The big TIFF narrow-down

Actually, not so big this year. Still lots among the ~500 movies that I want to see, but not as thick a crop as it seems to have been in past years. Especially when you filter out all the fancy-pants screenings. Anyway, here’s what we narrowed it down to:

Now…to find the time to fill out the booklet and drop them off!

Nearly an island

Since last year’s camping excursion went so well we decided to take another crack at it this year. So, last weekend Nellie and I booked a campsite way in advance for the relatively bug-free end-of-August.

There was, however, a bit of a snafu with the rental car reservation. And by “snafu” I mean that I completely bollocksed it up and reserved it for the wrong weekend. Trying to book a rental car 12 hours before you need leads to some predictably ridiculous prices, so once again it was Autoshare to the rescue. We knew we’d have a bit of a mileage penalty, but there was a car nearby and available, so we jumped on it. Crisis: narrowly avoided. Hooray for choice!

The drive to the park was much, much shorter than our drive to Algonquin last year. Presqu’ile is only about two hours away, and since we left Saturday (and came back Monday) we were more or less problem-free on the roads. Our campsite was fantastic too…lots of room, good privacy (relatively speaking…it was a very busy campground) and literally steps to the shore of Lake Ontario. Nellie’s early planning had paid off in a great site. We even had a second picnic table where we could do all our storage and prep!

Because we were so close to the lake, we decided to cool down from all the setup by jumping in the lake. You can’t quite tell from that picture, but trust me…the lake was right there. By the time we got back  in, dried off and changed it was time to make dinner. The first night’s meal was pulled pork (from Cumbrae’s) on hot dog buns, along with corn on the cob. It was amazing.

We tried to pair it with a Fielding Riesling, which didn’t really work at all, but whatever — we had beer. We stuffed ourselves silly, drank our wine by the fire and enjoyed the warm evening. The clouds blocked out any view of the stars, but we couldn’t really complain. We crashed hard that night and slept like the dead.

We slept in the next morning, rousing ourselves mainly at the knowledge of what was for breakfast: bacon, eggs, fresh blueberries…and leftover pulled pork. That gave us the energy for one of the short walks in the park — walk, not hike. A little boring, I guess, but that’s the tradeoff for the proximity to Toronto. And our little walk was fairly rewarding in terms of flora and especially fauna — butterflies, snakes, frogs and plenty of birds.

We got back to our campsite just in time to cool down with another dip in the lake before the first rain shower of the day began. We hid in the tent until it passed, came out and had lunch. Shortly after we finished cleaning up the real rain started. It was hard for us to know how hard the rain was since we were under tree canopy and strong fly, and we certainly didn’t know that the storm had spawned tornadoes elsewhere in Ontario. To us it actually sounded kind of nice…Nellie fell asleep in the tent while I read, and a couple of hours later it was all over. Our site was pretty wet, but the view from our tent of the sky over the lake was incredible.

We sat on the beach and had a beer, marveling at how calm the lake had become and at the clear skies we could see emerging on the horizon. We relaxed a while longer, then got to work cooking dinner. Evening #2 was centered around plowman’s lunch and a Southbrook Syrah. We ate, cleaning up and spent the evening sitting by the fire, drinking wine and whisky and staring at stars.

When we went to sleep the lake was as calm as a plane of glass, but around 4:30 something — the wind, I suppose — whipped it into a crazy froth; the crashing waves woke us, and kept us awake for hours. We managed to get back to sleep, but were still pretty groggy when the sun came up. We decided not to stick around much longer, instead having some oatmeal and breaking down the site (even with much of our equipment still wet) and jumping in the car. We made it back to Toronto in no time, had a nice long shower, dropped the car off and spent the afternoon on a patio soaking up what remained of the day’s sun.

Not a bad weekend at all.

"Don't let them tell you it can't be done."

We arrived home yesterday to news that Jack Layton, leader of the official opposition, long time head of the NDP and even longer Toronto city councilor, had lost his fight with cancer and passed away. Only today, when I had a few minutes to stop and consider the news, and see the impromptu memorials scrawled across Toronto walls, did I really absorb what had happened. Canada had lost its most charismatic politician, and one of its few true leaders.

There’s no point in getting too deep into his life and legacy; others have done that better than I could hope to. I’ll simply highlight a perfect example of what the man was about: the closing paragraph of the letter Layton wrote just two days before his death, when he knew he was out of time. At a time when selfish or defeated thoughts would have been poisoning the minds of even the best of us, Jack Layton chose to inspire rather than lament.

“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

We’ll miss you, Jack. I’ll miss you.

Not almost. Home.

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote what was the latest in a number of blog posts about the West Memphis Three. I’ve been following their case for nine years, ever since I read Mara Leveritt‘s book Devil’s Knot. I’ve watched the documentaries. I’ve followed the blogs. I own the t-shirt. I’ve felt personally, if of course distantly, frustrated by what seemed so obviously like a miscarriage of justice. I would get upset when I thought about it. But it drifted to the back of mind and hung out there like a curiosity, not a crusade. For years.

