Friday, May 29, 2009
Up (2009) - Everyone has seen the trailer with the cute old man, the cute boy scout, and the cute talking dog. What I have only heard about is the touching six minute intro that encapsulates the protagonist's life with his late wife. I fear that I will sob my way through a wad of tissue, like I did with Wall-E.
Away From Her (2007) - Twenty-something year old Sarah Polley surprised everyone with her directorial debut about a couple whose 50 year marriage is threatened by the onset of Alzheimer's. The wife's self-imposed exile into an old age home to prevent herself from becoming a burden to her husband is the stuff of my most realistic nightmares. Worth another box of tissue, for sure.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Dr. David Kessler, former Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was on The Current today in a segment called "Overeating" and he equated commercial food with a drug, "optimized for bliss" with the perfect combination of fat, sugar and/or salt. Add the "emotional gloss" of advertising campaigns and you have a socially acceptable addiction waiting to happen.
As with any addiction, consumers must reprogram their routine and perceptions to overcome the problem. The strength of sensory cues (sight and smell of food) needs to be acknowledged the same way it is understood that placing bottles of alcohol in front of an alcoholic is asking for a relapse. Addicts must reprogram themselves by breaking unhealthy food's association with a positive experience ("It tastes so good") and instead link them with the negative effects ("The satisfaction is only temporary and then I'll feel bloated and guilty").
Dr. Kessler admits that the lure of food can never be programmed out completely, much like for a reformed alcoholic or smoker. However, replacing the positive stimulation of unhealthy food with a negative connotation will be easier than attempting to exert control over the desire with dieting or willpower. As Kessler states at the end of his segment, "If you want that donut, even if you know that it's not good for you, there's nothing (anyone) can do to get in the way between you and that donut (...) once your brain has been activated."
Monday, May 25, 2009
Recent drama in my workplace have included:
- My boss checking with my immediate supervisor regarding my workload and deciding to add to that workload without consulting me. It is worthy to note that I had just returned from a holiday, was catching up and actually had plenty to do outside of my immediate supervisor's jurisdiction. I was challenged to list all of my current projects then met with predetermined hostile indifference.
- Asking for vacation time only to be taken into a meeting where my job description was cited like a contract negotiation. When it occurred to me that my boss had made up her mind before I ever had the chance to offer possible solutions, like unpaid overtime prior to departure, I was forced to listen to the boss and immediate supervisor tag-team me with repetitive officiousness.
In mapping out our destinations, we aimed for the buildings that we would not normally have access to like the National Ballet School, the Carlu, and the Royal Canadian Military Institute. However, we were impressed by familiar yet unexpected gems like the Toronto Dominion Centre, where we were granted access to the 54th Floor Boardroom, which retains much of the meticulous Modernist style of architect, Mies van der Rohe, and Old City Hall, which I have never actually entered. Architect, Edward James Lennox aimed to impress visitors with an imposing entrance that leads unexpectedly into a bright main hall, and 110 years later, his design is still effective. I never knew that the heavy-looking building was actually hollow, with an interior courtyard, and full of large windows, to lessen the reliance on the then-untried technology of electricity.
While waiting in line for the National Ballet School on Saturday morning, fellow attendees were already relaying tales of the legendary lineup outside the Don Jail. What was a 'must see' on our list was quickly crossed off with regret. However, happy news after so many visitors were turned away from the Don Jail during Doors Open: the Don Jail will be open to tourists starting June 1 for an admission price of $20. Then, in November, the Jail will be gutted by Bridgepoint Hospital and converted into office space. Having visited Alcatraz in San Francisco, I think Toronto is destroying a future tourist attraction in its plans for the Don Jail, but gutting the Jail will be in keeping with Toronto's tradition of destroying its past for short-sighted convenience.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
It is hard to say what makes zombie killing so appealing for everyone but for myself, I enjoy the guiltfree killing spree that I can engage in. The practice has all the moral satisfaction of weeding but with the bonus of the weeds being human shaped, mobile and hostile to my well-being.
