begins with galleries filling with art-lovers and their faces which all have similar expressions:  the head pulled back, the eyes focussed and critical.  The faces are all male, for some reason.  When the voices begin, they are female - the voices of the docents, addressing crowds of patrons, or lectures for art teachers,  or workshops for blind and nearly blind art-lovers who are feeling specially upraised outlines of paintings while they listen.

Three pieces that figure heavily in my own life are featured, albeit briefly: "Doge Leonardo Loredan" by Bellini; "The Fighting Temeraire" by Turner (both favourites of my mother's), and the Burlington House cartoon which I encountered on my first trip to London. I had never heard of it before and loved it so much that I would hurry back into the National Gallery at every opportunity to drink it in, even if there were only fifteen minutes available.  I got posters and postcards of it, of course, but it didn't match the magic of being able to gaze on the original.

The film takes us into boardrooms where the accents are (mostly) Oxbridge, females address males whose arms are crossed.  We return to more docents where the accents are more varied: Scottish, Australian, and (mostly) Estuary.  The faces of the gallery staff are all white, while the gallery visitors are every colour, and, in the case of school groups, possibly there under duress.  All manner of people bundle up against the weather (I think this was mostly filmed around Christmas of 2012) and wait overnight to secure tickets to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit. Greenpeace guerrillas post a protest banner across the facade as passersby gape and the police wait to move in.  Paintings being cleaned and restored, and scholars argue for and against such restorations. We see a television arts series being filmed, and press conferences, and opening galas attended by very wealthy people.  We see a life class featuring models with, miracle of miracles, unwaxed pubic hair.  We see piano recitals, ballet, and a poetry reading by Jo Shapcott.
This isn't footage from the documentary, but a film by the National Gallery done about the same time.  Jo Shapcott says roughly the same things in Wiseman's documentary, but ruins it a little by explaining that Callisto was experiencing rape a second time when exposed by Diana, because she had experienced "rape of a sort" by Jupiter.  I have double-checked the versions of the myth.  I think it's pretty safe to say that she was raped by Jupiter, period.

By the third hour, I was fighting to keep myself awake -- not because it was boring, but because the movies is probably about 45 minutes too long.  But I was happy I stayed to the end which features faces from many of the paintings that have been featured.  They stare at us, the eyes focussed and critical.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Homing in on Christmas

Well, the day didn't begin well.  I won't go into the details, but elder daughter and I still weren't speaking when we arrived at younger daughter's school for the annual holiday concert.  We sat in awkward formations and made awkward conversations with the other families - I can never remember who is whom.  Then we trooped downstairs and sat in the old uncomfortable chairs and younger daughter began the concert with a song I didn't really recognize, a bluesy number with vocal embellishments.  She clutched a picture that she had worked on carefully the night before, singing to it with a strong and full voice.

Afterwards, I asked her about the song.  It's "Please Come Home for Christmas", by Charles Brown, yeah, " she said.  "I heard it in Home Alone."  We checked the newspaper and noted that Home Alone was on this evening.  (It's on most evenings, these days.)

We watched it, and I remembered what a silly movie it is, but younger daughter loved it.  And elder daughter and I were on speaking terms again.  The Resident Fan Boy and I located plum pudding and mandarin oranges, both of which have been difficult to find in Hades this year, so the day ended well.  We might make it to Christmas after all.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The cure as well as the cause

A year ago, I wrote a post about seeing what is left of the Vince Guaraldi Trio, that is, spending a rather magical afternoon listening to the Jerry Granelli Trio.

This morning, cornered by all the things I'm failing to accomplish before Christmas, I surfed on the computer (a major factor in said failure) and stumbled across this amazing video which, I think, has only just been recorded when Jerry Granelli (drums), Chris Gestrin (piano) and Simon Fisk (bass) were in Halifax while touring Canada.  (They were recently back in Ottawa, but I missed them.)

It's not quite as magical as hearing them live, but this allows you a better look than we got of them, being way back in the auditorium:  Gestrin's gentle smile, Fisk's plucking and bowing, and all of the different sounds that Granelli gets out of his drums.  There's also the treat of the improvisation in the centre of the piece.

Christmas will come whether I'm ready or not, and, heaven willing, there will still be lovely things like this to enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The problem with mondegreens

…is that the misheard song is usually way more interesting than the original lyric.

Take this perfectly pleasant Emm Gryner song which I first heard a couple of years ago.  I heard it as "Boy lives in a kitchen" which is a promising kick-off for a story, isn't it?  I learned almost immediately that the song is actually "Boy with an Affliction", which is still fine, but not, I feel, nearly so intriguing.

Here's the song anyway:

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

On this strange and mournful day

I had been imagining what this morning was going to be like.  That was my first mistake.

Elder daughter returned from Victoria this morning after four stressful months of disappointing job-hunting.  I rose, and checked bus schedules, envisioning a reunion at the airport amongst all the other people happily clasping their relatives to their respective bosoms in pre-holiday rejoicing.

The Resident Fan Boy had a meeting, so I had to wait for younger daughter's lift to arrive before launching myself toward the bus stop.  I caught the bus by the skin of my teeth and congratulating myself, checked my phone, only to discover that elder daughter was already at the airport, having arrived just after eight.  The Resident Fan Boy had informed me she would be landing at about 9 am. I hadn't even made the connection to the Transitway yet.  While my over-tired daughter wept and over-reacted to my texts, thinking I was blaming her for this predicament, we forced a quick decision before I had to make the transfer.  She took a cab home, while I cooled my heels for twenty minutes at Hurdman Station for the returning bus.

