Monday, August 19, 2019

Lost Weekend

It wasn't lost so much (getting so blitzed that I don't recall anything) as I just had quite a bit to do and this squeezed all my other plans out.  This was particularly true for Sunday, whereas Saturday more or less went off as originally planned.

Friday evening, I had some folks from work over for a casual BBQ.  The weather was supposed to be ok (certainly compared to the previous year where my event was rained out).  It did sprinkle for about 10 minutes as I was setting up the grill, but fortunately it passed quickly.  In the end, only about 5 people showed up, so I had too much food left over (particularly as one of them brought chicken to throw on the grill and this took ages to cook).  It didn't go quite as planned, but it was still a reasonably fun time.  Perhaps next year, I'll book my slot a bit earlier and more people will plan around my BBQ.  It's a hard thing, since I probably don't want more than 10 people, but I had to cast a pretty wide net just to get 5...  Anyway, this Friday there is another event (at my previous manager's place) that has been in the works (and Outlook calendars) a bit longer, so more people will make it, and it is more of an indoor potluck, so it won't matter too much if it rains.

Sat. I got up fairly early and got myself ready to take the Via train to Ottawa.  I probably should have pushed through and left at 6:30, but I just wasn't quite ready.  I ended up leaving at 7 am and got pretty soaked.  I had enough time to change at Union Station and then get on the train.  It was supposed to get in at 1:15 or so, though it wasn't until 2 pm that we actually left the train.  There is still quite a bit of construction around Kingston, and then the Kingston-Ottawa leg seems to be down to a single track, so trains have to pull over onto a siding to let the other train go.  So frustrating.  Amtrak's on-time performance isn't much better (outside the Northeast corridor and the Chicago-Milwaukee run), but somehow it still seems run a bit better.

I was reasonably well prepared for the delays, though I didn't have enough food with me (I couldn't really bring a tub of left-over potato salad along...).  I had spent a fair bit of time updating an old iPod mini.  I probably hadn't used it in a couple of years, but the battery was still about 25%!  Anyway, I wanted to add both of Glenn Gould's recordings of the Goldberg Variations, since this played a fairly big role in Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which I had selected for my on-board reading.  I also added Tafelmusik's recording of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons and Handel's Water Music.  In the end, I didn't get around to the Vivaldi, but I did make it through the 1955 Goldberg a couple of times and the 1981 recording once, along with the Handel, most of Beethoven's violin sonatas, some jazz and a bit of rock music I've been listening to recently.  The iPod still is about 50% filled with New Wave music, but it's probably a bit more balanced now.  After the trip, I removed the 1981 Goldberg as it didn't speak to me quite as much, and I wanted to make room for U2 and David Bowie.

At any rate, I can report back that the iPod held up well on the trip (maybe better than me) and the battery still had a tiny bit of life as we pulled into Union Station.  That's right, I actually did the round trip in one day for pretty close to 9 hours on the train, including the various delays (the return trip was delayed roughly 25 minutes).  I did read the entire book on the train.  Perhaps I should have left just a bit (maybe the coda) for the TTC journey home (it was far too late to justify biking home...).  It's been quite a while since I have done that much concentrated reading on a train, though I must have read something last year when I went from Ottawa to Montreal and then on to Quebec City on the train.  Not sure what that would have been, however.  I might have finished up Sun of a Distant Land, but I would have wanted something longer.  When I was much younger, I did the Chicago-New York run a few times on the train and often got through a couple of books.  Given that I did read the while thing in one pretty large gulp, I'm still sorting through what I thought about it, but I'll write a review fairly soon (certainly before I have to take it back to the library at any rate).

I was making this trip to get over to the National Gallery to see the Gauguin portrait exhibit.  After I started, I was worried that it was only a couple of rooms of self-portraits (and hardly worth my while), but then it settled down with several more rooms, including a few of his famous paintings from Tahiti.