Then this morning, while sifting through tweets from last night on my phone, I saw this retweet from TIFF co-director Cameron Bailey:

@eug eugene hernandez
More on breaking West Memphis 3 story from Arkansas. Will PARADISE LOST subjects be freed tomorrow?? Incredible story: http://ow.ly/679w2

I started to get excited but had to stop myself. It felt like another false signal, like all the others before it…the new DNA evidence, the witnesses changing their stories, the emerging alternative suspects. But then more and more links showed up in my twitter stream. Then there was a hearing called with all sorts of clues…families in attendance, gag orders issues, the WM3 being moved along with all their possessions, and so on. I spent an hour at work, trying to simultaneously write a document, answer emails and watch the live feed outside the Jonesboro courthouse where the hearings were held. Twitter was exploding with news and speculation, as were the newscasters, so much noise and news and then John Mark Byers outside the courthouse like a mad giant ranting about Terry Hobbs, and then…this.

@wm3org WM3.org
Free!

Incredible. Unbelievable. Unfathomable, if I tried for a minute to imagine what they were feeling.

I watched the press conference where they all tried to process the fact that they were out, and free, and now staring down hundreds of cameras. All they wanted to do was go home and hug their families and sleep for a day and drink a beer and eat a Whopper or something, so the presser didn’t last long. No one cared but the reporters. The people who cared about the story wanted to see them walk out of the building. Most of the details about what had happened were already out anyway. Thousands of people who woke up never having heard of an Alford plea had learned the mechanics of how the deal was struck, and knew the technical admission of guilt wasn’t worth shit. But it was so, so moving to watch, just for those few minutes.

It tore my heart out to see Jessie Miskelley sitting there, looking lost. Maybe he didn’t understand what was happening, or was just having trouble believing it was real. Maybe it was all too overwhelming. Jason Baldwin kept rubbing Miskelley’s head, like a little brother, to say it was okay. And it broke my heart to see that, and wonder whether he’ll ever recover. Then Damien Echols thanked Jason, who didn’t want to take the deal but did anyway so Damien could get off of death row, and they hugged. And everyone lost it. Including me, a little. I don’t know these guys, but I felt anger at their plight, and at that exact second I guess I felt relief and satisfaction and, I think…joy.

And if I felt like that, a guy thousands of miles away, who’s never met them, never been in jail, never even been to Arkansas…if I felt all that, I couldn’t even comprehend what it must have been like for them and for their families.

Joy.

Free. The West Memphis Three. Free.

And I thought the other kind of calculus was bad

Last Sunday, after a late but enjoyable Saturday evening with friends, Nellie and I were enjoying a nice lazy lie-in, like any other Sunday morning. We didn’t have anywhere to be, so after a few hours we’d probably get up, go find some breakfast, maybe watch a movie, just enjoy the day.

Our plans changed slightly when I was awoken by an excruciating pain in the right side of my back. I’d never felt anything like this…not pulled muscles, not torn ligaments, not a broken wrist. I fell out of the bed, writhing on the floor in pain and generally freaking out because it felt like someone was stabbing me from the inside. Standing up, walking around, sitting down, twisting my back…nothing helped. Nellie, now convinced I didn’t just have a leg cramp or some other silly thing that was unnecessarily interrupting her sleep, was up too, Googling symptoms on her iPhone while I sat, twitching and trying to catch my breath. Nellie guessed kidney stones, and based on the region of the pain I was inclined to agree. Actually, I was inclined to claw that part out of my body, but whatever. A quick call to TeleHealth led us to think we were right, and made it very clear that a hospital visit was required here. I’m not afraid of hospitals, but neither do I enjoy them, so I normally do everything I can to avoid them. However, this was not an avoid-the-hospital scenario. I couldn’t even function.

So, off we walked to the ER at St. Mike’s, which was sure to be a treat on a Sunday morning. Actually, it was quite calm, apart from the kid who’d cooked himself on ecstasy the night before and woulnd’t shut up, and the screaming cursing ranting crazy guy strapped to the bed in the isolation room (who we could still hear), and the wailing meth addict who was admitted right behind us. Just a regular morning at St. Mike’s, I’m guessing, but they treated me as well as they always do. I was quickly on a bed, getting blood drawn and donating some urine, being pumped full of morphine (which didn’t do shit) and Toradol (whoooo!!!!), getting an ultrasound (really never thought I’d have one of those) and finally a CT scan. The doctor’s first guess was confirmed by the tests: yup, kidney stone. Renal calculus. Three of them, to be exact. Small enough, it seemed, to pass without surgery (unlike the dude a couple of beds over, who had one the size of a golf ball!) so they sent us home with prescriptions and best wishes.

We picked up the Percocet and Naproxin along with piles of other stuff at the drug store (never shop whilst high on Toradol), then got McDonald’s for lunch (Toradol: also a bad influence on lunch decisions), then went home to wait the little fuckers out.

That evening, about twelve hours after the Toradol went it, it started to wear off. I took two Percocet without eating anything but half an apple, and promptly puked it all back out. Can’t remember the last time I puked, and certainly not the last time I puked like that. This affliction just kept getting better.

