Friday, July 4, 2008

Something cool.

I'm sure not all you classic rock listeners will appreciate this, but I thought this was one of the coolest videos I've seen on youtube in a long while. One of my favourite groups, the Quintet of the Hot Club Of France (at other times - the Quartet of the Hot Club Of France) featuring one of the greatest guitar players (and certainly the greatest jazz guitarist) of all time, Django Reinhardt. Also with the greatest jazz violinist of all time, Stephane Grappelli. Frankly, I'm amazed there's any footage left of them at all, what with the group having disbanded in 1939. Music fans, check this gypsy jazz excellence out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4v-6AH-S8L8

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Un petit question a propos de la poutine.

Je m'excuse maintenant, avant d'ecrire ce poste. Je ne sais pas comment utiliser mon ordinateur pour mettre des accents sur des lettres. Alors je vais ecrire ce poste sans aigues, graves, ou circonflexes. Mais je vais ecrire ce poste en francais quand meme, parce que je veux m'exprimer dans la langue des gens a propos de qui j'ecris le poste. (Excuse ma grammaire aussi. Ca fait probablement douze ans depuis la derniere fois j'ecris quelque chose en francais.) Il y a une grande debat a propos d'une invitation etendu par l'ambassade Canadien a Washington qui avait un illustration de Samuel De Champlain avec un poutine dans sa main. L'invitation a deplu au president de l'organisme Imperatif Francais, un certain Jean-Paul Perreault. Ce que je ne comprens pas c'est - pourquoi? Est-ce-qu'on pense maintenant que tout les references a la poutine sont contre les francophones? Aurait-il des personnes Anglais si il y avait un illustration de John A. MacDonald tenant du sirop d'erable? Ou un Beavertail? Si c'etait l'ambassade Americain, et ils avaient un photo de Thomas Jefferson avec un de ces chapeaux qui contient les bieres et les pailles? Vraiment, je ne comprend pas. Quelqu'un peut m'expliquer? Quelqu'un francophone, peut-etre?

Order of Canada. Henry Morgentaler. Lucien Larre. Murray Adaskin.

When the controversy erupted about Dr. Henry Morgentaler receiving the Order of Canada, I became curious. First of all, who cares? Even if you're vehemently anti-abortion, what difference does it make to your life if Morgentaler becomes a member of the Order of Canada? Really - who cares? What IS the Order of Canada anyway? From what I understand, it's Canada's Hall Of Fame. Most of the rhetoric about the situation surrounding Morgentaler is all about "this is Canada's highest honour" and blah blah blah. Frankly, Canada's highest honour should be bestowed on people like Morgentaler, people who are nationally renowned for changing the country. And it seems like he certainly qualifies. The fact that he was tough enough and determined enough to go through what he did in order to change Canada is the main reason he should be part of the Canada Hall Of Fame. But then I got curious. And I looked up the Order of Canada to see who else has received the honour. And this post is not going to be about Conrad Black or Alan Eagleson or all the guys who got caught sucking after receiving the honour. No, it is going to be about Lucien Larre and Murray Adaskin.

Who? You might say. And you would be right. Who indeed. Lucien Larre is a priest from B.C. who has helped stir the Morgentaler pot by declaring that he will return his award, now that it is tainted by Morgentaler's inclusion. Well, I've heard of Henry Morgentaler. I know what he did for Canada. I have not heard of Lucien Larre. I clicked on his little description, and it says that he built a treatment centre for drug-addicted youth. An admirable thing, to be sure. But outside Coquitlam, who would ever have heard of this man? Why does he get an Order of Canada? I went to the rest of the website, thinking I could go through all the inductees into our Hall Of Fame - the people who received the Country's Highest Order. Not a chance. Which brings me to Murray Adaskin. His was a name I selected at random from Page One of the Order of Canada website.

Here is his blurb: Leading violinist and composer, born and educated in Toronto, whose works have been widely performed throughout Canada and abroad. He devoted twenty-three years to the teaching of music at the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon and added immeasurably to the cultural life of that province and city. Now, I've spent a lot of time in orchestras, and playing violin, and singing in choirs, in my youth. I have not heard of this man. I would imagine that outside the orchestral community of Saskatoon, very few people have heard of this man. So I decided to narrow my search. To Ottawa. To see how many of those names I recognized. I was born here. I grew up here. I should know the names of all the movers and shakers who were big enough in this town to get Canada's Highest Honour, right?

