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Mayan Adventure – Day 4

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Having had such a nice start yesterday I headed back to the Wellness Centre for a massage.  At the suggestion of the concierge I signed up for a Mayan abdominal massage.  When in Rome, right?

The massage started innocuously enough with a gentle lubricated body rub.  The tiny masseuse commanded me to breathe and I was gently dozing when the abdominal portion of the hour began.  I rolled over, the therapist dug in and it HURT like the devil.  I do quite a bit of ab work in my various classes by my poor muscle wall was no match for the pneumatic probing of the Mayan Marquesa de Sade.  The pain shot through my kidneys and to the base of my spine.  I envisioned a childhood of clandestinely acquired gummi bears being manipulated to a decades late race for freedom.  There was a brief respite when the therapist left the room, leaving me panting on the table with a cloth over my eyes.  She returned some minutes later carrying what sounded unnervingly like a bucket of ice.  Seconds later she laid a shockingly cold towel over my midsection.  I whimpered and eventually slithered back to my room, reluctantly admitting to a slight sense of euphoria and a suspicion there might be visible bruising in the next day or so.

The scene of the crime:

Massage room

Eventually I rallied my senses and decided to get on with my day.  Having mastered the drive to Playa del Carmen (in the rain, no less) I decided to head back and survey the town for myself.  The last time I had been in this area was about five years ago for a four day sortie to Xcaret which is a resort built around a water park just as few kilometres down the road.  At the time if I recall I was in the middle of a rather epic sulk so I had no desire to mingle.  I also had no car and the very visible presence of a Sam’s Club cemented my decision to stay away.  Now I had a rental car and no real agenda (and the sulk lifted) so I decided to do some exploring.  I started off by visiting Akumal which is the most proximate town to where I was staying.  There is an excellent reef just off the shore and I wanted to sign up for a dive.  The playa is well equipped for such things and I wandered over to the Akumal dive shop to secure a space.  It was right on the beach and there were dozens of people swimming and snorkelling and enjoying the day.  Akumal is a small town so it was not overly crowded.  The playa side houses most of the tourist shops and restaurants.

GateBeach 2 Beach 3 Beach 1 Akumal water

The pueblo side is really for the locals.  There was this resident waiting for the soccer match to start in an otherwise abandoned field.

Soccer Fan

There was a little church with a particularly unfortunate Jesus who had also lost his arm in the melee (someone had daubed the stump with red paint to make it look intentional), a tiny store that sold everything (fruit in the front and a butcher in the back) and also what appeared to be the world’s most frightening circus.ChurchArmless JesusSeller of all thingsScary Circus

Akumal is very laid back and charming,  Even the police seem content and dare I say jaunty?

Sign
Cop on an ATV
I stopped at he Turtle Bay Cafe & Bakery, a charming brightly painted place housed in a series of palapas tucked off the main drag and a short jog from the beach to eat.  It was curiously presided over by a large breasted orangutan sculpture that I do not know the story behind, nor did I seek it.

Turtle Bay cafe1Turtle Bay cafe 2Orang

I selected one of their specialties – fresh grilled fish tacos with poblano sauce and sliced avocado and as they are a bakery I felt compelled to order another specialty,  flan caramel.

Fish Tacos    Caramel Flan

The flan was silky and sweet and I wondered if, after my Mayan abdominal assault, I was commiting an act of gastronomic Russian roulette.

Sated and slightly afraid I rolled back to the rental car and pressed on to Playa del Carmen.  PdC started out as a sleepy fishing village where one caught the ferry to Cozumel Island but has grown to a city of about 150,000 with a flourishing tourist trade.

Church

Most of it is centred around the pedestrian boulevard of fifth avenue known colloquially as “Quinta”.  Here you can find small artisan stalls nestled next to Louis Vuitton, Sunglasses Hut and American Eagle Outfitters.

cats

There are dozens of restaurants and it seemed like every second building was a boutique hotel.  I think if you had reasonable Spanish , some spare time and an intrepid soul you could find a great place to stay for not very much money.

