Saturday, January 22, 2022

The Really Snowy Day

Toronto got really walloped on Monday.  Fortunately, most people were well aware that there was a big blizzard coming, so they generally didn't venture out unless there was a really good reason.  That's not to say that there was no traffic.  Lots of people did try to go driving and quickly found out it wasn't going to work out.  Over 500 TTC buses got stuck in the storm on Monday and possibly thousands of cars.  Here's the 72 Pape bus stuck over on Carlaw near Gerrard.

I did the heavy shoveling in the morning.  I haven't seen snow like that in 10+ years.  The kids were more than a little put out to learn that Monday was going to more virtual school -- and not a snow day!  The TDSB relented and decided that Tuesday would be a full-on snow day, which must be the first in all the time we've lived here (6 or so years)!  It was still snowing at lunchtime, but my wife and son took over the shoveling duties.

Here are the before and after photos.

I actually did venture out quite reluctantly on Monday.  I was trying to get something at the dollar store.  I managed to get there, only to find it was completely closed.  I went a couple of blocks to the mall.  The grocery store and Wal-Mart were open, but most stores in the mall were closed, including a different dollar store, so that was quite frustrating!  

Here's a picture of some road clearing on Day 2, as well as the huge mountain of snow in a local parking lot.

By Tuesday evening, I figured that the city had dug out enough, so I set off on a trip over to the Riverdale Library.  It was closed, which was justso incredibly frustrating.  Later I found that the library website only sporadically indicated that ALL the branches were closed on Tuesday, even the ones on major streets which had been plowed.  I can't embed this video directly, unfortunately, but this is how I felt when I got to the library.  In some ways it was even worse, as it had been shoveled by that point, though the lights were out, but I still had to go to the front door only to find it was locked.

In another development, I went a second time (last week) to the Toronto Reference Library only to find that floors 4 and 5 (with all the art and literature) were going to be closed until some undetermined future date, but I could put in a request for items on the open shelves.  I was pretty put out by this news and didn't stick around, as I didn't have the time to wait.  This week, the Omicron sick-out has gotten to the point that they closed the 2nd and 3rd floor as well and they aren't retrieving items either, making the Reference Library essentially useless for anything but using the computers on the 1st floor and picking up holds (from other libraries*).  It's hard to overstate how pointless it is keep the Reference Library open under these conditions.  For the moment, I can still pick up holds at Robarts, but I expect this may be curtailed in the near future, so I'm trying to get those last few items of interest.

What a dreary winter this is turning out to be.  Unless something changes, namely the hospitalizations get even worse, gyms, restaurants and museums are supposed to reopen on Jan. 31.  I'm not sure it's the wisest course of action, but I'll probably start going out a bit more in February.  It's supposed to be quite cold for the next week or so, but hopefully no more blizzards!

* And it turns out my main local branch was closed for a day for Covid cleaning, so I couldn't get my holds there either!  It seems to be open now, but I may wait one more day anyway, as I can't fully rely on their on-line info any longer...

Friday, January 7, 2022

Nearly a Citizen

In early December, I finally heard back from IRCC about my citizenship application.  The email said that I had 21 days to take the citizenship test (virtually).  There were a number of strict conditions, including I had to be alone and if anyone passed through the background I might be disqualified.  So I decided it would just be safest taking the test on the weekend in the office but go into a place where the security guards don't usually cut through.  

While I wasn't too worried about the test itself, I did read the Study Guide a few times that week.  I then may have made a mistake by trying a practice test put together by one of the coaching companies.  It had a lot of very nit-picky questions, and I only got 14 right out of 20 (15 correct answers are needed to pass, and the test as a whole has to be finished in 30 minutes).  But of course, it is in their interest to make the test seem scary, so you'll pay for their services.

I found a good site run through the Richmond Public Library that lets you generate as many practice tests as you want.  The focus was much more on general concepts and the responsibilities of citizens and much less on dates and specific names.  That seemed a much better proxy for the real test.  I did much better, scoring between 18 and 20 each time.