Again, no chance of going through them all. There are 392 Ottawa natives who have received the Order Of Canada. I'll go by the first page, which has 25 names. Of the 25, I have heard of two. Paul Anka and Alex Baumann. By the way - Alex Baumann is considered to be from Ottawa! I had no idea! Which means that, in my own city, I am aware of eight percent of the honorees. I have never heard of Alan Beddoe, whose description says he's a consultant in Heraldry. Or I. Norman Smith, who was the "Former President of the Ottawa Journal of the Canadian Press". I don't know these people. Wait...Wayne Rostad? Wayne Rostad is in the Canadian Hall of Fame?

I recently complained about the likes of Glenn Anderson and Bernie Federko being in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I still don't think they're exactly deserving. But the Hockey Hall of Fame has, including builders, referees and linesmen, 348 members. Which makes it sixteen times more exclusive than the Order of Canada. There are 5,479 members of the Order of Canada right now. If I'm that priest, Morgentaler's inclusion doesn't diminish "Canada's Highest Award". The fact that everyone in the country has one diminishes it. When Morgentaler gets his Order of Canada, he will be one of seventy-five people so honoured. Which makes it not so much an induction ceremony as Everybody-Gets-A-Trophy Day.

Regardless of your opinion on Morgentaler, you must agree he has made a big difference for the entire country. Even if you're anti-war, you admire war heroes, no? But good lord, let's stop pretending that the Order of Canada is some wonderful, exclusive club reserved for only the best of the best. It's merely an award bestowed upon the above-average. This whole thing is just another way for special interest groups to call attention to their anti-abortion platform. Give it a rest.

My actual Canada Day.

Although my actual Canada Day was a lot less exciting than some I've had in the past, it was decidedly satisfying. Whereas the plan I had to keep moving and never slow down never really happened, other people apparently took my advice. The main idea behind Canada Day is never to plan anything. And we didn't do that. We dropped our youngest off at his dad's very early in the morning, and the oldest was hanging out with his buddy all day and we dropped him off at about noon. And at 12:01, we opened our first beers. Figuring to play the day by ear, and go where the winds blew us, the winds had other plans. Instead, they blew people our way. We never left the house. My girlfriend's friends dropped by at about 1:00. Then my friend Xavier and his girlfriend Verna, in town from Boston, came by a half hour later. Then more friends, more people, neighbours and their families and friends. By 3:00, our backyard was full, there was a badminton tournament going on on the lawn, and more people were still arriving.

And, in the end, this is the best kind of Canada Day party. The kind that is completely impromptu, the kind that is not planned in any way, that just springs out of nowhere. By the end of the evening, most everyone had moved on, and Xavier, Verna, Jen and I walked over to Tim Hortons for coffee before watching the fireworks in Kanata. The strains of "Oowatanite" wafted over Hazeldean Road as April Wine finished their set on the hill, and I tried to keep moving while the fireworks were on - I've seen fireworks before. But the others wanted to stop, so stop we did. All in all, a successful day. Instead of going to see everyone we know, they all came to us. The spirit remained the same, even though the actual execution differed greatly.

OK, OK, I'm lame.

One more thing

I realized that I had left out one key tip for Canada Day - and although it is too late, perhaps someone will find this next year and need this added tip - never bring a car anywhere. First of all, and most obviously, bringing a car will seriously curtail your drinking. As you move along, you would like to be able to indulge in three or four beers, at the very least, and the car of course precludes you from doing so. But more than that, the car goes against the very spirit of Canada Day in every way. If you want to head downtown, or to another area of the city, you take a bus. Because there are people - Canadians - on the bus, and the whole idea behind this day is other people. There are no people to meet in your car. Even a bicycle is no good - you either take a bus or you walk. That's it.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Some Canada Day tips

Canada Day used to be the best day of the year because it was guaranteed you could pick up and meet someone wonderful for a one-night stand. These days, that is no longer my M.O., but it remains the greatest day of the year. And it's still basically a series of one-night stands, just of a different nature. You meet dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people that you will likely never see again. And if you DO see them, you may not remember. But for the hour or so that you hang out on Canada Day, you are best friends. And if you could go through every day of life like this, you would be friends with everyone in Ottawa while not having to call people ever. It's like facebook, only with actual human contact. With that in mind, here are a few pointers for Canada Day enthusiasts like myself, bearing in mind I have spent about twelve years of my life refining this to an exact science.

First, always keep moving. Perpetual motion is key here, because if you sit down for even a half hour there is a danger that you might not get up. And although the guys you're sitting with, sharing pints, are probably great (everyone is great on Canada Day), there are more great people you need to meet further down your route, so keep moving.

Don't get sucked into a discussion about Canada itself. Although Canada Day is of course a celebration of patriotism and heritage, it isn't like the Super Bowl. At the Super Bowl, it is perfectly acceptable to analyze the play, to become obsessed over minutiae. Canada Day, however, is not the time or the place or the forum for one of those interminable and painful discussions about "did you know Jim Carrey is a Canadian? And Mike Myers too?" This is a conversation killer on July 1st, the same way religious talk is a conversation killer at Christmas. Christmas is about Christ in the same way Canada Day is about Canada - incidentally.

Don't talk about yourself, if you can help it. Talk to everyone you meet about them. In one day, moving through the crowds toward Parliament Hill, you can learn more about this country and it's residents than you would in a year of reading Farley Mowat books. You won't even know when this knowledge will come in handy until all of a sudden something comes up in conversation, and you say - "wait! I remember meeting a guy who does HVAC repair, and HE said..." If you're really irritating, you can become Cliff Clavin in one day. I don't recommend that either.

Avoid the music and the fireworks. Mostly because we've all seen Blue Rodeo one million times, and fireworks one million times, and it's no longer a source of awe like it was when I was four years old. Now, it's a momentum-killer. You must keep moving at all times, and unless you've met a girl who wants you to hold her while the fireworks are exploding, you must keep moving. In fact, even then, you should probably keep moving. That girl will kill your momentum worse than any flashing lights might.

Also, the main reason to avoid the fireworks is that the bars, to a small degree, empty out when they begin. That's your opportunity to sneak in and grab a table or a bar stool and have another pint as you continue on your way. Here is another tip - never, ever pay money to get into a bar on Canada Day. Bars figure they can gouge people this way because regardless of the cover charge, they will be jammed full. This is garbage. They are making so much off beer sales already that gouging a little extra out of you isn't worth your time. Also, you should never stay in any one bar for more than 20 minutes anyway. And who's going to pay a 10 dollar cover for 20 minutes of conversation? Keep moving. Also stay away from bars that make you take off your hat. That isn't Canadian spirit. Keep moving.

Even if you can't get into a bar, there is enough entertainment on the streets to warrant this continuous motion. Soon, you will be swept up by a crowd of people, with whom you will become instant friends, and get whisked into one establishment or another, whether you plan it or not. Therefore, most of the good action happens between bars and pubs. (By the way guys - for those of you looking for a night like this on a regular basis - try out Elgin Street on Fridays and Saturdays at night - bachelorette parties going from bar to bar will sweep you up as they pass, and that is a good thing.)

So that's about it. A series of "one-night-stands" with new groups of friends and great new people you would never have met otherwise. I am no longer into Canada Day to pick up, now that I'm all mature with a wife and stuff. But I'm still all about the party, the one-time acquaintances, and the perpetual motion of Canada in Ottawa on the 1st.

Some marketing genius.

Aerosmith, love 'em or hate 'em, are one of the great bands in terms of marketing genius. Even when they decided to stop making good music, they still managed to sell even more records through the music itself - put their God-awful song in that God-awful movie armageddon, have it associated with Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck being in love, and bingo! Multi-platinum. All of a sudden, girls who never really cared for the band before were flocking in droves to the store to purchase their new sissy-rock albums. If you don't want to put the effort into being cool any more, become Bon Jovi and coast! It's brilliant.

Now, some new brilliance from Aerosmith, with their new video game Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. The kids have Guitar Hero III right now, and they love it. They've played it for hours and hours, day after day, and now when they ride in the car with me, they like to play a game where they guess the artist who's playing the song on my CD. And, for the most part, if that artist is in Guitar Hero, they're bang-on. Dead Kennedys. Beastie Boys. The Who. Rolling Stones. Pearl Jam. If they've heard it once, they know the band. It's amazing. And now, with an entire video game dedicated to just one band, these kids are guaranteed to grow up as monster Aerosmith fans. We picked up Guitar Hero: Aerosmith yesterday, and immediately the strains of "Livin' On The Edge" filled my house. Much to my chagrin.

I found myself wishing that another band, any other band, had gone ahead with this venture. Can you imagine a Guitar Hero: Zeppelin? Or Guitar Hero: Beatles? That's the way to shape quality musical taste early. At any rate though, there ARE songs done by bands other than Aerosmith on the game. Mott The Hoople's "All The Young Dudes", "All Day And All of the Night" by the Kinks, as well as tunes by The Black Crowes, The New York Dolls, The Cult and The Clash. So there is something to be said for that. And for the most part, the Aerosmith songs are GOOD Aerosmith, like Dream On and Rag Doll and Sweet Emotion, rather than Amazing or Crazy or I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing. So that's good too. But all in all, this is the way to make sure you have a massive audience well into the next thirty years. Way to go, Aerosmith - now, perhaps someone even better can take this idea and run with it. Pete Townshend...you paying attention here?

A bit of a shock.

When I went to Mac's yesterday for some pop, stocking up on provisions for the birthday party, I received a bit of a shock. The guy behind the counter has never, ever before been so happy to see me. He came out from behind the counter, saying "thank GOD! Thank GOD you're here!" Well, I believe he said "thank Allah", to be more accurate. Apparently, there had been a shooting the night before, and the picture of the victim had been in the paper. And that picture looked a lot like me. So for several hours, this man had been stewing over the thought that I might no longer be coming in. He told me that he was thinking of my standard order all morning - that guy who buys a different magazine every time, with a pack of cigarettes for his girlfriend, and sometimes milk...he doesn't know my name at all, just my purchase habits and my goatee. I was quite flattered that he remembered me enough to mourn my potential loss for the better part of a morning, but the whole thing was rather disconcerting.

Birthdays!

We had about 15 people over to our place yesterday for the ninth birthday of my girlfriend's youngest. As birthdays progress, they get more and more complex, and this one was no exception. This time he wanted a Kung-Fu Panda birthday, but amazingly the stores were not crammed to the rafters with Kung-Fu Panda merchandise! Is the Dreamworks merchandising machine slowing down? Have they dropped the ball here? What's going on with the commercialization of children's movies? Usually, when a movie like this comes out in theatres, there are lunchboxes, posters, decorations, pinatas, spoons, napkins, plates, stuffed toys, action figures, wallpaper, toasters and fine china with pictures of the characters. Not this time! This time, we found one poster and a series of dinky McDonalds toys. And that's about it. My girlfriend decided to create her own kung-fu panda cake, so she went to the "good" cake place around the corner, the one with the expensive cakes. She found a tiger, a panda and a monkey made of marzipan that could be placed on the top of the cake. Then, because there were a lot of people there, she bought a second cake.

That, plus the three extra-large pizzas we ordered, ended up costing more than the rest of the birthday combined. We ended up putting up the one poster, and the rest of the motif was just Oriental-style. Hanging dragons and Chinese plates and so forth. We had to use a jukebox pinata, because there just wasn't a panda to smash. I had a bright idea this year. Other years, we've used hockey sticks and baseball bats to smash the pinata, but it's always been kind of unsatisfying. The pinata just gets hit until the bottom breaks open and everything falls out. Nothing is actually smashed. Which means you can re-use the pinata, year after year. But smashing it is the whole point. So this year I upgraded the smashing-sticks to golf clubs. Five kids, with a nine-iron and a six-iron, made short work of the cardboard jukebox, and it smashed in a very satisfactory manner.

Then, as most people were leaving, I was out in the backyard setting up the new badminton-volleyball net. You can't get something for your birthday without using it immediately, you see. Which led to an afternoon of playing volleyball and badminton with four kids. It ended when the one birdie landed in the hedge, and the other one on the roof. Then the rain. Of course, during the rain, I was the chauffeur as birthday money had to be spent on something called "chaotic cards". The places we went were sold out. I suppose they are extremely popular, if not popular enough that I would have heard of them. So now, on my way home from work today, I am tasked with picking some up. Apparently, I have to look for a "starter deck", either an "underground" set or an "overground" set, which could be either blue or red but not yellow or green. Then there is a tinfoil package of others, which needs to be either red or green but not blue or yellow. And then...there are more instructions, but I've forgotten them. It's all so very complicated. Moreso even than finding Kung-Fu Panda merchandise.