Saturday, December 25, 2004

A brief cooking lesson

To be fair, none of the potential irritation discussed in this piece actually ocurred this year, save for the Rosti itself. Rosti, or a big potato pancake, or shredded potato that isn't fried enough to be a latke, is sort of Swiss. It's sort of any nordic country with a lot of potatoes and butter hanging around. You shred potatoes and mix them with whatever's handy, pressing them into a flat cake, cover the pan and cook at a temperature that's warm enough to make the outside crispy, not black. And not too low, which would make the outside golden but the potato itsef crunchy or mushy.

Here, following, is my lesson to potential Rosti makers just before lunch on Christmas day when somebody says "Michael, why don't you make a Rosti before your mother gets home?"

Rule 1- Take out the cheese. Somebody might say "Don't use too much cheese." Following their exit from the kitchen, use as much as you want. To be exacting, 3/4 cup is just fine, the sharper the better. Any substence described as soft process cheese food is NOT acceptable. But soft goats' cheese is.

Rule 2- Black pepper. Somebody might say "Don't use too much." Use what you think is a reasonable amount, them return to the pepper mill for further grinding, aronud 45 seconds worth. A bland, buttery potato cake fried in butter or oil without pepper is a bland experience indeed.

Rule 3- Salt. A goodly amount. Somebody might try to convince you to use some trademarked substitute such as Mrs. Dash. Send them away. Use salt. See the above bland comment.

Rule 4- Two onions. One would do, yes. But use two.

Rule 5- Some tobasco, if it's available. A few sprinkles. If somebody says "Does it really need that?", answer "Really, who is to say?" while sprinkling.

Rule 6- Rosemary, dried or fresh. And basil, likewise. Summer savory, in a pinch. Go wild. Around a 1/4 cup of your choice. And fresh parsley is a luxury, maybe a 1/4 bunch.

Rule 7- Oh yeah, the potatoes. 4 or 5 good sized, grated, the water squeezed out. And an egg, preferably two, to bind it all.

Rule 8- A straight sided frypan, big enough that the Rosti is not more than an inch or so thick at time of frying. On medium heat, use unsalted butter (best), or olive oil (perfectly acceptable). Use margerine only for true dietary restricitons or if there is a blizzard.

Rule 9- Drop in the potato/egg/cheese/spice mixture, press it down on to the bubbling oil or butter. Cover. Keep covered for 10 minutes. It should smell tasty, not burned. If smelling burned, flip it immediately.

and finally Rule 10- FLipping. Get a plate as big as the frypan, or a bit smaller. Hold it on the pan, flip it over in a manouver that you're sure is going to cause a disaster, and you will find yourself with a plate that has a 1/2 cooked rosti on it. Slide the uncooked side onto the nice hot pan for another 10 minutes. Then flip it onto a plate.

Serve it and feel Swiss. Or German. Or Swedish. Or Danish. Or Scandanavian. Or Estonian. Or Finnish. Or simply, indulged. Maybe some primal German sense memory- I made a Rosti once simply because I was horrified that a local restaurant made one (and a really GOOD one, truth told) for $4.99, which should buy enough Rosti ingredients for a week. I tried it and it's worked every time. And it's damn tasty.

So Merry Christmas. Ok?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A new twist on an old favorite, and let's underline the word TWIST...

Can't make this up. From Sunday, Dec 19th ABC News:

"...in Iceland, where there are 13 Santas. Instead of bringing gifts, they take turns sneaking into town and creeping out the locals. 'One of them is a window peeper. He just peeks through windows. One of them comes in and licks your spoons,' said Iceland native, Hoffy Steingrimdottir.

The 13 Santas live in the mountains with their troll-like mother and her giant cat, which eats all the children who don't receive new clothes for Christmas. They party for 13 nights, and then things really get interesting. 'That's when people come out of their graves,' said Steingrimdottir. 'Seals take on human form. And cows develop human speech.'

