Sunday, February 28, 2010

things what puzzle me

the Shatnerization of the CBC -
Don't get me wrong, I love Bill Shatner. Doesn't everybody? But lately it has become clear to me that certain CBC radio personalities must really love Shatner, so much so that they have begun speaking in that patented Shatner-speak.

Jian Ghomeshi is the worst offender. His introductions on Q are ripped right out of the Rocket Man page book. I've also noticed Stuart McLean veering down the Shat-path whilst reading his little Dave and Morley stories on The Vinyl Cafe.

Sketchy, gentlemen, sketchy. Nobody out-Shats the Shat.

shoe squeak equalization -
Now that my other running shoe has started squeaking as well, it no longer bothers me to wear them. I can handle shoes that squeak equally; I cannot tolerate a one-sided squeak.

Facebook personality changes -
Why is it that some people are unrecognizable on Facebook? I don't mean their profile pictures, I mean their personalities. Some people, who are perfectly normal in real-life or in other areas of Web 2.0, turn into lamer or more annoying versions of themselves on Facebook. Why?

Do I do this? You would tell me, wouldn't you? Or am I consistently annoying?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

the strange dust lands on your hands

We woke to the news of the earthquake in Chile and that the epicentre was very close to the coastal town where my niece has been living. Nobody in the family had been able to make contact with her. But after a couple of hours of worry, we heard that she had somehow managed to contact a friend and let him know that she was safe.

We still haven't heard directly from her, but we have learned that the tsunami which flooded the town after the initial earthquake did crash against the walls of the house where she lives, that they are still experiencing hourly aftershocks, that people in the town have died.

And we thought that the biggest emotional turmoil we would be feeling today would be when we took the Resident Offspring to the airport for her return to university.

For a Saturday, it sure feels like a Sunday. Now I understand how Morrissey felt.

Friday, February 26, 2010

starting with E: Things The Granchildren Should Know

Things The Grandchildren Should Know
- Mark Oliver Everett

This is not your standard rock autobiography. But then again, Eels and its enigmatic frontman, Mark Oliver Everett, is not your standard rock band.

Like his music, Everett's book is written in simple yet eloquent language, which,
as a literary work, is both its weakness and its greatest strength.

Everett's life story is a study in pathos; his upbringing was unstable, peppered with madness and mired in tragedy. Still a young man, he lost his entire family - a withdrawn physics genius father, a confused child-like mother, a sister who was his biggest fan but who was unable to deal with her personal demons of addiction. That Everett managed to battle the mental illnesses that also constituted his psyche is a testament to both his obsession and to the healing power of creativity.

This book seems to fall naturally into two camps, one in which Everett tells of the often heartbreaking circumstances of his upbringing, the other in which he focuses on the creativity that ultimately gave him an outlet and the strength to fight his genetic demons.

Particularly in the early chapters of the book, I sometimes found Everett's simple and straightforward recounting of events to be somewhat abrupt. He tells of one event and then simply heads in to the next, without explanations, without summation. At first I found it a little offsetting; I kept looking for the punchline or the take-home message in each episode, but then I gradually realised that this was simply Mark Everett telling me the unembellished truth of his life. It was up to me to decide what the message was.

About halfway through Things the Grandchildren Should Know, something changed for me. As Everett began writing more about his struggles to live by his belief in the way he wanted to make his music, I began to find his life story to be more and more inspirational. Everett's life still had more than its share of tragedy, and he still divulged the details in his straightforward and unapologetic fashion, but I began to understand the power that music had to quite literally save this man's life. And I began to appreciate the simple beauty of the language that Everett uses to tell his autobiography.

Mark Oliver Everett does not need flowery and overly-descriptive words to give us the powerful and starkly honest music that Eels makes, and nor does he need purple prose to tell us the often heartbreaking but always inspiring story of his life so far.

Things the Grandchildren Should Know is a rock autobiography for thinking people. I think you should read it.

