Friday, 28 February 2014

Wrapping myself in the flag

The sidewalk on Maitland Avenue this week.  And this was the sunny side.
Ah, February.  Don't let the door hit you on your way out.  The theme of this month seems to be entanglement with institutions, so why not end with another?

This morning, I got an email from the Ottawa Public library.  The "BiblioCommons Team" was informing me that my comment for the King Lear has been removed from public view.  Their flagging system, they told me, allows other users to identify inappropriate postings for speedy removal, while preserving everyone's ability to express themselves.  If a post is flagged by three different library users, it is automatically removed from public view.  They conceded that systems that depend on public participation are not perfect and a small percentage of content removed by flagging does not violate our Terms of Use.

All this alarmed me as I couldn't recall posting a comment on King Lear at the web site.  Had someone accessed my account and left an offensive message under my name?  I checked my account and there it was -- a comment on a DVD of King Lear, a Royal Shakespeare Company production starring Sir Ian McKellen.  It was a much shorter version of a post I'd written for this blog in 2009, which I'd submitted to the library's web site in 2011. The closest thing to an expletive in it was "oh my goodness", and it was a ringing endorsement of the interpretation.

I figured that since this comment was on the site, then it couldn't be the one that the BiblioCommons Team had removed.  I fired off an email, expressing my fears about being hacked.

No answer came, and I checked in during the day.  My comment was still there, but the date had been changed from January 2011 to today's date.  I figured that the comment had been removed, then reinstated when found to be innocuous.

Something, I know not what, made me check again in the late afternoon.  My comment, plus the only other comment on the page, had disappeared.  (The other person had made the observation that while they thought McKellen's performance was terrific, they preferred the 1953 version with Orson Welles.  Hardly inappropriate -- or am I missing something?)

Fortunately, the same something that had made me check had also nudged me into copying and pasting my comment while it was still online.  I fired off an email to OPL with my observations and the text of my "inappropriate" contribution, remarking that I'm here to learn.  Which is true, even I was being just a little snarky.

See, I fail to see how the deletion is "automatic" after three flaggings, if my comment remained online a good five hours after I received the email.  Surely someone in charge was in a position to read it.  I'm ticked, but heck, the longer version is still on my blog and no one has demanded that I remove it.  Yet.

On the up side, our passports arrived this week.  Whew.

You may have noticed (probably not) that I've done a NaBloPoMo-type month of daily posts, but, like December, failed to officially sign in to NaBloPoMo, as I've found it increasingly difficult to link my posts there.  I plan to try again in September.

Update:  The following Monday, I received an email from BiblioCommons:  ...nothing wrong with your comment - our apologies!  Looks like we made an error in matching your review of this production to another production of King Lear, which someone has objected to and flagged.  I would like to ask your patience while we sort this out. Our plan is to restore your review once we do. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Damsel in distress (write of passage number thirty)

Younger daughter had a curling lesson with her school out at the Nepean Sportsplex.  The last time we were here was about eleven years ago when the Assessment Kindergarten joined in a district special needs swim meet -- which came to an abrupt halt when someone defecated in the pool.  Good times.

Anyway, the curling had gone well enough, and we now had a long bus ride back to the city centre for younger daughter's voice lesson.  We hurried into seats near the back of the long articulated bus, and watched a host of Algonquin College students clamber on at the Transitway station.  During mid-winter in Hades, you can't see out of the mud-caked windows, so I settled into people-watching.

That's when I noticed the girl halfway down the bus, very young with hair piled carelessly on top in a loose bun.  She was clinging to one of the yellow rails near where the bus bends to turn corners, and there was something bereft about the way she held on while trying to check her phone.  She kept looking up and about, as if watching for someone she knew -- or searching for an avenue of escape.  Every now and then, she dabbed at her enormous eyes and swiped her nose with the back of her hand. Then she'd focus back on her phone before once again gazing about her with an air of quiet desperation.

Finally someone got off, and she sat down in one of the sideways seats.  The lady who would have been sitting next to her abruptly got up and moved to the area directly below where younger daughter and I were.  Puzzled, I gazed back to where the young girl was now perched.  Her posture looked less distressed and she was texting busily with an oddly alert air.

We got off, leaving her to travel east, taking her crisis with her, whatever it was.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Double feature

I've always tried to see a healthy percentage of Oscar-nominated films before the big ceremony, if only to give me enough knowledge to cheer or boo.  It was tough enough with five nominated films, but since they upped the maximum to ten, my percentages have been pretty dismal.

This year, nine films have been nominated.  I have no intention of seeing 12 Years a Slave (too squeamish), Gravity (too block-bustery and epic), Captain Phillips (ditto), or The Wolf of Wall Street. (Dubious entrepreneurs and scantily-dressed women? Again?  Give me a break.)  I missed an opportunity to see Nebraska a couple of weeks ago, due to rotten weather and too much else going on.  We saw Philomena over the Christmas break, and Her about ten days ago.

Yesterday was cold, but clear, and I had the chance to catch a morning screening of Dallas Buyers Club.

Rainbow Cinemas is a second-run franchise with half a dozen theatres in Ontario (four of which are in Toronto -- a place that loves its movies), and two in Saskatchewan.  The one in Ottawa is a little bleak, being in the lower level of the St Laurent Shopping Mall nestled between a business college and a fitness centre, but the staff is pleasant and the prices are reasonable.

Very reasonable yesterday, which turned out to be "$2.50 Tuesday".  This meant a rather better turn-out than one might expect for a 10 am show.  It also meant an older crowd, which included people turning up who might not ordinarily choose such a movie.

Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story and as such, probably had very little to do with what actually happened.  This doesn't trouble me that much; most "true" films cannot afford to be that accurate, because they need to tell an entertaining story in a limited amount of time.  As it was, the film is longer than a lot of movies these days, just under two hours.  (Feels longer.)

Although the real Ron Woodroof was apparently not quite as tough and homophobic as portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, the film does capture the terror of AIDS in the eighties, when a diagnosis was an automatic death sentence, and AIDS patients were ostracized and feared.  I was a hospice volunteer in Victoria, and for the first few years that AIDS patients began being admitted, the true nature of their illness was not made public (although we volunteers were usually allowed to know), for fear of the janitorial staff refusing to clean their rooms.

Our "$2.50 Tuesdays" crowd had a touch of that eighties hostility.  It was, as I've mentioned, an older crowd and a couple of fellows apparently thought they were home watching television.  One guy kept saying, "Hurry up and die," and got into a shouting match with an elderly man who shouted "Asshole!" several times after him as he left the theatre which was odd, because the elderly man had been commenting throughout the film himself.

Leto with post-Felicity-and-Alias Garner
I managed to concentrate despite the interruptions.  I was more distracted by remembering Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto from their nineties television careers, to tell you the truth.
Leto in "My So-called Life" with Claire Danes

How did I feel about the flick? Well, if we're continuing to be truthful, I only went to see this because elder daughter requested it. I think it was well-done, but if actors are competent (and these were), is it really necessary to go through the frankly dangerous weight-changes to make us believe how sick they are?

On the whole, I was rather glad I'd only paid $2.50.

That evening, I was out at a cinema again, snatching my only opportunity to see at least one of the nominees for best foreign language film.  Besides, I had heard good things about The Great Beauty.

The Bytowne Cinema is a very different venue from Rainbow Cinemas.  It shows mainly art-house films and is a glorious old theatre with a huge screen and a balcony, if you please.  The clientele probably don't frequent the St Laurent Shopping Mall much either.

Then there was the film which was Italian.  Very Italian. The story -- if you can call it a story; it's really more a parade of beautiful images -- follows a fellow who has just celebrated turning 65 by having a large bacchanalia on a rooftop in Rome (his posh apartment overlooks the Coliseum, doncha know) and is now contemplating mortality when he's not having meals with friends or having sex with women.  Of course, this being an Italian film, the women are in their forties, rather than in their twenties as in a Hollywood production.

Mind you, it didn't help when I fell asleep and woke up in the middle of a funeral scene. (No, it wasn't due to boredom; I was just really comfortable.)  There was more than one possibility for the dear departed and I was further confused when one of these candidates turned up in the next scene, appeared to die, then didn't.  Then her father was being consoled a couple of scenes later.

And that was only halfway through the film.

Anyway, the cinematography was lovely; the music was evocative (Tavener, Gorecki, etc.).  My favourite bit was actually the ending credits, which play over the view from a boat moving steadily up (or down) the Tiber in the half-light of dawn (or dusk).

Then I got up and made my way home over the ice flows.

Tomorrow night, if it isn't too grim, I'm off to see American Hustle, which, if nothing else, will mean I've seen at least one performance in each nominated category.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What about me?

Whoops.  Nearly out of time again.

Here's a quintessentially eighties video by Belinda Metz. Fortunately, with a good dollop of humour: 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Straining at Nats

I was sitting at the table eating pancakes when I saw the low-heeled black pump appear around the corner.  It was several feet above the ground because younger daughter was attempting to see her feet in her dress shoes in the small mirror at face height in the hall, so she was balancing precariously on one foot halfway up the stairs, her knee drawn up at a sharp right angle.

This was the first indication I'd had that younger daughter planned to wear pumps for the singing competition that afternoon.

Low-heel pumps used to mean two-inch heels; three inches was considered quite "high".  These days,"high heels" mean six inches or more -- I tried on elder daughter's high school graduation shoes for all of two seconds before my arches screamed bloody murder -- and anything under four inches seem to count as low heels.

Anyway, younger daughter wore the pumps (about three inches for the heels, I'd say) for the first time at the Christmas recital with wearing practice and we haven't seen them since.

She had chosen the dress elder daughter had given her for Christmas -- a silky burgundy print from Forever 21, and looked charming with sparkly black stockings, so I held my peace.

NATS, (the National Association of Teachers of Singing) is the first voice competition of the season.  This was younger daughter's third time and this year she was in the "17 and under" category.  She was the last of nine singers.  As we waited out in the hall, I quietly scoped what other singers were wearing.  I did see quite a few pumps, usually with long dresses.

Each entrant had prepared three songs, to be sung in under eight minutes.  So we listened to twenty-four songs by the previous eight singers.  All of them in ballet flats, with the exception of the other girl who takes lessons with younger daughter's voice teacher, who was wearing rather old-fashioned black patent-leather sandals with a bit of heel to them.

Younger daughter finally took the stage, clumping to the piano rather like a little girl playing dress-up, but she found her place and stood confidently, without a wobble.

Unlike walking in her footwear, younger daughter has been preparing her song selections for the past couple of months, although she started learning "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" last summer.

"Sorge il sol! Che fai tu?" is a spring song, a bit premature in Hades, but cheerful at least:  Younger daughter's rendition was quite urgent, the gist of the lyric being "The sun's up; get out and enjoy the flowers!"

I've been hearing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" pretty well every day all this month.  Much as I love listening to younger daughter sing, February and "Motherless Child" are a pretty lethal combination.  She sang with appropriate soul and sorrow.

The third song was "Jazz Man" by Benjamin Britten which is usually sung by children's choirs ("twenty children couldn't make as much noise"):  It's not an easy song, especially sung at breakneck speed.

