Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring Sadhana - 2016

It is that time of year again:  a call to the yoga studio for 6 a.m., for thirty consecutive days, March 2nd to 31st.

This sadhana, Marlene has been reading BKS, Light on Life, instead of Putanjali's sutras. Practical advice both on and off the mat.

Not one of the days in the 30-day sadhanas has been the same, nor is this sadhana a repetition of any of the previous seven. That's one of the things I appreciate about Iyengar yoga, with such a variety of poses and approaches it doesn't need to become routine. Doing something different makes you look at things a bit differently, and Marlene usually surprises us with something new - a pose or an insight - that brings a fresh awareness for the day: letting go of unnecessary tension; being persistent; using strength with intelligence; being deliberate in action. Intellectual understanding of these principles is useful, but the physical experience becomes an embodiment of truth and helps me to feel and know it more deeply.

Easter and the Vernal Equinox both marked the calendar, offering celebrations of hope and renewal. Clocks changed, and we 'lost' an hour. Temperatures fluctuated widely, bringing snow, rain, ice, mush, sleet, and mud. Witch hazel bloomed, snowdrops nodded, crocuses popped and tulips and daffodils started their greening. I even saw a few bugs swarming, food for the returning birds.

Four years and eight sadhana in, one of the biggest challenges for me is still waking up so early. It was a busy month at work, and I squeezed a lot into the social calendar, too, including hosting a few dinner parties, house guests, making it to uke jams, trivia nights, Open Mics, a trip to New York, and attending a few courses.

Although I missed a few mornings at the studio, (six due to the jazz safari in Manhattan, and one due to the ice storm), I observed the sadhana with a daily practice. In preparation for the trip to New York, I bought a new travel mat. It folds up nicely and hardly takes up any room. However, finding floor space in cramped hotel quarters was a bit challenging.

One night during the jazz safari I was watching a drummer so intently I realized his body was his most important instrument, the drum kit was his prop. I wonder if I would have had that powerful insight without daily practice and meditation?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Robin on Spring Break

My niece, Robin, came to visit us in Toronto for a weekend during March break, partly to get a preview of Humber Lakeshore where she'll be going to school in the fall.

Saturday we drove out to the campus, situated picturesquely on the lake. Entirely different from the concrete jungle in Etobicoke where I spent a year studying film. The day trip also offered a leisurely tour on the long way home, with views of High Park, Little Italy, the Bridle Path, and Toronto Botanical Gardens.

We had breakfast at St. Lawrence Market, and a late vegan lunch of Punjab street food in Kensington Market.

Spending time with her, every once in awhile I would see my brother Pat's grin or  glimpse his sense of humour. One generation in the next.

Robin is from Kitchener and doesn't get to Toronto often, so she hadn't seen these spots before. Sharing them with her reminded me of just how much I love this city! Such a great mix of urban and natural spaces, and such diversity.

There were a few BPYC events on the itinerary, too. We brought her along to Open Mic on the Friday night, a St. Patrick's theme that saw the yet-to-be-named-BPYC-ukulele-band play the Unicorn Song, and a short burst of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. Sunday it was a Painting afternoon, trying our talents at watercolours.  She enjoyed herself, but there weren't people her own age around.

Before she left, we stopped by Alex' and Penny's place. Judging from the Facebook photos she posted, the visit to the apartment was a definite highlight. She is just nine years younger than Alex, with college on the horizon, moving away from home, and starting a great adventure.  Seeing her cousin's place and how he had made a home for himself must have been encouraging.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

At 6:30 we stopped by the TKTS booth and by 7:00 we were ten rows back from the front stage in the Ethel Barrymore theatre.


The play was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. I loved the book when I read it years ago, and wondered how the adaptation would work - would they be able to tell the story from the first-person point of view of the 15 year old autistic boy? The point of view changed but the meaning and themes of the story were brilliantly dramatized.

Christopher sets out to solve the mystery about the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, and his detective work leads him to confront truths people have been hiding from him, with seemingly good intentions.

