Flicks and Muzak

must-sees & must not-see movies, muzak that I love and loathe

Drinking Beer in the Library and Other Confessions (like burying overdue books)

If you’ve tuned in to my blog before, you might recall a confession that involved me burying library books in elementary school. The books were well overdue and I was mildly terrified of the librarian and my only rational option was to bury the books by the pond behind our house. I remember two of the three distinctly: The Legend of Bigfoot and a NHL scrapbook of some sort.

Upon reflection, digging a hole and hiding the overdue books wasn’t the best solution. My pre-teen mind believed that if I made the books truly disappear, the librarian might have to admit that the books in question had been returned and become MIA on the shelves. One of the student volunteers probably screwed up the Dewey Decimal system and had shelved them with the Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias. Or, that’s what I hoped would happen. I can’t even remember the fall out of that one. Maybe my parents had to pony up some money. Maybe they threatened to hold my year-end report card ransom. I’ll never know.

Flash forward to high school. Library guilt coursed through my generally responsible veins. I applied for a summer job placement, in the library. I was successfully hired, but, gently removed from the front desk as I was prone to practical jokes and setting off the unchecked book alarm when certain friends left the library with checked items. Oh, what a gas! After less than five attempts at library hijinks, I was repurposed and became rather intimate with Dewey Decimal. Shelving duty, full-time. I’m not sure if I actually made it to the end of my “term” but I do remember being kicked out of the library for a) Watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a private seminar room b) For becoming stuck inside a recycling box when wrestling with Paula Faragher in the middle of the day.
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Back in 2010(ish), Toronto Life magazine featured rocker and Rough Trade heart-throb Carole Pope in The List, a Top 10 can’t-live-without profile of local movers and shakers. Writer Amy Verner wrote that “the post-punk queen of raunch” named her Schwinn faux-mountain bike, a vintage Vivienne Westwood raincoat, a Fender Mustang guitar, breakfast at The Senator on Victoria Street and her late mother’s art deco ring in her Top 10. Better yet? Carole Pope can’t live without her library cards from L.A., New York and Toronto.

The library was the beacon of our childhood weekend. I’d max out the allowable books on every subject. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary were my faithful babysitters. And, to give my mother a voice on this blog, because I know she is shaking her head in memory—yes, I lost a hardcover book on teddy bears for six months. It was truly lost because it was stuck in the side pocket of our canvas tent which we slept (barely) in one night, terrified out of our minds with every falling pinecone and hiccuping frog. The tent was packed up after that very night, with the library book tucked in the pocket, not to be discovered again until the next July camp-out set-up.

My mother paid some exorbitant amount for replacement of the book to the Brantford Public Library. I would like to point out that the book was critical to my career plans at that time (age 10). I fancied myself a fashion designer for teddy bears. Yeah. We’ll leave that at that.

Also, yes, we scratched a Foreigner record in our childhood rambunctiousness, and, after my parents paid out another replacement fee to the library for that, Cold As Ice, my sibs and I were no longer allowed to take out albums from the library. Oh, the angst and agony.

We found quick refuge at my grandmother’s house just up the road. Imagine, over 30 sets of encyclopedias and the entire National Geographic magazine since, oh, 1920 or whatever. Every elementary and high school project had a bibliography attached to her library. It had a pair of western-saloon style doors where we re-enacted Yosemite Sam scenes. Pistols blaring, of course. Plus, the library came with a panting and doting resident dog, Sally, my grandparents’ Great Pyrenees.

I’ve had a long love affair with the library and agree with Carole Pope and her public display of library card affection. When we moved to Galt in January, I was only nervous about where I might feed my indie movie rental habit. Living in the Annex in Toronto, I had become a daily fixture at Queen Video, and before that, at 7-24 on Church when I lived in Cabbagetown. With the flunk out of Rogers and Blockbuster Video, where was I going to rent movies? (I know, I know, Netflix. Ugh. But I still want the tangible and physical stealth search and reward element!)
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As I poked around my new library branch at Queen’s Square in Galt, with my newly minted library card, I found the treasure chest on the second floor! The library’s motto is “Ideas Unlimited”—and they cater to that very notion with 4,803 DVDs. I had never considered renting movies from the library! And, I can’t even begin to fathom the dollars I could have saved over the years!

Of course, the books are the first draw—but, the Cambridge library has over 250 magazines on its subscription list. I have also damaged my dowry with random grocery store line magazine purchases over the years too. I’m a sucker for Toronto Life, Bon Appetit, Outside, Esquire, Men’s Health, Dwell, House & Home and Cottage Life. And, I have the ability to tear through them at record speed. A latte + a mag = one hour minimum wage. Okay, I can justify that.

But, back to the free stuff at the library. The Queen’s Square location has a gallery space too—Ian Johnston’s “Sometimes Things Are Exactly As They Appear” art installation is on display until June 15th, 2013. Kim and I went to the opening night to see his reconstitution of a felled cherry tree—while enjoying a beer, IN THE LIBRARY! That same night, library staff were on hand, eager to solicit submissions to a 30th anniversary project, gathering client feedback and memories on their best library experience over the years. I looked at Kim, and, clearly, it was “drinking beer in a library!”

Alexandria, Egypt

Alexandria, Egypt


Point is, libraries are adapting to the surge in social media (faster than I am). There has been an obvious shift from the traditional library definition as the public embraces kindles and kobos. There is no reason for the library to continue to house hardcopy collections (but, I’m thankful they do). Daily newspapers are still available to read too (from the Ayr News to the Calgary Herald to USA Today)—another endangered species. To visit the modern library you will see the shift to a civic space—one that is tapped into our needs and wants—DVDs, scanners, internet access and CDs. You can even download music legally from Sony Canada’s catalogue of artists at Freegal.

The library will even pimp you out with a Book Club Kit—eight copies of the same book and a discussion guide.
Whether you are working your way through the Booker Shortlist, Giller Shortlist or Charles Taylor prizewinners, the library will satisfy all your whims. Pick up a copy of the Great Lakes Swimmers New Wild Everywhere CD, an intense memoir (Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika), an audio book to fuel road trips (Kim gives Saab thumbs up to Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea—the 2008 bestseller by Chelsea Handler), some design mags for Sunday morning coffee and flapjacks and a stellar flick like Sarah Polley’s Away From Her or the high octane doc, Untouchable Girls.

Whatever you do though, don’t bury your library materials by the pond.

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Categories: Flicks and Muzak, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

#Trending In My Life This Week

Sometimes there are a lot of things and thoughts that collide at once, that all deserve their space, but are more suitable for a bar stool conversation. Semi-related, but not really, this week is a bright spot: an awesome movie find, the close of an exceptional book, a new downtown patio to drink upon and the ongoing obsession of finding a house to call ours.

In no particular order, this is what has been trending in my week.

#Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Any film with Susan Sarandon listed in the credits is a shoo-in for me.  Jeff (Jason Segel) is an authentic  30-year-old slacker inspired by the movie Signs. Consumed by finding and following the semi-obvious “signs” that appear to him in his mother’s (Sarandon’s) basement, Jeff is certain that he is within reach of his destiny.  His brother, Pat (Ed Helms), opposite in all possible ways, is a twitchy paint store manager blow-hard who thinks a new Porsche will cure his tanking marriage. The brothers ram heads like rutting elk and can find little common ground outside of a blood tie. Their lives tangle into a fisherman’s knot when they witness Pat’s wife obviously in the throes of an illicit affair.

While the boys duke it out, Jeff’s awareness and perception—often lost in the haze of his chronic pot smoking, begins to make sense to Pat. What happens next unfolds without a sign for the audience. The emotional impact of the final scene is wholly unexpected and will leave even the steeliest of hearts feeling like they’ve swallowed knives instead of popcorn. Yes, you will cry. Like a child with a skinned knee. You will ache for Sharon’s (Sarandon) lonely existence, longing for attention and affection despite her brave exterior and I’m-just-fine-on-my-own stance.

The writers weave in surprising twists and earn kudos for a tight and realistic script. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is an honest portrayal of how easily relationships can dissolve—whether it be with a spouse, brother or mother. And the signs, well, they’re everywhere. You’ll see.

