Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Transferral, transition, transfixion, transcendence...

Following the suggestion of Rullsenberg, I have set up a free account at Last.fm and have spent the last three days "life-boating" songs from my list at my soon-to-be-no-more station at Launchcast, the one I've been building up for over five years. This may take some time; I have over 15,000 songs rated at Launchcast, and although many are duplicated, quadruplicated and more (depending on how many albums they show up on), I don't know if I will make it through the songs I actually like by the 15th.

While I transfer, I've been slowly working out how Last.fm works. I'm not allowed to say how much I like a song, album or artist, for example. I can either "love it", simply save it to my station without comment, or ban it, whereas at Lauchcast, I had the option of rating something up to five stars (or banning it), or in my case, rating out of one hundred. Last.fm has the interesting feature of embedding YouTube videos at the individual song sites. At least, it does for some people. I tried linking several times when I saw no video available although I knew of one at YouTube. I entered the URL, a green icon came up, saying "Video added". Yet, when I checked later, still no video was there. I wonder if I have to have a paid subscription or something...

One of these was for the devastating second movement of Henryk Górecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. This piece has been much on my mind as I've been viewing a repeat of the documentary series Auschwitz: The Nazis & the 'Final Solution'. (I was watching the British version narrated by Samuel West; the one shown on PBS had Linda Hunt doing the narration.) Every time they launched into a heartrending description of slaughter, it was signaled either by Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel, or by the opening chords of the second movement of the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. My elder daughter, working at her homework while I sat in horror by the television set, turned and asked: "Why do they always play this music when someone is dying?" She didn't just mean the documentary. Both pieces figure in the screen version of Wit, starring Emma Thompson as a John Donne scholar succumbing to ovarian cancer. (As an aside, if you haven't seen Wit, you must. The play won a Pulitzer Prize. I've seen both the play and the movie. They're not easy viewing, but they're transcendent in every sense of the word.)

I gave elder daughter a quick and inadequate history of both pieces of music, and later discovered she had saved a YouTube video of the Gorecki piece to her account.
Here it is:
When I hear it, I find myself transfixed where I am. The opening chords are based on a Polish folk melody, but brim with the spirit of youth. Then an oppressive chord on the strings takes over, and over it the soprano starts, very low: "Mama.....don't cry...." As I understand it, Henryk Górecki heard of a prison in southern Poland where, amongst the hundreds of messages scratched on the wall by prisoners facing torture and death by the Nazis, there was a poignant message from Helena Wanda Błażusiakówna who was imprisoned there in late 1944: "O Mamo nie płacz nie—Niebios Przeczysta Królowo Ty zawsze wspieraj mnie" (Oh Mamma do not cry—Immaculate Queen of Heaven support me always)
He said that among all the messages of fear, anger, despair, this simple message from an eighteen-year-old girl really stood out, in its lack of self-concern. There seems to be evidence that Helena Wanda survived her ordeal and married a Roman Pawlik, but the vast majority of Nazi prisoners didn't. So I sit when this music begins, unable to move, thinking of the children led into the Nazi abattoirs, with and without their mothers, and of the children being exploited, tortured, murdered today. I'm really glad Helena Wanda's mum got her back.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

And my poor fool is hanged

Wednesday used to be an impossible night for TV viewing, but last night there was an embarrassment of riches in a sparse week. I had planned to watch Being Erica and the second-to-last episode of the doomed American version of Life on Mars, but the Resident Fan Boy reminded me that Ian McKellen's King Lear was on PBS.

Oh my goodness. This King Lear has to be one of the clearest and accessible productions I've ever seen. From the opening moments, the characters emerge in all their complexity. McKellen's Lear is a very old man, one used to getting his way and one still capable of forcing everyone into a deep terrified curtsey if he so much as raises his voice. The eldest daughter Goneril (Frances Barber) comes across as the voice of sweet reason; the middle sister Regan (Monica Dolan) clutches a wine goblet at every opportunity and follows Goneril's lead, while kid sister Cordelia (Romola Garai) makes the fateful decision not to flatter her father. As the events spin out inexorably into death and disaster, one wishes she had. Perhaps then, her aged arrogant father would not be systematically stripped of all his power and left to the whim of her sisters, who in this production, start out from put-upon and annoyed before suddenly toppling over into out-and-out cruelty.

