Saturday, December 14, 2013

Secret Celebrity Crush

I have a secret celebrity crush on Anthony Bourdain. The smart-mouth badass chef, author of Kitchen Confidential and globetrotting host of the culinary and cultural shows "Parts Unknown" and "No Reservations." Starting from his own experience as a chef, he uses food as the pretext for cultural exploration. During his travels he is as likely to be meeting with the elite of the cooking world, as he is to be eating street food or meals cooked on smoky woodstoves with the humblest of peasants. Wielding a cooking knife, a wine glass or swigging from a bottle of beer with equal aplomb, while engaging in witty repartee, he celebrates creativity, slams pretentiousness, appreciates subtle detail, and looks at the geopolitical forces that shape the modern world.

I could see myself as part of that life. I would love to go trekking around the world, sampling the food and drink, talking to the people, creating those connections and then writing about them and sharing them with the world. I could do that, even if my own experience has consisted of spending much more time with the peasants and plebes than the powerbrokers.

Anthony Bourdain, however, is completely unaware of my existence. He doesn't know who I am, he doesn't read my blog, and he isn't in the market for a new relationship. He has not been pursuing me or asked me out, even when he was on the dating market. It's not his fault that I have fixated on him.

That, however, does not change the way I feel. Last year I asked the universe for a wish and my wish came true. What I wished for and what I got, taught me that I could still feel things that I hadn't felt in years, even though the object of my affection did not reciprocate the feeling. I felt, and it took my breath away.

Just because I feel something doesn't mean that the feeling will necessarily be returned. I've been on the other side of that equation too, being the object of affection and having to gently but clearly make it known that I don't feel the same way. Life is unfair in that way, but it really is a "suck it up, Buttercup" situation.

I took some wonderful humanities classes in Cegep. In one of them, "The Individual and the System," we were asked to participate in an exercise in vulnerability. Toward the end of the semester, when we knew each other fairly well, we were asked (challenged) to pick the person that we most cared about and then say to that person out loud, I choose you. I had worked with Chris on a group project. We had friendly, flirty relationship. There was no doubt in my mind I would choose him and I felt confident that, out of everyone in the class, he would choose me too. An awkward silence reigned as everyone looked around expectantly to see who would make the first move. Surprisingly it was Stacy who stepped forward. She said to Chris, "I choose you." He said that he chose her too. I was shocked. I was devastated. I had thought that we had a special connection, and apparently I was mistaken. I spoke up and said that I had chosen him too. Then I stepped back and allowed myself to absorb the impact of what I felt and what I had done. If I had kept my mouth shut and said nothing, someone else might have picked me. But I said what I felt, effectively taking myself out of the running for anyone else at that time. I started avoiding Chris after that.

He caught up with me a few weeks later. He said that he figured that both Stacy and I would choose him and he would accept whoever spoke first. Diplomatic, if not very authentic. He and Stacy did not start dating. Chris asked me out. We started seeing each other and he became my first serious boyfriend. My memories of him are all good. But more than this relationship, it was the course that left me with lessons that I have carried forward through life. It taught me to own up to what I feel. That when I do admit to what I feel, I risk being hurt. And that just because I feel something, doesn't mean that it will be reciprocated. The most recently added lesson was not to get so caught up in the indulgence of my own feelings that I can't see any other options; stay open.


If Anthony Bourdain becomes available, he really should consider me as a potential partner. In the meantime I wish him well, and I'll send another wish out to the universe. This time I'll be a little more careful about what I wish for.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Life of Crime

My son asked me, the other day, if I had ever stolen anything…

I had to think about it for a few minutes, because stealing isn't a habit of mine, but I do have to confess to a few shady incidents in my past.

