Friday, December 30, 2011

Restorative Poses

I have felt like crap for the last two weeks.  And I'd been feeling so smug about not catching what had been going around!  The version that's caught me: aching sore throat and cough-cough-cough.
I've been taking medicine like Neo Citran and discovering new drugs like Cepacol throat spray. Some of the best medicine though has been yoga.  I'm happy to say I've kept up my daily practise, sliding into a more restorative series of poses. 

One of my favourites is the supported bada konasana pictured above.  It is such a good chest opener, with added benefits for the hips.  I've also been relaxing into supported bridge, vipirita kirani (legs up the wall), supported forward bend.

So thankful to have a repertoire I can call on in sickness or in health.  Yoga Journal has some pointers here if you'd like to try the next time you're feeling 'under the weather'.

illustration supta-bada konasana
illustration restorative sequence

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cat's Table

Lovely, lyrical.  The Cat's Table feels and tastes like memoir, with detail richly drawn from the memory of senses.

The main body of the story takes place over a period of three weeks,  as three boys make their passage to England.  Dinners are sat at the lowly "cats table" with a group of eccentric adults.  

The dreamlike prose is extremely rich with metaphor. The ship's passage to another continent and culture, three archetypal boys in the process of losing their innocence and childhood, a prisoner allowed to walk at night, a deaf daughter who swallows keys, a garden apothecary.  A floating world.

Although said of a specific character, this sentence could apply to the telling of the entire story.

"Twenty-one days is a very brief period in a life, but I would never unlearn the whisper of Cassius."

If this were a photograph it would have blurred edges and sepia tones, but be matted on a modern mirrored surface and held in place with a water frame.  Or maybe painted on the floor of a pool, then filled with water.

Not the typical unfolding of a plot, a bit of a jumble, with past, future and present entwined. Several reviews say this is one of the author's most accessible stories.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

Temperatures well above zero have kept this a green Christmas.  
Some mornings bring light frost.  
The surface of the pond freezes, melts, and freezes again.
Snowflakes have fallen, but melt so quickly.
My garden waits for its blanket of snow.

This rose was blooming on my front porch December 2nd

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas dinner 2011

Planning the feast ahead is always part of the pleasure.  Imagining the day it will come together with all its different courses and tastes; the festive table dressed and set with the best china.

The key to preparing holiday meals, I think, is to take the pleasure it offers.  If you feel like a kitchen slave, it not only robs you of enjoyment but I swear it is somehow reflected in  the flavour of the meal.  So I try to pace myself and not overdo, and to be in the present when I prepare the food.

Christmases past were drifting into my present as I was preparing this year's meal.   My grandmother's busywork in the kitchen, the long day's preparation and the hectic burst when everything was plated, served and devoured. Usually it was my job to set the table and do the dishes.  Our big family crowded around the table - ten of us - my grandparents, parents, and 6 brothers and sisters.

The older we got, the bigger we got, and it was hard to fit us all around the table, let alone the spouses and children.  Such a crowded house.  For almost two decades now, my birth family usually gets together well after December 25th.

Happily, my brother Dave's family and my family get together to feast on Christmas Day.  The kids get bigger each year.  

It occurs to me now that we should have been taking photos to mark the passage of time, but we've were too busy enjoying each others company.  Next year a portrait is in order.

This year our nephew Ryan was able to join us and round out the table so we made eight.

After dinner the "kids" spent time together while "the grown-ups" talked around the tree.  I mark this in quotes because the generations are no static thing.  My son is a young man now; my brother and I will be, in part,  children together forever...

The Christmas Menu was a meal rich with colour and flavour.  Truly, the best thing was the present company!

  • Baked Brie topped with sugared almonds, served with fresh figs
  • Salad of young greens, pomegranate, sugar mandarins, and brillo cheese drizzled with aged balsalmic
  • Prime Rib & Port Gravy
  • Apple and stilton bread pudding
  • Brussell sprouts, roasted chestnuts & bacon
  • Glazed carrots
  • Cake Opera treats
  • Tuxedo cake

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Such a cheery sight on a dark night.

My tree is full of ornaments from Christmas' past and present.  Different coloured, bright lights. This is no designer tree, but a tumble of memories with hopes for the future.

Hope we have a Very Merry!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Your conversations may be scintillating, but my book club can drink your book club under the table - Winter Solstice Wine Tasting 2011

Some of my fellow book lovers came over to my place to celebrate the Winter Solstice with a memorable wine-tasting.

"Wine is sunlight,
held together by water."
- Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)

The theme was Italian.  Grapes from Tuscany, Piedmont, Sicily - with a surprising majority from Veneto... at least 4 of 10 bottles.
"When it comes to wine, I tell people to throw away the vintage charts and invest in a corkscrew.  The best way to learn about wine is the drinking."
- Alexis Lichine
I learned a few things:  It is more than probable that Shiraz/Sirah originated from Sicily (Syracuse); Italy has more than 2000 grape varietals; and frozen grapes are an absolutely decadent treat!