There seems to be a Doctor Who theme over at the Royal Shakespeare Company these days. One of Lear's few remaining supporters is his fool, played by Sylvester McCoy, who manages to slip his trademark spoon-playing into his routine. This is a frightened and powerless servant full of affection for the foolish king, but all too aware of the way the wind blows. (And it does, with a heigh-ho.)

In a startling re-staging and arranging, the sort of stuff for which the RSC is famous, Lear's ambiguous line near the end, "And my poor fool is hanged" is made unmistakable at the end of Act III. Usually, the fool just vanishes, but Gloucester, deliberately disobeying the two elder daughters' orders to leave Lear to the elements, returns once again to help the king flee, and fool is still in the stable when Gloucester is surrounded by grinning Cossack types. A couple of them haul Gloucester off to face his blinding (which I can never face, I always change the channel or leave the auditorium -- I do, really). The remainder improvise a gallows and brutally hang the poor fool who speaks "a prophecy ere I go", a speech that normally takes place at the end of the earlier heath scene: ". . .Then comes the time, who lives to see't/ That going shall be us'd with feet." It is upsetting enough to see the gentle jester strangled, but see Sylvester McCoy used thus is doubly so.

Our PBS transmission concluded with a wonderful interview with Sir Ian, looking remarkably youthful after his ravaged Lear. I hope the rumoured filming of David Tennant's Hamlet is of similar quality.

Last summer, talent writer and Lear virgin Marie Phillips wrote in her blog about seeing King Lear for the very first time and being bamboozled. Marie, if the King Lear currently languishing on your PVR is McKellen's and Trevor Nunn's RSC version, for pity's sake, watch it. This is a crystal-clear Lear.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

A Clockwork Grapefruit

These are the signs of the approach of spring in Hades:

1. Dust and the taste of salt in your mouth. With neither snow nor glaciers to hold them down, the gravel, sand, and salt rise unimpeded into the air. This heralds...

2. The unbelievably loud roar of street cleaners mowing up and down the streets between midnight and 3 am. Even our double-glazed, airtight casement windows fail to hold out the din.

3. Chunky rivers dotted with motorboats of ice wranglers. We have special machines that roll out on the ice to begin breaking it up, but I missed them this year.

4. Cars, trucks, and buses brushing by pedestrians in frighteningly close proximity. After six months of being shielded from the road by glacial trenches and palisades of snow, one feels positively naked and exposed to traffic. Rear-view mirrors appear to whistle past one's ears.

5. Cardinals.

6. In a related development, a bird feeder that now needs refilling again after hanging unnibbled for more than a month. I don't know if the birds that were here in January found somewhere warm to hang out for February or simply got frozen to the trees. Either they or some new birds are now busily ripping through my seed supply.

7. The schoolyard is a vast expanse of glossy steel-coloured ice. On warmer days, this is very slick, and on even warmer days, it's a hazardous swamp with a lubricious and perilous bottom. Watch the ankle-biters sink shrieking from view.

8. The glaciers and piles of filthy discarded snow, resembling frozen tsunamis and other bad choices for surfing, are retreating centimetre by centimetre revealing perfectly preserved dog droppings and other delights.

9. Native Ottawans are now insisting on wearing open-toed shoes and sandals, despite - 11 Celsius temperatures. Because it's spring, dammit.

10. Blood-curdling screams from the bathroom to summon The Resident Fan Boy who has been doing his morning puttering in the kitchen.
 No, wait. That's not a sign of impending spring; that was me yesterday morning.

