Scarce remembered amid the puke below

I mean, last week wasn’t all bad. In between blinding pain and hospitals and projectile vomiting, we had a fun night on Wednesday.

  • We stopped by the opening of 8eleven Gallery‘s new shows
  • We went to Universe In A Glass, a collection of animated shorts screened at the Gardiner Museum
  • We had a too-fast but freaking-delicious dinner at Actinolite, with definite plans to return someday when we’re not so rushed / on painkillers. I mean, seriously, I’ll be thinking about that smoked whitefish for a long time.
Cover image from the Comedy Kapow Facebook page


Last night I strolled up the street to see the latest installment of Comedy Kapow at 120 Diner. My friend Amy was one of the comics, and she killed it as usual. There were a few others I found really good as well, especially Jimmer Lowe and the two hosts, Amish Patel and Ernie Vicente. It was nice to see a few of my old colleagues there too.

Weirdest moment of the night: seeing Globe and Mail sports reporter David Shoalts walk on stage and do a set. Was not expecting that.

Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

The best of everything from 2016

As in previous years, I’ll just smash all these lists together for simplicity’s sake. All lists are in alphabetical order, unless otherwise noted.


My favourite albums of 2016

I haven’t yet listened to the new ones from A Tribe Called Quest, Honeyblood, Kaytranada, Leonard Cohen, or Modern Baseball, but this is what I’ve liked so far this year. I’ll probably change my mind entirely by the spring.

My Woman by Angel Olsen

So much more mature and evolved than her last album, adding some fuzzy rock and punk to all that country torch, with the result feeling so much more plaintive and driven. Like Julien Baker last year, Angel Olsen sounds so much more beaten down by the world than you might expect.

IV by Black Mountain

Big, space-agey rock. It shares a number and name with Led Zeppelin’s biggest legacy album, and while it might not carry the weight to make it a similar classic, it was a largely overlooked powerhouse for 2016.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine by Hamilton Leithauser w/ Rostam

While there’s a bit too much sameness as the album goes along, standouts like “A 1000 Times”, “The Morning Stars”, and “In A Black Out” are strong enough to outclimb most of the rest of the year’s offerings. I think I still prefer The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend as whole parts, but this is an interesting side/combo project.

iiidrops by Joey Purp

Usually taking a back seat to Chance The Rapper (who has the best guest spot on the album, name-dropping Ta-Nahisi Coates and lamenting dead iPhone batteries) but here using a killer combination of catchy melody, solid flow, soul samples, and thoughtful lyrics, Joey Purp had maybe the biggest surprise album of the year.

Thought Rock Fish Scale by Nap Eyes

These guys don’t sound like they’re from Halifax, really. They sound like they’re the reincarnation of Velvet Underground, if VU never got into the hard drugs and stayed a little more upbeat. And were from, you know, Halifax. I listened to this, and their previous album Whine Of The Mystic, heavily all year.

Skeleton Trees by Nick Cave

Sometimes raw emotion pours itself out into an album, and this is that. Written after (about? for?) the death of his son, the trademark Cave darkness takes on a new depth here. Still manages to be catchy/punchy though.

Positive Thinking by The Pack A.D.

I like that there are no surprises in a Pack A.D. album. You know what you’re getting. You still feel pummeled by it though. “Yes, I Know” is the standout here, but top to bottom it’s an enjoyable, solid album.

Cardinal by Pinegrove

Another surprise, this time swinging much more to the folk-ish side of things. Catchy, and the kind of thing you can listen to at home with your hipster friends (done) or in the car with your mother (also done). Side note: this is another one featuring pretty sharp lyrics…not a few minutes into the album the singer’s already referred to his “solipsistic moods.”

Ugly Cherries by PWR BTTM

Power-pop-punk played by a band who label themselves “aggressively queer” — this was the best straight (so to speak) up rock and roll album of the year. There are lots of great songs here, but “West Texas” has a special place in my heart. It makes me wish there’d been a gay storyline on Friday Night Lights.

Testarossa by Yoni & Geti

Maybe the most complex album on this list. It’s so thoughtful and earnest, but also feels slippery and hidden. I have a distinct memory of listening to it start to finish in the KLM lounge at Schipol airport in Amsterdam while waiting for a connection, and feeling more excited and at peace. Not many albums pull me back to a place like that.

Honourable mentions to the new ones from Danny BrownBlonde Redhead, Joe Budden, Regina Spektor, and The Men.