Paul Gauguin, Christ on the Mount of Olives,1889

Paul Gauguin, Melancholic (Faaturuma), 1891

I was pretty hungry after getting through the exhibit, but it was late by this point (3 pm) and the little cafeteria was shutting down, so I just grabbed some fruit salad.  I had planned to meet a friend who lives in Ottawa at 4:30, so I had 90 minutes to get through the main galleries.  Fortunately, I do go about once a year and most of the permanent collection isn't changed up that much, aside from the contemporary galleries.  It's also true that I don't really think the pre-1850 European art they have is all that great, so I can just dash through those galleries.  I did note that the Chagall piece that caused all the fuss last year is not up on the walls any longer, which is a shame, as it is nicer than the other Chagall, which is still up on the wall.  (Below is the painting that the National Gallery foolishly tried to sell off to get the funds for a particularly ugly religious painting of St. Jerome by Jacques-Louis David.)

Marc Chagall, The Eiffel Tower, 1929

I came very close to buying a jigsaw puzzle of Stuart Davis's The Mellow Pad in the gift shop, though I have to admit, I am just not really enjoying doing the Monet puzzle that I have started.  I think it's a combination of my interests have changed and just not having the space to do the puzzle properly and spread out the pieces.  I'm guessing that between this Monet and a Van Gogh puzzle that I never finished, I may well be puzzled out.  But who knows.  I may change my mind on my next visit.

I met my friend and we went to a cafe, where I wolfed down a panini.  We chatted about a lot of things, including the miserable state of the world and how it will be so much worse in another 15 years...  He also told me that the LRT still hadn't opened (it was supposed to open a few days before).  There is a Tremblay stop which is right near the Via rail station, so hopefully I can take that on my next visit.  I did see them testing the trains, but didn't have a chance to get my camera out in time.  I grabbed a bit more food for the return journey, and he dropped me off at the train station, where I had a fairly uneventful but long ride home.  It was sort of amusing and sort of annoying that due to the delay, I ended up catching the subway just as huge numbers of Kiss fans emptied out of their concert and filled the train.  Being Canadians, they were well-behaved, however.

Sunday I slept in relatively late, but I guess I was finally moving by 9:30.  I had had a few things on the agenda, including going to the gym and then stopping by Robarts Library and then Union Station to retrieve my bike.  However, the main thing I had planned was to replace this overhead light/ceiling fan in the kitchen.  In the end, it took about 3 hours just to remove.  I came very, very close to smashing the glass bulb, since that was stuck on (basically the main reason I had to replace the thing in the first place). 

The nadir

The old fan is finally down!

Then I had to make two trips to Home Depot - the first to pick up wire cutters, since I couldn't remove the safety anchor any other way and then at the end of the installation to pick up new light bulbs.  I have some 40 watt bulbs that should work fine, but the instructions claim that anything over 35 is unsafe and will result in the shutting down of the overhead light!  Of course, then the only bulbs are these new "dimmable" LED lights that flicker like crazy when you try to dim them.  Basically, this is why I hate the environmental regulations that are trying to phase out all the old light bulbs without making sure that 1) the replacements really are as good (and they just aren't), 2) there is a way to dispose of the new fluorescent bulbs (again, nope) and 3) there is an actual effort to make sure that the new lighting systems work with the new bulbs.  The instructions of the new fan basically say outright that the dimming feature only works with standard bulbs, so why are they even selling this in the first place?  Shouldn't it be illegal?  I don't care quite enough to take this down and ask for a replacement, but I am severely pissed off.  In the end, I managed to get the new light/ceiling fan up right around 6 pm, so several hours more than I had bargained for, and then I still had to make the run for the new light bulbs, as I just mentioned.  I was too tired and sore to go to the gym (my arms had been over my head for hours), and Robarts was closed by that point.  The whole day was quite horrible, and I'm glad it's over.  I suppose I will feel some accomplishment later on now that I have a working kitchen light, but it certainly shouldn't have been nearly this hard.