 This is because I glanced in the mirror while wrestling with my contact lenses and saw something like this:Since brain injury has been a bit of a theme at this house for the past six months, my immediate thoughts were: Omigod-omigod-omigod, I've having a stroke; there's cranial bleeding; my brain is leaking away; I don't want to spend the whole bloody day in emergency.... However, it seemed too much of a coincidence that I had just been to the ophthalmologist the day before and had those pupil-dilating eye drops. A quick google revealed a host of horrible things that could be happening to me, but also mentioned that anisocoria (a pretty name for the condition that makes you look somewhat like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange) is also a fairly common reaction to eyedrops. Mind you, I've never had this reaction before after many many years of taking my nearsighted eyeballs for a checkup, but I decided to hold off the panicked phone call until I'd taken younger daughter to school. If I'd really had my wits about me, I'd have only made up one eye to creep out the Rockcliffe mums, but my sense of humour was somewhat diminished that morning. When I got home, my pupils were nearly the same size and after an hour they were back to normal and I decided not to bother the doctor.

So the evening found me relatively panic-free, surveying a television schedule with little to offer. Thank God for the Turner Classic Movie channel. In between movies, they showed a delightful documentary of Chuck Jones remembering his childhood, illustrated with animated version of his rough drawings.

This got me to thinking of some of my favourite animated shorts. In my pre-mum days, I used to attend animation festivals regularly. I only had a faint recollection of one of my very favourites, in which two married animators took a soundtrack of their daughters talking and playing and transformed it into a luminous cartoon. And I found it! Here's "Windy Day" by John and Faith Hubley:
Another one I loved is one that seems to have vanished, a cartoon fantasy set to a 1930's recording of Fred Astaire singing "Puttin' on the Ritz" which is turned into a flight of fantasy with quite a bit of eroticism. I think it's from the early '80s. Let me know if you recognize it.

Finally, a delightful cartoon from then largely unknown Tim Burton: And yes, that is the glorious and classy Vincent Price himself narrating.

Now that my pupils are the same size, I don't feel quite like I would fit in perfectly with that last item. Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to go out and get grazed by passing cars again...

Monday, 23 March 2009

The sun always shines on the ophthalmologist

The skies are never overcast when I have an appointment with the ophthalmologist. Almost sounds like a song lyric, doesn't it? Nope, every time I go to see the eye doctor, the sun is blazing in a cloudless blue sky. Since my appointment is always in March, this generally means that there are freezing winds screaming up Sparks Street directly from the Ottawa River which is bobbing with chunks and pans of ice this time of year. With my pupils dilated to bad-art-puppy-dog size, I have to remove my glasses (my contact lenses being out of the question), and slap on sunglasses, then grope my way up the street, squinting at street signs and traffic signals. I spend the afternoon in front of the computer wearing reading glasses over my regular glasses. Luckily, no one is home. When 2:30 arrives, I once again slap sunglasses over my leaden eyeballs and grimace in what I hope is a friendly fashion at the vague shapes that may be people greeting me.

My horoscope was a very gloomy one this morning, which is doubly disturbing since it comes from the normally witty and cheery Georgia Nichols. Today, she told me: I'm not going to kid you. This could be a challenging Monday. ("It was Monday. It was Monday all day.") Powerful forces from within you might make you feel uncomfortable about something. You might not even know what's going on. (I don't even know what's going on.) It's time to let go of something. (But what?)

All perfectly true, of course. It being the first day back at school for both daughters after March Break, I was in a fit of gloom over taking younger daughter back to the mine-infested obstacle course of class projects, presentations, field trips and rituals from here until June. I was however, strangely comforted by a rare dream involving David Tennant. Nothing erotic, you understand. We were walking companionably down a crowded hallway in what I presume was a hotel, and he was clad in an adult-sized replica of younger daughter's pajamas. He kept reaching back to take my hand to guide me through the throngs of people and the combination of this gesture and the pajamas was rather endearing. He had just come back from some public event in Berlin where he'd been doused with water and become rather cross. I've mentioned before that my dreams rarely make a lick of sense. I think I prefer it that way.

