And no, this was not "glamping"

Nearly every year Nellie goes camping with her girlfriends. She has a special affection for sleeping in a tent and drinking from tin cups and sitting around a campfire. In recent years those girl-camping excursions have become less frequent, and last year she didn’t get to go at all. Since I couldn’t bear to see her miserable two years in a row I agreed to go with her. My one condition: a tent I could stand up in, more or less. So, a campground reservation in Algonquin Park and two trips to MEC and we were all set.

Of course, the worst part of Algonquin is getting there, and this was no exception. I hate long drives. Hate hate hate. But we made it, and checked in to our Mew Lake campground. Nellie had done her homework and picked one of the best sites available.

This was my first time car-camping, so getting used to having people on all sides was weird, but we were about as private as you can get there. We set up our fancy new tent (which is awesome), settled in, built a fire and started making dinner.

Our meals, by the way, provoked some mockery among our Twitter and Facebook friends…apparently eating steak and drinking wine, or having a spread of prosciutto and salami and cheese and bread and chocolate, or cooking a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs and sausage is verboten, and we should instead have cooked weenies or roasted marshmallows. To which we replied thus: since we have no kids to entertain with such traditions, why would we voluntarily eat crap food just because we’re camping? I mean, really…what’s wrong with this?

Nothing, sez I. Anyrant, once dinner and dishes were out of the way we sat our asses down by the campfire and watched the sun go down. It got a little chilly that night so the fire, while a pain to start, was sorely needed to keep us warm until we could tuck into our sleeping bags for the night. Reports of a bear in the area had us a tiny bit jumpy, but nothing serious. The next morning I got up before sunrise and took in the view of the steam billowing off the lake.

As I took pictures of the lake and sunrise (both, in some cases) I heard a rustling along the shore right in front of me. I saw a…well, I’m not sure what it was. A small heron of some kind maybe?

Whatever it was it took a few awkward strides through the water and then took off into the grass. Any ideas? A quick Google search didn’t turn up anything. I saw it again that afternoon, in the same spot, so maybe it had a nest there. Not sure, but Nellie got a kick out of him/her.

Since we had such good weather (seriously, ridiculous weather…warm and sunny during the day, moderate at night and not a cloud in the sky the entire weekend) we went for a hike at the nearby Track & Tower trail.

It was a good workout, but worth it for the deep woods seclusion, lake views (like the one above) and amazing lookout from a cliff toward Cache Lake.

We even came across a very unexpected trail companion: a turtle sunning himself on a hill. I’d never seen a turtle this big in the wild…he was about a foot across. I think it was a snapping turtle, but didn’t get close enough to find out. We got some pics and said our goodbyes.

We were pretty pooped (and extremely warm) by the time we got home so we jumped in the lake to cool off. During our swim, half a dozen Canada Geese descended down to the lake, circled us once and water-landed twenty feet from us. Which was pretty cool.

That night we didn’t have the energy for much…fortunately our meal involved slicing, not cooking. Still, it was nice to sit there and drink a bottle of Southbrook Fresh White and build a fire and be entertained by a chipmunk.

Sunday morning we wanted to beat traffic, so it was a whirlwind of breakfast and cleaning and packing and road-getting-on. We did pretty well too; it was smooth sailing all the way down highway 11 and the 400. The only traffic we hit was on the DVP at York Mills. Nevertheless, when we unloaded, returned the car and walked home we felt…well, smelly. Hooray for whoever invented the shower.

So, lots of fun was had, but I’m hoping to minimize the driving next time. And yes, there will be a next time. And yes, we will be eating awesome food and drinking good wine. Deal with it.

First choice: subtitles

At this year’s film festival, if all goes to plan, we’ll be seeing five of these movies:

The most frustrating part of this year (aside from the eternally unusable TIFF website) was finding out that the ‘premium’ screenings — into which ordinary movie-loving (as opposed to celebrity-slobbering) attendees are not allowed — are no longer limited to Roy Thomson Hall and the Elgin. We now find ourselves cut off from a few screenings at the Ryerson, Winter Garden and even the sad little Isabel Bader theatre.

If we get all our first picks we’ll have a nice little lineup, and a bad-ass samurai movie to close it out.

