Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Often, it seems, this city is not ours. During the G-8 Summit, with it's fence and its detention centres and its armed guards, it felt as though the downtown core of Toronto had been occupied by an invading force. Even though that force wore badges that said Toronto

The occupation is happening again, this time by some actual foreign invaders. How are we responding? Why, we're building them places to sleep, feeding them, giving them their own traffic lanes to make it easier to invade ...

Yup, the Pan Am Games are coming

Some of it is funny. As in, this thing is costing us a few billion bucks and it seems to be run by bipolar chimps smoking crack and weeping over Donnie Walberg's hair loss.

What's funny: They've turned some regular traffic lanes into HOV (High Occupancy Lanes) that are exclusive to vehicles carrying three passengers or more. They're called Diamond lanes because they have hug diamond symbols painted on them. Well these are temp lanes so they didn't want to use paint. Instead, they put down these huge decals. Here's the problem: The decals come off in the rain. And it's been raining. A lot

What's Not Funny: These new lanes are, essentially, being reserved for the "important" people. The officials and athletes and the local gov't reps whose Games these are. Yeh, their games, not so much ours. Their lanes. Two weeks to go to the games and they are enforcing these lanes right now. Cop cars are perched on medians to make sure none of us plebes are using the royal lanes. Don't worry about the traffic chaos; essentially one or two lanes have been taken from use on some of the busiest roads in the GTA; the DVP, the Gardiner, the QEW, Lakeshore, the 400

What's Funny: The planners of these Games knew how horribly traffic was going to be affected. Not only have they taken away some active lanes, they are not stopping the construction that already brings the downtown core to a crawl. Our govt's solution? Go on vacation during the Games

What's Not Funny: Our govt's solution? Go on vacation during the Games

What's Funny: Many new sports facilities have been built for the Games. These are the supposed legacy. But many temp structures have been erected as well; public parking lots and public streets have been closed off so they could put up these giant plastic quonset huts where the Important People can mingle and guffaw and say how marvelous they all are. Well, it's been very rainy and windy here. And the tents came down

What's Not Funny: Fences. Fences in my city are not funny. During the G-8 a fence was put up around several blocks downtown. Cops stood at the fence and questioned our right to even look at it. Now we have more fences, enclosing streets and areas that are public. Most of the people standing there are not cops, they are Pan Am security but it is clear: Hey, you live in this city, you can't come in here. Keep moving, see this clip board, you are not on this clip board, so get the fuck out of here

What's Funny: The people who are running these games are getting paid lots and lots of money. Lots of my money, lots of your money. When the whole thing got rolling, couple years ago, they hired a very respected manager to be the grand poobah. Turns out he was very good at padding his expense account and paying off people. The Gov't seemed quite content with this till he was exposed. So he was let go due to malfeasance. Here's the funny part: He got a "severence" (after being fired) that was basically his promised salary

What's Not Funny: They hired a new manager. This guy they seem to like. They like him so much that, when he finishes out his contract he will get a lovely party gift of a bonus that will equal what he's getting paid to complete the contract in the first place

Hey, no worries. There's lots of money for the gov't. So much money. It just keeps rolling in

Now, you, the person from whom this money is being taken, just sept back behind that line and keep your head down. These are your Games

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Yeh, ok, that title was too easy. Who am I to make things difficult for me

This past weekend we went back down to the Sugar Beach area of Toronto harbour for the Redpath Waterfront Festival. And yeh, it had gone to the dogs

The dock diving dogs were back this year. Dock diving is actually a variety events featuring, you know, dogs diving off docks. Well sort of. They set up a giant pools and the dogs launch themselves off a stage into the water to retrieve a bait. They dive for distance and they dive in a time trial; the bail is dropped into the exact same position at the far end of the pool and the dogs are timed for how quickly they can get the bait and bring it back

What's great about this event is that it features all kinds of dogs, not just the labs and retrievers and duck tollers one would expect

In addition to the diving dogs there was a dog stunt show. It featured a couple of Boston terriors as well as lab mix. To be honest, it was not the smoothest dog show I've ever seen and not every trick went off without a hitch but the dogs were adorable and they certainly had their talents

Any time you can have a Lab hold a hot dog in his mouth without inhaling it, I'm impressed

The Bostons did their best to audition for Who's Got Talent or whatever the heck that horrible show is called. I much prefer the one we saw

And finally, the one cyclist with whom I will gladly share the streets of Toronto

More dog tricks and more submaining pooches in the video below

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Well, there's the rub as they say

And I say, stop rubbing that thing!


But yeh, that is the problem with trying to create art based upon some famous true story. We know how it ends. The Titanic, ship built to never sink. It sank

Wow, what suspense

Of course, people have been taking a crack at this story for a long time. Notably, the suspenseful, well acted,  humane It Happened One Night and the bloated, insecure (hey one of the greatest human tragedies of modern times may not be captivating enough, let's have a guy chasing another guy with a pistol) James Cameron film, Titanic. Both, in their ways, were successful. The success of Titanic speaks more to the weak minds of most contemporary audiences but hey, it allowed Cameron to make Avatar so I shall complain no more

Now we have a musical version of the story, currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. When I first heard about this I will admit that I found the concept to be thoroughly cheesy. A musical Titanic. All I could think of was Celine Deon. Major shudder take

But I am glad to be wrong. Yes, I am pretty much glad all the time.

