Monday, December 26, 2005

A white, if damp, Christmas

Burl, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

I'm back in Ottawa for a few days, at my mom's place, taking pictures with her camera. It's snowy but mild here. This is a tree in the front yard, all glazed with melting snow.

The steady low-key gentrification of my old neighbourhood here continues. There are still thrift shops and a Giant Tiger (see previous entry), but also a couple of really good bookstores, a Bridgehead coffee shop, several nice little bakeries, and some gift shops. Best of all, the Great Canadian Theatre Company will soon have a new home about a ten-minute walk from here. My mom just renovated, and is looking for a roomer to live upstairs. It's a nice place -- if you know anyone who's looking to rent a room in Ottawa, drop me an e-mail.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fire and ice, and a jellyfish

Dancing round the bonfire
Over the last few years, I started to worry about the future of the Kensington Festival of Lights; it seemed like an event that had outgrown its venue. The herds of people were so huge they could barely squeeze into Kensington's narrow streets. It was getting next to impossible to see the giant puppets and the fire-dancers. Which was a shame, because the Festival of Lights has really become my favourite holiday tradition.

Good news! This year's Festival was the best yet. I think that what happened was something like that old Yogi Berra quote: "Nobody goes to that restaurant anymore -- it's too crowded." So many people got fed up with the Festival's crowds & stayed home that the crowd size was manageable this year. It was also the best-organized Festival of Lights I've seen: there were orange-vested volunteers directing the movement of the crowd, and an announcer with electronic amplification to explain what was going on in the park. And the weather was perfect: dry, but not too cold. Here's a set of festival photos.

I hooked up with a small but hardy band of psychogeographers. When I met Alison in front of the firehall, she was already going on about a small child she had seen wearing the most amazing jellyfish costume. We spent much of the festival searching for the jellyfish in the crowd, and finally we found her! We felt that the winter solstice needs a cuddly mascot, and the Solstice Jellyfish is an excellent candidate. We started envisioning seasonal children's picture books.

After the bonfire, Alison, Jason, Dylan and I warmed up at Buddha's Vegetarian Restaurant on Dundas with a tasty but alarming-looking variety plate of mysterious vegetable-based mock meats, and then Alison proposed that we walk up to Bloor and Christie to see the giant tiger. Being originally from Eastern Ontario, my first thought was, "There's a Giant Tiger on Bloor now? Cool!" But no, she meant the 15-foot illuminated tiger that now graces Koreatown. Alison feels a special connection to this tiger. As an activist with the Toronto Public Space Committee, she spends a lot of time going over city proposals and e-mailing city councillors, asking them to say no to the megabins, no to new billboards, no to giant distracting video screens hovering over the Gardiner, etc. All that negativity was starting to get her down, so when she came across this proposal, she was thrilled. Councillors across the city started getting e-mails saying, "Please vote against the megabins -- but please vote in favour of the giant glowing tiger, it will be SO AWESOME!!" And here it is:
burning bright

Saturday, December 17, 2005


The mid-year exam

There's something curiously soothing about watching 300 people write an exam that you don't have to write. I generally did pretty well on exams as an undergraduate, but I always hated that spike of anxiety, that moment when you first flip over the exam sheet and see the questions and think "OH CRAP, THAT THING I DIDN'T STUDY IS TOTALLY ON THERE," etc.

The Ice Arena was very quiet, and very warm. Being an invigilator got pretty boring after the first hour or so. We wandered back and forth between the desks, handing out extra booklets to those who needed them, answering questions, and keeping an eye out for cheating -- although, really, how do you cheat on a philosophy exam? What are you going to do, write Camus' response to the absurdity of life on the palm of your hand?

It was a three-hour exam, and we sat round guessing how many people would be left at the 3-hour mark. Some left after only half an hour; there were still dozens of people writing after 2 hours; with 15 minutes left, there were about 9 people, most of them shuffling papers and pulling on their coats. At 10:00, there was exactly one guy left, right at the back of the hall, still furiously scribbling. He looked stressed when the prof went over to him and told him to wrap it up; as he walked towards the front, he paused and flipped his book open and quickly scrawled an addendum to one of his answers.

And now the undergrads are all off for Christmas, and I have to mark a stack of 56 exams. Oh, joy. And their essays, too, which I've made little headway on yet. I haven't written much here about running tutorials, because it seems weird to blog about my students. I'll just say this, though: My students rock. I really hope they did well on this exam.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's overphotographed because it's pretty


Sorry for the continuing lull... winter's just less blogworthy than summer, it seems. Today I visited the picturesque, and exhaustively photographed, Distillery District to have lunch with Emily, who lives in the condo development there. I met the kittycats, then went out for a walk in weather that began as "Oh, how nice, it's snowing a bit," and rapidly degenerated into "Why the hell am I outside in this?!" Fortunately, Soma was close at hand, with its legendary Mayan hot chocolate.

