Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dante's home inferno and other tales from the trenches

Rather knackered tonight after a weekend with the Marthas. Being the one who most values her personal sleeping space, I opted for the pullout couch rather than crawl into one of the beds with a fellow Martha. It was not a pillow-top chesterfield.

Very happy we opted to see The King's Speech on Friday night. I think it's the only film to win anything tonight that I actually saw this year. It really was far more interesting than a film about speech pathology had any right to be.

Drove around all weekend with a penis drawn in the dirt on the passenger's side of the urban assault vehicle. Shortly after checking into the hotel on Friday evening, some stealthy artist evidently thought my ride needed a little personalizing. The Marthas were far more pleased about this than they should have been.

Got my ass kicked at Parcheesi by a defensive player, of all things. The other pathologically aggressive player in the game was so busy attacking me (for which of course I had to retaliate) that we didn't even notice that little sneak waltzing right in between us to win.

Was very surprised by the powerful play we watched on Saturday. The panel discussion that followed was an important addendum to the experience. Details, and a review of sorts, to come.

Lasted for less than an hour at the Home Show. Even though I managed to avoid be sham-wowed, slap-chopped, or magic-mopped, I simply could not handle being a sheeple in a slowly shuffling crowd of thousands of other sheeple. It was how I imagine hell to be.

Going to bed. Smoochie boochies.

Friday, February 25, 2011

coherent chaos

I took it as a good omen when I saw this hair stuck to the glass shower wall this morning. There was no rearranging or retouching involved, simply the random discarding of a mammalian filament into the universe. How could I not be cheered when entropy hands me a heart?

Very shortly I will be stepping out with my Marthas for the weekend. We'll be staying in town this time, at a hotel within hollering distance of my house, which may come in handy, you never know.

We've all vowed to keep the usual embarrassment of snacks to a mere chagrin, but between you and me and the bedpost, we know it wouldn't be a true Martha weekend if one of us (who shall remain nameless) did not bring along a 5 lb bag of brown sugar. This really happened!

Tonight is movie night. My suggestions of Exit Through the Gift Shop, 127 Hours, Biutiful, Barney's Version, The Kids are Alright, or Blue Valentine were all nixed, but fortunately we could all agree on Colin Firth ... I mean, The King's Speech.

After checking out rumours of warm cinnamon rolls in the hotel breakfast bar, we will head downtown tomorrow where we are taking in a matinee performance of She Has a Name, which will be followed by a panel discussion on human trafficking. A post-theatre wander through Kensington may be in the cards, followed by a trip to my new favourite local Indian restaurant, and then I am going to kick some Martha asses at pool.

On Sunday, I am really going to have to load up on the rumoured warm cinnamon rolls because we are going to the Home Show. Pray for me. I'll be the one fighting all the guys for the boyfriend chairs after I have witnessed all the mop demonstrations that I can stand.

What are you doing this weekend?
Have a lovely one, whatever your plans.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

let's talk about sex, baby

Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
- Mary Roach

I have a fond spot in my heart for this book. Not only is it written by the most compelling, most entertaining science writer to ever attempt to explain complex concepts to lay people, but it was a gift from a dear friend who knows my predilection for everything Mary Roach has ever penned.

I am happy to report that Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is every bit as engaging as Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, which are the other Mary Roach books that I have managed to read thus far. Now more than ever, I cannot wait to read Packing For Mars.

In her signature witty style and with her insatiable curiosity, Roach investigates sexual physiology. She tackles the lengthy and often bizarre history of sex research, delves into animal sexual behaviour and fertility, discusses the pharmacologization of impotence and libido, observes penile implant surgery, and bravely broaches the discomfort of being a subject in more than one sex study. And considering that one of the studies involved Roach and her husband having marital relations in a lab, hooked up to monitors, under the baleful eye of the researcher, I would suggest that Mr. Roach is one of the most supportive husbands on the face of the earth.

Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is a witty, entertaining, and often mind-boggling offering from the gamest science writer around. I wouldn't want to face Mary Roach in a game of dare, but I sure would love to have dinner with her.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

locked in a cannery

Last night I dreamed of a mating dance. Like cranes and crickets in jackets and heels, we humans circled around each other, heads swiveling to maintain eye contact.

The floor was a chessboard and we were stylized pieces, moving in syncopated fashion from square to square. The Red Queen was in high spirits, benevolent. No heads rolled.

I wore diamonds in my ears and my dance partner looked a little like Owen Pallett. No wonder I assumed it was a mating dance.

Strangely, I can't recall the music.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

a childhood in snow

You have no idea how glad I am that the Spousal Unit did not suggest we attend the outdoor hockey game at McMahon stadium this afternoon. The Heritage Classic may have been a big deal amongst NHL fans but I had absolutely no desire to pay $250 each to sit outside on a metal bench in -25C windchill. That's why god made television sets.

And magazines.

It's a trifle on the late side, but the new issue of BC Musician Magazine is now available in record stores and coffee shops. I was curious about the real value of album reviews, so in a highly robust opinion poll, accurate within 3 percentage points 23 times out of 19, I queried a handful of musicians about their experiences with album reviews.

You can read their collective thoughts in my article, Critiquing the Hype Machine. I wouldn't lie to you.

Friday, February 18, 2011

YVR tulips for YYC snowbanks

After last night's wild hail storm, complete with thunder and lightning, it was a little surreal to not only awaken to brilliant blue skies this morning, but to also spot dozens of tiny purple tulips blooming in Kitsilano front yards as we walked past this afternoon, many of them inches away from residual hail reservoirs.

Aa I await my boarding call, I am more than a little sad to be leaving behind these uncharacteristically blue Vancouver skies for the cold freeze that is griping Calgary. But at least I'm not trying to get to Winnipeg.

It was a grand mini-break. There was coffee and cake and costume shop browsing with Mel, dinner and coffee chats and hail storm dodging with Al. There was much walking up and down hills under the rainbow flags of Davie Street, there was exploring the record stores and thrift shops of Main Street.

Sadly, we did not see Our Lady of the Chinese Sitcoms at McIntosh's Grocery during this trip, nor her perpetually awesome son, but we did make our acquaintance with Mr. Our Lady as we stopped in to buy milk, and he seemed very nice too. I suspect the entire Our Lady family is lovely. They are certainly the cornerstones (quite literally) of Davie and Thurlow.

See you in a couple of months, Vancouver. Don't forget me.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the problem of leisure (what to do for pleasure)

I did not get lost leaving Vancouver airport this time. As long as you do the opposite of what you think Lady Garmin is telling you, you'll be fine. It's a trick I have learned over time, one that has saved me from being murdered in a lake or driving the wrong way down a one-way.

It was almost sunny as I motored along Marine Drive, the friendly-looking mounds of the Coastal Mountains, lightly shrouded in fog, the arbutus leaves unfathomly green, not a snow bank in sight. It's very hard to miss Calgary when in Vancouver.

The first day of this mini-break was filled with sushi, curry, wandering Kitsilano in the rain, Thrift store finds, snuggling under comforters watching the Westminster Dog Show, and finally heading back out into the night to be (as the frontman for the Hollerados so eloquently put it) fucked so hard by the always relevant, always passionate Gang of Four.

The show was held right on the wrong side of Granville Street, across from the Commodore Ballroom, at a rather skeevy joint called The Venue, where seats are a rare commodity and every surface is sticky. The OFKAR and I though, if nothing else, know how to concert. We arrived at door opening and secured the best seats in the joint, up on the second level directly overlooking the stage. With stools to sit on.

I quite liked the openers, Hollerado, from Manotick, just outside of Ottawa. They played a rather lengthy high-octane set, nicely interspersed with self-deprecating digs and, as is only fitting for a Gang of Four opener, politically charged observations. They nicely and very capably set the tone for Gang of Four, the highly influential, highly revered, funk-driven and socially-intellectual British punk mavens, to take the stage.

