Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Look at what I read!

In my previous blog entry, I listed some of my easy reading favourites. These were books that took absolutely no effort but were completely engrossing and satisfying. Next, I will list books that were more challenging but still left an impression. Again, feel free to leave suggested read lists.

I am currently half way through Terry Pratchett's Nation. I got bogged down when characters started speaking with spirits instead of each other. For the sake of my newly revived reading exercise, I hope this changes.

The White Hotel - D.M. Thomas
I had recently finished Sigmund Freud's Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria before I picked this up so I was in no mood for more psychoanalysis. Yet, piecing together the incongruous bits of information about the main character's past kept me going until I reached the chapter that made the Holocaust real to me in a way that no movie nor novel ever has. The apt term for the book's depiction of the Holocaust is chilling, not depressing.

Our Mutual Friend - Charles Dickens
This book was challenging only because it is as thick as a dictionary. I pride myself on being a speedy reader and yet, Our Mutual Friend took me seven days - after I had forsaken attending my classes in favour of holing myself up in my room. It was easy to get lost in Victorian London and the characters that occupy every facet of society. This was Dickens's last completed work and it seems that in his old age, Charles enjoyed aiming comedic barbs at the more pompous members of Victorian society. Admittedly, the ending is contrived but the overall experience was still enjoyable. Do not see the 1998 BBC production, which is overly dramatic and turns the male lead into a morose stalker.

Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Before McEwan's Atonement was published and turned into a big budget movie starring Keira Knightley, McEwan was known for nasty novels about sophisticated people drawn into violent situations. Amsterdam won McEwan the Booker Prize but it has none of the grandness and ambition of Atonement. Rather, its spare and ruthless treatment of its characters made it engrossing even as it filled me with dread. Atonement has a great ending that betrays the reader's previous peceptions but Amsterdam fulfills the pact that it makes with its readers from the very beginning.

Next up: books that I could not finish. It could be my longest reading list yet!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Look at me! I'm reading!

It has been a while since I have been caught up in a book. I read periodicals off the internet everyday and enjoyed some graphic novels quite recently, but my attention span has not allowed for the more leisurely pace that a good book requires.

Nicholas Carr was on "The Colbert Report" back in September to promote his book, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. He posits that the internet is taking away our ability to concentrate. Carr perfectly encapsulated the frustration that I have felt in trying to control myself as I jump from web page to web page, and days turn into months. Sometimes, I am forced to think hard in order to remember what year it is.

I have been trying to read Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies for the last several months but its textbook-like quality has only enabled my web surfing addiction. Then Joe got a book for his birthday: Terry Pratchett's Nation. I had a bad introduction to Pratchett's work through his Discworld books, which Joe is a fan of but I found too British in its humour (read: punny). Yet, I started Nation last night and I am almost half way through. Clearly, some easy reading is the solution to my book drought.

Eventually, I hope to finish Diamond's tome, which does get more interesting once war and disease become major players in human history. In the meantime, I am going to recommend some of my favourite fulfilling no-brainers, in the hope of receiving other people's easy reading lists. So, please recommend away.

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris
I recommend this book a lot but no one takes me seriously. I have never laughed so hard while reading as I did when I read about Sedaris's family and his ludicrous leaps of logic. His other books are great but not as close to comic perfection as his 2001 publication; a close contender is Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

First three books of A Song of Ice and Fire - George R.R. Martin
There's talk of plans to bring this series to the screen but I do not see how the film medium can do Martin's expansive story and massive cast of fully developed characters justice. Martin has been suffering from writer's block and the fourth book, A Feast For Crows, was a disappointment due to the absence of a good editor. However, an uncertain future for the series should not deter readers from enjoying the first three books, which meld a fantasy story with the ruthlessness of a war epic. Less emotionally straining and almost as absorbing is the complete Belgariad series by David Eddings.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
It never ceases to amaze me how easy a read this novel is, even with a span of 200 years since its publication. Austen's story has been adapted repeatedly, directly and indirectly, but nothing beats the subtle wit of the original. I highlight this Austen novel over her others because of its mix of social satire with unsentimental romance. Another early feminist romance that goes down easy is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. And heterosexual men should not fear castration from reading either of these books - they are just good reading.