I grabbed a bite to eat and then settled in to take the test.  It was indeed much closer to the Richmond Library version.  I sailed through it quickly (perhaps too quickly...) and submitted my answers.  I did quite well, though this is still just a provisional pass.  I guess they still review the video to make sure there was no cheating.  

After this, I just need to wait to take the oath during a Swearing-In ceremony.  Under normal circumstances, this should be 3-4 months, but of course these are far from normal circumstances.  Some clients have been waiting over a year!  I definitely hope that doesn't happen, as I would like to vote in the Provincial election in June.  If my ceremony is pushed back too far, then my son will turn 18 and theoretically might need to take his own test, but hopefully not as we have been in the queue for quite some time, and it is hardly our fault they have kept delaying things.  There is probably no point in worrying until late April.

Assuming all goes well, I'm contemplating getting a tattoo to mark the occasion.  (I know it's kind of stupid but if that's the extent of my midlife crisis, I think my wife will be relieved.)  I was just going to get a small maple leaf on my shoulder, but now I am wondering if I should go all out and do something like this (but replacing the yin-yang symbol with a maple leaf).  And probably only a black outline of a dragon with the only colour being the red maple leaf.

I spent more than a little time researching tattoos.  I didn't realize that you can't go swimming for at least a month after you get a tattoo.  That would be a drag, but not enough to stop me from getting one.  The real unknown is how much pain can I tolerate, but I think I can see it through if I actually decide to go ahead with this, which is no sure thing...  But first I need to get that call from Immigration Services! 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Bad Week

This past week has been incredibly difficult.  And I am aware that I am sheltered from the worst of things, as I can work from home.  I just don't like being told I must work from home...

Anyway, last Thursday I had an extremely unpleasant encounter in the foot court with a guy who was causing a huge disturbance, cursing out other customers and then the security guard.  I really had hoped that another guard or even the police would have tossed him out.  It didn't help that this particular restaurant is pretty slow even on a good day, and of course they were still mostly retraining staff, as they haven't even been allowed to be open that long.  With the current restrictions, they can technically stay open, but they may well give up again as the foot traffic is going to be cut way back (and potentially customers will just not want to bother because guards can tell them not to eat anywhere else in Union Station).  

I can't remember if it was Thursday or Friday that I learned a bunch of model runs were flawed and would have to be redone, but that cast quite a pall on things.

Basically, the only thing that went right last Thursday was that I finally got my booster shot.  I was a bit worried that either 1) my failed attempt to get an earlier appointment would have knocked out this appointment or 2) that they would not have received enough vaccine at the clinic.  However, things went pretty smoothly overall.  

I walked over to Spadina and caught the extremely pokey streetcar up to Bloor.  I  ran into BMV, though they were closing early, so I didn't have a lot of time to browse and didn't see what I was looking for.  Then I went to the Toronto Reference Library only to find out that the art and literature floors were both closed for some stupid reason, so that was another wasted trip.  As I said, last Thursday was a pretty bad day overall, though of course worse was still to come.

Friday I was working from home.  I certainly wasn't expecting a bad reaction from the booster, but there was no point in taking chances.  In the end, I just had mild soreness in my arm, and that was it.   (Just enough of a reaction to feel assured it was working...)   I actually had booked a swimming lane in the early afternoon but the lifeguard got sick and all the appointments were cancelled.  I could have tried Jimmie Simpson, but those lanes were all booked, and I didn't want to go over and get on the wait list and then not get in.  I didn't think my odds were great, given that others would have the same idea as me.  So that was frustrating.  The next available appointment at Matty Eckler was Monday evening, so I booked that.  

New Years' Eve was pretty low-key.  Then there was very little to do on Saturday, though I did go to the gym to do a somewhat shortened workout.  Fortunately, my arm didn't bother me too much, even when lifting weights.