The moral of the story? It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe. The other moral of the story? They've got some good hooch in Iceland."

Sort of like George A. Romero's 'It's a Wonderful Life'. I have a sudden craving to visit Iceland. The season is closing not with a bang but a sigh. No whimpering. With no conclusions made other than it's not so bad on most levels- no screaming family members. Nobody ill- mostly. Nothing sudden, which is enough. Better job, more steady paycheque which is welcome and necessary and, hopefully, not taken for granted. As granted? Something like that.

The rest is a 'well, so...' situation. The season is what it is.



Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Man and Superman...

...is a very wordy but (if you're in the mood for it), very witty play by George Bernard Shaw. He sort of makes fun of organized religion, politics, and Nitzche all at the same time. But this entry has nothing to do with that particular kind of Superman, I just wanted to pitch the play. It's very good.

Example


I'm thinking about the standard up-up-and-away Superman today. I saw very few movies with my father, maybe unusual since I became a film buff, but he didn't really like the bother of heading to a theatre (or there was nothing he wanted to see). One exception was Superman: The Movie, opening...when? 1978? It was playing in a theatre that no longer exists, in a spot only blocks away from where I now live. He took my sister and I, a few days after my birthday long ago.

Thus and ergo Superman is always a distant Christmas memory only by virtue of it opening a few weeks before and the general tinsel. Not the character, only Christopher Reeve in the movie. Around a decade ago, the Crash Test Dummy 'Superman's Song' about his death (unrelated to 'Superman's Dead' by...wait...I forget their name...anyhow) was overplayed and overanalyzed to, well death. I mentioned to my wife once that I never needed to hear it again, but it plucked some mostly dormant heartstring. She rolled her eyes (and not improperly, just for the record). "Every boy says that about that song," she said.

Example

Notice the term 'boy' rather than 'man', and here again, she's not being improper. Superman as a character will always evoke some kind of manufactured (but no less legitimate) nostalgia because every man has at one point in their life worn a (hopefully red) towel around their neck as a cape and run around their back yard pretending to fly. I have the DVD of the first movie somewhere and can't quite bring myself to watch it, I'm either too old or simply afraid of sliding back to being too young by watching it. The second film in the series is actually better directed and better written but it's not as much fun- the first film's director took it deadly seriously and it comes across onscreen as reverent, and every former-towel-wearing man will acknowledge it.

It was re-released a few years ago, I couldn't make the screening but a few friends attended, standing up and cheering at the first laser-printed appearance of the great red and yellow 'S' during the opening credits. I would have done the same. I did, in 1978 with my father and sister.

Example

The theatre is gone. The Howard Johnsons restaurant next door is also toast, both of which I wish I could wander past. You can't go home again. You can barely even go to the movies again. But for the sense memory- since the season breeds so much of it, why can't I pick and choose a few myself? A month's pay for a plate of french fries, a snowy evening and a table with my sister and father after I saw Superman fly, for real, shortly after my 10th birthday.

Friday, December 10, 2004

A ma ricordi

...which is "I remember" in Italian. Sort of. 'A ma ricordi' is part of the Italian dialect in the area where Federico Fellini grew up. He remembers it being prouncced 'Amacord', which is the name of a film he made about his childhood.

A ma ricordi or Amacord both represent "I remember", through a gentle wave of pronunciation. Maybe preference. Even in the term, we choose (or are compelled) to remember through a gauze of ourselves. And thus is Christmas, 2004.

I work for a large company to remain nameless, in downtown Toronto. And I work in a complex which I visited frequently as a child, for the view. A long view of Toronto from a high tower. Perhaps not frequently. But resonantly. I would not have remebered the visits here were I not working here, and suddenly see my childhood surrogate wandering some since-changed hallways. I probably looked at the adults and though 'I could work here, someday', and forgot about it for decades before ending up here. A quirk of fate.