My favourite songs of 2016

  1. Adam Torres . “Juniper Arms”
  2. Alejandro Escovedo . “Horizontal”
  3. Black Mountain . “Space To Bakersfield”
  4. Dandy Warhols . “Doves”
  5. DTCV . “Histoire Seule”
  6. Frightened Rabbit . “A Lick Of Paint”
  7. Hamilton Leithauser . “In A Black Out”
  8. Joe Budden . “Uncle Joe”
  9. Joey Purp . “Girls@”
  10. Kendrick Lamar . “Untitled 02”
  11. Lucius . “Born Again Teen”
  12. Mitski . “Your Best American Girl”
  13. My Father’s Son . “Dying”
  14. Nap Eyes . “Lion In Chains”
  15. Pack AD . “Yes, I Know”
  16. Parquet Courts . “Dust”
  17. Pinegrove . “Old Friends”
  18. PWR BTTM . “West Texas”
  19. Radiohead . “True Love Waits”
  20. Rogue Wave . “Memento Mori”
  21. Schoolboy . “Ride Out”
  22. Seratones . “Choking On Your Spit”
  23. Tindersticks . “Hey Lucinda”
  24. Wye Oak . “Better (For Esther)”
  25. Yoni & Geti . “Allegheny”


My favourite movies of 2016

This has been my least-busy movie year in some time, so I still haven’t seen Hell or High Water, Moonlight, Don’t Think Twice, Manchester by the Sea, The Nice Guys, Doctor Strange, Tower, The Witch, La La Land, The Fits, Green Room, 13th, Gimme Danger, Queen of Katwe, Paterson, Lo and Behold – Reveries of the Connected World, Hail, Caesar!, Loving, Midnight Special, Jackie, or The Witness. I can’t even make it a top ten list — these five are the only really good films I saw this year. Expect this list to be heavily altered by the spring.

The Arrival

So nice to have thoughtful, challenging sci-fi in theatres: an interesting look at language and memory, with overtones of militarism and geopolitics, all wrapped up in an alien story. Terrific performance from Amy Adams too.

Birth Of A Nation

Not without its flaws, not the least of which was the director’s past spilling out onto newspaper pages just before the film opened TIFF, but still a significant, important, fairly gripping epic story. Kind of like Braveheart set in the American south.

Captain America: Civil War

The Marvel universe keeps hitting semi-regular home runs with the Captain America and Avengers installments. This third Cap was no exception — essentially another Avengers film, with all the same quick dialogue and fun action, these are smarter than an action movie has a right to be.


My favourite from this year’s TIFF, this was the story of a woman whose fetus instructed her to murder people. Darkly funny, with brief moments of savage and disgusting violence…somehow this wasn’t part of the Midnight Madness program.

Rogue One

A worthy addition to the Star Wars set, Rogue One had great visuals, excellent action, funny droid dialogue, and enough tie-ins to episode IV to satisfy any Star Wars nerd. I’m glad they can continue telling this story in decent films.


My favourite TV shows of 2016

I hereby acknowledge that I haven’t yet watched any of Westworld, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Better Things, BoJack Horseman, Luke Cage, Documentary Now!, Rectify, or the latest season of The Fall but this is what I did watch and like:


Any chance to have Paul Giamatti, Damien Lewis, and Maggie Siff all in the same place is fine with me. Sometimes the drama gets wound a little too tight, and sometimes not enough actually happens in an episode, but it’s still enjoyable for all the masterful scenery-chewing.

Black Mirror

So amazing. So unsettling and captivating and cool and disturbing and thrilling and insightful. There’s a reason why TIFF screened a few new episodes of it at this year’s festival — it’s operating at the level of top cinema.

Game Of Thrones

Still my only must-see show. Still the one I get excited about weeks in advance. It’s the only show for which I watch the after-show. I have Game Of Thrones beer from Ommegang aging in my wine fridge right now. I get panicky at the idea that there are only a handful of episodes left. Please, please, please don’t go. Please. Arya forever.

Last Week Tonight

Just as Jon Stewart left us, John Oliver arrived. But he could curse, and suffers no commercials. Hallelujah. These long-form rants are funny, pointed, and so necessary in a Trump-ish world. Sorry Trevor Noah, but this is The Daily Show now.

Masters of Sex

Still somehow compelling despite its soapiness — I give credit to Lizzy Caplan. I keep getting sucked back into this time and again. Even sideline characters who should mean nothing to me at this point are interesting, and the set design makes me miss Mad Men.

Mr. Robot

Season 2 was kind of a mess after the bad-ass arc of season 1, but it was still excellent. The whole show behaves like a buggy, maybe-hacked piece of software. I’ll take a sub-par Mr. Robot over just about any other season of TV.