This week in entertainment

I’d kind of forgotten about all the movies we’ve watched over the past week:

  • Kick-Ass: most excellent
  • Precious: good, incredibly well-acted (in that if I ever see Mo’Nique walking down the street I’m likely to punch her face in) but hard as fuck to watch
  • Stripes: I’m sure it was a classic for its time, but it doesn’t really hold up.
  • Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day: look, the original isn’t exactly a classic, but it’s always been kind of special to me because we discovered it ten years ago in a self-serve movie rental machine, not having any idea what we were about to see. I didn’t expect the sequel to live up to that, but I would have been happy with a close approximation of the original. Unfortunately it was hammy and stilted and over the top, and not in the cool way that the first one was. Lots of shots of my neighbourhood though, just like the first one.
  • The Men Who Stare At Goats: I think I had the same reaction as most other people: quite funny in parts, but nothing special. Also: Ewan MacGregor continues to do the worst American accent of any British actor.
  • Paranormal Activity: Okay, we watched this two weeks ago, but whatever. Actually a pretty effective little scare-machine, but completely blew it in the final 20 seconds. Also: Katie Featherston = girlfriend du jour.

.:.

My headphones were filled all week with the new releases by Best Coast (pretty good…almost like the Raveonettes without the male voice), Japandroids (good, but not as good as their last album, I’m afraid; few things last year were), Sleigh Bells (which I like more than I feel I should), Mates of State (hearing them cover the likes of Tom Waits and The Mars Volta seems sacrilegious at first, then awesome, then just fun) and, naturally, The Arcade Fire. Which is < Funeral but > Black Mirror and therefore one of the best things I’ve heard all year. Speaking of CadeFire — which is what I call them now, due to us being so very tight — Frank Yang (aka Chromewaves) summed up awfully well what’s so captivating about them:

They somehow manage to evoke that singular moment in everyone’s life where youth gives way to adulthood, where one becomes acutely aware of the fact that they are not in fact invincible, that they will someday die, but also the sense of still having their entire lives ahead of them and the sense of opportunity that offers – that mixture of anxiety and optimism, insecurity and confidence. It’s a powerful, primal resonance made even moreso when rendered in broad, bold musical strokes. With Funeral, it was conveyed through the lens of family and neighbourhoods, of being part of a special gang. Neon Bible turned it around to be them against the world with no sense that they’d actually triumph. And The Suburbs realizes that there’s no us and them, there’s just everyone.

I’ll probably keep The Suburbs on perma-rotation until my next big anticipated release: Lisbon by The Walkmen.

.:.

With Treme, The Office, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock and Nurse Jackie off the air right now the only things I’m watching are Mad Men (because it’s the best thing on TV right now), True Blood (because it’s the most entertaining thing on TV right now) and Entourage (because, despite its persistent suck whenever Ari’s not on the screen, for the life of me I cannot seem to stop watching it).

.:.

The miniature time slot attributed to reading is reserved for, as ever, Tony Judt‘s Postwar and Kate Carraway’s twitter feed. However, all other reading shall cease on Tuesday and Wednesday as I have only those days to select our TIFF films.

.:.

And, with that, I’m off to work. After all, all play and no work makes Jack really far behind on his to-do list.

Voyage of the Damned

I’m the seventh generation of my family to live in this country. To people in Toronto that seems like a lot, but where I grew up — Nova Scotia — it wasn’t such a big deal. Still, we’ve been here longer than most. By my best guess my family’s lived in this country since before it was a country.

That’s why I’m always so disheartened by the kind of xenophobia that meets incidents like the arrival in Vancouver of a ship carrying 490 Tamil refugees. We don’t live in an ancient society, we live in one that’s barely adolescent. Our country is, by its very nature, made up of dozens — hundreds, probably — of different peoples, many of whom fled war or famine or worse, the likes of which these very Tamils fled. The difference, as Michael Valpy rightly pointed out in Friday’s Globe, is both where they come from, and how they get here:

Globe and Mail reporter Rod Mickleburgh discovered nearly 10 years ago that refugee claimants arriving by plane at Vancouver airport were almost never detained, were soon given access to social and medical benefits, were rarely deported and had a cracking good chance of being smuggled into the U.S.

Most claimants arriving on filthy, rusting ships or stowed away in containers, on the other hand, saw the inside of jails, lost their applications for refugee status and were deported. Immigration officials say it’s because the boat people are being trafficked by organized criminals.

See? If these Tamils just had the good sense to be white and buy some plane tickets, they’d be all set. But instead they did it the hard way, cramming themselves into an old freighter for a four-month slog across the Pacific. Surely their lack of drive and unwillingness to endure hardship will cause a drain on our social services.

Please, not another Komagata Maru. Not another MS St. Louis.

