Tuesday, January 29, 2013

on their way from the children's war

Of course I know it's really ward.

skinny ghosts dress like cowboys 
and rest at the railing by my door
on their way from the children's ward

But I find the concept of a children's war strangely charming.  Sad and creepy too, of course, punctuated by images of mud-smeared young savages with sharpened sticks, lifted straight from Lord of the Flies. 

But mostly it's a quieter sort of war - that children's war in my mind - where unicorns carry lances with pillows tied over the sharp parts and My Little Ponies lob raspberry bubbles at one another from sparkly canons.  And the skinny ghosts smile hopefully.  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

this is what, this is why

I head downtown on a sunny Sunday afternoon, park on the street for free, and take in a matinee performance of a High Performance Rodeo presentation that has been getting rave reviews.  I am mesmerized by the performance and afterward I chat to others to get their impressions of the show, mining them for quotations. I still find it hard to believe that I do this for a living.

I step outside of the theatre while there are still a few hours of sunshine left in the day.  Families are skating at Olympic Plaza, couples are strolling Stephen Avenue, nobody is in a hurry.  Neither am I, and I realize that I am right across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art, which happens to be open, has free admission, and is in the final week of showing its Andy Warhol: The Athlete Series collection. 

The MOCA is a tiny gallery, a long L-shaped space behind a floor to ceiling wall of glass at one end of the Municipal Building.  There are over a dozen people inside, contemplating pop art.  One woman is explaining the retrospective to her young children.  I move from picture to picture, thinking about pop art, about the impact that Warhol had upon our ideas of what constitutes art.  

I marvel at how lucky I am to be able to do something like this on a Sunday afternoon in January.

This is why I live in a city.  This is what matters.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

this ain't no nightclub or CBGB

I had no idea you could fit that many people in this lobby.  Kudos to the piano teacher for not only optimizing functionality by squeezing three separate recitals into one afternoon, but also for utilizing just-in-time delivery of groups of students and their parental units and various other hangers-on.  Granted, there was a little too much humanity in this old marble lobby (with its echoey acoustics) for a few minutes as one group awaited the exit of the next.  And yes, it was a bit of a physics challenge to merge the flow of exiting humans with the rush of entering humans, all through one small doorway at the same instance in time, but we all emerged unscathed, bottleneck be damned.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

one helluva girl

 BLANCHE: the Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame
- created and performed by Onalea Gilbertson

High Performance Rodeo/Lunchbox Theatre 
January 14 - 26, 2013

Upon discovering a small leather-bound photo album in her grandmother's room at the nursing home - an album filled with Depression-era pictures of young people laughing and having the time of their lives - Onalea Gilbertson, Calgary's own it girl of musical theatre, began recording interviews with her grandmother, intent upon learning more about her life and her indomitable spirit. It turns out Gram Blanche was a helluva girl.

The belle of Hughendon, Alberta whose suitors lined their horses up along the farmyard fence, Blanche would pose for photos dressed in her boyfriend's suits.  As a teenager during the great Depression, she went to work for the Gilbertson family, cleaning and cooking for the houseful of children and hired men.  It was there that she met and married Bill Gilbertson, was tragically widowed at 23, and subsequently married his younger brother, Woody. With Woody working in the oil fields most of his life, she raised their five children primarily alone, occasionally bringing the family out from Calgary to spend time on the rigs, and famously throwing legendary parties every weekend.  

These are the tales and the people that live in the songs of BLANCHE: the Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie DameIn a production that the Huffington Post called one of the twenty top shows of 2011 when it premiered Off Broadway and that garnered five stars at the Capital Fringe in Washington, this High Performance Rodeo and Lunchbox Theatre co-production brings to vibrant life a personal family history that strongly reflects the pioneering spirit of this province.  It was a spirit that was fiercely embodied in the person of Blanche Leadlay Gilbertson. 

Performed mostly solo, BLANCHE is a theatrical song cycle, in which Gilbertson sings, sometimes as Blanche, sometimes as Onalea.  While her grandmother's raspy voice provides an interlude between musical numbers, vintage photos and home movies project onto a sheet flapping on a clothesline, giving flashes of Blanche Gilberston's life.  On stage, Onalea Gilbertson sings and dances and flirts with Jonathan Lewis on violin and clarinet, Brian Sanders on cello, and Jeff Gladstone on guitar, as they step into the roles of the men in Blanche's life. Upbeat jazz numbers, sultry torch songs and wistful chamber music, blend and swirl into a dance of a life well-lived.  It's a life and a show well worth examining.   

Onalea Gilbertson, has been doing some really interesting work lately, both on and off the stage.  In 2008, she formed the DI Singers, a choral group made up of residents of Canada's largest homeless shelter, the Calgary Drop In Centre.  Last summer she took a group of those musicians to New York to perform in an Off Broadway production of her musical Requiem for a Lost Girl.  Now that she has brought BLANCHE home to Calgary, Onalea Gilbertson is introducing this wild prairie dame to her most important audience to date, her own hometown. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

scrub that brackish line

Bathroom renovations have been in the cards for quite some time. But they have always been firmly ensconced in next year territory, part of the narrative of when we get that paid off and the fairy tales of if nothing else breaks

We are not renovators for the sake of renovation.  Renovating our London house for eight straight years cured us of that.  We have never been concerned with chasing after the next newest thing.  If I have managed to live with that butt-ugly light fixture for the entire time we have lived in this house, my ugliness tolerance is pretty high.

