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Urban gadfly

Postscript from the streets of Toronto

By February 23, 2014 Urban gadfly

Like most in this country, I watched the final game at dawn with family, in my case, a crowd of real hockey fans, ages 3 to 82.

goldmedalssochi 007
When it was over, we planned to head home but heard honking. Down the windows went. I leaned on the horn. Unlike the last gold medal victory, there were no spontaneous eruptions at intersections going south but just sporadic outbursts.The girls hollered at any sign of a flag. A few high fives into the open window and some upturned fists but it was looking to be a wash out.We almost turned around but then heard the swell near Yonge and Dundas, found a place to park and ran out to join the crowd. Read More

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Lessons from an ice storm

By December 28, 2013 Urban gadfly

I have no wish to predict the future and could hardly claim such prescience. When I said Christmas cookies were the only thing you could count on in December, I was bang on this year.

Whoopee for me for what did it get me? Frigid rooms done up for the ghosts of Christmas present.

There is a child in all of us at this time of year. I was embarrassed at the one that came out in me this frigid December when my most fervent wish was for toasty toes. It is now surely a permanent wish ever since a severe ice storm coated our city and caused days of power outages.  Read More

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Hot ticket

By November 26, 2013 Urban gadfly

The trees are bare but not so the calendar. I need longer days to dive into a trio of tease, dangling to entice me off my writing perch. Damn deadlines:I want to see all of this.

I groan a little whenever tourists are asked to name a famous Canadian and they come up with Justin Bieber.

Couldn’t they come up with Robert Lepage instead?

Actor, playwright, director of stage, opera and film and all round visionary, this guy is his own planet and we are all just visiting.

His latest creation is a reworking of his 1991 solo show, Needles and Opium, currently on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre in Toronto, until Dec.2nd. Critics are throwing around the”masterpiece” label and I don’t doubt it. If you need a different twist on drugs in our culture than Ford’s tragicomedy, this play, weaving together stories of love, loss, addiction and resurrection, is a great start.

There are only a few more days to catch the National Ballet’s Innovation program, a series of short ballets by four electric choreographers. This is the kind of offering that makes Toronto a dazzling place to live. If the last time you were at the ballet was for the Nutcracker, think again. You want beautiful people? Beautiful bodies? Stunning movement? These artists make their peers in other art forms appear as amateurs. Forget your troubles and impending blizzards.

This is the hottest ticket in town.

Finally, on the big screen, opening Friday, comes two films that are truly the best way to slide into the holiday season. If December is the month when cynics and misanthropes lock the doors, then make room for Philomena, the nearest to perfect film I saw at TIFF earlier this year ( more here on Philomena later this week) and Hawking, exclusively at TIFF Bell Lightbox.  The latter is a portrait of the famous scientist narrating the story of his own life- saved, he says, by love. Forget Frosty, Rudolph, Santa and that irrepressible Will Ferrel elf: this guy will make you believe in miracles.

And don’t forget the Bowie exhibit at the AGO. The gallery extended the show due to popular demand but it closes Friday and tickets are going fast. Book ahead for a timed slot.

See what I mean? The cultural map of this town keeps on exploding and I’m dizzy with distractions.  See you in line.

For more:
Films to watch out for this year, see: It’s a wrap: TIFF 2013
Before winter sets in, see: an ode to fall.

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The good, the bad and George Clooney

By November 15, 2013 Urban gadfly


In a week when Crazy was hogging the spotlight and Sanity went out walking and hasn’t come home yet, I expected nothing good.

Low expectations then delivered a cool surprise:


First up, the bad:

It’s hardly news that parenting has gone wonky. Just this week my local fitness club sent out their winter activity flyer and there among the programs for kids was a brand new Lego workshop.

Using one of the most popular toys ever made, children will learn how to build a variety of structures and be able to take their creations home with them. 

3 hours, $50, light snack provided.

