Monday, November 30, 2009

Ma Cabane au Canada

"Ma cabane au Canada
Est blotie au fond des bois..."

"My cabin in Canada
is nestled deep in the woods..."

... from the song by Mireille Brocey and Louis Gasté.

Local Theatrical Pleasures...

... because I'm not in a state of mind to mention the disappointments.

Living right downtown is not always a pleasure, but it is when I’m in the mood for theatre. I’m in walking distance from several good ones, and one is so close, I could go into a tuck-and-roll outside my front door and find myself in a front row seat… almost.

The intention is always to see more local theatre. Some of it is good, some bad, but a live performance, with its communal audience experience, is a refreshing change from movies. Hart House Theatre, part of the University of Toronto, seems to be on upswing. After what felt like a few rough years I saw an excellent production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia last season, and a week ago I saw the opening night of another play led by the same director, Jeremy Hutton, A Midsummer Night's Dream. The concept was very well thought out. The setting was Victorian London, and the fairy world became a gypsy world. The rustics were enchanting and, carried along by the enthusiasm of the students on stage and the students in the audience, we laughed our heads off.

Some Chinese classical dance was a first for me, and it was very well executed, but it's not really my bag, as pretty as it was. However, another night in the stunning Canon Theatre was a treat. I remember, shortly after it was renovated to its former glory, and shortly before the very long run of Phantom of the Opera went in, it was briefly used to show movies. I saw Die Hard there when it first came out. This is just the start of the lobby... very opulent. I was an obedient audience member (as all should be) and didn't take any pictures inside the auditorium.

Her Face was shown at the Berkeley Theatre. This was an excellent night of theatre. The play is by Polly Stenham, who won great accolades in 2007 for writing it. She was only 19 at the time and it caused a sensation when it opened in London's West End. It's a very dark piece of family dysfunction, played in one act, and superbly so by this Canadian cast. Of course the first thought as you sit watching this is, what had this young playwright experienced in her life up to that point to be able to write about it and with such understanding.

The Canadian Opera Company's Diamond Anniversary concert had a hiccup of sorts the week before it took place, when the great tenor Ben Heppner cancelled due to illness. Instead, three singers took his place, and what singers! In the first half tenor Ramón Vargas sang “Ah! lève-toi, soleil” (Gounod's Roméo et Juliette) and “Nature immense” (Berlioz's La damnation de Faust) with the Pearl Fishers duet (Bizet) and Werther (Massenet) for encores; baritone Russell Braun sung the Mab aria from Roméo et Juliette and joined Vargas for the Pearl Fishers. The orchestra kicked things off with Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture and also played his Menuet des feux follets and the Hungarian March, both from La Damnation de Faust. In the second half it was all Wagner. The Prelude from Die Meistersinger, Siegfried's Rhine Journey, and his Death and Funeral March, with tenor John Treleaven singing not only the Death, but also Walter's Prize Song, and the Rome Narration (from Tannhäuser). Probably the highlight for me was Russell Braun singing “O du mein holder Abendstern” (Tannhäuser). What an artist. He had the audience enraptured, literally I believe. The entire concert was special for another reason than the 60th anniversary of the company. It was the first performance with its new music director, and that man, Johannes Debus, with his orchestra, exhibited great music making and a heart-warming chemistry with the musicians. Their encore was the act three prelude from Lohengrin. The evening was magical.

There was plenty of big opera: Bohème (I wept), A Midsummer Night's Dream (I laughed), Madama Butterfly (I sobbed), and the prettiest Così fan tutte (I sighed). Something I'd never seen the like of before in an opera house was the world premiere of Robert Lepage's The Nightingale and Other Short Fables, a compliation of Stravinsky to wonderful puppetry-enhanced performances, from simple hand shadows, to Indonesian shadow puppets and Vietnamese water puppets. But there was also more intimate opera, in the form of The Shadow, a new one-act opera by Omar Daniel, presented by Tapestry. Seriously, the msuic didn't stay with me, but the entire experience did. Director Tom Diamond led a fine cast, with Peter McGillivray oustanding in the role of put-upon postman, who succumbs to his demon(s).