It's Christmas and clammy. Wet and cold and gunmetal grey, which to its credit at least makes the bright decorations stand out. The colours work for their status, and are actually appreciated against the grey sky. It's a retro year- pressed glass ornaments in the shape of cars and sleds and more or less anything, a style popular in the 1930's because they were new and cheap. 75 odd years later, it's new again.

I like my job. I am better off on numerous levels for it, especially given the last few years which I have, until recently, been too busy living through. And did. And would not want to repeat. But if I am on the other side it is uncharitable to look upon them as somehow less than where I am now, but still...I was too busy living them. I can see them now on a grey morning in Toronto and the minutae of those hours/days plays against the season. I know what led to today. I know I would rather deal with it clinically, but the shapes of swirling, slippery, of their own accord and land where and when they wish.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Christmas Omen (as in Gregory Peck)

Sense memory doesn't have to be traumatic. Can be delightful in the right circumstances. Candles don't have to smell like Christmas, but they always do in churches to me. This is the primal brain- innumerable midnight candlelight services in a baptist church, so all candles in churches must be Christmas.

I'm not saying rational brain, I'm saying primal brain.

The candlelight service is a lovely idea for a Christmas night service. Of course they heat the room up, and it's amazingly easy to set somebody's hair on fire. Downright amusing too, in the right circumstances, although a little hard on the person's head. And hair. I can't say I condone such behaviour.

Cheap wax candles, the small ones, which have been kept in a freezer in a church basement (freezing parrafin is supposed to make it dripless- whether this comes to pass or not is a matter for some conjecture) will always make me thing of Christmas, despite the fact that cheap wax candles are sort of, well everywhere. Maybe the scent needs a few other elements. Hairspray. A too-warm room from all the open flames and the smell of cold air from a cracked-open door in an effort to get a draft moving. And perfume. Somebody's perfume.

Example

This brings up 'The Omen' Christmas special. A brief history- The Omen is a not very good mid 70's movie about a nice millionaire who accidentally adopts the anti-christ. Hey, these things happen. It's pretty intense for those who freak out at religious imagery (and they are legion). The tot is taken by his trusting father (who's had to replace the nanny, who's hanged herself crying his son's name) to church where the kid freaks out, froths at the mouth and generally acts up to the extent that the local clergy get a bit concerned. Yes, church is pretty dry for the under (and frequently over) 10-year-old set, but c'mon...

Anyhow...the Omen...famous for the being-strewn-from-the-church scene. Keep it in the back of your mind. Go rent the DVD if you must. It does have Gregory Peck, and he's always fun to watch.

My father liked company for the candlelight service and my mother was usually too beat from a few Anglican Christmas related services of her own to get one more dose of the carols/blessing/gentle commercialism admonishment. I would willingly go with my father for two reasons- it would make me feel less guilty for not going to church consistently during the year and it was also kind of a nice service. Quiet. Dark. Would have been even nicer without all the singing.

One year (I think I was 20 or so) I lit my cheap wax candle at the appointed time and waited either for the holy spirit to move me or for the service to be over so I could meet some friends for a late coffee to complain about how weird our families get at Christmas. Whichever came first. Some bright light had included artistically matching tiny buckets of sand alongside the pews in the event of disaster.

Sure enough, something came into me. I still don't know what- perfume. The cheap candles. An aftershave, or a hairspray, or something...but my eyes began to water. I wear contact lenses, this is not an unusual occurrence. My nose running was an expected side effect. It was my shortness of breath and shakes that bothered me.

After around two minutes of this, I realized that I was either having a fairly epic allergic reaction to something, or I had become spawn of Satan and Christ and all his Saint buddies were throwing me out of a Baptist church. C'mon. Bill Clinton remains a member in good standing, so I really don't think some kind of spiritual excommunication was taking place.

Example

I finally tapped my father on the shoulder and said "I'm sick" and shuffled past him, disappearing into the church basement where I found a large group of choir members getting ready for their big entrance. I knew one of them from early high school - I hadn't Sarah, a perfectly nice person, for what felt like a long time - and wanted to strangle her after 5 minutes simply because she was being nice rather than listening to me.