This being Friday and all, and Friday being Playlist Random Ten day, I shamelessly admit that I kick-started my random playlist with an Eels song today. And then let itunes handle the rest:

1. On My Feet - Eels
2. I Know that my Redeemer Liveth - London Philharmonic Orchestra
3. I was a Daughter - Basia Bulat
4. We Could be Looking for the Same Thing - Silver Jews
5. Girls in Their Summer Clothes - Bruce Springsteen
6. Sun Up Running for Home - Matthew Good Band
7. Polaroids - Slaraffenland
8. Plans - Bloc Party
9. Warm - Vic Chestnutt
10. Pass This On - the Knife

What's rocking your playlist?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I'd be lethargic too if I had a couple of tractor tires tied to my ass

I didn't even realize that cats had anal glands, to tell you the truth, and of course, had Sputnik been a dog, no doubt she would have found a way to let us know that her anal glands were full and infected, but cats simply do not do ass-dragging.

Happily, a trip to the vet this morning quickly set the ailing kitteh back on the path to health. One geriatric blood and urine screening (eliminating the feared kidney and thyroid issues), one pair of anal glands expressed, one long-lasting antibiotic injection, one subcutaneous electrolyte drip, one kitteh morphine injection, and five hundred dollars later, Sputnik is returning to her sleek and sassy self.

She is now eating, drinking, urinating, and has a renewed interest in life. In fact, she even snuck back into the urban assault vehicle after I was so careful to carry her out of the car upon returning home, so that she wouldn't have to cross the ice field that they call our street. She is not a huge fan of car rides, so this desire to climb back into the car is highly unusual, and I strongly suspect that she simply didn't want to waste a good stone, when she could be grooving to tunes and watching the telephone poles whizz by.

Sputnik is definitely not the same feline she was yesterday, and that is worth every penny.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

tired of this piece of string

I knew when the Resident Kitteh did not get up for breakfast yesterday that something was off. And today, except for a short trip from the armchair to the bed, she hasn't gotten up at all. Unless she has a remarkable recovery overnight, I am calling the vet in the morning.

She doesn't appear to be limping or to be particularly tender anywhere, although I admit I am only palpating her very gingerly.

She used her litter box once yesterday, but not at all today. She's always been a cat who drinks a fair bit of water but she refused to drink any when I brought some to her, although she did lick some off my fingers. I could hear her stomach grumbling when I was lying next to her, so I brought her a few shreds of cheese which she ate eagerly, but still refused water.

By the end of the day I thought I would try to tempt her with some skim milk, realizing full well that it would probably make her barf. She did not stop drinking for 5 minutes and then she ate a handful of her treats, but puked up the whole works an hour later.

Her skin still feel firm and hydrated but I am getting concerned. And it seems to me that her haunches are a little sunken.

She's still purring though, poor thing.

Do you have any advice?

Monday, February 22, 2010

rusting armour for effect

Nutella lattes are pretty scrumptious, I discovered this afternoon, but not exactly the knee-buckling experience that I had been led to believe they would be. For sheer ambrosia, you really have to settle your carcass into one of the Eames chairs or stylish sofas at deVille and savour one of their lattes made with Bernard Callebaut dark chocolate. That's decadence!

Since we've all be working pretty hard what with all this Olympic activity going on, we really need to build up our reserves a bit, don't you think?

What decadence have you indulged in recently?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

my inner Olympian

My energy levels are directly inverse to the amount of Olympics I watch. The faster that skeleton sled hurls down that ice ramp, the more those sparkly sequins spin during that flying camel, the more tortured the grimaces are on those speed-skating faces, the deeper I sink into my armchair.

Knees now higher than my chin, I blurt out my patriotic cliches, and thank little baby Jeebus that I don't have to squeeze myself into any of that spandex.

Friday, February 19, 2010

eligible for parole come Valentine's Day

I will say this for Facebook.

When the day has gotten away from you and you never did write the blog post you meant to write, but it happens to be Friday and you happen to have posted a Friday Random Ten playlist on Facebook, there is nothing to stop you from lifting it and reposting it as a bona-fide blog post.