The Tiny Tim Fund
I was 13 and my sister was 9 that December when our step-sister and brother suggested that we go carolling. It sounded like a fun idea. When they said that we could take a container and collect money for the Tiny Tim Fund and then keep the money for ourselves, it sounded like an even better idea to a couple of kids with no income and a not-fully-formed moral compass. We had a great time. It was one of those clear, perfect windless winter nights when the stars are bright. We tromping through the fresh snowy streets of Hudson, going door to door, singing our hearts out, and people were kindly disposed and generous to us with our Tiny Tim Fund margarine container. The next day our father dropped us off at Fairview Shopping Centre. My sister and I were excited that we would get to spend our money. When we called our mother to pick us up, Penny told her about our shopping expedition and how we had earned the money. Our mother was furious. She explained in no uncertain terms that what we had done was dishonest and wrong. She told us to go and put the remaining money in the Salvation Army kettle. My little sister was upset that she had to give up her "hard-earned money." I knew that we had to give up our ill-gotten gains because collecting money under false pretences wasn't cool, but I didn't really understand who was losing out because of our actions.

I have since put things right with the Tiny Tim Fund. The fund, operated by the Montreal Children's Hospital Foundation, provides services to families experiencing difficult financial circumstances in connection with coping with a medical crisis. The foundation still fund-raises.

Change from the Bus Fare
One day during our year of economic crisis, I had taken the bus to the grocery store. That year, 1998, became known in the family as the year of no animal protein, when putting anything at all on the table was a challenge. Bus drivers in Bogota make change for the passengers… if they have change. The driver didn't have change when I paid the 200 peso bus fare with a 2,000 peso bill. When I went to get off, I asked for my change. The driver asked what I had paid, and I told him "dos mil." He, however, understood "diez mil" (10,000). He gave me the change and I hesitated for a moment as I realized the misunderstanding, but I took the money, got off the bus, and went into the grocery store and bought food for my family. I felt guilty about it because Bogota bus drivers don't earn a whole lot of money. They rent their buses from the company, and what they earn in excess of the rental fee is what they get to take home. Basically, I took money from the bus driver. I bought beans, rice, cooking oil, vegetables, and milk. We ate. I felt badly for the bus driver though.

Cafam and the Spanish Sparkling Wine
My first year in Bogota I joined a gym. I loved going to the gym and in particular I loved the dance classes. It gave me the chance to be able to observe and understand how the steps are done and how to coordinate the moves with the syncopated salsa beat. I became a good dancer. I kept at it and I became a great dancer. My little local gym held an aerobics competition and I entered it and won. Buoyed by this success, several months later I entered the city-wide aerobics competition hosted by Cafam.

The day-long competition consisted of learning and performing a series of increasingly complex and physically demanding choreographies. People were eliminated in each round. I made it to the final round. Before the round began, an announcement was made: "We have been informed that there is a professional competitor who is not eligible to compete and who will automatically be disqualified if she does not clarify her situation." We finalists looked at each other, not knowing whom they meant. Nobody stepped forward. The competition continued. I didn't win but it was a tremendously demanding and exhilarating experience.

After the competition was over a few people came up to me and told me that I was the one who had been disqualified. Someone had said that they had seen me in a professional competition in San Andrés. One, I had never been to San Andrés. Two, the only competition I had been in previously was the one at my local gym.

I went to Cafam that week and spoke to the person in charge of fitness and recreation services. He was aware of the incident. He told me that the information was confidential and that he could not tell me who had been disqualified, and that if I had had any doubts that they meant me, then I should have clarified it at the time. I hadn't had any doubts at the time: I had no reason to think they meant me.

A few months later I went to the Cafam store to pick up some sparkling wine for my friend Estela's birthday. Estela has nine brothers and sisters who would be coming to her house for cake and bubbly, so I picked up two bottles. I remember reading the price tag as 1114 pesos. My entire grocery order came to less than 10,000 pesos. At home I looked at the bottles of wine again and saw that the price was 11114 pesos. I felt wave of delight as I realized that Cafam had given me two bottles of Spanish sparkling wine at a tenth of the cost. It was karmic retribution.

I regret the first two incidents. They were learning experiences. I don't feel guilty about the third one.

In general, my philosophy is: Give back (or pay) for what you take; Don't take what is not yours; Give a bit more when you can; and Sometimes people take things for a reason.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Penny and the Pine Pillows

It seemed like a good idea at the time when Penny thought she'd make pillows stuffed with pine needles for Christmas. The idea came as we were clearing out stuff from our mother's basement: She flashed back to a memory of the little scented pillow that sat on the back of our grandmother's couch, adding a slight aroma of forest to the air as you leaned back while watching television.
"Do you remember that?" Penny asked.
"Of course I do. Grammie gave me a little pillow like that. I had it for years and then one day I thought it needed a wash it so I put it in the washing machine. The pillow exploded. It looked like someone had dumped a box of shredded wheat in there," I said. "I scooped and scooped out all that I could and then had to run the rinse cycle several times to get the machine clean."
"Mum didn't find out, did she?"
"No, I don't think so."

