Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Illuminaris Festival in Vancouver

Saturday night I walked over to Commercial and Broadway with my good friend Jenny from Victoria and met some other friends at a restaurant before heading out to the Illuminaris Festival at Trout Lake (12th Ave. & Commercial).

Illuminaris is widely known in Vancouver as a festival of lanterns, where a procession of artists circle the lake with their handmade lighting devices. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw & heard.

It all began for me with a phalanx of boys dancing to the pulsating beats of a percussion orchestra, all the while twirling batons of fire, much to the impressively large crowd's delight. Once I met back up with my friends, I had temporarily lost them in the smoky haze, we ambled around the park appreciating the workmanship that went into so many of the lanterns.

There were ballerinas, dragons, submarines, planes, ladybugs, rabbits, and all manner of regularly-shaped lanterns with exquisite lines and designs. At one point, my friend looked over at me and asked, somewhat incredulously, "How can people be so creative?" This from an architect/interior designer.

That pretty much summed up the evening. I was constantly awed by the commitment to art that so many people demonstrated through their work. For many long time supporters though, the festival itself has become a bit too big and commercialized, as evidenced by the need for concession stands and a tiny village of porta-potties. But, for a first-time reveler, it was a rare treat to enjoy such fantastic artwork outdoors and I sure didn't mind pressing against the thousands of people pushing their way around the lake. It definitely beats the drunken throngs watching the fireworks at Kits Beach or English Bay.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Rainbow Lake Trail- Whistler, BC

A friend and I headed out to Whistler earlier today from the comfortable summer confines of Vancouver. The traffic along the Sea-to-Sky Highway is absurd right now with all the construction in preparation for the 2010 Olympics. If you were looking for another reason to question the entire Olympic industry (i.e., rampant consumerism, commodification of excellence, xenophobic nationalism), then a gentle drive down highway 99 from Vancouver to Whistler will perhaps fulfill that promise. Or maybe the push to evict people from the Downtown Eastside will. Either way, I digress.

The Rainbow Lake Trail, which one can access on Alta Lake Road at Twenty One Mile Creek, is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon hiking. From the parking lot on the road, it's a 850m elevation and 8km hike up to Rainbow Lake, the Town of Whistler's source for drinking water.

The hike is a meander through a forest of majestic hemlock tress and giant red cedars, quaint mountain meadows and mossy bogs; all leading up to Rainbow Lake, at an elevation of 1470m. Before arriving, you must cross a generous amount of creeks, perhaps as many as 30, with some very impressive bridges spanning their lengths. How do they construct these structures in such isolated areas?

On this lucky day, July 26th, 2007, the lake was fully surrounded by snow, and mostly covered in ice. This made the final push to get to the top treacherous at times, but the 8km hike up took us more or less 3 hours, with a generous amount of time for photo breaks.

There are a number of great vistas, most notably near km 7, where there's a clear view of Whistler Mountain and the ski slopes. Without a doubt, the best part of the hike was arriving at Rainbow Lake, where we pulled out our lunches and enjoyed our snowy surroundings. Never before had hummus and rice crackers tasted quite so divine.

If you're looking for a good day hike near Vancouver, then this trail may be for you. But plan some extra time to get to the trailhead now that the construction on the highway is going full force. The time to get to Whistler has doubled from the last time I went 5 years ago.

Last thing, use the outhouses provided along the way, this is Whistler's watershed. But if you forget and accidentally pee beside the lake, it doesn't make you a bad person, does it?

Come to BC, See Bears

This is a female black bear, seen munching on leaves along with at least one cub on Alta Lake Road, Whistler, BC- July 27th, 2007.

"Mmmm...such tasty leaves."

"Are you looking at me?"

"Where are you sonny? Did the stupid humans scare you off?"

Walking away, disgusted.

Fading to black

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fun in the Kawarthas

The Kawarthas, an area north of Peterborough, Ontario, is renowned for its series of lakes and its countless chains of cottages, built by hungry southern Ontario (think Toronto, Oshawa, Hamilton, Burlington, Markham, Thornhill) urbanites looking to escape the toxic fog that envelops their city homes during the short summer months. Or perhaps it is peace and tranquility that city-dwellers search for amongst the pines and dark ochre-tinged waterways.