Too Damn Holy for Friday Random Ten:
1. Bittersweet Me - REM
2. Oh - Underworld
3. Levi Stubb's Tears - Billy Bragg
4. No One Does It - Department of Eagles
5. Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis - Neko Case
6. Trainspotting - Primal Scream
7. Comment (If All Men Are Truly Brothers) - Wilco
8. I am the Resurrection - the Stone Roses
9. Fashion Coat - the National
10. Sister Margaret - the Acorn

What's been moving your money maker this Friday?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

mind filled with silvery stars: Wilco (the concert)

Wilco / Califone
Jubilee Auditorium, Feb 16/10

The roughly one-half of the audience who did not make it to their seats to see Califone open for Wilco at the Jubilee Auditorium on Tuesday night did themselves a great disservice. Sure, I understand the show started at the uncommonly early hour of 7:30, but Califone is one band that is worth throwing back the rest of that cocktail and hustling to your seats to see.

They're from Chicago after all. Everyone knows that there is something in the water in the windy city, that makes musicians eschue any hint of formulaic sound. Expect unabashed experimentation supported by solid musicianship.

That's exactly what Califone delivered. Rapidly establishing themselves as indie darlings, Califone makes music that is dense and diverse, a beautiful hypnotic melange of rich layers, vibrant percussion and
melodic fuzz. It's perhaps fitting that Califone's music has been described as cinematic, as the band has been known to perform live improvised music to accompany silent films. Recently they have produced a feature length film (written by Califone vocalist and primary songwriter, Tim Rutili). All My Friends are Funeral Singers shares many of the same characters and images that populate their most recent album of the same name, and has been selected for a showing at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

I loved Califone's set, was swept into a rhythmic trance by the music, and particularly enjoyed watching the old hippie guy grooving on the maracas.

When Wilco took to the stage, it was with a touch of humour that spoke to the band's self-awareness of their status as one of the most revered and influencial alt-rock bands performing today. With Olympic-sounding fanfare, the members swooped onto the stage one by one, while a disembodied electronic voice announced each man. It was fun, and it set the tone for an evening with a band who is well aware of their status and their elevated level of musical prowess, but who don't take themselves overly seriously.

Wilco has been in their current incarnation for about six years now, and the lengthy pedigree of solid musicianship is completely undeniable. Wilco just keeps getting better and stronger each time I see them play, their concerts bringing to mind a high-performance automobile - tight and strong and precise. But of course that cohesion comes as a result of the incredible talent that each member of the band brings.

On Tuesday night, Wilco played as a single entity, but there were also great breakthrough moments when the spotlight shone on individual members. I am always amused by multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone's showmanship; his rock star stances are showy but have more than a hint of self-mockery. Probably the most telling of the spotlight moments came following guitarist Nels Cline's simply gobsmacking flights of fancy during the song Impossibly Germany. The audience jumped to their feet in a spontaneous standing ovation to acknowledge his guitar wizardry, certainly something that I have never before witnessed in the middle of a performance.

Watching the band perform such masterpieces of experimentalism as Spiders (Kidsmoke), where each member seems to veer off onto their own noise path, only to bring to all back to a cohesive piece in the end, really illuminated the strength that Wilco has in unifying seemingly disparate elements into something noisy but glorious. On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, the gorgeous harmonies of You Are My Face and the stark heartbreak of Radio Cure spoke to the country sensibilities of the band and the diversity that they have mastered.

Wilco did not play selections from their new album, Wilco (the Album), nearly as much as I would have expected, instead playing a setlist that nicely spanned their entire considerable discography. The crowd, of course, loved this, especially the blond woman a couple of rows over who seat-danced with outstretched arms during the older ones like Shot in the Arm and Heavy Metal Drummer.

And when we were invited to supply the vocals for Jesus Etc, we did indeed sing more than the mandatory first verse and, according to Jeff Tweedy, we were better than Edmonton too. But only slightly. If Wilco is coming to your town, especially if Califone opens, I would suggest you get those tickets now. Even if they do make you sing for it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

you say avocado, I say ... avocado

Those are some happy Marthas, aren't they? I'm not saying it's because they just tried my world famous guacamole, but I am not saying it's not, either.

