Friday, April 30, 2010

Hot Docs - And Everything is Going Fine

I remember seeing Spalding Gray on stage performing 'Morning, Noon and Night'.  He told the story of battling depression, ongoing therapy, and the serious challenges of starting a new family at 52.  Most memorable of all, he ended the show dancing to Chumba Wumba, mimicking all the members of the family in a celebration that filled the stage.  It was so joyful a dance, so uplifting.  So hopeful.

Which is partly why I was so seriously pissed off at him for killing himself in 2004.  I was actually angry when I heard the news.  Seeing him in the film tonight was like seeing an old friend.

Gray is is the subject of And Everything is Going Fine, Steven Soderbergh's documentary film.  SS didn't show up for the Canadian premiere (I admit to feeling slighted).

The best thing about the documentary is Spalding.  It is like seeing another monologue, pieced together from performances through the years.  It offers insight into his struggles (his mother's nervous breakdowns, her suicide, his Oedipal issues, years of therapy, messed up relationships, 'the' car accident).  But it doesn't play like a tragedy, and there is no reference to Spalding's own suicide.  The film just ends.  Roll footage of baby Spalding in his mother's arms.

Near the beginning he talks about how he would go to sleep with his brother questioning his mother about what happens when you die.  Is that it?  You just die and are gone? Forever?  Forever and ever?  Forever and ever and ever?  Forever and ever and ever and ever?  The repetition lulling him to sleep.  Spalding said he never believed in reincarnation.  Now as he is dead, he speaks to us on camera saying his monologues were his personal reincarnation. 

I wanted more.  More Spalding.  I guess I am not as angry as I was that day in '04 when I heard about his suicide, and that is as much due to the passing of time as it is to the insights offered in the film.  And that wonderful dancing scene from Morning, Noon and Night.   

I so hoped to find the dancing scene on You Tube.  It is joy personified.  I can find Spalding.  I can find Chumba Wumba.  But I can't find Spalding dancing to Chumba Wumba. You will just have to imagine.  Either that or see the documentary...

We'll be singing
When we're winning
We'll be singing
I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down

Thursday, April 29, 2010

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead

"Love stories, without exception, give love a bad name...  It is perhaps only in reading a love story (or in writing one) that we can simultaneously partake of the ecstasy and agony of being in love without paying a crippling emotional price.  I offer this book then, as a cure for lovesickness and an antidote to adultery.  Read these love stories in the safety of your single bed.  Let everybody else suffer."

That message on the book jacket was one of the things that made me pick up the book in first place.  That, and the great cover.  Plus the fact that this collection is edited by Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and winner of the Pulitzer Prize. 

My Mistress's Sparrow Is Dead was my pick for the Book Babes this year, and this was the month for me to host the discussion at my house. 

We got a late start to talking about the actual book, busily enjoying the Indian meal and catching up on everyone's news.    

Laura was diligent and read the book cover-to-cover. Several of us had read several stories, while two (I'm not naming names! lol...) hadn't been able to find a copy in time to read the stories.

Some favourite stories included:
  • 'The Bear Came over the Mountain', by Alice Munro
  • 'Natasha', by David Bezmozgis
  • 'Lovers of Their Time', by William Trevor
  • 'The Bad Thing', by David Gates
James Joyce's story 'The Dead' was on someone's 'least favourite' list, until Nicki pointed out a tender-hearted passage where the narrator looks at his wife of many years and realizes how much he deeply, truly loves her.  Of course he is quickly distracted by something else, but still, that moment is captured so well.  Maybe you need to hear this read out loud, by someone with an Irish accent, in a pub while you're drinking a good strong ale.

We talked about the importance of point of view in the short story in general, but how significant it is in a love story especially.  Is the narrator reliable, self-absorbed, lost in the 'other', or just plain lost?  And in fact, isn't love, at least partly, about being able to see something from someone else's point of view?  Merging, losing yourself or becoming more than your 'self'.

Some deep philosophical notions intertwined with some celebrity gossip - after all, on this topic, how could we not speculate about Tiger Woods at the Masters or Sandra Bullock at this year's Oscars and Golden Globes?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Planter's Moon - April

Full sprouting moon
Egg moon
Planter's moon 
Growing moon
Seed moon

So many of the spring moon's names have to do with planting, growth and seed.