In ode to our grandmother's memory and my lost pillow, Penny went out in search of pine needles. Her Boston terriers were a great help, enthusiastically joining the digging as she collected a big bag of needles. Back home she sorted the needles from the pine cones and the branches and contemplated the pile. These need to be broken up, she thought, the pillows never had any pokey bits sticking out.

Crushing the needles by hand was labour intensive. She looked around the kitchen: The food processor! She managed to pack in a good amount. The blade whirled and the needles began to break. Then they turned into a solid resinous mass. The blade stopped moving, the food processor whined, and a pungent electrical smell filled the kitchen. It took a fair bit of effort to scrape most of the resin out of the bowl of the food processor. After the third run through the dishwasher, the bowl was reasonably clean. The blade, however, remained with resin stuck to its the lower side.

The needles were obviously still too damp so she transferred them into a cloth bag that she put in front of the vent to dry. When the furnace came on in the morning, the aroma that filled the room wasn't quite coniferous forest but more feral. Winnie the dog went over to have a sniff and immediately started to lift her leg against the bag. "Bad dog! Stop that!" Penny said.

The heck with this, Penny thought. I'll just buy the materials and make the pillows. She went online and checked what she needed: ground balsam fir and cedar needles, plus essential oils to liven up the scent.
"Why don't you use some of the cedar shavings from the workshop?" her husband Barry suggested.
"And have pillows that smell like a hamster cage?" Penny replied.

She bought pine and cedar essential oils at a local shop. Not having a sewing machine or any material, she went out to the decorating store to get some little pillows that she could restuff with the scented filling. All she could find were giant bolsters and throw pillows for beds or sofas. Stuffed with needles, they would weigh about 100 lbs.

Arriving back home empty handed and discouraged, she opened the essential oils for a quick whiff to revive her spirits. The pine scent smelled like the cleaner for the rest room at a roadside truck stop. The concentrated cedar scent smelled like what you would do in the rest room at a roadside truck stop.

At this point Penny admitted defeat. There would be no pine needle cushions, as least not this year. But I would just like to say to my wonderful sister Penny that even when things don't quite work out, you still have awesome ideas, although I think that the pillows were balsam fir...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Things I Have Learned from Yoga

The picture does look like me, but it is not me. It is Jeannine Saulnier, yoga instructor at Mount Saint Vincent University.

Yoga turned everything I knew about fitness and training on its head. Yoga is about awareness of where you are now, how you feel, what you need, what your strengths and limitations are. In yoga, the idea is always to feel comfortable with yourself. Comfortable but also challenged because growth comes from challenge. In yoga challenge is not confrontational or competitive, it is about personal growth. Yoga is the most non-judgemental activity I have ever tried. Here is my idiosyncratic list of some things that I have learned from yoga (so far).

Setting an Intention for the Practice
One of the teachers always began the class with the following questions: Ask yourself, how do I feel? What do I want? Set an intention for your practice. The intention may be physical, emotional or it might be related to a personal circumstance in your life. Sometimes my intention was simply to breathe healing into the soles of my feet when I was having arch pain. Sometimes it was to have a good stretch. Sometimes it was to focus on finding inner strength.

Learning To Trust my Instincts
Yoga is about doing what feels right. Each stretch, each balancing pose, holding a position that requires strength, has limits. Those limits may very, depending on how we feel that day. Connecting with my physical instincts opened the door to allowing me to connect with my gut feelings about what felt right and what felt wrong in my life. It was the start of learning to trust those feelings and listening to the inner voice I had been ignoring.

Not Having a Voice
Maybe it was because I was not paying enough attention to the inner voice that my outer voice was gone. In one yoga class, the group vocalization of Om was positively booming. I found it disconcerting that I could not even hear my voice. I could feel the vibration in my throat but I made no sound. I had no voice. I had stopped expressing, stopped sharing. I've hardly written at all this year. I needed to find my voice again.