If I can echo Jon Stewart, in his brilliant response to our mayor’s words this week, what? whAAAAT? WHAAAAAAT?
Why do we need a workshop to play with Lego?   Do kids need to be directed and supervised on everything? Lego pieces, those genius gems, should be left alone with their creators. Forget workshops. Forget these elaborate box sets with byzantine instructions. Make your own doodahs. Abandon the teachers and go wild with your imagination. It’s called play. Look it up.

So back to the good.

Tomorrow afternoon, at Dundas Square in Toronto, comes a cross between flash mobs and your favourite high school drama teacher.

Story Mobs are exceptional kids books acted out in a public spaces in what appears to be spontaneous pandemonium ( two of my favourite words).  Anyone can take part and fun is guaranteed.
Free, as in the best kind of entertainment.

I love this idea. Kids books need to be celebrated and what better way than lifting words off the pages in crazy crowd fashion?

If you see a bunch of pigs and wolves tearing around downtown tomorrow afternoon, it’s not to be mistaken for a Ford Nation rally.
No, folks, this is The True Story of the The Three Little Pigs.

for how to participate, read full details here).

Enjoy your weekend.

Here’s some great reading for your Sunday morning sleep in.
George Clooney’s Rule for Living.

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More than Ford

By November 14, 2013 Urban gadfly


We have an exchange student from Paris living in our home for a month.

She has teetered over the city on the CN Tower Edge walk and held her ears at the roar of rabid fans from behind the net at the Leafs game, the latter a result of a lucky trade outside the ACC. Emptied her wallet in Kensington, Queen Street and the Eaton Centre. Bought Roots sweats and maple popcorn at Niagara Falls.Bumped elbows both at the St. Lawrence market, the AGO’s Group of Seven and on the TTC travelling to various corners of Toronto.


Try as we may to dazzle her with city treasures, the circus is in town. The bruising from a cracked mayor is garish but Parisians are not immune to political scandal. 

I will send her home with maple syrup in her suitcase with fervent hopes the sweet treat is the only sticky stuff she remembers.
Then again, she could just watch this great little gem from More than Ford.


Too bad. It was fantastic.

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Rat ruler

By November 6, 2013 Urban gadfly

I am struggling with Dickinson’s hope, the thing with feathers that are supposed to be perching right about now.

I rail against cynicism, that twisted root threatening to shut down all my good instincts.

If September belongs to new pencils, TIFF and a world of brilliant images, where am I now, two months later, after watching the amateur mafia line up to push forth their buffoon boss, the rotund crack meister with his sweaty, crocodile tears?

Colour me enraged at the pure spin of political theatre here and in Ottawa, where Chief Control Freak Harper clamps down.

I started with faith. I grew up in a house where community mattered. We were taught, by example, to lend our hand to all the good works that buzz along quietly in this city.

Choosing to come back to work in Toronto after living in Montreal was an easy call. The hours at clubs where I danced late into the night were earlier here, yet I wanted to be part of this place: we weren’t just taxpayers.

That kind of reductive thinking had yet to come.

If he saves me money while he’s smoking crack, that’s all that matters, even if he’s a bum.”

So say Ford Nation, who live by a new rule of leadership: they want their leader to be down in the trough, tossing back beer cans, one by one, pissing on any vision that doesn’t pad their pocketbooks.

They deserve this mayor who disappears into the night to meet up with strange packages.

Amid all the clatter and clamour of the circus, here came my favourite tweet from last night:

Michael Ignatieff ‏@M_Ignatieff
A sad day for the dignity of public office, both in Toronto and Ottawa.

And kudos to the Globe and Mail for kicking the quarrel to the side with this editorial assertion:
Rob Ford is a liar.” read the full editorial here)

More on the mutilated world here.

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Storytelling in a new age

By April 23, 2013 Urban gadfly

It’s part of my morning ritual to wake up with another man.

My husband’s ok with it.

He’s lived with me long enough to understand my needs.

