Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year!

Unwinding at the day's end, I've poured myself a glass of Hennessy XO, a Christmas present from Rob in 2010, saved to celebrate promotions and savour special occasions.

It was a great night, spent among friends, the original Book Babes. Two books were on discussion:  Bride of New France and The Grief of Others.  I had chosen to read Bride of New France, but a TPL search showed the entire city library system was loaned out of the title and there were hundreds holds.  (Who knew a historical novel would be so popular?  I was going to buy the eBook, but it was way too expensive... more in fact, than soft and hard cover.  Plus the publisher (through Kobo) was not honouring discounts.  What's up with that?  Really, I would think it should be cheaper to buy an electronic book.  I digress.)

The clear favourite selection was The Grief of Others.   Those that had read each book felt that although Bride of New France was well researched and intriguing; it was more of a tale and not quite as authentic as The Grief of Others.  Despite the sad plot-line (divorce, death, estrangement), people described 'Grief' as "life-affirming", "true", and 'authentic'.  One reader cited its prologue as one of the best written passages they had ever encountered.

Confession time.  I hadn't read either title (gasp!).  But I had read several reviews and so was able to contribute to the conversation.  And now I know which of the two books I would prefer to read.

'The Grief of Others' is such an unappealing title, though.  I wonder if the editor/publisher tried to recommend something different to make it more appealing?  Was the author adamant it needed to stay?  Did the marketing department weigh in?  Given the choice between the two and life's recent events, anything with the word 'grief' was not compelling.  At least not in February.  So, lesson re-learned, although you can't judge books by their titles it certainly impacts their marketing (thinking of Book of Negroes among others).

On the way home from book club, I heard a great jazz tune called Leap Year, which led me to You Tube and other similarly named tunes.  Here is a bluesy, smokey, aptly titled riff, yours to enjoy:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

William Kurelek

I've always associated this artist with childhood innocence and fun, the bright colours popping against the snow.  Images so vivid you can almost hear the laughter and shouts of  the children at play. When Rob and I visited the Hamilton Art Gallery yesterday to view a retrospective of Kurelek's work, we were introduced to a whole other expression of his talents.

Kurelek's biography shows he was a restless soul. He left the prairies, went to the Ontario College of Art, and then set off for England.  Alone and lonely, in 1954 he attempted suicide.  He was hospitalized,  underwent a series of shock treatments, and was encouraged to paint as therapy.  Along the way, this avowed atheist converted to Catholicism.  His faith helped him deal with his mental anguish, and he remained a devout Catholic until his death in 1977.

Anxiety seemed his constant companion.   He went through a period in the sixties where he seemed consumed by the threat of nuclear war.  One painting, called 'The Good Life" depicts a three-generation Ukrainian family inside their Prairie home,  enjoying all the modern day amenities but completely oblivious of the nuclear cloud in the distance. 

Artist's studio on Balsam Avenue Toronto
While living on Balsam Avenue in Toronto (just a few kilometers from where I live now), he started building a bomb shelter in his basement.  This dark, cramped space was where he painted many of his later works.

Viewing the paintings I was struck by their beautiful frames, and then discovered Kurelek had done much of this work himself.  He'd learned the trade while living in London and then worked at the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto from 1960-1970, earning his living framing fine works of art.

One of the paintings, Reminiscences of my Youth, pictured above, takes framing to a whole new level.  The bottom portion shows Kurelek as a young man in a dark room, despondent that the happy days of his childhood will never return.  In the gallery I was able to crouch down and read the handwritten note on his bedside table, mourning those days were "gone forever".  I wonder if that was his suicide note?

Having been introduced to a more serious and dark side of Kurelek, I appreciate his portraits of childhood and the light in his canvases even more than before.  The aurora borealis is a triumph of light over darkness.  Chasing fireflies in a night-time forest feels like an act of devotion and hope.

Maze (1953 - 1954)
this was painted as part of his therapy
it is a cross-section of his brain & skull
Glimmering tapers 'round the day's dead sanctities (1970)
somewhat depressing title
click image to expand - this is beautiful!
but this is also one of his handmade frames

Trees (circa 1970)
Chasing fireflies in this night-time forest feels like an act of devotion and hope

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Year of Wonders

BPYC Book Club read and discussed Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks tonight.