So there... a little round up. But, as it is with pomegranates, I need more. On another note... this place smells damned good. It's my favourite time of the year again and I made gingerbread dough tonight, so the combined scents of ginger, cinnamon and cloves is around me.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A New Thanksgiving Tradition

"The heart is a resilient little muscle."

Woody Allen as Mickey in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

As our American friends celebrated Thanksgiving, I gave thanks for the great film makers with a viewing of my number one movie, Woody Allen's masterpiece, Hannah and Her Sisters.

This film has it all: a great script, a dream ensemble cast, the location heaven of New York, tears and laughter, and the most sublime movie soundtrack ever. And... the plot is framed by three Thanksgiving dinners. I'm thinking this might be a new tradition for me.

I have to watch it at least once a year, and each time - like my number three movie, Lone Star - I discover some new subtlety.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Quote of the Day

"By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Warvan, you shall be avenged!"

Alan Rickman as Sir Alexander Dane as Dr. Lazarus of Tev'Meck in Galaxy Quest (1999). If I have to explain, you are overdue to see this movie. It's charming and funny. A take off of Star Trek and its multitude of fans.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Delicious Harvest

Like a miser, I squirrelled them home, gleeful and full of plans to seed and freeze them.

My kitchen counter looked like a massacre had taken place.

The harvest. I was full of good intentions to freeze most of them. I think we all know what happens to good intentions. It took, er, a few days, but they're all gone. And I seeded two more tonight. It can safely be assumed that I'm not deficient in antioxidants right now. At least, not for want of trying.

Final Cushions

I have a box of fabric treasures, mostly smaller sample pieces and remnants. Most of these came from a great sale at a very good interior design shop. When my mother was visiting, she immediately espied a gorgeous Nina Campbell pattern, featuring a moghul scene with parrots, etc. This was perfect for the final cushion for the wicker armchair, and a very good pale green damask covered the cushion that you sit on! That was last evening's task.

I'm done with home decorating, etc. for a while, but here they are, the final cushions:

The candle is vanilla scented, and I think it's time for a nip of Cardhu. Good night all!

Monday, November 23, 2009

It is a Truth Universally Acknowledged...

... that pre-announcing blog posts guarantee they are not going to happen when promised.

Note to self: blog about emigrating to Canada and also about some of the theatre you've seen recently.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sofa and Scones

Well, at last here's a picture of the finished sofa. I spent the week looking for cushions and ended up back at the fabric store on Friday night, determined not to wait another day for cushions! And so I attended the theatre that same night, the opening of A Midsummer Night's Dream at Hart House Theatre, weighed down in a most unseemly fashion with bags of goose-feather cushion bases and lovely fabric. Saturday morning I was up early to stitch them up. Today the parentals came for tea and we christened the sofa with scone crumbs and a really good catch up.

As for the theatre, I am so behind in my blogging! More on that in a post to come.

The cushions tie in well with the newish wing chair.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The slipcovering is done. I finished about an hour ago, and - as much as I have nitpicked on the errors in my work - I am weirdly exhilarated. Now I have to wait till I am home during actual daylight to get some decent pics... that will be this weekend. At work I've entered probably the four most intense weeks of the year, but it's always exciting. I just have to remember to keep some balance, especially as I so enjoy the run up to Christmas!

Thank you for your comments and encouragement!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Top Ten Things I Have Learned Recently... Very Recently

10. Watching The Prisoner (2009) is not conducive to accurate fabric cutting.

9. Pins like to lay pointy side up in thick carpeting.

8. Ultra-suede, while washable and hardy and soft and lovely, is very "grippy"... and getting the slipcovers onto the pieces is like dressing a reluctant child, who happens to be the size and weight of a pro wrestler.