The kids already knew they had a couple extra days of winter break, and I guess it was Monday that we got the news that Ontario was going back to Stage 2.  Not a total lockdown, but a lot of restrictions and the return of virtual learning for what should only be 2 weeks but will surely be longer.  For me personally, I am impacted the most by the gym (and swimming pool) closures, then the shutting down of concerts, plays and movie theatres -- for 3 weeks but will surely be longer... I had 2 additional concerts cancelled, as well as the Crows' Theatre show get postponed (but probably cancelled in reality).  At the moment, Coal Mine Theatre is putting on a brave face and saying they can still put on The Antipodes, but I don't believe it.*  Basically, every company that thought they were being smart by pushing things to Jan. 2022 has just gotten majorly screwed.  I'm so tired of all this, and the fact there seems to be no end in sight.  I can just feel a blanket of depression weighing me down.  (It's actually starting to impact my work in a way that I don't think it really did last year, though I may be overstating my resilience last year.  Looking back, I can certainly see weeks when I didn't feel that connected or productive at work.  But it still seems worse right now, and everything feels particularly pointless, which isn't how I want to start the new year, to be sure.)  And while it is a small thing in the grand scheme of things, even finding out that Robarts isn't going to restart allowing alumni to pick up books until Jan. 10 (rather than Jan. 3) seems like another kick in the teeth.  There's just a limit on how long e can put our lives on hold, and I've hit my limit.

Given that my chances of getting enough exercise are very limited, as I'm not even supposed to bike to work for the next several weeks, I made sure to go swimming Monday evening, then I went to the gym on Tuesday.  It was less crowded than I expected, honestly.  

So yeah, this has been a particularly crappy week with almost nothing to look forward to until February at the very soonest.  (They've even cancelled SFYS in Jan. while they try to regroup and see if it is worth carrying on.  Blah...)

 * They've bowed to reality and pushed The Antipodes to April and Detroit to June.  Hopefully that will be enough.  Village Players still thinks they'll perform in February, but I can't see it happening.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

A Few Thoughts on Current Reading

My reading has been somewhat spotty lately.  And now with the current restrictions, I won't be on the train to work for weeks (and more likely months...) and the gym is closed as well, so I can't even read while on the stationary bike.  So incredibly frustrating...

Anyway, in December I finally finished Joyce Cary's The Horses' Mouth, but I didn't care much for it.  I'm not quite sure how I'll feel about the movie, though I suppose Alec Guinness will do his damnedest to make him a lovable rogue.  I didn't realize until recently that Guinness really pushed for the movie to be made and even wrote the screenplay, adding a comic ending.

I also read 2/3rds of Selvon's Moses Trilogy.  These are not deep novels, and I've already noted the casual sexism of The Lonely Londoners gets even worse in Moses Ascending.  It wasn't until I dug into a bit more that I realized Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin is set entirely in the West Indies (which is the same for Selvon's first two novels), or rather I had simply forgotten this.  It isn't until The Emigrants that we get to London.  So I may go ahead and reread Castle, followed by Selvon's An Island is a World, followed by The Emigrants, and then I'll probably wrap up my quick spin through immigration literature with Selvon's Moses Migrating.  Ideally by this time, I'll finally have word back from Immigration Canada that I am finally done with the immigration process.  (I'll write about this process separately.) 

I'm still waiting on my copy of Crime and Punishment to arrive.  It should be here by now, but I'll wait another week or so before I put in a claim for a refund.  As it happens, I do have a copy but it got somewhat water damaged on the trip to Ottawa last summer.  When I do make my way though that, I'll probably reread Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday and then tackle Arlt's The Seven Madmen.  I haven't decided what should follow, but as far as the "high literary" through line, I've been meaning to read Conrad's The Secret Agent, Celine and Beckett's 3 Novels, and who knows, perhaps reread O'Brien's he Third Policeman.  Those are all as worthy as anything else, and there are generally on the short side, as is everything I've discussed so far with the exception of Crime and Punishment.

I am trying to stick with my resolution to stop reading books that I don't like, though I did violate this principle with The Horse's Mouth.  On the other hand, I was so turned off by Ballard's Concrete Island and the fact that the narrator immediately makes his own (extremely implausible) situation worse that I gave up in the middle of Chapter 3.  I've read a bit of Ballard here and there, and for sure he's an acquired taste and not really what I am interested in right now.  That said, so far The Day of Creation is a bit easier to swallow -- more like a Herzog film and less like a weird Cronenberg fable.