#One Bird’s Choice

On my list of (probably) 138 books To Read, One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid was chosen primarily for its portability. I have finally caved to the sensibilities of my right shoulder.  I am a firm believer in “fashion hurts,” and I insist on carrying my oh-so-cool shoulder bag from Amsterdam because it is oh-so-cool. What I refuse to carry now is hard-copy books. I can’t. Unless I skimp on the weight of my lunch, I just can’t tote hardcovers anymore in my sub-5K walking commute.

So, One Bird’s Choice was the likely choice due to its featherweight category designation—in addition to the rave reviews and firework displays it received for his porcupine quill-sharp writing.  I packed the book for our getaway to The Pinery Provincial Park. I read the entire book (nearly) to Kim, out loud on the beach.

Apparently I’ve got a trending theme of slackerness this week. One Bird’s Choice chronicles Reid’s decision (and aftermath) to move back in with his goofball parents on their serene “Lilac Hill” hobby farm in Ottawa.

As the seasons shift from the winter of Reid’s discontent to a spring fever of renewal and gratitude, life with his parents is a quiet riot. There are generous doses of melancholy, comic encounters with the resident guinea fowl Lucius and a gentle meditation associated with life on the farm. His initial resistance to admitting to his permanent covert accommodations eventually twists into what life should be. Time spent wholly engaged in conversation, petting cats, drinking coffee, musing, napping, observing, Hockey Night in Canada, digging the shit out of sheep barns, eating mom’s lemon loaves (and cookies and apple walnut cake) and just being. And, lucky us! We get to eavesdrop on all those conversations and cheer the emergence of a wayward urban refugee writer finding solace.

#Poetry Jazz Cafe

As much as I adore the beer taps and smart handle of the place, Thirsty & Miserable in Kensington Market smells like a dog that has swum in brackish water. The wet dogness doesn’t dissipate, even after 3-4 pints. I know, I’ve tried. However, just south of the great-named-bar-that-smells-like-the-fish-market-next-door, there’s Poetry. Dark as a carnival haunted house, it has groovy by the neck. Kim and I feel our way to the back to where we’re meeting my friend Keph. Earlier in the day I had read online about their intimate patio. From here we can still here the jazzy beats, but at a level that still permits conversation. Weathered mill carts, makeshift benches, Adirondack chairs and bistro tables fill the tidy pea-gravelled space that is bigger than any Toronto backyard. The tall boys (Guinness , Stiegl, Strongbow), and the pints of Steam Whistle, Keith’s and Hoptical Illusion (Flying Monkey’s Brewery) fuel an easy night of chatter. We chatter even longer when a bowl of super-salty popcorn arrives by surprise. Which, in turn, encourages another pint.

The patio fills before dusk. Unpretentious and as relaxed as hanging out in your own leafy space, this place is going to be a future soupy night go-to for Friday night flat-lining.

 

#Banh Mi Boys, 392 Queen West (at Spadina)

Their lemongrass pork sub stuffed with daikon, pickled carrot, cuke, mayo and cilantro gets kicked-up a few infernos with three different hot sauces. Bahn mi subs from this joint (the 5 spice pork belly with pickled relish is love in a bun) make me want to wear only sweat pants, watch thirtysomething re-runs and eat only these. For breakfast even. Less than $5 bucks a pop and paired with a blood orange San Pellegrino, they push Subway to the curb.

MLS

Boo to the Highway 6 traffic that took this Morriston gem out of the running.I think Kim and I have looked at over 548 MLS listings. I “drive” around Guelph in circles (I could find a quick job as a cabbie with my new found directional sense of the city), waiting for the dream house listing to FINALLY appear. We have moved our initial search out of Dundas, Waterdown and south Burlington. We want a place with personality that bleeds charm right out of its brickwork. We’d be smitten with anything that ticks off 97% of this checklist:

No pool (due to previous experience and severe novelty worn-off-ness)

Absolutely no hot tub (due to previous nightmares)

No finished basement (we are both basement-haters)

Pedestrian-friendly location: just far-enough from the traffic hum but close enough to find a pint or Americano

Preferably old hardwood, exposed brick, wainscoting

A backyard suitable for bonfires and plein air dining

Kim would like a furnace that doesn’t tick

I would like a fridge that doesn’t operate at the decibel level of a Mack Truck

NO TENANTS (especially the type that re-enact Jurassic Park scenes from above)

No white-fluffy, ribbon-wearing, below knee-level barking dogs in a 100 foot radius

A Wolf stove would be really nice

A workshop space so Kim can be all handy and build remarkable things with her tools and saws that every man envies

Front balcony for morning coffee-drinking and nosey-neighbour-type spying

Barn board, exposed timber beams—bonus: attic space for writing the Next Great Novel

Century home or raw loft space WITH balcony (no concessions)

A scalding hot shower with endless water pressure unlike my parents (the equivalent of being pissed on by a horse). Clawfoot tub separate. No wrestling two shower curtains around claw foot. Been there.

Gas fireplace for wintry nights and wintry wine-drinking. One in the bedroom too, best yet.

Kim’s request: “no messy trees” (i.e. wind-weary willows or berry-bearing trees that attract birds that shit purple bombs on her highly-polished black Saab

That je ne sais quoi. The kinda place you walk into, close the door, breathe deep and contemplate never leaving.

 

What’s trending in your life?

 

 

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Flicks and Muzak, Home Sweet Home, On My Bookshelf, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The World’s Simplest Scavenger Hunt: Gratitude & Inspiration

Sometimes future blog content clings to me like Saran Wrap until I acknowledge it. Often it sneaks up on me, manifesting in unexpected but repeated ways. Today began with mindless Facebook drifting, after very intense MLS searching, driving a cursor around Dundas in mad circles, wishing and willing a century home with a price tage under half a million to appear.

Kerri Minns, who I arm wrestled for the title of G Adventures Coolest Adventure Travel Intern in 2010 (she won, and talentedly so) often posts engaging and idea-erupting updates and links on her very articulate Facebook page. Sometimes they are Instamatic sugary donuts portraits, or just smartly snapped pictures of an open newspaper. Today she reposted this quote (source unknown): “In order to lead a fascinating life–one brimming with art, music, intrigue and romance–you must surround yourself with precisely those things.”

Like.

And, for a reliable creative boost and further inspiration injection, there’s always been Brene Brown and her WholeHearted Living manifesto that serves as verbal Red Bull. She is best known for embracing imperfection and saluting vulnerability. Brown’s site is dense with ideas, and her thoughts today fuelled my run through the breezy, fertilized and newly mulched suburban streets.

Brown’s post was simple, a “play list” of all that she was grateful and inspired by today from the likes of cilantro Thai grilled chicken to Willie Nelson’s latest album Heroes. And, with much credit to her, I am piggy-backing on her post.

Today I’m feeling very grateful for and inspired by:

1. Long Way Down. A few months ago I read Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round (2004), chronicling their enduro 20,000 mile ride across 12 countries on tripped-out BMW bikes. This time the macho boys are riding from Scotland to Capetown, South Africa. During my reading epidemic yesterday, I didn’t budge from my lounger until they crossed the Libyan border en route to lunch in Alexandria. Reading their impressions of the oppressive heat, obnoxious traffic and wayward camel crossings brought the carefully preserved memories of our  time in Egypt to the forefront.  The books we brag about are always the ones that successfully take us elsewhere, inward, backward, or to that high-security place in our mind’s matrix.

2. Offloading. Last week, Kim and I were on a “working holiday” in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We were dutifully helping her parents move into an envy-inducing tony condo space (granite, stainless steel, oh my!) from their idyllic ranch of 30 years, complete with resident foxes in the woods just yonder. I’ve moved my parents once (after nearly 30 years in one house), and several friends (several times). After this recent move, Kim, Scott, Lynne (her siblings) and I came to an agreement. From now on, we are only allowed to collect our thoughts. Kim and I are known minimalists, and still, after seeing how 30 years of living can so easily escalate and accumulate, I couldn’t wait to come home and offload anything remotely unnecessary. My urban space is around 800 square feet, and after moving back and forth across Canada and sojourning to Africa twice, my cardboard box count has continued to dwindle. If something doesn’t have a story or a purpose, I am repurposing it (ie. how many martini glasses does one really need?). In the end, we are only left with our thoughts, anyway. Hopefully.