"Michael, are you okay?"

(overcome with coughing, sneezing, eyes watering) "Hi Sawah. Sowwy, I'm sick fwom..."

"I understand, Michael. It's a very emotional season for everyone..."

"Sawah, I'm not cwying. I'm sick, I'm awlergic."

"Is your dad here? Are you fighting?"

"Sawah! I'm awlergic to the candwles or somebody's perwfume!"

"I love my dad, but sometimes we disagree and..."

"Sawah, I'm not fighting with..."

"Do you need a hug?"

"Uh..sure. And do you have a kweenex?"

Why did everyone assume we were fighting? I never fought with my father.

The symptoms faded after 10 minutes or so minutes, but I sat out the service and only wandered back in at the end (dodging a group of 6 year olds who were sure that their timeless rendition of 'Away in a Manger' would be their 15 minutes of fame), and promptly got hit with another wave of whatever it was.

My father, always one to stay for coffee and brownies, skipped the usual festivities and led me to the car and, weirdly enough, my sense memory hit me in another fashion. Hard soled shoes on an icy parking lot and the weird orange glow that the skin in a city gets on a snowy night remind me of Christmas, of Baptist Sunday School services in winter in particular. I had marched over that parking lot in that context from the age of six onwards. The slippery pavement, the cold, the sky, the waft of (potentially poisonous) candles flooded together. It was a crystallizing moment, that year.

Folded memories

So let's stem the flow of nostalgia and chat about one of those Christmases that veer into secondary- the events around it become the memory and the holiday itself melts into little more than a series of dates. And it never happens when you want it to- if Christmas is bookend to a year, sometimes that bookend slips and that year pours from the shelf onto the floor.

Or something. The short story is this- I was sharing a house with 2 other people and still dating a woman from University, although things had not been going particularily well. Case in point: We were going to go to a party together. A winter solstice affair, something for a group of quasi-practicing pagans (quasi as in 'when it makes for a party') had thrown. She was late meeting me at my house and told me to go alone, she might make it later. So I went to the party alone to meet her there. In fact, I waited 2 hours or so before she arrived, watching her apologizing profusely to the hosts that she was late.

I think I said something that was meant to be faceitious, like "You notice she doesn't apologize to me for being late." And she looked at me and said, perhaps also trying to be facetious, "But it's you! You're not people! It's you!"

This was probably supposed to be funny, however it seemed to sum her attitude towards me at the time. To be fair, she apologized to ME at that point in fairly great detail. But she had said something a few months before, something about how she wanted to love me and need me but not to 'date' me, not to be tied to the rigors of 'dating' such as always going to parties together and always being on time. Or being late and apologizing.

My birthday is a week and a half before Christmas, and due to her schedule she wasn't going to make it to a birthday dinner with me and my family. That was ok. Then she could make it, but only at short notice, and during a blizzard. So I had to pick her up, take her to the restaurant, in a blizzard. Which made us both late, reducing the time she could spend with me that evening. She also had a birthday card for me, kept safely at her office (she had keys), which she didn't want to pick up despite my offer of a drive. After the late dinner.

This is all admittedly petty. And one sided. I can't report it in any other way, it's what came across at the time. Her side is probably just as petty as mine by this point (if thought of at all). What it does is illustrate my state of mind for that Christmas, and my response to her.

The last straw was that she had arranged to work on New Year's Eve. I had planned to spend the evening alone with her, or at a party, but had it announced that she was taking part in a function and if I wanted to, I could watch her there, maybe spend a few minutes at midnight, before she had to go home. Alone.

On the day after Christmas, I would ususally travel north to visit family, and she was invited to come. She vascillated a few times but, again, to be fair, decided to come along for the trip. By this point I was of two minds- I appreciated the fact she was taking the time to see me. For that matter, I realized that everything could change at a moment's notice and that my so-called girlfriend was more than willing to make plans for New Year's Eve without me. Part of the not 'dating' ritual, I suspected.