Next up: my list of more challenging yet equally rewarding reading favourites.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Smut debate: real or fake?

The only show that I have been scheduling my life around this season is True Blood, an HBO show that was a pleasant surprise from my initial impressions. However, only now have I been compelled to blog about a particular episode.

Amy (played by Lizzy Caplan, last seen in Cloverfield) was introduced this past Sunday as a new bed mate for town slut, Jason Stackhouse. It was no surprise that Amy gets topless like everyone else in this series. Apparently, the blogs are a tizzy over Lizzy's nude scene since bloggers are geeks, and perverts to boot.

However, on sight, my eyes told me that Lizzy Caplan has implants. I will not post photos nor links since HBO will probably rip down anything it finds and blog readers tend to be adept at web searches.

Admittedly, Lizzy's breasts seem too reasonably sized for implants. Yet, support for my implant intuition include:
  • breasts that are too round and solid - there is no natural curvature or sway
  • nipples located right in the middle instead of at the end of a taper
  • a very skinny body outside of the chest (even Lindsey Lohan lost her chest when she became briefly anorexic)

If it turns out that Lizzy is indeed blessed by mother nature, I don't know whether to envy or pity her.

Copy and paste "Lizzy Caplan" "True Blood" into your search engine now and give me your scientific analysis. Be sure to wear goggles and a lab coat in case your significant other catches you.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

More Cowbell!

Another birthday for Joe, another opportunity to have a very expensive dinner. As usual, I read online reviews and decided to take Joe to Cowbell (1564 Queen Street West, Toronto), a restaurant that specializes in meat (animals are slaughtered and cured on the premises) and locally sourced ingredients.

On arrival, we found the restaurant to be small and intimate. The ever-changing menu was featured on chalk boards hanging from the wall; the dishes available to diners did not just change from day to day but also from hour to hour. Joe ordered the Grass fed Angus Beef with diced sausage, arugula and butternut squash ($30) and was informed by the server that he would be getting sirloin since that was the part of the cow that the chef had currently reached. I ordered the Red Deer with sausage, pickled beets and sauerkraut ($36, seen on the left) in the nick of time as it was the last portion of the chops available that night.

Before the arrival of our main dishes, Joe and I each enjoyed the Potato and Leek Soup with Goat Ricotta ($9) and shared the Cowbell Chaucuterie ($16), a selection of meats, cheeses and pickled vegetables of the day.

The soup was deliciously smooth as was the goat ricotta, which complimented it perfectly. The pâtés proved to be the most exciting part of the Chaucuterie as the sausages tended to share a similar smoky flavour.

Joe seemed very happy with his sirloin steak (seen on the right) and I was impressed with the freshness of his squash. However, I was absolutely in love with my red deer; truly cooked medium rare and flavourful in spite of the leanness of the meat. Everything else on my plate, including the sausage, paled in comparison.

For dessert, I chose the Chocolate Tart ($9, seen on the left) while Joe selected the Poire Etienne with vanilla ice cream ($9), named after its maker. My Chocolate Tart was dense but not overly sweet nor rich. The berry sauce that accompanied it had me scraping my plate for its surprisingly complex flavour. Joe enjoyed his dessert pear though we disagreed on the correct method to eat the accompanying chocolate roll; I was in favour of using one's hands while Joe used both his fork and spoon to carry and push the roll, respectively, into his mouth. Sometimes, I wonder if I can take him anywhere.

The waitstaff were pleasant but one of them never smiled though he was polite enough. It seemed ludicrous for him to be so intensely serious when he wore a red, long sleeved cotton shirt that featured the word 'Cowbell' on the chest. In my mind, a crisp shirt would probably have contributed to a more appropriate uniform.

Joe and I will be on the lookout for the restaurant's Farmers Nights in 2009. The chance to eat locally grown produce is appealing to both the conscience and the appetite.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Whine restraint update

My abstinence from whining in the past week did not go well. Turns out that it is easier to stop the flow of material into your mouth (i.e. meat) than it is to curb the crap that can come out.

On another note, Joe has pointed out that I usually resort to bitching more than whining. In my mind, I had lumped whining, bitching and complaining under one faux pas. Even after this clarification, Joe did not slap me though I am sure he was sorely tempted at times.