I'll be visiting the Distillery a lot more often in 2006, since I have a subscription to Soulpepper's 2006 season. Students, take note: $99 for 7 plays!

Really, just not a huge amount to report. I went to Lexiconjury on Tuesday night, but decided I have enough photos of the Cameron House up on this blog and my Flickr site already. Sharon was there, talking about a job she had as a student, working at a Salvation Army thrift shop. She got to dig through the boxes of donated books before anyone else, and often took home books the Salvation Army ladies deemed "unacceptable" and would have thrown away. These included not only racy romances and anything with a whiff of the occult, but any and all science fiction. Apparently the Salvation Army believes science fiction is evil, because "God doesn't exist in the future." So if you've got some crates of old Del Rey paperbacks taking up space in your bedroom closet, take 'em to Goodwill instead.

Here's what is probably the ten thousandth photo of that junked red vintage truck at the Distillery:


Tuesday, December 06, 2005

People Around Here

Brett has posted a panel from a one-page comic by Dave that appears in the new issue of Taddle Creek, about our field trip to the condom tree.


The wonderful This Ain't the Rosedale Library is flagged in a Guardian article as one of the ten best bookshops in the whole world.


My friend Maggie's friend James Loney is among the Christian Peacemaker Team workers being held hostage in Iraq. Please consider signing this petition for their release.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Toronto! Are you...OUT FOR BLOOD!?!?"

Arch Enemy

This is what happened on Thursday: I went to a metal show!

Bill, being one of the GTA's last unreconstructed old-skool metalheads, has been threatening for years to drag me to one of these things, and when he found out super-loud Swedish death-metal combo Arch Enemy would be playing the Opera House, he decided this was the perfect opportunity. He e-mailed me a couple of sample MP3s last week. I searched out the lyrics and just about died laughing. Seriously. I still cannot even think about the line "CARNIVEROUS JESUS! I NEED YOUR FLESH!" without cracking up. I decided this would be entertaining & agreed to go. Bill's friend Karen, whom he'd previously dragged to a Death From Above 1979 show, came along as well.

It was an all-ages show, and the crowd consisted almost entirely of fresh-faced 17-year-olds in metal t-shirts. The t-shirts were all for different bands, but they all looked brand new and exactly the same: black, with some kind of skull-based logo on the front, and some slogan or bandname on the back, in either gothic or stencil font. "'Batlord,' that's an excellent bandname," noted Bill. "That's what Batman started calling himself after he moved to England and bought himself a peerage," I said. The crowd was about 70-30 boys to girls, and was perhaps the least seedy audience I have ever seen in a Toronto bar.

The most notable thing about Arch Enemy is that they have a female vocalist, Angela Gossow. If Linda Blair's character in The Exorcist had never had her demon exorcised, had moved to Sweden and acquired a thick accent, and after an awkward puberty and adolescence had grown into a stunning blonde, and if she and her demon had realized that with her looks and his voice they could make it big in the glamorous world of death metal, she would be Angela Gossow. I don't understand how it's anatomically possible for her to produce those sounds, let alone sing like that for ninety minutes without bleeding profusely from the throat. It's pretty cool, though. She's really stomping on the grave of a lot of sexist stereotypes about women in rock. She tossed words of girl-power encouragement to the female contingent in the audience: "This goes out to all my lady friends in metal! You are the true...DEMONS OF ROCK!!" The kids were eating it up.

The audience was at least as much fun to watch as the band. From where I was standing I had a good view of the mosh pit, which reminded me irresistably of animated educational films about what happens to the molecules in water when it boils. At first the kids were all standing around watching the band: cool water! Then the metal riffs broke out, and they all started jumping around and slamming into each other: kettle's boiling! There was a lot of crowd surfing, which was really something to see: big husky boys bobbing around on top of a sea of hands, like bits of styrofoam on a stormy lake. Three bison-sized security guards stood directly in front of the stage to prevent kids from being tossed onto it, like flotsam washing up onshore. Also, the kids threw the devil-horns hand sign a lot, and even waved their lighters in the air. "They throw the devil horns when they feel the rock," Bill explained solemnly. "But only when they feel the rock."

Here are Bill and Karen, feeling the rock:

Bill and Karen

Lots more METAL photos here.