When the gaming was over, Joe and I went to see X-Men Origins: Wolverine because we already saw Star Trek last weekend (and it was excellent). I am in agreement with the majority of critics that Hugh Jackman is the only strength in an otherwise mediocre movie. However, in an exchange after the credits had rolled, a fellow audience member and a theatre employee put it best:
"It was better than X-Men 3."
"Yeah. At least Brett Ratner couldn't touch this one."
Friday, May 15, 2009
I do recommend the Kichadi Fast to others, if only to gauge how many calories you consume when taste is taken out of the equation. I do not recommend visiting friends for a home cooked meal while on the Kichadi Fast. If there was a low point of this past week, that would definitely have been it (I am so sorry, Fiona).
A final note on Iceland: I mentioned previously how aloof Icelanders can be and our Hotel Bjork concierge, Oddur, was a perfect example of this. He failed to smile when we arrived and was initially all business, but was soon engaged in an ongoing joke about his perpetual presence at the front desk in the most hilariously deadpan manner. By the end, we were selling Canada to him as a vacation destination and he seemed genuinely interested. I must remember to seal the deal by sending him a Canadiana postcard.
Monday, May 11, 2009
If the Kichadi fast has taught me anything, it is that I enjoy tasty food. I used to think that I was an indiscriminate eater but, it turns out that I am a flavour connoisseur. When flavour is taken out of the equation, I would rather starve until hunger pains force me to take in some form of sustenance.
On the plus side, I haven't felt any discomfort other than the aforementioned hunger pains. I think the psychological deprivation of not being able to eat at will has been dampened by my previous experience with weekday vegetarianism. And in an attempt to distract myself from my Kichadi breakfast on Sunday morning, we caught the 10:20am screening of Star Trek, which was awesome, and free of kids, weekend warriors, and delinquents.
An unexpected side effect of my fast is that Joe is not eating well either. To be clear, he is not participating in the Kichadi fast but, he feels bad about eating regular food in front of me and has taken to putting off eating until necessary. Between the two of us, our home is now reminiscent of the Nebuchadnezzar in The Matrix, in which its crew ate unappetizing but nutritious gruel that would not distract them from their duty. Except, my duties are less exciting than fighting genocidal machines so I find myself daydreaming about food a lot.
I am looking forward to eating regular food again come Saturday, if only to enjoy the freedom to eat what I want, when I want.
Saturday, May 09, 2009
I am only on the first day of my one week Kichadi fast and, already, I am regretting my public commitment to this endeavor. I am kind of hungry but the Kichadi is so tasteless that I shudder at the thought of eating it. Maybe if I think of Iceland, I can stave off insanity...
Climbing down into a volcanic cave did not quite measure up to the glacier but was still off the beaten path and wonderfully unsafe. Lully provided us with helmets and headlights but, otherwise, trusted us to climb over jagged, icy rock in low light conditions unassisted. 100m into the cave, we turned off our lights and found ourselves in complete darkness. It was unnerving to think of what would have happened if technology failed us and panic did its work.
Like spent children, we passed out during the return to Reykjavik. Lully was still peppy, perhaps fueled by his numerous snacks. His sweet nature was definitely the cherry on top of the best tour that I have ever been on. Well worth the credit card bill that met us on our return to reality.
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Our food experience in Iceland was similarly excellent. We ate fresh seafood until we feared the onset of gout. Lobster was readily available at all restaurants but their small size surprised us; the lobster tails were no longer than 4 inches. Of course, fish was also a staple of the local menus as was lamb, which I ordered repeatedly. Three highlights of our eating frenzy were:
1. Sandholt bakery on Laugavegur - their pastries and smoked salmon sandwiches were a comfort to us on our first wet and cold day in Reykjavik
2. Bæjarins beztu pylsur - a hot dog stand by the waterfront that has served Bill Clinton. The sausage itself is a blend of pork and lamb. Toppings included remolaði, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish, and fried onions.