The set was remarkably spare, making use of black grid lines and rear projection to evoke the inner state of Christopher's mind. Rich, vast, complex, stark, filled with facts and details.

When Christopher became especially agitated or lost in reverie, the other actors would lift him up and into space, where he appeared to tumble weightlessly, lost in a world of his own making.

Christopher can't tolerate physical contact, so the visual became a powerful metaphor of transcendence.

I don't think there was a dry eye in the house when the teenager hugged and played with the puppy that is brought on stage in the second half.

Uncomplicated joy.

The audience sees the same uncomplicated joy when Christopher tries to explain prime numbers and complicated mathematical problems to the audience. Something most of us will never grasp, but the happiness in the trying was contagious.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

How to Work Better

When we visited the Guggenheim we saw the Peter Fischli/David Weiss exhibit, How to Work Better. Quirky, funny, and subversive are words that come to mind. I hope this exhibit, or a part of it,  eventually finds its way to Toronto, so I can go again (and again).

Hundreds of clay figures, hundreds of polyurethane sculptures of ordinary objects, thousands of postcard images, kinetic sculptures, videos...  The sheer volume of the works on display was impressive, and the Guggenheim a perfect venue to show them off.

From 1979 to 2012, Swiss artists Peter Fischli (b. 1952) and David Weiss (1946–2012) collaborated on a body of work that offers a deceptively casual meditation on how we perceive everyday life. Discover how their sculptures, photographs, videos, and installations juxtapose the spectacular and the ordinary, questioning our understanding of reality and inviting a state of wonder. catalog description

I half expected these clay figures to start dancing, they were so animated. Suddenly This Overview
The guys in front are labelled 'Popular Opposites: Silly and Funny'
Fischli and Weiss fabricated each and every one of these objects. Perfect visual replications that have absolutely no utility, flawlessly rendered. Useless?

Practical advice 
also includes
8. Accept Change as Inevitable
7. Admit mistakes
8. Say it simple
9. Be calm
10. Smile

(I'm using the numbering on the exhibit)

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Full Spring Moon - March

who knows if the moon’s
a balloon, coming out of a keen city
in the sky—filled with pretty people?
(and if you and i should

get into it, if they
should take me and take you into their balloon,
why then
we’d go up higher with all the pretty people

than houses and steeples and clouds:
go sailing
away and away sailing into a keen
city which nobody’s ever visited, where

                   Spring) and everyone’s
in love and flowers pick themselves

ee cummings

the moon is full on March 23, 7 a.m.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

All that Jazz

Our visit to Manhattan was a great excuse to check out jazz clubs. We started the official Jazz Safari Friday evening and managed to squeeze in three venues.

I really enjoy live music in smaller settings; the condensed visuals, tight sound, and the intimate and personal interaction between players and audience.

So many memorable moments.

Alfredo Rodriguez, at the 'Jazz Standard', with fingers spreading over the piano keys, powerfully and precisely striking, and then switching in the blink of an eyelash to barely caressing. Occasionally I have to remind myself that the piano is a percussion instrument but after his performance this realization will never be lost.

Then the tiny but vibrant 'Zinc Club' where the waitresses could barely navigate the crowd, yet the audience found room to dance and swivel to the Latin beat.

At the iconic Birdland, linen white table cloths and candle light set the stage for beautiful Molly Ringwald. With an actress' sense of timing she surprised the audience between songs, by reading Billy Holiday's letter to her former lover, Tallulah Bankhead. Before Billy published 'Lady Sings the Blues,' the publisher sent a preview copy to Tallulah, who then threatened to sue. Molly read from the letter,  "Read my book over again. I understand they sent you a duplicate manuscript. There’s nothing in it to hurt you. If you think so, let’s talk about it like I wanted to last month. It’s going to press right now so there is no time for monkeying around. Straighten up and fly right, Banky! Nobody’s trying to drag you.... And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party."