Which makes me think of white gardens that shine in the moonlight... and the beautiful moonflower itself.
Ipomoea alba, otherwise known as Moonflowers are so called because they bloom in the evening. They have large 4 to 6 inch fragrant, white or pink flowers on twining vines. The flowers open quickly in the evening and last through the night, remaining open until touched by the morning Sun.

Moonflowers grow to a height of about 15 feet.... The seed should be nicked with a file and then soaked overnight before planting. Moonflowers should be planted when the Moon is new or increasing in light! 
Click here to see an .mpg movie of a moonflower opening in real time; It opens in one minute, with the main section deploying in less than 30 seconds!
Unless I move further south I'm not likely to have one of these bloom in my backyard anytime soon. But there is always finding the right moment, the correct perspective, to conjure moonflowers in any climate....


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise - Civitavecchia - Rome

For awhile I stopped my research on the vacation.  I thought I would be heartbroken if the trip fell through.  Now that the volcano has settled down, I'm starting to believe I just might be visiting these sites again, so checked out a few links about the Trevi Fountain.

Legends abound.

In 19 BC, with the help of a vestal virgin,  a source of pure water was located near the ancient city (13 km or 8 miles).  The aqueduct then served Rome for centuries before the Goths besieged and destroyed it in the 537/38 A.D.

More than a mellenium later,  the Trevi was erected on the same spot, in all its Baroque glory.  The year was 1762.  Catherine II had just become Empress of Russia, Britain was at war with Spain.

The fountain is a collaboration that took place over many generations, starting with Pope Urban VIII and Bernini in 1629; passing on to Salvi and Pope Clement the XII in 1730; and including Bracci's Oceanus (god of all waters), placed in the central niche in 1762.

The main figure in the fountain is Neptune, god of the sea.  Two horses are also depicted: one calm, one rebellious.  The horses are said to represent the unconquerable and unpredictable nature of the sea.  Interesting homage, especially considering that the sea coast is a good 1.5 hours away by coach. 

It is said that if you throw a coin into the fountain you will return to Rome.  Lots of people are willing to take the gamble... Apparently about 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each day (with proceeds going to feed Romes' needy).  Be careful though, 3 coins can bring either divorce or marriage.

I can almost understand the impulse to go diving in the waters, like the young man caught by the camera on the National Post site.  But several years ago someone threw a bucket of red paint into the fountain and turned the waters scarlet.  Very disturbing, visually, to see the blood-red colour against the bone-white of the fountain.  Thankfully no permanent damage was done. What madness possesses people to try to destroy works of beauty and art?

Flickr has hundreds, if not thousands of travelers' photos of this landmark.  The views of the fountain by night are haunting.


There is a crack in everything

These lines have been popping into my head frequently these last few weeks, reminding me the world is far from 'perfect' and perhaps was never meant to be.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

I didn't realize the whole was titled Anthem until GG @ Bricolage named it for me.  Tonight I am contemplating the entire verse, and listening to LC perform it in his old age makes it even more resonant.


The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government --
signs for all to see.

I can't run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they've summoned, they've summoned up
a thundercloud
and they're going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring ...

You can add up the parts
but you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.
That's how the light gets in.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Book of Awesome

Visited this blog for the first time today -
1000 Awesome Things - after reading an ad in the paper about The Book of Awesome.

I really love the spirit, humour and wonderment.  The simple pleasures in simple pleasures.

The top 1000 includes fundamentals like:

May 11 there is a book party planned at Indigo - I plan on being there if I can squeeze in... as of today there are already 97 on the 'yes' evite, so I hope the bookstore will be able to handle the crowd.

The blogger-author is a fellow Torontonian, and another of my favourite blogger-authors Gretchen Rubin has endorsed the book.



Friday, April 23, 2010

Cherry Blossom Flower Viewing


So glad that Rob and I decided to stop off at High Park on our way into work today to view the cherry blossoms.  It's on the other side of the city so not really 'on the way' but the detour was an intoxicating start to the day.

Pink clouds.  It's a wonder the trees aren't floating up and into the sky.  If I held a cherry blossom in either hand maybe I could fly.

Sakura Hanami, what a wonderful tradition to honour spring.

The cherry blossoms don't come every year, and this year's show has been talked about so much we just had to see first-hand.  With the threat of rain for the weekend ahead, it didn't make sense to wait.  I'm glad went for it!  Not many souls around to share the view, and those that were, were busy taking photos.  Me too.  But I also turned off the camera and tried to inhale the moment - such a perfect, perfect moment.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How do you get God to laugh? Tell him your plans.