She came north with my family and I, but by that time I was barely speaking to her. The year before, she had come willingly and at a moment's notice, actually looking happy to be here. The next year, I still saw something back there- let's call it concern- but if there was romance I was either too furious to recognize it or was too numbed by everything around it to notice. We spent a pinched few hours together- we wandered upstairs in my uncle's house to watch the snow and it was only a meterological effect. The year previous it had been poetry.

The resulting memory is not a scar upon the season, just a footnote. I can't remember the rest of the day in any detail, but I can still shiver from time to time at the frozen feeling of being trapped in a gift-wrapped holiday, more than willing to claw my way out of it or to set fire to the next card that was handed to me.

I wanted to find something quiet in the holiday, either with my girlfriend for some kind of reconciliation, or simply to sound the depths of why things had stopped working. I received instead a few bars of "Jingle Bell Rock" which is ridiculous now and was insult to injury at the time.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Earth and mercy mild

Example

I run across stickers such internet banners, stickers, (ususally on the back of Christmas cards) and occasionally lapel buttons that read the above, which always make me roll my eyes and whip out a similarily pithy rhyming message about Satan.

Very few words rhyme with Satan however, and I can't think of anything more self defeating than the Satanic bible and movement, and not only on Theological terms, but on common sense. Most Satanists claim that they're not 'evil' in the Judeo-Christian sense, since they eschew the ethic entirely.

Therefore, the whole good/evil can't be held against them since they don't recognize the context and besides, they don't actually do all that stuff that they're supposed to do based on movies of the week. Of course the whole black-mass thing is a direct perversion of Catholic mass, but that is part of the non-acknowledgement, somehow...

Where was I? Ah. Reason for the Season. Hate to be a Grinch (actually, I REALLY hate to be a Grinch...let's say Scrooge)and all but the label/banner/button/pin always pisses me off. Ususally faster than somebody telling me to pray...somebody saying that they will pray for me, I've always found quite touching- being told to pray however is rather like somebody saying 'Appreciate this sunset!' or 'Enjoy yourself! Immediately!- its one of those things that can't be told- suggested, at best.

It could also just be a kneejerk reaction to the button (the wearer is stating the obvious and calling it clever), or maybe just in the rhyme. "Reason for the Season" is inches away from "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit" or the jingle of your choice. In any case, I've been seing the buttons worn by an apparently wide range of the Christian sort this Christmas, which is probably good for the cause of ecumanicalism but irritating to see.

I'm trying to drag myself past this- at least make a nod to some Spiritus, ok? Drop the rhyming lapel pins and mutter some Latin with a grin:

O Jesu dulcis!
O Jesu pie!
O Jesu Fili Mariae. Amen!
The party line, mine included. The details and the corners are a little more dusty, however. I peered out a window recently and saw this-

Example

A matchstick blind obscuring a rainy day and a few Christmas lights strung against the grey. It summed up my feelings towards the season, this time around at least. Not what I will settle on, or have associated from the past but the here, the now.

I must wear it on my face- the above photo was taken at a shutter speed in 10ths of a second. The thought process of "The bright colour is sort of pretty, the sky is sort of depressing, wow, Christmas lights against the grim, sums up my state of mind, maybe I should take a picture at least the lights are pretty, mess around with it in PhotoShop" and click and move on to the day. But my wife this evening said
"What are you looking at?"

"Nothing. The lights. It just looks interesting."

"Is it taking you back somewhere?"

"No. It's lights. It looks interesting. Sort of. I took a picture, let me..."

"You look unhappy."
It's enough to make one self-concious, looking unhappy out a window in the time it takes a shutter to drop in a digital camera. It doesn't take me anywhere- not really- that's reserved for weirder stuff. Sense memories. Most of them fleeting, but not attractive, not happy.