Strength, Balance, Flexibility
In yoga I discovered that I had more strength than I knew and less balance than I thought. That was a revelation. I hadn't realized that I was so strong when in a stable position. My balance however, pretty much sucks. When I don't trust my grounding, I lose my confidence in my ability to hold it together. We learn to compensate for weakness. Instead of falling over in life, I'd twist and bend. My spine is exceptionally flexible and I have a wide range of motion and I was aware of that.

Yoga is infinitely forgiving. It doesn't matter whether or not you can get into all the poses, it is all about how you feel. Are you swaying in the tree pose (standing on one leg with the sole of the foot supported on the other, with your arms over your head)? It doesn't matter that you sway: Trees sway in the wind. Once the inner winds have calmed, you will find stillness.

Second Chances
Did you tip over while trying to hold warrior three? It doesn't matter. You get another chance, and another, and another. That is what the practice is about. Every practice is another chance.

Giving Up Competitiveness
Yoga is about how you feel and what you need to explore. What someone else can do doesn't matter. When I was just starting, I had to watch other people all the time because I didn't know what the instructions meant and I was comparing myself to others, but once I began to learn the cues then I could focus more on what I was doing.

Feeling Strong and Grounded
I feel infinitely strong and stable in poses like warrior one, warrior two. I love the feeling as my spine elongates in triangle. The stability and stretch of downward dog. These poses feel natural and they give me strength and confidence. I love the flow of movement and breathing in the sun salutation.

Savasana: Corpse pose
The position for final relaxation is corpse pose. Lying on your back, legs apart, feet falling gently out to the sides, arms relaxed by the sides. It is a final moment to refocus on the breath and to let go of any residual tension that might remain. Corpse pose is the death, the letting go. After the stillness, slight movement is reintroduced back into the body, moving fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, then stretching out. Rolling over onto one's side in fetal position, we pause for another moment before sitting up and taking a new breath. Death into rebirth, the process that repeats over and over, every day of our lives as we put things to rest and then start again.

It's all about the breathing
Yoga starts with breathing. Focusing on the breath moving in and out of the body. Not changing the breath or judging it, just observing it. Once we have acknowledged it, then we can work with it, deepening the breath, being aware of where we send the breath in the body (three-part breathing), playing with it as in alternate nostril breathing which is surprisingly calming, or layering sound into a pose with ujjayi, ocean sounding breath, another way of calming and focusing. Breathing with intention and consciously sending oxygen and energy increases concentration and awareness.

Things I learned from different teachers

Nancy did a lot of balance work. Her class challenged me in a way that made me step out of my comfort zone, but it made me grow and showed me an area where I was much weaker than I had realized.

Kathleen helped me the most in terms of making adjustments to achieve correct alignment in the poses. She also teaches yoga with children and has a beautiful, playful, childlike spirit.

Suzanne radiated positive energy. There was one guy who came to her class who was always stressed out and complaining. I am sure that he came mainly to absorb some of her positive energy and tranquility. She had no trouble dealing him. Sharing her peace was her gift.

Debra was the most spiritual in her practice. Her teachings about stillness and listening resonated with me and I keep referring back to them.

The namaste greeting/farewell is lovely.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Stratford Festival 2013: Four Plays in Three Days

Othello | On the Stage | Stratford Festival

Othello, 8:00 p.m. Thu 22 Aug 2013, Avon Theatre
An Intimate Journey Into Despair

This production of Othello was simple and intimate. Shakespeare's story of ambition, love, and jealousy comes to life in the capable hands of director Chris Abraham with Dion Johnstone as Othello, Bethany Jillard as Desdemona, and Graham Abbey as Iago who puts the action into motion by planting the seeds of jealousy in Othello's brain and arranging the fall of anyone who might stand in the way of his ambition. This production was not about raging jealousy but about intimate despair so profound that it has crowded out any possibility of seeing the truth.