One quick read was Tim O'Brien's July, July which is about he happenings at a 31st year college reunion.  The shadow of The Big Chill hangs very heavy over this novel, and it doesn't quite do enough to justify its existence, but it was better than a lot of things I read in November and December. 

One promising book that I picked up recently is Jean Giono's The Open Road, in a new English translation just published by NYRB.  It details a road trip through the south of France by two characters who are supposed to be opposite types, though it isn't exactly a buddy film or the Odd Couple or anything like that.  Anyway, I've just started it and am enjoying it so far, though I am wondering 1) whether it is worth trying to read it in French more or less simultaneously (as it written in a fairly plain style) and 2) whether I should actually read Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men first, as that was a bit on an inspiration for Giono, along with Whitman's Leaves of Grass.  The Steinbeck is quite short and it is one of his short novels I've never read, incredibly enough, so probably I should start there.

Friday, December 31, 2021

Movies to Watch

So very, very many movies to watch with my son, and perhaps we only have 8 months left if he indeed heads off to Ottawa for university.

I've listed the really early comedies here.

Some of the other stone-cold classics left to see are
Citizen Kane
The Apartment
Bringing Up Baby 
His Girl Friday (I like The Front Page too, but hard to top Cary Grant)

In terms of film noir (and/or Bogart pictures), the most important remaining are:
Touch of Evil
Double Indemnity
Anatomy of a Murder
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Dark Passage 

Kurosawa!  There are so many great films, but these are probably the most important as a general starting point:
The Seven Samurai
High and Low
The Bad Sleep Well (after I take him to see Hamlet at Stratford!) 

In terms of other Japanese films, it's hard to say. Probably Ozu's Good Morning and Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs.  Perhaps Mizoguchi's Ugetsu and Street of Shame.  Most likely I will catch up on the other Mizoguchi and Ozu on my own after he leaves the nest.

Not much more Fellini, as I don't think he'd have the patience to sit through La Dolce Vita. Probably just Juliet of the Spirits and Amarcord.


I don't think he's really seen many of these at all.  There are a few I don't care for at all.  But if I was to narrow it down to the truly essential it would be:
Strangers on a Train
Rear Window
North by Northwest
Charade (Cary Grant sort of spoofing his own image)
High Anxiety (probably won't get to this Mel Brooks spoof but you never know)

I don't even known where to start with French film, even if only restricting myself to the French New Wave.  We did get through all the Tati films, the Etaix box set and a couple of Truffaut films, but I don't think he'd really like much of Godard, and I'm not sure he's ready for Rohmer.  Maybe just:
Renoir Rules of the Game
Clair Le Million
Godard Breathless
Clouzot The Wages of Fear
Clouzot Diabolique
Demy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
Varda Cleo from 5 to 7*

Random comedies:
The Horse's Mouth  
Annie Hall
Blazing Saddles
Young Frankenstein
Spaceballs ?
The Breakfast Club
High Fidelity
After Hours
After Life
The Truman Show
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Random Sci-fi:
Blade Runner
Blade Runner 2049
The Shape of Water
The Fifth Element 
Close Encounters of the Third Kind 
Men in Black
Twelve Monkeys**
Solaris ?

I'm not at all sure of watching more Satyajit Ray, though he did like The Hero.  I'm tempted to see if we can squeeze in the Calcutta Trilogy:
Pratidwandi (The Adversary) 
Seemabaddha (Company Limited) 
Jana Aranya (The Middleman) 

But I expect ultimately I'll watch these films on my own.

I don't think we'll get through every single film here, and I'll be hard pressed not to add more as I think of them, but this is a good starting point in world cinema, leaving aside some of the darker directors like Fassbinder, Strindberg and even Herzog.  If we had all the time in the world, I would probably add KieĊ›lowski's The Dekalogue and the Three Colors Trilogy.

The reality is that on many weekends, he watches a btt too much sports, and then doesn't have time for a movie.  We've actually reached the end of The IT Crowd with just the "Season 5" special left.  We're at the halfway mark with Sling & Arrows, but those episodes are longer and harder to fit in.  We'll have to find something shorter for most evenings, most likely Red Dwarf, but it could be Futurama as well.


