Posts in Category: Downtime

California

With another awesome contract under my belt, working feverishly with the Apply Digital folks to build not one, not two, but three sites for their superstar client Moderna, I knew I had to step away from the computer and experience some beauty in real life to unwind and recharge. The goals – to get sunshine and heat (I had missed summer pretty much entirely), to give friends hugs (so much needed), and to see what travelling with a 70lb dog looks life (boarding a dog is way too expensive, the flight cost is infinitely cheaper).

I’ve been to California a handful of times now, and the geography of this state never fails to astound me. There’s just so much here, so much natural beauty. The oceans, the colours, the heat, the flora and the fauna is so different from home. The dryness, that desert earthy dustiness of it, and the smell of eucalyptus and cacti everywhere is wonderful. The state parks are out of this world. Each one is more beautiful than the last, and the people are just… well, they’re happy. And happiness makes you pleasant, and kind, and generous, and good to be around, and chatty and fun. So there’s that.

It’s also so insanely big, so filled with options and people and constant motion that it can be very overwhelming. You have to leave the ridiculous belief that you’ll see it all at the door – it’s just not possible. I saw a banner that read “California is for everyone” and it really is – whoever you are, wherever you come from, whatever you do, you’ll find it here. You’ll find your tribe.

Flying with a dog was shockingly easy. All we needed to do was find a crate (in our case it needed to be hardshelled, big enough so that he could stand comfortably in it, yet small enough that the collective weight of crate and pup did not exceed 100lbs. Once that was sorted, the rest was just the tasks of purchasing a spot for him (~CAD$100), getting documentation from the vet that he was vaccinated and in good health (~CAD$40) and shlepping over to the airport, keeping fingers crossed that he wouldn’t start barking the second we left him at the oversize luggage area. He held it together like a champ, and when we collected him in LA – his cute little face searching the crowds for us and that frenzied tail wagging, still silent – we knew taking him with us was completely the right way to go. We were also super lucky that we found an AirBnb host who loved dogs and shared with us all kinds of tips about where to go and what to do, and that LA in general seems to love dogs and didn’t really restrict his access anywhere. Because dining here is 95% outdoor, Remy was able to go with us everywhere, and friends offered to stay with him if we wanted a night on the town on our own. Plus, we stayed in an old part of Hollywood called Whitley Heights that was a hop and a skip from Runyon Canyon, where Remy could run off-leash to his hearts content.

The trip also presented some challenges, mainly for gimpy ol’ me. My first 3 minutes in the Pacific came to a screeching halt as a stingray angrily speared the base of my right foot. Convinced that I had stepped on a piece of glass and the whole throbbing painful ordeal would only last a minute, I sat on the beach and waited for the pain to subside. When it instead exponentially increased and spread up towards my pelvis, I hobbled over to the nearest lifeguard station and begged for a vial of secret potion that would make all this go away (amputation at that point was also something that I wasn’t completely against). The secret potion came in the form of a foil bag of near-boiling tap water in which I was to essentially cook my foot for 45 minutes. The relief was instant, and despite the pieces of stinger exoskeleton that were still lodged in my foot (and presumably would remain ad infinitum) that ordeal could be put behind me. Fuck you Pacific. I get it. You win.

Five days later, just as I was finally able to walk without thinking too much about the healing wound on my foot, a grown Dalmation (presumably in his absolute delight at running after a gorgeous intact Vizsla from a land to the North) forgot his surroundings and failed to maneuver around me as he ran full speed across Huntington Dog Beach. His body made full contact with my right knee, and I fell to the ground in miserable excruciating pain. It was like being hit in the leg with a golf club. As I do, I gave myself a minute for the pain of the impact to subside, convinced that deep breathing and comical wincing would make it all go away. Mostly, it did, but I couldn’t put weight on the leg. Given the direct impact it made sense to me that it should be painful for a while, but when the next morning my knee had swelled to triple its original size and I could put no weight on it without agony, I decided it was best to make sure that nothing was horribly wrong and went for some XRays at an Urgent Care Clinic. Spoiler alert – I survived, but it messed me up for a good two weeks, and those beautiful hikes in Runyon Canyon with Remy went out the window.