So that was my lost weekend.  I'm exhausted just rereading everything I got up to.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

(Henry) Needs a New Pair of Shoes

Appropriately enough, since I named-checked The Lowest of the Lowest in the last post, I had a pair of shoes fall apart on me and I had to replace them pronto.  I believe I've seen TLOTL play the song live twice.  It's not my very favourite song, but it is up there, and it is certainly the song I know best from its inclusion on a Q101 sampler from way back in the day.  Here's a relatively recent performance (with the current lineup, I believe), though I wasn't at this Lee's Palace gig.

Anyway, this is how the shoe peeled apart.

So obviously I needed some replacement shoes.  I stopped by Winner's at lunch but didn't like what they had on offer.  On the way home, I stopped by a different Winner's and found some black tennis shoes that are pretty similar to this pair.  I'm not in love with them, but they'll do.

As it happens, this is the change room at Regent Park Aquatic Centre.  I was trying out a new pair of goggles, but they leaked water like crazy, so I had to stop after one lap.  So incredibly frustrating.  In any event, I returned the new pair and more or less sulked for the rest of the evening.  It just doesn't seem like I will be doing any swimming any time soon.  I really need to track down my old goggles.  Hopefully they are hiding in the basement somewhere.

Musical Interlude - Danforth Music Hall @ 100

I had no idea that Danforth Music Hall had been around for 100 years.  Of course it was more of a vaudeville & movie house in the early days.  This article discusses a bit about its legacy.  It sounds like it was still operating in the early 90s, though I wouldn't have considered coming out that far.  Then there were some dark days in the early 2000s when it came close to going under, but it's been under new management since 2014 and is in better shape than ever.

I've been to see The Lowest of the Low twice, Psychedelic Furs and the Irish comedian Dylan Moran.  It appears there is a bit of a birthday celebration this weekend, and The New Pornographers are playing.  There are still some tickets, but I can't actually make it unfortunately.

I think I will pass on Adam Ant as the tickets are a bit steep for a nostalgic act, but I will check out Tinariwen in late September.  I don't always remember to check their listings, but it's definitely a convenient place to go see a show.  Hopefully it will be around for at least another 50 years, before inevitably being replaced by a condo tower...

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

13th Canadian Challenge sign-up

Anyone who has been reading the blog for a while knows that I still review Canadian books on a routine basis.  While I certainly comment on other books I have been reading, I don't typically write out full-blown reviews of them.  It's fairly likely that I wouldn't have kept up with the blogging without the structure of the Canadian Challenge to provide a bit of a skeleton (and a raison d'etre) for the blog.

I haven't been quite as good this year as in year's past.  My first review was actually supposed to be the last review for the 12th Challenge, but I got shut out in the last minute or two of June.

At any rate, the host of the Challenge itself has switched, and sign-up information is here.  There's still plenty of time (9.5 months to read 13 books), so do check it out if interested.  (There are occasional prizes for posting enough reviews as well as for fulfilling the challenge.  Indeed, I won some poetry books from Brick Books during the 12th Challenge.)  There do seem to be a few bugs to work out with the linking software, but I think I've more or less figured out how to handle it.  I shouldn't have too much trouble getting to 13 this time around.  I'll probably get through two more books in August.  I'll definitely be reading more short stories by Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant.

I see that I didn't really get through too many of the books on this list, with the main exception being the two Russell Smith novels, so I'll probably start there.  I'm almost certain to get to Sandra Beck and Basic Black with Pearls, but I do need to decide fairly soon if this is the year I tackle Atwood's dystopian trilogy, starting with Onyx and Crake.  It might be.  I'd rather read that than reread A Handmaid's Tale and the sequel, The Testaments, which is really too depressing for me at the moment, given the state of the world.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Another week gone...