The other singers, for the most part, had a more operatic sound, but I was pleased with the range of younger daughter's selections.  The adjudication notes were constructive and kind, praising the loveliness of her voice (it is, you know) and the expressiveness of her performance, and suggesting she not touch her hair and face so much.  (Bit of a tall order for someone on the autistic spectrum, but heck, if she can sing in French, German, or Italian…)

We recovered with a concert at the National Arts Centre with award-winning singer Denzal Sinclaire doing quite a bit of Nat King Cole material with other things he's known for thrown in for good measure, accompanied by the National Arts Centre Orchestra.  I wasn't familiar with Denzal Sinclaire, even though he has won all sorts of awards for his singing -- apparently Diana Krall and Michael Bublé are fans --and is an actor as well.

Younger daughter had a simply gorgeous time; he sang standards like "Mona Lisa" and jazzy numbers like "Route 66" and best of all, "When I Fall in Love", the song she chose when she was asked to be the soloist at a wedding a year and a half ago.  I was delighted to see one of my favourites on the play-list:  "Straighten Up and Fly Right".  I know it from a recording by Lyall Lovett, but had no idea that Nat King Cole wrote it and recorded it in 1943.  Here he is, singing it: 

There isn't much of Denzal Sinclaire singing Nat King Cole on YouTube, just a rather shaky video of "Nature Boy" (which I've always thought was one weird song), but he did sing "You and the Night and the Music" which gives you a good idea of his calibre:  

Oh, and younger daughter wore her snowboots to the concert.  Kiwanis season is in April.  I wonder if I can get her to practise walking in those heels before then.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

What would Judas do?

My Facebook pals have been posting a lot of those Buzzfeed personality quizzes lately. You know the ones: "Which Harry Potter character are you?" "Which Downton Abbey character are you?" "Which Beatle are you?" There are scores of them, perhaps hundreds.

This morning, a friend posted one called "Which of Jesus' disciples are you?"  Well, her husband is a Baptist minister, after all.

It is, like all the other quizzes, highly unscientific and rather random. But I took it anyway. Elder daughter had just come downstairs during a break in the highly touted gold medal game between the Canadian and Swedish hockey teams on the final day of the Sochi Winter Olympics which I've succeeded in ignoring almost completely this year.

The quiz results had informed me that I was Saint John, so I read out the profile and watched in bewilderment as elder daughter and the Resident Fan Boy hooted in hilarity.  While it's true that the paragraph ended with my comparison to a Golden Retriever puppy, I noted uneasily that their laughter had begun much earlier, with my description as being "kind and loving".

Actually, I was rather hurt.

However, the day was there to be got on with.  Canada won the hockey game.  (Rah-rah.)  There was a free access weekend at, and after a couple of hours of downloading records and doing laundry, I saw elder daughter's results on my Facebook wall.  She had come out at Judas Iscariot.  Not far above it, her updated status read:  "Hurt and disappointed."

I thought that was rather an extreme response to a silly quiz, and went upstairs to investigate, where I discovered it was, in fact, to do with an ongoing controversy at her university.  She is co-editor-in-chief of the magazine, and someone on the council had published an inflammatory criticism of the editors' decision to publish a letter -- which had been a public letter and which they had permission to publish.  On top of this, the person in question was someone who she considered a friend and who had not said a word to her on the matter for two weeks.  He's in second year, so I guess sophomoric behaviour is not such a great surprise.

I waited a little while before approaching her again.  In the meantime, she got supportive texts and Skype visits from Halifax.

I climbed the stairs and paused in her doorway.

"I just wondered if I should come with you to Halifax this evening.  Y'know, just so I can beat the stuffing out of this fellow.  No, I'll do it in a kind and loving way, rather in the style of a Golden Retriever puppy, which, as you know, I resemble just as much as you do Judas Iscariot…."

To my relief, she laughed.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Whatever gets you through the month

We were on our way by bus to younger daughter's singing competition when elder daughter told me she wanted me to hear her current favourite song.  She put the ear-bud of her iPod into my left ear while I listened to it not knowing the artist, and pronounced it catchy and cheery.  I was rather astonished to learn it was by McFly.

All I really know about McFly is that they are a boy band and seem to have been particularly huge around five years ago.  They had a cameo appearance on a Doctor Who episode, doing an election spot for the diabolical Harold Saxon.  I frankly thought they weren't recording any more.

Evidently they are.  They're British, very pretty, and write sunshiny songs like this one, so I guess I can see why elder daughter, who is bogged down with editorial duties and graduation year assignments, would find this appealing.  Especially as I have spent February, a tough month at the best of times, listening to "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child".  I'll explain why tomorrow.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Eternity is now (the flip side)

Late August is half a year away.  It was in that season in 2008 that I wrote a post entitled "Eternity is Now", about holding on to a moment and seeing an eternity in it, even as it slips away.

Here, on the other side of the sun, February seems chockfull of moments that hang around without being asked.

Hades has been socked by a winter storm bringing freezing rain, followed by rain, soon to be followed (we're informed) by an arctic front with wind gusts up to 80 kilometres an hour.

Elder daughter, as you may recall, flew in from Halifax last night because the Halifax Biometrics Lab cannot take the required fingerprints for her British visa in time.  She was forced to set off into downtown Ottawa for the Visa Application Office, and took the accompanying snap from the bus stop at about 11 this morning.

The Resident Fan Boy had work and a medical appointment.  When he showed up at a hospital on the other side of the city for the latter, they had no record of it, even though they were the ones who had cancelled last week's appointment and rescheduled him.

Younger daughter and I remained holed up at home, school being cancelled, thankfully.  When I showed her this picture, (elder daughter had "instagrammed" it on Facebook) she wailed, "Will it be like this forever?"  I assured her it wouldn't, but didn't add that it will only seem that way.

