They say gratitude is the key to happiness. So, just in time for Thanksgiving, 10 things that I’m grateful for:
And PS, if you’re not sure what to do with thanksgiving dinner leftovers, do like the Dutch and make croquettes! I made mine spicy with sweet potato purée, and damn. Good stuff.
My home is frequently filled with the Blues. Perhaps paradoxically, it is one of the things that brings me the most joy – listening to John play his guitar, his own noodling reflecting a distinct blend of the Fado of this heritage, his deep love of Muddy Waters and BB King, his fascination with Buddy Guy and Robert Johnson. He loves the legends, he loves the stories, and he lives for the sound. Heading down south to see where it all began has been something he’s wanted to do for a long time now, and the pact we made when we came back from Amsterdam was pretty simple – he’d finally get his license and we’d hit the road and see all the Canadiana and Americana that kids like us come to this continent dreaming of.
We touched on a total of nine states on this trip – driving down through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, back up through Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana. We heard country and bluegrass in Nashville, rock and roll and blues in Memphis and delta blues in Clarksdale. We saw miles and miles of cotton fields, dragonflies and marshes in sizzling 40 degree afternoon sun, sipping sun-steeped unsweetened iced tea from impossibly large Sonic styrofoam cups. We heard stories of Johnny Cash and June Carter, walked around Elvis’ house, made our silent deals with the devil at the Crossroads. We saw the Grand Ol’ Opry (and the absolutely crazy hotel next to it), The Bluebird Cafe, Margaritaville Bar. We sat and listened intently as Ralph Stanley II brought the crowd to their feet at the Station Inn, the Memphis Jazz Orchestra serenaded dancing couples on Beale Street, Sean Appel hilariously nicknamed himself “the giant bedazzled blueberry” before charming us to pieces at Club 152.
It’s incredible to think that three powerhouses of music all died on the same day – Robert Johnson, Elvis, Aretha Franklin. I can’t imagine a world without their songs. Can you?
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’m loving the availability of Hannah Moscovitch plays in Toronto right now. I saw Bunny at the Tarragon last week and enjoyed it – it certainly spurred a heated debate afterwards, so that’s always a sign of an intellectual winner – and have a date with Candace to see Things A Young Wife Ought to Know… since, well, she’s getting married and she OUGHT TO KNOW. Jeffrey, the Patron Services manager at Streetcar Crowsnest, said it was absolutely amazing, his “favourite show so far”, so now I’m doubly intrigued (update: terrific choice, she absolutely loved it, said that she had forgotten how much she enjoys theatre and that this rekindled something in her. Success. One down, a few to go…).
Also made a mental note to check out Bloom at Buddies (update: I loved it, found myself completely absorbed in the lead storyteller, and the set was fantastic with a particularly awesome manhole cover gobo that nailed the ambiance for me).
Near-April showers bring May flowers, and I think spring may have sprung, so we’ll see what the blooms bring.
Factory Theatre commissioned a terrific work by Kat Sandler, great aerobics for the brain, who somehow managed to pull off the near impossible task of making an audience laugh – guffaw, even! – while watching a piece about gun violence. In Canada. In 2018. In downtown Toronto. She’s basically a genius. Take a listen to some of the opening bits here.
Oh!, and I basically danced home after listening to Musica Nuda yesterday. This woman is a rock star. They both are. I hope to see more of this kind of magic. And this kind, too. It’s good shit. Like Farrah Fawcett hair.
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.
You put a horn section in your tracks, you win. ‘Nuff said.
Is this the coolest thing you’ve ever seen or what?
Is there anything as exhilarating as live theatre? My mind is blown each time I experience 2+ hours of flawlessness, devoid of broken ankles, flubbed lines, or coughing fits. John and I took a chance and waited outside the Apollo Theatre to see if any of the sold out run tickets would somehow make their way back to the Box Office and into our hot little [tin roof] hands, and they did indeed. A young student whose friends could not go passed to us absolutely fantastic seats – and John can now die a happy man, having seen the most naturally beautiful woman of our generation – that would be Sienna Miller, of course – in the most seductive performance he’s seen from her to date. There’s this tomboyishness about her mannerisms and her gait that makes it impossible to take your eyes off of her, and her acting was superb. Colm Meaney’s Big Daddy I hated with all my soul (which just confirms what an amazing job he did) and the set – ah again, those glorious set designers – was great.
Try to see it, somehow.