This may not be the type of book you say you "liked" or "enjoyed" reading.  With one misfortune after another, many of us found ourselves wondering why it wasn't called "year of miseries".

I guess you'd have to expect the story of Black Death visiting a small countryside village in 1666 to be dark.  The prose was a bit purple in places and the dialogue was oddly stilted in others.  What made it a compulsive read was the plot - full of bizarre twists and side stories:  mines collapsing, witches burning, babies birthing, madness, torture, and 2/3 of the village dying off in less than a year. A bit of a soap opera, really.  However, much of it is based on recorded facts.

In this first novel you can see the talent that would go on to win the Pulitzer for her second novel, March.

**plot spoiler**
My favourite part was the twist, near the end, when things take an unexpected and bizarre turn.  It seemed the author was about to succumb to Harlequinn Romance with our heroine ending up in her lover's arms, living happily ever after.  Instead he turns out to harbour some deeply disturbing attitudes that cause Anna to abruptly break things off.  Run, girl, run!  The vicar's celibacy has turned him into a bit of a weirdo... or maybe his weirdness turned him to a life of celibacy.  Yikes!

Some felt the author stretched the truth a bit too far by sending Anna off on her journey to the Middle-East with a wet nurse,  living amongst Muslims, and picking up Arabic to the extent she was able to read scientific works well enough to inform her practice obstetrics.  Ah, yes, historical fiction.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Family Day

What better way to spend Family Day than with your family?

Rob, Alex and I set off gargoyle hunting with the book 'Faces on Places' as our field guide, starting with the Claridge apartments, built in the late 1920s.  The architecture is described as being built in a 'Venetian Gothic' style.

The angels that buttressed the exterior walls were graceful, but it was the interior lobby that was  absolutely stunning, with the ceiling embellished by none other than JEH MacDonald and his son Thoreau. The interior feels Spanish-American. 24 karat gold leaf was not used sparingly in the zodiac illustrations that glowed warmly on the ceiling.  Rob recalled some of the illustrations in books from his childhood, not realizing Thoreau was the offspring of one of the Group of Seven.

How could we not choose to eat our Family Day lunch at a place in Chinatown called Mother's Dumplings?  Alex vouched for the place, saying it was a favourite of his and Penny's. We waited in line a good twenty minutes for our table, watching the cooks in the open kitchen preparing the handmade dumplings. The wait only made lunch seem all the more delicious.

Toronto's founding fathers photo credit
After eating we popped into Gwartzmans across the street for some art supplies...  some brightly coloured baking clay for future rainy day fun.

City Hall gargoyle photo credit
Then off to see more grotesques, driving past City Hall and through the Financial District, looking high up into the buildings and trying to spot fantastic creatures as we passed.

We finished our daytrip at Cherry Beach, watching the shadows grow long in the late afternoon sun.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Albright-Knox Gallery

Rob wanted to check out the Albright-Knox gallery on Saturday.  More specifically, the Jackson Pollack masterpiece Convergence.  That piece alone was worth the drive.  I had no idea the depth and breadth of the collection - Picasso, Whistler, Kandinsky, Kahlo, Dali, Still, Rothco, Warhol, Renoir,  Pissaro....  We wandered through the spacious rooms at an unhurried pace, grabbed a wonderful lunch in the cafe and went back exploring.

What a  perfect day-trip for a grey day.

Although there were likely dark and depressing themes, they were easily overlooked.  As I made my way around it seemed the entire gallery was curated with a sense of optimism, humour and wonder. I found myself most drawn to the seemingly uncomplicated, most colourful pieces.    

A very memorable day, indeed:  the kinetic art and Op Art were entirely energizing; the Scribble Art Wall drawing was phenomenal;  the neon sign reading Only God Knows I'm Good was hung 50 feet high and seemed like a private joke between the artist and me.

A lot is resonating with me today, but I want to share these four landscapes in particular....

Each age in history presents challenges and sometimes it seems we are truly on the eve of destruction.  It seems easy to despair, it is 2012, after all.  But these artists all dream of bright and hopeful futures, of new ways of being and seeing, that are entirely rejuvenating.

