Friday, 30 March 2012

Interesting Correlations

Just doing some random Wikipedia searching this morning, and I noticed an interesting correlation among some of history's most infamous dictators. Many of them are dropouts/rejects. I'm sure studies have been done on this which I am too lazy to do a proper academic search on right now, but I am going to throw down my examples anyway.

Name: Joseph Stalin

Title: General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR.
Education: Performed well at the Georgian Orthodox Seminary, but was expelled for not writing his final exams.
Career: Was a major leader within the soviet union during the second world war, and was its head from 1953 until his death. Over 3 million were killed during his regime, with some historians estimating as many as ten million deaths due to executions, massacres, deportations, and mass shootings.

Name: Pol Pot

Title: General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Cambodia)

Education: Flunked out of the exclusive Lisee Sisowath school. Attended EFR in Paris, failed exams for three successive years and was sent back to Cambodia

Career: Communist Leader in Cambodia from 1963-1981, a period during which approximately 21% of the population died due to forced labour, malnutrition, poor health care, and executions.

Name: Benito Mussolini

Title: Head of the National Fascist Party in Italy

Education: Expelled from boarding school after "a series of behaviour related incidents".

Career: Established a police state in Italy, which he enforced with an iron fist. Led Italy through the Second World War as a member of the Axis. Was able to do some good things for Italy, however ultimately led them to defeat in the war, and was executed in late April, 1945. 

Name: Adolf Hitler

Title: Fuhrer of Germany

Education: Rejected from Vienna Academy of Fine Arts twice. Lacked the academic credentials for architectural school. Became worlds most infamous dictator instead? 

Career: Don't need much explanation here. Hitler's policies resulted in the death of about 40 million people, including the fourteen million killed during the holocaust. 

So what does it all mean? Trouble with authority? Narrow, unacademic thinking? Intelligence in certain areas, and a great deal of idiocy in others makes for a great authoritarian leader? What do you think?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Two in the morning collage!

Bit of collage I worked on after I got home today: 

pre paint

post paint
Wheee! Love mixed media

Sunday, 25 March 2012


I watched this 1972 film today. The movie is set in 1931 Berlin during the rise of the Nazi Party, and centers on the erratic and intertwined lives of american singer and dancer Sally (played by Liza Minnelli) and British Brian, played by Michael Fox. Despite Scott laughing at me for watching it, and despite the rather sad ending, I liked it. I can understand why cabaret went home with eight academy awards that year, including best actress (say what you will about Liza, I LOVED her as Sally. Nyah.)
Liza as Sally

The film, first of all, is well written, and quite stylish. I found myself drooling a little over elements of the wardrobe. Maybe I was a drag queen in another life. The cinematography was great (they won another academy award for that as well), with a range of interesting shots, and a use of lighting that had a weight of meaning to it. Lighting for a feeling, not lighting for the script, if that makes sense. Yeah, you can tell I wasn't a film major. So sue me. *grins*

Love Natalia's driving outfit
Second, I felt that Cabaret did an interesting take on capturing a little heeded segment of history. Much attention is given to the time during and after the Second World War in film, but not much has been done on the climate in Germany leading up to the start of the war. There is a sense in which the movie captures the potent hangover of the "roaring twenties," and the desire to cling to a lifestyle of decadence that is quickly becoming unfeasible in the insanely inflated German economy. There is a sense throughout the movie of a gathering shadow, to which the characters turn a determinedly blind eye as they pursue their dreams of fame and wealth and romance. There is an eerie scene where Brian and his (sugardaddy?) Maximillion are sitting at an outdoor cafe, and a Hitler Youth begins singing a song called "Tomorrow belongs to me", and nearly the entire cafe crowd joins in. Here is an example of where the lighting is so exquisitely done. This scene was shot in the light of a near-perfect summer afternoon, an ironic contrast which makes the viewer even more keenly aware of the dark times the Youth's word's are foreshadowing. I THOUGHT IT WAS CLEVER.

Cabaret, despite its closing assertion that "life is a cabaret" reminds us that life is anything but. Germany--and the rest of the world--like Elsie in the final song number by Sally, is coming close to killing itself young with alcohol and pills. The absolute abandon of the twenties can no longer be sustained, and something is going to give. The final shot, which shows an audience of Nazi party members grotesquely reflected in the waved glass of the cabaret backdrop reminds us that the dissipated lifestyle warps one's ability to view reality, and makes one blind to danger. Cabaret dreams cannot last, just as the world was shaken awake from its 1920's stupor by first the depression, and then the war. 