I am getting so far behind on the blog it isn't funny.  Indeed, there are times that maintaining the blog, to the limited extent that I do, gets to be more of a drag than anything.  In any event, I'll fill in a few of the more important things from the past weekend, and then perhaps add a second post covering other things on my mind.

Sat. was mostly a day of chores.  I hadn't felt up to going to the gym on Friday, so I went fairly early on Sat.  I then ran up to Danforth to drop things off at the library and to pick up some holds.  I really wanted to get there before noon, since I didn't want to deal with the Taste of Danforth.  I went over to Circus Books and asked about selling used books.  They seemed somewhat receptive to the idea that I bring Musil's The Man Without Qualities by and they'll take a look.  Perhaps if it hadn't been for the Taste I would have run back right then, but it will just have to wait.  Later in the afternoon, I did laundry and grabbed the groceries.  Since the rest of the family is travelling to Chicago, I'll pretty much be on my own for meals, so I didn't have to bring a lot back, which was fine with me.  I did just a bit of weeding and staked the beans growing the backyard.  While I don't think I'll be able to eat anything from the garden (in the unlikely event something grows, the raccoons will get it), it's an interesting experiment.

Sunday I went over to Regent Park Aquatic Centre.  Unfortunately, I couldn't locate my swim goggles.  I borrowed a pair from my son, though they didn't fit well.  I pulled the straps tight to try keep water from leaking in, and the strap broke!  I only managed to swim half a lap and then had to swim back basically with my eyes closed!  They don't even sell goggles here, which seems kind of odd.  So that was a huge bummer, since I've wanted to try to add a bit more exercise into my routine.  When I got to work, I took a look at Sports Chek, but they basically didn't have anything other than Raptors gear.  I'm not going to bother going into that store again...

I got some work done, and then around 4:30 I set out for Ontario Place.  I've been to Exhibition Place for the CNE, though not very often, but this was the first time I went over to Ontario Place.  I have to agree it is pretty run down.  I actually had biked over, and finally found a place to lock up my bike. The path to get there isn't great (far too narrow and no separation from walkers/joggers).

I was there a bit early and checked out the Night Market.  It was a little classier than the one in Richmond (no stalls selling cell phone cases or socks), so mostly food stalls and less fried food overall.  That said, the food was way overpriced, and I settled for just having roast corn and a cannoli filled with Filipino flavouring.

Then I went over to the Budwiser stage to see the show.  I was there to see Beck and Spoon was opening for them.  Actually, there were four bands on the line-up!  Sunflower Bean was ok, but not particularly memorable.  I liked Spoon a lot, though I wish they had another 10-15 minutes, as their set was just too short.*  About every third show they sing "Can I Sit Next to You?" instead of "Hot Thoughts."  I was hoping this would have been one of those nights, but it was not to be.  Sad...

While the crowd was really into Cage the Elephant, I didn't care for them at all.  I thought they tried way too hard (they had fire on stage, lasers, smoke machines).  The lead singer seemed to be trying to channel Mick Jagger.  I definitely would have preferred it if they had switched places with Spoon.  I gave up listening after a while and worked on a short playlet for September's Sing-for-Your-Supper.

I should probably mention that in terms of other disappointments, I had brought along a new SF road adventure (FKA USA) and I ended up getting about halfway through the book when I finally decided to drop it due to a combination of the very annoying footnotes and the endless "How can you top this?" impossible situations that the author put his characters through.  I decided it was basically a cynical mash-up of The Wizard of Oz, McCarthy's The Road, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Ready, Player One.  It definitely reads as if one eye was on the movie rights, and indeed, it has already been optioned... While I had quite a few issues with Ready, Player One, that at least felt like it was written by someone who understood and loved video games/puzzle games/quests. This feels like it was written by someone with only the most cursory understanding of or appreciation for dystopian SF as a genre.