Eternity is now.

Oh, and when elder daughter returned, it was without her passport.  The Visa Application Office was sorry, but they need it for now.  Like me, elder daughter uses her passport for ID, so getting on the plane for Halifax next Sunday should be fun....

Thursday, 20 February 2014


Yep, another day that has left me like a limp noodle.

When the powers that were pulled the plug on Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney in Hyde Park in 2012,  there was a hullabaloo from both sides:  those who couldn't believe this would be done to two ROCK LEGENDS, and those who said "Rules are Rules".  What I want to know is the crowd booing the cut-off, or are they yelling "Bruce-Bruce-Bruce!!"?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Leave it to Kafka

There were hints in yesterday's horoscope about how today might turn out:  This is a poor day to ask bosses, parents, teachers and VIPs for permission or approval.  Trust me.  Save your breath.  The response will be rejections, criticism or at best skepticism.  Someone older might question your ability or technique.  Try to sidestep this if you can. 

While this was not precisely what happened, I should have known better than to attempt to renew our passports.

I had planned everything carefully.  We had filled out the documents, included new photos and old passports.  I had birth certificates for the three of us. All this carefully tucked in a ziplock bag with the bus itinerary I had printed up to get myself from our house in north-east Ottawa to the new (to us) passport office somewhere near the Hog's Back.  I checked and re-checked while standing at the bus stop, removing and replacing my mittens.  My fingers were pink as I took my seat.  I stuffed my mittens down the front of my parka to take the chill off and tucked my hands against the skin under my sleeves until my thumbs ached less and my cuticles burned only a little.

The Passport Office is a long, low greyish structure sticking out incongruously from an older small mall.  It looks like a bunker.  It's not much better inside.  Rows of plastic benches painted a metallic silver in the centre, numbered kiosks on two walls with desks for filling forms along another wall.  The queue is by the remaining wall, of course.

I joined the line-up to have my documents grouped and my number assigned, then took a place on a stretch of empty bench, listening to the howls and squeals of half a dozen infants and toddlers.  I would have listened to my iPod, but I was in the midst of a recording of the 2011 BBC radio dramatization of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, set in the Soviet Union of World War Two and rife with bleak institutions, heartless bureaucracy, and snow. Appropriate listening perhaps, but I was feeling alienated enough.  The only natural light came from the skylight, which was largely covered with - well - snow, of course.

I kept my eyes on the lighted panels waiting for my combination of letters and numbers to flash up.  After a bit more than half an hour, they did and I made my way to the indicated gate.  No one was there.  I peered around the partitions and double-checked the number at the station. My processor appeared suddenly from beneath the counter where she had been filing or rummaging.  She looked rather like Tina Fey on a grim day.

I carefully laid out my documents in front of her:  three filled-out applications with the newly expired passports.
"Do you have photo ID such as a driver's license?"
I stared at her momentarily.  I may have gaped a little.
"I don't drive.  That's why I use my passport for ID."
"Do you have something else with your address on it?  Maybe a bill?"
I rummaged in my bag, but knew it was no use.  I don't carry my bills around, and the Ontario Health card stopped including an address years ago, presumably for "privacy" reasons.
"Is there anything about this on the web site?" I asked in despair.
"Well, I'm not sure, but there should be.  Who are you submitting these applications for?"
"My husband and daughter."
"Do you have letters of authorization?"

My heart sank even further.  The last time we renewed, the Resident Fan Boy went in for all three of us and was done in a jiffy.  No one asked for authorization.

I had put my health card back in my bag, but she asked to see it again and typed figures into her machine, popping a small sheet with my new passport photo pasted to it for me to sign.  I suspected she was going to accept this as identification, but said nothing.  Years of dealing with school secretaries have taught me to shut up when something appears to be going through.

I made notes of the requirements for these letters of authorization which would need to be faxed, and finally tottered away, feeling squished and processed.  I quickly texted the RFB, and headed for the bus stop.  If I didn't hurry, I would miss the connection and be late picking up younger daughter from school.

My cell phone went off as I peered down the road through the snow blowing in my face.  It was the Resident Fan Boy in full  and disbelieving fuss.  I gave a few more details, then told him the bus was coming.  I don't do well with multi-tasking.

In my seat and rechecking where I would need to change buses, the phone went off again.  This never happens.  No one calls me; they always text.  It was elder daughter phoning from Halifax, so this had to be an emergency.

See, she learned last week that her internship for her fourth year journalism degree was going to be with with CBC in London.  The one in England.  The longed-for dream.  This is set for April and gives precious little time to fulfill the requirements for a British visa.

She had had an appointment with a Bank of Montreal manager that day to acquire an official letter (with letterhead, according to the stipulations) assuring the powers that be that she has sufficient funds -- especially since this is an unpaid position.  The reason  she needed an appointment is because when she went into her local bank last week and made the request, the lady at the counter thought a photo-copy with a business card stapled to it would do the trick.

However, this was not why she was phoning.  The visa application also requires "biometrics" (fingerprints) performed at an appropriate lab.  Good thing there is such a lab in Halifax -- except there are no slots available until April and the application has already been submitted.

"Well," the lady on the phone told my incredulous daughter, "we have offices in St John's, Montreal, Ottawa, and Vancouver."  (For those of you unfamiliar with Canadian geography, all of these cities are in different time zones from Halifax.)

I had to make that transfer, and hastily told despairing daughter that we'd work something out.

Trudging up the long avenue in the wake of a cortège of roaring snow-trucks and ploughs, I thought of the radio version of Life and Fate again, with its mournful bayan theme music, and a character applying for a residence permit, only to be told by the authorities that she must have a letter from her employer.  Her employer can't write the letter without permission from the office that supplies the permits and the authorities refuse to give permission, yet demand the letter.