The Launchcast Death Watch continues. Here's a bit of what I listened to over the weekend, with my ratings out of a hundred:
Why? 50 - Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman (1988)
What I Like About You 100 - The Romantics, The Romantics (1980) The link I've provided here is to a well-edited Doctor Who fan-vid done by some sweet young thing who thinks this is a song by The Ramones. This is the risk you take when ripping off music from Limewire...
Gyasi Went Home 68 - Bedouin Soundclash, Sounding a Mosaic (2004) (Can/Con) These guys are from Kingston which is on Lake Ontario, and is about an hour by train from Ottawa. The video I've linked to has them gabbing about the song for about a minute and a half, but the song itself is worth a listen.
My Maria 100 - Brooks and Dunn, Borderline (1996) I loved the 1973 original by B.W. Stevenson, but this is a wonderful cover, and I must confess, despite not being a huge fan of country music, I think Ronnie Dunn is one long cool drink of water...
All I Want Is You (Live) 70 - U2
Once in Love With Amy (from Where's Charley?) 100 - Ray Bolger Alas, there is no YouTube link to Ray Bolger's rendition of his signature tune. Lisa Rullsenberg suggested this weekend that I check out Last.fm, so I transferred 252 of my favourite artists to my profile there, and, on a whim, typed in Ray Bolger. And up came this song, which bodes well, although I think it will take me some time to figure the site out.
A Dream, A Dream, A Dream 47 - Bert Jansch
Symphony #6, Movement III 81 - Beethoven
Lonesome Blues 50 - Louis Armstrong, The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings (1926)
Goin' Out West 56 - Tom Waits, Bone Machine (1992)
I Drove All Night 70 - Cyndi Lauper, Twelve Deadly Cyns. . . . (1995)Always liked this video, also this cover of the Roy Orbison song.
Quien (Who) 50 - Tish Hinoiosa, Cada Niño/Every Child (1996)
For a Job 47 - Peggy Seeger, An Odd Collection (1996)
This Traveling Around 50 - Lyle Lovett, It's Not Big, It's Large (2007)
Laughter 50 - Jack Rouse, Home (2000)
The End of the Tour 65 - They Might Be Giants, John Henry (1994)This is just a taste of the song by the quirky band which takes its name from one of my favourite movies.

When I was a Boy 96 - Dar Williams, Out There (2001)
One of my very favourite Dar Williams songs:
I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand
I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check.
I learned to fly, I learned to fight.
I lived a whole life in one night.
We saved each other's lives out on the pirates' deck.

And I remember that night
When I'm leaving a late night with some friends
And I hear somebody tell me it's not safe,
someone should help me.
I need to find a nice man to walk me home.

When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom,
Climbed what I could climb upon
And I don't know how I survived,
I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.

And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.

I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor come outside to say, "Get your shirt,"
I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."

And now I'm in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more.
More that's tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me.
That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat.

When I was a boy, See that picture? That was me
Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees.
And I know things have gotta change,
They got pills to sell, they've got implants to put in,
they've got implants to remove

But I am not forgetting...that I was a boy too.

And like the woods where I would creep, it's a secret I can keep
Except when I'm tired, 'cept when I'm being caught off guard.
And I've had a lonesome awful day, the conversation finds its way
To catching fire-flies out in the backyard.

And so I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say, "Now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won."
And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see

When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked.
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do.
And I have lost some kindness
But I was a girl too.
And you were just like me, and I was just like you."

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Continuing my Launchcast Lament