So life's year begins and closes
Days though shortening still can shine
What though youth gave love and roses
Age still leaves us friends and wine.
- Thomas More
This was my 4th annual Winter Solstice tasting, with some new faces joining the table for the first time.

Different people voiced different favourites and I admit I was at times surprised.  Preference is such a personal thing. Even the naming of things... how can we be sure we all taste the same vanilla, raspberry or pepper flavours?
"There are no standards of taste in wine, cigars, poetry, prose, etc.  Each man's own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him or in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standards."
- Mark Twain 1895

Here are the bottles and pairings for future reference:

  • Prosecco Superiore,  Santa Margherita, Valdobbiadene, Brut; with chevre wrapped in prosciutto around breadsticks, served with fresh figs Kaarinna 
  • Prosecco Superiore, San Fermo, Bellenda, Valdobbiadene, Brut; pizza topped with carmelized onions, mushrooms and roasted pepper Niki
  • Pinot Grigio, Santepietre, Lamberti, Delle Venezie, 2010; smoked salmon topped with dill and lemon on crostini Wendy
  • Anselmi, San Vincenzo, 2010; with Lincolnshire Poacher cheese Christina
  • Shymer, Syrah-Merlot, Sicilia (Baglio di Pianetto), 2008; with meatballs and sauce cooked in Sicilian style Annika
  • Sangiovese Merlot, Puglia, Mezzomondo; with lasagna Grace
  • Serego Alighieri in Toscano, Toscano, 2008 (Bello Ovile); with shaved chocolate Brix Laura
  • Valpolicella Classico, 2006 (Cantina di Negrar); with shrimp Nicolette
  • Valpolicella Superiore, Ripasso, 2009 (Cesari); with bocconcini tossed in garlic scape pesto fresh from Jimmy's garden! and fresh fruit kabobs Carolyn
  • Barolo, La Pieve (2005) Dogliani; with Testun Al Barolo cheese and frozen grapes Diane
While waiting for designated drivers to show, we sipped Monte Antico, Toscano (sangiovese, merlot, cabernet savignon).

Monday, December 12, 2011

Really? There are wines from countries other than Italy?

Pinotage - signature grape of S.A.
Although it seems I've been favouring Italian reds, other countries have been filling my glass just as well.  

The Bean is a flavourful coffee pinotage from South Africa.  There is a notice on the bottle, "no coffee beans were used, abused, or mistreated during the winemaking process."  Very oaky red.

Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde, a great value white from Portugal - less than $10 - with a score of 92.  

Chateau La Tour de By, Cru Bourgeios Superieur, Medoc.... very tasty Bordeaux from France

When I win the lottery I'll go on a wine tasting tour, Around the World in 80 Bottles.  In the meantime I'll sip on the grapes and look at google maps.

Illustration credit

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Full Long Nights Moon - December

With the winter solstice approaching in another 12 days, we are due for even shorter days and longer nights.

Time to enjoy the comfort of the season, the twinkling lights, and the promise of a distant spring.

Light a candle to celebrate the Full Long Nights Moon, which became full at 9:36 EST this morning.

In the mood for a little classical entertainment?
Clair de Lune, Debussy's moonlight sonata... hard to believe this beautiful scene was cut from Fantasia....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Great Paintings

Great Piece of Turf - Durer
I was reading through the Globe and Mail selections of gift books and saw a title I couldn't resist - Great Paintings:  The World's Masterpieces Explored and Explained.

I picked it up on the way home tonight.

A tour of 66 groundbreaking works from galleries around the world, the illustrations are lavish with pull-out details that deepen appreciation for the artists' skills and talents.

The realistic, almost photographic watercolour of turf was created by Durer more than 500 years ago, but it looks surprisingly modern to me... it was one of the first great nature studies.

Arcimbaldo is here! And Michaelangelo, Raphael, Rothko, Tom Thompson, Warhol....

Although there is a focus on Western and European art, the Qingming Scroll is here, and so is this Cypress Tree.  Akbar's Adventures with the Elephant, too (1561)

The Dance - Paula Rego
I'm looking forward to hours of unhurried pleasure as I rediscover some familiar faces and get introduced to some new.

This is the first time I've seen anything by Paula Rego. I like the fact it can be interpreted as a dance through the stages of a woman's life, from childhood to old age.

And it has a full moon in the sky, one of my favourite subjects.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Started Early Took My Dog

What a great title!

Quirky.  Funny.  Poetic.  Not necessarily words I'd normally associate with a mystery novel.

Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson was the Book Babes November selection, chosen by Nicolette. Nothing controversial here - all of us liked the book, which is the fourth in a detective series.

Nice touches.... Jackson, the central character, has a surprising penchant for poetry which was gained in some dark days of his personal history.  The novel ends with the Emily Dickinson poem, 'Hope is the thing with feathers'.

  • What he discovered was that the great novels of the world were about three things - death, money and sex. Occasionally a whale.  But poetry had wormed its way in, uninvited.  A Toad, can die of Light!  Crazy.

Great descriptions of English abbeys and National Trust properties which make me want to make a visit just to take in the scenery, like watching wild deer grazing out your cottage window or passing by Jane Seymour's bench.