"How's your day going?" inquired the vice-principal at younger daughter's school.
She looked blank.  She teaches social studies and P.E.
When I explained, she nodded.  Ministry of Education officials had just been in.

It was only when I got home that I realized one of younger daughter's given names was misspelled -- although spelled correctly on the application, the expired passport, and her birth certificate which I had provided. The Resident Fan Boy made a note of this in the letter of authorization.

Elder daughter flies in from Halifax tomorrow.  Her appointment at the Ottawa lab is on Friday.  She flies back Sunday.  I wonder if she's considered committing a crime in Halifax so that they'd take her fingerprints.  Of course, that would probably negate the visa....

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

I gotta go, but my friend here can stick around

It's been one of those days.  Frankly, it's been one of those months, and I'm becoming increasingly afeared that this is going to be one of those years.  I'm going to attempt to write about it, but heavens, not now.

When younger daughter finished her science homework completely unaided, I invited her over to watch this video which I was sure she would love.  However, in her world, finishing her homework meant it was time to watch a selected DVD and a four-minute video, even with Muppets in it, was more than she could stomach.

Feeling just a tad rejected, I gazed glumly at the computer screen while the Accent Snob cowered under my shins.  He had picked up on younger daughter's agitation and thought it was directed at him.  (We can't help but wonder if tension in one of his other homes invariably led to someone kicking the dog.)

Anyway, this has always been one of my favourite songs.  This is Jimmy Fallon, in his last moments of hosting Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, before taking over The Tonight Show this week.  He's channelling the late great Levon Helm while Dr Teeth and his pals reenact one of the famous moments from The Band's Last Waltz

Here's the number as it played out in the film The Last Waltz, the Band performing "The Weight" with the Staple Singers:

I'm off to bed.  If there's any mercy in the world, I won't remember my dreams.  I just hope I don't wake up as a giant cockroach.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Out in the cold

Family Day is a Canadian holiday that has only been around for a few years, born of a yearning to have some sort of long weekend in February, the shortest month that is still too damn long.

In Ontario, it was today (it was last Monday in British Columbia), so the Resident Fan Boy took the day off and we cast around for something to do with younger daughter that didn't involve a museum. We all like museums but they're hellish places to be on Family Day, because there's usually a windchill and everyone is looking for indoor pursuits.

With the Oscars coming soon -- albeit mercifully delayed by the Winter Olympics this year -- we decided to catch Her at the Rainbow Cinema, a second-run venue in the bowels of the St Laurent Shopping Centre.  I had a rough idea of the premise of the movie, a fairly time-honoured one of a human being bonding with a computer: shades of Electric Dreams, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Robot & Frank, etc.

We arrived at the shopping mall by bus and found it locked for Family Day.  Unfazed, we set off around the outside of the complex, the signs assuring us that we could access the movie theatre "at the entrance between Sears and the business college on the south-west corner".  We headed confidently for the door we had used the last time this had happened, an Easter long weekend a couple of years ago, and were startled to find it locked with the same notices directing us to the south-west corner.

It's a pretty hefty hike around the edges of the shopping centre and this was a bleak morning with a windchill of -23.   We had arrived in plenty of time, but we kept encountering padlocked doors with the identical posters. We were also running into more and more would-be cinema-goers, including an older fella who told us he had seen people leaving the first door we had found locked.  After nearly circling the complex, we made our way back to the door that we had used before, where a crowd was gathering, several people on cell-phones.  We told them about the other locked doors.  ("Did you try them all?" asked one suspicious young woman.)  Finally, someone got through and informed us,  "It's one level down."

We trooped down a cement staircase and through a parking level, fuming at the uselessness of the signs.  We arrived with five minutes to spare for our movie.

"This one is subtitled for hard-of-hearing.  Do you mind?" asked the box-office lady.

We were delighted.  Younger daughter has always found having "words" a big help in following the plot, and my own hearing has never recovered from too many hours listening to rock on the headphones in my misspent youth.

Besides, Her is a movie about people who live mostly inside their heads, so a lot of words are involved. The story is set in a rather sterile Los Angeles of the presumably not-distant future.  These Angelenos move through a landscape of corridors and tall buildings.  The colour schemes feature browns, beiges and oranges and everyone is dressed in casual, nondescript sort of clothing and seem to be in the same income bracket, having spacious uncluttered apartments and plenty of free time.

We meet Joachin Phoenix's character Theodore, a gentle and wounded man who makes a living working for a company that writes personal letters for people who neither the time nor talent for personal correspondence nor even the experience, but have some sort of nostalgic yen for it. He drifts through his day in a lonely haze, in the last stages of a divorce from a woman he has known since childhood (portrayed, because this is L.A., by a woman who is eleven years younger than Phoenix).  This changes when he purchases an "OS" (operating system) for his computer, an intuitive programme that names herself Samantha by consulting a book on baby names in the second between when he asks her name and when she gives her answer.

Samantha's personality emerges and develops by leaps and bounds with exposure to Theodore and like most technology, he becomes increasingly dependent upon her, and unlike most technology, a very personal relationship grows between them.

It's quite a long movie, just over two hours, and I had plenty of time to imagine many different outcomes -- all of them tragic.  The actual outcome is gentler than one would expect, and I was left with all sorts of questions about what makes a relationship genuine.

In a world full of daily superficial interactions, is a deep friendship with someone lacking a physical body not really a friendship?  So much of my correspondence these days is with people I never see.  And you know, I couldn't help but dream about younger daughter having a constant and accessible companion tailored to her needs, even though this movie neatly illustrates the hazards.