Pretty awesome.

Eyjafjallajokull is on my mind a lot these days.

Interesting facts like:
  • this could be spewing for a year
  • spewing = grounded flights
  • grounded flights = problem getting to Barcelona to depart for cruise
  • problem = no cruise
  • insurance = force majeure 
Well I will hope for the best and plan for the worst, I guess.

One of my 'liked minds',  Clever Pup is blogging her concerns about the citizens of Iceland.

In the meantime I'll try to find something to love about volcanoes and their unpredictable eruptions:
  • Majestic to watch
  • Cooling effect on the climate (given the perils of global warming this is not a small thing)
  • Ash will probably make this a remarkable vintage for wine... and will have a positive effect on the terroir in coming years
  • How can we not be in awe about something with the power to bring civilization to its knees.... I'm thinking about Pompeii but also thinking about Eyjafjallajokull throwing most of the planet back to days before inter-continental flight
  • Amazing sunsets... when Mount Saint Helen erupted the sunsets on the Great Lakes were outstanding for at least two summers
Research continues...... 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

How much fun can you have in one day?

After a great yoga class with my brother Dave, I went off for a tour of Little India, enjoyed some fantastic South Asian dosa at Udupi Palace, discovered how amazing rose petals can taste in paan, marveled at magnolias in a neighbour's garden, and came home to enjoy the view in my own backyard.

I planted some grass in pots and sunk my hands wrist deep into the soft earth. Watched the light dance on the tips of the new leaves.

While dinner roasted in the oven I sipped on wine and investigated what's unfurling in my garden (fern, wild ginger, wasabi, trillium, sweet woodruff, Solomon's Seal, Lady's Mantle...)

Shared a tasty meal of roasted chicken & vegetables & caesar salad with Rob and Alex as we told each other stories of the day.

What a perfect, fabulous, amazing, incredible, beautiful time.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise - Civitavecchia (Rome) Italy

Touring these famous ancient ruins was something I didn't think I'd ever do... and soon I'll be seeing them up close.  I've seen small pieces at the R.O.M. and was a fan of the Rome HBO series.  But I suspect those morsels aren't quite the same as standing in the middle of the buildings and getting a sense of the grand scale.
I remember years ago in history classes, the mystery and debate around  'The Fall of Rome'.  Did the lead pipes slowly drive people insane?  Was it the corrupt and indolent ruling class? Was it the barbarian invasions?  Declining tax revenues = decaying infrastructure?

Maybe it was more likely a case of a lengthy, almost imperceptible shift of influence over several generations.
One of the great questions of Western history, if not the great question, is "Why did Rome fall?" Reasonable answers to this most perplexing of history's puzzles—and there have been hundreds of answers advanced—begin with understanding the complex nature of late Rome and the barbarian invasions in which the Roman Empire ultimately drowned. Still, the failure of great minds like Edward Gibbon to win over a majority of historians to the view he espoused in his monumental work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, suggests we should seek perhaps another path and examine the terms we're using to express the problem, especially what we mean when we speak about "Rome falling." Indeed, close study calls the very question into question. "Why did Rome fall?" may be a line of inquiry that has no clear resolution because the question itself is fundamentally flawed. It might be better to ask, "Did Rome fall?" Wikipedia


Friday, April 16, 2010

Blooming now

  • Bergenia (just starting)
  • Blood root (at right)
  • Cherry Tree in blossom
  • Crocus
  • Daffodils
  • Hellebore
  • Hiacynth
  • Pulminaria
  • Scilla
  • Tulips

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Container Gardening

Nicki and I listened to Paul Zammit speak about container gardening tonight at the East York Garden Club.  Or maybe I should say watched, because he bounces around so much and brings such wonderful photos. He is a great presenter, and his enthusiasm is contagious. 

Paul had a timely suggestion for under-planting lilies in containers with pansies tumbling out the top.  Maybe I will try that in the planters in the front garden this coming weekend.   By the time the pansies get leggy and are ready to cut back, the lilies are in full bloom. After they are done their show, I could put them in the ground and plant tall grasses in the pots.  Since the containers are already 3-4 feet high it could be quite an interesting effect, both from the street and inside looking out the window. 