Hotel 1 Hotel 2

One of the main reasons I had for coming to Playa del Carmen was to treat myself to a fish pedicure.  My friend David was here a few months back on his honeymoon and he recommended it highly.  It is a very strange experience.  Small fish called Garra Rufa which are native to Turkey swim around in a tank about the size of your average desk top aquarium and when you immerse your feet they nibble (or suck) off all your nasty dead skin cells.  It is enormously ticklish at first but you quickly get used to it and afterwards your skin is remarkably soft.  The poor buggers couldn’t do much for my heel callouses but neither can a chisel so with only 15 minutes they did their fishy best.

Fishe pedicure 1 Fish pedicure 2

With a spring in my step I headed off to another recommended establishment for dinner called Yaxche on the Quinta strip.  This place specializes in a modern take on tradition Mayan cuisine.  I had the Xaman Ha, a fish fillet stuffed with vegetables, wrapped in holly leaf covered in a white wine sauce and served with a pungent mushroom side and local vegetables.  The taste was subtle and the shredded vegetable stuffing loaned it an oddly asian feel.

Yaxche bread & butter Yaxche yellow dinner

I was sitting under a yellow light which is causing the decidedly jaundiced tone to these pictures.  Do not be off put.

The previous day I had discovered the delights of Maya sipping chocolate. I picked one up for the long journey home, saddled up the white chariot and headed back home.  Another eventful, blissful day done.

Mayan Adventure – Day 3

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

I started off my day with a kundalini yoga class at the Tao wellness centre.  The centre itself is beautiful, sent amongst the trees in a tranquil spot.  There are salt water lap pools, a workout room and a multi purpose room for yoga, fitness classes etc.

Exercise RoomWellness Centre1Salt Pool1Lap Pool1

Kundalini is a little more low key than I generally go for but mellow was my new word of the day.  We spent much of the class breathing deeply and gently stretching and exercising our spines.  The instructor had a very heavy spanish accent and she kept exhorting the class to “Fuck It”.  This was precisely the attitude I was hoping for but it is uncommon language for your average yogi.  It wasn’t until halfway through that I realized she was actually asking us to “focus”.  Both options were fine by me.

It was my first day off campus and I had signed up for a cenote tour with a local tour operator called Lahabna at the recommendation of Trip Advisor.  A cenote is is a natural sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.  Often they feature freshwater as a top layer and saltwater bottoms, and the labyrinthine underwater caves can strech for miles underground and sometimes connect to the sea. In this neck of the woods cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.  I hoped I wouldn’t be one of them.

The owner/operator of Lahabna is a gentleman named Sergio who has done extensive exploration in the area.  I am not rated to cave dive so I had opted for the zip line and snorkel tour.  We started out being loaded into a minibus and driven to a freshwater lake over where we spent the first part of the tour and then on to an open cenote for a swim.  The weather was perfect and the lake water was crystal clear.  There were two zip lines, the first of which took a relatively easy pace and could be experienced several times, then a second line which was faster and about twice as long that landed on the canoe docks.

Zip Line view Lake Zip Line 2 CanoesZip line 3

From there we walked a short distance to an open water cenote for a swim.  In a fit of stupidity I had forgotten to bring a towel so I opted to watch my snorkel mates swim while I sunned myself.  Again, the water was clear as glass and I am told refreshingly cool.

Lake 2 Swimming in open cenote

After about an hour we were escorted back to the minibus and taken to the centre for some fresh fruit and guacamole.  The next leg involved getting back in to the bus for a twenty minute drive down the most rutted bumpy road I have been on in ages.  I feared for the van’s suspension.  It was like travelling around in a popcorn popper.  We finally reached the cenote, shaken not stirred and descended down some steps to the dock.  The mouth of the cave was dimly lit and intimidating.  We were told that this cave was linked to hundreds of others and armed with a few flashlights we stepped in.

The atmosphere in a cenote is an otherworldly one.  Stalactites and stalagmites, formed when the cave was above ground stud the rooms.  There were bats and blind fish and I suspect several things that go bump in the night.  Without light you are cast in to utter darkness and as the caves are not linear you never know where the bottom is or where the next cavern will lead.  We paddled around for about 40 minutes and marvelled at this strange place.  I was very glad for my wetsuit as the water was chilly and the atmosphere made it more so.

I did not bring a waterproof camera so these cenote pictures are courtesy of google images, but they are very similar to the one I was in.

cenote1 Cenote2 Cenote3 Cenote 4

It was absolute fascinating.  I highly recommend it if you get the chance.

