Portugal is changing, and it’s changing quickly! The last time I was there in 2011, it was much more run down than it is today. Tourism is booming, there’s construction everywhere and prices are skyrocketing. I don’t remember seeing expat-centric spots in Lisbon like the TimeOut Market, Heim Cafe or Comoba back then. Most food was very cheap, traditional and it was mostly seafood and potatoes. Now, it’s everything under the sun, and a lot of crappy overpriced tourist traps like you’d see in Paris or Rome, but also a lot of fancy joints that surprised me and are very glass-and-steel in tile-and-brick Lisboa. The neighbourhoods have completely changed (or maybe it’s just me that’s grown up!) and Bairro Alto, which used to seem so hip, now just seemed dodgy. I instead gravitated entirely to Principe Real – with their incredibly cool spots such as the Embaixada, Pavilhão Chinês and A Cevicheria – and Sao Bento, with it’s beautiful parks and cafes, blooming jacarandas and orange and lemon trees everywhere you look and smells of happiness. I also spent a ton of time at LXFactory, which is like Amsterdam-Noord, Christiania and Parkdale all rolled up into a nice little art bomb.
With travel, of course, comes the food fiesta. It made me laugh to see kogel mogel, a childhood treat that I got when there was no candy around (ahem. communism.) and I was permitted to swirl sugar and yolk together, being reincarnated as a luxury boutique delicacy. Sampling the foods of the different regions made me think about the hierarchy that we place on certain cuisines. Italian and French food equals fancy and upscale, and the majority of high-priced restaurants in downtown Toronto serve foods typically from there. Vietnamese and Mexican food is casual and cheaper, and Portuguese, Polish, Ethiopian, Greek, etcetera is super casual. There are of course exceptions here and there, but this is typically the drill here. So my brain exploded when I found myself sampling Presunto ham, Azeitao cheese and wine from Alentejo and realizing that Prosciutto, Roquefort and Chianti didn’t really hold a candle to these delights. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand the pride of a region in its products and the need to distinguish them from others, but I had that “Chinese dumplings are Polish pierogies are Japanese gyoza are Ukrainian varenyky” moment and for that second, the world seemed a little smaller. I also felt like I had unearthed a great secret, a Cava of Champagne proportions, and I felt enlightened. Sue me.
The wine regions of Portugal are devastatingly gorgeous. I have this fantasy that I’ll get a field job with UNESCO visiting their locales to make sure they still… I dunno… use the proper brass in their doorknobs or something, and get a chance to see every place in the world deemed a heritage site. The Douro Valley nearly brought me to tears with it’s gentle beauty, and the Algarve Atlantic coast stunned me with its raw, untamed and completely different topography than the rest of the country. I see why those clever surfers gravitate there. Those beaches will absolutely make you melt.
For my fellow Torontonians looking for a little romance (having already watched The Age of Adaline) in the form of a wee road trip, you really need to look no further than Quebec City. It’s a little bit of old stony heaven that’s a 9 hour drive away, with accommodations way cheaper than you’d think and lots and lots of really good food.
I haven’t been there since I first arrived in Canada when I was 7. Basically all I remember is our car being broken into at a St. Hubert’s (which is like Quebec’s Swiss Chalet) and my mom crying, and as a sensitive little kid if you see your mom crying then you just cry too, and there ya go, that’s my memory of Quebec. Misery. Wailing. Broken windows. So for me it was reason enough to want to go to just rewire my association to it.
In the car I did a rough Google search of the food that we could get in Quebec, and right away adored Buvette Scott. It’s teeny tiny, super non-fussy, packed solid with people, the cutlery is all mismatched and as soon as you open the door it smells like heaven. They’re geeky as can be about the plates that they bring to you, and talk with genuine enthusiasm about blood sausage and deer bacon and all those Quebecois cheeses! and the funk music playing overhead. There’s minimal decor in the room, the majority of the light comes from candles, and there’s that hushed whispery blanket of chatter that exists in places where people are conversational, excited, engaged, but maturely aware that they are sharing a space with others and not screaming SHOTS SHOTS SHOTS at the tops of their lungs and just being annoying. They also insisted that while we’re in town we check out their favourites.