Last summer I put some hostas in the deck pots, and it worked well.  The miniature hostas were kept away from the salacious slugs.  This year I think I will dig up the blue fescue to add as a companion somewhere in the mix.  And maybe the miniature variegated iris.  Toss in some a herb or two for it's fragrance.... maybe lemon verbena or perpetual basil.   A nice light summer breeze to stir the senses and gentle dusk falling.  Ahhhhhh.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Sweetgrass is an observational film with 200 shots leisurely paced over 105 minutes. Each shot is held long enough for you to wonder at the length of the sheep's eyelashes, or contemplate what, if anything, a sheep is thinking when it stares blankly into the camera lens.  No narration, no "interviews" and only one or two passing acknowledgments from the human subjects that a camera is even present.

Filmmaker Lucien Castaing-Taylor spoke at the end of the screening and told a story about how one particular shot was hard won.  He got up at 3 a.m. and journeyed far into the distance so he could grab a long shot of the herd winding down the mountain side.  Surprised by a noise, and with bears in the area, he pulled out pepper spray - which the breeze blew straight into his eyes.  Collapsed on the side of the mountain, blinded at dawn, he had to wait for more than an hour for his sight to return.  He then attempted the zoom in eight times, not sure if his blurry vision was affecting the focus. When the film was developed, only two of the shots were usable.

The film took eight years to complete and was shot in Montana over four summers between 2000 - 2003, capturing the sheep herders watching over their flock as their way of life is disappearing.  (The last herd of sheep grazed on this patch of public land in 2001, replaced by more profitable cattle.)

The landscape is awe-inspiring: big sky, towering mountains, treacherous crevices.  Humans, sheeps and dogs mere specks.

The sheep herders are interesting subjects, too, isolated as they are for months at a time.  The simple way of life is not easy - bears, wolverines, lack of sleep, aching bodies.  There is one scene where you hear a long tirade of beautifully strung curses, despairing at the stupidity of the sheep, the dogs, the mountain - and needing a day off work.  Another memorable scene catches the guard dogs feasting on the carcass of a sheep left over from a predator.  "You don't think they've got a taste for sheep now, do you?" one man questions the other.

The New York Times reviewed the film after its release in January:
As if to acknowledge the collaborative nature of all filmmaking, “Sweetgrass” doesn’t have directing or (image) editing credits: Mr. Castaing-Taylor is its recordist, Ms. Barbash its producer. Both have day jobs at Harvard University, where he is the director of the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory, and also teaches, and she is an associate curator of visual anthropology at the Peabody Museum; they also have several books, including one on the ethnographic filmmaker Robert Gardner (who was at Harvard for decades). Elsewhere, Mr. Gardner once listed “Modern Times,” “The Rules of the Game” and “Zero for Conduct” as among his favorite ethnographic films because “the sheer observational power that illuminates these films contributes more to an understanding of the human condition than the great majority of all other motion picture documents, with the emphatic inclusion of nearly all those that are referred to as ‘ethnographic.’ ”
The trailer is a bit misleading because it is quickly paced, but it gives you a condensed taste of the subject.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bacon-Wrapped Apricots with Sage

24 small fresh sage leaves
24 large dried apricots
8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into thirds
2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
Toothpicks (or something cuter) for serving

Preheat oven to 375o F.  Place a sage leaf on each apricot.  Wrap each apricot with a piece of bacon and place seam side down on a baking sheet.  Bake until bacon is beginning to crisp, 6 to 10 minutes each side (this will depend on your oven, they will brown first on the bottom so flip one over to see how they are doing).  Remove from the oven and brush with the maple syrup.
-Keep warm in a 250o F oven if they are ready before your guests arrive.

from Real Simple and Noble Pig

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise - Cinque Terre

Leaving the port of Livorno, we'll drive past Pisa and head on to Cinque Terre.  Our niece Meredith came back from her backpacking tour of Europe ecstatic about this spot, saying it was the prettiest of her entire tour.  So how could we not stop and visit here?

This UNESCO World Heritage site is a National Park.  "The Five Lands" comprise five villages.  We'll be visiting Manarola, Riomaggiore,  Vernazza, and Monterosso al Mare.  (Unfortunately I don't thiink we will have enough time to take in Corniglia).

Manarola seems well known for its "Street of Love," a well-traveled seaside path that leads to Rio Maggiore.