3. Banana Bread beer and a pale ale made with pinapple juice? I pick up hard copies of The Grid, NOW, City Bites, Food & Drink and Toronto Life for serious ongoing inspired eating research purposes. And, as an already avid thought collector (as witnessed on this blog–three years of blathering thoughts-strong), I like to keep these scavenged places documented in one coveted master list, mapping out all that I need to drink and eat in the city. A Gut Positioning System, if you will. It’s my version of a Five Year Plan.  I had read about the UK Wells Banana Bread beer somewhere in my reading travels and sourced it out at the RBC LCBO on Front. And in bonus beer news, Kim and I discovered Spearhead’s Hawaiian Pale Ale, brewed with pineapple juice at La Mexicana on Yonge. Tomorrow I plan to eat a Hrvati burg to support Toronto’s $5 Burger Week (Ontario beef, smoked mozza and caramelized onions on a Croatian steamed bun). It’s good to have goals. Even Burgers-To-Eat goals.

4. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Whether we are reading about or watching the intricacies, demise or foibles of other lives, it helps frame our own world in a gentle, fluid way. The trailer for this Judi Dench and Bill Nighy flick sucked me in months ago. Like the media approach of Never Let Me Go and Limitless promised, such movies are the scaffolding of coffee shop and bar stool conversations. Not total blockbusters, maybe, but, they force-feed troubled thinking and lend to mind-wandering through internal emotional forests days after. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a genuine and amusing look at an eclectic group of souls struggling to embrace their autumn years in India. The maelstrom of thoughts hummed louder than the handfuls of buttered popcorn being ingested as I watched it.  Could we? Would we? India, no. Never say never, but, no, never. But, where would we want to spend our golden years? I love how movies generate thoughts and engage constant plotting of our own life’s script.

5. Not climbing Everest. I’ve read several disturbing accounts of Canadian Shriya Shah-Klorfine’s death this week. I think many Twitter followers were appalled to learn via rabid feeds from recent climbers like Sandra Leduc (@sandraclimbing) of the number of dead bodies dotting the path to the summit, transforming the peak into a surreal high altitude morgue. Of the 3,000 climbers who have attempted to conquer the mammoth, over 200 have died. Due to the tangible danger and expense of removing the bodies, many remain exactly where they have last fallen. When I read Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air a dozen years ago, I found great inspiration in the bull-headed determination and unstoppable emotional force of those who needed to climb the mountain. But, I also found peace in knowing that I wasn’t hard-wired for that experience. I could live very happily without that pull and overwhelming need to summit.

6. Emily Haines! I know I’m late to catch on to her after her storied history with Broken Social Scene and Metric, but, after watching Daydream Nation, I found myself listening harder to the soundtrack strains than the actors dialogue. Does anyone remember Aussie folkies Frente? Their cover of Bizarre Love Triangle? Labor of Love? Very vocally reminiscent.  Another Australian darling is also on my  LOVE-wanna-hear-more radar: Trysette. When I was in Entebbe, Uganda, I drank many bottles of red wine with Trysette’s sister Merryde at the Gately Inn. Silky Fingers is often on repeat at my place, much to the chagrin of my upstairs tenant (payback for her Yo Yo Ma and sugar pop music interference).

7. Petting some dogs along my way. I met and had a heavy pet with “Pearl” yesterday. She lives just around the corner and is the most adorable (x 1,000) beagle, ever. Petting random dogs is just all around good.

See? It’s everywhere. The world’s simplest scavenger hunt, really. From banana bread beer to wagging dogs.

Inspiration and gratitude–where are you finding yours today?

Categories: Eat This, Sip That, Flicks and Muzak, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Kids Are All Right

There were boos and hisses of course. The plot just wasn’t plausible. Julianne Moore’s lesbian character “Jules” has sex with a guy. Although, Mark Ruffalo’s “Paul” largely resembles a bumbly, dishevelled lesbian…with a beard.

Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right gently slides the emphasis off the assumption that the movie is about lesbians. Moore and Annette Bening (“Nic”) star as a devoted but fraying couple but the focus is on human relationships and balancing the dynamics of love, the unseen, routine and the tension of growing apart and back together. 

 Jules and Nic’s two kids have reached the age where they are curious about their sperm donor dad (Ruffalo), and want to make contact. The moms express support but naturally feel threatened—maybe the family and life they created for their children wasn’t good enough? What if they like him better? And from the outset, they kinda do. Paul is a college drop-out, roars around on a BMW motorcycle and owns an hipster organic resto. Yes, he is way-cool.

Paul is so way-cool that Jules also falls under his charming spell and her lesbian-ness evaporates in one kiss with him.  This is not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer. And if you’ve read any review, you know that the kiss is more than a kiss, and our dear lesbian gets it on with Paul. More than once.

And this is where the gays boo and hiss, because, surely, this doesn’t happen in the real world. No lesbian is gonna fall for a guy who grows perfect heirloom tomatoes, and want to have repeated afternoon sex with him AND smoke cigarettes in bed afterwards. But Jules does, in a not-so-conflicted manner.

What director and writer Cholodenko achieves is pulling the audience from the shame of an affair by spinning the rules of sexuality like a whirling dervish. Lesbians aren’t supposed to sleep with guys, especially when they are in the thick of a gay relationship. With children to boot!

But it does happen. I’ve witnessed it. I know legions of lesbians who have suddenly turned on their heel and left our team to find love in the arms of a man. Of course, more often I hear of the opposite. The married woman who leaves her husband for the personal trainer at the gym with curves just like hers, who gives her the fawning attention that hubby failed to.

I even know a man who was married to a woman and had a child with her–who then married a guy. This stuff happens. Of course I wish all gays would stay gay and not pull an Anne Heche (who was still remarkably silly to ditch Ellen for cameraman Coley Laffoon), but, sexuality and gender, and what we knew of it is evolving so fast even us gays can’t keep current.

Cholodenko’s talent has always been in writing clever dialogue and she attacks this kind of raw and misunderstood material with ease. She was the creative force behind High Art (1998), Laurel Canyon (2002), and directed episodes of The L Word and Six Feet Under. By casting Bening and Moore as a lesbian couple, she made the whole notion of ‘lesbian couple’ even more palatable to North America. We’ve loved Bening in Love Affair, American Beauty and Running With Scissors. Moore was a standout in The Hours, Savage Grace, A Single Man and Chloe. Yes, North America could handle them as a lesbian couple in a movie. Just as the star power of Ellen and Sharon Stone allowed in If These Walls Could Talk 2. Boundaries did a yoga stretch when Ellen and Stone rolled around under the covers in a tastefully erotic make-out scene to the hypnotic sound of Dido’s Thank You.

Normally lesbians are misrepresented as man-hating gender warriors. Or glossy sex-mad non-committal types in lipstick(L Word). Feminist cut-throats. Twitchy, abused, misunderstood, fragmented childhood survivors. Wavering, experimenting, disenchanted, strong-willed, lost and unfound types.

Cholodenko gave us two smart and snappy talkers with Jules and Nic. Their kisses were natural, their lives believable. Their hurts very real. And I’m sure, somewhere, somehow, two lesbians have had their relationship tested by the emergence of the sperm donor years later. Peculiar things happen, but the gravity of The Kids Are All Right was in how their knotted lives braided together, unravelled, and then knotted back again, even tighter.

The challenges the couple faces are not brand new to humanity. They are a constant thread in all our lives. We can identify bits of ourselves in the lovers. We have flashbacks of previous partners. We make mental note of how not to act.

Jules: “Go easy on the wine, hon, it’s daytime.”

Nic: “Okay, same goes for the micromanaging.”

They gently bicker, cry down to their collarbones, love each other immensely and push and pull until Jules voices, “Marriage is hard. Two people, year after year. Sometimes you stop seeing the other person.”

And this is the significant line I pulled from the movie. There’s always one. In September I read an article on empty nesters, and how the separation and divorce rate skyrockets when all the kids are out of the house. The family unit that was so distracted with maintaining the homeostasis of four or five people, slows down and concentrates on two. The writer offered advice, to conquer that transformation from chaotic family life to the return of “the couple” that it all began with. “Keep yourself interesting and interested.”