When I could walk again without crutches (and just after the US Open Surfing Championships), that’s when there was an oil spill across the California Coast that closed down the OC beaches. I won’t even pretend that this is a poor me moment – the whole thing was shocking for all Californians and pissed off everyone who loves their ocean, their wildlife, and their neighbourhoods. Cleanup efforts are continuing, and I was happy that we didn’t spend double the amount of money on accommodations to be close to the beach. On the flip side, if we had, we wouldn’t have been anywhere near an LAPD standoff a block from our place or a DTLA hostage situation near Central Market.

So I sit here, writing down what’s in my head, left to wonder what I really think of LA and if it’s somewhere I could be long term. I gravitated to San Francisco more but I straight up wouldn’t be able to afford it. John is much more in favour of LA.

Pros: California is incredibly beautiful and the heat and geography are absolutely intoxicating. Gawking at all the unique real estate would keep me busy for 10 years. People you encounter in LA are warm and kind, creativity abounds, and for a kid like me who grew up obsessed with television and movies, everything under the sun is here – the Mattel headquarters. Jim Henson studios. Paramount, Fox, Warner Brothers, Snow White’s house, everywhere you look there is some landmark, some reference to some piece of your childhood that made a serious impact. The food scene is incredible.

Cons: The sidewalks in the whole city are full of tents, with the homeless, addicts, young kids who ran away from home, and people who either can’t afford housing or simply cannot secure it living there. For someone who walks and does it more for pleasure than practicality, it sucks. You need a car for everything. Walking three blocks takes 10 years, and you’re dodging addicts, beggars and yellers.  And don’t dream of just hailing a cab either, that doesn’t exist in LA. You need to explicitly book a rideshare, and there’s so much demand that most of them decline your request, so you either stand on the sidewalk of the restaurant you just got out of for an hour and wait (and pay USD$70 for a ten minute ride) or you take a scooter, if you can find one. For real.

A resident with whom I chatted noted that the last few years have been disturbingly difficult, first with the previous administration and then COVID. I’m not jaded enough yet to just ignore all the people in the streets – it affects me a lot to see people suffering, even in Toronto, so I’m not sure if I could build a callus fast enough to be able to just breeze past it all.

 

Family Foodie Fun

We’ve been missing London a lot, and really wanted to do something that would feel like we were back there. We got the chance to experience it in such a beautiful way, mostly thanks to our amazing friend and colleague Diana, who is the most awesome and generous person in the world. In fact one of my biggest regrets is that we didn’t jump at the opportunity to live there, but that’s a story for another time…

And so Family Day weekend was all about food. Afternoon Tea with teeny tiny sandwiches, scones and cakes and Beef Wellies (yes, plural… got a couple of little steaks instead of one giant one) where I got to freehand a lattice pattern with the pastry (who needs another cluttery gadget, come on) and confirm once again that the mustard layer is absolutely integral to the taste of the mushrooms and the entire dish. I went bonkers with the Madeleines – John got me a little Cuisinart Madeleine pan so I made the classic orange rind version with the hump and everything, and let me tell you, fresh out of the oven, they are just delightful. 

Prep is everything. Making the batter takes time and effort. Making the steaks and the druxelles takes time and effort. But taking it out of the fridge and popping it into the oven is nothing. Knowing now just how much I can do beforehand (92%) makes all the difference in the world, and now I see post-Covid dinner parties in a much less intimidating light…

Bennies and my Pet

Sometimes people amaze me. I randomly came across a blog post about 90 second keto English Muffins and had to try them out myself, because.. well… 90 SECOND ENGLISH MUFFINS!.. with a few adjustments of course based on what I actually had on hand. The result is something earth-shatteringly miraculous, and so this last week at my casa there have been many a Benny in my breakfast routine, as well as the usual wet kisses of my puppy Remy.