I drove back to my little house to change then headed in to Playa del Carmen for dinner at Plank.  It was recommended to me by Betty, the charming property manager at Tao who had told me about the yoga class.

Plank is located on a pretty little street just off the main strip (Quinta).  The only problem was I had never been to Playa del Carmen, the main strip or the pretty little street before and now I was navigating in the dark in a sudden blinding rain storm. I managed to find my way in to town and down to the main drag and with the help of several kind and I suspect rather bemused locals I found my way to the restaurant and bang on time no less.

PlankPlayadelCarmenrestaurant_zpsac830796 gI_128660_plank-playa-del-carmen-mexico

Plank features dishes cooked over high heat on either a slab of Himalayan salt or a cedar board.  I was given a free appetizer featuring a cedar baked flatbread with three dips: a hummus with the consistency of pudding, cumin heavy and delicious, a sweet roasted tomato relish and a poblano and corn based crema.  I thought the latter would be my least favourite but after it was gone I considered licking the bowl.

Apps

My main was sesame crusted tuna with a side of mixed vegetables grilled in a cedar wrap.  The tuna had the texture of butter and I was told to eat it quickly lest it continue to cook on its salt rock bed.  I did not need to be told twice.

Seared tuna Veggies

After this lovely meal and a brief walkabout I headed home, triumphant in my navigational success. I felt like Ponce de Leon in a white VW Classico.  I fell into bed and dreamed of what adventure would be next.

Mayan Adventure – Day 2

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Day 2

I decided that this day would best be spent exploring my immediate surroundings, so I strapped on some sandals and started to wander. The new Tao residential community is still in it infancy but they have landscaped the first phase nicely and there is an exquisite (and apparently unused) infinity pool.

Tao PoolTao Pool 2

It lies on the edge of the enormous Bahia property and is set amidst their elaborate golf course. The Bahai complex has four separate resorts, the Sian Ka’an which is on the northern side of the highway and therefore not on the beach, and the Tulum, Akumal and Coba resorts which lie on the coast to the south. Between them the share some 4000 rooms and are spread over many acres. I wandered over to Sian Ka’an first which took me past the enormous golf clubhouse.

Golf Club

It took about 15 minutes to walk to the first of the resorts during which time I saw about three people, all of them staff of the hotel and this resident:

Resident Iguana

I walked past the driving range and in the same breath considered and rejected taking a golf lesson. The air was hot but not oppressive, the smells were intoxicating and the colours so vivid as to be blinding after the monochrome of a Torontonian winter. My hair tapped my naked shoulders to the rhythm of my steps and for the first time I consider the possibility of relaxing.

Sian Ka’an is set in the jungle. It is the smallest of the four properties and the most upscale. I elected for my first day to buy a meal pass that allowed unlimited access to the buffet restaurants throughout the resort. I am always a little leery of all you can eat buffets. The demon of “getting your money’s worth” seems to infect everyone’s brains and one eats exponentially more than necessary. The breakfast on the offer at Sian Ka’an was elaborate and catered to an international clientele.

Breakfast Buffet

My first round (yes, I succumbed) saw strange assembly of Chinese stir fried vegetables, a pancake with maple syrup, bacon, chorizo, a potato fritter and guacamole.

Breakfast

Round 2 (I wasn’t kidding) saw smoked salmon and two kinds of caviar

Caviar X 2

Sated (or perhaps stuffed is a better word for it) I went to explore this resort. It is an adult only facility and as such is serene and set along three quiet pools. There are golf cart shuttle trains to ferry people to the beach and to the remaining resorts but I opted to walk much to the utter incomprehension of the staff. I made my way down the road and over the highway bridge and ended up at the Tulum Resort

Tulum Lobby

Tulum is enormous, the least expensive of the resorts and caters to younger (read: partying) crowd.

Tequileria

There wass piped in music, pool activities and an MC. You could take Zumba on the beach

Zumba on the beach

After the tranquility of Sian Ka’an it was like a knife in the ear. I made my way down to the water and moved towards the Akumal property.

Akumal LobbyAkumal Resort MapAkumal Theatre

This one was equally enormous but seemed a little more mature. There was a quiet area in the pool

Quiet Pool Sign

and they don’t take kindly to the frivolities of the Tulum crowd.