The staging is lovely in its utter simplicity. A rotating raked stage serves to make the transitions from one scene and setting to the next, along with images projected as shadows and windows that open in the wall. The translucent curtains that surround Desdemona's bed partly obstruct the view as Othello kills her, which both serves to buffer the graphic violence and reminds the audience that Othello is not seeing the whole picture. A shifting tilted platform, revolving feelings, shadows of doubt, and unexpected windows, and obstructions that allow one to see and yet not see clearly, echo the thematic elements within this play. Well done.

Tommy | On the Stage

Tommy, 2:00 p.m. Fri 23 Aug 2013, Avon Theatre
See Me, Feel Me

I have to say it: Peter Townshend's lyrics suck. Tommy isn't much of a story and the lyrics are pretty much bereft of poetry, poignancy, wit, or social commentary. So what is left? Great staging. Director Des McAnuff (loved his Twelfth Night in 2011) and set designer John Arnone make brilliant use of projected scenery to replace what would once have been painted backdrops. It wasn't gimmicky, it was excellent use of imagery and symbolism to give a feel for the spirit of times in which the story unfolds. I particularly liked the use of the black and white camera images that are projected as Tommy is being interviewed on television. As to the plot line and universal message: Don't commit murder in front of your children; don't leave them with funny uncles; and don't bestow messianic adoration on random prodigies.
I saw it but didn't feel it.

Fiddler on the Roof | On the Stage

Fiddler on the Roof, 2:00 p.m. Sat 24 Aug 2013, Festival Theatre

This story of how tradition, modern values, political forces, culture, religion, familial love and loyalty clash and resolve remains as relevant and as universal now as it ever was. The music is engaging, the lyrics are both playful and poignant. Fiddler on the Roof is a masterpiece of musical theatre and this rollicking production has plenty of life and exuberance.

On the downside, all of the performers in the mature adult roles appear to be too young. The fake beards aren't convincing enough. Scott Wentworth as Tevye is very good but lacks a certain gravitas. Kate Hennig as Golde doesn't bring quite enough weight to the role. Maybe she was saving her strength in this matinée performance, because she was excellent in the evening as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (see below). Hat's off to dancers Matt Alfano, Matthew Armet, Galen Johnson, and Julius Sermonia, who also appeared in Tommy. The versatile dance crew handled the different styles brilliantly.

For all the joking and playfulness, the message is serious at heart. As the characters leave the town of Anatevka at the end of the play, there is a sense of hope that their optimism and fortitude will allow them to start their lives anew. There is also a sense of foreboding, borne out by history, that they will never return to their home town and their way of life is over. The story of Fiddler on the Roof is as classic as it is modern and this production had plenty of heart.

Romeo and Juliet | On the Stage

Romeo and Juliet, 8:00 p.m. Sat 24 Aug 2013, Festival Theatre

Director Tim Carroll and set designer Douglas Paraschuk have recreated a vision of how the Elizabethan theatre looked for this period production (reproduction) of Romeo and Juliet. The wooden stage with its balconies looks just like the model of The Globe Theatre that I remember seeing in high school. The musicians who provided the accompaniment to the performance were playing in the balcony as the audience began to take their seats. The performance began with an added prologue, written in verse à la Shakespeare, explaining that the house lights would be kept on to recreate the afternoon light in which the show would have been performed at an outdoor theatre in Shakespeare's time. Costuming was period-perfect.

Nowadays the main obstacle in performing Shakespeare is how to make it accessible to the modern audience. This production was no exception. It is language-dense. There is a lot of talking to explain who everyone is and to set the stage for the conflict to come. When all of the characters are dressed in similar style clothing and colour palate, it doesn't help. Characters such as Mercutio and the Nurse engage in a lot wordplay and the characters to whom they are speaking laugh and respond with glee, but my modern ears missed the jokes. It took a good 15 minutes to warm up to the production in that sense.

Once I had my ears suitably pointed back in time, I began to really enjoy the performances. Sara Topham as Juliet was beautifully smitten and not too sappy. Daniel Briere as Romeo conveyed the intensity of single-minded teenage pursuit. Kudos to Kate Hennig as Nurse, the single strongest character portrayal on the stage. I was delighted to see Antoine Yared in the cast, having been a fan of his work with Montreal's Repercussion Theatre. He plays Juliet's parent-sanctioned suitor Paris. It isn't much of a role, and he discharged it fairly woodenly, which was disappointing in consideration of the dynamic actor that I know him to be.
Romeo and Juliet remains a beautiful piece of theatre but it is a challenge for the modern audience.