I will continue to be as stoic as possible. Next on my list of bettering myself:
  • stop swearing in front of children
  • dampen my hair-trigger temper
  • reduce the elevation of my back fat
  • get off the internet long enough to read a book

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Good news for Canada

In keeping with my 'no whine' policy this week, I will refrain from a tirade against Stephen Harper for wasting taxpayer money in his bid for a majority government that ultimately came to nothing. Instead, I will point out that Canadians are showing common sense not only at the ballot box but also at the box office.

While Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out on top at the American box office this past weekend, Canadians chose Body of Lies, a Ridley Scott film. The family flick about dogs that look like rodents came in fourth in Canada whereas the espionage thriller came in third in the U.S.

Now, Barack Obama seems like the obvious choice over John McCain for President but, then again, I am a Canadian who would have chosen Body of Lies over Beverley Hills Chihuahua.

Friday, October 10, 2008

No whine, please

I've decided on a new personal resolution that will probably be harder than my brief foray into full-time vegetarianism: I'm going to try to give up whining.

noun –verb (used without object)
1. to utter a low, usually nasal, complaining cry or sound, as from uneasiness, discontent, peevishness, etc.: The puppies were whining from hunger.
2. to snivel or complain in a peevish, self-pitying way: He is always whining about his problems. –verb (used with object)
3. to utter with or as if with a whine: I whined my litany of complaints. –noun
4. a whining utterance, sound, or tone.
5. a feeble, peevish complaint.

This is going to be hard because I live in a city of whiners; people who bitch about the weather, their jobs, or just about anything that tickles their fancy. Wait! Is that statement a whine?

For the next week, I will aim for 'stoic' rather than 'bottle of sunshine'. I am also giving the people around me permission to slap me if they hear a nasally sound escape from my mouth. And I will probably thank them for the effort, though not if it is excessively hard. Hopefully, friends on whine patrol will also refrain from whining around me because peer pressure and enabling make recovery much harder.

Until next Friday, no whine with my cheese.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

My latest obsession: Kings of Leon

I haven't heard such a great song of longing since U2's "All I Want Is You". Sacrilege, you say! Listen to "Use Somebody" by Kings of Leon and comment at will.

PS: Kings of Leon were the opening band for U2 during their 2005 US tour. So, maybe this isn't so far fetched at all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Nuit Blanche 2008 recap

I had high hopes for Nuit Blanche 2008 when I read that organizers were going to tackle two of my biggest complaints: over-crowded venues and under-servicing by the TTC. The TTC service was slightly better though I ended up outpacing one Queen St. streetcar after being prevented from boarding due to its full load. However, the lessons learned from the two previous years made for an event that held its visitors out of arm's reach though, at times, for good reason.

The biggest disappointment about the 2008 edition of Nuit Blanche was the lack of interaction with the public. In their bid to accommodate as many visitors as possible, many art pieces were featured in large scale venues and barred viewers from participation. I Promise It Will Always Be This Way by Jon Sasaki featured costumed team mascots performing to crowd pumping music in Lamport Stadium. The audience was not allowed on the field but relegated to cheering from the stands. In spite of the fact that the mascots frequently ran by, giving high fives to audience members and tossing balls into the crowd, the overall effect was strained because of the barrier.
In contrast, the piece that Lamport Stadium housed last year, Locust by Noboru Tsubaki featured a giant inflated locust who sat silently as visitors jumped and crawled all over it when the lone security guard was not within shouting distance. The ability to interact with the giant locust caused an awe and giddiness in the visitors that all the loud music and fist pumping of Saski's work could not muster. Unfortunately, Tsubaki's locust did suffer from the love bumps of visitors and had become severely deflated by 2am, according to one first hand account. Hence, the barrier is understandable though regrettable.
The distance between art and audience was maintained throughout the 2008 exhibits. Overflow by Michel de Broin featured a waterfall flowing from a third floor building window onto the ground below. Even though a public park surrounded the building, a chain link fence relegated visitors to peering like unwanted protesters from the sidewalk. Security is an understandable concern, but it is doubtful that the artist intended for the fence to become such a distraction from his work.