You wouldn't think a movie about people living mostly in their heads and online would be sexually graphic, but in many ways, the imaginary sex is more intense for not being seen.  Thus younger daughter,  an autistic adolescent who is really more comfortable with animated kids' films despite being in her latter teen years, spent quite a bit of this film with her hands covering her face.   She says she liked Her anyway, and she was clearly delighted to recognize Amy Adams.

I'm usually a bit more careful about checking advisories, though.  I doubt younger daughter would appreciate Dallas Buyers' Club or American Hustle, even though the latter has Amy Adams in it as well. (When I initially suggested Dallas Buyers' Club, she admonished me: "Mawwwwm!  I'm a teenager!") I'll probably have to sneak off to see those on my own before the Oscar ceremonies.

We checked the doors when we left the cinema by the upper level.  They were unlocked by that time.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Pop zingers

I've posted videos from Collective Cadenza (or cdza) on three occasions and a video from The Key of Awesome once before.  Both are groups clever with music and a little over the top with their humour.  However, I'm rather delighted to learn that they've teamed up:

I was also rather fiendishly pleased that the Key of Awesome had taken a swipe at Mumford and Sons, although I think M & S are pretty good at taking a joke:

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Ain't nuthin' for a girl

Some months ago, a Facebook friend posted this video on her "wall":

Nifty, huh?  I showed it to younger daughter, who recognized the song immediately.  Some weekend last spring, when I was too sick/busy/adverse to going along, the Resident Fan Boy and she had gone to see a movie called Pitch Perfect which featured this little, but pivotal scene:

which, in turn, became a hit:

which I missed because it's not the type of song that would be played on the type of radio I listen to.

I did, however, recognize the singer, whom I'd encountered in the movie Up In the Air:

which I thought should have won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2009.

It took several more weeks for me to realize that I had seen Anna Kendrick even earlier -- in fact she's featured in a DVD that I own called My Favorite Broadway: The Leading Ladies.  Taped in 1998, when Anna Kendrick was 13 (and looking much younger, much as she does today), this was and is one of my favourite moments from the concert. Anna, appearing at the time in a Broadway musical version of High Society, joins the Kit Kat Club girls from the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret in a rather surreal version of "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" from Showboat.

She was terrifyingly talented even then.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine post for cheaters

I've never been a fan of Valentine's Day, as I believe I've discussed before, so this latest offering from Collective Cadenza fits the bill:  

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Spring fever

Not even halfway through February and I need a touch of spring.  Here's an innocent video from the eighties -- the lyrics are perhaps not quite as innocent -- by Paul Piché. (I think this song was written with Michel Hinton.)

La nuit est fraîche
Et les rues sont vidées
De tous ses esclaves
Et tout l'espace est pour mes pieds
J'avance et respire dans la nuit
Vers la liberté fraîche et fragile
Je cours retrouver mes amis
Où l'amour est permis
Où le rêve est facile
J'avance et respire et transpire
Chorus :
J'ai besoin d'amour
Pour mettre sur ma peau
Je ne ferai pas détour dans ton dos
J'avance et respire poussé par mon désir
Je ne ferai pas de détour pas un mot
Pas un mot sur nos guerres
Comme l'amour c'est sacré
Ne dis pas à ta mère
Que tu m'as rencontré
Pas un mot sur nos rêves
Comme c'est mal de rêver
En tout cas moi c'que j'rêve c'est mal
C'est mal juste d'y pense
Le temps s'est arrêté
Quand la nuit s'est posée
Je sais je sais que rien ne me raisonne
Et s'il y a un dieu
S'il est très généreux
J'aimerais j'aimerais
J'aimerais qu'il me pardonne
Pas un mot sur nos tempêtes
À tous ces gens honnêtes
On se battra peut-être
Juste sous leurs fenêtres
Pas un mot sur la nuit
On n'peut rien présumer
Pas un mot comme la nuit c'est sacré
Cette nuit qui m'attire
Pour l'amour pour le froid
Dans un coin libre enfin
C'est comme ça
La nuit fraîche s'achève
Mais mon coeur est au chaud
Juste avant qu'ils ne se lèvent
Pas un bruit pas un mot
Me coucherai contre mes rêves
Me coucherai contre ma peau
Contre mon désir
Qui n'pourra pas dormir
dans la nuit qui s'étire
Sans un mot

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Auntie bellum

She was a lady of the mid-twentieth century whose demise was reported the way we get the news in these days of the early twenty-first century.  The Resident Fan Boy got a text via his cousin's husband and relayed the message to me by email.  I pulled up a photo from my laptop and posted it on Facebook: an elegant woman with a chignon and a choker of pearls, sitting next to elder daughter when she was two, twenty years ago.  That was just before she and her husband, my husband's paternal uncle, made the move from Seattle to San Diego.

I haven't seen her since, although we corresponded by the old-fashioned means of letters.  I used to hand-write them until she made a sly joke about the "elegant spider that uses your note-paper".  After that, I typed, then word-processed.  She always responded in writing, never taking on the tiresome nuisances of a computer.

Until three years ago, when she stopped answering, which is when I saw the writing on the wall, so to speak.  I continued to send a card every year, trying always to enclose a letter, because I think it's when she could no longer send them herself that she probably needed them most.

It's not that we were particularly close, but we were both in-laws in a family that didn't welcome outsiders, and although we never discussed the slights suffered under our respective mothers-in-law, I like to think the underlying understanding was there, unspoken as it was.

And now she's left, closing the gate behind her with a discreet metallic click, leaving no footprints and taking with her all the questions I never dared ask.  I suspect the answers would have been, like her, enigmatic.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Don't get around much anymore

I hurt my knee on December 17th. I've been waiting and waiting for it to get better.