Stranger Things

Seriously, I hate the 80s. Like, so much. But I loved this show. The kids, the music, the ridiculousness of it all, the D&D…it was more fun than is reasonable to pack into eight episodes. Bravo, Netflix. More like this!

The Night Manager

I know I’m cheating here a bit with a miniseries, but suck it, it’s my list. This contained more action, intrigue, character development, and twists than most series twice the length. Tom Hiddleston was great, but so too the rest of the cast — especially Hugh Laurie, Olivia Colman, and Tom Hollander.

The Night Of

So much terrific substance here: John Turturro’s feet, the cat, Bill Camp’s Detective Box, and all of the Riz Ahmed. Seriously, get this guy in/on more stuff. But even outside of him, it was terrific stuff. I just wish James Gandolfini had lived to see it through.

Silicon Valley

Still the funniest show on TV. The RIGBY “dictionary patch” from episode one this year was brilliant, the kind of thing that just enters the zeitgeist. So many terrific comedic actors, and a seemingly endless supply of valley bullshit to draw from.


The best books I read in 2016

Okay, so I only read three books this year — but that’s still three more than last year.

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Read in a single morning whilst lying in a hammock on a beach in Costa Rica. Surf, sand, and outrage at the unfairness of the financial system. Just the way vacations should be. I’ve already started his newest one.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

I bought this within minutes of finishing the movie Everest, and read 2/3 of it that night, into the very wee hours. I wish I’d read it years ago when my dad first bought it. Gut-wrenching.

Tribe by Sebastian Junger

This was given to me partially as a joke, but I like Junger’s stuff so I didn’t mind. Wasn’t exactly memorable though. I read the whole thing on the flight to Kigali and gave it back to the original owner when I returned to Toronto.


The best meals I ate in 2016

A bit more geographic variety in this year’s list. Listed in chronological order.

Alo, Toronto 

My second visit after a wine-tasting dinner, this was a full tasting menu affair, and confirmed for me that Alo is currently the best restaurant in Toronto. How something as simple as a bread course could be mind-blowing just shows the level at which they’re operating.

Breakfast at Kura, Costa Rica

It wasn’t fancy. It was just amazing. Fresh fruit, banana muffins, homemade bread with fresh jam, and coffee filtered through something that looked like a sock, old-school. That it was next to the most beautiful pool view I’d ever seen didn’t hurt.

Modern SteakCalgary

Sitting by myself, at the bar, at this restaurant in a part of Calgary I’d never seen before (or since) while all the other conference attendees were at some rodeo, I had a tremendous bacon starter and an exceptional steak, and a hell of a quiet, good time.

Eigensinn FarmSinghampton

It was transcendent the first time. It was even better the second time. Not enough words.

Heaven, Kigali

Truth be told, the food here — while slightly exotic — was only better-than-average (that said, my kuku paka was pretty damned tasty). But eating it overlooking the hills and lights of Kigali put it on this list.

Bocata, Montreal

Kind of a panicky, last-minute decision after flailing desperately for options over the course of an hour, this was a lucky stumble-in down in old Montreal. The kind of place where you occupy a teeny corner of a drafty old room, read the menu off a chalkboard, and then fall into course after delicious course and count your blessings as you rub your belly.

Buca Yorkville, Toronto

It’s been on everyone’s Toronto top-ten list for ages, but I’d just never made it there. And Christ, was I missing out. Definitely one of the best, and most adventurous, meals I’ve ever had in Toronto. Add to that the stunning room and ace service, and this has to be right up there with Alo for destination meals in the city.

Maison Publique, Montreal

Trip #2 to Montreal this year saw visit #1 to Maison Publique, a wonderfully cozy, friendly room with uber-French food and an uber-Canadian wine list. It’s since become a regular visit when in Montreal, and feels like my living room. God, I love it.

Carisma, Toronto

I’ve been here half a dozen times, but the last time might have been the best. The burrata and calamari (frequent orders) were somehow better, the pasta was tops, and the Sangiovese my guy recommended was mind-blowing. Sometimes the perfect comfort dinner makes the list, y’know?

Hawksworth, Vancouver

I stopped for lunch on my way to a meeting, sat at the bar, and ate a killer goddamn burger and fries with a glass of Freemark Abbey cab sauv and put the whole thing squarely in my lunch hall of fame.

Honourable mention: the garam masala duck breast at Pukka; the 1946 Don PX at Cava; the octopus starter from Charcut in Calgary; the bombas at Patria; the pork buns from some random dim sum food truck in Montreal while I’ll probably never find again.


The best beer I drank in 2016

This is why I pay for an Untappd supporter membership: to be able to download my full beer consumption list. For the ones I remember to log, anyway.