Anyway, Beck's set was great, if a bit too short.  He seems quite re-energized on this tour after a few somewhat down years.  The music was surprisingly loud, and if anything, the vocals probably should have been a bit higher in the mix.  While Beck has been kicking off every show with "Loser," he did mix things up a bit this time, moving "Devil's Haircut" and "The New Pollution" towards the end of the show.  I definitely appreciated the live version of "Saw Lightning."  The show ended just a bit before 11.  I had some trouble finding my way back to Union Station, but finally made it.  I dropped my bike off, and then found out that there was a silly shuttle bus to King Station (I was probably only one more block away at that point), though it could have been worse.  There was a fatality on Lakeshore West, snarling GO Trains for hours.  However, I was not pleased to find out that even though I didn't get to Pape until after midnight the bus service still hadn't been restored from the Taste disruption, so I had to walk the rest of the way home.  So that was my not very restful weekend...

* I also would have liked to hear "Do I Have to Talk You Into It."  This video is a fairly good representation of what the show could have been if they had had another 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Civic Holiday Too Short

While my daughter was significantly put out by the early August Civic holiday, as she wanted to go to the library, I enjoyed my time off.  I didn't work particularly hard this weekend, leaving a couple things aside that I could have tackled but decided to put on hold.

I did some weeding and watering of the plants in the yard.  While I don't think they will actually yield any vegetables, I did plant some carrots, beans and cucumbers a few weeks back.  I guess the raccoons do keep the rabbits away, but raccoons are also pretty disruptive (and personally I'd rather have rabbits).  I caught one raccoon sniffing around the discarded bean seed package.  I'll try to remember to stake the surviving beans and cucumbers pretty soon.

I did manage to clean out a small space in the study to do a jigsaw puzzle.  It's far from ideal, as I don't have enough space to spread out all the pieces.  I did manage to turn up all but one of the edge pieces, and I am currently working on the white/light areas.  Then I'll switch to the blue and green areas.  I have to admit this isn't as relaxing or fun as it used to be (I used to be a pretty good puzzler, though not world class or anything).

I'll see if I can make more progress over the next week or so, but I think more than anything I wanted to reclaim that space to 1) force me to go through a bunch of CDs to take to the second-hand shops and 2) make space for a possible litter box.  I've been thinking more and more seriously about getting a cat, and I think I'll do it this fall.  It's still to be negotiated with my wife, however.

I read a fair bit over the long weekend, including while sitting out on the lower deck, which was nice, though this triggered a major allergic reaction Tuesday morning.  I went to the gym a couple of times and did a bit of shopping for the kids on Monday (as most stores actually were open).  It was a poor second-best to actually being on vacation (summer vacation was cancelled this year for a lot of reasons I don't want to go into), but it was a nice change of routine.

Monday, August 5, 2019

13th Canadian Challenge - 2nd Review - To Me You Seem Giant

This book, To Me You Seem Giant by Greg Rhyno, should probably come with trigger warnings for anyone who was a high school teacher, particularly a largely ineffective/ineffectual high school teacher.  As will be explained in short order, you actually get it from both sides, since our narrator, Peter, is a fairly hapless high school senior, who then returns after 10 years to become a supply teacher (the Canadian term for substitute teacher) at his old high school!  While this may seem too spoilery, this fact is splashed on the back cover.  Also, the chapters alternate (A-sides and B-sides) between these two time frames, so it isn't long at all before the reader finds out what Peter is up to (and obviously he is not a rock star).  However, Rhyno does sort of take his time in revealing a few key events in Peter's life, such as why and how the band broke up, how he lost his first serious girlfriend and how a car accident impacted quite a few lives in Thunder Bay.

There are perhaps a few inconsistencies, though going into them will involve some minor SPOILERS...

Minor SPOILERS ahead

There is a point at which Peter and another supply teacher are up for permanent postings at William Lyon Mackenzie King High School (mascot the Lyons), but then an old-timer (who had a severe mental breakdown ten years ago) scoops up one of the coveted positions.  While I suppose this might happen (particularly given the interference teaching unions run against weeding out incompetent teachers), the vice principal and others on the hiring committee seem quite jazzed to get the vet back in the saddle.  It is a bit hard to believe that they don't think history will repeat itself.