Such as Chez Biceps BBQ. John was absolutely in heaven here (and all the SHOTS folks are here ;)) and said that it was the perfect fusion of his favourite Austin joints, his general adoration of Southern food, and Quebecois hospitality and trademarks – such as maple syrup pork ribs and poutine. Chef Vincent and Jason-Mamoa-look-alike Jean-Simon Pouliot, who are warm and friendly and brawly, constantly chat to their clientele and tease their staff, and everyone seems to be having a genuinely fantastic time. Oh, and the place looks like this.
Then there’s Kraken Cru. Daaaaaaaamn that’s some good seafood.
For the athletic crew, there’s skiing, sledding and tubing all over Quebec, and if you’re into the older sights like the Citadel or the Parliament buildings, there’s that. There’s an amazing little street called Sault-au-Matelot that’s packed with galleries and opens into a square that has tilework on the ground like Rossio Square in Lisbon. I’m boring as dirt so I like to walk around and eat, maybe listen to some live music, go for a whirl on the slide from 1884 just to see if I fall off, gawk at what’s happening at La Bordee, take in the art and architecture. There’s always one artist that blows my mind to absolute smithereens, and this time it was Virginie Schroeder. At first glance looks like just another optical illusion celebrity painting, right? The white space is just done by sgraffito scrape-and-reveal, whatever right? Nope. Look closer. Her technique is crazy. I don’t know if she uses software to plan it out and then dabs plaster on and then paints over the plaster and cuts it and splatters over it or what. Mind blown.
I will definitely be back in the warmer months, I know that buried under all that snow that Quebec has lots of spots for mushroom picking and maple syrup tapping, and you know… girl’s gotta eat.
I was coming back from a meeting last week and passed by the flagship Greenhouse Juice Co. just off of Yonge street, and got their recipe for Gingerbread cookies. Now my home smells like heaven and I have treats to share with my friends.
The holidays are a tricky time for many people. Not everyone has somewhere to be when the carollers are singing and the lights are twinkling, or where they do spend their holidays isn’t particularly peaceful. I missed my old friend Gray yesterday (having watched the beautiful Heisenberg at CanStage, which made me wholly reevaluate my minimalist-set-thumbs-down stance of yore), and remembered how crappy the holidays were always for him. I hope whatever you all do, and whomever you’re with, that you feel content. Much love to you all.
What do you do when you love theatre and you have four nights alone in New York City?
You binge. Oh baby, you binge, on theatre and on food (and it’s also partly a trick question, because you’re never really alone in New York City).
Night 1: Grabbed a great last-minute ticket to 1984, and since we’re in a dystopia and times are tight, 99¢ pizza. My interest in seeing this show was mainly to see Tom Sturridge (whom I loved in American Buffalo), Olivia Wilde (whom I’ve met in person at Artists for Peace and Justice events and really like, so I wanted to applaud her in her Broadway debut), and the fact that I loved the book. I quite enjoyed the play, but it was really violent and had tons of strobe effects, which distracted me from the story.
Night 2: Despite everyone telling me I didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of getting any kind of rush seats to it, I actually got a fantastic last-minute ticket to see Hamilton, and in the process met the two sweetest Puerto Rican ladies in line that couldn’t have been prouder of Lin-Manuel Miranda. This show truly is everything that everyone says it is – I’ve never seen the public this happy and energetic at the theatre (ok, maybe Book of Mormon was a bit like that). Choreography was mild-blowing. Performances were astounding. There was no weak link. For me, Brian d’Arcy James as King George and Gregory Treco as Burr totally floored me, James for his comedic delivery and Treco for his vocals. Afterwards, starving and singing, I had trainwreck fries at Virgil’s because it’s a medley of everything from everywhere and well… it seemed fitting!
Night 3: Sweeney Todd at Barrow Theatre was fantastic, again, chatted to the box office before showtime and they had “secret seats that they rarely use” that were the only ones not sold, and gave them to me pretty cheap. The play came as a recommendation from the staff at Joseph Leonard, where I popped in for dinner, and darling Drew (who let me sit there way past my welcome and offered tips on great NYC spots) found out for me what the hot ticket in the area was.