Mackeson XXX Stout Milk Stout

No charming story, just a bottle I picked up at the LCBO and tried at home. Fantastic stuff though.

Trou du Diable L’Ours (#10) Sour Ale

One of a number of bottles (mostly sours) downed in an evening at Boxcar Social, which has become one of the more reliable bottled beer venues in Toronto.

Burdock BUMO Saison Farmhouse

A very special treat, Burdock’s first collaboration with Pearl Morissette winery, a saison/rosé hybrid brought over by friends before the latest Session beer festival.

Sawdust City 1606 Barrel-Aged Raspberry Stout

The best beer at this year’s Session festival, it was strong but well-balanced and well-integrated. Sawdust City killed it at Session.

Brauerei Fahr Fahr Away Hefeweizen

My favourite of the many beers I sampled in the warm sun on The National’s 8th Ave rooftop patio in Calgary: an out-freaking-standing hefeweizen.

Folly Flemish Cap Farmhouse Ale

My first visit to the new(ish) Bar Hop introduced me to an outstanding Folly flemish sour. I don’t know how Folly pulled this off…I wouldn’t have expected to find one of the best examples of this style I’ve ever encountered on Peter Street in Toronto.

Birrificio Del Ducato Mikkie = Cattivella Creme Brulee Stout

I had this during a quick stop at an old Amsterdam favourite, BeerTemple. As big and heavy and sweet as it sounds. As delicious too.

Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck Barista Belgian Chocolate Quad

Put down at the Café Gollem in Amsterdam whilst sharing the bar with a cat who lives there and drinks his water out of a Westmalle glass. It should have been overwhelmingly sweet, but it wasn’t.

Birrificio Del Ducato Chrysopolis Lambic

Yet another amazing beer sampled in Amsterdam, this time at Craft & Draft, and the second from this Italian brewery. It was one of the best sours I’ve ever tried. Incredibly strong and sour, but so so good.

Le Saint Bock Harvest Ghosts American Brown Ale w/ Bhut Jolokia Pepper

The second beer I’ve ever had with ghost pepper in it, and this one was almost as good. Such a well-balanced brown, and with all that heat in the back of the throat, just makes it a special combination. Granted, I tend not to log all the beers I drink when in Quebec, so this will have to represent la belle province on my list.


My favourite moments of 2016

It feels a little weird to write this given a major event this year, which I’ll talk about in my next post, but here goes:

  1. The time in, on, and around the pool at Kura Design Villas in Costa Rica
  2. Spending an entire morning in the hammock on the beach at Latitude 10, also in Costa Rica
  3. Ziplining through the Costa Rican jungle canopy
  4. Sabering open my first bottle of sparkling at Bat Lake
  5. Cheering throughout the Raptors’ best-ever playoff run
  6. As is often the case, standing in the Session beer festival in the middle of Yonge/Dundas square with a killer beer and good friends
  7. Dodging the sun on the rooftop patio at the new(ish) Bar Hop with Andrew & Denise
  8. Visit #2 to Eigensinn Farm
  9. Coming face to face with two families of gorillas in Rwanda
  10. Watching the resident cat drink from a Westmalle beer goblet at Café Gollem in Amsterdam
  11. Seeing the brushwork in the Vermeers up-close at the Rijksmuseum
  12. Alex, the bartender at the impressive Craft & Draft in Amsterdam
  13. Watching The Hip’s final concert in our friends’ back yard
  14. Sitting on the Patria patio with my brother Tim in a t-shirt, even in early October
  15. The Jays sweeping the Rangers
  16. Finally returning to the Dieu Du Ciel brewpub
  17. Sitting in the tiny garage-like tasting room at Blood Brothers after hitting a bunch of art galleries
  18. Talking Canadian wine with the staff at Maison Publique in Montreal
  19. Stumbling upon both kinds of Gueuze Tilquin at Pub Pit Caribou
  20. Freezing my way through the MLS Cup final, even though Toronto FC lost


Cover photo by David Stillman, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Nedra, used under Creative Commons license

“The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve; Lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time.”

As part of a work event Nellie and I got to see a play at Stratford for the first time yesterday. It was a modern, winking version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, bookended by a semi-surreal round trip on a party bus. I’m not entirely sure the whole thing wasn’t an Inception-style nested dream dealie.


Cover photo by Nedra, used under Creative Commons license

“If you have a weakness, Las Vegas will punish you.”

Poor Nellie had never been to Vegas. I’d only been twice (which was enough) but she felt like she wanted to visit, so when I was invited to speak at a conference we decided she should just join me after it ended.