Or particularily logical. I drove my wife and sister up to visit my mother a few weeks ago- my mother had been working all day, my sister and wife were hungry, so I drove to a drive through window to grab some food. This is a rare occurance- I rarely drive, and rarely anywhere with a drive through window. And a burger is a burger, without subtext.

But I had visited that particular window in the last days of my father- I had forgotten how many. Shouldn't matter. A burger is a burger. It was between the pay-our-hands window and the here-the-sodium window that it felt unchanged from the frantic gotta-eat-or-fall-down runs in his last days and my skin crawled. All at once. I dug my nails into the steering wheel and tried to be invisible because it's ridiculous- one should not suffer over dinner (venue notwithstanding). My wife noticed, as always, at once relieving me and making me become more invisible. Who wants to admit, to bring it all back up? And (even weeks ago) feeling so close to Christmas?

All that said...not all associations are whiplashed into longing or whistfulness. Again, no logic to it. I drove along Queen St. tonight, west of Ossington, seeing old store-fronts, some with bright Christmas lights glowing admanatly against the grey sky, sidewalk, walls. A hardware store with a plastic wreath of holly glowing a strange blue under a cold white flourescent, with a trim of tiny red lights beneath. It could be 1942. Or 1992. Or now.

Very now, I saw it and thought 'This is how it starts- somethng it happening again' with every one of those words meant well. Just a few lights and they didn't look like an impression of Christmas, but a harbinger, a few glowing moments of something coming, not unwelcome.

"Then why," somebody asks, "are you writing, so late?"
Example

Writing over a flood of seconds that, if spoken, might flow out of my brain rather than simply onto themselves. My apartment with slender twisted wire starshapes suspended by invisible black thread against a mantlepiece. A fat, tophatted snowman with a transluscent belly for a tealight. Bells on red and green ribbon at the doorknob, for the cat or for whoever enters and leaves with a jingle. Debate over a real or fake bough of green to drape over a framed picture and Tom Lerher, spicing all of it quietly liberated via Mp3 as I type:
"Christmas time is here, by golly
Disapproval would be folly
Deck the halls with hunks of holly
Fill the cup and don't say 'when'
Kill the turkeys, ducks and chickens
Mix the punch, drag out the Dickens
Even though the prospect sickens
Brother, here we go again.

On Christmas Day you can't get sore
Your fellow man you must adore
There's time to rob him all the more
The other three hundred and sixty-four..."

Example

And a different flood, first black and white in the silver sheen glamour of the 40's Photographs of drifts and Navy uniforms, my grandfather and grandmother in and around Niagara where people went to country clubs and wore cuffs and studs and double breasted suits. Leap forward to streaky, too-new colour and the other side of the family is the deeper snow of the farming belt north of Ontario and the too-coloured images are primarily deep yellow drifing into gold shortly before bleeding into sepia, those pictures lack the glamour but do have a warmth, the kind that makes you long to be on the electric-lit, radiator drive side of snow-frosted windows driving through a small town.

Example
I'm not thinking about printing photographs before my father's death. It hangs over my shoulder but I'm not thinking about it, per ce. I'm thinking about most other things, for the same reason that my heart lept at snippets of a short story found in the back of a magazine in the laundry room today- a woman writing about trading recipes for roast chicken with her mother, while waiting for the call from the hospital about her father. Discuss the chicken- it beats the alternative. I wrote an absurdly long letter to my father about the merits of a multi-standard DVD player one afternoon shortly after his chemotherapy started and it must have surprised both of us for different reasons- why am I writing this and why is he writing this and it isn't a chat about chemotherapy, that is something.

Example

Something that is not Christmas, and I am trying. I am sliding and I am trying. I am between wanting to stock up on little, deep green and faux pine and shiny, star-derived things to hang or prop or keep on shelves, and wanting to hide. Another Christmas someplace neutral. I've spent one or two in hotels, sort of like floating over and across a holiday rather than finding yourself in it.