No Topless

(That said there was one pool that had piped in the unmistakable strains of “Funkytown”. I guess some things cannot be escaped)

The properties all share a beach area. The water was warm and the sand surprisingly cool.

 

Bahia Beach 3Bahia Beach 1

After lingering on the water’s edge I made my way up to the final resort, Coba.

Coba Lobby

At first I could not figure out what the specific market was for this resort. I started to wander around and when I reached the first pool I was greeted with a large children’s waterpark. Ahhhh. Families. I turned on my heel and escaped.

I had by this point been walking for several hours so I hopped on one of the courtesy carts for a lift back to Sian Ka’an then walked home. My own choice of accommodation seemed like the wisest decision I could have made. These resorts seem to cater to those who want to have FUN. Lots of food, lots of drinking, lots of noise. I am much more content to have lower case “fun”. Sitting around with my smart witty friends, reading and watching the world.

I decided to drive back to Akumal Resort for lunch (an even larger more elaborate selection that Sian Ka’an) the in to Tulum for supplies. The supermarket was a revelation. They sold everything from oranges to sombreros, with a large selection of tequilas in the middle. There was a bread bar, a cheese counter and to my shock and delight an ham bar featuring different variations of aged and smoked pig. I bought breakfast supplies, snacks, water and a sample of Serrano ham (I couldn’t resist). I did give the frightening dessert counter a wide berth.

terrifying Dessert2Terrifying Dessert 1

I headed back to the villa and spent a lovely few hours on the roof deck with a couple of plunges in to the refreshing pool. I finished the evening with a nice restrained dinner at Sian Ka’an though I could not resist the lure of the dessert buffet.

Dessert BuffetDessert Buffet 2

I will expand my culinary horizons on the rest of the trip, and hopefully not my waistline with it.

 

 

Mayan Adventure – Day 1

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

Day 1:

I am on a vacation. The opportunity presented itself; the need was absolute and I decided to wing off to a small town called Akumal in Riviera Maya. I have rented a villa and am going to do my damndest to relax. I have taken a couple of four day long weekends but the last time I was south for a week was eight years ago. Too long by far.

On this break I am going to try a new approach. I am going to be nice to people and try to be friendly. Sounds easy doesn’t it?  I do not generally go out of my way to be unpleasant, but I am an impatient and demanding soul by times and shy to boot.  Now seems like an appropriate time to try to change my ways.

The journey started off inauspiciously with a one hour flight delay, information I received via email some fifty minutes before the scheduled departure time and within a window where I suspect most of the passengers have already arrived at the airport. I would normally find this profoundly irritating but instead I had decided to dwell on the bloody miracle that is modern flight and that even with a delay by the end of the day I will be in a different country and climate.

The departure board was indicating a different time than the email suggested so I decided to ask an agent. The diminutive woman behind the desk eyed my approach warily – I suspect most interactions she has with the public are unpleasant – so I threw on my sunniest smile and asked which to be believed , board or email? She was visibly relieved, told me the board probably was more accurate, I smiled and thanked her and went off to wander the terminal. Pearson 3 is clean, renovated and offered some reasonable food options. I set myself up with a jasmine tea from David’s, a piri piri chicken wrap from Amaya and settled in. That was not so difficult.

The flight was uneventful, the Cancun airport is ridiculous but I was resolved not to lose my new cool. I picked up my rental car and drove for about 80 minutes on a well paved, arrow straight highway. The speed limit signs seemed absolutely random but I resisted to urge to break any of them and I arrived at my destination.

A two bedroom villa in a secluded private area on the Bahia Principe estate.  Two bathrooms, a TV nook (that has thus far yielded on channel featuring a Bradley Cooper film dubbed in Spanish, but no matter) all lit by an enormous skylight.

2nd Bathroom 2nd Bedroom  Kitchen Living Area 2 Living Area Master bath 2 Master bath Master bedroom Sitting area Skylight

Plus an outdoor privacy deck, eating area and plunge pool.