I flew down on Sunday for the conference, checking in quite late at the Signature at the MGM Grand. After a little hiccup with the check-in process I was in my room, an oversized suite, and scarfing some late night room service. The conference itself went fine: my brief portion was uneventful and I got to see Breaking Bad‘s Vince Gilligan and Anna Gunn. Then again, I accidentally slept through the Elvis Costello concert, so it was a mixed bag.

Despite being virtually enclosed in the MGM Grand complex, I managed to locate some decent craft beer in my spare time at Michael Mina Pub 1842 and the lounge in my hotel. Before I knew it, though, it was time to check out and take a cab down the street to the Vdara.

Since Nellie had never been to Vegas I wanted a cool new hotel, and Vdara fit the bill. While it’s attached to the Aria, it’s just a hotel with a simple bar and café…no casino, no stores, no massive restaurants. I was given a room on the 52nd (!) floor with an impressive view south, shaky camera and thick glass notwithstanding.

Nellie finally arrived late in the evening, with just enough time to grab a drink downstairs at the lobby bar and then crash. Like, sleep until 10 the next morning crash. After we finally got up we grabbed some lunch next door at Five50, a pizza place just off the Aria casino floor which also happened to have a solid craft beer selection. Damn good pizza, actually.

The big event we’d booked in for that day was a helicopter tour with Maverick. They picked us up from the Aria and from then on ran everything like a machine: dropped us off, checked us in, weighed us (seriously), and introduced us to our pilot and co-passengers (two Canadians, one Aussie). And man…the tour was fantastic. Just lifting off in a helicopter for the first time in our lives was pretty cool, but then ascending above Las Vegas and flying over the surprisingly striking Nevada landscape to the east was killer. Then we crested a hill and the Grand Canyon spread out in front of us and we were hooked. We flew along the canyon for a while, then did a 180 and landed inside the canyon. We got out and had some champagne, enjoying the quiet sunset just above the Colorado River. After a while we flew back, stopping over the Hoover Dam and then downtown Vegas, sidling down the strip at dusk when the lights of the city took over. We disembarked the helicopter feeling like it had been a fantastic adventure indeed.

Our day wasn’t done though: Nellie had asked me to buy tickets for a show called Zombie Burlesque, which was…pretty much what it sounds like. Hey, she likes zombies, and I was pretty sure I’d like burlesque, so…yeah. I bought those tickets. Bought ’em up. There was some brutal line confusion at the theatre just before showtime, but we got in, got a drink, and took our seats. We were braced for something terribly cheesy, but it was actually really fun and funny. Clever, even. Plus, you know, barely-dressed super-hot women. One of them was an excellent singer, and did a rendition of Bjork‘s “It’s Oh So Quiet”, a difficult song to sing even when one is not dressed in lingerie and dancing with male zombies. Not for everyone, but it was pretty cool.

We walked home along the Las Vegas strip amidst the other zombies (see what I did there?) and, when considering where to eat dinner, decided we had a lot more beer to tackle back at Five50. We had a nice little charcuterie board before splitting another pizza, this one with some kick, and a few more tasty beers. After that we didn’t have much left in us but to waddle back to the hotel and fall asleep.

And then…yet another lie-in, spurred on by the rainy (!) weather. ‘Round noon we got ourselves up to find some food, this time at the Todd English P.U.B., tucked between the Aria and the fancy-pants shops of the Crystals at City Center. We, being brave Canadians, sat on the patio despite the cool weather and rain. We ate duck buns and pretzels and a pastrami sandwich and drank excellent beer while beside us people slipped and fell on the wet sidewalk. Among them was one rather well-lubricated gentleman, carrying lord-knows-what in a novelty plastic boot cup; as he slipped near our table he looked up, raised his cup to us and said in what sounded like a Texan accent, “Y’all want some boot?” We declined.

By the way, we stayed dry because of the overhang of the Crystal structure above us. The building was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who Torontonians might recognize as the architect responsible for the addition of the Michael Lee-Chin crystal to the Royal Ontario Museum in 2007. This one seemed better-executed than the ROM’s jagged burst blister. After lunch we made our lone visit to a casino, inhaling more cigarette smoke then we’d normally experience in a year and promptly losing a few hundred dollars on roulette, then walked back to our hotel to get cleaned up for the evening.