Night 4: I thought that perhaps with the luck that I’ve been having grabbing tickets to difficult-to-snag shows that maybe I could see Oscar Isaac in Hamlet at the Public Theatre in Noho. Alas, it was an invite-only opening night event, and not even with my charm could I schmooze my way in. “Don’t you know who my father is?” I joked to the staff. They smiled that smile where you like someone but you’re not 100% sure that they’re not insane. I did see John Turturro in the lobby, and smiled broadly, hoping that it would translate into “you’re fantastic, I love you” without disturbing him during his private time.
I have much respect for Apple, by the way, for adding a theatre mode to the Apple Watch that minimizes disturbance during performances. I need to talk myself out of a snarky remark whenever I see a theatregoer activating their phone screen when the house lights are dimmed, so this is at least a nice gesture (although fifty bucks says no one ever remembers to actually enable it).
A small lobster meal at Lobster Place at Chelsea Market. Have been eyeing these babies every time I’ve been there, and resisted the urge. This time I treated myself, and as I sucked every last morsel out of every foot, crevice, and antenna, passersby looked at me with genuine amusement.
My flight home was interesting. Trump had shut down the airspace around NYC to fly to a golf game in the afternoon, so flights were completed messed up. Mostly cancelled, though some delayed, but basically no airline could recover afterwards, since once a chunk of day goes, delays just cascade down and it all falls apart. Newark International was complete chaos, filled to the brim with seething, self-important travellers, and in my calmness I did manage to somehow get hooked-up as a standby passenger on the last flight out (at 23:30, landing in Hamilton, which had me home at 3am). In all the screaming and threatening and customer service calls and apologetic service personnel that madly swirled about what I noticed was this: the way people come together and connect in times of disruption can be awesome. Completely overlooking the jerks, the remainder of folks kind of laughed it off, knew there was little that was in their control, sat together at the airport restaurant, had some drinks, met strangers, compared notes on where they were going, where they had been, where they were from. Typically, it’s such a cold, solitary environment – everyone in their world, on their phones, having somewhere to be, in their bubble. In this situation, there was nothing to do but wait and see, so people put their phones down (which contained wholly inaccurate information anyway) and chatted, met each other, commiserated. What stood out to me was people helping each other, comparing notes on what information they had, which flight was cancelled and which wasn’t, where to get some food, where they could charge their phones, where free coffee and water was, what remaining flights still had seats. Years and years ago, I met a man with his wife in a pizzeria in Tuscany, and without my asking for advice on life or anything, he looked at me and said “remember this one thing: always talk to people”.
That’s always stayed with me.
When I was a kid, I was exposed to a lot of music. I had to learn how to speak English with Roxette and Samantha Fox. Mom encouraged me to learn how to play the flute as a teen to train my messed-up lungs, something that only became cool once I was given a recording by Jethro Tull (I remember actually the teacher wanted me to play double bass when we were picking instruments, because of my height. My response? To pick the smallest instrument available). Mom kept her Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin LPs close at hand, all her Jean Jarre cassettes in a shoebox, and my stepdad had his Gordon Lightfoot and his Anne Murray in plain view at all times. I liked this juxtaposition in them, her with her untz untz untz and he with his spling spling spling.
Last night Jean Jarre performed his first Canadian show, at the Sony Centre, and I thought it’d be the perfect Mother’s Day gift. And you know what, it totally was. I watched my mom morph into a teenager during this time – she was feeling kind of crappy and started the evening off a little softly and slowly – and by the end of the night she was jumping near the front of the stage screaming “We Love You” at this energetic 68 year old who waxed poetic about Snowden and privacy laws and the state of the world. We got to chatting with a girl who grew up in South Africa about how popular JMJ was there during the 70’s and 80’s, and how baffled she was when she moved to Canada and realized that no one knew who he was.
The Poles came out last night in abundance, they have a deep affection for JMJ and remember his support during turbulent times, a gesture of goodwill that they are clearly committed to repaying. They even made him an honorary citizen of Gdansk.
Guys. Laser harp. Come on.