7. I am not a natural slip-coverer.

6. I am getting more impatient as the years go by.

5. Piping is best created with a proper piping foot (sewing terms... sigh).

4. I don't function at all well if things are not harmonious around me, and that includes the squalour into which I have descended the last few days.

3. I will be buying a replacement sofa sooner than later.

2. Drinking Guinness is not conducive to accurate sewing.


1. After all my pathetic whimpering, it doesn't look as bad as I thought it did!

Sunday, November 15, 2009


The main part of the sofa is done, just the seat cushions to do now. Oh, and I have to buy more fabric! Also, shopping for some fancy throw pillows or something to tie it all together. I'm too tired to dig up the camera. Final pics tomorrow, I hope, if all goes well. This will be the first and last slipcover job I do. Heh heh.

I had a Guinness tonight to celebrate that today is 35 years to the day that my family emigrated to Canada. It's been a good home. More on that tomorrow. I'm off to tidy this crazy place up.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Fabric has Landed

It's a glorious sunny weekend here in Toronto, but I am about to hurl myself into the Big Slipcover Challenge. What I'd really like to be doing is walking a trail, hugging a few trees and hiding behind a few to watch some birds.

But I've thought about this too long and I have a Christmas deadline. Yards of sage-green ultra suede are covering my dining room table. The piping rope isn't strong enough to hang myself with, so all is good.

I'll be posting updates.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bloody Poms

I've been lethargic of late and am fighting off cold and flu germs all around me. (Knock on wood, still healthy, still taking the vile oil of oregano). But now I'm managing to get real boosts of energy from those ruddy and tantalizing pomegranates that are currently at our disposal. Every other day I buy two. I seed them. One lot gets frozen for future breakfast use, the other gets eaten. I can't get enough!

I take a few ruby red seeds each day and plop them in my pitcher of filtered water along with some thin lemon slices. If, like me, you want to up your water consumption, this is a (mildly) tasty way to do it.

The breakfast I have each morning: raspberries, banana, pomegranate seeds with ground flax seed, raw almonds, raw pumpkin seeds and balkan-style yoghurt. No sweetening needed. Feels like dessert, but is so healthy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Siegfried Sassoon

As Remembrance Day approached this year, I've been reading Siegfried Sassoon's war poetry. Much of it was written while he was serving in WWI and also while he was committed to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, for supposedly suffering from "shell shock", but more accurately because of his anti-war stance: he was willing to be sent to fight, and fight he did, but he wasn't willing to condone it.

You might have read Pat Barker's Regeneration (1991), which was based on real characters, one of whom was Sassoon. The book is stunning and I'm preparing to read it again along with its two sequels, which I haven't read. I believe it was also made into a film, but I didn't see it.

Here is a poem by Sassoon, written while he was incarcerated.


October's bellowing anger breaks and cleaves
The bronzed battalions of the stricken wood
In whose lament I hear a voice that grieves
For battle's fruitless harvest, and the feud
Of outraged men. Their lives are like the leaves
Scattered in flocks of ruin, tossed and blown
Along the westering furnace flaring red.
O martyred youth and manhood overthrown,
The burden of your wrongs is on my head.

Craiglockhart 1917

I took the following pictures in Stratford a few weeks ago. The War Memorial is very fine. It was created by renowned Canadian sculptor W. S. Allward and was completed in 1922. It depicts the theme of "Might versus Right."

Poem for Week of Remembrance


I have come home unnoticed; they are still;
No greetings pass between us; but they lie
Hearing the boom of guns along the hill,
Watching the flashes lick the glowering sky.

A wind of whispers comes from sightless faces;
"Have patience, and your bones shall share our bed."
Their voices haunt dark ways and ruined places,
Where once they spoke in deeds; who now are dead.

They wondered why I went; at last returning,
They guide my labouring feet through desolate mud.
And, choked with death, yet in their eyes discerning
My living strength; they are quickened in my blood.