That “other man” is CBC radio host Matt Galloway. He is with me as I brush my teeth and urge the household into daylight. His is the voice that comes on with the alarm. It is not the only way to wake up; I will concede. Music blaring from teenage bedrooms is one potent prod. So too the dog barking when the sports carpool arrives and we’ve all slept through the 4:30 am alarm. I’ve had some awesome sunrise mornings on canoe trips or ocean adventures where the natural world offers its own orchestral wake-up call. All worthy yet none offer a balm to the cursing commuter. With Matt in my ear, I am reminded of something beyond my bitching. His is a voice of passion for his city, a voice connecting the dots between disparate communities to remind us we are citizens, not taxpayers.

So I shrug my shoulders when my family beg me to turn it off.  I know they’re just pretending not to listen.

This morning, Galloway told listeners that newspapers aren’t really dying but doing incredible shape-shifting transformations, and pointed to a new kind of interactive storytelling today from the New York Times.  The Times have released an image taken from the NBC broadcast of the Boston Marathon and provided audio link stories of several runners and spectators.  It takes little time to listen to this collection of stories, about the same time it might take you to browse headlines on your coffee break at work. As you do, you are reminded that, in all the fact-finding reportage that follows tragedies like last week’s bombings, the human element is often missing.

The best kind of journalism is the journey taken days, weeks, and months after these horrific chapters, to visit and learn how these events affected individuals and their communities. Often, what is revealed are heartbreaking tales, fringed with hope and compassion.

In darkness, we grasp for one another.

Check the site out.  Don’t thank me-I heard it from my boyfriend. You can find this new interactive story here.

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March begins tomorrow so get play in motion!

By February 28, 2013 Urban gadfly

Who doesn’t love the infinite possibility of a little brick?
The first LEGOLAND is set to open in Canada. If you have kids and are underwhelmed with winter slush, cheer up. The Vaughan Mills Legoland Discovery Centre opens tomorrow. Lego activities, Lego build projects, Lego car races-good, good, great but I’m going to check out Toronto’s landmarks made with over a million pieces.

Courtesy: The Torontoist

Don’t know any kids? There’s an adults only night just for you, once a month. Go forth, Lego nerds. Can we recast date night? Banish those splashy Bachelor destination dates.
Does your partner know how to play?

Red Chronicle regulars know well my love of TIFF ( read why here).  Those wizards are always up to something and if Lego bricks make you squirrelly, perhaps their digiPLAYSPACE will provide the right jolt. Opens March 9th.



Have fun playing.

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looking for distractions

By December 1, 2012 Urban gadfly

It has been a tough week for Toronto residents. First, our mayor was ousted, and I allowed myself a brief moment of jubilation. But what followed was a playpen of childish ranting, raving and legal punditry that had me turning off all media. I love my city. But I’m way past fed up with our municipal leaders.

Distractions, mercifully, are plentiful. Here are some good ones for the weekend:

We may have had to put away our hallelujah chorus, sullen as we are, but a group of talented dancers is determined to get us humming along. Ballet Creole is back with their holiday sensation

“Soulful Messiah” featuring Handel’s familiar music, updated by Quincy Jones.
The show is tonight and weekend at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.

The One of a Kind Christmas show wraps up Sunday at the Direct Energy Centre at Exhibition Place. This is a favourite in our household. But for the crowds, we love to browse the aisles of artisans. So go for the custom couture, the eclectic bling, and the whimsical artwork but do not miss the food. That would be a colossal mistake. Faves for us are the TICKLEBERRIES!  from a famous eatery in the Okanagan. If the dark chocolate-covered cherries are sold out, I promise you a Rob Ford-sized tantrum on the spot.

Everyone has their soother, and anticipating great art is mine. So the countdown is on for the December 25th opening of the screen adaptation of Les Miz ( see earlier posts here and here). At least one lucky journalist has seen an advance screening and is dazzled.

Tribute Entertainment executive producer Bonnie Laufer-Krebs has spent over 25 years screening films and interviewing actors in her career as a writer and producer. Look for her interviews with Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper and the cast soon on, but she gave me this exciting scoop:

“I truly believe it’s a musical masterpiece. Hugh ( Jackman) and Anne ( Hathaway) were outstanding. I think Anne has the best supporting actress locked!”.