Jules’ character hit the bull’s eye on the failure of so many relationships. We stop seeing each other. And even though it was a far stretch that Jules fell for Paul and his tomatoes, viewers can see the obvious. He showed interest, he saw her. This is where affairs ignite. Are they wrong? Yes. But, they can happen when the connective threads pull apart and someone else makes us feel desirable and alive.

The movie broaches even larger concepts of forgiveness and resolve–and that resurrecting a wobbly house is possible. It’s about how we find our ‘tribe’ and keep that sacred unit safe. It’s done with sharp humour and a startling grip on emotional response (intensely portrayed by Bening at Paul’s dinner table with the family).

What could have been a potentially fluffy, fictional romp turned into an intelligent snapshot of all our lives and how we handle emotional distance, restlessness and curiosity.

What did you think?

Here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgwjTy_cohg

Categories: Flicks and Muzak | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Road: A Line Becomes a Circle

We used to sit in the dank swampy storm culverts below the tracks not far from our home. Kiley generally didn’t last long with the abundance of daddy long leg spiders that spun clingy curtains across our paths. Dax followed me most places, and stayed there, perhaps against his will, I can’t remember. Our dog Xanadu shadowed us, regardless of the elements or imminent danger.

In the culvert we would imagine terrible things. We would pretend that a F-5 tornado was ripping through the sun-bleached corn fields towards us. Barn roofs were being lifted into the bruised sky and cars were flying like dizzy birds into the vortex of it all.

We would hear the growl of thunder approaching and conduct dreadful thought experiments. What if the world was coming to an end? We’d peer out the ends of the culvert, which showed us a two-way kaleidoscope of bending trees, snapping branches and waving corn. The bit of sky that we could see would be threatening—purple with licks of heat lightning. Xanadu would become agitated that we were lingering. Surely we should be making our way back to the safety of our home.

My grandmother told us if we were ever trapped outside and saw a twister, we should head for the culvert. Even on sunny days we would climb into the cool coil and lean back with our feet stretched out over the stagnant water at its bottom.

We always stayed in the culvert until our thoughts scared us out of there. Then we’d take off at break-neck speed, leaving the disturbing thoughts (and usually Kiley—sorry!!) behind. All was forgotten when we barged in the unlocked front door of our home and slammed it behind us. Heaving and panting, bent over in half, there would be a pot roast or stew that would infiltrate our nostrils and bring calm.

But what if?

What if everything that was familiar to us was gone?

What if the colours bled out of the earth and the sky grew grey and there were no shadows because there was no sun?

What if giant stands of trees, so symbolic of life and palpable history, suddenly uprooted and fell to the ground like broken skeletons?

If you were left in a desolate landscape void of life and hope where days and months blended into a blur of relentless suffering and starvation—could you? Or would you selfishly save yourself and walk into the darkness with a gun? Would you walk away from your husband and your son and your life, because you truly believed that love could no longer conquer all?

The Road, based on the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction novel by Cormac McCarthy, has occupied my thoughts and quiet spaces for two days now. My friend Heidi had posted a Facebook status update that said she had watched the movie and cried almost as much as when she read the book. I was curious to see what made her cry—what moves someone to tears is usually a better indicator of substance than what makes a person laugh. Everyone can laugh, but crying is a bigger investment—especially by books.

Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron and kid wonder Kodi Smit-McPhee breathe life into The Road. Need an injection of misery? The movie is like the greyest sky, arthritic pain and Jann Arden on repeat.

After an unnamed cataclysm, a boy and his father are left in a post-apocalyptic world, walking south on a road that they hope will lead them to some imagined utopia, far from the scarred and ravaged earth they have come to know.

There are no birds, no crickets, no flowers, no children. The only interruption to the eerie silence is distant eruptions and thunder that vibrates their bones. Packs of nomadic cannibals scour the devastation like ravenous lions. Naked, wide-eyed, humans, more bone than flesh, are kept locked up in basements as a living food source.  The father insists that if they are to be captured, that the boy should shoot himself. He shows him how to place the gun, pointed upwards against the roof of his mouth, and pull. The father is frantic in making his son promise this.

They walk for months. The father and son become “each the other world’s entire.”

I have a latte with the barista at Jimmy’s on Portland, still thinking about The Road. “Life is a series of squares and circles.” The barista is confident of this. He describes his next tattoo to me in great detail. It will be of a snake, eating itself. “It’s a symbol of re-birth, and that’s what we’re doing here on earth. Eating ourselves, moving about in squares and circles.” I almost believe him.

In The Road the circle becomes a line. But the boy has skin of steel and a heart that believes they will find more good people, like themselves. If they can just make it to the coast.

“Are you carrying the fire?” The boy learns to ask.

The fire. When all that we ‘have’ is gone. When all that we are left with is what is inside us.

The mother’s fire had died down to embers and couldn’t ignite again. She was gone. The father found guttural courage to forge ahead, for his son, who could still see colour in a dead earth. The father’s love in The Road is unstoppable and fierce. He demonstrates how raw hope can transcend misery.

The Road is undeniably bleak and uncomfortable to watch because it brings our worst fears to the surface. Would we have the strength? Could we ignore a suffocating grief within ourselves and promise hope to someone else when we’re not even sure if it’s possible?

 Beauty does emerge.  And the love between the father and son does conquer all.

The Road that was at once a line becomes a circle in the end.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbLgszfXTAY

 

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Do Something Dangerously Memorable

When you buy a purebred dog from a breeder, the puppy undergoes a battery of reactionary tests to determine its placement suitability. An umbrella is suddenly opened to see if the pup is easily startled. A shaken jar of coins simulates noisy outbursts and challenges the dog’s confidence or potential anxiety. Lastly, the pup gets its ear pinched, enough that the pinch elicits a yelp. It’s a sneaky love/trust test. Most pups will sulk for a mere moment, and then rebound with seemingly apologetic licks for their behaviour.

I’d like to try this test on women. First date, ear pinch. If they respond with affection in less than 10 seconds, they are keepers. More than 10 seconds? I would safely gather that the relationship will be based on resentment.

But then there is that love as deep as the Baltic, and there is no test for that. You are instantly submerged and it’s paralyzing, sucking any iota of previous independence out of you in a cosmic flash.

I went to see Tom Ford’s The Single Man on Saturday night. Given the title and trailers, there is no spoiler in saying that Colin Firth plays the single man, devastated by a love that no longer exists. He keeps the company of a ghost and wobbles through life with a greater memory of loss than anything else.

The human condition is rather tragic. We spend most of our time trying to forget people, places and things—only to remember them will incredible clarity. The powers of forgetting seem to lend to increasing the memory.  And then we reach an age where we are desperately clinging to any bit of nostalgia and faded memory that we can: How our grandmother’s hands looked, how the dog’s feet smelled like corn chips, how sweet cotton candy tasted on a July day with grubby fingers and grass-stained knees. That first kiss with so-and-so and the awkward, sweaty slow dance to “Stairway to Heaven.”

Earlier in the year, prompted by the strong urging of Rona Maynard (some people have personal shoppers, I like to think of her as my personal librarian), I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I am still uncomfortably disturbed by that book, but in a way that makes me cling to life a little closer. In Still Alice, Alice, a Harvard professor, learns that she has early-onset Alzheimer’s. Watching her life and memory unravel was like reading a verbal nightmare.

Alice tries to re-read all her favourite classics only to realize that it’s all too late.  She can’t even remember what cream cheese is called anymore and can only compare it to “white butter.” She realizes she has to urinate, but can’t find the bathroom in her own house. Finding reassurance and grounding on her daily runs, Alice soon loses her way on the route she has jogged for years. Everything that was at once familiar and comforting collapses like a house of cards. Alice becomes a ghost of herself.

Lisa Genova, author and neuroscientist, accurately traces Alice’s path to the inevitable point of her not remembering that she doesn’t remember. I found some solace in this—at least there is saving grace, the Alzheimer’s completely consumes Alice’s vulnerable mind and takes that terrifying awareness away. She was still Alice to everyone in her life, but herself.

