Posts in Category: Holidays

The Making of a Marginal Snowbird

I found myself looking at pictures that I had taken of Manhattan Beach and Naples Beach and, straight up, I can’t tell them apart. It’s like the Where’s Waldo game or Spot the Difference where you’re trying with all your might to focus on something that is out of place, and I’ve got nothing. It’s probably from reading the news too much, where the Blue and Red coasts are presented as more distant than night and day. California was always king, more similar in politics and lifestyle to Canada, despite wildfires and the constant threat of earthquakes. Florida was gators and hurricanes and guns so, not really somewhere where you would enjoy life. Alive anyway.

But Southwest Florida is quite friendly and charming. People are very kind. I landed in Fort Myers and wandered around there a bit, met some of the locals, got a bit of the lay of the land before heading over to Naples and enjoying lemon gelato and paella as if I were smack in the middle of the Mediterranean. I felt very much alive as my body unfolded itself from a permanent shiver, and even the dolphins seemed to mirror very accurately how I was feeling to be in the sun.

There are awesome little businesses there (Emily James, 5th Av Diner), great architecture (Gondolier Inn and Naples Mariner are as Americana as it gets for me), some great food (looking at you Mediterrano, Truluck’s and Brooks) entertainment (courtesy of The Naples Players and Gulfshore Playhouse) and of course, the gorgeous Naples pier, 3rd Street, and 5th Avenue Districts.

Goodbye winter, you harsh and bitter jerk. Give me a few months and maybe, maybe I will miss you again and we can have gluhwein and play Ticket to Ride by the fireplace.

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.

Giving Thanks

They say gratitude is the key to happiness. So, just in time for Thanksgiving, 10 things that I’m grateful for:

  1. A strong body that works as expected, free of illness or immobility
  2. A buddy to share life with, who thinks I’m awesome and isn’t afraid to say so often
  3. A cozy home that exudes love and care
  4. Good food in my tummy
  5. A society that values collaboration, insight, careful examination and compassion
  6. Honourable work among wonderful, respectful, intelligent, beautiful people
  7. Access to beauty of all kinds – music, art, literature, fashion
  8. A neighbourhood that is bustling with creativity, energy, and sass
  9. Friends that give me acceptance, love, respect, and tenderness
  10. A fire deep within that constantly wants to learn and grow

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.

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?

Decade Dance

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 EmbaixadaPavilhão 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.

Pulled Pork Pour Pâques

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.

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.

Ola in NOLA

It has been a whole month and I haven’t written at all about New Orleans! The whole purpose of this blog was to note down my adventures so that I don’t forget, and I’m forgetting to not forget! So let me see here, what can I tell you about this beautiful and musical town?

Well, no surprise here, but there’s music everywhere. No need to reserve at places to go listen to music live, there were Big Bands all over the streets, so the music is inescapable, even when you step away from the French Quarter. Frenchman Street (which I actually liked better than Bourbon) was just littered with musicians. We did manage to see a fantastic show at Snug Harbour that was worth every penny, and John almost choked on his Skittles when he recognized the trumpet player that was playing the SNL Sturgill Simpson show recently.  From the brunch time band playing at the parkette beside the French Market, to Ackroyd’s House of Blues, the Musical Legends Park, and Irvin Mayfield’s playhouse (sans Irvin himself – he’s moved on, folks!), this town does not fail to deliver the tunes. It’s uplifting and glorious.

As is the food. If you want fancy, this town’s got plenty fancy, but we kind of opted mostly to eat at the comfort local food joints instead. Cafe du Monde, naturally, for the beignets, ACME oyster house for the ridiculous baked oysters and various po’ boys, Cochon for everything (especially the Bourbon, oh lawd!), Superior Seafood for the raw oyster bar, Willa Jean and Ruby Slipper for breakfast, the Roosevelt for the Sazerac (ok, maybe we’re a little fance), Arnaud’s for a night cap, and all the food markets for snacks in between.

As for fun things to do, it was our first trip, so we had to do the cheesy stuff – Anne Rice’s house on First Street, all the Streetcar Named Desire / Tennessee Williams stops, Audubon Zoo, the Lafayette Cemetery, Natchez Steamboat, the St. Charles Old Streetcar Lines and of course the French Quarter with Bourbon street, Louis Armstrong Park, St. Louis’ Cathedral, all the Marie Laveau (the voodoo Queen of New Orleans) Shops (there are many!). New Orleans architecture is incredible, it’s got those very particular columns and iron exteriors, and the homes in the Garden District are something out of this world. It’s enough to just wander and gawk.

I have to gawk back. Go bawk. Whatever. You get it.

Cyclepath

I have a serious attachment to my bicycle. I’ve never been particularly aware of it, but I’ve been in London for a month now and I’ve finally understood what that pang in my heart is about. Have you ever seen a kid staring at you wide eyed and licking their lips absently as you eat an ice cream cone near them? That’s how I stare at cyclists. Like a desert hiker without water.

I have the same attachment to my bicycle that I think people have to their pets. I love it without reservation for it has never led me astray. It’s not like that boy that you love madly but he’s always let you down so you’ll never really trust him. It’s like the one who’s never let you down so you love him even more.

It’s a recurring symbol of my life. My mom’s husband taught me how to ride a bike when I was 6, it was pink and had one of those wooden sticks in the back so that he could control it and keep me from knocking my teeth in. He might as well have taught me how to fly. Once I mastered stickless tricks, I bolted over to my friend’s house and got the crap kicked out of me by grandma when I came home long after dark because I lost track of time.

When I met a boy at a young urban dinner party eight years ago, he asked me out for a bike ride. I was in my mid-twenties, and surrounded by peers who drove BMWs and drank martinis and wore really high Jimmy Choo’s and talked about investment and mortgages and were super serious and super mature. I was none of these things. When he checked my tires for air and filled them up without hesitation, I knew I had met a kindred spirit.

And then, well, Amsterdam. Then there’s that.

I’m a kid. I think I know now that I always will be. But that little shit who got her wings at 6 in a crummy concrete Gdansk playground learned how to breeze through the toughest of times on two wheels that day. And that stays.