I banished rueful thoughts from my head, blasting myself with favourite tunes through my earbuds.  Later, when elder daughter was welcomed and tucked up in her bed, I sat at the computer and dazedly scanned the headlines:  the aftermath of the hostage-taking in Sydney, Australia; a man who had systematically murdered his wife, her sister and her family, her mother, and grandmother and was still on the loose; the grieving parents outside a school in Peshawar, Pakistan where over 130 of their children had been slaughtered.

I thought about my lost scenario of joyful reunion, and about how my daughter had arrived safely, even evading the forecast freezing rain.

 I headed off in the afternoon to fetch younger daughter from her school far across the city.  We are joined by a raucous gang of Muslim students on the return journey every afternoon.  They're just as obnoxious as non-Muslim teenagers talking loudly in an enclosed space -- except they don't swear.  I remembered how they vanished from the bus for the days following the shootings in Ottawa last October; it took a few days for their high spirits to return.  Were they targets of anti-Muslim slurs, I wondered.  Had their parents kept them home? I thought of the #iwillridewithyou campaign in Australia after this café shooting, and of an upsetting article at the BBC website about the backlash against the campaign.

I took younger daughter to her favourite Second Cup and thought some more.  I considered the fact that I had two daughters returning safely home today, and that so many parents and other loved ones will not have that privilege ever again, because those they loved went to school, or stopped in for a coffee.

Then I remembered I was sitting in a coffee shop, and took younger daughter home to see her sister.

Monday, 15 December 2014

That will bring us back to Ut

I've said many, many times before (at least twice in this blog) that I am mystified by why "My Favourite Things", a song from a musical set mostly in the summer and which also involves Nazis, should now show up regularly at Christmastime, seemingly based solely on two phrases about "brown paper packages" and "snowflakes that play on my nose and eyelashes".

So I won't go into that again.

However, I have stumbled across this delightful video about how "Do Re Mi" became "Do Re Mi" and not "Ut Re Mi", courtesy of Tom Allen and the folks at CBC Radio Two.  It was clearly shot in the summer in Toronto, but of course was released in November, in plenty of time for Christmas.


Sunday, 14 December 2014

It's tomorrow in Australia

I was getting ready to write this evening's post when I stumbled across the news of what's happening in Sydney, Australia.  I felt a little sick hearing about the lockdowns and reports of a usually busy part of the city being deserted, all of which had reminders of October 22 in Ottawa.

The stakes are higher this time; something like twenty to forty people being held hostage in a café about 1½ kilometres south of the Sydney Opera House.  I must go to bed now, I hope there isn't bad news when I wake up -- at least no worse than usual.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Through a glass (with liquorice)

We've had an autumn chockfull of theatre this year - mainly because most of the plays we wanted to see this season at the National Arts Centre and the Great Canadian Theatre Company were on between October and December.

Winter starts next week (all evidence to the contrary - as usual, we've had an early start in Hades) and will be full of concerts, thank heavens, but we're finishing our own theatre season with NAC English Theatre production of Alice Through the Looking Glass which has been imported from the Stratford (as in Ontario) Festival, and performed by this year's repertory players of the National Arts Centre English Theatre.  We had already seen some of these delightful actors in an October production of The Importance of Being Earnest (and there were a few returns from last year's company).

I had an inkling we were in for an intriguing afternoon when the Resident Fan Boy explained to younger daughter that the backwards writing on the curtain was on a backdrop showing a hazy reflection of the NAC Theatre.  This made me look, and I noticed that the real table with chess pieces and the real armchair positioned at the edge of the stage were also reflected - in paint, on the drop curtain - like in an uneven mirror, a trompe-lœl.

Now, such attention to detail doesn't guarantee a good show. Consider the lacklustre live television version of Peter Pan which aired on NBC last week -- beautiful design, odd choices in casting and direction.  However, as this show began, I was immediately beguiled by the looking glass in the drawing room, before realizing that the props held up to it were not reflections. I didn't catch on to this until Alice climbed up on to the mantelpiece and another Alice climbed up in perfect replication.

In fact, it was a stage full of Alices who didn't hold hold still long enough to be counted until the second act.  There were at least thirteen "anti-Alices" who had brown wigs and blue frocks with white prints to create a photo-negative image of Alice - no matter their build, complexion or sex.  Whenever a cast member wasn't being a character in Through the Looking Glass, she or he became a looking-glass Alice masquerading as a soldier cleaning up after the extremely messy demise of Humpty Dumpty, or a shelf in the sheep's shop.  (Look, if you don't know the story you'll have to read the book or go see the play -- if you can get tickets.)

I was particularly charmed by being periodically showered by bubbles, streamers, and jelly beans (some of them were liquorice!), and by the poignant and strange song from the White Knight played by long-legged Alex McCooeye who resembled every cartoon of Don Quixote you've ever seen.
After the actors had taken their bow - backs to the audience, of course - the show seemed to follow me out into the lobby where the world briefly appeared strange and lovely, as if seen through rippled glass.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Not crying out my eyes this morning

Today was the last Friday I'll have to myself before Christmas.  Friday is usually the day younger daughter gets a lift both to and from school, so this morning, while she was having breakfast, I played the CBC Radio Two Morning Show while making my to-do list, and this song came on.  It was one of those "This is a great song; who is it?" moments.

Turns out it's Hawksley Workman, who was one of the musical guests at the Vinyl Cafe Christmas Concert three years ago. The song itself is more than a decade old, but I often don't notice songs for years. It's a good song for being stuck in traffic -- thank goodness I wasn't.

The brake lights
Are really quite lovely
Thousands of souls
All stopping together
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
The city
Starts fading behind us
Thousands of souls all wishing
Things were better
Is waiting to happen
For people like us
Not sure where they're going
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
Watching the fading
Watch everything go by.
(everything go by, everything go by, everything go by...)
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes
Is waiting to happen
But we have our eyes
Set dead on the ocean
On the highway tonight
There's no reason to cry out your eyes