They don't love you like I love you

I have a special fondness for good bands who take bad pop songs and make them awesome. I picked a few of my favourites, and let me tell you…it was only Gordon Lightfoot’s general awesomeness that kept me from putting The Dandy Warhols‘ version of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald” on here.

The Bird And The Bee . “Don’t Stop The Music” (Rihanna)

Cat Power . “Sweedeedee” (Michael Hurley. Who? Okay, I realize Michael Hurley isn’t a famous pop star, but that version of “Sweedeedee” is just so good I listen to it every chance I get.)

Elbow . “Independent Woman” (Destiny’s Child)

Flaming Lips . “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” (Kylie Minogue)

Frontline Assembly . “Justify My Love” (Madonna)

Johnny Cash . “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” (Moby…kinda…I think Johnny wouldn’t have recorded this except that Moby had popularized the riff a few years back)

Lissie . “Bad Romance” (Lady Gaga)

Ted Leo . “Since U Been Gone” (Kelly Clarkson) Please note: any partial awesomeness in the middle of the song is exempt from any “bad song” label.

Travis . “Hit Me Baby One More Time” (Britney Spears)

White Stripes . “Jolene” (Dolly Parton)

"Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."

This past Saturday I attended a tiger-related cupcake sale (don’t ask; it’s a long story) at a friend’s house. They grilled sausages and poured wine and introduced people who would never otherwise meet and, in some cases, renewed acquaintances. On such reunion for me was with Fraser, the host’s father, to whom I’d been introduced but not really spoken much. As we ate and drank in the backyard, talk turned to books, and specifically recommendations thereof. Fraser suggested a few, and I mentioned I was always on the lookout for something to switch off with the book I’ve been reading for some time: Tony Judt‘s Postwar. While it’s more gripping than any 800-page history of the past 65 years has the right to be, it remains nonetheless a daunting read requiring frequent forays into the light (like Tom Rachman‘s The Imperfectionists) or the brutally simple (like Cormac McCarthy‘s Blood Meridian), and so I welcomed his suggestions. As it happened Fraser had also read Judt’s book, so we spent a few minutes discussing it, praising Judt for his writing and devotion in the face of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Little did Fraser or I know that, only the day before, Tony Judt had passed away, finally succumbing to ALS.

Earlier this year — during another Postwar break — I read Judt’s Ill Fares The Land. I mentioned this too; Fraser, who had also read it, called it Judt’s cri de couer, as surely it was: his frustration at the deliberate dismantling in the U.S. and UK of the social safety nets set up in the wake of the second World War, and his plea for their rescue from further attack. The book did not specifically target Canada, but as John Geddes wrote today on the Maclean’s blog, “the questions [Judt] raised should trouble citizens in any rich Western nation.”

I highly recommend reading Ill Fares The Land and, if you’re up for it, Postwar. Also, The Guardian has a fine obituary (if there can be such a thing) and his four-year-old piece in the London Review of Books entitled “The Strange Death Of Liberal America” — including a glancing shot at one Michael Ignatieff — is not to be missed.

R.I.P., Mr. Judt.

23…is that a winemaker's two dozen?

Coming to Niagara back in May might have been a mistake. I fear I’m hooked now.

Friday after work Nellie, T-Bone, The Sof and I drove to Niagara-on-the-Lake to begin a weekend of good food and flowing wine. After fighting off traffic we had a drink and some lobster poutine at the Shaw Club hotel’s bar, then left for our dinner reservations at Stone Road Grille. We’d enjoyed it so much last time that T-Bone wanted to try it too. Lucky for her, it was even better this time. All four starters — my scallops wrapped in duck breast bacon, The Sof’s poutine (he is from Montreal, after all) and the sweet corn, chantrelle and lobster risotto that Nellie and T-Bone each had — were fantastic. The mains — perfect flank steak frites for me, T-Bone’s shepherd’s pie with lamb, Nellie’s halibut with sea asparagus and The Sof’s duck confit — were also top-notch. We all took the easy way out and just did their suggested wine pairings, but they really did work perfectly. None of us had room for dessert; most of us had dessert wine, but then they brought out some cotton candy (!) for us to share, so…sweet overload. Quite a meal. We wisely decided to walk it off, but then foolishly decided to drink a bottle of Megalomaniac cab sauv when we got to the hotel. Ah well. When in Rome.