Also, there is a high school thug who gives Peter a fairly severe beating, and yet no one does anything about it.  I could basically buy this in the 1970s or early 80s, but it's hard to believe this "Boys will be boys" stuff would still fly in the 90s, even in Thunder Bay.  (Particularly as Peter does live with his basically working class parents, who would be expected to pay some sort of attention.)  I guess the guy does play on the school hockey team, but even so.  Later in the book, the thug causes a car accident, and this time the book is thrown at him, so the hockey hero thing apparently no longer cuts any ice.  This doesn't fatally undercut the novel, but it did seem inconsistent.

While there are certainly a fair number of illegal substances consumed (and teenage sex comes up), the high school chapters definitely feel like a somewhat darker version of A Christmas Story, though young Peter mostly wants a recording contract and not a Red Ryder rifle.  It's a little hard to tell what the older Peter wants, though he seems to have his eyes on an attractive surplus teacher when he isn't making a pass at a video store clerk (who turns out to be an AWOL student from his civics class!) and avoiding getting entangled with a colleague who was once his French teacher.  I will say that this book does not do much for the image of Thunder Bay, given that the only things worth doing are going clubbing or to concerts or hooking up.  Indeed, there's a bit of a running joke that this guy from Sudbury is cool just because he's from the big city...

It's perhaps telling that while The Tragically Hip are name-checked (and they were pretty inescapable in the 90s in Canada), most of the groups that Peter interacts with and focuses on emulating are from smaller cities (Sloan, The Killjoys and Eric's Trip).  Truth be told, The Hip formed in Kingston, though most (all?) of the members eventually relocated to Toronto and they became a bit of a Toronto institution.  Interestingly, The Lowest of the Low (a quintessential Toronto band) are name-checked in a chapter title, but not mentioned in the text itself.  

A lot of the novel involves friendships and how these may change as people get older (and some people drop away while others come back).  Peter has a quite tight friendship with Deacon and his wife, Ruth, who was another musician in a competing band and is now a teacher at Mackenzie King.  Spending time with them seems to make his time in Thunder Bay more or less bearable.  Interestingly, you don't actually see Peter interacting all that much with his parents in the early or later chapters.  I think it's fair to say that most of the adult figures let young Peter down in one way or another, and a few continue to make trouble for him, even after his return as a supply teacher.  It's also fair to say that adults (and young adults) are clearly portrayed as having their own issues.  While they may be "authority figures," they are quite flawed.  (This certainly rings true to my own experience, where only a few teachers in the school where I worked were particularly helpful to the students and the administration was singularly terrible.)

I was debating putting a few of my stories from the teaching trenches into this post, but decided this wasn't really the time.  Nonetheless, I can definitely relate to having to chaperone a school dance in my day (just as Peter does), though I didn't have a drunk student vomit on me fortunately.  Peter just avoids getting entangled with a student through dumb luck, and that wasn't an issue for me (even though I was much closer to the students' ages -- 21 when I started compared to 28 for Peter).  One amusing fact is that we still ran off our pop quizzes on a mimeograph machine, long after these were supposed to be sidelined (due to the chemicals being carcinogenic), and I believe the young Peter gets mimeo'ed bulletins from his teachers, though these seem to have finally been taken out of service at Mackenzie King by the 2000s when Peter returned.

This novel will definitely appeal to readers who followed the Canadian indie music scene in the 90s and 2000s.  It might appeal to readers from smaller towns, though it might cut too close to the bone at times.  Finally, it may speak to people who chased a dream, gave it a shot but didn't make it, and then finally retreated to plan B, though it may simply say to them "Life is unfair" or "Make sure to pick a safety school"...