While we’ve seen our fair share of Cirque du Soleil shows, we’re not the biggest “show” enthusiasts. Still, we felt it was part of the Vegas experience, so a little poking around some review sites led us to purchase tickets for Le Rêve. And, uh…holy shit. No really, holy shit. We took our seats a few rows back from the pool (it’s all water-based) and waited for it to get going, still not sure what to expect. But man…after the first big sequence I was speechless. Then it just kept going. At least half a dozen times I yelled — yelled — “WHAT?!!?” as one performer or another did something ridiculous or spectacular or both. By the end I was spent. Le Rêve broke my brain. BROKE IT.

So, yeesh. How to recover from that?

Actually, Nellie recovered by discovering the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Palazzo next door (where we had dinner booked) and I had to drag her out of Christian Louboutin and Coach. Between you and me I think the exchange rate is the only thing that averted disaster. We walked back downstairs to our dinner reservation at Carnevino, Mario Batali’s Italian steakhouse.

Now I’ve long contended that Jacobs & Co. right here in Toronto is the best steakhouse I’ve been to, and I’ve been to a few. But our experience at Carnevino might be right up there among the best. After a 3-cheese amuse we inhaled the octopus starter (along with a surprising Pinot Grigio), followed by the lobster anolini (with a glass of Chard/Sauv blend), and then tucked into our steaks: New York strip for me, bone-in Filet Mignon for Nellie. It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had…no sauces for me, just meat prepared perfectly. Nellie’s cut, while obviously not as flavourable as my own, was almost impossibly tender. We paired these beasts with a 2004 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo – not the varietal we’d normally choose, but when in Rome (or a cheesy facsimile of Venice) you go with the flow. We listened to the White Stripes and Black Keys and ate ourselves stupid, and pencilled the night in among our very favourite meals. Broken, yet again. This time in the stomach. And the wallet; this was officially the most expensive meal we’d ever eaten. Stupid exchange rate.

We asked our cabbie to drop us at the Bellagio because Nellie wanted to see the fountains. Sadly, after waiting there for five minutes, a voice announced there would be no further show that evening. Dejected (not really) we walked home and poured ourselves into bed. We crashed. We were broken.

The next day was a long slog from the bed to packing, interrupted briefly by a truly excellent room service breakfast, to the airport, to one last (terrible) beer in the airport, to the plane, back to Toronto. Correction: back to a snowstorm in Toronto. We got home late, and pretty much died.



I’ve never been a huge football fan generally, nor of the CFL specifically. I did support the Edmonton Eskimos as a kid — I distinctly remember them winning Grey Cup #75 back in 1987 — but was never obsessed with them the way I was (am) with hockey and the Montreal Canadiens.

However, when my friend CBJ asked us if we wanted to see the 100th Grey Cup right here in Toronto, well…how were we to pass that up? We let him do all the ticket-ordering work (and take in all the pre-game festivities in the days leading up) and met him for a little pre-game barbecue at Triple A in the quiet part of town on Sunday, before taking a slow streetcar to the Rogers Centre.

Thoughts on the game:

  • While I don’t generally back either Toronto or Calgary (the Edmonton bias still lingers), I was obviously pulling for the Argos because…well, home town.
  • The opening play from scrimmage was a Calgary interception, so it didn’t look good early on. But Toronto just put the pedal down in the first half and coasted from there. Calgary didn’t score a major until the final seconds, so the game wasn’t even as close as the 35-22 score suggested.
  • Chad Kackert was a monster. Jon Cornish was all but shut down.
  • It wasn’t a classic game, but any time you can see the 100th championship it’s pretty special. 

Thoughts about everything surrounding the game:

  • Seats at the Rogers Centre suck balls. Even the really expensive ones.
  • CFL fans are hardcore. This city was filled with people in BC jerseys, Edmonton jerseys, Montreal jerseys (okay, not many of those), Winnipeg Jerseys, Hamilton jerseys (okay, not many of those either) and Saskatchewan jerseys (TONS of those!), even though their teams weren’t in the Grey Cup. And the arena was filled with far more Riders fans than Stamps fans, even though Calgary was playing. Crazy.
  • Those same out-of-town fans, were scandalized, SCANDALIZED I tell you, by the price of beer. Obviously $9.75 for a tall boy of Bud is ridiculous, but we Torontonians are used to it, whereas it was a special sort of hell for all the prairie boys.
  • Also, one gentlemen I saw who was clearly from Hamilton seemed awfully concerned about all the “faggots” in Toronto, and made sure all of us in line knew that. I’m not sure why he thought all Torontonian faggots were at the Grey Cup, or why they were interested in accosting him in particular, but he seemed to have his reasons. My guess: insecurity and a terrible upbringing.
  • Strangest exchange of the night, with a man dressed/painted entirely in red, who spoke to me in the concourse on my way to buy a beer: HIM: “You look like a man on a mission! Are you looking for a pepperoni?!” ME: “Ummm…no.” HIM: “OK, I’ll help you!” ME: *slides quickly into nearest line* HIM: *Continues ranting about pepperoni all the way down the concourse, not noticing that I was no longer alongside him*
  • The entertainment was…well, embarrassing. Burton Cummings must have been wasted, because he fucked up “O Canada” twice and sang it over a clicky-beepy drum & bass line you expect to hear from a cheap Casio keyboard. Carly Rae Bieber Trench were a continuum of disgraceful lip-syncing over pre-recorded fluff; Bieber in particular got his ass booed but good. I know he was there for TV ratings, but they had to expect a CFL-football-loving crowd was not going to react well to that juvenile calliope. Thank goodness for Gordon Lightfoot, who actually SANG. And PLAYED. REAL. MUSIC. And REMEMBERED THE WORDS, Burton. Not one of these performers was from my era, but I can recognize the ones with an actual ability to perform live music.
  • Walking out of the Rogers Centre and through downtown Toronto with a lot of excited fans gave me a tiny, tiny taste of what would happen if the Leafs ever won the Stanley Cup. Fortunately, that will never happen.