In keeping with my whinge over losing Launchcast as of April 15th, I made a note of each song that played on my Launchcast station last night and how I rated each one. Roughly half were new to me and a third were from Canadian artists. (Yes, I know that Rufus Wainwright was born in the US; he was raised in Montreal by his Canadian mother, okay?) I used the rate out of 100 option because the five stars aren't exacting enough for me. Anything below 50 means I don't care for it (the degree of dislike increases with the smallness of the number, obviously). 50-59 means I don't mind hearing it again; 60-69 means I'd like to hear it again; 70-79 means I care about hearing it again; 80-89 means I must hear it again, and 90 and above means I stop what I'm doing to listen and sometimes even shove back my chair and sing and dance in front of the computer. (Luckily, you will be spared this.) Yesterday evening was a good evening, only one song below fifty percent. I've provided some YouTube links to some of them in case you'd like to listen along to what was playing on Lily Father's Joy's Station:
Water's Edge - 79 - Cyndi Lauper, The Body Acoustic 2005
Sleepwalker - 74 - Wallflowers, Breach 2000
You Stole the Sun from My Heart - 65 - Manic Street Preachers, Forever Delayed: Greatest Hits
My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors - 83 - Moxy Fruvous, Bargainville 1993 (Can/Con) I'd just like to point out at this juncture that one of the members of Moxy Fruvous is my younger daughter's speech therapist's nephew. No, I don't know which one.
Awkward Game - 59 - The Cash Brothers, How Was Tomorrow? 2001 (Can/Con)
Willie's Fatal Visit - 50 - Jeannie Robertson, Classic Ballads of the British Isles
God and Country - 68 - Blue Rodeo, Diamond Mine 1989 (Can/Con)
Everybody Loves Me, Baby - 98 - Don Mclean, American Pie 1971
You Are Everyone - 60 - Dar Williams, Promised Land 2008
Drinkin' Days - 63 - Slaid Cleaves, Wishbones 2004
Land of Canaan - 54 - Indigo Girls, Strange Fire 1987
Going to a Town - 50 - Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars 2007 (Can/Con)
The Night Pat Murphy Died - 70 - Great Big Sea, Great Big DVD and CD
2004 (Can/Con)
Needle in the Hay - 50 - Elliott Smith, Elliott Smith 1995
Andy, You're A Star - 61 - The Killers, Hot Fuss 2004
If I Should Fall From Grace with God - 80 - The Pogues, If I Should Fall From Grace With God 1988
Walk Around Downtown - 83 - Cheryl Wheeler, Different Stripe 2002

Sigh. I suppose I can go back to listening to The Q online, but I will miss having somewhere to list what I like and dislike. You may want to steer clear of this blog for the next three weeks; I'll probably be doing a number of moanfests like this one. (Beats facing what really going on...)

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Oh crap.

The axe has fallen, or is in the process of falling. I checked my Yahoo! mailbox (which I do less frequently than my regular email) and there it was. Yahoo, in its wisdom and mercy, is discontinuing Launchcast in Canada as of April 15th. It's not as if I wasn't warned, but I had hoped that we'd somehow been overlooked up here north of the US border.

To wit: Yahoo! Music is changing its strategy to be more aligned with the needs of our music users. We are moving our current Music offering away from being mainly a radio-streaming service and opening up Yahoo! Music to the rest of the Web to give you the best information, music videos, pictures and news about your favourite music genres and artists. They also assure me: Starting now, we will begin removing selected LAUNCHcast Radio stations from the Yahoo! Music Canada site. LAUNCHcast Plus stations will remain until April 15, 2009, at which time all radio stations will be removed from Yahoo! Music Canada. We will continue to offer you the most comprehensive music-related content, features and information on the Web, including our extensive music video catalogue, blogs and music information pages. In addition, we plan to launch the new-look Yahoo! Music over the next few months, which will showcase the 'best of the Web' in music for our users.

Horse hockey. What this actually means, Yahoo, is the station I've carefully been building up for the past five or six years, that has been introducing me to all kinds of music I wouldn't ordinarily hear, will have its plug yanked in three and a half weeks' time. Well, you murderers,I plan to make its final days the happiest it's ever had, visiting every day,sharing fond memories, bringing flowers and chocolates...

Seeing as Launchcast doesn't actually eat chocolate, I guess I'll be really bloated and splotchy by mid-April.

Damn you, Yahoo.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

This is me getting defiant

Yep. I know that's a Welsh flag. And I know it's bloody St Patrick's Day. How do I know? I saw a woman strolling through the Canadian War Museum wrapped in a sparkly green boa (I actually think it was a Christmas tree garland). I watched people traipsing up the canal in Cat-in-the-Hat type bonnets, only with green stripes. I watched as people in green shirts and bright green Mardi Gras beads, for gawd's sake, got an early start to their drinking and drug-bingeing at the bus stop. At 7:15 pm.

