Friday, August 31, 2012

in the right measure

Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro

There is much cruelty in the ten stories that make up this collection of short stories.  But rarely is it an overt act.  Instead the cruelty is delivered with sly subtlety, the kind that makes you wonder, when you are on the receiving end, if perhaps you aren't just over-reacting.  Perhaps you misread things.  Perhaps the fault lies with you.  So it comes as no real surprise that the victims of these cruelties receive their fate with a combination of bewilderment and matter of fact acceptance. 
 
Within these stories there is murder, suicide, kidnapping, there are lies, debasement, guilt.  But in Munro's deft hands, these subjects do not take centre stage, as they would in an ordinary tale.  Momentous though these acts may be, they do not serve as the plot.  They are, instead, subtle catalysts for the story, stepping stones over which the characters move forward to find a greater truth.  

Like the mother who mourns her children in Dimensions, or the student who submits to abasement in Wenlock Edge, comfort comes to the characters from unlikely sources. And often as not, it's the main characters themselves who dole out the cruelty.  Or worse.

The stories in Too Much Happiness draw you in completely.  It's all too easy to place yourself in these situations, to rationalize motives and acts.  It's no wonder that Alice Munro won the 2009 Man Booker Prize with Too Much Happiness.   She makes it all seem so effortless and so plausible.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

better living through poison

For the second morning in a row, I have mistaken conditioner for body wash.  I didn't actually realize my mistake until this morning, when, in an attempt to figure out why my little scrubby thingy wasn't lathering up yet again this morning, I glared at the squeeze bottle in my hand and actually read the label.  This may be a sign of sleep deprivation.

At least I am comforted by the knowledge that yesterday I had well-conditioned armpits.

It's still nowhere near as bad as when my brother recently tried to murder me when I showered at his house.  I had neglected to pack any soap or body wash because everybody already has that in their shower, right?  I didn't see a bar of soap in his shower, but there was a big industrial-sized body wash dispenser hanging from the shower head.  I pressed the button, but nothing came out, so I pressed again.  Still nothing.

But then I heard a quiet beep beep beep and watched, horrified, as the body wash dispense began to slowly rotate, spraying a toxic mist as it rotated.

Evidently some sicko invented an automatic shower cleaner, that sprays chemicals around the shower stall.  You are not supposed to be showering in said shower stall at the time.

Do you have any household chemical horror stories?

Friday, August 24, 2012

honey and darkness

The Fate & The Fruit 
- Screen Door Porch

The Fate & The Fruit is the sophomore album from Screen Door Porch, a Wyoming duo who are making a name for themselves with a unique brand of atmospheric folk roots.  The album is permeated, for the most part, with a darkly languid feel that conjures up images of sticky summer nights, when it's too hot to sleep and too still to stay out of trouble.  

The pairing of Aaron Davis and the wonderfully named Seadar Rose feels a little like a chaser of pickle juice after a long swig of bourbon - a little bit of prickly, a lot of smooth. Rose's drawling vocals have been compared to Lucinda Williams' and with just cause.The indolent sashay of her voice is spellbinding, and it is when Rose's sultry vocals take centre stage, particularly on acoustic tracks, that the album is at its strongest.

The Fate & The Fruit is sonically somewhat of a mixed success.  A trio of powerful tracks book-end each end of the album.  Devil's Honey, Needle and a Record, and Burnin' at Both Ends are powerfully lackadaisical album openers, while Westminster, Mountains are Heroes, and Long are the Days end the album on an darkly mesmerizing note that makes you want to turn around and listen to it again from the beginning.  Largely acoustic and heavily atmospheric, these songs carry an authenticity that feels timeless.  

The tracks that populate the middle half of The Fate & The Fruit forgo the traditional Americana of those songs and slide into country rock territory.  There's nothing inherently wrong with these tracks (although there are a couple of chord changes that struck me as mildly annoying), but they feel a little generic.    

For me, the real power of The Fate & The Fruit lies in those tracks that possess within their acoustic simplicity, an irresistible authenticity, a seductive darkness that begs another listen.

screendoorporch.com

Monday, August 20, 2012

have icebox, will travel

What a difference refrigeration makes to cottage life.  No more fishing semi-identifiable foodstuffs out of coolers filled with half-melted ice, no more convincing yourself that room-temperature dairy is perfectly edible.  It was worth transporting that mini-fridge 1,110 kms across three provinces, particularly since Canadian Tire money was used for the initial purchase.  