A Midsummer Night's Dream, Repercussion Theatre, Thu 25 July 2013, Pine Beach Park, Dorval

For comparison's sake, A Midsummer Night's Dream, this year's Shakespeare-in-the-Park production by Montreal's Repercussion Theatre had all the elements of living, relevant theatre. What Repercussion Theatre lacks in budget and slickness it makes up for in energy and commitment to the roles. The outdoor setting, to which people bring picnics, lawn chairs, dogs and children, provides a sense of community. Repercussion Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream is a wild romp in the woods that lends itself to outdoor theatre in a way that Othello's private emotional turmoil and introspection might not. And try as Stratford may to recreate the experience of Elizabethan theatre with its production of Romeo and Juliet, it is hard to overcome the distance that is created by the awareness of the formal theatre setting.

Repercussion Theatre stays true to the purpose of bringing the theatre to the people and performing Shakespeare in a way that makes it as relevant now as it was when it was written. This group continues to impress me.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Karmic Encounter and The Book of Mormon

The Toronto run for The Book of Mormon at the Princess of Wales theatre sold out shortly after tickets went on sale. You can still buy tickets if you are willing to pay exorbitant prices to resellers (read scalpers).

The Lottery
The rest of us who aren't willing/able to shell out a couple of hundred bucks for tickets would be out of luck were it not for the Ticket Lottery. At 5:30 every afternoon, eager theatre-goers have half an hour to register for the 6:00 daily draw to win the right to buy a pair of tickets at the cost of $25 each. The conditions are: 1. One entry per person per day; 2. Before putting the ballot in the box, you have to register your name and ID at the desk. 3. The entrant and the other person who will attend the performance must be present at the draw. 4. The tickets must be paid in cash only. Lori suggested that we arrive at the theatre at 5:30 and enter the draw. She was particularly enthusiastic because I tend to win things. It is true. For reasons unknown, the universe tends to give me presents. I win random contests more often than would be expected, statistically speaking.

Chronically Late
I arrived at the theatre at 5:40 and registered for the draw. Lori was supposed to meet me there. Those of us who know and love Lori, are aware that she chronically tends to run a bit late for everything. This was aggravated by the fact that she was coming from her office in Etobicoke located in the far reaches of northwest Toronto, just before you hit Edmonton. As the 6:00 deadline loomed, I started looking around for someone else who appeared to be waiting for their equally tardy theatre partner to arrive.

A Brief Marriage of Convenience
John approached me. He wanted to get tickets to take his girlfriend, whose name coincidentally is Leslie, for her birthday. She wasn't with him, seeing as this was meant to be a surprise. We agreed that if his name were drawn, I would go to the box office with him as the partner and he would keep the two tickets. If my name were drawn, he would go with me and I would keep the two tickets. I forewarned John that I only had $47 in my wallet and I'd need to borrow money from him if I my name came up.

The Universe Smiles
I did win the drawing. John, not especially pleased because he realized that by accompanying me he would then forfeit his own chance to win, went into the box office to claim the tickets with me, and loaned me the necessary $3. Because these tickets are supposed to be non-transferable, they put amusement park-style wristbands on each of us which we would have to show, along with the tickets upon entry to the performance.

Lori on the Scene
Lori arrived just as we went outside again. I was all excited and jumpy and Lori couldn't quite figure out what was going on and why some slightly miffed guy wanted $3 from her. We went into Tim Horton's where we got coffee and borrowed a pair of scissors at the cash and carefully cut off John's wristband underneath where the closing tab overlapped. Lori paid John the $3 I owed, and we explained what had just transpired. John, who goes by the name John Karma, offered to buy the tickets from us but we weren't interested in selling. He was disappointed but very nice about. It turns out that he wanted the tickets not to take a current girlfriend, but a former one. A brief discussion about karma, kindness and caring ensued. It is good to continue to have a caring relationship with someone who is no longer your partner, but there is a point when you have to take steps to care for the health of your own heart when feelings are not reciprocated.