But it won't do. The compromise is to stream it all out and find sense memory being enough- the scent of paraffin. The taste of ginger and icing sugar after grabbing a cookie at work - Pfefferneuse- always Christmas. I have a friend who said he weeps at Emmylou Harris singing Angel Band not because he likes the song but the delivery- I am that way, this year, about this season, except for the weeping. I like the trappings, the sentiment, the (hidden behind all previously stated problems) intent.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Happening

I would buy my father CDs of Christmas carols. For both of my parents, really, but primarily for my father since I thought, somehow, he might appreciate them more. Or, perhaps more aptly, he would be less likely to buy such things for himself. My mother might find a recording somewhere and grab it, my sister would do no such thing but might smile faintly if she heard something that appealed.

One such disc was George Winston. A few decades of piano experience have given me a grudging (and underline the word grudging) respect for Winston and for his label Windham Hill. The bad news is that they're frequently dead boring. The good news is that they're consistent.

I have to explain how this is at all positive...imagine a label with vaguely new-age leanings (in the firmly mid-80's sense of the term where a drum or a whistle made you vaguely exotic), and some strange jazz instrumentation (string quartets playing Gershwin, a cello impersonating a saxophone). Windham Hill artists belong to this very mellow, very 'let the instrument do the talking' school of music. Seniors won't like it because they won't play songs, more musical noodlings. Music students consider it absolutely uncool. It's too supposedly high-brow for easy listening stations (who have grown to love Phil Collins) and far too lowbrow for the Classical 97 crowd.

And all that said- the Windham Hill artists have never wavered. If they were dull or muted or real subtle in the beginning, they remain so today. Nothing about them is watered down- every note is deliberate. Thus, George Winston, who noodles away on a piano in a way that verges on cloying or haunting or simply noodling. I can deal with noodles- can push them away with a shrug. And the 'verges' part of cloying means that his tune is over simplistic, but not overproduced- 101 strings would make it trash. There are no strings. It's just what Winston wants to do.

So that all said- he released an album called 'December' 20 years ago, I found it around 7 years ago and gave it to my father. Interesting disclaimer on the CD, a note that says something along the lines of 'This CD is a celebration of holiday music styles and does not represent any religious beliefs on my part', which I also kinda respected, musically. Sort of saying I like the tunes, I recorded them, buy it or not, I'm not suddenly becoming Christian simply to cash in on the season, ok? Buy it or not for the music.

So, as a reluctant Christmas album, he gets my grudging respect. It's a weird one- his Carol of the Bells is downright creepy. There's a slightly over stylized but downright joyous version of Ode to Joy, and one genuine curiosity- a few soft notes that I watched my father listen to for the first time...when? '96? '97? An old Radio Shack CD player connected to an older amp, dusty carpet, my mother and neighbours trimming the tree- it had become their custom, being a nice Jewish family they didn't have much Christmas tree experience and, as known, it only comes but once a year- I was sitting just outside of the chaos when I heard my father quietly singing

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
Soft upon your manger bed.
All the wicked folk on earth
Sleep in feathers at their birth

I had never heard it before. My mother thought it was vaguely Celtic, although most sources peg it as Appalachian. My father mentioned that he had sung it as a child, which pegs it as Methodist/Baptist, which would fit with Appalachia. But the idea of it flooded me - an old carol. Sung on snowy nights somewhere that had all other sound erased by the snow. Leave the city and end up in a small town on a snowy night (and I recommend Mount Forest or Neustadt, middle of the snowbelt, a cozy small pub in each) and the cars a few feet away will turn into nothing as the drifts climb.

Back to Winston. The CD is dusty, my mother won't touch the carols this year, thus far at least. Its just as possible she'll decide to hell with it and crack them all in an afternoon. Carpe Christmas. Or there will be a supply of Oscar Peterson and Diana Krall and Noel Coward (I know the third name doesn't fit- I'm describing her collection, not reciting a best-of list). It won't be the Winston. I own the CD - somewhere - and it sounds like a mix of mid-80's new age and late '97 amusement.