After that I basically settled into two days of pain, nausea and fuzziness. I thought I’d be able to work from home, but I could barely lift myself out of bed when I was drugged and writhed in pain three hours later when they wore off. Seriously, you’d think that two Percocet and a Naproxin every six hours would keep me good and numb, but…nyet. I had just enough energy to drink my own weight in water, emptying and refilling my various containers every half hour or so.

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when I was on a ‘sleep for an hour, then pee’ cycle, I felt something…I don’t know, like a bump, in my groin. I looked down, saw a bunch of blood and what appeared to be wine sediment in the toilet, and figured the worst had passed. I did a little silent cheer, went back to the couch, and slept a few more hours. Telling Nellie the next morning felt like the times as a kid when I told my parents I won a tournament or an award at school. SO. PROUD. But mainly, I was just happy that my bladder-y region had stopped the constant spasming. That was weird. On Tuesday Michael (one of our cats) actually attacked my groin under a blanket because it wouldn’t stop twitching.

I spent the rest of Wednesday unfuzzing from the (no longer necessary) painkillers and by Thursday was back to work. Still with some fever and tenderness, but more or less back to normal. As I write this I nearly have my appetite back, I feel very little soreness and it actually seems like a vaguely fuzzy memory…like it happened years ago, or to someone else.

And that is why drugs freak me the hell out. That, and the wailing lady on the floor of the St. Michael’s emergency room.

TOCA

Last Friday CBGB joined Nellie and I at TOCA for dinner out, in honor of my birthday. But really, in honor of being out for dinner.

We chose to try the new Tom Brodi restaurant TOCA, in the Ritz Carlton. We met first in the TOCA bar, where we were greeted by a particularly awesome bar snack: candied bacon. I’ll say that again in case you were unclear about the awesomeness: candied fucking bacon. The bartender also kept us well supplied with some excellent wine (and cocktails for GB, because he’s like that) and pushed the Ontario selections, which made us happy.

Dinner was quite good, I thought. I had the TOCA Caesar with the B.C. spot prawns (and bacon tuile) and 50-day-aged Angus Beef ribeye. GB had the Dungeness crab marrow (which everyone raved about) and venison loin. Nellie and CB split the “fancy fish & chips” (beer-battered Yarmouth lobster) and then split the east coast scallops and Wellington County petit mignon for their mains. Somewhere in there was some awesome Yukon pomme puree and some asparagus. And all our wine (except the Amarone Nellie had for dessert) was from Ontario.

Speaking of dessert, it came in two stages. First was the cheese plate, and this is where TOCA has a very cool feature: a glassed-in cheese cave right in the middle of the dining room. We were able to take a quick tour and ask some questions in between courses, and get to know the cheese that came before our dessert: warm sticky toffee pudding. Delicious, even if there wasn’t quite enough of it. Nellie had another glass of Amarone, whilst GB and I had some Stratus dessert wine.

It was a very, very tasty night in a beautiful spot. Happy birthday to me.

No thieves, fakirs, rogues or tinkers. No skulking loafers or flea-bitten tramps.

This past weekend we partook of an Toronto tradition: braving northbound traffic to spend a night or two in nature, then braving the same traffic again heading back toward the city. Thankfully our friend’s cottage is on the right (right) side of Lake Simcoe so we avoided the worst of the weekend traffic and instead just got to enjoy the cottage and their company.

There was food and drink (the latter mostly VQA!) in our 24 hours there. There was kayaking and sitting on docks. There was sunshine and turtle-catching. There was peach pie and a Nova Scotia flag. Most importantly, there was beautiful weather and relaxation with friends.

Traffic can suck it.

A tale told by an idiot, etc., etc.

I’m listening to both the US Congress and US Senate debate the deal to raise the debt ceiling, and shaking my head. What theatre. What grandstanding. What utter bullshit.

You don’t have to search long to find opinions condemning the entire exercise as political masturbation and a display of leverage by a vocal minority of the American body politic. CNN alone has posted two opinions on their front page in which a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton criticizes the entire situation, while David Frum — yes, that David Frum!! — slams the Republican party itself for letting itself become hijacked by an extremist arm.

Perhaps the best summary I’ve heard of the whole mess, and of the consequences likely to follow — is another CNN contributor: Fareed Zakaria.

“My basic point is that this is a crisis that we have manufactured out of whole cloth. We have created a circumstance in which the world doubts our credibility, rating agencies are thinking of downgrading our debt and the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency could be jeopardized.

Please understand that none of these things are happening because the United States is running deficits. There was no indication – by any metric – that the United States was having difficulty borrowing money one month ago. In fact, the world has been lending money to the United States more cheaply than ever before.

We face downgrades and investor panic not because of our deficits but because we are behaving like deadbeats, refusing to pay our bills, pouting while the bill collector waits at the door.”

I urge you to read (or listen to) the entire piece. It gives some indication of the potential consequences looming in the distance, still blurry and hard to hear what with the political cacophony going on in Washington. Not just for America, mind you; we shouldn’t be surprised if some of that sound and fury radiates out to the rest of the world.

Side note: if by chance you feel like throwing up your hands and completely disavowing any faith in humanity, I urge you to read the comment section of that — or nearly any — CNN article.