Still, in the anticipating mode, Season 2 of HBO’s Girls begins in January 2013.
Here is the trailer for those needing your fix, released today.

Did you catch a peek at my sweetheart Chris O’Dowd in that trailer? OK, so he’s my other sweetheart, the big screen crush since his charismatic turn in The Sapphires seen at TIFF this year. It is the last day of November, so I have saved the best cultural tidbit of the month until now:

O’Dowd will soon be starring in a new BBC series, Family Tree, created and written by comic genius Christopher Guest. Guest will also direct and appear in the show and co-write with his Best in Show collaborator, Jim Piddock. The eight-part comedy series, due in the spring on HBO, will be shot in a single camera, fake documentary style as that other excellent Guest film, This is Spinal Tap. This is fantastic news. Comedy gold is in store.

Have a great weekend!

You might like my other Red Letter Day Lists:

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Rave: Acadia

By November 19, 2012 Urban gadfly

I am not a picky eater but time has allowed me some prudence as a patron. A city girl at heart, the abundant riches of culture in Toronto have pressured my pocketbook enough that a night out with my favourite date comes with careful selection.

Imagine then my glad heart receiving some of the most unpretentious service in the city at Acadia restaurant last Saturday night.  First, the movies. We caught Lincoln to pay continued homage to the brilliant Daniel Day Lewis who knows something about being selective: he takes years between films, forcing patience from diehards like me.

The film was long so we arrived late for our reservation but a phone call en route assured us that our table had not been given away.  This was not a given. After all, Acadia has been awash with accolades since it opened last year.  When acclaimed chef Matt Blondin was scooped, many wondered if his replacement would tarnish the shine. Not in the least, said Joanne Kates in Postcity magazine, who called Patrick Kriss a chef with the Midas touch.

“Any regrets Acadia’s owners have at the loss of chef Blondin should be drowned in milk sorbet … or frozen smoked cream … or dried andouille sausage.That chef Kriss worked his way up to sous-chef at Daniel in New York is evident in every bite at Acadia: the cooking is more delicate and refined than before; indeed, a splendour of French technique applied to low country ingredients.”

So … assurances of great food from the first chef and its second. Forgive me if I am not yet swayed.  Dining out is never just about what’s on the plate: great food is often diminished by surroundings. Acadia, on Clinton Street in Toronto’s Little Italy, is too tiny, says Globe and Mail food critic Chris Nuttal-Smith.

“Acadia’s physical space is a tragedy. The room is loud enough to kill conversations, but without the energy that can make loud restaurants fun; it’s clangy, boomy many nights, with cafeteria tile floors, a low ceiling, largely barren walls. The Shaft-era soul-jazz playlist can get grating. It’s hard to imagine lingering. Do get on with it, Mr. Selland, please.”

Again, call me hardly bothered. The place is indeed sparse; the noise abundant. We had to raise our voices a few more times than my dining partner liked but when we arrived, my coat was immediately taken,and I was called by name. I was shown to my table right away, offered a menu,  water and a welcoming smile. A few moments later, our waiter arrived to outline the tasting menu; his pride and enthusiasm immediately contagious.  Our food and drink came each with straight up descriptions…necessary in this place of delicious alchemy. Throughout the evening, I noted waiters quietly buzzing about the noisy patrons, not one of whom looked pained, impatient or disgruntled: no easy feat, this circus act on a Saturday night in one of the city’s best. I wondered what was missing in all of this and realised, with a start: arrogance.  Not a hint. I now expect attitude with the fine fare on Toronto’s plates. Here, in this gem, only courtesy and excellence.

The food at Acadia is divine, its menu fresh and innovative. Whether the owners will move to grander space or not will not affect my return visit. Many new eateries opening in this economic climate are showing off their food without plush backdrops. Absence of capital will do that. Absence of proper service will turn my hungry heart cold.

I look forward to another visit.

Acadia is closed on Tuesdays but check it out any other night.

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