I've long been a fan of Calder's mobiles and stabiles, some dance to the slightest breath.  This weekend I learned in his youth he worked on boats as he traveled his way along the coast, and when I saw this untitled painting it brought a smile - such a simple graphic depiction but to me it conjured the wind, the sun, the moon, waves, mountains and sunrise.

Calder left this untitled but to me it could be called "Who has seen the wind"

Light and movement in the dappled sunlight in a landscape from Southern France, the trees yearning up and toward the sky:
Matisse's fauvist landscapes
Joyful nostalgia in Chagall's dream landscape:
These warm, organic shapes placed against mechanical ones seemed optimistic, instead of the usual foreboding such juxtaposition usually brings to landscape.  
Delaunay - 1913

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Winter Garden

Dwarf Mugo Pine from March

(the snow is real, the rose is faux)

out the back window

Friday, February 10, 2012

Week's end

So here I am at week's end, happily spent.

Pondering the end of another work week.  What a whirlwind things have been, people coming and going, new assignments, new priorities, new bosses, new team members.  Head spinning, really.

One thing I learn, relearn, relearn even at my ripe old age, is all the opinions I form of people are based on a dangerous recipe of my limited knowledge, personal bias, vested interest. Tonight I am deciding yet again to reserve judgement because attaching emotions to everything is just too damn tiring, things change so fast, but I will allow myself some indulgence since really, it has been a pretty great week, time has flown by, and despite all the craziness I actually may have accomplished a few things.

I think the secret really is not to be too attached to outcomes and try to check your ego at the door.  Good life lessons, overall.  The ego thing sure is tricky.

Of course my philosophy is tempered right now by a wonderful pinot noir from a family winery in Monterey, California,  Vintage 2010,  two generations working the terroir.

Time. Now. To. Slow. Down. For. The. Week. End.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Full Ice Moon - February

Icy Moon
Full Snow Moon

Take your pick for the name of the next full moon, occurring
February 9, 2:32 a.m.

As for me, since there is no snow these days, I'll go with the Icy Moon.

The Icy Moon Orbiter never made it into space, the project was cancelled by NASA.  It was unmanned, in any case.

Here are two versions of one of my favourite tunes, Rocket Man.

The first, performed by Elton John, rocking on Rocket Man, on the occasion of his 60th birthday in Madison Square gardens.

The second, William Shatner camping it up in 1978.  Not sure the audience knew what to make of it, but Bernie Taupin introduced Captain Kirk with a big grin.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


These long nights mean extra moon-gazing time.

The last two evenings, Alex, Rob and I have been watching the moonrise from our front window as an after dinner treat. By 6 a.m. the moon has travelled to my backyard, casting enough light that I don't need to flip the switch on to feed our cat.

Here is a different perspective of January's full old moon nestled in the winter plumes of zebra grass in my front garden. Finally getting around to posting them now, on the eve of the next full moon.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

February Treats


Soirée Québecoise!
A Foodie night with friends bringing each course.

What a belle epoch!

The appetizer was a selection of Quebecoise cheeses:
  • Douanier (Canadian doppleganger of French Morbier) tasting slightly sharp with a vein of blue ash down the centre
  • La Mont Jocob (semi-soft), light and fruity tasting, a 3 medal winner in the Quebec fine cheese contest 2010
  • chevre noir cheddar "if cheddar is the little black dress of Canadian cheese, then Chevre Noir is the Channel classic with a twist," made from sheep's milk
  • Oka, made from the Trappist monk's original recipe, a buttery nutty creamy combo 

These were paired with a lovely Medoc called Diane de Belgrave, a gold medal winner.  I didn't realize that a Medoc was also a Bordeaux until checking just now.  I was impressed by how well it went with each of the cheeses.

For the first course, split pea soup was paired with Neige ice apple cider.  The soup bowls were warmed in the oven and poured from a beautiful pottery soup tureen at the table.  The elegant presentation made this simple course quite special.

The Main was a Six Pates of wild boar, elk and buffalo that was simmered for 6 hours so the meat seemed to melt on the tongue.  Of the trio, I think the wild boar was my favourite.  A cool and crunchy side of  tri-colour slaw was a great complement.  It went very nicely with the Cote du Rhone and Valpolicella.