Saturday night started in Tribeca at the Roxy Hotel, hosting a classic trio of piano, sax and drums in the atrium. Downstairs was Django, with a big Latin jazz band.

Later, to the Rum Bar at the Edison Hotel. Just three hours earlier I had watched the movie Birdman, so the scene where actor meets movie critic was fresh in my mind. Jaymz Bee pointed out this was the same bar, and suddenly I could see Michael Keaton sitting on a stool delivering his diatribe.

Smalls Jazz Club was the tiniest club we visited but it had the biggest band, the Justin Mullens Octet - French horn, 2 tenor sax, bass clarinet, bass, piano, drums. All the musicians had the score in front of them, but they were clearly improvising within the structure. The drummer did a physical warm up before starting, massaging his forearms and rolling his shoulders, which I thought was a bit theatrical, but after watching the physical strain of his performance, and the endurance it required, it was so clear the drums were just an extension of the real instrument -  his body.

Experience is the best teacher, and visiting these jazz clubs brought new appreciation, insights and learning about music.

Unfortunately, this trip we didn't make it to the Village Vanguard, Bluenote, Dizzy's Coca Cola Club, or Marie's Crisis Cafe. Woody Allen was playing with his New Orleans band at the Carlyle on the Upper East side, but it was sold out. Maybe next time!

my new uke! (on the left)
During our walking tours we also happily stumbled past the Chelsea Hotel and the Brill Building. The Chelsea, where Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Janice Joplin hung out. The Brill, which by 1962 contained 165 music businesses and hosted one of my favourite composers, Carole King.

In Greenwich Village I bought a new ukulele at Matt Umanov Guitars. This is the first uke I've actually purchased as my own, the others have been borrowed or stolen from Rob. As soon as I walked in the store I saw it posing on the counter, and it was love at first sight! A perfect souvenir for the NYC trip.

- this blog was guest-edited by Rob -

Friday Itinerary:
Jazz Standard - Alfredo Rodriguez....Cuban pianist. 
Zinc -Gregorio Uribe Big Band
Birdland - Molly Ringwald

Saturday's clubs:
Rum Bar (Edison Hotel)

Kitano - Ms. Blue

Smalls - the smallest club and biggest band!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

New York!

What a great trip!  I am just recording the list of some of the things we did so I can remember highlights for future musings. The trip seemed full of synchronicity, like watching the film Birdman and then just three hours later watching a trio at the Edison Hotel, in the very same bar that was in the movie. Did a lot of walking, recording triple the steps of my normal routine. Little sleep, running on adrenaline, hardly stopping for meals. I am looking forward to my own pillow tonight.

FRIDAY - Kitano Hotel (Park Avenue) Jazz Safari! (Jazz Standard - Alfredo Rodriguez, Cuban pianist + Zinc - Gregorio, Uribe Big Band + Birdland, Molly Ringwald)  SATURDAY - Grand Central Station + New York Public Library (Gutenberg bible! Map Room!  Dicken's study!) + Guggenheim (Peter Fischli David Weiss: How to Work Better) + Central Park (crocus! cardinal! witch hazel!) + Jazz (Roxy + Edison Hotel's Rum Bar) SUNDAY - walk to Chrysler and Chanin Buildings (both closed but saw the lobbies) + Chinese foot massage + Jazz Brunch at the Kitano (Ms. Blue) / change hotels to Belvedere (Hell's Kitchen) / Big Bus Tour of Downtown  (St. Paul's) + Brazilian Grille dinner + Big Bus Night tour MONDAY - tour of Greenwich Village with a Big Apple Greeter (bought a new uke!) + lunch (A.O.C.) + High Line walk + Chelsea (Chelsea Hotel!) + Staten Island Ferry + Smalls Jazz Club TUESDAY - Big Bus tour of Uptown  + Katz Deli + Tenement Museum +  Coney Island + Broadway Play (Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time) + Top of the Rock WEDNESDAY - Liberty Skyline water tour before heading to the airport and home (love Porter Airlines).