Regardless, I was lucky enough to be invited to one of these impressive country homes on the Trent Severn Waterway last weekend, near Stony Lake. While the setting was quite lovely, it was to my dear friends that my attention turned, thankfully, because the buzz of powerboats and the sound of house boat revelers was never far away.

Here is a collection of photos from my brief sojourn, the most memorable moments being the impromptu dance party (thank you Shout Out Out Out Out), the surreal star light show Saturday night, and the opportunity to break bread with three of my favourite people.

AM seems to have captured me in mid-flight on my perilous fall from grace.

Having ever so gracefully (!) hit the water, I disappear amongst the crustaceans and the plentiful smallmouth bass.

Friday, July 20, 2007

10 Day Diagnostic Update

As some of you might know, I track visitors to my blog using both Site Meter and Google Analytics. This morning, upon waking up from a relatively deep slumber, I decided to give regular updates.

Since July 9th, here are my ten most popular page views (484 in total), according to Google Analytics:

1. my home page (53.7%)

2. my 'hawksley workman at bluesfest' review (16.3%)

3. my 'bluesfest 2007' label (4.75%)

4. my 'my photos' label (3.3%)

5. my 'jetplanes of abraham at bluesfest' review (2.7%)

6. my 'bluesfest photo essay' and my 'short stories' label (1.7%)

8. my 'random musings/poetry' label (1.4%)

9. my 'gogol bordello at bluesfest' photo montage (1.2%)

10. my 'cat power at bluesfest' review; my 'luckily we have empire part 1/3' short story; my 'en francais' label; my 'film reviews' label (1%)

Thanks to all those who visited my blog in this period, I had nearly 300 visits from nearly 200 visitors over the 10 days, most of whom were new. For those bloggers out there interested in obtaining information about their visitors, I'd suggest google analytics, it's user-friendly and full of timely tid-bits of info. Don't hesitate to ask me for a tutorial if need be.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eclectic Photo Montage

Brunch at Chez Eric's in Wakefield, Québec. December 2nd, 2006

Bullfrog in the Ottawa River at Orléans, Ontario. May 28th, 2006.

Bumper sticker in a thrift store window in Atlanta, Georgia. March 31st, 2007.

A Victim of Uncertainty

He was walking late at night on a country road he didn’t know. The warm summer breeze gently caressed his face, calming his otherwise frayed nerves. He had a definitive purpose. He used to do this when he was much younger, unencumbered by what seemed in this moment to be a lifetime of disappointment.

There he was, somewhere among fields of barley and wheat, briskly making his way to the nearby water tower. He wasn’t sure what he would do when he got there, but he’d know when he arrived.

Earlier in the evening he was having a mild panic attack, reminded as he so often was these days, of heartbreak. He was walking in a haze with a noose tightening around his chest. Before long, if he wasn’t careful, he knew it would envelop his entire being, and he could do nothing but wait until it passed. He had been paralyzed with that clenching feeling for most of the past two years. It was entirely unpleasant. Instead of stewing with it though, lately he had taken to walking for hours on end. He had tried other strategies: meditation, running, playing the guitar. But none of these quite satisfied his urge to escape his mind at a leisurely, down-tempo pace. That’s why he was headed to the water tower.

The two of them had broken it off several years beforehand, for all intents and purposes quite mutually, but for reasons completely beyond him, they were still lingering, calling each other back at the first sign of retreat. On this night, he imagined a trite silent movie in which one of two main characters continuously cried as soon as the other left the room, only to be comforted time and time again. Back and forth, back and forth they both went for the entire film, laughing and then crying, laughing and then crying, waiting for that loving hand to reach out and care for them in their desperate time of need. That was it, he thought, my life feels like a room of tears. On the rare occasions, tonight being one of them, when he felt he had some perspective, he wanted nothing more but to escape his addiction, perhaps check himself into a rehabilitation unit, but he was quite unclear whether one could do that for an addiction to emotions, an individual, to turmoil. On this night he wanted to turn away from the car wreck that was his ultimate love, and to live, finally free of its hold on him.