Even in the absence of an actual barrier, I often found myself standing at a respectable distance from the work, within a crowd. I felt like I was at a busker's festival as I watched Toronto City Hall light up like a pixel board (Stereoscope by Project Blinkenlights), a giant, inflated cone spin (Into The Blue by Fujiwara Takahiro, seen on the left), people smashed stuff (SMASH! Droppin' Stuff by The Custodians of Destruction), and beat drums (Sound Forest by Tova Kardonne and Christine Duncan). Sound Forest was especially disappointing as I had expected a more free flowing experience with the promise of "trees full of voices" and encouragements to "wander through, listen to the ten ambulatory choirs". Instead, a ring of spectators boxed in the performers and prevented newcomers from seeing anything.

One could claim that this is the price Nuit Blanche pays for its growing popularity. To accommodate the crowds, a distance must be maintained. Yet, art pieces from previous years welcomed visitors en masse while removing physical and mental barriers. 2006's Fog in Toronto #71624 by Fujiko Nakaya covered Philosopher's Walk in an artificial mist. Large crowds wandered throughout the surreal environment without major issue. Similarly, large crowds of visitors explored Lower Bay TTC Station for 2007's The Ghost Station by Kristen Roos, and were engulfed in the sound installation.
The only 2008 piece that integrated its audience into the art was Horroridor by Kelly Mark. In the York Street Concourse under Union Station, visitors walked between 20 foot screens featuring non-stop clips from horror movies accompanied by a barrage of screaming on all sides. Mark's piece was not met with the laughter that one might expect from a late night crowd in an uncomfortable situation.

The tomfoolery of rowdy idiots coming from the bars and clubs to Nuit Blanche after 2am has been under reported in the media. Apparently, a leg was broken during 2006's Ballroom Dancing by Darren O'Donnell after drunken participants joined in on the large scale game of dodge ball. O'Donnell slyly made reference to the need for security with his 2007 entry, Dancing with Teacher, where a security guard presided over the velvet rope that separated actual teachers from prospective dance partners in the audience.

In the bid to make Nuit Blanche accessible to a wider audience, the organizers have sacrificed intimacy in favour of security, and catered to the lowest common denominator. Much of the work featured in 2008 lacked the depth of previous work, focusing instead on superficial entertainment. Throughout the night, loud and obnoxious parties infringed on the enjoyment of works that lacked any audio component to drown out their comments.

Perhaps it is too much to ask for more work like last year's ThunderEgg Alley: A Dumpster Diver's Paradise by Swintak. Swintak's conversion of an industrial dumpster into a luxury hotel room was intimate, thoughtful yet amusing, and we were lucky to arrive when it was highly accessible. However, the corporate sponsor probably was not thrilled by the obscure location that Swintak's work resided in since it does not allow for maximum exposure of the brand to the public.

Only 2009 will tell if Nuit Blanche organizers choose to continue catering to a wider, fickle audience who want easy access to cheap thrills or if the event will be returned to the city's art enthusiasts. On the plus side, the large volume of participants in Nuit Blanche proves that Stephen Harper's claim that art events do not resonate with "ordinary people" is moot.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Nuit Blanche this Saturday!

I failed to recount my experience of Nuit Blanche 2007 in this blog because I was busy Facebooking at the time (photos of 2007 with captions way below). The short story is that I loved it and stayed out as late as I could (midnight) before retiring because I was slated to run the Waterfront Half-Marathon the next morning. My race performance suffered due to a forced pit stop brought about by the free egg salad sandwiches I had eaten the night before. And yet, it was worth it!

This year, with the Waterfront Half-Marathon behind me, I can enjoy Nuit Blanche on October 4 until Joe forces me to go home (probably, midnight).

Some highlights of the 2008 program (artist statements taken from the website) that I intend to see are:

Waterfall, 2008
Katharine Harvey - Toronto, Canada
Installation at Ontario Power Generation Building, 700 University Avenue
Katharine Harvey will suspend a "quilt" of recyclable plastic from the north side of the Ontario Power Generation Building, suggesting a suspended waterfall. The quilt will be made from recyclable plastic bottles and shaped into sheets of “falling water” by containing them in monofilament nylon netting and sewing the netting together into a quilt. Spotlights will light the installation from below so that from a distance, the audience will anticipate water but will instead find plastic trash, which has been magically transformed by theatrical coloured lighting to create the impression of falling water.