Pics from the night:

Drunk Burton?
Small army of cheerleaders
Final moments of the game
Streaming onto the field


Nuit Blanche: Once More With Feeling (Zone C)

For the past several years we’ve missed Toronto’s version of Nuit Blanche (now called Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, I guess) because we’ve been travelling. This year we deliberately avoided trips in late September/early October so we could attend. Well, fine, okay, we also did it to avoid the opening of the NHL season, but that doesn’t seem so relevant now, does it?

So after spending the day yesterday cleaning the condo we settled into art & food mode: we ate dinner (filet mignon, Beringer cab sauv, and Portuguese tarts for dessert), threw back some double shots of espresso (made from Fahrenheit‘s Diablo beans), and joined the overnight art fray somewhere around 11PM.

The forecast had been warning of showers, but — apart from a tiny spit of drizzle at one point — the weather cooperated nicely. We were able to walk to all the exhibits we wanted to see, though we mostly focused on Zone C since it’s close to home (and also because the Zone C curator seemed to be getting the most nods).

We ended up seeing twenty projects. Here are some of my favourites:

  • Top Down, because we could see it being built practically below our balcony. It was fun to have a perspective no one else had.
  • Earth-Moon-Earth, a flawed rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata constructed by beaming morse code translations of the notes to the moon and back, and playing the notes (or altered versions thereof) which had reflected back to earth on a player piano. Very cool.
  • Smells Like Spirit, a lo-fi “séance” about Kurt Cobain. Basically it was a loading dock filled with amps, mixers, lights, etc., just as it might look the night of a show as the crew loads into a new venue. Feedback and swelling noise build up in the little space, and occasionally random Kobain vocal tracks. The best part was the endless flow of people who walked to the end of the space, declared it empty, and left, complaining as they went. All they had to do was listen. It wasn’t about the space.
  • Young Prayer, in which an electric guitar hung from a church ceiling rises into the air, slowly descends, and then drops a few feet onto the floor, causing distortion and feedback through the amps piled on the floor, which continues to ring and squall through the next climb back to the heavens. Repeat. Like Townshend + Mogwai + Ambien, viewed from a church pew. Amazing.
  • The Day After, Tomorrow, 2012, which felt worryingly like the beginning of 28 Days Later in that the installation was simply nine large TV screens showing scenes of apocalypse from thousands of movies. I expected to be infected with rage at any minute. It was fun though, and for whatever reason probably the calmest area we hit all night, so we were really able to engage with the piece.
  • The Evening News (small craft warning), which I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand, but which gets massive points for the following: ambition (an all-night radio show about the end of the world, conducted from a plywood box fitted out like a radio booth), interactivity (headphones playing the broadcast were strung from surrounding trees, and they posted a number you could call with discussion topics), and venue. I wish I’d brought a proper camera so I could have captured the full beauty of the booth, spewing wires into the trees overhead, with the towering downtown bank towers looming and intruding just behind.
  • Ensemble For Mixed Use, which didn’t seem remarkable at all until I got to end, turned around, and saw what ended up being my favourite visual of the night: giant Zildjian hi hat cymbals hovering over the heads of shadowy onlookers.
  • Cent Une Tueries des Zombies, a looped film staged at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, pulling all the tropes from zombie films of the past (good and bad, and shockingly terrible) into a fairly cogent narrative. Lots of humor, especially dubbing the “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” dialogue from Night Of The Living Dead over the scene from the “Thriller” pre-video vignette where Michael Jackson dances alongside his girlfriend.
  • Beacon, a simple and practically deserted project in Brookfield place. The vaulted ceilings there allow for some interesting installations (like Longwave a few years ago) and this year’s Beacon — a thirty-foot steel frame tower, roughly in the shape of an old lighthouse, and bearing a rotating spotlight — was no different. The simplicity of the metal structure, the juxtaposition of this signal which couldn’t be seen outside of the ring of huge bank towers it was nestled in, and quite frankly the calm of the venue made it a nice way to end our adventure.