That’s why he had had such high hopes for Sam. They had met in a downtown park only days beforehand, in a downpour not unlike most summer thunderstorms. The sky screeched a dire warning, clapped its hands with all its might, before unleashing the light show. They both ran for cover under the nearest picnic table. There they were, him in his oddly bedazzled pleather shoes and straight pants on his way to the library, Sam all decked out in the latest running gear, training for the upcoming 10k run.

They hit it off right away. He impressed with his wit and charm, while Sam reciprocated with an equal dose of humour. After ten minutes, the storm subsided, but they didn’t notice. After thirty minutes, they both commented on the drying conditions, but neither of them made a move to leave. In fact, they nearly cuddled under the table, smiling at each other’s marvelous weather perception.

So their day went, two hours in the park, over half of it ducked under a picnic table talking about weather patterns, the humidex and what exactly a barometre was. The next hour was spent in a trendy café in a gentrifying part of town, more Sam’s style than his, but the rich fair trade coffee did smell quite good. The last three hours were spent in Sam’s basement apartment, steamily getting acquainted with the most intimate details of their anatomy and sexual preferences.

While he was a decidedly good lover, on this day, he was outstanding. He dove in head first, regaling himself in Sam’s pleasure. Upon leaving, he was rather impressed with his proficiency. It was the first time he had ever had sex with a more or less complete stranger, and he felt alive. That night he walked home to his decidedly more humble abode, listening to his summer playlist on his walkman. James Brown and Parliament were serving up some classic funk.

A week later and he was out walking in the middle of the night, with the express purpose of figuring out what to do about Sam, and about love more generally. In the days following their original encounter, Sam grew increasingly obsessive, to the point where he was afraid of what might lie ahead.

The last time they spoke, Sam had a series of questions ready for him. The night before he had declined an invitation to come over for sex, preferring instead to spend time with his best friend. Apparently this didn’t sit well with Sam.

“Where exactly do you see this going?” There had barely been a hello on the end of the other line before the barrage of questions began.

“Well, to be honest, I hadn’t put much thought into it yet. I was just sort of going with it.” He was a bit stunned.

“Oh, I see.” Sam sounded hurt. “Well, I’m asking you to think about it, what are you looking for?”

“Ummmm. Well, if you insist. I suppose I’m still working through some difficult feelings from my last relationship, so I’d say I’m looking to keep things pretty chill.”

“What does chill mean?” Sam was clearly getting agitated.

“Chill means fun, light, not very heavy.”

“I see, so what you mean is casual and open to other people?”

He was getting a bit perturbed. “Well, I’m not sure I would’ve put it that way, but yeah. Nothing too serious.” Given the turn of events, he thought this might be the safest route.

“Ah, okay…” There was a long pause before Sam said anything else.

“Is everything ok?” He wasn’t sure what to think at this point, but was trying to beat back his urge to hang up before things got too heavy.

“Yeah. This just gives me a lot to think about. I’m used to these short, sexually intense flings that lead to nothing meaningful. In fact, that’s all I know. And I want to get away from that. And you’re irresistible to me. And, well, I just need to think about all of this some more.” Sam said the last sentence in what seemed to be tortured syntax.

“Ok.” He was now talking in his soft, caring voice. “I get that. Let’s not have sex anymore then. I’d be happy to be your friend…” He sort of trailed off, not really sure that’s exactly how he felt.

“Look, I’m going to think about this some more. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Ok, call me soon.” He was feeling an odd sense of sadness. He couldn’t place it, but he knew that this was coming to a rather premature end.

“Yeah. I’ll call.”

That was four days ago. He hadn’t heard back from Sam, and had a feeling that he wasn’t going to anytime soon. There was something in the way Sam’s voice quivered that night that told him it would be over.

What had begun as a hopeful encounter seemed to have ended in a decidedly anti-climactic manner. That was unfortunate in itself, but what made it even more complex was that it led him directly into the waiting arms of his always caring ex.

At least, it did have that quality to it. In the three years since their break-up, they had both failed miserably at re-igniting the passion they have for each other with another. They never said so outright, but both could tell that the late night or early morning phone calls were a sure sign of their longing. They also knew that these desperate attempts to pull each other back were at best unsettling. At worst, they were unhealthy to the core.