Oh and did they take that stage! Though only vocalist, Jon King, and guitar god, Andy Gill, remain as original members, this incarnation of Gang of Four has lost none of their passion, none of their intelligence, none of their vitality. With a young, hot, and vibrant rhythm section doing an admirable job of melding with the old guard, Gang of Four remain an extremely tight, aggressively charged force of nature.

In a nose-thumbing statement to the mores of ageism and political rhetoric, it was an interesting juxtaposition of style to see Jon King, pushing sixty, thrash passionately about the stage in a near shirt-less state with Andy Gill maintaining a stone-faced buttoned-down demeanor, while laying down some of the most aggressively angular guitar riffs in memory. Further capitalizing on mind-bending differences within band dynamics was the new bassist, Thomas McNeice, a dreadlocked, pin-striped runway model who kept an authoritative hammerlock on the band's signature bassline.

Gang of Four were incredible. There were a few issues with the mics at the beginning of the set, muffling the vocals and resulting in some screeching feedback, but the aggressive rhythm and funk-powered staccato were forefront and so gloriously and so powerfully Gang of Four that it was easy to overlook the fact that it was a well middle-aged man, shirt held on by a single button, who was doing a frantic gyrating merman dance onstage betwixt manhandling his bandmates.

Strangely enough, Gang of Four did not play At Home He Looks Like a Tourist, perhaps their most well-known song, but then, they have a very deep and very fine back-catalogue to mine. Nor did they play Armalite Rifle or Guns Before Butter. But I was thrilled that they absolutely killed Damaged Goods, Anthrax, and, even though the creeper who kept hanging over our shoulders and trying to engage us in increasingly unbelievable boasts almost ruined the song for me, I Love a Man in Uniform. You bet I shot back at Jon King when he pointed his gun finger up at us.

Even discounting the lack of snow and the cosy time with the OFKAR, Gang of Four alone was worth the trip to Vancouver. Friend visits still to come, too!

Monday, February 14, 2011

another Canadian band you should know: The Mud Bay Blues Band

Vancouver's Mud Bay Blues Band have been peddling their brand of blues in bars across British Columbia for over thirty years. Despite the vagaries of music trends and fashion, and the untimely death of two band members, the band has persevered with their own style, earning them the title of "the band that won't go away", a title that they seem to embrace.

They've become somewhat of a staple around the Vancouver area. In fact, the Mud Bay Blues Band have established a Roots and Blues Revue every other Friday night at the historic Waldorf Hotel on East Hastings. It was here that I saw the Mud Bay Blues Band perform about a year ago, filling the stage with their considerable lineup, welcoming special guests and even the odd audience member onstage to wail along with them.

The Mud Bay Blues Band play a diverse, yet homegrown style of blues. They may have been influenced by the Chicago blues masters and by the British blues invaders, the Yardbirds, but there is a distinctly Canadian feel to the brand of blues coming out of Mud Bay.

Lately I have been listening to the 2007 album, Death Taxes and the Mud Bay Blues Band, and the recent 2009 release, Mudified. Both albums feature a rollicking blues style, with lots of nice harmonica licks keeping things tasty. Vocalist Mud Bay Slim (Harold Arnold) may not have the deep booming pipes that you might associate with a bluesman, but his vocals work well with the diverse instrumentation of the rest of the band to bring a cohesive sound. The albums are not dominated by aggressive guitar, as is often the case in a blues recording, but are more of an amalgamation of sounds, a musical democracy that brings in keyboards, slide guitar, mandolin, organ, bass, and of course harmonica, in an uptempo melting pot.

My personal favourite is the track, Dead End Town, tucked in near the back of Mudified. It's a gloriously upbeat number, with a prominent harmonica that loudly proclaims its heartbreak and wears it proudly on its sleeve.