* It's been surprisingly hard for me to watch Cleo in a proper theatre.  I was just a day off from being able to watch this in Pittsburgh, but it was not to be.  C'est domage!

** Maybe just a bit too on the nose for the immediate future.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Tempting Fate? (Culture in 2022)

Planning for anything more than a day or two in advance definitely feels a lot like Charlie Brown winding up to kick the football for realz this time.  I'm almost certain that anything in Jan. or Feb. will be cancelled, with a small chance that this latest wave will be over by March or April (with almost everyone having caught and recovered from Covid), but who really knows.

At any rate, I mentioned that Coal Mine Theatre is doing Baker's The Antipodes and I'd probably see that in very early February and then D'Amour's Detroit in April.  I've seen Detroit.  I wouldn't mind seeing it again, but I mostly subscribed to Coal Mine this season in order to help keep them afloat.

Also, Crow's Theatre is doing Bengal Tiger in Jan.  Then I plan on seeing Gloria in March and George F. Walker's Orphans for the Czar in April.

I don't know if they'll get knocked out or not, but the Bloor West Village Players are putting on something called The Impossibility of Now in late Jan./early Feb.  Their production of Good People was the last live theatre I saw before the pandemic restrictions came down hard.  I don't know if it would be a good omen or just tempting fate to see another of their shows right as things seem to be winding down yet again.

I haven't been too interested in Theatre Passe Muraille in a while (or Theatre Centre for that matter), but I might check out their reworking of Iphigenia in Tauris in January.  Our Place, a play about the struggles of undocumented Caribbean women trying to get their papers in Canada, plays in late March.  This actually resonates with me, in part because I have been reading Selvon on folks from the West Indies living in London (and will likely be reading Lamming again shortly), but also because I have a half-finished script about my fictionalized struggles with an immigration officer (if I had tried to overstay my school visa in the 90s).  I don't know if I ever will finish this, but there are days I think I shall, but I need to figure out a different ending.

Factory Theatre has two more on-line productions in their season which will almost certainly be going ahead, and I have to decide if I want to check them out or not.  And two in-person productions that are at risk.  I was a bit more open to the dramedy, Among Men, about Al Purdy and Milton Acorn, but now am leaning against going.  I'll see how I feel closer to the time.  I think I will try to make it to Wildfire in June, however.

There is nothing I want to see at either Canadian Stage or Tarragon.  There isn't much I want to see at Soulpepper, which is definitely a shame.  I just am not enamoured of their new direction.  I do have a ticket to see The Ex-Boyfriend Yard Sale (fingers crossed it isn't cancelled yet again), and I'll likely see King Lear in the fall, but I'll pass on Queen Goneril.  I saw a staged reading of it a few months back and I left at intermission, mostly because it was recycling Lear in not very interesting ways (at least not to me) and it was way too long.

It doesn't appear that Nightwood is doing anything in person in 2022, and at the moment they are dealing with the loss of their studio.  Video Cabaret, which does have its own space, seems to have gone completely dormant.  Shakespeare Bash'd is pretty much only doing online acting classes with no real plans in terms of putting on live theatre.  So far there is no word on what Driftwood is doing this summer, but the signs don't look great.  Red Sandcastle is running a few things, but mostly creepy pieces by Eldritch Theatre that don't grab me all that much.  I'll try to keep an eye out to see if anything else crops up there.

Somehow I completely missed Alumnae Theatre doing an odd hybrid performance of Tremblay's Albertine in Five Times (with 2 actors in person and 4 on Zoom) back in November.  I don't think it got any press at all.  Maybe that is just as well, as this doesn't sound anywhere near as good as the production I saw at UT four or five years back.  Anyway, if the fates allow, Alumnae will be doing Ruhl's In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) in April, and I'll try to make that.

Art museums are generally not hit quite as hard, but sometimes their exhibits are derailed.  I did like Robert Houle's Red is Beautiful at the AGO and I'll probably see it again before it departs in mid April.  The next round of exhibitions at the Power Plant open on Jan. 29, and I should make it over there in Feb. or March at the latest.  That actually reminds me that the Albright-Knox in Buffalo is supposedly reopening in 2022 after a very long closure to remodel and expand the main museum campus.  Very hard to know what the border crossing rules will be in mid to late 2022, but this is something I would consider if the latest (and last?) Covid wave has finally crested.