After walking along the shore we will travel by boat to Vernazza. It has no car traffic and remains one the truest "fishing villages" on the Italian Riviera.  The town was fortified around 1080, with the Church of Santa Margherita constructed in 1318, and is studded with several churches, sanctuaries and castles to explore.

Monterosso al Mare has a castle that the god Neptune protects, and is a bit flatter than the other hamlets.  Depending on the weather and our dispositions, we might hang out on the pebbly beach, head into the Parish of St. John the Baptist, or enjoy a coffee in the square.

Poetry and other subversive acts

The Summer Day

I don't know exactly what
a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel
down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how
to stroll through the fields.
Which is what I have been
doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I
have done?
Doesn't everything die at last,
and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan
to do
With your one wild and
precious life?
- Mary Oliver

Thanks so much to Ian Brown for sharing this beautiful poem in his 'Curiouser' column today! The entire article is worth clipping for the bulletin board at work. Copied and pasted entirely from today's Globe and Mail, here it is (just in case it gets archived, I want it on my e-file!)

Sneaking Poetry into the Office - the perfect waste of time
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Griffin Poetry Prize, Scott Griffin, its founder, announced this week that he was doubling the prize money. Seven finalists earn $10,000 each; the two winners haul in $65,000 more each.

Mr. Griffin said he did it to reflect “the importance” of poetry. You don't hear capitalists say such things very often.

Recently, I was trying to find Thom Gunn's poem Hampstead: The Horse Chestnut Trees. I'd come across it months earlier, looking for a poem suitable for a eulogy. The Gunn poem wasn't appropriate, but it has a nice line I wanted to memorize, about a pair of chestnut trees between which Gunn remembered riding his bike with his brother:
they spread outward
and upward
without regret

Now I wanted to put those lines into a letter to a friend. But I couldn't remember where I had seen them or who had written them. Nor could I remember what I thought I had memorized. I would like to be someone who can pluck strands of poetry from memory when he needs them, the way a skilled fisherman can coax a fat trout from a pool. Instead, I use poetry like a weed-whacker, like a cheap app on the iPhone of my brain: I use what I can find.

Which seems undignified. We're taught in school that poems are sombre things, not to be used as therapeutic shorthand. One is supposed to study poetry and appreciate its formal niceties, its pantoums and epistrophes. Poets such as Karen Solie, P.K. Page or Kate Hall (all nominated for this year's Griffin) need years to produce slim volumes of dazzling work.

On the other hand, in Solar, Ian McEwan's new novel, the central character, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Oxford graduate, seduces his first wife by flash-memorizing some Milton. He's astonished how easy literature is compared with advanced math.

Looking for the Gunn poem, I turned to the same four books I consult whenever I'm looking for a poem to lift me over an inspirational declivity: two volumes edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes called The School Bag and The Rattle Bag; Francis Turner Palgrave's Golden Treasury in coral leather, won in 1968 as a prize at school; and my wife's thick, spine-broken Norton Anthology of English Literature, bespawled with pencil notations from her college days.

Roughly 4,200 pages of poetry. I brought them into work here at the abattoir, where my comrades labour so keenly. I was embarrassed to be reading poetry at work.

I laid the books out in the grotto of my desk, with its secret organizational nooks, its gentle eddy of dividers. I began to leaf quickly through the mass of pages, looking for the poem. I knew I was looking for a final stanza. I knew it had been published in the 20th century. Of course the search would have been easier on Google with more information (trees, chestnut and bicycle yielded nothing), provided I wanted to use Google instead of books packed with poems.

I did not – because, looking for a poem in a book of poems, you find lots of others. You get inefficient, and waylaid. Each new find – it goes without saying! – is a slap in the face of productivity, an admission of waywardness and temporary incapacity. Books – of poetry! – on one's desk! Out in the open! Like – gravestones! There are few things you can do at work that make you feel more extraneous than surreptitiously reading poems. I don't think I'm exaggerating.

The first lines that caught my eye were an epigram by J.V. Cunningham: I married in my youth a wife/ She was my own, my very first/ She gave the best years of her life/ I hope nobody gets the worst. I later discovered (online) that Cunningham was one of Gunn's favourite poets. He thought we'd still be reading Cunningham in 50 years. It turns out some of us are.

At this point, it was still before 10 a.m. on a Wednesday.