The Book of Mormon

The play has been a smash hit. So does it live up to the hype?

The Book of Mormon, by Matt Stone and Trey Parker the creators of South Park, in conjunction with Robert Lopez, is fabulously funny once you get over the initial "holy crap" shock at the blatant irreverence.

In brief synopsis, the plot tells the story of Elder Price, a young Mormon with a very high opinion of himself, who is paired up with the much less couth Elder Cunningham to be dispatched to spread the word of the Book of Mormon in Uganda, which is nothing like the place Price hoped to be posted: Orlando.

Price becomes discouraged as Cunningham struggles for a way to make the teachings of the Book of Mormon relevant to the Ugandan villagers, who are more worried about AIDS and the local warlord who wants to impose female circumcision than about the promises of some foreign religion. In order to get the story of the Book of Mormon across and sex it up a bit, Cunningham turns to the imagery familiar to all lone bookish nerds: Star Wars, Star Trek, the Lord of the Rings, and a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean thrown in for good measure. Exuberantly he incorporates the images of the sci-fi and fantasy world into his retelling of the Book of Mormon, and creates a story to which the people can relate, notwithstanding that it bears precious little resemblance to the original scripture.

Alien people, in a foreign land, preaching a book that is equally far-out, this show had all the potential to slip into snide mocking and derision. But what could have been a brutal slam on an eccentric religion gets a humanizing treatment. The self-centered Price gets his comeuppance. Cunningham finds strength and creativity when he realizes that, beyond evangelizing, his job is to help the people deal with their problems. The Ugandan characters themselves take the missionaries' efforts in stride by illustrating the absurdity of the silly religious stories and nonetheless coming to the conclusion that religion can provide a different way of thinking about and addressing one's problems, so as long as it is taken metaphorically and not literally.

If this sounds sappy, it isn't. The entire show is an unflinching romp with bouncy music and sharp, sassy, snappy lyrics, with the songs in the second act noticeably stronger than those in the first act.

Interestingly, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has three full-page ads in the theatre program. I guess its feels that after seeing the show people might be inspired to want to know more about the church and possibly become followers. I had a look at the link and found that:

While the Bible details events in the eastern hemisphere, Book of Mormon events largely take place in the Americas.

The Book of Mormon recounts that Jesus visited the Americas after He was resurrected. He taught people and established a church there. In the Bible it says, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established (see 2 Corinthians 13:1).” Just as the Bible and the Book of Mormon are two witnesses of Christ, these two civilizations together witness that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of all mankind.

When Jesus was in America? Wow, that is pretty breathtaking stuff. All theatre is an exercise in suspended disbelief. Religion pretty much makes a similar demand, with the exception that religion expects you to keep believing after you have left the theatre. Just remember that it is a metaphor.

Location, Location, Location
While I was grateful to be able to see the show at all, our tickets, up in the nosebleed section, were not worth more than the $25 that they cost. One of the joys of theatre, particularly in a rambunctious show like this, is that the situations are larger than life, and they are played out in a way that is meant to be in your face. The experience is meant to be enveloping. Being seated far above and to the side of the stage shifts the perspective and it is very distancing. You don't experience theatre the same way when viewed from above rather than seen straight on. The staging was simple, bright, bold, and completely engaging. I wish that I could have seen this show in the way that it was meant to be seen.

There was also some sound distortion in the upper reaches of the theatre. The show is strongly language dependent, with a huge amount of clever wordplay. A lot of the lines got lost, and I feel truly disappointed that I couldn't hear everything that was said/sung. Take it as a testament to the show's appeal that I want to get my hands on a copy of the soundtrack to be able to listen to it from end to end because it was a masterpiece of ingenuity.

Lori's criterion: "Good theatre makes you laugh and makes you cry." This one will have you laughing but it doesn't really tug at your heartstrings. It is a devilishly clever romp and that is good enough for me.

The Book of Mormon, see it if you can.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Missed Connections

A few weeks ago I was introduced to the charming work of illustrator Sophie Blackall who was inspired by the stories suggested in the Missed Connections section of Craigslist.