I have not even been particularly bothered by having to trudge down to the laundry room these past couple of years in order to shower.  And I don't care for baths anyway, so having an unusable bathtub bothers me not in the slightest.

I am concerned with what we will find behind those crumbling walls and under that peeling linoleum, though.  Especially since the powder room incident.  Stepping into the en-suite to brush my teeth before bed the other night, and being met with water squishing out of the carpet beneath my feet was unsettling, to say the least.  Particularly since we had just had the toilet repaired three days earlier.

It's all been patched up properly since then, although the carpet is still very wet.  That's doing nothing to allay my fears of black mold and rotting floor joists.  I can't even imagine why somebody would want to carpet a bathroom in the first place.

I have a feeling the days of duct tape and bubble gum repairs are, by necessity, drawing to a close.  Don't you ever wish that somebody else could take over being the grown-up for a while?

Friday, January 11, 2013

even mermaids sing the blues

Flirting with Mermaids 
- Manitoba Hal Brolund

The ukelele is an unlikely blues instrument, particularly when it takes centre stage as lead instrument on a bluesy album.  But then, there aren't many ukelele bluesmen like Manitoba Hal.  

An accomplished blues guitarist, Manitoba Hal Brolund began to flirt with the sonic possibilities of the ukelele back in 2008, eventually recording three ukelele albums in addition to seven earlier guitar-based recordings.  His latest, Flirting with Mermaids, is a testament to just how far you can push a normally lighthearted instrument like the ukelele into the deep dark depths of the blues.

You can be forgiven for swearing on a stack of bibles that you actually hear lots of blues guitar on Flirting with Mermaids, but in reality only one song, the gospel track Keep On Singing, features Manitoba Hal on guitar.  Otherwise it's all ukelele on centre stage.  

On some tracks, including a couple of instrumentals, Manitoba Hal keeps it light, showcasing the traditional high playfulness of the ukelele, but on others, he uses some innovative looping to coax an earthy blues guitar sound out of the tiny instrument. The prairie boy turned salty blue-noser has a warm rich voice that equally complements both the heart-felt blues numbers and the quirkier tunes. 

Flirting with Mermaids features primarily original tunes mixed with some great blues covers.  Manitoba Hal's treatment of a couple of Mississippi John Hurt standards, as well as Tom Waits' Down in the Hole, Big Joe Williams' Baby Please Don't Go, and Merle Travis' Sixteen Tons, all demonstrate the surprising power of the ukelele, in the right hands. 

On an interesting side-note, in February 2013 Manitoba Hal Brolund will embrace his adopted seafaring ways and embark on an eight day Ukelele Caribbean Cruise, featuring performances, workshops and private lessons.  So if the sea's the life for you and the ukelele is the instrument you crave, check out the unique opportunity to ditch the snow banks for ukelele sounds and ocean breezes.  In the meantime, do give a listen to Flirting with Mermaids.  What you find may just surprise you


Monday, January 07, 2013

built this balustrade

As someone who deals in words and sometimes pictures, I have a lot of admiration for people who know how to make things.  Concrete things, useful things, like houses and subway trains and computers.

There's one sight that always fills me with awe, that of downtown from across the river, especially at night.  Gleaming highrises, warm light spilling from banks of windows and reflecting off the water below, make me marvel that somebody actually knew how to build these.  They saw their vision through, from sketches on paper to solid towers of glass and steel.  I could see myself tackling a table perhaps, albeit badly, but I could never even fathom how to build a highrise.

We currently have a pencil jammed into the toilet tank in the en suite, to stop the toilet from flushing itself every two minutes, which it started doing earlier today.  Since the shutoff valve is broken, it's the best we can do until the plumber arrives in three days.  And for that, the Spousal Unit is my hero.  If left to my own devises, I would have just slept in the spare room for the next few nights.  And then written a whiny blog post about it.

Friday, January 04, 2013

where is my mind

Christmas is nice and all, but once you start moving out of the self-imposed sloth mode, you cannot get out of there fast enough.  As soon as the tree has been put to the curb, all the overlooked detritus of the season starts to irk.

Because of a work deadline, I had to leave the stripping away of the festive fireplace mantel until the day after we removed the tree and its carpet of fallen needles.  The dried out boughs and sparkly ornaments that seemed so festive hanging from the brick mantel three weeks ago suddenly looked tired and sad, like a hooker named Nancy who would really rather just stay home and smoke a bowl on the couch instead of putting on her best smile and heading out to the truck stop.

It was such a relief to finally strip away the boughs and baubles today and to restore the space to its usual stark clean lines.  Christmas has way too many curves.

Now to get my brain back on the straight and narrow.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

this was Christmas

There was no subversive shortbread baked this Christmas, no shortbread of any kind, in fact.  Board game challenges took precedent over baking.  Bruised fingernails from Crokinole and bruised egos from Scrabble make you forget about all that butter and sugar you are not ingesting.  Not that there was any shortage of ingestion.  

There were pyjama days and days spent thrifting. There were evenings spent on the chesterfield watching docs and evenings spent gathered around the dining room table, battling for board game supremacy.  Final game tallies are still tacked up on the fridge, under the magnet that normally holds my grocery list in place. I believe I lost every game.