I zoomed through Stanley Kunitz's Route Six, in which the poet sets out for Cape Cod in the middle of a hateful argument with a woman, possibly his wife, only to arrive again in love, thanks (in part) to her eager driving and the oncoming salt air. I inhaled Ben Jonson on the death of his son. The obsessions of poets flew past the way the countryside does in a fast train. Shelley read like an 18th-century Tony Robbins, full of motivational advice. Frank O'Hara's A Step Away From Them, a walk through the polyraucous streets of Manhattan (Everything suddenly honks: it is 12:40 of/ a Thursday), made me want to live there.

The Gunn poem didn't turn up until the end of the last anthology. To my surprise, The Horse Chestnut Trees wasn't at all about having no regrets, but the opposite – it was a rhyming complaint about growing old, and how our human passion for detail fades with age: Forms remain, not the life/ of detail or hue/ then the forms are lost and/ only a few dates stay with you.

Gunn (1929-2004) read literature at Oxford, then moved to San Francisco, where he was gay and did a lot of drugs – he preferred amphetamines. (Which in turn reminded me of Cocaine Lil and Morphine Sue: On her headstone you'll find this refrain:/ She died as she lived, sniffing cocaine.)

At some point soon after that, I looked up from my books of poems. It was well after noon. I thought I had better get some work done. I shut the anthologies and opened the drawer of my desk.

There, staring up at me, was a Xerox of a poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver. It had been a gift from a friend years earlier. Mary Oliver was an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize. In the poem, she has dropped to her knees to examine a grasshopper closely:

I don't know exactly what
a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
how to fall down
Into the grass, how to kneel
down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed, how
to stroll through the fields.
Which is what I have been
doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I
have done?
Doesn't everything die at last,
and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan
to do
With your one wild and
precious life?

I thought it was a good

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise - Grasse & St. Paul-de-Vence

I am imagining traveling through Grasse in Provence, one of the perfume capitals of the world.  Surrounded by fields of jasmine and roses, how could people not walk around with silly grins on their faces?

To the right is some of the architecture, embraced by rolling hills.

We are planning a visit to a local perfume factory (Fragonard or Gallinard), to see how flowers turn into liquid fragrances.  Magic!  Grasse has had a successful perfume industry since the 18th century.

I'm not big on bottled perfumes, but they certainly had a role to play in history, especially in medieval times, masking the ghastly smells of plague and death.  Probably where the phrase "The great unwashed" originated.  Can you imagine how hideous and foul things would smell?  Lack of plumbing, lack of flowing water, the dead rotting alongside garbage in the streets.  A waft and a whiff of jasmine in those times would help you keep your sanity.

We'll also be stopping by St. Paul de-Vence.  The description of the area is irresistible:

With its assemblage of stone houses and narrow walkways and its location amid colorful terraced vineyards, bougainvillea and mimosa blossoms, it is considered by many to be the Cote d'Azur's most picturesque village.

History here goes back to Antiquity, when Greek sailors introduced some of the olive trees and vines that became part of the landscape.  By the time of the Roman Empire, Provence was suffering Barbarian invasions.  St. Paul was officially founded in the 9th century.  The only surviving part of the castle at that time is the dungeon.  As interesting as that might be, I think I would rather take in the winding stairways and mimosa blossoms.

There was a thriving artist colony here in the 1960's -the Fondation Maeght - that included some of my personal favourites, like Chagall, Miró and Calder.  If there's time, I'd love to check it out in person.  Here's a virtual tour.

Again, I am worried about 'missing the boat'... being so hypnotized by a Chagall that I lose track of time.  I'll need to have some kind of alarm to snap me out of my trance.  Or maybe I'll just float back to the boat, above the hills and villages of Provence.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mediterranean Cruise - Barcelona

We're booked!

I can't believe it!

Barcelona / Cannes / Florence / Rome / Naples / Venice / Dubrovnik / Corfu / Barcelona

Rob, Alex and l will be soaking up as many sites as possible, with the idea being that we can return at some point in the future to the places where we feel the deepest connection.  There is just so much to see at every stop.  It will be a whirlwind.

Researching what to see on our brief stay is a great way to pass the evenings.

First stop - Barcelona

Hopefully we will have some energy to explore the territory once we land.

This has always sounded like an amazing spot, and the scenery in the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona only made me want to visit more.  Lush countryside, spectacular architecture, Spanish wine, beautiful coastline... what more could you wish for?