I read it as a beautiful, but cautionary tale. I could just be pulling things out of my ass though. I usually do.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Miso: Sushi Bar and Fusion Asiatique, or Saskatchewan Dines French

My friend came in from Ottawa yesterday, so I took her around Montreal a bit. We toured the Musee des Beaux Arts, which had a way more impressive permanent collection than I'd anticipated (I always underestimate such things in Canada because, lets face it, we're not Europe), wandered around looking at shops and the like, and then for dinner we decided to go to an Asian fusion place on Ste Cat's, called Miso.

This place has a very classy vibe, as you'll see on the video on the front page of their website. I enjoyed the zen-modern interior design of it. I also went totally underdressed, hahah. But so it always is with me, and I'm reaching a point in my life where I'm done being embarrassed about/apologizing for who I am.

Moving on, to their menu:

My friend ordered:
Cucumber sushi, which was fairly typical, from what I understand. A little on the small side, perhaps.

Miso, which once again is fairly standard wherever you go

Sunomono Moriawase - A seafood and vermicelli salad, that the restaurant gave an interesting twist by dousing in some highly citrusy-tasting sauce that was pretty potent. I liked the tartness of it, the contrast to the bitter greens, but the citrus sauce completely drowned out the flavor of the seafood, which was sort of a downside. If you can't taste it, eating baby octopus is kind of like chewing rubber.

She also ordered a drink, which was melon juice, vodka, and something else. It had also had pepper sprinkled on the top of it, which gave it a bit of additional kick. However, black things floating in your drink is not exactly appetizing. I suppose if you are taking it in the context of a classy restaurant, it is easier to accept.

I ordered:
Water: I'm cheap.
Avocado roll: Like the cucumber, typical, good, a little on the small side.
California Dreaming: snow crab, shrimp, avocado, egg, asparagus, tobiko, and a wasabi sauce. I really liked this. For me, the wasabi sauce wasn't overpowering, though my friend found it to be so. The dish wasn't as packed with flavor as I'd anticipated, but it had a nice crisp, clean taste to it that I really enjoyed. The portions were also larger, so despite the small portions of everything else, I felt pretty full after sushi.

For dessert we split the creme brule trio, which I *really* loved the presentation of. It was three kinds of creme brule: regular, chocolate, and green tea, served on a long rectangular plate, each one in its own little clay pot, with strawberry quarters interspersed. The regular creme brule was quite good, somehow rich, but light. The chocolate was also very good, very rich and sweet. They sprinkled chili powder on top to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, which was something of a surprise for me, not having encountered it before, but its something I think I could get used to. The green tea creme brule, in my opinion, was also very good, though my friend did not like it. I can understand why. .. it has a taste of eating raw tea leaves if your first bite comes just from the broiled bit on top. But if you sink your spoon into the creamier stuff beneath, the flavors balance into something quite pleasant.

Overall, the portions were small, and perhaps overpriced for that (but so it is with restaurants having pretensions of class. I say pretensions, because we are in Canada, after all, which could almost be its own post). The food was good, but not possessed of the astounding range flavors and attention to detail that I've experienced at restaurants like The Fainting Goat in Regina, where each ingredient has been lovingly tended to. The dishes were well presented, very visually appealing, playing well with color and with texture.

I also learned an important lesson. If you go to a fancy restaurant, under-dressed, and your friend continually calls the food "interesting", and you are talking about the quality of it both in ways that are good, and in ways that are unflattering, and you also (perhaps too loudly) mention that "this is going on the blog" or say "I'll put that in the review". . .during the meal the entire staff will try to subtly line up and stare at you and whisper about you. At the end of the meal, the manager will come over and anxiously inquire whether everything was ok. After you have paid and as you are leaving the restaurant, the entire staff will shout "Thank you! Have a good night! Arigato!"

I burst out laughing as we left.

They thought we were food critics, or really wanted our approval, or both. That's the only explanation I have. They didn't shout at anyone else as they left the restaurant.

Too funny. I'm going to do this at every restaurant I go to. Maybe eventually they'll start giving food to me for free.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

What's in a name?

Growing up, I hated my name. A) its nerdy B) its masculine C) Its redneck as all get out. But as I've grown older, I've come to love it more and more.

I was reading an article today about "naming", in the context of the digital age. How things have shifted from the early www. wars for easily recognizable domain names, to now, in the Google era, a demand for names that are unique enough that they will return high up in a Google search, without too much digging (three click rule: after three clicks, a person gets tired of looking. Love the ADD world).

Apply this to my name. When I phrase search myself in Google, I come back  multiple times on the first page, and continue to appear as one of the only females with the same name for several pages thereafter. Apparently, I am unique. I imagine a "Jane Doe" would have a harder time finding herself on a Google search than I would.