  • ... the ruins had touched his soul in some inarticulate and melancholy place, the nearest thing to holiness for an atheistic Jackson.  He missed God.  But then who didn't?

Satiric observations nicely sum up the state of modern affairs:

  • "Western civilization had had a good run but now it had pretty much shopped itself out of existence."
  • "You go to sleep living in a prosperous country and you wake up in a poor one, how did that happen?  Where had the money gone, and why couldn't they just get it back?"

The plot is artful, if a bit gruesome, involving the murders of prostitutes and stolen identities over two different generations; told out of sequence in a nonlinear fashion. So sometimes it is a bit difficult to figure out which decade you're in or which character has the stage. Reading this on the kobo was challenging because it wasn't easy to thumb back and double-check previous pages.

If this were a film, it would definitely suit film noir.  I'd pick Guy Ritchie to direct and Hugh Laurie or Robert Downey Junior as Jackson.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vino Italiano

While we were in Tuscany good wine was so accessible.  Even the supermarket shelves boasted amazing labels: amerone, barolo, chianti, brunello.

And so affordable!  At a restaurant here I recently paid $30 for a half litre of a red because it came from San Gimignano. I'm sure there it would have been less than ten euro for the entire bottle.

I don't think I'll ever forget the tasting we went to at the farm Tenuta Torciano to sample the featured local vintages: white Vernaccia San Gimignano, Chianti, Chianti Classico, Brunellos, Super Tuscans, Vin Santo, and a balsalmic aged for thirty years.

While there we picked up a few bottles to bring home, including a Brunello di Montalcino and Chianti Classico Geneste.

I'll be sharing a bottle of the Montalcino at the Winter Solstice wine tasting this year.  Just sent the invites off to the Book Babes and I'm already looking forward to it!  The theme this year is, of course, Vino Italiano......

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seeing Red

Haven't been to an opening night in ....  I can't remember how long.

Lucky for me, Kaarina's date wasn't able to make it so I tagged along to the Canadian premiere of Red.

This Tony award winner had an outstanding script and I enjoyed how red was punctuated in the lighting: during a scene transition, on the character's fingertips;  at the end of a burning cigarette; in the warm glow of the hot lights.

The stand-out scene for me was when the actors flung themselves at the canvas with their brushes and turned the blank white slate into a red scream.  Live, and in less than three minutes. It was literally breathtaking (the actor playing Rothko was left panting).  To me this is a central, powerful metaphor.  Most of the time the characters talked about, looked at, pondered, paced, mixed, poured... yet so little time was actually spent in the physical creation of the art itself.

The dynamic between the artist and his assistant was fascinating to watch.  Rothko was cruel, self-absorbed.  The assistant was a blank canvas.  At the play's end, the young man is given his freedom and sent off into the world.  Like a Rothko painting, perhaps?

Orange Red Orange - Mark Rothko
I enjoyed the production, the direction and the actors' interpretation so I was surprised by how nasty the Toronto Star review was the next day in its attack on the Director. It seemed so vitriolic it made me wonder whether the reviewer had some snub he was trying to settle.  The Globe and Mail was far more generous. The National Post a bit less so.

In the play, another scene transition saw copies of Warhols, Jasper Johns, and Lichtensteins dance across the stage. Rothko felt these pieces unworthy to displace his work and saw them as meaningless representations that demanded little from the viewer.

Some of Rothko's paintings were exhibited this past summer at the AGO.  Over the years I've come to appreciate abstract expressionism, and can even claim a visceral connection with many.  Like Orange Red Orange, which I interpret and react to differently, depending on my mood.  I can't say I've ever been moved to tears, though:

Pop art, relying on figurative imagery, was the antithesis of Abstract Expressionism. Whereas Warhol often utilized "found" imagery in his paintings, Rothko used abstract forms and colour - although he denied being an "abstractionist" as recalled by Selden Rodman in his book Conversations with Artists.
Mark Rothko: "You might as well get one thing straight... I'm not an abstractionist."
Selden Rodman: "You're an abstractionist to me... You're a master of color harmonies and relationships on a monumental scale. Do you deny that?"
Mark Rothko: "I do. I'm not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else."
Selden Rodman: "Then what is it you're expressing?"
Mark Rothko: "I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions - tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on - and the fact that lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I communicate those basic human emotions... The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point!"
(Selden Rodman, Conversations with Artists (NY: Capricorn Books, 1961) pp. 93-4)
Despite his denial of being an "abstractionist" Rothko and other Abstract Expressionists had fought hard over several decades for public acceptance of abstract art - through exhibitionsprotests and writings. When Pop reared its figurative head in the early 60s, Rothko saw it as a step backward rather than forward. When Sidney Janis presented many of the Pop artists (including Andy Warhol) in his 1962 exhibition, "The New Realists," Rothko, along with Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston and Robert Motherwell, resigned from the gallery. Guston's daughter Musa Mayer recalled that "Overnight, it seemed, the art world changed. My father was in despair over the selling of art, over the slick, depersonalized gloss - not only of Pop Art, but of Minimalism as well - that was taking center stage in New York. Art was no longer struggle; art had become marketing."