In The Single Man the human memory is equally cruel in gripping Colin Firth so tightly to his deceased partner. He leans into the car of a stranger who has a terrier like his partner had. He inhales the scent of the dog and in that familiar “buttered toast smell,” he is taken back to the arms of his love.

Robert Frost said, “The height of happiness makes up for its length.” Does it?

As I ran down Carlton this afternoon, I saw an elderly woman slouched over her motorized scooter, bumping along the sidewalk at a fair clip. Her dog was a small, mixed breed, sodden from the rain. He had one of those ridiculous post-surgery lampshades on his head and kept his focus on his owner while he cantered along beside her.  I wondered what she was trying to remember. What did she want to forget?

I found myself in Indigo Books in the evening, as I so often do. I leafed through Wallpaper and Vanity Fair and eventually picked up Oprah’s O. The December issue is gushing about happiness and where to find it, or what products, shiny boots and pearly clutches may channel it. The back page described Oprah’s latest Aha! moment and a mini-confessional  about how she hadn’t achieved a lot of what she had hoped to this year. She failed to exercise every day. She didn’t take enough time for herself. She got sloppy, as we all do, finding comfort in avoidance, laziness and chocolate.

That is, until Oprah talked with Charla Nash about her days since the tragic accident that robbed her of life as she knew it. Charla Nash was savagely attacked by a chimpanzee in February of this year and found by paramedics who couldn’t even distinguish that they were looking at someone’s head.  Her hands looked like they had been forced through meat grinders.  Her eyes, nose and ‘face’ were essentially gone. To this day, Carla has no eyes and is so scarred that she wears a veil to protect others from seeing her “monster face.” She doesn’t know how disfigured she is, but she is painfully aware that it is awful and disturbing. A face that would haunt you forever.

Oprah was surprised at how quickly she adjusted to Charla’s appearance during the interview, realizing that there was a brave woman inside that scarred (and scared) body who was dealing with more than the guilt of eating an entire chocolate bar after midnight. Or not going to the gym at lunch and ordering in greasy pad Thai instead. Life for Charla Nash will never be parallel to the worries we consume ourselves with.

Reading that article, I was reminded of a man my siblings and I often saw in West Brant when we were young. Of course we grimaced and buried our faces into our dad’s legs when he walked by, because to us, he was a monster. He had no lower mandible and scarlet scar tissue from a severe burn marbled up his chest to his neck. My father told us each and every time that “he was in the war, he fought for our freedom,” but it did nothing to settle our naive child response. I later learned that he had stepped on a land mine and had most of his face splintered into something that could no longer be recognized as human.

But he still had the courage to walk in daylight, despite the train-wreck stares and dropped jaws that met his rheumy eyes.

Running down Gloucester, picking my way along the sidewalk and hardened ice remains, I saw Victoria for the first time today. In the gay village, she is a familiar face. Victoria looks like she is about 156 years old and is often heard before she is seen. “Doooooooooo youuuuuuuuuuu haaave a ciiiiigaaaareeeeeeeeeeettte?” The first time she asked me, about seven years ago, she was 100 feet away from me, and startled me in the darkness from her now-familiar perch on the curb. She has to start her cigarette request early, as she can drag out that sentence to a full minute. She lives in a halfway house on Gloucester, and is often in a frumpy man’s suit, clomping along in shoes that are clearly five sizes too big for her. Victoria is as wrinkled as a Shar-pei, but she is alive and is remembering and forgetting too, just like you.  And me.

And there is a common thread here, between Charla Nash, Victoria, Colin Firth and Alice. And I realized the link when I read a recent post on Owning Pink’s blog that featured Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”

The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Will you have the strength of Charla Nash to still enjoy the warmth of the sun on your shoulders? Will you love someone with all your might, to the depth that you can never resurface if you lose that love? Will you make sure you remember and share your life while you can before Alzheimer’s strips you of your stories and self?

Will you kneel in the grass, be idle and blessed and stroll through the fields and feel accomplishment in achieving that?

As for Victoria and the woman in the scooter with the lampshade dog, they’re connected in my mind too. We’ve all sat on Santa’s knee, put a squirmy worm on a hook and cried ourselves to sleep. We’ve laid on our backs and pointed out clouds that resemble charging elephants and turkey necks. Doesn’t everyone have a scar from accidentally sliding down a pine tree due to a poorly estimated reach for a higher branch? These women have stories too.

We all know the sun’s warmth, and if Charla Nash has the guts to get out of bed and feel it on her skin, there are no excuses for the rest of us. She still thinks life is precious.

And Alice, even with her fleeting mind, she always remembered love. Colin Firth held on to a love that left too soon, and this makes me think of the woman in the motorized scooter. Maybe her life has become a ghost too. But she has a dog with a lampshade to make her feel like she belongs and is still needed in this world.

Just be nice to someone today, for crying out loud. Something that you may forget by day’s end might be remembered by somebody else forever.

Do something dangerously memorable with your one wild and precious life.

Owning Pink’s blog (by OB/GYN, author and artist Lissa Rankin): http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/2ZBmnE/www.owningpink.com/2009/12/12/your-one-wild-and-precious-life//r:t

Charla Nash’s story on Good Morning America: http://www.mefeedia.com/video/25516591

Rona Maynard’s review on Still Alice: http://www.ronamaynard.com/index.php?what-remains-when-the-intellect-is-gone

Trailer for The Single Man: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tCxRO67gyk

 

 

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, On My Bookshelf, Polyblogs in a Jar | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Please Do Not Disturb

home-toronto-amster-nairobi 310Where The Wild Things Are has given me emotional indigestion. The movie trailer indicated that “Inside all of us is hope,” but the movie left me feeling the weight of the world on my heart and tear ducts, not just my shoulders. Like midnight Chinese food and the electric headache that drinking a vanilla milkshake too fast can elicit, I felt an unusual distress in every part of me after seeing the film.

“I’m sooo sad!” Was the best I could come up when Dax and I walked out of the theatre equally stunned. We tried to pinpoint what stabbed us in the heart so accurately, but we were at a loss for words (compounded by a complete loss of appetite for post-movie martinis).

The opening scene with socially awkward 9-year-old Max Records sobbing after escaping his crushed igloo (collapsed by his older sister’s jerk-friends)was like swallowing an SOS pad. I had packed an illegal movie picnic for Dax and I as we had both hurried over to the Varsity after work. The gouda with fine herbs that I loved the night before felt like a choking hazard in my clenched throat. The sesame seed sticks were like shards of glass. The Boylan’s root beer set fire to everything else.

I can still see my primary school librarian, Mrs. Kuyvenhoven, in a pilly mauve cardigan and polyester pleated pants with eyes as big as eggs, reading Where The Wild Things Are to us as we sat, fidgeting on the carpeted floor of Mt. Pleasant school library. The moody front cover of the book is more of a standout in my memory than the plot, but the movie trailer and the whimsical similarity to The Neverending Story put it on my coveted must-see-at-the-theater list.  

Apparently the ‘monsters’ depicted in Maurice Sendak’s book were based on his Polish immigrant relatives who congregated in his childhood home for weekly dinners. Their choppy English and quirky mannerisms made them very monster-like to his younger self (Which I can relate to. We thought my grandmother was from Mars because she had such green and wormy varicose veins). Not so surprisingly, Sendak’s bibliography lists dozens of illustration credits as he spent his earlier years working as a children’s book artist before finding his niche in the writing world.

Director and screenwriter Spike Jonze, producer Tom Hanks  and co-scriptwriter Dave Eggers (What is the What, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) have been sculpting and breathing Where The Wild Things Are for six years. Filmed in Australia, the surreal escape into Max’s troubled headspace is a magnificent success in that it is so disturbing. Maybe it makes me think too much about all the rejected Max’s of the world.  How we repeatedly fail to acknowledge those who are craving mere snippets of attention and acceptance.

The on-screen ‘monsters’ are easily recognized as lonely, broken depictions of humans. They are misunderstood and as uncomfortable as pimply teenagers.  They want a king who will lead them away their sadness and simultaneously Max finds a place where he is wanted and needed. He finds solace in Carol (James Gandolfini) and discovers his voice and assertiveness as he is challenged by KW, Ira, Douglas and Alexander (the Wild Things). The monsters, despite their behemoth size, fangs, horns and affection for eating children, are as sensitive as an albino’s bare arms in the July sun.