3. The Sea Baron - owned by a former fisherman, various seafood shish-kebabs are grilled on demand. This was where we ate Minke Whale and realized that whale tastes like steak. It was a revelation because we had expected whale to taste like fish, or the standard fallback, chicken. The lobster soup was also very flavourful.
To the horror of many, we made a point of eating at the only McDonald's in Reykjavik, located in Kringlan Shopping Centre, one of only two malls in town. Kringlan was like any other suburban mall, catering to teenyboppers and their parents, and our McDonald's meal was similarly underwhelming in taste. What did thrill us was the gender specific packaging; only the nutritional information for women was displayed (see photo at the top). We could only speculate that if a male consumer buys a meal, then he gets the male packaging with corresponding nutritional information. Inefficient and fascinating.
Obviously, I broke my weekday vegetarian routine while in Iceland. In an attempt to make up for my vacation, I will be undergoing the Kichadi Fast for a week. This diet sent friends on a meat frenzy after a mere three days but prompted them to change their eating habits nonetheless. I am going to speculate that I will be able to last the seven days and be a ray of sunshine throughout.
Bitchy blog entries about Iceland to come.
Friday, May 01, 2009
In an attempt to curb anecdotal diarrhea, and prevent readers' eyes from glazing over, I will try to bunch my stories under subject lines.
Icelanders are different.
We knew that we had entered a new country as soon as we boarded our Icelandair plane. Not only were the air stewards and stewardesses perfect Aryan specimens (blonde, blue eyed, about 6 feet tall), but the women wore the jaunty stewardess caps of old and one even wore 4 inch stilettos (!). The music selection on Icelandair was also hipper than that of any airline I have ever flown with: it featured homegrown stars like Bjork and Sigur Ros, but also Mark Ronson, MGMT, and Radiohead. And they kept the entertainment units going even as we landed, as opposed to shutting them down half an hour before landing, forcing passengers to focus on the descent without distraction, like other airlines. So, I landed in Keflavík International Airport while listening to "15 Steps" from In Rainbows (sweet!).
During the rest of the trip, we found Icelanders to be standoffish but usually willing to assist and enthusiastic about International cuisine - not unlike Torontonians. However, unlike in Toronto, service does not require tipping, and they do not believe in price gauging. Once engaged in conversation, Icelanders tended to have a dry sense of humour. Residents of downtown Reykjavik were unbelievably stylish, even the parents of young children, who were dressed in equally covetible multicoloured outfits. They have clearly given up on dressing for the weather, which dictates a waterproof jacket and layers. Instead, residents pranced around in leather jackets and stylish high heels, putting my practicality to shame.
Nature dominates in Iceland
As cosmopolitan as the locals are, they number at around 320,000, making them no match for mother nature. The weather changes rapidly throughout the day, going from bright sun to pelting wind and rain within hours. Umbrellas are rarely used by anyone. On the plus side, Icelanders enjoy cheap utilities due to geothermal heating and glacial springs. The water from the tap tastes like spring water and is not chlorinated; neither are their geothermic public swimming pools, which thus require all users to scrub their nether regions vigorously prior to entry.
Largely untouched and uninhabited, the landscape of Iceland is breathtaking. Within an hour's drive of Reykjavik, one can experience expansive grassy plains or volcanic fields covered in thick moss, surrounded by rows of mountains. One of my best experiences was visiting the Langjökull glacier, which unlike the Canadian glaciers, was pristine and virtually untouched by visitors; the feeling of having such a majestic view all to ourselves made me giddy, though that could have been attributed to being 1km above sea level. More popular and accessible tourist attractions like Gullfoss waterfall and the nearby geysirs, were also unmarred by human contact. Living close to a international landmark like Niagara Falls, we were blasé about seeing any waterfall, but were pleasantly surprised to find out that Gullfoss is elegantly multi-tiered. Plus, we were able to get closer to these dangerous demonstrations of mother nature's power than we ever would back home. A mere string, hung one foot off the floor, politely suggests where tourists should stop. However, if a tourist wanted to get closer to the powerful plunging water or receive a 100C jet of water to the face, they are free to do so.