Monday, July 21, 2014

THE TORONTO INDY WEEKEND: WHY WALK WHEN YOU CAN DRIVE 330 KPH

I am not a gear head.

I like cars. I like to drive cars. I am not "car handy". I can change a tire, in a pinch I could change the oil I know that the engine is the thing in the front of the car though sometimes it is in the back. I enjoy driving, I don't always obey the speed limit, I like to know my car has some pick up to pass trucks etc but I don't enjoy driving particularly fast.

If I won the lottery (you know, the Canadian retirement plan) I would buy a new car but it would not be the first thing on the list. It would be down there a ways after some other significant capitol expenditures and buying a city proclamation that would require everyone in Toronto to refer to me as You Incredible Goofiness.

I am not a fan of auto racing. I can admire the skill involved but it seems a rather dry sport for me, as I don't enjoy driving really fast it holds little appeal. But some of the cars are purty.

But I live in a city where once a year car racing becomes a big deal. I am referring to the Toronto Indy, lately sponsored by Honda. It's a big deal here. Hundreds of thousands of people go down to the lakeshore to watch it over three days and it pumps a lot of money in to the economy. Although I'm not a racing fan it's one of those things I've always supported, good for the fans and good for the city

Last summer was a bit of a write off for Collette and I, having to move sort of sucked us into a black hole and when we emerged it was in the worst Toronto winter in decades. So this summer we've promised ourselves to take advantage of some of the things our city has to offer.

I am not prepared to pay money to see the Indy but as it turns out you don't have to, at least for one day. Fan Friday allows you to go down to the Indy for free with a donation to the Make a Wish Foundation and who can resist the Wish. No racing on that day but all classes of cars running have practices and with a few qualifying races. This past Friday turned out to be a perfect sunny summer day so Collette and I said "Fuck you winter, now we're having some fun"





It's a pretty cool event. You have access to most of the site including the grandstands, food areas etc. No access to pit lane but total access to the paddock area, inside the convention centre, where you can get great views of the cars and even talk to the crews if desired







Although you could not go right into Pit Alley you could look down into it from one of the grandstands and you could stand outside the gate that lead to that part of the track





There are some restrictions to the Indy beyond Pit Alley. Collette was allowed to bring her Nikon DSLR but they made a rather large point about not bringing in any "audio video recording devices" So I decided to not press my luck (coz I basically ain't got any to press) and I did not bring any of my camcorders. Instead I brought our little Panasonic Lumix underwater camera and my iPod Touch both of which of course shoot HD video. Now, Collette's Nikon shoots very good quality HD video at 24 fps but without a tripod or image stabilizer it's not very good at hand held video. The little Panasonic is far from rock solid but trust me it's better. And it does take satisfying snapshots, as does the iPod, all while easily fitting in my pocket




I have to say, it was pretty fun to watch the cars do their thing. There were several classes of cars, Indy and Indy Lite and G4 and G3 and Supertrucks the latter of which we didn't get to see run. I find the Indy cars incredibly exotic, more like space ships than cars, incredibly fast, nicely loud and very difficult for met to relate to .. but yeh, fun to watch





I found that I related a bit more to the GT classes that ran everything from Porsches to Mustangs to Vipers to Cadillacs to Camaro's to Kia's ... yes, Kia's. These were vehicles I recognized as car, yes incredibly highly motivated but it was like "Look, that's a Boss 302" or "that's a Viper, damn people still drive those?" Yes they do, and very very fast





The GT3 class, sponsored by Pirelli, were interesting to me. These were the so called "gentlemen drivers" in other words non professionals (though there were a couple of "factory" drivers) and they ran the Vipers and the Caddies and Ferrari's. Nice hobby. Guess all the spaceships were already spoken for.






Oh, another great thing about the Indy: It boasts the largest event liquor license in Ontario. Which means buy yourself a beer (oh, by the way, an 10 dollar beer) and you can take it with you anywhere on the site, except for one of the bridges. Yeh, OK, I still won't call myself a race fan but I'm starting to dig the Indy.

Here's the video such as it is







TORONTO INDY FAN FRIDAY from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Friday, July 11, 2014

THE JOURNEY OF A HEART: BASIA BULAT

Sometimes art has a mind of its own, or a heart of its own.

Even if that art is your own.

Basia Bulat is an incredibly talented singer-songwriter from Toronto. She is a multi talented instrumentalist, playing guitar, piano and a range of traditional folk instruments such as autoharp and charango a kind of ukulele from the Andes. She also possesses a soaring voice filled with vibrato and depths of emotion.



Most of her music could be safely classified as "folk" and was largely acoustic. But she decided to make a change, for an upcoming recording she hired on Tim Kingsbury of Arcade Fire to help her go electric or, as she puts it, "modern"



But something happened on the way to the recording. Something sad. A very close friend of Basia's suddenly passed away. She already written most of the songs needed for the new album. But this thing happened to her, this terrible thing that was in her heart and would not go away. That's where her art came in, her art told her that this should be the record, that this sorrow was where her music should go.