By Siegfried Sassoon, March 1917

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Gerard Brender à Brandis

When you visit Stratford, Ontario, one of the must-see spots on your itinerary should be the studio of artist wood-engraver, Gerard Brender à Brandis. Gerard's cottage is also his studio and gallery. When you step across his threshold you enter a simpler world of enchantment and artistry that is a real balm to the senses. All the pictures below are of Gerard's place.

Gerard is a master wood engraver, a fine artist, a thoughtful and imaginative gardener and a kind and compassionate man with a soft spot for orchids, and for dogs that need good homes.

The hours that his studio are open are posted outside.

He has an original Albion press and makes much of his paper. He works on some larger runs of his books, but he also produces limited editions of the most exquisite creations, making the paper, printing the pages, spinning the fibres used to bind the book, etc. His books on botanical prints (one of which pays homage to all the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's works) make thoughtful gifts and memorable keepsakes.

To sit in his little studio parlour and peruse the catalogues of prints is a joy. I can never visit without making a highly affordable purchase of either a simple matted, or fully framed wood engraving.

Click here to see his work in closer detail!

I have several of Gerard's prints and I know there are more in my future. As I sit here typing, I look up and see his beautiful "Winter Poems" print, which is a scene of a simple writing desk with pen and paper and a view out of a window onto snow-laden evergreen boughs.


Quote of the Day

“Then, thought she, looking out to sea through eyes grown misty, better cling to her religion. It was better – she hardly noticed the reprehensibleness of her thought – than nothing. But oh, she wanted to cling to something tangible, to love something living, something that one could hold against one’s heart, that one could see and touch and do things for. If her poor baby hadn’t died… babies didn’t get bored with one, it took them a long while to grow up and find one out. And perhaps one’s baby never did find one out; perhaps one would always be to it, however old and bearded it grew, somebody special, somebody different from everyone else, and, if for no other reason, precious in that one could never be repeated.

Sitting with dim eyes looking out to sea she felt an extraordinary yearning to hold something of her very own tight to her bosom. Rose was slender, and as reserved in figure as in character, yet she felt a queer sensation of – how could she describe it? – bosom. There was something about San Salvatore that made her feel all bosom. She wanted to gather to her bosom, to comfort and protect, soothing the dear head that should lie on it with softest strokings and murmurs of love. Frederick, Frederick’s child – come to her, pillowed on her, because they were unhappy, because they had been hurt… They would need her then, if they had been hurt; they would let themselves be loved then, if they were unhappy.

Well the child was gone, would never come now; but perhaps Frederick – some day – when he was old and tired…”

From The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. The book is short and delightful. If you haven't seen the latest film version (1992), I recommend it. I haven't seen the earlier one from 1935, but from what I've read, I'm not missing much.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Grateful for the Week that Was

~ Two young ladies on the streetcar let me pet their two-month old boxer puppy. Not even my ultra-suede fabric samples were as soft as those velvety ears.

~ None of my blog readers pointed out that the weight-loss project seems to be on hold. Sigh. It is. I'm struggling with a plateau.

~ On meeting my parents for the first time, a friend of mine waxed enthusiastically about them in two different conversations. I was reminded how special my folks are and passed on the compliments.

~ The tub of Soma's dark Venezuelan chocolate gelato that I keep in the freezer.

~ A friend and I decided to form a two-person-only book group and read occasional books together.

~ José Antonio Abreu, Gustavo Dudamel and the massive Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. Read here. Be grateful. I am.

~ A wonderful book on meditation inspired me to think this thought on waking each day: "Today might be the day I die. Today is a good day to be alive."

~ An early evening of jazz and Guinness at the wonderful and divey Rex Blues and Jazz Bar ended with a night at the opera at the wonderful and glamorous Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. Have I mentioned how I like to mix up my music? Anyway. I sat in front of someone obviously new to opera and who was clearly very caught up in the action of Madama Butterfly (yes, I was seeing it again, in Noah and Hymel's final performance). In the last act, when it became obvious that Pinkerton has taken another wife, this new audience member seethed under her breath, "Son of a BITCH!"... and I was grateful for art and music and witnessing someone swept away by it for the first time.

