Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ranjit visits

I've known Ranjit via Flickr, mainly, since 2005, but he lives in Brooklyn and I'd never met him. Last weekend, he was in town, helping Jessica Thompson present her FreeStyle Sound Kit workshop. I went to the workshop on Saturday & then we explored Toronto a bit on Sunday.

At the workshop I learned how to use a soldering iron and make a basic sound circuit; I got to play with a glue gun and mess around with sound samples. My finished soundkit didn't really work -- it was supposed to be triggered by stepping on a contact mic, but wasn't, and it seemed to go off randomly sometimes for no reason -- but I still had fun.

Workshop in progress

On Sunday, Ranjit, his cousin Alex whom he hadn't seen since Alex was eight, Hilary, and I had brunch at Aunties and Uncles, then wandered through Kensington Market, where I tried to explain the cultural significance of the statue of Al Waxman: "Imagine if there was, I don't know, a statue of Archie Bunker from All In the Family... Trust me, this is probably the most Canadian thing you will see all day."

The one thing Ranjit really wanted to do while he was here was visit Active Surplus, which, oddly enough, I'd never been to in all the years I've lived here. I think I thought it only sold electronics stuff, or something. Wrong! It sells everything: hats and mitts, a dozen kinds of rope, a Visible Man, glass vessels of every description, ribbon, many objects I could not identify at all, and a wide range of odd clever gadgets I never realized I needed. (I wound up buying a pair of sound-cancelling earphones for my iPod, which work great on the subway.) We had a great time poking around. Here, the selection of electrical components transforms Ranjit into a blur of excitement:

Ranjit in Active Surplus

The store is worth visiting for the signage on the bins alone; here's one of my favourites:

Do not try these in the store

More pictures from the workshop here, and lots more pictures from Active Surplus here, including more fun signs.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Making the best of January

It's cold and dark, I know. But there are lots of things to love about this month.

First of all: Robbie Burns Night!

I went to the Duke of York again this year. Tim, Jamie and Hilary came with me, as well as Nick, our token Scot, who, ironically, was also our token vegetarian, and had the veggie burger while the rest of us had the haggis dinner. We enjoyed the Address to the Haggis:

The Address to the Haggis

Nick pronounced it perfectly authentic, and was a bit disappointed: "I was hoping the Canadians would get it comically wrong and dress a man up as a haggis, or something." He did point out that a truly authentic recreation of a contemporary Scottish national holiday would involve a lot more public drunkenness, brawling in the streets, etc.

After the delicious haggis, the buttery tatties and neeps, and the sticky toffee pudding with lashings of ice cream and whipped cream, we really needed some exercise. Which brought us to another lovable aspect of January: Skating!

Jamie, Hilary and I headed down to the rink at Harbourfront. I hadn't been skating in about ten years; Jamie had never been on skates before. In the locker room, Hilary and I laced up our trusty old white figure skates, and Jamie rented a snappy black-and-red pair:


A few people had warned me that skating isn't like riding a bike: even if it was second nature to you in the past, there's no guarantee that you'll be able to get right back into it. I stepped out onto the ice, and my ankles wobbled. The ice was slippery! How was I even supposed to stand up? Hundreds of people glided effortlessly past: teenaged couples and groups of girls all holding hands, herds of boys chasing each other and laughing, a serene woman with her hands clasped behind her back. It looked so easy. I clung to a post, wanting to shake my fist and yell, "I skated the entire length of the Rideau Canal once!"

I remembered a beginner's trick, from years ago: keep one skate on the ice, and push with the other foot. I shoved off from the post, and began nudging my way along. And pretty soon I was able to push with both skates. It was all coming back to me! I joined the crowd and skated around the rink once, then again. I was pretty wobbly and slow, but I could still skate! Jamie was intrepidly making his first cautious attempts, aided by Hilary. Jude and Lynn were there too. Sean skated up and said hello: it was only his second time on skates, but he was doing at least as well as I was. He fell down, got up, dusted himself off, and said proudly: "That was my first time falling down!"

Skating at Harbourfront

The Harbourfront rink is open late, and some Fridays they have DJ nights, with dance music and free hot chocolate. Go on, it's worth a try!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The great IKEA label hunt

Someone got Hilary a label-maker for her birthday. You know those ones that emboss block letters in white on little pieces of coloured plastic tape? So she's been labelling everything: her glasses, random body parts of friends, etc.