We'll have to stroll along Las Ramblas.  Spanish poet, Ferderico Garcia Lorca once said that La Rambla was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end".   It seems filled with open-air cafes, street performers and towering trees.  And markets with fresh, local produce:
The largest, best-known, and perhaps the most visually pleasing is the central Sant Josep market, known as La Boquería. If this market, just off La Rambla - Barcelona’s principal avenue and a tourist attraction in its own right – is your first introduction to the wealth of Catalan produce, you are in for a treat. Little old ladies, tourists, and restauranteurs all jostle for space to browse and shop on an early Saturday morning, or anytime for that matter. La Boquería is constantly busy and the pace rarely lessens until late in the day.  Slow Food in Barcelona 

Gaudi buildings will be the icing on the cake.  Barcelona is filled with creations from this genius. Truly original in his approach... the structures seem to be in motion, dancing with the curves of the land and sea.  The shots below are of Casa Batllo.

... And I definitely want to see the Sagrada Familia, his unfinished church that has been under construction since 1882.

While I'm there I'll say a prayer that I don't sleep in and 'miss the boat'!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Saving Fish from Drowning

This Book Babes selection had the table divided.  Half enjoyed it; the other half, not so much.

A woman escorts her friends on a trip that traces the steps of Buddhism and art across borders.  But with a few unusual twists and turns.  The woman is a ghost.  And the group of travelers 'disappear' somewhere along the path.  A great story with wonderful themes:  illusion, belief, faith, intent.  Culture and religion make for some great fusion, with conflict between sexes and tribes stirred into the pot for good measure.

I liked the fact the narrator was a ghost.  It was a unique device and point of view that allowed for the 3rd person omniscient with the 1st person.  

I also enjoyed the commentary about different 'schools' of Buddhism:
... since ninety percent of the Burmese are Buddhist, I would say most live in a Land of Illusions.  They are taught to shed their human desires like a snake in its mortal coil, and once free they can achieve nibbana, nothingness, the ultimate goal for those who follow the old Pali scriptures... Granted it is mostly monks who follow Theravada Buddhism in its strictest sense... Let me hasten to add that although I was raised a Buddhist during childhood, it was a Chinese kind of Buddhism, which is a bit of this, that, and the other - ancestor worship, a belief in ghosts, bad fate, all the frightful things,  But it was not the Burmese version that desires nothing.  With our kind of Buddhism we desired everything - riches, fame, good luck at gambling, a large number of sons, good dishes to eat with rare ingredients and subtle flavours, and first place in everything and not just honourable mention....All this talk of oblivion, of wanting nothing and becoming nobody, seems rather contradictory from a Buddhist sense.  The Buddha did all this and he became so much a nobody that he became famous, the biggest nobody of them all.  And he will never disappear, because fame has made him immortal.  But I do admire him for his attitude and discipline.  He was a good Indian son. (p 244-245)
I wasn't too fond of how Tan handled the characters.  There were many, and they were hard to differentiate.  About 3/4 of the way through the book she is describing the travelers as a group and contrasting them with each other... this would have been useful closer to the front.  If it was there, I missed it. It wasn't until close to the end that I realized a central character was black and that there were some Eurasians in the crowd.  When I brought this up at the book club, I surprised a few people who had finished the book and still hadn't realize the fact. Given that part of what made this interesting was the different cultures, it would have played nicely with the story to honour the differences.  A few more vivid physical descriptions along the way would give the characters more presence.

Oh yes, and in case you are wondering about the story behind the title:
A pious man explained to his followers: "It is evil to take lives and noble to save them. Each day I pledge to save a hundred lives. I drop my net in the lake and scoop out a hundred fishes. I place the fishes on the bank, where they flop and twirl. 'Don't be scared,' I tell those fishes. 'I am saving you from drowning.' Soon enough, the fishes grow calm and lie still. Yet, sad to say, I am always too late. The fishes expire. And because it is evil to waste anything, I take those dead fishes to market and I sell them for a good price. With the money I receive, I buy more nets so I can save more fishes." (overleaf)
 A deceptively easy read.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Toronto Yoga Conference 2010 - Part 3

My knowledge of anatomy is sadly lacking.  Thank goodness my body doesn't need 'me' to run the autonomic system or else we'd really be in trouble!  What a miracle we walk around in, this collection of skin & bones & muscles & ligaments. (illustration at right is from the book Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga)

"We must take care of the body because otherwise where would we live," said Aadil Palkhivala,  adding that asana/pranayama is only one part of yoga. Iyengar was his teacher for many decades, and sent him to the U.S. to  help spread the practise of yoga.

