“Mostly Nearly Authentic”

The real thing; NOT taken from tonight's performance.

Well, this evening L and I went to see the Balinese performance and were both immensely disappointed. For starters, it turns out the listing for the show was quite misleading as it was not at all an authentic affair, which came as a huge disappointment and is very strange, considering the event was held at the museum of fine arts, from which one would expect a certain level of excellence. Out of 20 musician, only one was a confirmed Balinese, and maybe one other was (presumably) Indonesian, while all the others were very much local white-as-chalk French Canadian. There were 4 dancers, three of which were from some Asian descent and reasonably good (one had the most amazing hand gestures), while the other a very very tall, very blue-eyed, blonde French woman. The acoustics were not at all right for that kind of music, which sounded like a bunch of loud noise made by countless out of synch percussion instruments, with plenty of cymbals and clanging. When the French dancer came out and did a solo dance in the full Balinese attire, the whole thing just seemed completely incongruous. She was much too tall and all the facial and eye expressions she made just seemed totally ridiculous. The worst part was that she seemed to do a pretty good job of the actual dancing, but it just didn’t come off right at all. Then, to top it all off, one of the troupe’s very nervous members gave not one, but TWO very long, very boring, very inept speeches, mostly in French, which added nothing whatsoever to the performance. He asked the audience to stay after the last dance as the group had apparently prepared “a surprise” for us, and already at that point, I could tell most of the audience wanted to leave, and we were only half an hour into the hour-long affair! And a very long hour it was too. At least the costumes looked good. A couple next to me did leave right before the “surprise” was sprung on us. In one of the two speeches, the so-called presenter actually said that “this show is mostly nearly an authentic Balinese experience”, which made me groan with discouragement. In other words, a major dud. L was especially upset because she felt responsible, since she was the one who had picked out this show for us, but as I said to her, how were we to know we would have this mockery foisted upon us? At least I got to spend some time with my new friend. That was the best part really, along with a simple dinner we had afterward at the Holt Renfrew café. I still hear the clanging noises in my head and just might have nightmares about it. *Big Shudder*

Tea & Company

Today was a very fun day. When I finally did manage to drag myself out of bed (at nearly 3 o’clock in the afternoon!—med adjustment making me drowsy again) I got myself a bowl of cereal and sat in front of the computer to read my email, and thank goodness I did, because I had a reminder that I was supposed to meet a friend at 3 on the dot at a café a few blocks away. I don’t think I ever got ready so fast in my life before. Somehow I managed to get there just 5 minutes late. It’s this place called Lili & Oli which is really laid back; they allow dogs and I just love the casual and warm ambiance. I took these photos a few weeks ago when it was uncharacteristically quiet, but gives an idea of the place. I like to go there with Coco after a trip to the library which is practically next door, and sometimes bring my laptop with me too like most people there do as well.

I was meeting a brand new friend, a girl I met at a bookstore a couple of weeks ago. She and her partner had arrived from England a week or two before as he’s gotten recruited for a big job in the aeronautics industry. She was a sociology teacher and is going through the motions of finding a job here. Really lovely girl with a beautiful attitude and very chatty like me, which makes for a pleasant time. We talked about everything but books somehow, though she did tell me she’s getting together with a book group tomorrow. When I met her, she was looking for Let the Great World Spin by Column McCann, which I heard great things of and which is what they’ll be discussing tomorrow. Michelle told me if this group seems interesting she’ll bring me along next time they get together, which is something I might really enjoy. Continue reading


Pink Reflections, Bishop’s Pond. Watercolour on paper by David Milne, 1920

So last night, I waited on the phone for about 45 minutes to speak to the good people at Apple so I could order my own iPhone 4S; I’ve been due for an upgrade since last December with my current carrier and my now ancient iPhone 3G threatens to give up on me at any minute. Turns out when they said the phone lines would be open to take orders starting at 12:01 a.m. on the 7th, they meant Pacific Time. So I waited all that time because essentially, the crew manning the phones was telling all the hundreds of thousands of callers who also assumed Eastern time the same thing. Figures.