I haven't really been keeping up on the rock groups coming through in part because I think they'll all decide it isn't worth trying to cross the border and then have the rules change on them.  That said, the Cowboy Junkies are playing Massey Hall on April 7, and I might try to see that (if tickets are even still available at 50% capacity).  Supposedly New Order and Pet Shop Boys are coming through in the summer, and I'd like to see them.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers are also supposed to be coming through, but I have my doubts.  While their December shows were mostly cancelled, for the time being Barenaked Ladies still are selling tickets to their July show out at Budweiser Stage.  I think Toad the Wet Sprocket was going to open for them on this tour, so we shall see.  I will certainly try to make it if the show goes on.  

I should be able to get out to Stratford in the early summer to check out Hamlet.  My biggest concern is whether the Stratford bus is running, and just how I feel about taking that.  Given that I plan on taking my son, maybe I can justify renting a car again.  I'm not so sure there is anything else I would see there, though I'd probably watch Hamlet 9-11 if it transfers to Toronto at some point.  It's a bit more likely that they'll transfer Moliere's The Miser (as they transferred Tartuffe to Soulpepper years ago).  While I hated Tartuffe, I vaguely remember thinking The Miser was better.  Late in the summer or even early fall, I do think I'll head down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see August Wilson's The Gem of the Ocean at Shaw.  I'll pass on the rest of their shows, however.

I think that's all I need to cover for now.  I'm kind of getting myself a bit depressed, listing all these things that are probably going to be snatched away again at the last minute.  Frigging Covid...

Really Old Movies

I finally broke down and watched some Harold Lloyd shorts (Never Weaken and Haunted Spooks) last night.  I didn't find either of them completely hilarious but they had their moments.  It is wild, knowing that some of these are literally 100 years old.  I think I'm pretty well covered in terms of mid-career Chaplin, and eventually I'll get around to his last few films, i.e. the talkies.*  But I thought I would track some other early stars that I am just not actually that familiar with.  I'll list them in descending order of interest (to me), and I expect that the first two or three in each group, I'll try to watch with my son, while I'll watch the others on my own on evenings he has too much homework or the Bulls or Bears are playing or what have you.

Buster Keaton:
The General  
Sherlock, Jr. 
Seven Chances 
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
The Paleface (Not what I was expecting and so terribly cringe-worthy)
Our Hospitality 
The Navigator
Go West** 
The Saphead (had to stop midway through; surely Keaton's worst feature)
Three Ages

Harold Lloyd:
Safety Last 
Why Worry?
Girl Shy 
The Freshman
Number Please
The Cat's-Paw
The Milky Way

W.C. Fields:
My Little Chickadee
The Bank Dick
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
It's a Gift
You Can't Cheat an Honest Man

(Remaining) Marx Brothers:
A Day at the Races 
Room Service
At the Circus
Go West
The Big Store

I'll check them off as I get around to them.  Quite a few of them are longer than I would expect (sometimes pushing 90 minutes!), but some are shorter, which is certainly appealing to me right now when I feel so pressed for time.

* In terms of early Chaplin, ages and ages ago I watched The Unknown Chaplin (probably on HBO), which was very cool, since it went into some detail on how he constructed some of his best gags and stunts.  It looks like this might still be available in the UK, and maybe I will go ahead and plump for it.  I probably should go ahead and watch The Kid, which is essentially feature-length, and I just put a copy on hold through the library.  It appears that most of the other First National shorts are on a DVD called Chaplin Revue from Artificial Eye, but it is a little bit of a crap shoot to be honest.  BFI has a pretty good collection of all the Mutual comedies (either in DVD or Blu-Ray).  I can probably live without the Keystone or Essanay shorts to be honest.

** This seems to be the only Keaton feature I don't have on one set or another.  Fortunately, Robarts does have a copy, so I should be able to borrow that in early January.