But I do know that my Marthas have asked me to share my recipe, and because I always thought that you should come and be a Martha too, you should be able to try this tasty creamy green concoction as well.

I ripped the recipe out of the London Free Press about fifteen years ago and have been using it ever since, the scrap of paper still sporting the jagged edges left when I was too lazy to go to the kitchen to find the scissors.

2 tbsp lime juice
2 ripe avocados
2-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
cayenne to taste
small amount tomato, finely diced
2 tbsp mayonnaise or Miracle Whip

Mash the avocado into the lime juice with a fork. Add the rest. Cover tightly and chill.

You'll want to eat this with a spoon, it's so tasty, but refrain and serve with whole grain tortilla chips or raw veggies instead.

Do you have any recipes that you always thought were too simple and everyday for anybody to be interested in, but that everybody wants to have?

Can you write a more awkward and convoluted sentence than the one above?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

but watch her close, she'll cheat you blind

The cat looks very pleased when I tell her that her big sister will be arriving home from university today to clean her eye boogers for her, although I am not sure she is entirely aware of just what this entails.

Two weeks in which this home will ring with laughter and the sound of little feet will be heard stomping through the house. Regardless of how conflicted I feel about the Olympics, I will joyfully accept this gift of an extended reading week.

When was the last time you played pool?

On Friday night we met up with friends for a sushi and pool date downtown. Since we live in opposite corners of the city, meeting centrally meant that neither of us was obligated to pack a lunch and sleeping bags for the journey. The pool hall we found was great, in the same complex as the sushi restaurant so we didn't even have to put our coats back on, with 17 tables and a dart board and even a ping pong table, which I definitely want to try next time we go back. Because we plan to go back, we all need to work on our pool prowess evidently.

I did sink my first shot, but my game rapidly disintegrated after that. My partner and I won two of the three games we played, but only because the other team kept pocketing the eight ball.

Darts came as a welcome relief, especially when I realized that the stand behind here line was much closer to the dart board than I figured it would be. I had visions of hurling those darts into the floor every single time, but I actually only managed that trick a couple of times. I did manage to rip the feathers off a couple of darts while removing them from the board though.

But in the end, when we decided that we would each take one more turn and call it a night, I planted two bull's eyes with my final two shots. Must have been my inner British soccer hooligan surfacing.

It was great to do something a little out of the realm of the usual. Gotta keep those neurotransmitters making new connections, you know.

Have you tried any activity lately that you haven't done in ages?
Any recommendations for what I should tackle next?

Friday, February 12, 2010

you have got the voice, my love, to melt a lake of ice

Remember when we used to participate in the Friday Random Ten? Those were fun days, weren't they?

In case you've forgotten, or in case you weren't around these parts at the time, the Friday Random Ten was a fun little exercise that many of us used to do, to help kickstart the weekend. It was a very simple concept, put your ipod or computer or whatever you use to listen to music on shuffle and list the first ten songs that play. And there you have your playlist to begin the weekend.

Inevitably someone would list some song that they had no recollection of ever adding to their music collection, and I generally found that, after playing the same tunes all week, itunes would somehow know that it was Friday and my computer would start belting out songs that had never before been released from their digital warehouse. Oh the hilarity that ensued.

Well I am happy to announce that, just in time for Valentine's Day, Friday Random Ten has been resurrected. Mel got things rolling again over on Facebook and now I'd like to invite you to join the blogger contingent of the FRT army. It's fun, it's easy, and it gives you a no-brainer post for Friday, leaving you more time to partcipate in debauchery.

Here's mine:

Darling How I've Missed You Valentine's Edition of the Friday Random Ten
1. Pull Yourself Together - Hefner
2. I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape - the Times
3. That Was Your Mother - Paul Simon
4. Come and Find Me - Josh Ritter
5. Almost Gold - the Jesus and Mary Chain
6. The Taming of the Hands That Come Back to Life - Sunset Rubdown
7. Med Sud I Eyrum - Sigur Ros
8. Neighbours Don't Mind - Immaculate Machine
9. The Bachelor and the Bride - the Decemberists
10. Run Devil Run - Jenny Lewis

Happy Friday!
What's shuffling out of your ipod?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

practically cornucopiaed

At first I was thrilled and then I was thrilled again and then I was conflicted and finally I was just damn pleased.