As an outsider, Max is finally able to see and recognize his own family, and how they are no different from the Wild Things. The gloomy forest and vast sand dunes of Max’s domain are forever changed as he infiltrates the Wild Things and learns the dynamics and heartbreak that have internally collapsed his friend, Carol. The movie is like an illumination of Jann Arden’s lyrics to “Everybody’s Broken.” Whether “everybody hates Billy Wolfe ‘cause he doesn’t look the way they do”  or Clara Marie who’s eighty-five years old when she’s taken from her home. “To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”

Everybody is broken and wants to be thought of in that irreplaceable way, and the Wild Things that Max befriends were as familiar to me as they will be to you. It’s like we keep meeting the same people  over and over again in our lives. The Painfully Awkward one, the Funny one, the Quiet and Brooding one, the Overcompensating one, the Annoying one, the Hurting one. And what do we learn? Our heartbreaks are the same. Our tears, strife and struggle are all the same. Billy Wolfe, Clara Marie, Carol, Max—we know them by different names, maybe we have even been them.

But I still walked away from the movie with a boomerang in my throat. And this is the finest example of brilliance by a director. When a film can penetrate and disturb us, lingering for days, weeks and months, like a lover’s embrace—it has fulfilled its purpose. Songs often do this to us, but when there is a powerful visual, like the pained expression of Carol when he learns that the sun might be dying in the sky, it sticks and stains us.

004

Ten day old cub at the Lubumbashi Zoo, Congo.

Think of the image that is instantly conjured up with the YouTube link for “Christian the Lion” and his reunion with John Rendall and Ace Berg. (In 1969 they bought the lion cub from Harrod’s and the local vicar allowed Christian to exercise on the church grounds. When he became too big for their flat, it was decided that Christian should be reintroduced to Africa.) By now, you are already picturing the lion approaching Rendall and Berg with undeniable recognition on his face–and the footage of Christian bear-hugging the two men in the remarkable hello that follows. This is how Where the Wild Things Are will attach itself to you. Carol running across the dunes towards Max in the boat, whimpering and sobbing, is the Christian the lion reunion all over again.

 The lion reunion hits the same susceptible nerves and leaves me with tears racing down my neck all the way to my collarbone. It alarms me a bit that the same footage can make me so blithery and marshmallow-like each and every time.  What does it all mean? I guess that we want to be remembered, and needed. Even when we have to let go and leave behind the kingdoms that we have built to find our feet again when it seems like only quicksand surrounds us.

When you see the final (sob-alert) scene of the Wild Things on the beach, you will understand. And maybe you will stop to ask Billy Wolfe or Clara Marie if they’re doing okay.  No one should be lonely in this world, and I think it took a few monsters to remind me of that.

Tell me what you think.

Where The Wild Things Are (trailer, soundtrack and other cool things)–http://wherethewildthingsare.warnerbros.com/

The guaranteed-to-make-you-cry lion reunion on The View— http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiGKWoJi5qM&feature=fvw

There are probably wild things here.

Categories: Flicks and Muzak | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jann Arden Attacks the Architecture of the Human Heart

I like things that are reliable, like the threadbare comfort of my Sevens jeans, Starbucks skim lattes and a dog’s love. Meryl Streep movies come with an unspoken guarantee too—it’s gonna be gripping and as raw as ceviche.

And when Jann Arden releases a new CD, I expect it’s going to be high-wattage. The lyrics are going to have an injection of unbearable sadness and resonate in my waking hours and sleep. I know that I will fall under the spell that is her voice because her haunting words are a demolition team that attack the fragile architecture of the human heart.

We know her talent is ethereal and that her vocal cords mimic yoga positions. But her true gift is the ability to write songs that everyone can identify with and sob over. Genderless, ageless, timeless—her songs become national anthems for break-ups and the soundtracks for our memories.

Jann’s new CD, Free, captures the sense of wonder that unexpectedly smacks us when we see doves take to the sky, when shooting stars spike through the dark of night and when freefall divers split gravity in two. Free. The freedom is palpable and instantly captured in the imagery of having “one last hurrah on the old tire swing,” in “Daughter Down.”

Jann Arden bleeds beauty. “All The Days” is the track that hits me like baseball bat in the ribs every time. “And all the days will wrap around our fingers /They’ll hang around our hearts like bits of stars/ And all the tears we counted all the memories that we thought would linger disappear/ oh, they disappear.” I’ve decided, at the end of my days, I want “All The Days.” (And no silly flowers, just generous donations to my chimps and all the cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes).

“All The Days” instantly hit number one on my “Crying Tears Down My Neck” list. “Wind Beneath My Wings” was kicked to the curb with “When You Say Nothing At All” (Allison Krauss) and the Indigo Girls “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” See ya later “Your Song,” that one can’t even make me sniffle anymore.

It will come as no surprise that I love well-crafted stories and song lyrics that are as layered as Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I read the liner notes of Free before I even listened to the CD.  I loved “Everybody’s Broken” before I heard it because of Clara-Marie. “Eighty-five years she’s been living right here when they took her from her home/To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”

Those words don’t even need to be sung. There is no need for violas, guitars, bonjirs or mandolas. They are powerful in tandem with Jann’s  voice, but I am already moved by the fragility of Billy Wolfe and Clara-Marie, and her mother making pink lemonade.

The tracks “You Are Everything,” “Away” and “Yeah You” are the love letters that we all hope to receive. Letters that would be re-read until memorized and re-folded until the ink blurred and the paper deteriorated. Letters that are hidden in secret places to be rediscovered later as the treasures that they are.

You’re the galaxy/A better part of me/And there is nothing that is bigger than the two of us.” Who doesn’t want to hear that? No thanks to the pretty blue Tiffany box, no to the Godiva chocolate and any other foolish romantic notions—but words like that? You’re the galaxy? And to think Renee Zwelleger had Tom Cruise at “hello” in Jerry Maguire. I have higher expectations than “hello.” I want “you are everything that’s good about the universe.” Or better yet—“you are everything you dream of when you’re nine years old.”

Wow. Why buy Hallmark cards anymore? Just send a few lines from “You Are Everything,” and the wooing will be done and the wedding dress bought online in the same night.

Free is versatile–suitable for a big breakdown cry when your eyes are as pink as cotton candy and you’re so dehydrated you can’t even make tears anymore. Free illustrates what love should be –flying kites and shooting stars. It demonstrates the invincible bulletproof quality of true love that conquers geography, worry, naysayers and the world. Free reminds us of those we may have forgotten in our own selfish pursuits—like Clara-Marie and Billy Wolfe. We all know them.

Today Free played a part of our daily lives: intimate moments, lonely hours, crossed arms, shared glasses of wine, comfortable silences, foot massages, first kisses, cold pizza, camembert tarte tatin, braised short ribs with porcini mushroom stew, corn chips, gridlock on the 401, a slow dance in front of the fire, proposals, sweaty work-outs, yelling neighbours, purring cats, barking dogs, daydreaming, uncertainty, tears. Already the songs on Free have infiltrated our lives and will continue to weave their way into many faces, loves, celebrations and devastations over the years, just as Jann’s other songs reliably have.

I’ve run with Jann everywhere. Sloppy trails in BC and Banff, in half-marathons with cramping quads, behind runners supporting Terry Fox and those who survived cancer, along the dusty roads of Uganda, Panama, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Amsterdam…she’s followed  me all over the world.

Like the wind and the sun, we have Jann Arden’s music at our backs as well. Her songs are the best told stories, with words that stabilize our memories like quick-set cement.

Thank you, Jann, for the grace and essence that is you. And for sharing that Titanic talent with us.

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Wild Women | Tags: , | 5 Comments

Running Halfway

I didn’t eat pasta last night as every good runner should. We had a beer can chicken on the barbie, Beringer white zinfandel and double chocolate biscotti. I had intended on doing things properly this year, like the pasta thing, logging more than 5km a day in training and being sure to hydrate myself all week in preparation for the half-marathon. I’m a camel at the best of times, walking around in a mostly-dehydrated state. Eight glasses of water a day could very well put me over the edge. Ironically, I had signed up for the Abbotsford Run For Water.