If you are in the mood for the blues, the Mud Bay Blues Band will take you there, with no stops in between.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

people are places

I'm heading into a bit of a busy week. But in a flying, concerting, visiting kind of way, the best kind of way.

I'll be jetting off to the coast on Tuesday morning, where I'll spend a few days hanging out with the OFKAR. Since she couldn't decide whether or not to come home for spring break, the mountain decided to come to Mohammed. The fact that Gang of Four are playing a show on Tuesday night played a pretty big factor in that turn of events, especially after my recent failure to procure Pixies tickets.

I'm really looking forward to visiting with some coastal friends, whom I haven't seen since the fall, and checking out some newly discovered restaurants, tea shops, and record stores that I have been hearing about.

And of course, there is very little as delightful as the simple joy of hanging out with the OFKAR in our hotel room after a day spent traipsing around downtown. Pyjama-clad, cuddled on the chesterfield, watching episode after episode of Location, Location, Location, featuring the blandly soothing Phil Spencer. Life is good.

But because the coming month is nothing if not an embarrassment of cultural riches, before my trip I have PechaKucha night to look forward to before I leave. I can sleep on the plane, right?

What are you up to this week?

Friday, February 11, 2011

coupons from packets of tea

How is it that I can buy beautiful unblemished organic vegetables at the farmers' market for less than I pay for the unceremoniously dumped cartoons of picked over produce at Safeway?

I find myself heading to the new farmers' market in the area more and more these days, and stopping by the supermarket less and less. Today I did the entirety of my grocery shopping at the Kingsland Farmers' Market and not only do I feel good about the organic antibiotic-free chicken breasts in the fridge and the lovely big bunch of fresh dill for which I paid $2.50 (compared to $4.50 for a tiny pack of dill at Safeway, packaged in 1983), but I feel even better about supporting local producers and small businesses.

I still carry the fondest memories of the old Covent Gardens market in London. The Offspring and I would often walk the half hour downtown to spend the afternoon amongst the vegetables and cheese shops. We would buy olives and feta from the grumpy old Greek guys who inexplicably wore green lab coats, but who seemed to like the Offspring because even as a toddler she loved olives. We would visit the ancient parrot at the pet store who once mistook my finger (which I stupidly stuck in the cage) for a peanut. He seem genuinely perplexed that he couldn't crack it open with his viselike jaws. We would sometimes treat ourselves to a frozen yogurt at the juice bar, and I would think nothing of letting the RO ride on as many of the little mechanical rides (including the replica of Guy Lombardo's speedboat) as her heart desired. They cost all of a dime and the ride lasted for at least ten minutes.

Farmers' markets are places that create memories while they fill your plate. Supermarkets rarely do. Safeway has taken enough of my money over the years without feeding my soul. I'm putting them on notice.

your favourite market memories?

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

reading lessons, possibly

Seeing Lessons - Catherine Owen

Apparently I cannot read poetry. My mind wanders when I read it silently, I break down in giggles when I read it aloud. Which is a shame because this book is very special to me.

Seeing Lessons has a place in my heart because of the memories that it will always carry. This past October, during the trial run of BlogCon, the willing victims conventioneers attended a couple of Word Fest events, one of which featured the Vancouver poet and heavy metal musician, Catherine Owen, reading from this book. I wish she would come over and read all the poems in her book to me, because poetry really needs to be read to you. Especially the way she does it.

Catherine Owen was fascinating to watch. Her musicianship was very telling in her unconscious hand gestures, one hand keeping time with the rhythm of her words as she read. I tried doing that myself as I read these poems aloud, but it just made me giggle all the harder. I am no heavy metal poetess.

Seeing Lessons was born of Owen's fascination with an entry she came upon in the scholarly tome, A History of Women Photographers: "In 1927, Mattie Gunterman's large body of work was destroyed by fire". Her poet's imagination fired up, she uncovered all the information she could about Mattie Gunterman, the American woman who, carrying cameras and developing equipment with her, walked from Seattle into the BC interior, to work as a camp cook and settle a homestead near Beaton.