Thrilled that the Calgary Folk Festival, that beautiful island gem of musical escapism in the middle of the city, was nominated in CBC Radio 3's Best Music Festival in Canada Searchlight competition. Then thrilled that Sled Island Festival, that upstart hotbed of indie music awesomeness in the heart of downtown, was also nominated. Then conflicted when I realised that I couldn't vote for both of them. And finally, just damn pleased that we are blessed with this dilemma of having two outstanding festivals in the same city less than three weeks apart.

Oh there are some other fine festivals in the running as well, but we all know that Calgary is the place to spend your musical summer, don't we?

So when can you get here?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

the world that you need is wrapped in gold silver sleeves

The city has been wrapped in hoar frost for an eternity. Visually stunning it's been, with those branches tinted an impossibly persistent puffy white. A week in, though, it's become almost oppressively monochromatic.

The sky, normally the painful blue of the high-plains desert, has been stained a permanent white. Shrouded branches raking the cloud cover have only allowed more white to bleed out onto the permafrost. Ice ruts lining the streets in rhyming couplets hide their jagged edges beneath the shimmer of new snow grains.

Nobody bothers to shovel anymore. It's really only frost, after all, not proper snow.

Today, the sun returned, its spewing solar plasma reminding us just who determines the seasons. Not yet time to straddle the divide between supernova and red giant, Ra breathes a tale to Helios and hurls flares at the terrestrial prison of ice.

And branch by branch, life is released.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

inferior only to the ocean, folkies will always dance

Rae Spoon / Geoff Berner
Local 522, Feb 5/10

I'm not sure how long Local 522 has been in existence, but Friday night was my first time there. In fact, prior to the announcement of the Spoon/Berner concert, I had never heard of the place. But with the impending closure of the Warehouse, it's a welcome addition to the live music scene in Calgary.

At first glance it has a slightly tacky 70's basement feel to it, with the
moose head on the wall and all, but the upscale menu and fully stocked central bar, in addition to the generously-scaled and nicely padded stools, ensure that taking in a show is considerable step up from listening to Cheap Trick from the old orange chesterfield in the rec room.

It was a veritable who's who of the Calgary folk music scene at Local 522 on Friday night. And
not just on the stage. I'm not going to succumb to the temptation to drop names here, but the headliners and their respective entourage were at the next table, while certain Woodpigeons and local crack songwriter/storytellers shared the table in front of us with a legion of Calgary Folk Festival royalty, and the merchandise.

It felt like home. I definitely felt like part of the tribe, particularly after having my name recognised (by virtue of this humble blog) while indulging in the inevitable chatting that
occurs whilst perusing the available merchandise.

Opener (and violinist for Geoff Berner) Brigitte Dajczer only had three CDs left on the table, but I bought one with the proviso that she's going to mail it to me. Her solo set was very brief, a little nibble of Edith Piaff-inspired cabaret. It would have been interesting to hear more, but I imagine they were pressed for time due to the extended sound check which ran the show late, and which caused the Spousal Unit to declare more than once "they're not really burning the house down with this song, are they?" After a while one gives up on trying to explain the concept of tuning and sound check.

Rae Spoon had been very sweet and awkwardly gracious while signing his CD for me. I was offered a choice of Sharpies - an enticing purple from the merch table or red produced by the musician. But not just any red, he clarified in a conspiratorial tone, "it's claret". How could I refuse, claret autograph it was.

Once Rae took to the stage, any residual awkwardness evaporated. He was still sweet and so tiny up there on the stage, but proved to be such an engaging and comfortable banterer, that the transformation was palpable. He has an incredible voice, which belies his wee stature, and his ease and connection to the audience, already leaving their seats (myself included) for a better vantage point, really drew us in. When he played We Become Our Own Wolves from his incredible album inferioryouaresuperior, naturally we all howled along with our best wolf howls when invited.