DeckPool & diningPool1Pool2Stairs to deckPool from balconyDeck1Deck 3Deck 4

 

The villa lies on a new development section of the vast Bahia property.  Eventually there will be 400 units of varying sizes but to date only 70 have been built and may of them are unoccupied.  As as the tourist season does not really take effect for a week or so I suspect my timing is perfect.  I believe there are fewer than 100 people in the immediate vicinity, none directly attached to my little home and there is precious little evidence of the remainder.  This promises to be a beautiful adventure

A Mid Christmas Afternoon’s Dream

Sunday, December 28th, 2014

We are a week in to the Christmas holiday and I am proud to say that my vows to exercise regularly and eat sensibly have gone straight out the window.  I have not lifted anything heavier than a mug of tea or had a meal without chocolate in it for days.  Yesterday I managed to break through my TV binge watching to switch one screen for another and wandered up to the Bloor Hot Docs theatre to watch a Globe On Screen production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  The theatre in which the plays are performed is a recreation of the original Globe for which William Shakespeare wrote many of his plays.  It is an open air venue and the people on the ground level stand for the performance and is contextually accurate from a production standpoint.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is an easy play – a delightful pastoral romp with star crossed lovers and fairies. This production was a broad interpretation – there was a decidedly gay overtone and the humour was played to its maximum effect.  Several of the performances were excellent (the gentleman playing Bottom was fantastic) and the cast as a group was more than solid.  As an added bonus the man playing Oberon (and Theseus as his mortal counterpart) as absolutely exquisite to look at look at and spent much of the play shirtless.  He was a very talent actor, which I reminded myself as I watched him swinging about the stage from ropes and delivering a deep kiss to the boy playing Puck.

midsummer-nights-dream-9midsummer_nights_dream_globe_puck_oberon-278

I popped in to the lobby during intermission and ran in to a very elegant British woman I took to be in her 70s.  She was asking for the staff for a playbill, explaining that she “just wanted to see who was playing Oberon”.  I laughed and retorted “We all do!” and she laughed in turn.  She confessed she liked some of the other performances better but found him “very easy to watch”.  I was pleased that our appreciation for the is actor was intergenerational and judging by the reaction of the largely female, septuagenarian plus audience rather universal as well.

The actor’s name was John Light and I must emphasize he is a truly talented fellow (despite my rather rude objectification of his more comely aspects).  I will search for his name in future productions.  And secretly hope he next appears in a toga.

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The Bogeyman in the Mirror

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

A warning on the following.  The posts here tend to be of the light hearted variety.  This is not one of them.  Sparked by events that have been storming the media recently, this is a personal note on sexual assault, its victims and the perpetrators thereof.

 

There has been much in the news lately about sexual assault and its prevalence in today’s society. Much of the conversation has been precipitated by the recent events surrounding a high profile media personality who made a very public appeal in defence of impending accusations of his sexual impropriety. He asserted that his actions, while potentially offensive to more conservative members of society, were committed in the privacy of his own home and with the consent of the individuals with whom he was engaged. He was subsequently terminated from his position and in the weeks following several women came forward to assert that his behaviour was in fact violent and committed without their permission.

I was discussing the issue and the disturbing statistics that are cited on such matters with some friends over dinner recently. One in four North American women will suffer a sexual assault in their lifetime. This number (which many experts speculate to be low) is limited to unwanted sexual touching. Verbal harassment, genital exposure etc. are not included and I suspect the number would be much, much higher if they were. 6% of sexual assaults are reported to police and in the case of date rape that number shrinks to between 1% and 2%.   19% of attacks are what would be termed rape in common parlance (i.e. penetration) and the remaining 81% is unwanted touching. The statistics are staggering, and when I scan my own roster of female friends and acquaintances the number seems accurate. (When is comes to lewd comments or being exposed to I do not know a single woman who has NOT experienced this behaviour in some form or another).

It was at this dinner that I experienced a very disturbing epiphany. If the numbers are correct (and I suspect they are) there is virtually no chance that is do not know someone who has COMMITTED a sexual assault.  I know a number of women who have been raped.   I never for a second considered that I must know someone who has done the raping.

I was floored. Let me preface this by saying I do NOT believe all men are beasts and rapists. I understand that this isn’t a case of “all of the people, all of the time” and is probably individuals exhibiting a series of aberrant behaviour over the course of a life time rather than a large group of people each committing a single act but no matter how you slice it this is a math problem with an extremely unpleasant solution.