This afternoon, I have an outing with my new friend, 93-year old L. I was supposed to go see her art show with her, and told her I’d call her last week, but then was too low to talk to anyone. She called me yesterday and I said “so when are we going to your show?” and she told me it was over. These are the kinds of things I feel guilty about for the rest of my days. But apparently she still wants to be my friend, since she did call me after all. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has added a whole new wing which includes a concert hall, and they are having all kinds of events to celebrate the inauguration this month. I had already purchased tickets in the Spring to go see two concerts with my new friend which are coming up a couple of weeks from now (a Beethoven recital and a Balinese dance and music performance). This week they have a bunch of activities exclusively for friends of the museum, so when I got the schedule last week, I reserved two free tickets for a session of 5 short films about Canadian artists. I had planned to invite L and was glad when she took me up on it. If I could go back and choose between her show and the short movies, I’d obviously choose to see my friend’s art. oy. But moving forward, it should be an interesting program, which is as follows:

Quebec in Silence
Gilles Gascon, 1969, 10 min, no dialogue

Canadian Landscapes
Radford Crawley, 1941, 18 min

The World of David Milne
Gerald Budner, 1962, 12 min

J. W. Morrice
Gerald Budner, 1985, 18 min

The Group of Seven – A Northern Shore
Harry Dunsmore, 1990, 28 min

Death of a Visionary

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple died today. He was only 56 years old. He’d been battling pancreatic cancer for a long time. He was a visionary who, as says in the NY Times “helped usher in the era of personal computers and then led a cultural transformation in the way music, movies and mobile communications were experienced in the digital age”. Very sad news indeed.

R.I.P. Steve and thanks for your many contributions.

Playing at a Train Station Near You

I just love these flash mob videos. Here’s a flash mob at Copenhagen Central Station with the Copenhagen Philharmonic playing Ravel’s Bolero on May 2nd 2011. Conductor is Jesper Nordin. Just sent to me from my uncle in Israel. Music never needs a passport to get around. Watch it full screen if you can to get the full effect.

From China with Love

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck ★★★★★

“And what will we do with a pretty woman? We must have a woman who will tend the house and bear children as she works in the fields, and will a pretty woman do these things? She will be forever thinking about clothes to go with her face! No, not a pretty woman in our house. We are farmers. Moreover, who has heard of a pretty slave who was virgin in a wealthy house? All the young lords have had their fill of her. It is better to be first with an ugly woman than the hundredth with a beauty.”

I won an advance reader copy of Anchee Min’s Pearl of China recently, which finally gave me that extra little push I needed to pick up this Pulitzer Prize winner by Nobel Laureate author Pearl S. Buck, who happens to be one of the main characters of Min’s most recent novel. When we meet Wang Lung in the opening pages of The Good Earth, he is a poor farmer taking care of his elderly father. On this day he is preparing for a special event: today is the day he will go get himself a wife, and he looks forward to his new life, when he will no longer have to boil the water for his father to drink in the morning, nor have to prepare food, nor clean house, as there will finally be a woman by his side to take care of all these things. Wang Lung feels in a celebratory mood, so he puts a few tea leaves in his father’s water and goes as far as taking a bath, even as his father objects to such waste and luxury. Indeed, what if the new wife comes to expect these things? All the same, Wang Lung has in mind to have a feast that night and works out that with his few coins, he might be able to afford some meat and even perhaps to get a shave from a barber. Continue reading

Benjamin Lacombe Presents:

Le carnet rouge by Benjamin Lacombe, illustrated by Agata Kawa ★★★★¾
Read for TIOLI: Read a book by a “hot” author & 11 in 11 Category #4: Visual Arts

Who better than Benjamin Lacombe himself to talk about the genesis of this book for which he put aside his paintbrushes and picked up a pen because he wanted to give illustrator Agata Kawa a project to showcase her personal style. He explains this on his blog (in French and English too!)—in his own words:

“I really wanted [this project] to be made for Agata so she could fully express her talent and love of nature, of the Arts & Crafts movement, patterns, etc. The original idea (Agata’s) was to work on the Arts & Crafts movement and its creator, the emblematic William Morris. So I made up a story which is a kind of imaginary (though well-documented) portrait of this pope of modern design.

[...] Indeed, rather than just piling up dates and facts, the point was to focus on what made William Morris an artist: his background, his love of nature and shapes. It’s a book about the mystery of drawing, of creation.”

Click on the images to view them larger (including cover)

All images © Agata Kawa

I should mention that I borrowed this book from the public library, but now see myself in the obligation to obtain my very own copy so I can pore over it at leisure whenever the mood strikes, as I am not only a newly minted fan of Agata Kawa’s thanks to Lacombe (you will have understood by now that I am a HUGE fan of this young man already), but have always held a fascination for the Arts & Crafts (also known as Art Nouveau), the Pre-Raphaëlite, and William Morris in particular.