The result was the recording Tall Tall Shadow and for me, it's one of the most beautiful things I have heard in a long time.


I have owned this recording for about a year now and either from a CD in the house or my iPod in my car I probably listen to it at least once a week.

Yesterday I happened to be watching Breakfast Television and was learned that Basia was doing a show at Massey Hall ... the next day. Credit card, internet, tickets bought. Collette and I went to the show last night.

Basia Bulat going "modern" is this tiny blonde woman a six piece band including two backup singers and a pair of percussionists one of whom is her brother. Her mandolin is electric but her autoharp and her charango are still acoustic. I've listened to this album a lot and I thought that this woman would be good in concert. I was wrong. She was a revelation.


She is winsome and sincere and funny. After she introduced her band she said "I'm guessing that you know who I am" After the audience chuckled she remarked "I'm such a dork"

Her playing is extraordinary. After this concert I can view the autoharp and as a perfectly viable pop lead instrument. But I think she has a technique that may be difficult to replicate for some. As she played she moved around, swinging her head, her long hair flowing across the instrument. The secret to the Basia Bulat sound: Hair in the strings

When you see someone perform live after first hearing the record it's an interesting thing. You want what you heard on the CD but you want something more. Basia Bulat gave us more. She gave us those spontaneous moments you can only receive from a live show; connections between herself and her band, one of her backup singers also played the charango and there were moments where Basia, playing her electric mandolin "battled" back and forth with her; connections with her audience, there were moments when she seemed genuinely affected by our reactions, at the first standing ovation she stood on the stage, hands pressed to her face, eyes enormous.

There are the moments in a live show where a song is altered from how it appeared on the recording. In the song Paris or Amsterdam Basia tries to reconcile the loss of her friend by imagining that her friend is simply travelling and perhaps someday will return. She performed a very stripped down version of the song allowing us to hear the emotion in her voice, drenching the song with an even deeper sense of sadness than can be heard on the CD

One is often taught to save the best for last and Basia certainly did. The song It Can't Be You is one of the most simply produced on the CD, Basia and her charango and a very simple arrangement that highlights her lifting, ululating voice. For the concert, she made it even simpler, even more pure.

With just the tiny instrument in her hand Basia moved away from the mic to the front of stage, her voice now amplified. She paced back and forth, strumming the ukulele, she began to sing. This woman can sing. It rose up into the rafters of Massey Hall; at first, without amplification it seemed thin and tenuous but as the song moved on and her emotion intensified that voice got strong and stronger, a shivering sweeping thing of beauty.

This is why we go to see an artist live

This where art can take you, into a journey of the heart, the heart of the artist and the hearts of those who have come to listen to her





Sunday, July 6, 2014

THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU CAN'T PARK

It's a silly world. Filled with silly people who are so bored and silly that it becomes their past time to create silly laws.

Now let's talk about war and battles and the potential for sudden and blinding violence.

Yes, I'm talking about parking lots.

They are the battle zones of your urban city. Lots of silliness goes down in parking lots. Most of this chaos we bring on ourselves. Like, people making their own parking spots. Just sliding their vehicle, usually a big ass truck or the kind of North American boat driven by people who fondly remember the Diefenbaker administration, up beside a legit parked car, halfway in the lane designed to be used by people who .. you know .. want to be driving not parking.

Then there are those people who have strong emotional connections to a particular parking spot. Maybe they knew this spot when they were young and it has strong nostalgic connotations for them. Perhaps it's a case of unrequited parking spot love.

You know the ones I mean. They enter the parking lot, alone and forlorn, not sure if they can go on and then, there, a glimmer of hope, like the glint of a diamond glimpsed in the darkness of a Portapottie at the end of a free country music festival ....

I'll give you a moment

OK, so there it is, the driver's one and only true love, his parking spot, he accelerates, fingers trembling on the steering wheel, heart pounding, leaning forward to gaze lovingly through the windscreen only to find .. GASP .. what is this? OMG say it isn't so, another car, parked in his spot ... That cheating bitch!

Still, love conquers on, one must forgive, perhaps the spot was just lonely and it made an impulsive mistake. He can forgive her. And wait for her to come to her senses. So he parks his car at the entrance to the spot, waiting for the interloper to leave. Yes, he's blocking a couple of other spots and yes, he's filling up the lane but it's worth it .. Damnit, this is love!

We can all understand that can't we?

We all know that the parking spots closest to the doors are the premium. As a Catskills comedian would say "That's gold baby! Gold!"

Some of these spots are, of course, reserved for certain drivers. Disabled spots for instance; there will be no arguing about this, if you have a sticker you park there, yes I know some of them are traded as a commodity but that is not the fault of the disabled person and no, not every disability is clearly visible so shut the fuck up about and keep cruising, so what if you park way in the back. Walk will do you good.