Dessert was served by the fire.  I was so full, I couldn't finish my pieces of  Sugar Pie and Chocolate Espresso Sugar Pie with fresh whipped cream.  No problem - Rob was eager to help!


After a few hours at the AGO, I sat for a late brunch at Frank and enjoyed salad of pickled heirloom beets with chevre and fried walnuts, tossed on a bed of baby arugula.  The red beet juice made little red polka-dots on the flesh of the orange heirloom beets and bled into the white chevre.  It looked just like a still life painted in ink and watercolour. Too bad I didn't have a camera, it was so gorgeous on the plate.

On the way home I picked up more cheese:  Leyden, from the Netherlands, laced with cumin and cloves.  Nice bite!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

New wine discoveries

A new grape, a new label, and an annual Grand Tasting were the discoveries I made when I went to a wine-tasting charity fundraiser that featured wines from the Lifford Wine Agency.

We tasted three whites and three reds.

My favourite of the night was Lagrein, produced by a woman in Italy who has been winning awards for her outstanding talent.  It can't be easy to work in a profession that is dominated by men.  She was originally an architect by profession, until she married into a winemaking family:
"The challenge in changing profession from architect to winemaker was at first daunting. In the meantime my wines have scooped some of Italy’s highest awards, including the much coveted “Three Glasses” from Italy’s most influential wine guide, Gambero Rosso, three years in a row". Elena Walch 
This particular wine is made from the lagrein grape(pronounced lah-GRAH'EEN, lah-GRINE or lah-GRI'NE) native to Alto Adige in Northern Italy.  The taste was unique, with wonderful dimension and flavour.   The LCBO sells two different labels of this varietal, but nothing from Walch, so I placed an order for 6 bottles through Liffords.

As the evening went on I was scoring the wines more highly with each passing glass. Tasting notes from the evening:
  • Villa Sandi Prosecco, made from Glera (which were often called prosecco grapes, up to 2009),  produced in Veneto.  Sparkling wine with small bubbles to dance on the tongue.
  • Valle Dorado Sauvignon Blanc from the Central Valley in Chile.  Unoaked, but still buttery.
  • Garofoli 'Macrina', made from Verdicchio grapes indigenous to Marche in central Italy.  Some described it as salty/sweet taste combination.
  • Wall Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley tasted like velvet.  
  • Elena Walch Lagrein, beautiful red in the glass, aroma of flowers and berries, nicely balanced with a great finish
  • Greenstone Vineyard Heathcoate Shiraz from Australia.  Definitely a big red.  It had a hint of eucalyptus which added a hint of unexpected freshness. I think this would be amazing with  a juicy steak or lamb shank.  

Lifford's has an annual Grand Tasting each May that I'm already looking forward to attending this coming spring.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Emperor's Concerto

Rob and I will have last seen Beethoven's 5th performed in 2009 by pianist Andre Laplante. I'm looking forward to tomorrow night, when we will see Anton Kuerti perform The Emperor's Concerto.  I purchased tickets with the promise we would have a good view of the pianist.

Opus 67 had a long gestation.  The first phrases were pencilled in 1804 and it was presented in 1808, when Beethoven was 38.  His "middle period" is also sometimes known as his "heroic" period, because of the dramatic nature of many of the compositions.

original score from Wikimedia Commons
The premier was not a success.  The 5th was performed after just one rehearsal.  A musician's made such a glaring mistake during the choral fantasy that the orchestra actually stopped and started over.  The auditorium was freezing cold and many in the audience left before the show was even completed.  Performed again eighteen months later, the 5th concerto received justifiable acclaim as an "indescribably profound and magnificent".  It is now one of the most loved and best known classical works.

Beethoven didn't come up with the name 'Emperor's Concerto'.  In fact, he detested the nobility because the Imperial Theatre ignored his petition to become its permanent composer in 1807.  Not only did they reject his proposal, they didn't even write back to acknowledge receipt.  Who knows, maybe the insult spurred him to complete this masterpiece.

Beethoven's hearing loss began in his early twenties, and by the time he wrote this concerto it was pronounced, but he was still able to hear.  Seventeen years later he would perform his Ninth Symphony (Opus 125), with his back was to the audience, and not be able to hear their applause.

the second movement, Adagio un poco mosso