It was to this confusing uncertainty that he returned to over and over again in his mind. He was sitting in his house trying to fight off the reckless urge to call her one more time. The thoughts were assaulting his senses, and whipping up a frenzy of emotions. He was mildly panicking. Should he enter into the house of tears and ignite a fire? He knew all too well that he could do it. For reasons completely beyond him, only she has ever inspired such passion in him. He both loved and hated her for it.

That was when he headed for the door donning his thrift store-issued trucker cap, his long black hair neatly tucked underneath.

As he approached the water tower at the end of the dirt road nearly two hours after he originally set out, storm clouds began gathering menacingly over-head. The stars scurried for cover, and he stopped in the middle of the road. Looking up, the first raindrop brushed his chin, eventually dropping onto the front of his sweater.

And just so, the fire he had been feeling a few moments before went out. He knew instantly that there’d be no late-night phone call tonight. It was all he could do to move on, to feel fully human again. He knew it all too well in this calm, pre-storm atmosphere.

“Please let go. Please.” He heard himself whisper these words, just as the wind kicked up, signaling the arrival of the impending rainfall. He walked silently back down the road towards his country home, hoping that he’d be caught in a mighty downpour. This time, however, he wouldn’t cower beneath a table. He’d wait it out, absorbing the full force of every blow.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Putting Bluesfest to Bed

As promised in my mid-festival photo essay, I'm reporting on Bluesfest a full 3 days since it ended, and 5 days since my last complete concert. I'll keep this short, I don't intend to give a review of the entire festival itself, since I only saw parts of at least 25 shows in 10 days and there were something like 150 bands overall. Instead, I've come up with my own awards list. Without further ado, from the studio in my bedroom on the second floor of my townhouse in Hintonburg, downtown Ottawa, the 2007 Bluesfest élan awards.

1. Best show for dancing- Shout Out Out Out Out

2. Best Ottawa band- Jetplanes of Abraham

3. Best personal find(s)- Cat Power; Gogol Bordello; Shout Out Out Out Out

4. Most disappointing show(s): Sarah Harmer; The Cat Empire; The White Stripes; Manu Chao; Blue Rodeo

5. Most amazing individual performance: Tagaq

6. Best concert moment: George Clinton rapping for 5 minutes, after calling himself the original gangsta rapper.

7. Classiest moment: George Clinton having local breakers on-stage, and then bear-hugging them

8. Best overall show(s): Jetplanes of Abraham; Shout Out Out Out Out; Gogol Bordello; Hawksley Workman; Metric; George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars

9. Show(s) I'm sorry I missed: Todd Snider, Xavier Rudd, Femi Kuti, Sharon Jones, Joel Plaskett & Emergency

10. Most annoying Bluesfest feature: lawnchairs

11. Most enjoyable Bluesfest feature: new location & green awareness

Monday, July 16, 2007

Metric at Bluesfest

Metric was great Friday night at the River Stage. The grounds at the river were packed, more than for any other concert over the course of the festival. Here are a few photos of Emily Haines, Metric's singer/songwriter extraordinaire.

Gogol Bordello at Bluesfest

Gogol Bordello played Bluesfest last Friday, July 13th. I was feeling unlucky, since it was a day of misfortune, but they dispelled my unease with their witty banter and frenetic energy.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Blue Rodeo at Bluesfest

Last night was the giant sing-along night at Bluesfest’s main stage, featuring one of Canada’s most popular bands, Blue Rodeo. As usual, there was a large, enthusiastic crowd, many sporting cowboy hats for Blue Rodeo’s pop country tunes.

The boys from Toronto put on a good show, playing many of their standards, including such hits as “Til I Am Myself Again,” “Head Over Heels,” “Rain Down on Me,” and “Bad Timing.” Among these oldies, they peppered three songs from their upcoming album, which will be released in October. These new songs fit rather well with the old ones, adding a hint of intrigue to the evening.

The best part of the show in my estimation was an opportunity to watch Jim Cuddy, BR’s resident crooner, belt out the sweet melodies. He is something else to watch live, all charm and deep emotion. When he hit that one high note in “Try” during the encore, he sounded almost angelic, it was a moment of pure musical beauty.