With the time closing on 3AM I was getting hungry (and Nellie was getting sleepy) so we pushed through the hordes on Yonge Street and swung up to the Zone C rest station. I bought a porchetta sandwich from the Per Se food truck, which hit the spot nicely.

We felt like we’d done a pretty good swath of Nuit Blanche, and had the sore feet to prove it. While we enjoyed much of the art, by far the most exasperating part of the night is dealing with all the drunk idiots. It’s an unavoidable element on a Saturday night, certainly, but the sheer volume — I’d say 75% of the people out were more interested in a street party than in art of any kind — changes the feel of the event. It’s hard to process the images and ideas evoked by the art you just saw when, upon exiting the venue, you see two guys holding up a young girl desperately trying to make herself vomit on the sidewalk, or when the clubgoers spill out into the installations at 2AM and add their yell-y insight, or when the security guys have to yell at some self-styled ninja to get off the elephant statue in Commerce Court. It really takes you out of the experience and doesn’t allow you to get caught up in the art itself. I’m beginning to think the only way to really connect with the art is to go out early before the crowds really descend, or to wait until 4AM when the 905ers have gone home and the Ry High kids have passed out. Or just get wasted ourselves.

"Silence is so accurate."

Thirteen years ago, when Nellie and I moved into our first Toronto apartment together, we needed some art to stick on the walls. We did what a lot of people do when they’re only a year out of university and don’t have much money: they buy prints from a generic art store. We perused the offerings at Alternative Arts, near the University of Toronto campus, and I became particularly enamored with one print by a gentleman named Mark Rothko. I knew nothing about art and so didn’t recognize his name, but I loved the simplicity and starkness and richness of the image. We walked out with it.

Untitled 1960

I learned a little more about Rothko later, about his importance in the mid-20th-century abstract expressionist movement. Over the next several years I’d make a point of seeing his work in museums like MoMA, the Guggenheim and The Met in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and most especially at the Tate Modern  during my visit to London in 2002. The series of “Seagram Murals” on display there, in a very dark room, moved me more than any other paintings I’d seen before or have seen since. I spent a long time sitting on a bench, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness, feeling choked up by paintings. Rothko’s earlier, brighter paintings don’t really do much for me, but I’m intensely drawn to his later, darker works.

So, when I heard a play had been made about Rothko — specifically about the period during which he was painting the Seagram murals — and that, after winning several Tony awards last year it was coming to Toronto, I jumped at the chance to buy tickets for Nellie, myself and our friends CBJ+M, to see it last night.

It would be silly for me to try to say much about the play beyond that it was fantastic, that Jim Mezon was incredible as Rothko and that it left me with a whole new dread and appreciation for those paintings which became increasingly dark, even black, as Rothko’s suicide loomed. The play was interesting, animated, physical, philosophical, enlightening and magnifying. I believe there are still tickets left for the Toronto run; I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

We still have that first print, by the way. All of our other cheap starter art has been given to goodwill and replaced with more original work, but I could just never part with the Rothko. I still walk past it every morning on my way out the door, and every night when I get home. But this morning, twelve hours after seeing the play, it seemed to have new life. Or I do. I’m not sure.

Delay us, do we not drink fast to make up for it?

So, let’s see…since we got to New York less than twelve hours ago we:

  • spent an hour getting the hell out of Newark airport, and another half an hour getting into Manhattan and to our hotel
  • got our asses very quickly to Shorty’s, a bar around the corner from the hotel where I had my first Philly cheesesteak sandwich (delish!) and we tasted several great beers
  • checked into our hotel, which has surprisingly spacious (for New York) rooms and great views
  • went to see Al Pacino in Merchant of Venice, playing at the Broadhurst Theatre. Which was fantastic. And it was a little weird to be in the same room as Mssr Pacino, even if it was with a thousand other people.
  • had dinner at Riposo 46, a wine bar on 9th. Nellie loved the prosciutto-wrapped truffle-oil-drenched asparagus, and I loved the sausage margherita flatbread, and we both loved our wine selections.

Seriously, we could go home right now and call it a good trip.