Over the past few years, new signs have cropped up Reserved for Family or something, with the little baby stroller icon. OK, this one we can argue about. Yup, it's tough to haul your one kid and its 4,000 pounds of gear across the parking lot but over all, no one forced you to have the kid ... or buy it enough gear that it requires a mobilized platoon to transport. But there it is. It's a fact. I got over it

Hey, the walk does me good

The other day I went to park at a new Walmart in my neighbourhood. Cruised up towards the doors,  not expecting to find a spot but what the hell, I don't go to Vegas so this is how I gamble. I see a good eight spots with some kind of reserved signs in front of them, I'm assuming Disability or the specious Family but I see something entirely new .. Reserved for Hybrid Vehicles

What the bleeding blankety blank

Why on earth does someone who drives a hybrid need and/or deserve a parking spot closer to the doors? Where is the logic in this?

Is it because the drivers of these eco friendly cars have such massive ego's and sense of importance that their heads have become incredibly heavy that they can't walk very far?

Wouldn't walking be something that an eco minded person want to encourage? I mean, don't they only drive their hybrids when the weather is too bad to ride their bike, or when they have way too many Ikea furnishings to carry on their backs?

And dude this was Walmart .. Walmart. Isn't the target customer for Walmart someone who wears sweat pants 24/7 and who drives there from the trailer park in their RV and who need to walk as little as possible due to the noise of their thighs rubbing together and their massive breasts jiggling that they violate noise bylaws .. and yes, I'm talking about the men

I was going to ask these questions of the Walmart greeters but my Canadian Redneck is a little rusty at the moment.

So the next time you are out and about and circling a parking lot desperately seeking a spot, hoping your emergency supplies of water and trail mix don't run out, if you see a hybrid parked anywhere, jump out and plaster this sign on the windshield:

YOU SHOULD BE AT WALMART

Somewhere, a trailer park RV is still circling, out there somewhere, in the dark. Sssssh quiet now ... you can hear the Charlie Pride music .. can't you?








Saturday, July 5, 2014

I'VE BEEN WAITING MY WHOLE LIFE TO SAY THIS

Eugenie Bouchard just got served

She's a tennis player, she just got her ass handed to her in a match ...

Come on, this is so fucking perfect!

Say it all day long, the serendipity gods will smile upon you






Tuesday, June 24, 2014

FLYING ON FOUR LEGS OR TWO: REDPATH WATEFRONG FESTIVAL



Since the dawn of time ... or at least midmorning, after everyone's had some breaky and maybe a power nap ... Man has dreamed of flying



So, apparently, have dogs.



Yeh, OK so perhaps I should explain.

This past weekend Collette and I took our cameras to the Redpath Waterfront Festival. This was a (mostly) free event, sponsored by Redpath Sugar, that sprawled along Toronto's western downtown waterfront, or at least the condo-and-industrial-with-a-few-trees blister that passes as our waterfront in that area.

We went down to watch two competitive sports that encouraged living creatures to attempt flight, before artfully plunging into water

Dock Diving is a sport you may have seen on TV. It's a canine sport, where dogs fly off of a dock as high and far as possible before diving into the water in pursuit of a floating "bait" The sides of the tank into which the dogs dive are ruled with the length and high speed cameras catch the moments the dog actually impacts the water, providing an accurate reading.

As in most canine sports the humans assess the winners and losers, the dogs just have fun










This is an actual sport, these were North American qualifiers with dogs from all over the continent, points are rewarded for the distance dived but seeing it up and close and personal, you have to give the pooches style points


If dogs, in their pursuit of flight, use their ancient instincts and natural athletic ability, Man of course, has to go a bit beyond. That's because we have the ability to utilize technology and, let's be honest, we're just nuts




Flyboarding is a sport that is half jetpack, half jetski, half skateboarding, half acrobatics and half wakeboard. Yeh, that's a lot of halves.



The athlete uses a board that is attached by a long hose to a jetski. The jetski's engine forces the water up through the hose and propels it out through the boots that the guy wears, bolted to the board. That gives him enough propulsion to achieve heights up to 15 meters



The rider controls the jetski so often there was no one operating the craft, they can move around the performance area with the seadoo following them, all on their own





As in skateboarding and wakeboarding there are prescibed moves the athlete can perform and they are judged on how well they do those. Never having watched this sport before I couldn't judge how good these guys were but the fact that could could even "stand" on those columns of water impressed the crap out of me


Some of their moves made sense once you saw them, like the slalom which you'll see in the video; dolphing was impressive, the rider pushed himself up in the air, arched his back, dove into the water, went completely under the surface then blasted back up into the air. They could chain several of these movements together which made them skilled and brave .. that's Lake Ontario they are going into





Even more amazing is the ability of the riders to use their jets of water to spin completely in mid air, the really talented guys could complete two or three of these somersaults. These guys are athletes make no mistake about that






After our winter it was great to be out in the sun, on the water, watching dogs and humans fly .. and did I mention there was a beer garden? Yeh, you probably figured out that much.




Here's the video


Redpath Waterfront Festival from Victor Kellar on Vimeo
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