Fine. Celebrate Ottawa's historic Irish heritage (due largely to thousands of Irish labourers dying off while digging the Rideau Canal) by getting as messily drunk as possible. However, I feel bound to point out that there is evidence that St Patrick was actually Welsh. And I never see anyone making a fuss over St David's Day. Come to think of it, that may be a blessing, though I imagine March 1st is just another excuse to get drunk in Cardiff...

Friday, 13 March 2009

In which I become slightly more "bloggified"

Another week of March in Ottawa, as we careen crazily from chapping, chafing northern gales that howl from the Ottawa River, to fields and lawns reduced to unnavigable lakes dotted with ice chunks. Curtains of muddy water inundated the sidewalks in the wake of passing SUVs and mini-vans at the beginning of the week, then hurricane force winds hurled the recycling bins into the road and roared up the hill, evaporating the torrents of melting snow mixed with plopping sleet. The temperatures plummeted overnight, and I watched a mum attempting to push her stroller into the schoolyard, but failing to find a purchase on the smooth slate of grey ice on which she paced, looking for all the world like a fitness nut on a treadmill. It was a bit like scenes from the evolution of the earth in Disney's interpretation of The Rites of Spring in the film Fantasia. Only without the dinosaurs.

Speaking of dinosaurs (and I admit this is an unfair and unkind excuse for a segue), I tuned into ER last night just in time to see Julianna Margulies walk on, followed closely by . . . .

"CLOOOOOONEY! It's Cloony!" I warbled deliriously. Elder daughter and The Resident Fan Boy came clumping down the stairs to see if I need medical assistance. Elder daughter told me it's been all over the internet, but I'd missed it and so was probably the one person watching who was thoroughly unspoiled. And then, Susan Sarandon joined in! And Ernest Borgnine! (Elder daughter had no idea why I was so excited about the latter.) And Peter Benton doing damage control for Carter one last time! (Eric LaSalle, but I always think of him as Benton.)

With so many surprises, of course there was little time for character development or much plot stuff (much like a Doctor Who finale); I mean, we basically had to accept that Carol Hathaway and Doug Ross have a perfect marriage which is so realistic, doncha think? But hell, it was fun. I've never quite warmed to latter day ER characters such as Neela and Gates, although I've stuck to the series out of habit. This may be the end of my last lasting relationship with network TV...

Finally, I would just like to draw your attention to a weekly feature at Norm Geras' blog NormBlog. Along with his musings on things philosophical and political, Norm provides, through a challenging and incisive questionnaire, an introduction to a wide range of bloggers covering a good part of the political and philosophical spectrum. It's worth a browse, and while you're looking, check out the "P" section and you will find.....moi! I gingerly filled out the questionnaire after Norm's kind invitation and only then checked out his list of profilees, rather stunned to find myself in such company, including three admired-from-afar stars from my blog-roll: Marie Phillips, Lisa Rullsenberg, and Lisa Guidarini. Gosh. Thanks, Norm, this was terrifyingly fun.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Dave Comedy Therapy

So it's March 9th and after a weekend of sunny relatively warm temperatures, it began to snow again this morning. A light covering of pellets over the stretches of black ice. And there's me heading up to younger daughter's school in boots instead of YakTrax. I didn't do the sideways split this time, but clearly, I have been warned. Elder daughter has crawled home from school, sick. The resource teacher has gently let me know that she needs to know to which school we'll be sending younger daughter next year.

I've decided to blame everything on tomorrow's full moon. I figure the moon can take it. In the meantime, I'm meditating on Daves. The Daves I wish I knew...Oh dear... The full moon seems to have got to him as well... Maybe some other time.