When I scan the list of characters I have met over the course of my life I cannot identify the person or persons that I believe are capable of such behaviour and I think the root problem is this: They can’t either. I don’t know a single person who looks in the mirror in the morning and says “I assaulted someone last night!” before they head out on their daily business.

Society has an image of what a rapist looks like – an unwashed thug, lurking in the dark by the bus stop. The reality is such creatures represent a minuscule fraction of a percent of the real number. It is a friend or family member who commits 86% of sexual assaults in North America.   The perpetrators look like us, because they ARE us.

I asked a friend who had been the victim of date rape if she thought the man who committed the attack, if questioned, would have any idea that he had done something wrong and she confirmed that he absolutely would not. There were several factors (alcohol, prior sexual history among them) that turned a playful wrestling match into something else. My friend did not report the attack and the perpetrator remained in her social circle without recrimination. I suspect situations like these are extremely common be it in a social or professional arena.

There can be some very clear guidelines with sex and sexuality. I think it can be universally stated that no one should insert any object into any orifice of anyone else without his or her express permission. Unsolicited grabbing or hitting is also verboten. After that they lines are not only blurred, they are amorphous smudges.

This lends itself to what may be an insurmountable problem. If the perpetrators of these unacceptable acts cannot identify themselves no amount of dialogue will help. The problem, if you will, is that the problem doesn’t know that it is the problem.  Without self-identification all efforts to modify these behaviours will be wasted.

I scan my own list of acquaintances again, and suddenly some of the names do not seem so innocuous. Factor in youth or age, hormones, anger, frustration, alcohol & drugs, control issues, entitlement issues and an undefined area of what is and is not acceptable and the numbers do not seem so impossible. The media personality who sparked this dialogue was clearly under the impression he had done nothing wrong. I suspect person that whistles at someone on the street, or maybe slaps a passing bottom thinks not only are they committing no infraction but instead that they are expressing a form of admiration.  And if you’ve “done it” be for, isn’t that a free pass to do it again?

While we need to stop looking for the “Bogeyman” and turn our attention to the proverbial guy next door we also need to stop looking for to “Bogeywoman”. We have to cease the language of justification – the “what was she wearing/drinking/ thinking/doing?” dialogue that so often follows news of an assault. To paraphrase an acquaintance of mine: “I may have been looking for love but I certainly wasn’t looking for a punch in the face”. Attempts to reframe our narrative are understandable as we search for reasons that such things cannot happen to US.   But they do, and in numbers too great to be denied.

What is the solution? There is a burgeoning market for degrees in “Communications” which largely focus on getting messages to the masses but very little effort (and a waning one at that with the surge in technology that keeps us in our own isolated worlds) seems to be devoted to individuals imparting their needs and desires to each other.  Perhaps we all need to look in the mirror, take a deep breath and ask ourselves “Is it me? Am I the problem?”. We may not like the answer but without it we are lost.

One Week, Two Heroes

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Marquee

Now that is one hell of a marquee.  I have had the very good fortune of attending both concerts #1 and #3 within a scant 7 day period and managed to see two incredible icons of rock.  (No offence to Ms McLachlan – I have attended a few Lilith Fairs in my time, but this isn’t about her)  Sinead O’Connor and Chrissie Hynde both changed my life, or at east the way I hear music.

I had been a fan of the Pretenders since 1980’s “Brass In Pocket” but the 1984 album “Learning To Crawl” really made me sit up and take notice.  Here was the coolest of women – tough, strong, and unapologetically fronting the rockiest of rock bands.  Her gender had nothing to do with her presence.  She seemed to be  musician first, woman second, or perhaps more accurately both at exactly the same time.  Accept her for who she was or go screw yourself.  There are a few women who have managed to make their gender a non issue (Kim Gordon, Moe Tucker, Tina Weymouth to name a few) but it is an inexplicably difficult feat to pull off.  Chrissie does it without question, which is not to say she isn’t sexy.  She strolled out on stage tight jeans and over the knee leather boots topped by a vest and tie over nothing but toned arms and attitude.  Surrounded by a killer tight band of men half her age (perhaps even a third in the case of her bass player) she was in absolute command of the crowd.