Not that being easy to find on the internet is necessarily a good thing, but I'll take the uniqueness of my name as a positive anyway. Sure, my name makes it easy to internet stalk me, but it also makes it easy to remember me. Sure, sometimes I get mistaken for a dude on paper. But what that really translates into is me having more awesomely funny stories to tell.

So I'm done fighting it. This is my name, and I embrace it. Mom, you win.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Trip to the Atwater Market

Montreal is home to a number of public markets that run year round, specializing in selling local produce. Today, after spending hours on a Gantt chart, I decided to treat myself to a visit to the market at Atwater.
I spent too much money, but got some amazing maple candies from Brien, some cheese made in province, some fruit, some crackers and hard to find ethnic canned foods, and a BTL Panini for lunch. This was also a good chance for me to exercise my inability to speak french by having awkwardly stilted half English half French conversations with the stall keepers.

Here are some pictures from the day:

The market building

Pretty cupcakes and pizza!

taking a picture of a flower shop through a window
makes me look like a jungle monster


Inside the market

Friday, 16 March 2012

Monsieur Lazhar

I had the opportunity to go to a free showing of Monsieur Lazhar at the Westmount Public Library (This library is amazing, and puts on a ton of interesting events).

This film, no word of a lie, helped me to understand why french-canadian filmmakers are considered the top in the country. It is a french language film, set in Montreal, but was happily subtitled in English. It centers on the suicide of a young female teacher at an elementary school, the struggle of the students to cope with her demise, and the new teacher, Monsieur Lazhar, who comes on the scene to teach them in their time of grief.

Lazhar himself, a refugee from Algeria, has been through some hard times as well, and is deeply familiar with coping with grief. An unlikely teacher, who lied his way into the position, Lazhar winds up helping the students more than any well-meaning attempts at counselling or treating the suicide as taboo do.

The movie is also visually quite stunning, having a sort of crisp and unpretentious clarity that screams "this is life". From what I could tell (though my knowledge of french is so limited that I could not catch all of the inflections properly) the film was also very well acted, featuring some truly impressive child actors. Lazhar himself was well done, his grief deep and subtle, his love of the children equally so. The script was amazing, dialogue fluid, and the characters and their psychoses very believable.

On a different note, it was also a lot of fun to sit in a crowd of nature french speakers watching a french language movie and be able to laugh with them at little jokes, like Montreal being referred to as the slush city. It made me feel like I belonged here, in a way I haven't really until now.

Apparently the Westmount Public Library does this every month. I think I should make a habit of attending!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Watched this film last night when I ought to have been in class. I won't give you a synopsis of the plot here. If you want to know what its about, check out the imdb page. I will warn you, though, should you decide to watch it, this is one of those movies that will give you a severe case of the "ugly cries", as a friend calls them. 

This isn't really a review, more my thoughts on the overarching metaphor the film produces. Those of you who have seen it will understand, those of you who have not, well, hopefully this won't ruin it for you. I view this movie as a metaphor for life in post 9-11 America. The idyllic world and its dreams have died, leaving nothing but riddles and a desire for fulfillment. Our forefathers are mute victims of their own mistakes, and our mothers must take on the roles of our fathers as the traditional family disintegrates. Paranoia abounds, and the scientific mind tries to find reason where there is none. We are all lost and searching for a way back to what we had, but what we had is gone. The path to redemption is through acceptance of loss, acceptance of change, and through understanding each other. Our shared experiences are what will help us through.

Seriously, watch it. And bring Kleenex. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012


Recently, I've been making a number of changes in my life. Not anything vast or external. Nothing earth shattering. Just trying to screw my own head on a little straighter, see a little clearer, and live with a little more passion, and a lot less stress. Unexpectedly, blogging has been helping me through this transition. I am going to take a few minutes today to explore why this might be.

I'm going to start my exploration of what I get out of blogging by touching on what I don't get out of it. I'm not trying to change lives here. I'm not trying to reach a massive audience. I don't want to make waves. It doesn't matter to me if my voice "matters". I don't live for a high hit count (though I'll admit I do feel pretty happy when I get feedback on any of my posts). I'm not trying to make a living through advertisements. I have made a total of fifty cents, and that is more than I'd anticipated.

So why am I doing this? 