Every pilgrimage we make to the Money Pit sees us spending our time there in increasing luxury.  Even the two-pail toilet system feels downright civilized.  

We spent a couple of days unwinding, staring at the water and erasing the yellow highway lines from the inside of our eyelids, until it was time for the Spousal Unit to hop a float plane to a northerly fishing lodge.  While he combined working and catching trophy fish, I made the 400 km trek to my sister's cottage, wondering all the while if it was really all that necessary to make the province so damned big. 

Their cottage is pretty much the exact opposite of ours, but both places fill a place in my soul.  Where we have isolation and tranquility, they have a bustling little lake community.  Where they have a roadside store with a internet cafe and a hula hut across the way, we have a government dock with a biffy and an abandoned barn.  Where we have a new house on an alfalfa field that's just itching for tree planters, they have a cozy cottage nestled amongst mature poplars.  Where they have a vast expanse of sandy beach, we have a bug-filled riparian zone.  Their place is what ours will be in 20 years.

It was a trip filled with family visits, which is always the best kind of trip.  The youngest family member has moved past the baby-sniffing stage into the making each other laugh by waggling eyebrows at one another stage. He and his expressive eyebrows win that contest every time.  

I made more trips into Winnipeg during a five-day span than I have in the past ten years. Along the way I was introduced to an Italian grocery store that has been a landmark forever, but at which for some reason I have never before shopped.  I can't believe that I survived all this time without those dried olives and that prosciutto salami.
 
We cut our trip short by one day, both of us being exhausted and missing the Slightly Retarded Kitty, as well as skype sessions with the OFKAR.  Ten days is a long time to be away from home, even with the peace of mind that comes from having a house sitter.  You will, of course, be thrilled to know that we set a land record on our return trip - 9 hours and 39 minutes, including three bathroom breaks and a half hour at the Burger King in Swift Current. 

One of the first things we did upon our return was rescue a cabinet out of the garbage behind the Lawnmower Kids' place. It has joined the pile of cottage furniture in the basement, waiting patiently for spring.    

Sunday, August 05, 2012

in its right place, everything

No time to sit around bemoaning an empty house. The Spousal Unit and I are hitting the open road this week, the morning after the Offspring flies back to the coast.  Fueled by chili-lime peanuts and psychobilly, we are going to see if we can better our previous landspeed record.

Because a work-related fishing trip is incorporated into this trip, we will be away for 10 days, far too long for the Slightly Retarded Kitty to have nobody to talk to.  The last time we went away for five days, she didn't stop talking for a day and a half after our return.  Evidently she hid in a closet the entire time we were away. The people who popped in to feed her every day said they only knew she was there by the output from the food bowl and the input into the litter box.

So we've hired a house-sitter for this trip.

I have started writing an instruction manual for the house-sitter, pointing out all the idiosyncrasies of Casa del Zombie - the shower that doesn't work in the main bathroom, the coffee pot that needs to be started up 4 times in order to brew an full pot.  I have an entire chapter on the intricate dance that you need to do in order to start the dishwasher. She probably doesn't need the step by step instructions that I jotted down on how to run the tv, dvd player and Netflix, since she is a digital native, but the information will come in handy for me once my Alzheimers starts to fully kick in.

If you were getting a house-sitter, what weird stuff 
would you need to alert them to about your abode?  

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

playing in the daylight: Calgary Folk Fest 2012 days three & four

These things I remember fondly about Saturday and Sunday of the folk festival:

- Sitting in the shade next to the Spousal Unit on a toasty Saturday morning, sipping on a Timmie's and rocking out to Eve Hell and the Razors' infectious psycho-billy, is pretty close to heaven.
 
Eve Hell is my newest girl crush.

- German techno is the latest form of folk music: Rae Spoon

- In Scotland it's illegal to play music during the daylight, unless you're still playing from the night before: Shooglenifty

-  I don't know why I used to be intimidated to do artists' contracts.  The hardest part is finding the good calculator.

- Alejandra Robles' merch person giving me a CD in thanks was really sweet.

- Joey Glynn, bassist for Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three giving me the poster I admired and then signing it for me was super awesome.

- He didn't play any Replacements during the workshop in which I saw him, but apparently Justin Townes Earle performed Can't Hardly Wait in his mainstage set. 


- John Doe played a bunch of X songs!

- Met a lot of fascinating people during artist cashout, but still wish I could have seen some of the mainstage and more of the workshops.  Next year I'll definitely have the Clonomatic 6000 functional.