Stereoscope, 2008
Project Blinkenlights, Tim Pritlove, Thomas Fiedler - Berlin, Germany
Performance Art, Multimedia Installation at Toronto City Hall, 100 Queen Street West
Stereoscope is an interactive light installation at Toronto City Hall. This installation by the German group Project Blinkenlights transforms the landmark towers into a huge display screen by arranging lamps behind each of the 960 windows of the building. From dusk till dawn, the façade will serve as an ever-changing and evolving kaleidoscope of graphic animations automatically generated and interactively orchestrated. The public can influence "Stereoscope" through a variety of interfaces including smartphones, the web and physical controllers located at Nathan Phillips Square. Everybody is invited to participate and get more information at

Domaine de l'angle #2, 2008
BGL, Sébastien Giguère, Nicolas Laverdière, Jasmin Bilodeau - Quebec City, Canada
Installation at Masey Hall, 178 Victoria Street (Alley beside Massey Hall off of Shuter Street)
The Quebec City-based art collective BGL is known for installations that take over architecture and wryly comment on institutional space. BGL will construct a 40 metre long drop ceiling in the alley of St. Enoch's Square beside Massey Hall, framing the dumpsters, recycling bins and other life of the alleyway in the cool fluorescent light of the modern office.

Horroridor, 2008
Kelly Mark - Toronto, Canada
Video Installation at Union Station, 65 Front Street West (Lower West entrance)

Viewers will be guided toward a long corridor where they will pass through the approximately 20-foot dual projections of visual and audio recordings of hundreds of people screaming on either side of them. "Horroridor" is a multi-channel dvd installation utilizing found footage from horror-thriller movies. The installation examines Hollywood’s construction of the reaction to the unknown. "Horroridor" strips away narrative to a non-articulated response of rage, pain and frustration, by isolating media recordings of men and women screaming to unknown forces that threaten existence. Ultimately the primal scream is showcased.

I have selfishly chosen not to highlight the smaller exhibitions to prevent a stampede of attendees. However, every single detail of my night out on October 4, 2008 will be recounted in never ending blog entries to come.

In the meantime, here are some of my photographs from Nuit Blanche 2007.
Attendees piling into Lower Bay Station for The Ghost Station by Kristen Roos, a sound installation. The TTC employee scheduled to be in Lower Bay Station all night was not afraid of the wall shaking noise. "That's what the ear plugs are for," he told me.
Slow Dance With Teacher by Darren O'Donnell. My dancing partner was a real teacher who was slated to dance until midnight, at which point she was off to assist another Nuit Blanche artist until 5am. Then she was going to man a booth at Word on the Street on Sunday. Then she was going to enrich her students on Monday. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.
Event Horizon by Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins. An alien crash landing in the middle of King's College Circle at the University of Toronto. "Move along! Nothing to see here!" the officer said.
Play by Hear by Science and Sons. By inserting the ear buds of MP3 players into the small hole, your bad taste in music is projected for all to hear. "Everyone will know my love of Nickleback," said Joe.
Art...hopefully. Calling the number resulted in nothing.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Better luck next time, fatty

The weather conditions were ideal last Sunday during the Toronto Waterfront Half-Marathon and I set a personal course record. Yet, it was not one of my better race experiences. From the 3 kilometer mark onwards, I fought the desire to throw myself under a passing emergency vehicle. After grinding through the remaining 18km, Kenneth Mungara of Kenya (seen above) stole my thunder by finishing his marathon at the same time as me. All cheers and cameras were directed at him, as I pouted nearby.

However, I know that Kenneth Mungara understands how I feel because his win was probably overshadowed by Ethiopian elite marathoner, Haile Gebreselassie's smashing of his own world record that same day. Gebreselassie won the Berlin Marathon in 2:03:59, shaving 27 seconds from the previous record. Mungara's 2:11:00 finish seems like a snail's pace in comparison.

I'll be running the Las Vegas Half-Marathon in December and I now have a goal: I will beat the marathon winner. Hopefully, Mungara will be in the race; I would love to return the favour by stealing that jerk's thunder.

I'm kidding!