Going through my photo files for last year, because I don't have any February photos for this year, and realizing I haven't taken the dog for a walk longer than around the block since early December.
When these were taken, almost exactly a year ago, I was able to trudge with the Accent Snob through the snow for over an hour. He didn't enjoy it that much, mind you, but I could do it.

Joni Mitchell said, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
She also said, "I wish I had a river I could skate away on." I have a river, but I was never much of a skater. Not that you could skate on a river covered with snow.

What the hell. It's February. I was going to be miserable anyway.

Monday, 10 February 2014

It's all in the details

I hate repeating myself, but I figure it's been two years since I last posted a video by the Doctor Who Fan Orchestra. This one is something like the eighth world-wide collaboration of Whovian musicians, ranging, according to the video description, from ages 11 to 69, from 24 countries. There's also a solo from Doctor Who orchestrator Ben Foster.

Since this latest outing is in honour of the fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who, there are even more visual surprises, and in-jokes. It also features the spooky theme associated with the Ninth and Tenth Doctors -- which I've always rather liked.

Foolish grin

A stressful weekend.  Younger daughter had two homework assignments and dealt with her terror by not telling us about them until Saturday evening.  We cut down the requirements into smaller tasks and the Resident Fan Boy nearly derailed the proceedings by fussing over font size.  Still, she only stormed up to her room once, and refused to break for more pleasant things until the final thing was completed.

We unwound with last night's pre-recorded broadcast of a post-Grammy tribute to the Beatles in honour of the 50th anniversary of their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.  Younger daughter, an enthralled Beatles fan since the age of two (I fondly remember her quick-step circling of the living room carpet to "Hard Day's Night" -- which wasn't played last night) hung on to every note.  I think she particularly enjoyed Stevie Wonder's rendition of "We Can Work It Out" and David Grohl's and Jeff Lynne's "Hey Bulldog"

Dave Grohl - Hey Bulldog - Grammy Salute (The... by IdolxMuzic

I, however, had been waiting for Annie Lennox to blow "The Fool on the Hill" out of the water. She did, of course, but all that's available is this official snippet:

Saturday, 8 February 2014

A poor choice of words

I've been in correspondance by email with a lady who has requested I do an article for a family history review, based on a recent presentation, which -- I'm told -- was well-received, being "entertaining".

All lovely so far.

As it happened, I had just posted an adaptation of the presentation on my family history blog to share with relatives, and this editor took the link, and told me she'd be back in touch with suggestions on how to adapt it for the review. The presentation had been an hour long, so we both agreed it would need considerable shortening, before its inclusion in the spring issue of the review.

I didn't hear from her for nearly a month.

Last week, she got back in touch, with the apologetic explanation that she had had to purchase a computer just before going on a trip. She told me the content would need a fair amount of revision, though the story is interesting . . . . and that if I didn't mind mind making the style more straightforward, there would be room in the summer issue for it.

I felt that familiar dropping in my stomach.
"More straightforward"?
That would mean less whatever-the-antonym-of-straightforward-is, wouldn't it?
I checked my trusty thesaurus.


Aren't editors in the business of choosing words? She said she often edited and adapted submissions herself, but in my case, she was worried about losing your personal voice.

(What? My devious, insincere and tricky voice?)

I decided to wait a day before answering her. I commiserated about replacing a computer -- our computer died the week after the presentation, so we had undergone similar stress. I had done a word count, I informed her. To meet the length limitations, I understood I would have to halve the text. Then, almost as an afterthought, I added that I hoped she had meant "more concise" rather than "more straightforward".

The response was quick in coming.  A thank-you for agreeing to submit the article, and an apology -- she had been trying to find a polite way of saying a more formal style, suitable for a quarterly journal.

And I thought to myself:  When did "more formal", which implies my writing is informal, become less polite than saying "more straightforward", which implies that my writing is a host of unpleasant things?  Don't editors have thesauruses?

Perhaps it's kinder to put this down to jet lag.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Something's gonna change

I was mentioning this week that CBC has been providing links on Facebook this month to "holiday videos" first shown on the web site in December. Here's another one, reuniting Commander Chris Hadfield with the "Wexford Gleeks" (a performing arts high school in the Greater Toronto area. The last time they sang together, Hadfield was in orbit on the International Space Station. Now, about ten months later, he joins them in the same studio to do a nicely arranged version of "Across the Universe".

This is a song that has always bewildered me. "Nothing's gonna change my world"? Really?

I suppose if you're thinking about nirvana, moving beyond need and desire, you might reach a changeless state, but I think that's miles beyond us. Across the universe, perhaps?

The other thought that returns to me is from Joseph Campbell's interviews with Bill Moyers in the late 1980's. Early in the discussions the subject of the Wheel of Fate came up and I seem to remember that Campbell's suggested solution to being at the mercy of the ups and downs of life was to move to the centre of the wheel.

The irony here is that Campbell was using this image as an illustration of the marriage vow "for better; for worse", and Lennon was, at the time, ending his marriage to his first wife Cynthia in favour of Yoko Ono. The opening lyrics Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup were supposed to be a reference to listening to, or, more likely, ignoring his wife's voice during arguments.

It took a bit of doing to locate this lovely video of Rufus Wainwright's version, which has been blocked to death by copyright types:

Some things never change. (But my world always is. Changing, that is.)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Sweet dreams?

Too damn tired. Here's what has to be one of the most ambiguous videos ever, recorded about 1984 by singer/songwriter Dalbello.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Conducting a musical experiment

Somehow, during December, I managed to miss a series of "holiday" videos posted at the CBC web-site.  I used quotation marks because so far, these videos have little to do with Christmas.