Chrissie 2 Chrissie 1

The normally staid Massey Hall got to their feet once she ripped in to “Night in My Veins” and didn’t settle down until well after the second encore

Crowd

 

The week prior I went to see Sinead O’Connor.  She too had command of the crowd but in a different way.  She started the concert by announcing she would play a song first that she usually reserved for later in her set, and launched in to an a cappella version of “I am Stretched On Your Grave” which she dedicated to Nathan Cirillo (the army Corporal who was gunned down in Ottawa at his honour guard post).  The crowd roared, and was hers for the next 90 minutes.  Her voice is still astonishing.

I remember working at a department store during college.  I was posted in the youth department where in a failed attempt to seem hip there was a bank of TVs playing Much Music.  The sales clerks spent more time watching the monitors than servicing clients and I remember when Sinead’s video for Troy came on we all stopped dead in our tracks, gobsmacked.  I had never seen or heard anything like it and I immediately bought “The Lion And Te Cobra” on the way home.  I didn’t stop playing it for weeks.

Sinead had power and attitude to be sure but she had a haunting vulnerability about her.  Anyone whose heart didn’t break a little when she popped a tear in the “Nothing Compares 2 U” video is a liar or a monster.

Two legends in a week.  Two powerful women who own their own game.  Inspiring and amazing and a great reminder about what can happen when you challenge the status quo.

I leave you with two tracks worth checking out.

The Pretenders “Night In My Veins”

Sinead O’Connor – “Queen of Denmark”

 

Purple pancakes and raw energy

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

I just finished eating a purple pancake.  I don’t know why it was purple, nor do I know what it was made of.  But I loved it.  It was topped with fresh banana slices, blackberries and blueberries along with a violet hued substance I took to be nut butter and a generous serving of maple syrup.  With such adornment I don’t think I would have minded if the pancake was made from wood chips and styrofoam.  For all I know, it was.

The Mystery of The Purple Pancake (a title that sounds like one of Nancy Drew’s less successful efforts) was initiated in response to the latest trend in my eating habits:  to consume anything and everything within arms reach.  I was recently in Pittsburgh for a long weekend where I seemed determined to “eat myself American” by consuming untold amounts of calories in a variety of salt, sugar and fat packets.  Once I crossed the border all bets were off, so much so that a roadside lunch consisting of two kinds of fudge and fresh kettle corn seemed not only reasonable but downright necessary.

Early in the trip a stop at Primenti Brothers (a local chain) yielded a hot sausage sandwich on 1″ thick snow white bread about the size of a paddle head with coleslaw and french fries right in the bun.  Also enough sodium to turn Lake Superior in to the Dead Sea, as evidenced by the profound thirst that overcame me minutes after consumption that was not to be slaked.

I generally eat well – I love vegetables and fresh fruit, generally limit my proteins to legumes and fish and eschew processed foods.  I have a great fondness for things that taste like dirt (spinach, beets etc).  I suspect I would have made an excellent candidate for geophagia.*  Inevitably, however,  I take a tumble off the harvest wagon and start stuffing myself with creatively presented non food items.

In order to combat this latest gustatory atrocity I am experimenting with a raw food vegan “boot camp” that I found through a popular deal-of-the-day service.  I have embarked on many cleanses over the years and every time I do so I steel myself for the worst as I read the list of forbidden ingredients and ready myself for food martyrdom, all the while completely ignoring the fact that the offensive foods rarely make an appearance on my plate to begin with.

I also manage to ignore at the commencement the fact the that the cleansing food is, more often than not, absolutely delicious.  I recall some years ago pulling up to the table muttering “woe is me!” between humming verses of “Swing Low”, only to tuck in to a prescribed dinner of seared tuna with soy, garlic and ginger, steamed veg and quinoa.  I would happily have slapped plastic down for this meal in any restaurant and raved about it later.

Lunch on the new menu is a fabulous salad with pecans, dates and cranberries.  Dinner last night was raw Pad Thai with nut sauce.  Tonight is a raw burger with guacamole and a date square for dessert.  After last night’s pancake I was not only full but palate pleased and I anticipate the same result tonight.

Bring on the purple pancakes I say!  I shall eat healthily and feel like I can conquer the world!  Right up until I sample a corner of salted caramel fudge and another launch in to another “swing low” refrain.

 

*Geophagia is defined as deliberate consumption of earth, soil, or clay.