A mixture of Owen's poetry about Gunterman's life, some of Mattie Gunterman's few remaining photographs, and many of Gunterman's letters and journal entries, Seeing Lessons is a powerful and often poignant glimpse of a strong woman, not bowed by hardship and tragedy, a woman whose surviving work is an important chronicle of the history of a nation.

Because of my illiteracy when faced with poetry, it took me several months to read this book. I breezed through the chapters containing Gunterman's letters and journal entries and obviously had no difficulty with the photographs. But although I was forced by my own shortcomings to read the poems at a snail's pace, I can recommend this book to anyone with an interest in poetry or photography or Canadian history or women's studies.

You will never be able to share my memories of watching with admiration as your dear friend engages a poet in conversation at a downtown Calgary art gallery on a snowy day in October, but you can uncover the fascinating elements of the book that sparked their discussion.

Monday, February 07, 2011

forgot about seasons

Days like this I am sorely tempted to track down the developer who built this house, who thought it was a great idea to transport a California design into a winter city, and punch him right in the throat.

Or perhaps just throw my snow shovel at his head.

Sure I like the idea of this community being built around a man-made lake, and all that the lake offers. It was a risky venture back in 1970, but it transformed this bald-ass semi-arid prairie into a treed haven, and it forged the way for many other lake communities in this city. I may not spend much time there anymore, but when the Offspring was wee, we spent most of our summer days at the community lake, me parked under a tree on my Hudson's Bay striped lawn chair, she splashing in the water with the neighbourhood kids and the rainbow trout.

The lake was a good idea. But the developer also imported a lot of housing designs when he returned from his California trip all those decades ago. One of those designs ended up forming our house.

It's a pain in the ass even in summer. The back door is below grade, so you have to go up four steps when you exit the back door in order to be at ground level. And if you are carrying food to the patio, you have to go down a flight of stairs from the kitchen, through the back door, then back up the stairs to get to the patio. I suffer patio door envy every summer.

Now imagine the winter scenario. I have to fling snow from the bottom of the stairwell over the railing, the top of which is a good six inches taller than me. And there's not all that much room to manoeuver around in that stairwell either, so you can't use a really long shovel. So a good portion of the flung snow comes drifting back down on top of my head.

The Spousal Unit, being a pig farmer from way back who knows his way around a shovel, generally offers to clear the back, while I look after the front and the city sidewalk. Thankfully we have no driveway, or we'd be forced to take in a border.

What would you change about the design of your home, if you could?

Friday, February 04, 2011

predator songs turning to hymns

I Hope You Never Come Home - Entire Cities

The raucous psychedelic cow-punk party band sound of Entire Cities has matured into something a little more restrained on their second album, I Hope You Never Come Home. Ultimately this release feels a bit more mature than the band's debut album, Deep River, and that's only right and proper.

I Hope You Never Come Home is still filled with those signature change-ups in tempo and in melody, and the vocals are still dominated by the iconic booming voice of frontman, Simon Borer. But there's a shift toward a more subtle sound. Those shouting choruses that dominated the earlier album, although present, tend to eventually morph into a more restrained group-sing dynamic. The unapologetic barn-yard hollering has moved indoors and has been replaced by a slightly demented choral group.

Despite the more subtle sound, Entire Cities has managed to maintain the exuberant instrumentation for which they have become known. The album is still filled with breakneck rushes of recklessness (A Closed Hand) and the big flourishes that characterize their established party band sound, but added to the mix is a sweet boy-girl duet (Oh Dear Oh Dear Oh Dear), touches of nostalgic Canadiana with a soupcon of the big band sound (A Coat of Loup Garou), and a highly satisfying poetic spirit that runs throughout the entire album.

The final track, Predator Song, is particularly bittersweet, a beautifully restrained summation of the sensibilities that have come before and those that identify Entire Cities in their present guise. The gasp of oh my god and the burst of surprised laughter that follows the final notes somehow encapsulates the entire spirit of this album. A spirit of discovery and surprise.