Before last year’s half-marathon I had a jalapeno sausage with sauerkraut and two beers. In 1999, I ran a 20:57 5km race in Toronto after drinking at least eight pints (alternative carb-loading, just not in the traditional tortellini-form) the previous night and was given a bronze medal for it. Ten years later I don’t think I could pull off such a strong performance (of drinking eight pints and/or running a 5k that fast).

I’ve run halfway eight or nine times. My debut was at the “Boston to Brantford” half marathon in Ontario where my then girlfriend and I did it on a whim. We showed up in our best sweatpants and running shoes that we had recently cut grass in. I watched in horror as experienced runners in flashy wind suits and matching spandex with team logos threaded their Asics and New Balance shoes with new shoelaces before the start. The sinewy men rubbed their nipples with Vaseline and a few took off in the opposite direction to run/sprint a 3kmwarm-up. Two snotty spandex-clad women looked Kate and I up and down and asked what our splits and PB’s were. I had no idea what they were talking about and confessed that I had only run 5km races before–fun runs at that. Kate said she had her cast removed just a month ago after a fibula fracture. The women laughed like hyenas and warned us that we probably wouldn’t make it and swished off to stretch and pose like peacocks.

Imagine our delight when we ran like gazelles past the beet red-faced spandex girls who were clearly sucking wind at the fifth kilometer. Even better was the moment when I could gloat that we finished in a respectable first-time finish of 1:58. But I had to wait until they pulled their sorry asses across the finish line at 2:20. So much for their impressive splits and PB’s—the magic was in shabby sweatpants and old shoelaces!

I ran the next half-marathon without Kate (who opted for the 10 km route instead), and figured I’d probably be coming in around the two-hour mark again. My cheerleader dad never missed a Brantford race, and loved the opportunity to holler from the sidelines. When I sailed down Brant avenue at 1:37, I called out to my father who was leisurely walking along the sidewalk towards the finish with a Tim Horton’s tea and muffin.

“Flo!” (Dad’s nickname)

He was startled to see me so early. As I kept pace, he joined me, as he always did, his tea slopping out of the lid and burning his hand, bran muffin shaking noisily up and down in the paper bag. Winded and covered in milky tea, he insisted that I kick it to the end, he couldn’t keep up with his breakfast in hand, and I did. I could hear his voice to the finish, urging me to “Pour it on!”

During those Brantford marathon years I had two other dedicated roadie fans—my dad’s sister Buffer(another nickname, short story is I couldn’t pronounce Cathy as a kid, it came out Buffer), and my grandmother. My Aunt Buffer drove the pace car, a baby blue Celebrity Classic, with Nan hanging out the passenger window pumping her fist. The two of them followed me along the entire 21km route, waving and honking like I was a celebrity. Indeed I felt like it.

My grandmother enjoyed verbally attacking my fellow competitors and between vicious expletives she dabbed her eyes with Kleenex. She was always so proud, and her voice would wobble with emotion by the end, “C’mon, Horse!” (*Horse–another nickname, intended to be flattering).

This year, running up the heart-attack-inducing Huntingdon hill (which seems to sit at a precarious 90 degree angle), I thought of Nan and felt an instant heaviness in my heart and stride. She died in November, but I’m sure she found someone in Heaven today to drive her around the 21km with me, cheering as she always had. Today I had Wanda as my pace car and designated paparazzi, and it was like Nan was with me all the same.

When my quads turned to liquid cement at the 10km mark, I started channeling Ray Zahab who ran 6,920km in 111 days (November 2006-February 2007) across the Sahara desert. Zahab and his teammates, Kevin Lin (from Taipei, Taiwan) and Charlie Engle (US), battled injury, dysentery, testosterone, blisters as big as pancakes, severe dehydration, blinding sandstorms and an unforgiving African sun.

On Friday night Wanda and I went to see the documentary Running The Sahara, narrated and produced by Matt Damon. The film chronicles the dynamic journey Zahab and his teammates made from Senegal on the west coast of Africa, to the Red Sea in Egypt. Zahab, who attended the Abbotsford screening engaged the audience in a conversation as captivating as a fireworks display. He talked about the intensity, intimacy and mental endurance of running with two guys across a desert. And how many running shoes does one need for a Sahara desert crossing? Twenty-four. And 10 litres of Gatorade a day. Remarkably, Ray Zahab only discovered running in 2004. After visiting Africa he became empowered to focus his future adventures and ultra-running challenges to support the water crisis.

As the founder of Impossible2Possible, Zahab has committed to inspiring young minds into social and environmental action. Linking world-class adventures to classrooms around the world, he has created a forum of possibility and change.

After trotting across the Sahara in 2007, Zahab became the first person to trek to the South Pole on foot, a measly 1,130 km. On January 7th, 2009, Ray clocked in (with two Canadian teammates) at 33 days, 23 hours and 55 minutes. Blogging en route, his adventure garnered the global attention of thousands of school children who had the opportunity to interact via the Internet and SAT phones with Zahab.

Before that he knocked off the 77 km West Coast Trail in 16 hours, a feat which takes the above-average hiker seven days of stubborn slogging. Surely I could run 21 km across Abbotsford when the Sahara team was checking off the equivalent of two full marathons in a day.

I talked myself out of a Gatorade-induced stitch in my side, and focused on Pink’s lyrics blaring on my  iPod when chills began to rush through my body and I felt on the verge of a heat stroke. I begged my hamstring not to curl up and for my multi-grain bagel to stay in my stomach. I reminded myself of greater, more hellish accomplishments of others. Hell, Kevin Lin crossed the Atacama Desert in Chile (241 km) in 7 days. He had already run across the Gobi in 2003, and in 2006 took bronze in a 250km super marathon crossing of the South Pole.

And here I was fretting about completing a half-marathon on a bright, sunny day with all-you-can-eat Panago pizza at the finish, and a team of massage therapists ready to rub me? Where was the challenge? At 18 km, I reassured myself that I could always be hooked up to an i.v. at the finish if need be. There were ambulances if I collapsed. As Ray Zahab so eloquently said, “running is 90% mental. And another 10% mental.” I could sit down all day long after I crossed the finish line.

Terry Fox Memorial at Mile 0, Victoria, BC

As I ran, 100% mentally, and felt potentially disastrous twinges in my left hamstring, metatarsal bones jamming in my right foot, and a dodgy lumbar spine wanting to give out, my thoughts moved from the sands of the Sahara to Terry Fox. In 1980, Terry Fox ran 42 km a day from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Thunder Bay, Ontario with a prosthetic leg. After 5, 373km, his Marathon of Hope came to a physical end as Fox’s bone cancer had metastasized to his lungs. He died on June 28th, 1981 at age 22. His legacy is far-reaching, extending from Mount Terry Fox in the Selwyn range of the Rockies near Valemont, BC, to Mount Terry Fox Provincial Park, CCGS Terry Fox (a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker), eponymous streets, highways, libraries and schools. Named “Canadian of the Decade for the ‘80s,” Fox is responsible for the fiery spirit behind the world’s largest one day fundraiser for cancer research, the Terry Fox Run. A celebration of his courage and ferocious determination, the run is held in September each year in support of his vision, to find a cure for cancer.

And this is when the run took an unexpected turn. As the sun cooked my body, and I imagined the road’s surface being a suitable temperature for frying eggs, I thought of water. I could drink clean water at the next re-fuel station, as much as I wanted. I could stick my head under the tap when I got home and drink until my esophagus overflowed. In Africa, 80% of the population doesn’t have this basic luxury, and this was the whole point being slammed home by participating in the Abbotsford Run For Water. It wasn’t about me winning a race (dream big, right?) or beating a personal best (oh, I was about 11 minutes off that mark!). It wasn’t about running at all. The run was designed as a platform to build awareness for a critical situation that haunts anyone who has been to Africa. There are children who have to walk the distance I ran today to gather ‘drinking’ water from questionable, murky sources.

Today, 100% of the funds raised from the Run For Water (over $81,000 donated this year) will support the construction of wells in Choro, Ethiopia in conjunction with the HOPE International Development Agency.