Love song to a soft seat theatre

Monday, October 6th, 2014

It has been a delightful and active summer, and one that is drawing to a close. The weather has turned, the trees are losing their leaves, the kayaks are put away and I have returned to the first Doc Soup of the season at the Bloor Hot Docs theatre.

I am a documentary addict and the fact that this city is host to the only dedicated doc theatre in the world makes me happy and proud.  During the cooler months when the seductive lure of the sunshine has skulked away I can be found here once a week and often more.  The Doc Soup series features a new release film and is followed by a Q&A with the producers, directors and often subjects.  I have been enthralled by topics I never knew I would find interesting and it is always a fascinating experience.

The Doc Soups are often sold out and as such  I get to the theatre early to score my favourite seat. I eschew the renovated plush recliners on the ground level and instead head for the second balcony where I tuck myself in to a place I call the “nose cone”.  There are two such areas that flank the upper entrance to the balconies and consist of four seats that descend in single file to the frontmost, which has an unobstructed view and has no neighbours save the one seat directly behind.  The only drawback is that the seat is tight to the plaster wall of the front balcony and offers considerable less leg room than one would find in economy class on a cheap charter airline.  If you are taller than about 5’2″ or do not possess rather truncated limbs like my own I wouldn’t recommend it.  If at all slouched down my knees are jammed against the wall, but I love the fact that I can take possession of my own little theatrical fiefdom and cast off to a world of my own with popcorn and liquor if you want it!

I settled back this past evening and felt like I was being wrapped in a warm blanket,  welcomed back by an old friend.  This particular documentary was less than perfect but I am looking forward to another season in my happy little haven.  Come get me when spring arrives.

 

Stunted

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

There is an old adage about warfare, deeming it “interminable boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”  That seems an adequate description of several of my Groupon adventures.

Last weekend I signed up for a stunt driving class.  Much like my adventures at the gun range I secretly suspected we were about to unearth my inner International Spy which is an alter ego I am utterly convinced that I possess despite all evidence to the contrary.   I don’t doubt that there are many people in the business of international espionage but I suspect most of them are not unnervingly good looking nor do they tear about the countryside off roading in a very public way in vehicles that retail for hundreds of thousands of dollars BEFORE you factor in the stereo upgrade.  But if I am going to unleash an inner demon that is the one that I would like to unleash thank you very much.  I would settle for unnervingly good looking, actually.  I started with the driving.

The stunt driving school had three BMW3 series cars which are apparently idea for the task as they are perfectly balanced and certain safety features like anti-lock brakes could be over ridden.  We were taught several basic exercises – the “J” move which is where you drive spin the car 180 degrees, another version of this that begins with the car in a high speed reverse, and a basic slalom.  We were taken through each exercise in car with the instructor demonstrating then swapped out so we could have a go on our own.

Here’s where the war adage takes effect.  When you are in the car it feels like you are only playing around for about five minutes.  In reality with the demonstrations and depending on how quickly you cotton on it is more like twenty.  Three cars and twelve participants makes for a lot of waiting.  Plus the weather which had promised to be a sunny and balmy fall day had turned to the first bite of winter and was overcast and chilly, and there was only an open sided tent in which to take shelter.  I was alone so there were moments of pure enjoyment followed by extended periods of waiting around, not really rooting for the other participants and secretly resenting them a little.  The good news is I am pretty good at it.  That’s where the war adage falls apart for me.  I am curiously fearless and in my world there is no such thing as too fast too high too spinny too anything in my world.  The main instructor had me in the car and after the first “J” spin he stopped and informed me that generally he liked to take a moment then so people could take a moment to regain their composure and let their adrenalin settle.  I think my pulse rate was about the same as when I emerge from a refreshing nap and he was a little startled to see how calm I was.  “You look fine” he said in a slightly curious and possibly disappointed way.  “I don’t really do scared” I explained.  One bonus point for me.  (As a aside, I actually DO scared but only in a different way.  Invite me to a party with more than four people at it or ask me to go bathing suit shopping in January and you can see what pure terror looks like).

The class was fun but I will remember to bring a buddy the next time I do such a thing, if only to provide an appropriate measure of fear-by-proxy for the instructors.  It was all I could do not to slam my little car in its spot in the garage by executing a reverse spin but I rationalized that I didn’t have the run up space.  Perhaps my inner spy will be unleashed yet