Geoff Berner then reprised his patented drunken klezmer-punk schtick, but not before also graciously signing the cleverly offbeat merchandise that he had on offer, albeit in plain old ballpoint. He had the coolest looking accordion-bedecked tee shirts for sale, for which I am now kicking myself for not buying.

By the time Geoff took to the stage, the dance floor was packed. And I mean dance floor in the truest sense of the word. This was not merely a place where people stood and bobbed their heads to the music. This was a place where people danced! Waltzed even, when called upon to do so. I saw Rae Spoon being carried around under the arm of a gigantic guy in a toque, and Kris Demeanor and Chantal Vitalis cutting a rug in fine folk festival tradition.

We all sang lustily along with chorus of the Official Theme Song for the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympic Games ("the dead children were worth it!"), and we ignored Geoff's announcement that in lieu of an encore, the band would just drink with us. And despite the somewhat celebratory announcement made by the accordion-playing whiskey-swilling, half-German-dating rebel that the bar was now sold out of Jamieson's whiskey, we drank to Geoff Berner and his merry band of misfits in heartfelt spirit.

What a hell of a night.

Friday, February 05, 2010

I write my school report on "Why I Love My Jeans"

It's immediately evident to anybody who has ever met me that I am fashion-challenged. So naturally my first reaction, upon receiving the invitation to the press reception for the grand opening of Fashion Central, was panic. I had absolutely nothing appropriate to wear and suspected that jeans and a Radiohead tee shirt were not quite appropriate.

Ultimately curiosity bested my wardrobe deficiencies, and that is how I found myself swanning about Calgary's long-awaited high-end fashion hub at noon yesterday with a press package tucked under my arm and a glass of champagne in my hand.

Located right smack in the heart of downtown (corner of Stephen Avenue and First St SW),
Fashion Central is comprised of three painstakingly renovated heritage buildings, which contain high end boutiques and cornerstone fashion-forward stores like Betsey Johnson and Murale beauty store, as well as the fabulously decadent deVille coffee shop.

I am definitely planning another excursion when several more of
the stores open over the next few months, because this place is spectacular. Bear in mind that this statement comes from someone who is allergic to shopping, so you know that Fashion Central has got to be pretty special. The architecture is stunning - exposed brick and sandstone walls, hardwood floors through all three levels, and all-glass storefronts facing into a skylit atrium with a fabulous red staircase.

Upon arrival, I received my stylish little press package, filled with goodies like a 4GB nerd stick (black and purple), the requisite background information, a button (which I supplemented with a few more swiped from the basket at the reception table), and the most adorable pocket mirror crafted to look just like one of the Fashion Central buttons - lime green with white polka dots. I am such a sucker for that sort of thing.

I chatted a bit, then headed up the feature staircase, taking care not to pop any of the 1
7,000 helium-filled pink balloons, which had been tied to the newell post on the landing, as I ducked underneath them. I wandered into the stores, marvelling at the architecture, which granted each store a distinct shape and size, and chatted to a few of the shop owners who were obviously very pleased and proud to be setting up shop in such a premium location. I have to admit I found myself fantasizing about leasing one of the remaining vacant spaces, just to be able to immerse myself in beautiful surroundings every day. I could set up a desk there, very spare and chic with maybe just a really fabulous blue bowl at one end, where people could leave donations for the privilege of watching me peck away at my laptop. Or they could take me to deVille and buy me a cup of coffee.

The reception was catered by deVille, whom I was pleased to see have opened a sister location to the divine coffee shop housed a couple of blocks down in Arts Central. Not trusting myself to juggle a slurpy raw thing in addition to the glass of champagne that I helped myself to, I stayed clear of the oyster bar, and I gazed longingly at the vast array of hand-dipped chocolates on offer, telling myself they were simply too beautiful to eat. But I did accept a little sandwich, which I munched on while poking through the rest of the shops, leaving a trail of crumbs on the gleaming hardwood.

The ribbon cutting was saved for the actual grand opening, but the press types in attendance were treated to a few words by the area Alderman, a Downtown Association representative, and by David Neill, the man behind this and many more downtown revitalization projects, about the scale of this project.