Even though I was running along blueberry fields with snow-capped Mt. Baker and the Coast mountain range in view, I was in Africa. I was back in Entebbe, Uganda on the brick-red dirt roads. And suddenly my muscles found renewed purpose, remembering the basic and monumental cause I was supporting. Clean water for Africa.

http://www.runforwater.ca/

 http://www.hope-international.com/index.php

http://www.runningthesahara.com/

http://www.impossible2possible.com/

http://www.4deserts.com/

http://www.ryanswell.ca/

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, Into and Out of Africa | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Digging a Hole To China

I’m surprised Colin Angus didn’t succeed in digging a hole to China when he was a kid, because the guy is an unstoppable force. And if it were possible to find China in a sandbox, he would have done it. A few times.

Angus has defied death more than once, voluntarily putting himself in situations that test not only the human spirit, but survival itself. In 1999, Angus, South African Scott Borthwick and Australian Ben Kozel decided to take on the world’s most dangerous white water. After hiking 200 km from the Pacific Ocean to the South American Continental Divide, the team located the trickling source of the Amazon and followed it 7,200 km to the Atlantic in a rubber raft. They did it in five months with little fanfare at the end of such an epic challenge. In his book  Amazon Extreme, Angus recounts dodging bullets  spit off by the Sendero Lumineso, a left wing terrorist group in Peru as they paddled through the “Red Zone.” The gunfire was the least of their worries considering they lost all their cooking equipment when the raft turtled early in the trip. Documentary film footage shows Angus expertly using a broken shovel blade as a frying pan to cook the rice and dried beans that were their vital (and only)food source for the trip. 

hollywoodOn Monday, Colin Angus and his wife, Julie (nee Wafaei), joint recipients of the 2007 National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year  award, were at the Hollywood Theater in Vancouver to promote their upcoming Tribal Journey. The Nisga’a Tribe has invited the couple to join them on a 220 km journey from North Vancouver to Squamish this July. For Julie, the first woman to row unsupported across the Atlantic from mainland to mainland, 220 km has to be a stroll in the park. A short float in a boat.

Fittingly, Colin and Julie met at a public transit bus stop in 2003. I suppose they agreed that time was being wasted waiting for buses as the lean and driven couple decided to take on the world—propelling themselves by human power alone just one year later.

Colin Angus squeezed in a mini-trip before this, deciding to conquer the fifth longest river in the world and navigate its entirety, simply because no one else had. He convinced his fellow Amazon paddler, Ben Kozel and a documentary filmmaker from Vancouver, Remy Quinter, to join him on his next voyage. Lost in Mongolia, Colin’s second book, chronicles the harrowing float from Mongolia, north to Siberia and onward to the Arctic Ocean. It quickly becomes a desperate page turner, pulling readers chapter to chapter to find out if everyone survives. The grittiest bits of the book unfold when Colin becomes separated from Remy and Ben.  When their raft overturns in the violent waters of a flash flood, Colin attempts to retrieve a lost bag of film. Colin is swept away with the current as well. His effort is in vain and when he pulls up on shore, he is left waiting. And waiting. For 12 days, with no shirt, no shoes (and no service!), no passport, food rations or clean drinking water—Colin succumbs to a delirious state with few options or answers. Did Ben and Remy pass by him already? Was there a split in the channel that he didn’t  see?  Colin opted to continue on, alone, hoping his teammates were waiting for him in Hutag, a village 100 km downstream. Concerned nomads nourished him with yak’s milk tea and horsemeat after finding him nearly skeletal and spent.

(Colin wrote about this unexpected separation and the havoc it wreaked on his mental state in magnetic detail for Explore magazine; the article appears on the Angus Adventures site– http://www.angusadventures.com/yenisey.html).

placardIt was in June 2004 that Colin took on the world. He began the unfathomable odyssey with journalist Tim Harvey, but ended it with his then fiancée, Julie. Before reaching Moscow, Harvey and Angus were butting heads, and much of their fiery clash is documented (from Colin’s perspective) in Beyond the Horizon. Harvey found his own way around the world, choosing to travel through Africa and South America before his return.  He joined Angus from Vancouver to Alaska and across the angry Bering Sea to the unwelcoming embrace of the dark Siberian winter where they rode bikes across the frozen tundra to Moscow. A wind chill of -30 was considered a pleasant day.  Julie arrived for the last and critical leg from Moscow to Lisbon by bike, followed by four months at sea, crossing the unfriendly Atlantic (over 10,000 km). But they didn’t stop there. Colin and Julie biked from Costa Rica to Vancouver, bringing Colin’s adventure to a close after a jaw-dropping 43,000 km. The first human-powered circumnavigation of the world title belonged to Colin Angus. Rowing across two oceans and trekking through 17 countries and surviving every possible mishap, starvation, hallucination-inducing thirst, altitude sickness, trench foot, a urethra stricture that required surgery and a slight case of cabin fever.

So, how do you pack for two years, for the landscapes that will take you from temperatures of bone-shattering -50 to a blistering heat of +40? In part, they packed 4,000 chocolate bars, 72 bike inner tubes, 250 kg dried food, 31 dorado fish and 80 kg of clothing from bikinis to ski gear. And somehow, in the middle of Atlantic, between storm fronts, Colin managed to make birthday pancakes for Julie with strawberry jam and whipped cream.

The documentary Beyond the Horizon left me slightly claustrophobic even in the great dimensions of the Hollywood Theater. Colin and Julie spent four months in a specially designed row boat in a cabin that appeared to be smaller than a public washroom stall. Due to the close quarters of their cabin, they actually fashioned protective head gear out of stuffed nylons to prevent head injury from the turbulent storm waters.  There were relentless hurricanes that created swells reminiscent of The Perfect Storm—which didn’t instill as much fear as Julie expressed when they were nearly clipped by a freighter ship due to their diminutive size, bobbing about in the Atlantic unseen.

Colin apologized at the beginning of the double-screening of Amazon Extreme and Beyond the Horizon for the amateur camera work, but the sometimes shaky camera and dialogue (that often gets blown away with the high winds  found at 18,000 feet elevation in the Andes) created two documentaries with a focus on the emotions and energy of the teams–not the budget. I was glad to finally have the visuals to accompany the  books I have read with white- knuckled anxiety over the years.

And there’s more. Julie has published her own account of the Atlantic exploit in Rowboat in a Hurricane. Written with a female spin and the mind of a microbiology grad, her book should prove to be as compelling as her counterpart’s. 

And still more…. in September 2008, Colin and Julie traced their ancestral roots and rowed from northern Scotland to Syria. This was a mere 7,000 km, seven month trip through an interconnected route of canals and roads (where they pulled out  bikes from their amphibious vessels) across 13 countries. Rowed Trip, a book they co-wrote is to be released this fall.

And I thought my two and a half hour commute into Vancouver to see the documentaries was epic—4km on foot, 70km on Greyhound (with a sketchy seat mate), Skytrain, public transit bus and on foot again to the theater on West Broadway with a buttery spinach pie and hockey puck of honey halva in my hand from the Greek bakery.

The question is, how will Colin and Julie keep topping themselves? I can imagine their morning conversation over just-picked dandelion tea in Victoria.

Colin—“What should we do today, honey?”
Julie—“I dunno. How ‘bout we bike to Winnipeg for dinner?”

Colin—“There’s that place in Portland we’ve talked about, you know, with the all-you-can-eat soft-shelled crab on Friday nights?”

Julie—“Okay, but only if we can row back on the Pacific, I’ve got yoga at noon tomorrow with Jamie.”

Really, I can’t imagine them sitting in for a quiet night of take-out pizza and a movie. How sloth-like.  How unadventurous.

Prepare to be stunned by the inspirational stories of Colin and his wiry match, Julie.  The obstacles they battle head-on showcases their raw courage, titanium nerves and enviable determination.

Reading about the vicious tropical storms, being lost, lurking crocodiles, cracked and bleeding lips, Siberian snow hitting bare skin like knives—all of this will take away your right to ever complain again.

And their message to the audience?

Ride a bike. Not necessarily 7,000 km, but at least to the bloody corner store.

cropped angusFor inspiration visit– http://www.angusadventures.com/

For more about Tribal Journeys:        http://tribaljourneys.wordpress.com/native woman

Categories: Flicks and Muzak, On My Bookshelf | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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