Also, watching Cuddy and BR’s other singer, Greg Keelor harmonize together was a special treat. Their timing is flawless, no doubt due to years of performing these same songs together.

Overall, it was a good show by a Canadian musical institution. I think next time I’ll skip out on Blue Rodeo though and check out the likes of Xavier Rudd, because it feels like if you’ve seen one BR concert, you’ve seen them all. But I still have a soft spot for them, in which case you never really know.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Tagaq at Bluesfest

Tanya Tagaq Gillis is perhaps the most alluring, terrifying, and downright intriguing performer I have ever seen. Last night on the Blacksheep Stage was the second time I’ve seen her and though this show was a little less intense than at the small venue I saw her at previously, it was still truly remarkable.

Tagaq is an Inuk throat singer, originally from Ikaluktuutiak (Cambridge Bay), Nunavut. When she went away to art school in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she sought to cure her homesickness by emulating her mother’s throat singing recordings. Having nobody to practice with, she learned alone, even though traditional throat singing is done in pairs as a type of game, where the first to laugh loses. Since being discovered by two of Bjork’s videographers in 2000, Tagaq has been a global musical sensation, though she still remains relatively obscure in Canada, even though recently CBC’s Zed called her, “possibly the most unique performer of truly traditonal, Canadian music in our country.” While Tagaq refuses to label what she does as traditional, this is no doubt high praise for someone who sort of fell into the music scene.

Being at one of her shows, it’s not unusual to see a bunch of bewildered faces watch her crawl, grovel or beg about onstage, while growling, wailing, flailing her body in all directions. She layers her voice to mimic any number of sounds. Not only was I left wondering how she’s able to make so many sounds all at once, but I kept asking myself how any human voice can produce such an array of surreal sounds. At once she’s singing like a diva, and next she’s grunting the lowest and deepest grunt you have ever heard from a human being. Her performance keys into so many emotions that it’s at times hard to watch without feeling some discomfort. It’s almost like watching a car wreck on the side of the highway. “Should I be watching such bloody carnage?” But then Tagaq smiles that million dollar smile of hers, she has such a charismatic stage presence, and we’re reminded that it’s a performance, and most importantly, that she’s having fun, as she makes abundantly clear.

Besides her opening piece where she sang for nearly 35 minutes accompanied by her collaborator Michael on turntables, she performed some traditional throat singing with her cousin Selena who happened to be in the crowd.

The two of them rocked slightly from side to side as they performed three pieces. The love and caring emanating from their voices and the way they caressed each other was touching. This was a highlight of the show, the opportunity to hear so many hauntingly powerful sounds all at once only comes around so often, and most in the crowd realized this and showed their appreciation accordingly.

I have little else to say about the show last night, except that I still feel Tagaq’s voice piercing my inner being. Seeing her is a little like taking a ride on an emotional roller coaster. It’s well worth the entrance fee if you don’t mind, or perhaps even enjoy, the temporary upheaval.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Cat Power at Bluesfest

I was walking through the main park area, working the final moments of my festival photography shift, when it hit me- the soft, ethereal voice of Cat Power (Charlyn “Chan” Marshall’s stage name). I was instantly seduced.

I knew little of her music beforehand, except for a friend’s recent enthusiasm for her songwriting, but after this show, I’ll be actively searching for more of her smooth vocals to carry me through life's many taxing moments.

Chan (pronounced “Shawn”) is renowned for her minimalist performances, as was on display this night. She was backed up by a talented crew of musicians, but there was no mistaking who was the centre of attention.

I’d say she sounds a little like Nora Jones, but I’m quite sure many Cat Power fans would have me hung for such blasphemy, but you get the idea. One of her bandmates called her the most talented soul singer in the world today. Well, I won’t put that to the test here, but for someone to seriously make that comment suggests the pure vocal talent exhibited by Cat Power.

On this night, she sang a few covers, something she is well-known for during performances. She gave each song an almost entirely new mood, as in her version of George Jackson’s “Aretha, Sing One for Me,” totally up tempo and down key. I like that she’s so playful with her own and other people’s music on stage.

The one major downside to the show was the fact that her mellow vibe was almost drowned out by the rockin’ tunes drifting over from the River Stage. Bluesfest, if you’re going to invite a performer like Cat Power to the main stage, then make sure people can appreciate her subtle message. Her soft melodies weren’t meant to be in a mash-up with some rockabilly music.

I’ll be acquainting myself more closely with Cat Power’s music in the very near future. I hope you do too.


George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars at Bluesfest

Shit. Last night at Bluesfest I feel like I witnessed a small piece of music history. When the P-Funk All-Stars sauntered on-stage and announced that they were gonna rock it like 1979, they weren't joking. Their set was a walk through the roots of funk, hip-hop and even house music. I've never been to a show that covered such a wide scope of musical genres. It was awe-inspiring.

The show really took off after about 35 minutes, when George Clinton finally arrived onstage. Before that, the All-Stars played an array of rock-themed funk, but when the Prime Minister of Funk himself graced us with his presence, the show went into hyper mode.

Whether encouraging the crowd to clap along, or strutting about onstage, the PM commands your attention like very few. I used to think that Manu Chao's was a great performance, but after seeing Clinton and his large entourage perform, there's a new standard in town.

I can see why so many rap and hip-hop artists cite Clinton as one of their prime influences. At one point in the set, the King of Interplanetary Funkmanship informed the crowd that he was once considered a 'gangsta rapper.' And then, he went on to rap for five minutes about how, as one of the originals, he can out-rap any and all comers. It was an amazing concert moment.

Between their mix of James Brown-inspired soul, Parliament-inflected funk and general chaotic energy on stage, Clinton and the All-Stars are a must-see. I'm going to be scouring the local vinyl shops for some of their stuff, but it won't be the same in my living room without Clinton's larger-than-life presence.

One last thing. During their show last night, Clinton had two local breakdancers perform onstage. Buddha and Ben Jammin' put on a wicked display, much to the delight of the crowd and Clinton, who gave them each a huge hug after their work. This was a classy moment, on a memorable night.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bluesfest Photo Essay

Halfway through Bluesfest now, so consider this my mid-way visual report. I've taken hundreds of photos, and don't yet have the time to sort through them all, but here are some of my faves. I'll be posting an array of photo arrangements after the end of the festival next week.

Spiral Beach- July 8th

Shout Out Out Out Out- July 8th

Jetplanes of Abraham- July 7th

Ryan Shaw- July 7th

Tony Dee & Vince Halfhide- July 4th

"Why do you think they fuckin' adverstise, it's 'coz we'll make them rich while they rule our lives"- Forever Indebted, Shout Out Out Out Out

Hawksley Workman at Bluesfest

I had been anticipating the Hawksley Workman show for quite some time, but for some reason I let a new friend talk me into checking out the White Stripes. So there I was, bopping to the Stripes and enjoying their trippy light show, when some person next to us passed out. During the frantic frenzy that followed, I darted out of the crowd to look for paramedics. When I finally got back to my spot to find that the said person was safely escorted away, I just wasn't up for anymore of the Stripes. I didn't like their music much to begin with, and I was pretty seriously under-whelmed by their show.

Hawksley, on the other hand, was anything but a disappointment. Being the great live performer that he is, one sort of expects great things from him. On this night, he delivered, and then some.

The most impressive part of the show was hearing, and for that matter, seeing his vocal range. He kept pushing his vocal chords to pull off great tonal feats. This is trademark Workman, and for good reason.

The funnest part of the concert was when Workman called a young Anakin (10 years old?) out of the crowd and onto the stage to perform with him. Not only did Anakin (not related to Darth Vader) get to sing one song, but he came back to perform another one during the main set, and one during the encore. In fact, during "We Still Need a Song," Anakin was pretty much alone on background vocals, singing passionately about how it was the last chance to be sad/mad like he knew the sorrow Hawksley was singing about quite intimately. During it all, the crowd loved it. Chalk up another great stage display.

Another nice touch throughout the 90 minute set was his choice to play covers as the bridge in certain songs. This worked well to keep the crowd on board, as when he sang the chorus to Aretha Franklin's "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" near the end of the show.

I'll go see Hawksley again if I get the opportunity, his fun mixture of cabaret pop and glam rock can be truly moving.