After the polite clapping, I poked my head into Murale where I
was greeted enthusiastically and ultimately introduced to an esthetician who offered to give me a mini make-over. Defences obliterated by the champagne, I agreed to let her powder and lipstick me. She complimented my lip shape, so we are now best friends. I even scored an eye cream sample and managed to escape without purchasing anything.

I can see Fashion Central as being a fun place for the Marthas to descend upon during the next Womanly Weekend. We could treat ourselves to some libations at deVille, get outfitted in some rock n' roll haberdashery at Betsey Johnson, perk up the girls with some new lingerie from Nu Form, and get fitted with some false eyelashes at Murale.

And then the Marthas would hit the town.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

fun with dead people: Mary Roach's Stiff

I am sure I have already yammered on endlessly to most anybody who will listen about what a fascinating and enjoyable book this is. But if you are one of the unfortunate few who has so far escaped my enthusiastic blatherings about Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach, allow me to back you into the corner for a few minutes and give you my elevator pitch while you search desperately for a means of escape.

Stiff is not only one of the most enthralling books I have read in a long time, but also one of the funniest. Which is not exactly what you would expect from a book about cadavers. But with this book, Roach joins the ranks of those science writers who have become personal heroes of mine with their ability to explain complex concepts in such a way that even a dolt like me can understand them.

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the body (you can't stumble through a Master's in Physiology without some level of enthusiasm), and have never been particularly squeamish about the processes of decomposition. But even if you are bothered by the engrossing details of decay or by the thought of injury analysis of the human wreckage that is sometimes required to piece together the details of an air crash, I guarantee that you will be fascinated by the lengthy history of body snatching for the purposes of human dissection, by bizarre tales of medical cannibalism, and by a litany of attempts at human head transplantation.

Roach looks at the use of cadavers in medical school anatomy classes and as practice tools for plastic surgeons, as volunteers in body farms to pinpoint decomposition times and factors for crime analysis, at the use of body parts in crash injury studies and in ballistics and bomb analyses, and she ponders the concept of the human soul and the issues that arise in brain death.

Who knew that dead people led such busy and intriguing lives?

Did I mention that Stiff is hilarious? Somehow Roach manages to bring real laugh out loud humour to the subject, while still treating the deceased with dignity and compassion.

Personally I cannot wait to read Mary Roach's other books - Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

Monday, February 01, 2010

we'll pour, we'll score, we'll fall flat on the floor

My only regret is that we never got to use this awesome dainties platter that we found in the cupboard. That and the fact that Paranormal Activity proved to be just plain lame and not one bit scary. Other than that the Martha weekend was an overwhelming success.

The cottage we rented was uncommonly lovely, nestled in a little wooded alcove in a suburb overlooking a golf course, which in turn overlooked a lake. Other than a weird hodgepodge of architecture on the landing leading into the loft bedroom, it was tastefully and comfortably appointed. There were books and games in every room and the owners even left a bottle of wine for us in the fridge. Or it could be that we were just in the wrong house.

We only left the cottage once, to go on a hike on Saturday afternoon, which turned into a bit of a cross country trek. One of us was not wearing socks inside her runners, and yet she was the Martha who led us across the golf course instead of following the road, and the only one who didn't bale and head back to solid ground once we started breaking through the snow crust and sinking in past our knees.

Fortunately there were bracing libations and hearty sustenance waiting for us back at the cabin.

Much arts and craftery was undertaken. Knitting, hat box decoupaging, collaging, and pen drawing with just a soupcon of paint chip art kept us out of the bars and around the kitchen table. You know the Marthas are becoming more mature when they replace dancing on tables with cutting up National Geographics at them.

But fear not, gentle readers, silly photos were still taken and will be forthcoming shortly.

While you are waiting, I would like to invite you over to New Canadian Modern, where you can read my latest article about some of the inventive ways in which some music collectives function. The Collective Good gives you a little bit of history, a little bit of social commentary, and a profile of an arts and music collective that's doing things right.

Tell me you don't want to read that!