~ An old, sweet, seemingly-psychic, pot-smoking musician friend called up from Los Angeles because he'd "sensed that I was not in a good place." He was right and I hadn't been aware of it myself. He played me a song over the phone that he'd written and I fell asleep feeling very fortunate.

~ Lunch out with a girlfriend reminded me that we are not alone in what we endure, and that we can - with our friends - find the strength to get on with what has to be done.

~ On the recommendation of two workmates I tried the quattro-formaggi pizza from the new pizza place around the corner. It didn't help the plateau, but DAMN IT WAS GOOD!

~ It had been 10 days straight of work and too much play and this stretch of over-exersion ended last Sunday morning. After gaining an hour on the clock, I was sitting in my dressing gown on the sofa with some tea at 8:30 in the morning when I decided to spend the day in that condition and it was an excellent idea. The morning was spent watching Moonfleet (1951), a costume drama with Stewart Granger, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. As for the rest of the day, I have no memory of it but I know it did me a world of good.

Put the Guinness Away, I Need a Clear Mind for This

Ack! The sofa swatches have been rented. The exquisite agony of decision making is upon me. Weirdly enough as I was selecting them at the store, I realized they were - in colour and fabric - an almost perfect match for the shirt I was wearing.

I'm a predictable BPG in some ways and that's okay with me.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

Harriet: People like me ought to die.

Captain John: I don’t think you’re the type. People like you don’t just lie down and die.

Harriet: What will I do then?

Captain John: Begin again. You know what I think? I think with everything that happens to you, with every person you meet who is important to you, you either die a little bit or are born.

From The River (1951), directed by Jean Renoir. I saw this about a year ago, and – oddly enough – remember almost nothing about it, except I made a note to read the book, which I haven’t done. It was a Criterion DVD with the usual outstanding features, including a fascinating biography of Godden’s life.

Jean Renoir, son of the famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste, also made Partie de Compagne (1936), one of my favourite films of all time. One viewing about 25 years ago is still burned into my memory. Renoir directed this film, based on a short story by Guy de Maupassant. The film remained unfinished and, when you see it now, at 40 minutes long, a card fills in the rest of the story.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Be Warm Tonight

It's a toe-warming coincidence that the first ice pellets of the season fell out of the sky the same day that I planned to cook the first lamb shanks of the season. The picture above was taken from my roof as I returned home from work. Until I live in the country in my little house of dreams, I'll take a twinkly city skyline and be grateful for it.
The DVD fireplace is on, the shanks are simmering in red wine, rosemary, garlic, and onions. The pressed balsam incense is burning. The candles are lit, and all is good. I hope all my lovely friends in the Blog world are as content and lucky this evening!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I got the Fever... for More Cowbell

... actually my fever is less about cowbell and more for salmon. I'm consuming a lot of it these days. My worry about mercury levels is less potent than my need for the tender pink flesh, sprinkled with cracked pink pepper corns, on top of spinach and fennel, dressed with lemon and olive oil, and eaten with buttered brown bread.

Quote of the Day

"She went out with that brisk tread which carried her rather full figure with such wondeful ease.

'Very charming,' said the old lady.

Her son thought so too."

From Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, one of my favourite books.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Recent Pictures...

as I am snapping more, and writing less.

Fall colours from a tall building where I sometimes attend meetings:

Closer to home, ever-changing ivy softly blankets this Victorian-era building.

Appreciating clouds, of course:

Late Hallowe'eny sort of Post

Fans of Harry Potter: Stratford, Ontario has its own Whomping Willow. I make sure to walk to it each time I visit Stratford. It's so old and gnarled and impressive. And I'm sure it could do some whomping good damage if it was so inclined.

For scale, Bruce give you an idea of its size.