Aadil wrote Fire of Love  to promote living with integrity and finding joy in small things. On the editorial board at Yoga Journal, he is known as a "teacher of teachers," and there were many in the room.   A doctor, and past lawyer with a degree in math, he also trained his voice as an opera singer for a few years.  The classes with him were enjoyable.  He laughed a lot.  And hummed and sung.  And quoted poetry. And peppered his classes with interesting stories, like the famous unnamed Hollywood actress who remained unhappy, despite all her good fortune.  Or the Olympic weightlifter who later became a priest.  

Aadil taught his Hip Series that works the hips with six series of movement:  inner rotation & outer rotation / adduction & abduction / flexion and extension.  The moves help release tension in the psoas, which tends to contract throughout the day as we react - even subconsciously - to stressors.  He talked about lifting the bottom of the belly and side of the waist, an instruction that worked well for me in all the poses.

It seemed twists were everywhere - in Aadil's classes, in the Yin Yoga, & with Seane Corn.  I tend to avoid them, not so much for physiological reasons, but because Iyengar had contraindicated them for anxiety, and I do asana to relax.  But twists can be exceptionally beneficial because they help the spine to lengthen & decompress in a way other poses simply can't.  Twists also stimulate the organic/digestive body.  Aadil put it nicely when he talked about the energy of spirals, with twists helping to release the energy blocked in the spine. (image at left is from

Martin Kirk had a few tips for headstand that were very helpful.   When clasping the hands, don't try to 'lock' the baby fingers, and "keep space for a lemon" in between your palms.  Use the heels of your hands to press into the back of your head, and press the wrists strongly into the floor. Focus on the roof of your mouth when inverted.  Spread your toes.  And when coming out of headstand, do it slowly, unfolding yourself, keeping your neck and side body long as you do so.

Again this year, I had the privilege of sampling different styles of yoga:  anasura, kundalini, Purna, Yin, Vinyasa.  By the end of the four days I was indeed "tender around the edges," as Seane Corn phrased it.  She also said, "Thank goodness there are so many styles of yoga, because there are so many different kinds of people."

Lots to mull over, think about, and most importantly, to "put into practise".

Friday, April 2, 2010

Wines of the week

This bottle of Osborne Dominio de Malpica was the prettiest shaped Spanish red I've brought home in awhile.  Cabernet Sauvignon, from Castilla.

Quite acidic, so I guess it would go better with food than it does as a sipping wine.

The gentle flare at the bottom gives it the presence of a curtsy.  Or maybe the dip serves a more functional purpose, grounding the bottle so it doesn't tip over after a sloppy pour.

LCBO tasting notes: Dense dark red in colour; ripe black cherry, sandalwood and spicy aromas; full-bodied with flavours of oak spice and lots of acidity followed by a spicy finish ($12.95 750 ml).

But the wine I most enjoyed this week wasn't even in a glass.  Way overpriced at $6 for 177,5 ml,  it was served in a box, on the train ride home, as I was looking out the window, appreciating the phrase "first blush of Spring".

Even as the train sped along the tracks, I could see the tips of trees and bushes starting to turn pink and red with signs of life.  Blushing in the late afternoon sun.  That aura bewtiched the wine.  Whatever varietal(s) in the box were likely leftovers economically packaged and sold.  My bet is that the next one will taste completely different.  

But this one, at this moment - perfection!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Capital city

I turned off the lights, opened the curtains and enjoyed the view of the Parliament buildings from my hotel room.

Too tired to blink, I didn't want to miss this picture. 

So tired.  After four days at the yoga conference; the closing presentation and assignment for my night course; and then two days traveling on business.  It was all good, but it was also catching up with me.

The entire wall was window, so I could enjoy the generous view from the comfort of the kind size bed. As I crawled in under the covers,  the clean linens were as refreshing as a plunge into the lake on a hot summer day.  That bought me a few extra minutes to imprint the magical scene until I could sill see it with my eyes closed.

The flag at the top of the buildings was perfectly lit and flying prettily in the breeze.

Sweet dreams!