I have posted more in the past two months than I did in the entire year prior, but I have also been more mentally, physically, and socially active in the past two months than I was in the several months previous. That isn't to say that I am just going out to find things to blog about. Quite the opposite. The blog (like the old school scrapbook diary I used to keep prior) serves as a mooring point in a world where I am otherwise so inundated by activities and information that I can't tell up from down. Condensing a targeted daily experience into a blog post allows me to impose some sort of mental structure on my day, and makes the whole world seem more manageable and less terrifying. Blogging anchors me, keeps me grounded, and serves a double purpose of letting family and friends have a little window into my world. 

Blogging can also help with some of the information overload I find myself experiencing. Apart from the regular stimulus of human interaction, the modern individual is now adrift in an endless sea of text messages, advertisements, music, videos and memes. Things are no longer interesting, they're Pinteresting. People no longer talk, they tweet. Images Flickr by, and our Faces are an open Book for all to read. (ok, ok, I'll stop). Keeping a blog, for me, can be a means of organizing some of the information I am being inundated with, and sharing it in a more structured way that makes sense to me, personally. The downside of this, of course, is that in the very act of adding to the information milieu, I am furthering the problem of information overload for others.  

Is keeping a blog as a means of anchoring one's own experiences in a chaotic and often confusing world a good idea, or an exercise in futility? I don't know, but for now, I will continue to enjoy putting my thoughts, feelings, activities, projects, and creative moments down here, to keep them straight for me, and to share with anyone who may have an interest. 

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

My thoughts on marriage

I'm going to try to be a little serious here (its so damn hard), and put down my thoughts on the institution of marriage, traditional versus common law.

Growing up, I never wanted a "wedding". I saw them as frivolous expenditures that served no purpose save to fulfill the outdated dreams of a patriarchal society. Even when I was on the cusp of getting married in my first engagement, I saw it as more of a treat for the family, than anything of any actual meaning for the pair getting hitched. I viewed common law, perhaps common law plus honeymoon, as more preferable all round. Less fuss and muss.

But lately here, I'm starting to think I was wrong, and here's why:

It often is true that the meaning of the traditional marriage can be lost somewhere in the big wedding, flouncy dress, bridesmaids, groomsmen, themed colors and flowers, cake, planners, invitations, thank you cards, photographers. The capital "E" Event itself takes on its own stand-alone meaning and this stand-alone meaning can blind us to the longer term implications of "marriage".

However, something as significant as deciding to spend the rest of your life with someone deserves a little fuss and muss. Common law doesn't necessarily cut it. Common law is frequently surrendering to the status quo: Well, we've been together so long, we might as well have it legally acknowledged. A wedding and traditional marriage can be this too. But it can also be more. The very act of putting together a "wedding" signifies more than just surrender to a continuing norm. It signifies an active want. I wedding can, and should, be a public statement on the part of both parties: "I *want* to spend the rest of my life with you", rather than "I'm going to stay with you because it is convenient."

That is not to say that a wedding can't be totally devoid of meaning. Often, it is just trappings without purpose. That is also not to say that a common law marriage must be totally devoid of meaning--it really depends upon the persons engaged in it.

However, this is where I stand. The point of a "wedding" is that it signifies an active want to be with a person, rather than a passive desire to stay with a person. Maybe this is oversimplification. Maybe this is narrow mindedness. Maybe I'm getting idealistic in my old age. What are your opinions?

Friday, 9 March 2012

Night Lights

Pan Am

I told Scott this morning that I was going to watch the pilot of Pan Am, the "period drama" about Pan Am airline stewardesses in the early nineteen sixties, during the American golden age.

His response: "Oh eww. . .don't do that. That's like prime time soap opera"

I watched it anyway.

He was right.

But he was also wrong.

What is attractive to me about the notion of Pan Am, as a television series, is the topic itself. Airline stewardesses at the dawn of an age. What the pilot calls a "new breed" of women. What is really interesting about this concept is the unspoken history it attempts to tell. Women's histories were an emerging idea for the period the show describes, and the show itself seems to strive to capture the essence of women coming into their own, stepping up in the professional world in a pattern that would continue through the sixties and the seventies. If the show is to be believed, early second wave feminism has a face, and it is under a jauntily tilted powder blue cap.

This may or may not be true, but regardless, the attempt at portraying an otherwise unspoken female history is in itself admirable. Trying to do it on prime time television, even more so.

The second thing that struck me was the way the show truly captured the feel of 1960's America, with all of its glorious golden dreams of a bright future, but still tied down by all of its past prejudices and conventions. The nation, like the Pan Am stewardesses themselves, is held within the confines of its own metaphorical girdle.

Yeah, I went there.