All The World’s A Stage

I believe very strongly that everyone has to find their magic. You have to love something. Anything. If you hate Christmas and believe it to be a religious and capitalist brainwashing nightmare, maybe focus on the fact that seeing your family is fun. If your family makes you nuts, maybe relish in the fact that eggnog is available on the shelves. If eggnog gives you stomach aches, maybe the green and red decorations are grin-worthy. And if those make you want to vomit… well, there’s always theatre (if you hate the theatre I give up, you’re just not trying).

Theatre is magic. Even if you don’t love a show, you must admit that you still kinda like it, the ritual of it. I will never hate it because I applaud what it takes and stands for – the work, the energy, the collaboration, the discussion, the emotion, and often very little payoff other than the job itself. You can’t hate on that, it’s really like hating on snowflakes, and why would anyone hate on snowflakes?

It blows my mind when I understand that someone has rehearsed a play countless times and the energy and emotion with which they deliver the lines is as powerful and raw as if it were utterly spontaneous. How can you maintain that intensity night after night? Where does that come from? I met Ben Turner while I was in Brooklyn, I thought he was beautiful and awesome and completely adored him from second one, so I went to see his show, The Jungle. I think my utter ignorance to the fact that this show is a complete phenomenon taking over the theatre world was a plus, otherwise I might have been intimidated by the whole ordeal and not bothered. People were audibly sobbing during the show (my boyfriend nearly being one of them – he left the theatre looking like he was hit by a truck). Ben Turner was absolutely astounding. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Yes, it’s an ensemble cast and very poor form for me to not focus on the fact that everyone was great (which they absolutely were) but he’s undeniably the lead and he carried it like a champ. That’s a powerhouse performer right there, Toronto needs to experience this. I am now obsessed with what it would take for something like this to come to my city (and where? Crowsnest? I need to talk to someone about logistics).

So as happens always when I see something I love, I now am trying to convince everyone I know to see it. And I do have to thank Netflix for bringing theatre to my parents, who can no longer be dragged around by me to wait in rush lines and for whom simply running around downtown is becoming less and less feasible every day. They were able to enjoy, from the comfort of their coziness, Steve Martin and Martin Short, Bruce Springsteen, and several other Broadway goodies.

Country Crossroads

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?

Flexing Frozen February Fibres

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 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.

The Greenhouse Effect

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.

Talking to Travellers and Theatre Therapy

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.

The Importance of Being Hermits

An important listen, in whole but especially starting at 21:30

The subject of hermitage (or withdrawing from others) is interesting, and rears it’s head often. I am someone who needs a tremendous amount of personal space and privacy. Many people do not understand this because they think I’m bubbly and chatty in public and assume that that means I’m naturally gregarious. I’m not. The energy that I give to others is energy I take from myself. Because of this discrepancy, I’ve been subjected to a lot of opinions regarding the space that I need to regroup and recharge, and people think it’s about them. I’ve had former supervisors comment that “I think I’m better than everyone” when I don’t participate in outings, family members become hostile when I don’t want to see them on a weekly cycle, a former coworker angrily hissed at me once that “oh, you need people to come to you, I get it”, acquaintances comment that they need me to engage more. When you’re a child and you play alone with your Lego’s, that’s typically viewed as a good thing, but as an adult you’re labelled as a snob, or worse, as lazy.

My Lego’s today are my photographs, my books, my various projects-in-progress. “You’re prioritizing your little snapshots over person X or Y?”, someone noted. Yes I am. My snapshots fill me with inspiration and wonder and strength, and person X or Y drains me. My dear friend Graham once commented that he doesn’t paint because he wants to, he paints because he needs to, without art he would die. At the time I thought that this was a bit dramatic, but actually I understand him better now than ever. He was the ultimate hermit.

Salt-Water Moon

Playing now until March 13th at the Factory, this beautifully uncluttered production of David French’s play left me in tears. Kawa Ada (whom I’ve already encountered this season in Bombay Black) is just breathtaking, as is his partner, the wonderful Mayko Nguyen, plus a remarkable supporting musical role by Ania Soul. Run folks. Run. The Globe and Mail reviewer loved it so much he bought himself a second ticket.