Saturday morning we again ate on the beautiful patio at the Shaw Club, then began the wine touring. We started with Stratus, whose wines were good and whose tasting room is gorgeous. Like, I want to live there gorgeous. Next was Southbrook, where our pouring needs were attended to by the most delightful Scottish lady. At this point we were getting hungry so we drove to Port Dalhousie where we had reservations at Treadwell. Our lunch there was excellent: a charcuterie plate to start, then fish & chips, soup, sandwiches and wine, all of it local. Oh, and our patio seats overlooked the water. So, yeah…pretty nice. But no time to rest, we had more wineries to visit.

We stopped at A Foreign Affair, then Alvento, then the beautiful cellar at Tawse, then the room at Megalomaniac tucked into a hill. By this time our trunk was full of wine and our energy levels flagging, so we checked in to our little inn, the Black Walnut Manor. The owners poured us another glass of wine (mercy!) and put out some brie and crackers and red pepper jelly and we sat and ate it on the deck under an enormous tree and felt sooooooooo relaxed. We sat by the pool and dipped our feet and played with dogs and wanted to stay forever or make them an offer to buy or maybe just have a nap or whatever. But we were happy.

A more casual dinner was in order, and luckily the proprietor was able to sneak us into About Thyme at the last minute. It didn’t look like much on the outside, but had good food and a great wine selection. Nothing about anyone’s meal was too remarkable, except Nellie’s steak with an atomic pile of mushroom poutine and my first experience tasting NYARAI‘s wines, but it was a very solid meal. It also provided a very relaxed atmosphere, conducive to us crashing immediately after dinner following the 2km walk home. I, for one, slept like the freaking dead.

The next morning was my happy place. I awoke at 8 to find juice, tea, nectarines and a newspaper outside our door. I adjourned to the balcony with laptop and wi-fi in tow, enjoying the fresh air. I luxuriated in my warm, quiet morning  until it was time for breakfast, prepared by the owners. Sitting with the four other guests (two different couples, both from Cincinnati oddly enough) we were treated to pancetta & melon, chocolatines and broccoli + cheese frittatas. But enough dilly-dallying: we had wineries to visit.

Zipping west to Beamsville, we started at Rosewood. Next was Thirty Bench, just across the street, where we loaded up on the cab franc. Then quick visits to Fielding and Hidden Bench (where we didn’t buy anything, but T-Bone did) followed by an experience at Daniel Lenko. Actually, it’d be more accurate to say an experience with Daniel Lenko, as he was the one pouring the wines right at his kitchen table. Sadly he was sold out of his white Cabernet, which was Nellie’s one required purchase for this trip. Major sad face.

Food was next on the agenda, so we took our innkeeper’s advice and visited The Good Earth for lunch. What a recommendation it was: nestled in this beautiful space among the vines and fruit trees, they served us lunch outdoors at a harvest table next to a wood-fired oven. Yet another charcuterie plate to start, and then a pile of meat for T-Bone and pizzas for the rest of us. The tomato, bocconcini and basil pizza was good, but Nellie’s prosciutto, peach and blue cheese pizza kicked ass. The food, the wine, the setting, the people, the day…none of us wanted to leave. And yet, it was time to go. The trunk could hold no more anyway. An hour later we were back in Toronto, wondering where the hell to put all these bottles. Storage issues aside, though, it was just a fantastic weekend. And so, I present the spoils:

This is what we bought:

  • Stratus 2006 White
  • Stratus 2008 Ice Wine White
  • Southbrook Whimsy 2007 Cabernet Franc
  • Southbrook Whimsy 2007 Lot no. 20 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • The Foreign Affair 2007 Chardonnay
  • The Foreign Affair 2008 Riesling
  • The Foreign Affair 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Alvento 2007 Viognier
  • Tawse 2007 Meritage
  • Tawse 2007 Chardonnay
  • Megalomaniac 2007 Narcissist Riesling
  • Rosewood 2008 Pinot Noir
  • Rosewood 2008 Trois Femmes Rosé
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2009 Triangle Riesling
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2009 Gewurztraminer
  • Thirty Bench Small Lot 2007 Cabernet Franc (x3)
  • Fielding 2007 Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fielding 2007 Chardonnay Musque
  • Daniel Lenko 2005 Meritage
  • Daniel Lenko 2007 Old Vines Chardonnay (French Oak)
  • also: a Thirty Bench Merlot, which we intended to give away as a gift, because there will be no Merlot in this house

11 whites, 9 reds and 2 others. Probably a more even mix than I expected. I did not expect to come home with four chardonnays though.