And the Daves I know. I know a lot of Daves. Some of them are Davids, but most of them are Daves. They all have have their own hands, but they come from different mums. If you're Canadian, you can see where this is heading. Here is "Daves", as sung by my fellow Taurean Bruce McCulloch in the old The Kids in the Hall show on CBC:Alas, I cannot find a decent video of "Dave's Holiday" by Patti Larkin. Because that would be perfect.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Dusting myself off

Just checking in after an awful awful week which included a rare meltdown by younger daughter and culminated in my not speaking to the Resident Fan Boy for three days. Don't ask.

We've swept up the shards and are soldiering on. We took younger daughter to Inkheart yesterday, at Rainbow Cinema, a local "second-run" venue which features cheap ticket prices and a really expensive concession to make up for that. Also no diet Coke, just Pepsi. I loathe Pepsi. The theatres are reasonably roomy, though, and the staff pleasant.

Inkheart the film (I've been trying to get around to reading the book for years) was a bit of a leap of faith; the critics were unimpressed, but the viewers reporting in at the Yahoo! web site, particularly those who hadn't read the book, were mostly pleased.

We rather liked it. At the risk (yet again) of appearing unpatriotic, I've never been crazy about Brendan Fraser, but that's probably because I don't care for most of his films. (He was okay in Gods and Monsters, as I dimly recall.) He's fine here in a story that wisely stays out of time; the clothes and cars are such that it could take place any time during the last 30 to 40 years. We're treated to some dazzling character work from the likes of Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, an unrecognizable Lesley Sharp, a terrifying Andy Serkis, plus a bunch of other wonderful English actors whose theatre and television CVs at IMBD scroll on forever. Paul Bettany's wife Jennifer Connolly has a cameo.

Younger daughter instantly recognised Eliza Bennett from Nanny McPhee as the young heroine (who currently looks like a young Laura Dern). She delighted in picking out the literary references: the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, the Minotaur from Greek mythology, etc. She found the story scary but absorbing, and with this nice visual introduction, we now have an entryway to the book for her. A nice birthday present, I should think.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Further extraneous proof that I am losing my mind

It's ice-cream-headache weather, cold enough that your head feels as if you've been downing chocolate ripple too quickly. Wind chill in the -20's; the school is surrounded by a shiny moat of smooth, lethal ice. I cross it gingerly on my YakTrax, but young daughter wails in fear and I creep back to take her hand. It takes us five minutes to work our way around the school.

The sidewalks are clear, save for the odd ice flow, so I bounce slightly on the steel springs criss-crossing the soles of my feet and a suddenly hear a high pip-pip-pip, a sound I haven't heard since the autumn. My gaze travels up the trunk of a naked maple at the corner and perched atop is a blaze of crimson. The first cardinal of the year. It must be March.

Into the house with the glow of organization that I've been cultivating over the past couple of days: tracking my time usage, making lists, updating the calendars. Now, I carefully bag my contact lens paraphernalia. In preparation for this morning's appointment with the ophthalmologist, I've eschewed eye makeup, so I look more worn and washed-out than usual, but if I'm going to have streaks of yellow pupil-dilating solution down my cheek, no one will take much pleasure from looking at me anyway. Checking the time, I waltz down to the bus stop; catch just the right bus.

As I stride confidently to the receptionist's desk at 10 on the dot, I suddenly remember I've left my care card at home. I apologetically explain this to said receptionist who keeps calling me Carol, then directs me to another desk. They direct me back. This time she sorts out my name and informs me that my appointment is March 23rd. "But I had a confirmation call," I falter, "and I returned the call." As she explains that this couldn't have been from her, a little voice says timidly from somewhere near the top of my head: This is Dr Tabor. The message was from Dr. Martin. Isn't he your dentist?

The receptionist has evidently seen the penny drop, and suppresses a smile as I beat a hasty retreat in search of a payphone. The dentist, whose office is a fifteen-minute walk from my house, fits me in half an hour later. My teeth look great...for an bird-brain...