Back to the point at hand. I was wrong about Titanic the musical. Simply, it was spectacular. It goes way up my list of fave stage musicals alongside Les Miz and Warhorse

Like those plays, Titanic deals with some very big issues, some historical and social issues, on a very big canvas, but in a very personal way. Les Miz and Warhorse were able to gain a personal perspective on their issues by focussing on one or two characters. Titanic is much different from that. There is a big cast here, some actual historical characters (Captain Smith, the ship's architect, owner of Macy's, Isador Strauss) and other characters who may represent hundreds of actual people: A butler, a stover, various third class passengers.

It is through these characters that we come to understand the true scope of the tragedy

Musicals, when they are good, are able to convey some very complicated ideas in a single three minute song. Titanic does that in several moments; the third class passengers, resigned to the ship's deepest levels, mostly the poor of Ireland, dream of making it big in America. "I dream of being a lady's maid" a young woman sings and her fellow passengers go dewey eyed with the prospect of such a glorious dream

Of course, these ardent dreamers will not fare well. If there is a lack of suspense in a story who's ending is predetermined, there is also power in that foreshadowing. As we learn about various couples; an upper class lady who's "slumming" with her hardware store owning husband, a middle class couple with a wife who swoons and dreams of "rubbing elbows" with the elite of the elite, you can't help but think how will these people end? Will they be among the 1200 who perish in that frozen ocean

The bones of this story are well known: The impetuous owner who is more concerned with proving Titanic's superiority than with safety; the experienced captain who is convinced to delay his retirement and who puts aside his concerns in order to please his employers; the architect who perhaps in the back of his mind knows that his creation is not exactly unsinkable

We are shown all signs of these characters with the exception of Ismay, the representative of owners Star Line. He is greed and progress personified, wanting more, need more, demanding more. It dooms all of them

The cast is spectacular. So many amazing voices. And acting prowess to match. When the entire company sings it is big, it is grand, it is powerful, you really feel you are in their grasp, they can take you anywhere that they care to, from joy to fear to tragedy to pathos. The cast is the ocean and you are one of Titanic's lifeboats, subject to their whim and you just hope they will leave you ashore

The casting for Toronto includes Ben Heppener, perhaps Canada's greatest opera baritone. He plays Isadore Strauss, owner of Macy's who is sailing alongside his wife Ida, played by soprano Judith Street. They are a presence throughout the play but they have only one solo. As the ship is sinking and the lifeboats are being held for the women and children (though not really) the old couple decide to stay together. Their song recounts their long life together, not two lives but one. Heppener's voice is as powerful as one would want and Street is right there with them. It is a powerful moment in the story, one of many

And as great as these voices are, they do not overwhelm; there are some truly great performances here. The singing stays in the mind for a long time after you vacate the theatre

Towards the end of the play, after the great ship has perished and the survivors find themselves blinking and confused in the sunlight, a giant card is lowered from the rafters. On it is the name of everyone who perished that night. The survivors turn and look at it and for a moment, there is no music nor any sound at all. Perhaps the most powerful music of all

The play honours the dead. It honours the survivors. It points out the folly of trying to do too much too soon but it understand that that is part of our human condition.

I knew how this play would end. The journey to that moment was as epic and as moving as the great ship's own passage

Friday, June 19, 2015


Today in Toronto a group of activist bikers (cyclists, not the real kind, you know the ones who use engines) staged a protest in front of city hall

The poor little cyclists, who as daily commuters represent less than 7% of "vehicles" in the GTA, they are very upset. Their needs are not being met

They want the right to blow through stop signs and to coast through red lights. They want to be able to ride on the Gardner and the DVP and 400 series highways. No, I am not making this up

And good golly gosh oh dear, it's dangerous out there! As they run lights and ride the wrong way on one way streets and push people off sidewalks, with their cell phones in one hand, golly big nasty useless cars that no one really needs, well they get too darned close!

More bike lanes they scream. Big wide bike lanes with raised barriers that eat up entire traffic lanes and force everyone to squeeze together and results in blocks long snarls of cars, well we need those lanes! The poor widdle cyclist needs this wide lane so he/she has room to have an elbow cocked as they sip their latte

Oh yeh and the city spent more than 80,0000 bucks to push snow out of those bike lanes in the winter when the daily cyclist numbers are cut by more than half

So, they came to City Hall to protest. More money they cry, more money. We have a subway system that, last week, completely shut down on a week down .. I mean, all the trains stopped moving and shuttle buses were NOT put on because there are not enough of them. We have a road infrastructure where pieces of the Gardner fall off on a regular basis. But what we need money for are these cyclists. You know, the ones who rarely obey laws and who helped to push through a city law that anytime an open car door catches a cyclist, it will ALWAYS be the car driver's fault

So, the protest. They staged a "die in" They all lay down with their bikes in the square and were silent for a minute. A reporter called it erie

I called it a dream come true

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