Overall, I think this show has the potential to be utter crap and I doubt I will watch more of it. As Scott says, it is prime time soap opera. But, it is also more than that and, despite being disinterested in the romantic entanglements that no doubt make up the entire meat of the plotline as the season progresses, I really do admire what Pan Am is trying to do. This is blunt force trauma postmodernism at its best: the insistence on making visible the invisible. The medium is surprising, and the effort is admirable.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Berthe Morisot

Today I give you Berthe Morisot, one of the three great female french Impressionists. She is said to have been influenced by, and to have influenced Manet. Although she began as a landscape artist, I find her representations of women and children to be particularly refreshing, so here are a few of my favorites, culled from around the web: 

on the lakeside, 1883

Woman at her toilette, 1875

Berthe Morisot, Le berceau (The Cradle), 1872

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

New Windows Onto Old Traditions

In the early hours of this morning I stumbled across the notion of the "trousseau tea". In this Victorian wedding tradition (they had so many!) the bride basically holds something of an open house to display the contents of her trousseau, as well as to show off her shower gifts. Tea, coffee, champagne, and dainties are served, and everyone oohs and aahhs their little hearts out. This tradition carried on in some areas right up to the second world war, and indeed, is still common among some of the older or more moneyed families in the south.

Quaint, yes? Not something I'd want for myself a) because its showing off b) because I don't really have anything worth showing off c) because I generally view cramming a house full of women who are potentially jealous of your acquisitions to be similar to this bullshit. SNAKES ON A PLANE!

Anyway. . .

After looking up some images associated with "trousseau tea", I have to admit, I was drooling a little. Its probably my inner history nerd popping out to say hi, but the richness, the lushness, the refined elegance, and the absolute unnecessary extravagance of these images really appeal to me:

from: here
from: here

from: here

But it wasn't until I came across a 1939 clipping from the Pickering-Ajax Digital Archive (PADA), that I really understood or grasped the feel of the trousseau tea. But before I show you the clipping, I would like to describe the PADA, and, through that give those of you still wondering some insight into some of what I will (hopefully) be doing as an archivist.

The Pickering-Ajax Digital Archive, in their own words :
". . .is designed to create an Internet accessible digital archive and research database containing detailed information about the unique history and issues of the Pickering and Ajax communities.
The Pickering and Ajax areas have a long history of settlement beginning in the early nineteenth century. The geographic boundaries between Pickering and Ajax have shifted over the years, resulting in an overlap of interests. Much of the area currently identified as Ajax, was originally part of Pickering Township and Pickering Village. Collections relating to the history of both communities have become divided over time, which has resulted in much frustration among researchers. The PADA project amalgamates these collections in one convenient digital archive."

The movement towards online accessibility is one that is increasingly significant for archives. Users come more and more to expect that any information they could find at a public institution such as a library or archives will also be available to them free online. Digital collections such as that made available by PADA serve a double-edged purpose of meeting user needs, while at the same time raising awareness of the types of resources the archive has available to researchers. 

For a project such as this, a number of things must be taken into consideration: quality of scan must be ensured, but balanced with the amount of space needed to store all of the scans; strong metadata (or information about the document itself) must be provided both for search purposes, and for technical reasons; any potential copyright or privacy issues pertaining to the document must be assessed and accounted for. PADA's resources are all beyond copyright at this point, and so may be copied with appropriate acknowledgement to their institution.

So, without further ado, from PADA's collection, the trousseau tea

Seeing the trousseau described in the language of the time gives you a feel for the event in a way that modern descriptions or representations cannot. Note the attention given to the floral arrangements, the decorations, the gowns. Things which we may, in our current time, ignore as mere trappings to the capital "E" Event, in 1939, following the Great Depression, carried an entirely different meaning. This is the value of the archival record: that those of us, living in a different time and place, can intellectually or emotionally grasp the thoughts and feelings of those who came before us by viewing firsthand the records they've left behind. Or sometimes, even more significantly, realize that we cannot grasp their thoughts and feelings at all, and come to know through that gap what we have lost. This is also the value of the digital collection, as it acknowledges the technology-shackled nature of the modern user, while at the same time providing a window into a world before the notion of the "digital" even existed. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

Internets in Urface

dicking around with my camera this afternoon, I found myself wondering. . .what would my face really look like if I were to make all of the expressions I make in chat? So I took pictures! The results? Not pretty. . .maybe I should stick to text chatting. And, like. . .not leave the apartment.

I should probably also avoid posting embarrassing pictures of myself on the blog. . .


:/ =     ^_^U =


:P = :) =
:D =   ^_^ =

\o/ =

-_-u =   >.< = 

And finally. . .

(yeah, I figured I should learn how to duckface. Essential life skills)