I Hope You Never Come Home, ironically, feels like home.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

soul food for the brain

I've been salivating to see Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings exhibition at the Glenbow Museum, ever since it launched during last month's High Performance Rodeo. So yesterday I coerced my local culture vulture buddy, Urban Blonde, into making a trek out of the burbs and into the lifeblood of downtown, where we spent the afternoon museuming.

I've been to the Glenbow many times, and have seen some highly compelling exhibitions there, but yesterday's pilgrimage ranked up there with one of the most memorable and artistically satisfying.

In fact, it was the polar opposite of today's trip to the dentist. Oh, the dental work itself was easy - just the replacement of a crown - but they were running behind due to an earlier dental emergency, and I had foolishly forgotten to pack a book or the newspaper into my bag. So while I waited in the chair, the hygienist kindly brought me a couple of magazines. People and Star. I thought I was going to die, flipping through those. Seriously, I came out of that chair, feeling like I had just shoved a giant bag of pig snacks into my brain. Not only did I not know who half of those celebrities were, but I really couldn't get all that excited about their nails.

Fortunately I could close my eyes and slip back into the trance that 77 Million Paintings put me into.

It's a spare simple exhibition - a large darkened room with comfortable couches facing a wall on which a large quilt-like display is projected. Against a sonic background of Eno's meditative ambient music, the display shifts, continually and almost imperceptibly. It's an installation that I found to be simultaneously relaxing and exhausting. On the one hand, I could feel my pulse rate and blood pressure drop almost immediately as I gazed upon the art and let myself get lost in the music; on the other hand, I found myself concentrating so hard upon a specific frame, trying to capture the shifting patterns, that when I glanced at a different frame and found that it had completely changed from a few seconds ago, it felt shocking.

We actually sat through the installation twice, for at least twenty minutes each time. Maybe half an hour, I don't know; time became meaningless.

I was a bit disappointed with the Perceptions of Promise: Biotechnology, Society, and Art installation, to which I had really been looking forward. Some of the pieces were quite haunting. The cell tent was really cool, and Split Petcetrix, with its layered and bejeweled human form addressing the questions of profit within the areas of liposuction and stem cell harvesting, was particularly effective. But personally, I think that there is so much inherent beauty within purely scientific images, that I was disappointed not to see at least some electron microscopy within the exhibition.

Elsewhere in the Glenbow, Stephen Hutchings' Landscapes for the End of Time was quite stunning, partly because of the vast enormity of the landscapes in the exhibition, partly because of the timeless and placeless feel of the pieces, and partly because one of them reminded me of the Enchanted Forest at UBC where everybody goes to smoke dope.

I was especially thrilled to see an installation containing two pieces of art from a talented Winnipeg artist whom I happen to know personally. Back when I knew her, and when she was introducing me to her pets (and artist models) - a couple of enormous Madagascar hissing cockroaches - Diana Thorneycroft used to produce the most amazingly intricate line drawings which looked lovely on the surface but which always contained something slightly disturbing.

The photographs exhibited at the Glenbow are from Diana's Group of Seven Awkward Moments series, which reinterpret iconic Group of Seven paintings through the addition of burning igloos, abducted monkeys, and chainsaw bearing Ken dolls. These pieces may be blasphemous to those who view the Group of Seven as untouchable national treasures, but I think they are delightful.

You should go to the Glenbow Museum before the end of March, when these exhibitions end. That's where you will find the heartbeat of the city, the antithesis to dental office magazines.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

I guess it's just the wind

I had the oddest experience today. I found myself thinking I should phone my mom, because I hadn't talked to her in a while.

It actually took a few seconds to remember that my mom has been gone for almost two and a half years. How does someone forget something like that?

Toward the end of her life, my mom used to recount conversations that she had with her mother the night before. She also attended a lot of weddings, most nights. It still makes me glad that her dream world was so full.