This post from Lacombe’s blog features a good sampling of Agata Kawa’s range.

Clay Soldiers and Korean BBQ


I had a really nice afternoon/evening with my dad today. I wanted to catch the exhibit of the Chinese Terracotta Army before it folds next week. It’s unbearably hot here this week, so I was glad to have suggested a visit to the fine arts museum; an indoor activity in a cool environment. The show was really interesting of course, though there were just a handful of soldiers and horses on display. I didn’t expect to see hundred of them or anything, and they did have several videos showing the sites were they were found to give an idea of the vastness of the enterprise, but I was hoping that there’d be a good grouping of them to get a notion of what it felt like to be confronted with a whole bunch of these giant figurines (2 meters high, or approx 6’6”). What made the exhibit especially fun for me was that I’d thought to bring a sketchbook & pencil and spent some time doing quick studies of some of the pieces I liked best. I should do that every time from now on. (I’ve quickly scanned some pages from my Moleskine to show here. Click on the thumbnails to view them larger.)

We were both ravenous afterward, so went to Bishop street where there are quite a few casual restaurants and a good selection of world cuisine. We decided to go for Korean BBQ, which neither of us had tried before. Our waitress didn’t speak much French nor English, and we were both a bit confused about what to order and how to eat various dishes and condiments, until a lady at the table next to ours came over and very nicely explained everything to us and suggested some dishes too. The BBQs are built into the tables, and you can order from a selection of meats and seafood and veggies, then grill them yourself to your liking. There were all kinds of interesting side dishes and yummy seasonings and we were both quite happy with our meal. I was glad that my dad liked it, because he usually eats at home and makes everything from scratch, including his own flat bread, and is quite strict about what he will and will not eat, so that was nice.


The Magical Mystical Tour

Want to commune with the great Renaissance Masters? Not planning a visit to Rome and Vatican City anytime soon? Here’s a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel completely free of charge. Just click and zoom in and out to take in the sights and soothing sounds.

Vatican City not really your thing? Still up for a blast from the past? Want a  rockin’ good time with the lads and a far-out soundtrack? Then The Beatles are waiting to take you away on their Magical Mystery Tour, and it’s just one click away!

On the Politics of Literature

“I never quite know what people mean by political. They
may be saying that it’s a brave work. Or they might be saying
the work makes them uncomfortable, that they don’t want
to deal with it.”

“We live in a society that packages things into handy boxes,
and we’re used to being told what to think. But one of the challenging and gratifying things about literature is that it doesn’t tell you what to think. It asks you what you think…. When I write a book and hand it over to my publisher,
I consider it half-finished. The other half of the work happens
in the hearts and minds of the reader. It’s a personal experience and it’s different for everyone.” (Washington Post)

“I think of ‘activism’ as a simple action meant to secure a specific result: for this purpose I go to school board meetings,
I vote, I donate money, and occasionally fire off an op-ed piece. But that’s not what I do for a living. Writing literature is so much more nuanced than these things, it’s like comparing chopping vegetables to neurosurgery. Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what
to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and inspiring you to answer them for yourself. …”

“For some reason, people in the U.S. are fond of putting me in a box labeled ‘political,’ which could mean anything…. If it means ‘inclined to change people’s minds,’ that seems ludicrous as
a category because great literature will always do that. Fiction cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point
of view. It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place
and time, power and vulnerability, things that influence social interaction. What could be more political than that?” (barbarakingsolver.com)

“I think writing a novel is a political act, automatically, because of the way it draws the reader into a carefully constructed world-view and generates empathy for the people who inhabit that world.”

“I never think that anything I’m writing is bluntly political in any way. I’m not going for commentary. And if I worried about controversy in this country I would just shut myself into a room and never come out. Anything one does is likely to be labelled absurdly and that is part of what [The Lacuna] is about.” (Telegraph)

“I think the novelist’s duty, then, is to own up to the power
of the craft, and use it wisely.”(Faber & Faber)

All quotes by Barbara Kingsolver, American author of among others ThePoisonwood Bible and the recent The Lacunathe former of which I’ve read, absolutely loved, and wholeheartedly recommend and the second of which I look forward to reading eventuallyfounder of the Bellwether Prize, an award bestowed every other year on an unpublished work of “socially responsible literature.”