But that's okay.  As winter persists, beauty and brightness are never inappropriate or time-sensitive.  Let's start with a social experiment in a West Coast shopping mall.  You could say the experiment was conducted. It features the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah, which can be enjoyed at any point of the year, so why not now?

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Resistance always has meaning

It's been a strange, blocked sort of week, with sad edgings of loss.

Among other things, one of the Resident Fan Boy's aunts-by-marriage is slipping away.  We received emails and texts over the weekend from her daughter, asking us to send her a "funny card".  Aunt-by-Marriage used to send us sort of care packages at Christmas, filled with bolts of fabric, ties her husband didn't want, and clipped New Yorker cartoons, so I dropped by the local bookstore and picked out two New Yorker cartoon greeting cards and let the RFB choose. He filled it with an innocuous note of recent family doings, not wishing to scribble "Hello, auntie, we hear you're at death's door…."

Remembering how long it's likely to take a card to reach San Diego, I took it to the post office yesterday to see how quickly they could send it and for how much.  The young man shook his head sympathetically.  For fifty bucks, it could be there in a day; for twenty-five, three days.  I opted for the latter, because despite the gravity of the situation, I couldn't countenance fifty dollars to send a greeting card. It isn't that funny.

It was only when I got home that I remembered that the Resident Fan Boy's dearly departed uncle would have had his birthday today and Aunt-by-Marriage could very well time her departure to coincide with this (it wouldn't be the first time, for either side of the family), so maybe I should have splurged.

The reason I remembered DDU's birthday is because we have a pile-up of birthdays on February 4th: one of my nephews, a distant cousin, and Demeter.  For the past week, I've been trying to knuckle down and write a letter of acceptable length to enclose in her card.  I know she would prefer that above any other gift.  Somehow, I'm blocked.

There's a book on writing I've always loved entitled Writing on Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Klauser. One of her banners is "Resistance Always Has Meaning".  As I sat in the study this evening, chatting with Demeter by Skype (which may be why I lack subject matter for letters right there), and listening to younger daughter moan and groan her way through a homework assignment while the Accent Snob cowered behind my knees, I found myself wondering rather bleakly:  "Meaning for whom?"

Poor Demeter.  February is not the greatest month for a birthday.  I wish I could have been in Victoria, taking her out to dinner, giving her a card, not having to write a letter….

Meanwhile, midnight is approaching and there's no word from San Diego.  Maybe Aunt-by-Marriage will stay long enough to get her card.  And decide that it definitely wasn't worth it.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Saving Robertson Ay

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that I was obsessed with Mary Poppins when I was eight.  There were no videos or DVDs when I was that age, so I spent most of my spare time playing the music and replaying the movie in my head.

The fetish continued. I dressed up as Mary Poppins the Hallowe'en I was nine and insisted on saying "Supercalifragilistic thank-you!" when we got treats, until the friends with whom I was trick-or-treating begged me to stop.

On windy days, I'd feel the pull on my umbrella and pray that just this once, I'd finally sail over the rooftops.

It wasn't only the film. (Although, frankly, I would have killed to become Julie Andrews.)  The movie brought me to the books which I collected and devoured and re-read.

By the time my little girls discovered Mary Poppins, the magic wore off a little, possibly rubbed away by sheer repetition, DVDs being readily available.

Still, I'm not sure if I can fully articulate my excitement when I discovered last fall that Emma Thompson (Emma Thompson, the closest I've come to a full-on girl crush) would be playing PL Travers in Saving Mr Banks.  Elder daughter emailed from Halifax:  "We're going to this, right?"

And we went. And it was a skillfully-made picture -- entertaining, a wee bit manipulative, but it's Emma Thompson, people.  (All I ask -- all I ask, please -- is a movie, or television series starring Emma Thompson, Julie Andrews and Alex Kingston.  Wouldn't you watch it?)

And at the end, I found myself fighting tears.  Now, they have PL Travers watching Mary Poppins and weeping, giving the erroneous impression that she was moved.  (As far as I can tell, she never came to terms with the Disney-fied versions of her precious characters.)  But I was weeping -- struggling not to weep --- because I had been blind-sided by memories.  I had forgotten about how much that movie had meant to me when I was eight, and how much the books meant to me when I was nine.

And I had completely forgotten Robertson Ay.  There's a story in Mary Poppins Comes Back (the second in the series) when we hear the back-story of Robertson Ay, the Banks family's perpetually sleepy gardener.  Part of me thinks that Robertson Ay, not Mr Banks, is based on PL Travers' dreamy and alcoholic father.  And I know a little bit about that.

So I sat while the cinema emptied, thinking about a nine-year-old girl with an umbrella on a windy day.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A brief dis-Strax-tion

Long-time readers of this blog -- I know there are at least a couple of you (hi!) -- know that I'm rather partial to Shakespeare.  Also Doctor Who.  So you can imagine how charmed I was to find this:

I know the little girl is rather precious and precocious, but she's quite good, isn't she?  And if you're not familiar with Doctor Who, here's how actor Dan Starkey usually looks on the series as Commander Strax:  

Saturday, 1 February 2014


This past week, CBC Radio Two has been doing a special week on its daily feature "Under the Covers".  Instead of the usual "here's an interesting cover of a older classic pop song", they've been focussing on songs that most people don't know are covers.  I knew most of them already, but was surprised twice:

I was unaware that Blondie was (were?) not the first to record this:  
Wow!  Really ancient reggae! (And the Blondie video is really wacky, isn't it?)

And I was astonished to learn that Soft Cell were not the original artists for this:  
Frankly, I prefer the original.