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Giselle: the mysterious case of the unidentified ballerina

The Resident Fan Boy got into our good books by negotiating loge seats at the matinée of the American Ballet Theatre's production of Giselle. (Dance matinées are a scarce as hens' teeth in Ottawa, and usually only available for The Nutcracker.) As we settled in and perused our programmes, we discovered that the only dancers listed were those performing the principal roles of Giselle, Albrecht, and Myrta (Queen of the Wilis). Three Albrechts were listed, ours was to be David Hallberg, but no Giselle was noted for the February 28th matinée!

Here's what I can tell you about Magical Mystery Giselle: petite, brown hair, very long arms and legs, looked really, really young. I realize that this is hardly a distinctive description of a ballerina. They all look like that. (Some of them are blond.) Okay, she didn't look like the pictures I found on the ABT website of the two Giselles who were listed. The Resident Fan Boy and I figured she must be a first soloist debuting in a principal role, which is not an unusual thing for a matinée performance. (I'm not sure why; are matinée audiences less snarky or something?) Stella Abrera seems the most likely candidate as she is performing in Giselle with David Hallberg in June; but it didn't look like her photo, either. So I spent the afternoon enjoying this mystery performance, then restrained myself from bellowing "Who are you?" during the bows.

There are other distractions that result from sitting in a loge. We were on the right side of the theatre so had a superb view of Giselle's mother's cottage in the first act, and Giselle's grave in the second act. While I could nearly see into the wings on the left, I had a very limited view of the right side. It helped that I'm familiar with the plot, otherwise I might have been seriously creeped out by the closing of the ballet. As the spirit of Giselle, having rescued Albrecht from being danced to death by the vengeful Wilis (trust me, if you don't know the story, you should look it up), prepares to return to her grave, she gives a flower, a token of her love and forgiveness, to Albrecht. I watched in fascination as a hand, clad in a pink sleeve, appeared from low down in the wings and passed the flower to Giselle. This gave the impression of a Carrie-like hand reaching from Giselle's grave, and moments later, reaching out to catch Giselle as she gracefully fell backwards and appeared (to the rest of the audience) to float headfirst off-stage. I knew it was the dancer who portrayed Hilarion assisting in the hocus-pocus, but someone watching this for the first time might have wondered why Giselle was being whisked away in such a sinister manner.

We also had a clear view of the orchestra pit, filled with musicians who appeared to be drinking coffee when not playing their instruments, and who also packed up and left during the curtain calls, leaving the conductor, when he was called onstage for his bow, to gesture magnanimously to an empty pit.

I'm giving the erroneous impression that this was not a top-notch performance. It was actually very beautifully performed, and given the far-fetched nature of the plot (no, seriously, go look it up; it's too convoluted for me to retell here), every motivation was clearly illustrated. It was ably demonstrated from the beginning that Albrecht is a noble, albeit in disguise, and very used to getting his way. There's a lovely moment early on when the jealous Hilarion draws his dagger and Albrecht instinctively reaches for his absent sword, thus betraying himself. Every opportunity was taken to show that Giselle, however she may love to dance, is a fragile creature with a heart problem, so we are not puzzled when she suddenly drops dead during the famous mad scene. The entire performance was filled with this tiny, clarifying details. What could have been Victorian melodrama (which, essentially it is, early 16th century costumes aside) is transformed into a very moving story of a very young naïve girl and the ethereal spirit of transcending love she becomes.

The real challenge of Giselle is that the first act and the second act are like two completely different ballets. Again, these are enormously talented dancers right down to the corps who deftly handle the transition from the earthy pastoral of the beginning to the spooky yet moving ghost story of the second.

Younger daughter seemed to thoroughly enjoy herself, particularly the bonus of having two real live Borzoi hounds enter with the hunting party in the first act. Too bad they sat on the right. Resident Fan Boy had a lot to say about the beige tights of the male soloist in Act One. He was right. Several shades darker would have helped us concentrate on his dancing.

Update: The Resident Fan Boy and I went through the pictures of the soloists at American Ballet Theatre and the mystery is solved! Our Giselle was first soloist Maria Riccetto. And I forgot to wish you all: Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus!