Monday, March 31, 2014

How I ruined my day

Today was the first warm spring weather here, and I brought out  my spring jacket. (The day before I started wearing my non-winter shoes.) I went to Wychwood library on my way to the memoir slam and picked up the new copy of The Innocents Abroad.  At the memoir slam we wrote about December and "Any last requests?" And on the way home I left the book either on the streetcar or the subway.

Tomorrow I'll be going to the TTC Lost & Found office to see about the book.  What's frustrating is that I'll have to wait a bit longer before resuming reading it. (At least it's bound to get to either me or its original library branch.) Maybe I can buy a copy.

This reminds me of how Mother left her purse in a restaurant a few times, to her great embarrassment.  Am I turning into her? (Someone said that some people respond to their mother's death by becoming more like her.) Did I say all this last December when I lost my binder?  I wish she were around so I could tell her the comparison.

The warm weather made it a good time for the choir's spring concert.  Father wasn't up to going, but Moira made it.  Carrie Parks (the blond Carrie, not Carrie Grey) sang "Song to the Moon" and "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music.  And Adolfo played the Intermezzo from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (the Raging Bull music).

Now "Amigos Para Siempre" is going through my head.  Curse you, Andrew Lloyd Webber!

Saturday, March 29, 2014


"All sacrifice is useless"--Rusalka

At last week's acting class I did things like a scene from the movie Man in the Moon, where Andy Kaufman brings his friends together early in the morning and tells them he has cancer. (He doesn't.) This week's class I missed, because I preferred to see a Met opera in its digital screening at the Yonge & Eglinton, a new location for me.  I have four others coming up, all in successive months.

I saw Dvorak's Rusalka, with Renee Fleming in the title role. (I saw it before on a DVD of a Czech TV production, which I think was shorter.) It's most famous number is "Song to the Moon," which Tetyana sang at the gala concert and Carrie Parks is singing at this Monday's choir concert.  No doubt it'll be going through my head for a while, like the "Women, Women" number from The Merry Widow that the men sang in the gala concert.

Rusalka is a reworking of "The Little Mermaid": it's the one where a lake nymph falls in love with a human prince and becomes human to be with him, but he forsakes her, leaving her doomed to be eternally undead.  It's a pretty sad story--the prince sees the error of his ways too late and abandons his own life--but has some quirky light touches. (In Czech culture they manage to give light touches to tragedies.) The forest set was phenomenal:  the backdrop resembled a classical painting.

It occurred to me that the prince in Rusalka was a bit like the husband in the Danish show Borgen, who left his wife for another woman then ended up dumping the second woman too.  Some men just don't know what they want (until it's too late!).

P.S.:  After publishing this post I had to edit it right away, because its heading was RASULKA!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


This morning, after going to Sunnyside Restaurant for an unusually heavy breakfast with Moira, I returned The Innocents Abroad to Deer Park library (a day overdue again!).  I'd tried to renew it, but someone placed a hold on it, so I placed a hold on another copy at a more remote branch and will resume reading it once that arrives.

While waiting for its arrival, I'll start reading the latest Lapham's Quarterly, whose subject is revolutions.  Every issue has a map of the world illustrating its theme just after the table of contents, and this one showed the locations of over two hundred revolutions, rebellions, coups and wars of independence through history.  I was patient enough to find the location for every entry in the chronological list! (Names like the January Rebellion are hardest to find.) Now I look forward to going on Wikipedia and reading about the Ragamuffin War and the Green Corn Rebellion.  I'm also reading an interesting article in Harper's about how the Colorado River basin's water resources are being relentlessly overtaxed.

I just got about two-thirds of the way through the book:  the tour has just reached Samaria.  Mark Twain didn't think much of the Holy Land, characterizing it as desolate and impoverished.  The first time I saw the book quoted was as a high schooler attending a United Nations Seminar at Mt. Allison University.  One of the booklets they gave us was a work of Israeli propaganda called Myths and Facts. (Is my memory playing a trick, or was the author future CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer?) The title reflects its running structure.  Myth:  the Arab position followed by Fact:  the Israeli position.  They quoted The Innocents Abroad to argue that the place was a dump before the Zionists took over.  Sort of like America before the First Nations were robbed of their land.

For future reading, I've been buying books at the Chapters-Indigo website.  In my quest to read all the Classics Illustrated novels, I bought three French books: Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, Edmond About's The King of the Mountains, (about 19th-century tourists getting kidnapped by a Greek bandit--it's funnier than it sounds), and Erckmann and Chatrian's Waterloo.  The last is a two-book volume which includes The Conscript, which Waterloo is a sequel of.  I bought them because I've read the comics version of all three.

I also bought a collection of Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction short stories.  Next month's ROLT event will be about science fiction, and I plan to read either his The Sentinel (the official source material for Stanley Kubrick's 2001:  A Space Odyssey) or Encounter at Dawn (an unofficial source).

I think my posts are getting longer!  That's a good sign.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Two movies about kids

Natalie Portman (nursing the bloody nose her father gave her): "Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?" Jean Reno (passing her a handkerchief): "Always like this"--The Professional

Today I saw two movies, something I don't usually do but today was the only convenient time for both.  In the afternoon I saw Wolfgang Petersen's The Neverending Story (for the second time) at the Royal, where I haven't been for years!  I first saw it thirty years ago in its original release, and I'm glad I did so before reading Michael Ende's book:  the book was so wonderful that the movie would probably have suffered in comparison.  As it is, it's a handsome, skilful adaptation, though the bit at the end where Bastian, flying the luckdragon, uses it to buzz the bullies who were chasing him at the beginning was particularly cheesy.  The early scene where Atreyu's pony drowns in the Swamp of Despair (echoes of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress!) is unusually honest for the juvenile genre, both in the book and in the movie.

In the evening I saw Luc Besson's The Professional, for at least the third time, at the Event Screen where they were showing it as part of a popular-demand series. (The series' previous film was V for Vendetta:  there must be a lot of Natalie Portman fans out there.) The first time I saw it was at the Euclid cinema 19 years ago--I also saw Heavenly Creatures there--and I think that's the same place that became the Royal.

The Professional is the one where New York moppet Natalie Portman survives her whole family's murder by crooked drug cop Gary Oldman and gets adopted by immigrant hit man Jean Reno, then insists on becoming his apprentice!  I have to admit it's a guilty pleasure for me:  the script is often in dubious taste and doesn't always make sense. (Several weeks after the murders the crime scene is still undisturbed, police "Do not enter" ribbons and all!) Oldman chews, digests and regurgitates the scenery, though his overacting is kinda fun. ("Bring everyone." "Everyone?" "EV-E-RY-ONE!!!")

On the other hand, Reno is the coolest of the cool. (As the spy agency boss in Besson's La Femme Nikita, I think he was the real reason for the movie's success.) The exchange I quoted above is also remarkably honest:  no "It gets better" nonsense from this guy!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Walter White on cooking meth: "I was really good at it....  I felt alive!"

This evening I saw the last episode of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  It was a phenomenal show!  Moira saw these last episodes when she was at Margaret's house last year, so now I can talk about them with her.

I was talking about Bryan Cranston in my acting class:  Moira says he's the kind of actor who can do two things at once.  And I'm glad Anna Gunn won an Emmy:  her performance was the underappreciated one.  Some people despise Skyler as an "enabler," but it's a very complex role. (Moira says she has nice legs, as I'm sure a lot of actresses do.)

I haven't been watching so much on Netflix recently.  I've been meaning to watch the second season of Hell on Wheels and the last season of Prison Break, but I still haven't got around to them.  Moira and Father have been watching the American version of House of Cards, but I'm only interested in the British version, which Netflix also has, so I'll be seeing that someday.  Mostly, I've been watching Cheers! with Father, and we're now in the fourth season when Woody Harrelson had just replaced Nicholas Colasanto.  That's a show with sharp writing!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gala concert

This evening Toronto City Opera had its fundraising gala concert.  I was in the chorus that sang the Slaves' Chorus and the Brindisi and I had it all memorized. (The Spoon River Anthology poem I'm still working on.)

We had a wide range of numbers.  Tetyana sang "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka, which I'll be seeing the weekend after next.  Carrie Parks sang Musetta's waltz from Puccini's La Boheme.  Some women sang a quartet (or was it a trio?) from Verdi's Falstaff while some men did that "Women, Women" number from Lehar's The Merry Widow.  There was also a French song that sounded like something Edith Piaf sang (though it wasn't one of her songs), and one of those Neapolitan songs that Caruso sang.

Someone whose name I forget sang the Laughing Song from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus.  When we were doing that show at the opera five years ago or so, I was playing the Farmville game.  So Fledermaus music always reminds me of Farmville.

The Japanese girl sang Luigi Arditi's "The Kiss," which was in one of those piano books we had when I was young, though I couldn't find it in my recent search.  I remember that brother John wrote under that title "in concert." (Back then KISS was the big rock band of the moment.) Under the waltz "Over the Waves" he wrote "Ugh." Under "Soldier's Chorus" from Gounod's Faust, he wrote "We've got your number," referring to a Monty Python skit.  And under Anton Rubinstein's "Romance" he added "is dead." At my suggestion, he also put "So is" in front of Rubinstein's name!

Beatrice announced that next year we'll be doing Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera and Mozart's Don Giovanni.  I'd been unsure before, but now I think I won't take a break next year.  I'm interested in the Verdi, which I've done with the choir, and I did the Mozart in my first season ten years ago.

I baked gingerbread for the reception after the concert.  Among the other stuff, I liked Yvette's egg and tuna mini-sandwiches.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Acting class

Saturday I had another acting class.  For the first time I performed a monologue that I found at a website called "Ace Your Audition." It's the poem "George Gray" from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology, which is a bunch of poems of dead people telling their story.  George Gray's story is how he was always afraid to be adventurous while he was alive and he gets to regret it now.  When I performed it the first time Nancy asked me to do it again slower and I said, "Ghosts aren't in a hurry." For some reason they found that really funny.

Now I'm working on memorizing the poem for future classes.  I've also been working on memorizing the Slaves' Chorus from Nabucco for the Gala concert this Thursday, and I've just about completed that task.  The Drinking Song from La Traviata was easy to memorize since I've done it before.

Speaking of acting, on Sunday night I saw the documentary Liv & Ingmar at the Bloor.  It has Liv Ullmann telling the story of her personal and professional relationship with Ingmar Bergman. (Much of the narration came from her autobiography Changes.) Happily, they had a lot of clips from the movies they made together:  LU and Max Von Sydow were two iconic faces.  It looks like Bergman drew on his personal dramas for much of his cinematic ones.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Old piano books

Down in the basement we have a trunk full of old piano books.  While Moira was away in the Dominican Republic, I decided to bring them up and have a look through them. (I think they got put away while I was living in England almost twenty years ago.) I believed there'd be some books I want to play now.

As it turned out, there weren't that many I wanted to play:  some of what I wanted to play I couldn't find there.  But I sorted them into different piles for the next time we look at them.  There was a pile for series books like John Thompson and Leila Fletcher.  There was one for study pieces.  There was one for duets, of which we had more than I expected.  There was one for non-piano music:  in our family, among several instruments, Margaret played the violin and John played the trombone.  And there was a pretty big pile of stuff that wasn't music related, including a couple of Dalhousie University yearbooks.  There was also a fancy calendar on the bottom that the damp got into, so we may as well throw it away.

I'd played the piano in my early and mid-teens, and I took the time to look through some piano books I remembered.  My memory turned out to be imperfect:  for example, that piano study they kept playing in that play Two Pianos, Four Hands turned out to be by Duvernoy, not Burgmueller.  I was a long time getting around to putting them back.

Our Yamaha piano is forty years old, but we've been keeping it tuned.  What music did I end up keeping upstairs?  There are a couple of pieces that I recall playing very well, and I want to play them again:  "The Policeman," from Healey Willan's Character Sketches of Old London, and the Arab Dance from a piano arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite.  I also held on to an old songbook which Mother's family probably got when she was a girl around 1930. (Or it might have been Father's family.) It has songs like "She Was Happy Till She Met You" and "She May Have Seen Better Days."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Two New York movies about actors

"A wiseguy is always right.  Even when he's wrong, he's right"--Donnie Brasco

Last night I went to Murray Pomerance's Film 101 series at the Event Screen and saw Mike Newell's Donnie Brasco for the third or fourth time. (I once saw the whole thing on DVD with Newell's voiceover commentary.) It's the one where undercover G-man Johnny Depp gets taken under the wing of Willy Loman-like gangster Al Pacino.  I love a good gangster movie, and this one's particularly good.  There was a loud quarrel in the audience at one point, but I never found out what that was about.

This evening I saw Sydney Pollack's Tootsie (for the third time) at the Yonge & Eglinton with a Movie Meetup group.  I thought of cancelling, what with the snowstorm, but our internet connection was off so I went anyway.  This is the one where Dustin Hoffman plays an obsessive actor who pretends to be an actress to land a soap opera role.  It's a slick blockbuster vehicle, though its message doesn't bear too much thinking. (Does it take a man in drag to teach a woman to be assertive?) Bill Murray has a good supporting role.

After seeing Tootsie I joined Paula's Karaoke Meetup group at the Fox & Fiddle near St. George station.  One of my songs was "With a Little Help From My Friends":  I was expecting the Ringo Starr version but got the Joe Cocker version instead!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I saw Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity last night.  I assumed it was at the Revue because I'd got a pamphlet the day before from the building of my acting class and it showed the movie scheduled for then.  But it turned out not to be showing there, and I assumed I'd got a February schedule instead of March.  But it turned out I had a schedule for the Royal instead of the Revue.

Anyhow, I went and saw it at the Yonge & Dundas instead.  I took the subway south to St. Patrick station and a streetcar east from there, because the line was closed for servicing around Dundas station.  On the way there I was so caught up in reading The Innocents Abroad--he's now in Italy--that I missed my stop and had to get off and Osgoode station and go back north.  Then I missed the stop a second time and had to get off at Queens Park and go south again! (Third time was the charm.) I barely made the movie in time, but who wants to sit and wait?

The movie was pretty gripping in a middlebrow way, not unlike Robert Redford's All Is Lost. (It wasn't completely above cheesiness:  there was one shot of a spaceman's corpse next to a photo of him with his family!) I don't care for 3-D, not because it makes movies worse but because it rarely makes them better.  But I'll admit that this sort of movie is the right place for it.  Sandra Bullock looked a bit like Beatrice--especially her hair--and I mentioned this to the latter at this evening's choir practice.  That pleased her:  she likes SB.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Auld Sod

Today was ROLT's March event.  The Auld Sod was focused on Irish writing.  There were six people there, including a couple promoting a genealogy-themed Limerick tour in August.  (Too bad Moira was at Club Med, and Jane couldn't make it either.)

I started off by singing "Danny Boy" a capella. (They said I had a nice voice.) I also read Michael McLaverty's "The Wild Duck's Nest" and "A Painful Case" from James Joyce's The Dubliners.  I concluded by reading the last couple of pages from "The Dead," also from The Dubliners.  One of us read a passage from Joyce's Ulysses that ended with "Yes I said yes I will yes," and there were also a couple of William Butler Yeats poems and a passage from an early chapter in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  And a couple of people recited poems they had written.  I asked them whether they'd rather do science fiction or humor in April, and they preferred science fiction.

Remember when I talked about The Matrix last week?  There was a detail I intended to mention, but forgot. (I could have edited the post to add it, but why bother?) When Roger Ebert was reviewing the third Matrix movie on his TV show, he said it left him feeling sated.  Well, I felt sated after the first one!  I have yet to see either of the sequels.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Delays and moots

The weather has been getting milder, so the other day I stopped wearing long johns till next winter.  There may be another cold snap, but I don't really care.

Today I was going out to a Sanctuary church just east of Yonge and Charles, to try a new writing group Gary told me about at the memoir slam.  He's suggested a Meetup connection, and I'm thinking of making it another event with my second group, along with the Monday event.  But I'll have to go there at least once so I can describe it. (I'm not yet sure how it works.) I tried to go there last week, but I couldn't find the place.

This time I did some research online, and found the address.  But I got there late, and it turned out that the event was cancelled because too few people showed up. (I was late last week too, but since I couldn't find the place the timing was moot anyway.) I'll just have to go next week.

Another delay is with the Fair Vote group that's going to present a petition to MP Caroline Bennett.  We were originally going to meet her earlier, but the meeting was delayed to this Friday and I was afraid I'd have to leave the writing group early for that appointment.  But then the meeting got delayed again, this time to April, so that concern was moot too.  And since I didn't get to the other event either, it was a double moot! (Is "moot" a noun?  If not, I'm reinventing the English language!  You saw it here first, folks.)

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


"All was bustle and confusion. (I have seen that remark before, somewhere.)"--The Innocents Abroad

Yesterday I started Mark Twain's first book, The Innocents Abroad.  It's an account of a tour he took of the Mediterranean world that he took with some high-class Americans in the late 1860s, long before regular cruise ships.  It's really, really funny.

I picked up the book after the memoir slam.  (The subjects were "Going to a play" and "August," and I found more to write about than the previous week, when the subjects were "Hangups" and "Unusual neighbours.") I'd finished The Pioneers and wanted something to read while I was on my way to get the book, so I borrowed from the Lillian Smith library a Loyola Press coffee-table book for children about saints.  Then I got The Innocents Abroad at the Deer Park library.  I also paid a forty-cent fine:  The Pioneers was due last Thursday so I renewed it, but I got around to it a day late.

Before going home, I also went to the Northern District library and returned The Pioneers directly.  I could have returned it at any branch, of course, but I preferred to save the library people the trouble of transporting it back to Northern District.  And I saved the energy that transportation would have taken:  maybe little things like that will save us from climate change.  Or maybe they won't.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The opera's finished

"No wonder she likes you!" "Who?" "Not too bright, though"--The Matrix

Last night I saw the Warshowski's The Matrix (for the second time) at the Event Screen.  The real reason I went was to get a sheet with the Event Screen schedule for March.  The movie's pretty fun, though I still didn't understand it.

This afternoon was the last performance of Carmen. (Two subjects in one post--I'm already eating my words!) Father couldn't make it, but Moira saw it and especially liked the Iranian playing Don Jose.  She also liked the way Carmen threw a girl out of her seat.  I finished The Pioneers just before the show started.

Beatrice came out just before the show started and mentioned the animated orange singing the Habanera on Sesame Street.  Afterward I told her, "I hope it was a Seville orange!" (Carmen being set in Seville, of course.)

Last night John, Donald and Kathrine came over for a combined birthday party for Donald (his was Wednesday), and Father.  We ate Indian food again, and there was enough left over for today.