Today, Jamie and Alison and I had an evening trip to IKEA planned. Shelving! Cheap picture frames! Swedish meatballs! Hilary was going to come along to return a defective shelf, but wound up getting a ride from another friend & going earlier in the day.

Shortly before we left, an e-mail appeared from Hilary. I opened it, and nearly fell off my chair laughing when I read the first line:

"Okay, so I've distributed labels throughout ikea."

The hunt was on! She provided clues. The first one was fairly easy: "up the stairs there is a bin. in the bin there are bins you can carry with you and put other bins in. what nationality is this bin?"

What could it be but:


We collected that label, and combed the store further. We were initially baffled by a reference to "a sweet dessert, usually found at canadian fairgrounds. There is a bin of them outside the cafeteria." There were no food bins outside the cafeteria, but there were bins of stuffed animal toys: rats, hippos, beavers. We stopped thinking literally: Beaver tails! The label read, FOR YOU.

We didn't fare so well with the Ektorp Jennylund: we were able to locate Hilary's favourite armchair where, as promised, it "sits on the top shelf and thinks about neuroscience experiments," but couldn't find the label. Same with a cryptic reference to duvet covers. We found the office chairs, and Jamie sat, as instructed, in a nice blue one, from which angle he was able to see this:


We reported back to Hilary, who told us where the labels we missed were. So, if you happen to be in IKEA North York sometime soon, have a look just to the left of the pensive pink Ektorp Jennylund, and behind the catalogue stand in the duvet section. There might still be a label there... FOR YOU!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another year up in flames

I know a lot of people hate New Year's Eve, but I've always liked it, possibly because I've never been to any of those awful expensive bar parties (well, once, but it was an unmitigated disaster & I never did it again). I like the suspended-time feeling you get in the week leading up to it, and I like staying out late, and I always like a good house party with friends and interesting new people.

This year, there didn't seem to be much planned. Jim and Susan were throwing a party, which would be fun, but would be wrapping up early, in deference to their three-month-old daughter Sidney's bedtime.

I thought about it. What would be a good way to see out 2007? The last few months of the year had been really hard on a lot of my friends: marriages had ended, loved ones had died, jobs had been suddenly and unfairly terminated. Nobody would be sorry to see the year end. In fact, what if we burned it in effigy?

I sent out a message: "I want to make a paper effigy of 2007 and burn it in the park at midnight. Anyone with me?" It is a testament to how great my friends are that the response was an immediate, "Setting fires in the park in the middle of the night? OH HELL YES I AM SO THERE."

So, I made a paper doll to represent the old year. Here is what it looked like in my kitchen, early on the 31st:

Ready to go

I like to think of the expression on its face as kind of smirkingly half-apologetic, as if it is thinking, "Yeah, so, I kinda sucked. But what are ya gonna do?"

I went to Jim and Susan's, admired Sidney in her tiny party dress, and met up with Jude and Guy, and at around 11:30, the three of us walked over to Christie Station. Others soon gathered. I got out the doll and a Sharpie, and suggested that people write on the doll the names of all the things they wanted to see go up in flames. Alison, who really had a shitstorm of a year, particularly in December, scribbled frantically all over its back & then wrote "GENERAL FUCKWITTERY" across its front. Hilary was missing. We called her on a cellphone and discovered that she was working on her neurophilosophy paper & had lost track of time. She promised to hurry over.

We trekked into Christie Pits. It was about fifteen minutes to midnight, and snowing heavily, though it wasn't too cold. There were a few people tobogganing down the steep hill at the end of the park (another great way to spend New Year's, I thought), but other than that the park was deserted. Near the swings and the monkey bars we found a wading pool -- a broad circle of concrete, all covered in snow -- which seemed like a good safe place to set a small fire. The nozzle of the fountain in the centre made a perfect support for the effigy.

Midnight drew nearer, and still no Hilary! I worried that she'd miss the big moment. The someone saw her, alone at the top of the hill. She came skidding down in the snow, in her boots, parka and a full skirt. When she reached our lamplit playground, she yanked open the parka and flashed her satin ballgown at us:

Hilary knows how to make an entrance

What an entrance! And just in time! I distributed the sparklers, and got out a box of matches. At first the wind kept blowing them out as soon as I lit them, and I worried that this wasn't going to work. Then 2007's jaunty tissue-paper trousers caught fire, and up he went:

Sparklers alight!

Everyone lit their sparklers on him, and waved them around. "Happy New Year!"

And a happy New Year to YOU, albeit a bit belatedly.

All my photos here.

Alison's photos here.