If you haven't heard about Missed Connections, it is where people post a note in an effort to try to connect with someone, either because they were too shy or tongue-tied to speak to the person directly, or else their meeting was a random encounter and they don't know how to find the person again. In any case, there is something tremendously romantic about the notion that a chance encounter could possibly, irrevocably change the course of your life.

It got me thinking about my missed connection moments. Here are some of them:

Caught in the Brioche
Bakery Section, Carrefour Calle 80 Bogotá
The fresh brioche was still warm. I lifted one up, shut my eyes and breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of butter and crystallized fruit. As I opened my eyes, a tall very French-looking man, gray around the temples, wearing a flour-dusted apron, came out of the back of the store. He stopped suddenly and stared at me as I stood there with my nose in the pastry. I blushed deeply, hurriedly put the brioche into my shopping cart and wheeled away, feeling his eyes on the back of my neck. I was too embarrassed and unprepared to say anything… but I wish that I had.

Skateboard on a Bike
Maxi Pointe-Claire
While picking up groceries at Maxi in Pointe-Claire I saw the skateboards. William wanted a skateboard for his birthday. I looked at the contents of my cart and did a quick calculation: I should be able to pack everything on my bike, the heavy things like milk, fruit and vegetables in the front basket, and the bulkier items like cereal, bread, pasta on the back carrier rack. Plus a skateboard. I paid for my purchases, wheeled out the grocery cart, and unlocked the bike in preparation for loading. Tetrising the bags onto the bike as it leaned against the bike rack, it was a precarious arrangement. As I was affixing the packages on the back with a bungie cord, the front wheel twisted and the bike toppled over. A gentleman, who had apparently been observing this magnificent feat of urban transport engineering, came over and helped me pick up the bike. Nothing was injured except my dignity. I could see that he was hesitating, not know whether to offer to help transport my cargo or what. But he had no idea how far I was going, and my bike probably wouldn't fit into his car, and I wouldn't get into a car with a strange man in a parking lot anyhow. Still, it was a moment. I thanked him. I got on my bike and road off over the St. John's Road overpass.

National University of Colombia, Bogotá
The Saturday morning that I went to pick up my son from his art class at the National University, I spoke to the teacher about what sort of techniques the kids would be exploring. He was about 15 years younger than me, very nice looking, enthusiastic about the class and kids. As he spoke I found myself staring into his eyes. I felt his words brushing my eyelids, whispering down the sides of my face, pooling in the hollow at the base of my neck where the collarbones meet, spilling out and over, and running down between my breasts, coming to rest by the knot that had formed in my stomach. His last name was Tehran. I don't remember his first name. I can't remember a thing he said. During the subsequent weeks my ex-husband picked up William after art class. It would have been awkward for both of us to turn up.

Lost in Translation
West Island YMCA, Pointe-Claire
I had noticed that the enthusiastic, bald man hadn't been coming to step class. He is noticeable. Hardly any men do the step class and he is always very vocal. When the instructor asks if we are feeling good, he is the one who always answers with a rousing "Yeah!" So on the day I saw him, I said hi and that I had noticed that he hadn't been at the gym lately. He told me that he had been away on business in Tokyo, and that this was part of an ongoing project for business development and technology transfer, and that he had made quite few trips there, etc. He was quite chatty. "Lost in translation" was my first thought but I didn't manage to get the words out of my mouth. I should have said it, and then segued into the fact that translation is my field and that eventually technology will replace me, and that I have never been to Asia but have travelled all over South America and lived there for many years, but I couldn't find any words. I felt like an idiot and he must have thought that I was a pleasant-enough-but-slightly-dimwitted-jock. I do have words. Really, I do.

What is nice about the memories, these moments, is that they are the first paragraphs about lives that could have been. Who knows what might have come of these encounters? Maybe nothing. We never got to be point of discovering inconvenient details like the fact that the object of attention might be married, or not interested, or unavailable for a multitude of reasons. Maybe the story might have flourished, in which case it wouldn't be "a moment"; it would more properly be called "my life."

Any Moment/Moments in the Woods by Stephen Sondheim.

"Oh. if life were made of moments,
Even now and then a bad one!
But if life were only moments,
Then you'd never know you had one."