It sounds (or, more precisely) feels like this to me...




....a pressed-tin ceiling of a general store in a small town. The ceiling was taken down long before I was born, but there have been pictures. Stories. Or maybe just an impression of the way I would like to think of it, in the days where a small church would sing Jesus, Jesus, Rest your Head. Sort of, at least.

And for reasons that are complicated to explain, the only impression I have of the face of God is a snowy night illuminated against a black sky. Or so many stars, descending.




Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A crackling of memory

I am wandering Yonge St. looking for cheap used DVDs. I can afford them new, but most times that strikes me as an extravagance and besides, there's more fun to be found stalking favorites in strange places. A dual Criterion package of "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" found in a Rogers 'Previously Used' bin for $6.99. An entire season of The Outer Limits (27hrs worth of viewing) at an Ex-Toggery for 10 dollars. The satisfaction of a collector to hold something in your hand and think "I've gotten it cheap and I found it for free."

I walk past a shop that sells both new and used discs, seeing the 20th anniversary release of the Live Aid concert in entirety. The fact that it was 20 years old was ever so slightly sobering, the sticker that said THIS DVD SAVES LIVES was a good dose of perspective.

(well, mostly- having a high-pressure migraine at the time and being in a contrary mood, I had a fleeting impulse to crack the package, snap the DVD in half and cut my own throat with it, gurgling "Not THIS copy!" before falling into that good night - but it was only a fleeting impulse)
Example
My wife was a few doors away in another shop, a crowded and noisy one. I told her about the DVD and mentioned the THIS DVD SAVES LIVES sticker, and she looked strangely at me (and strangely amused). She smiled and said "This really is your season of great import, isn't it?"

"Not my season," I said. "It's the sticker."

"Ohh..." she said, "A sticker. I thought you were just saying 'This DVD will save lives' in a deep, true meaning of Christmas kind of way."

I was horrified. "But...wha...hey! I was being cynical, young lady! And yes, that DVD saves lives, but let the record state that I don't KNOW any of them, so how's that little missy?"

Great import...indeed. John Lennon sings 'So this is Christmas, and what have you done,' which is something to trip over, and even Do They Know Its Christmas had that line about 'Well tonight thank God it's them, instead of you.' Proof to my continued theory that Christmas can so easily become a soapbox as to what is wrong, or what you would differently, or how much you have and its sickening, or how little you have and you should have gone to the better sales.

Credit to Geldof, even 20 years later. He might have a touch of an ego, or one hell of a sense of humour. In his autobiography he mentioned that he was broke, drunk, had vomited over himself after falling down a flight of stairs and, incidentally, had fallen down a flight of stairs. And for some reason (paraphrasing) he felt touched by the divine. God looked down onto Dublin (maybe Belfast, haven't read it for years) and decided to answer the prayers or those starving in Africa. Now...clergy? Politicans? Business people? A drunk, bruised, covered in vomit fading rock star? What the hell, he'll do. Thanks, Bob.

Not a Christmas on sleeve type of person (said the web-blogger) due to the level of manipulation. Has anyone ever known a tough guy with underlings (a tough boss, teacher, scout leader) who has an underling who whispers "He doesn't want people to know but he really has a soft spot for Christmas..." or some such?

I'm desperate for some level of cynicism to balance out the overblown nature of the rest of the season - insulin to glucose - but it is easier instead to get lost at the occasional throw of something treacley that shoots under the barbed wire that I've strung from corner to corner of my being. I work downtown in what is increasingly a memory-favoured triangle, and not all memories within are favorable.

A stretch of Bay windows (literally- shop windows of The Bay) that held displays I was dragged past in cub scouts and on family visits as a child. St. James church where my mother has, and still does, serve communion Sunday mornings. St. Mike's hospital where my grandmother died at least twice (to be explained later) and St. Mike's Cathedral, which has been a good place to escape to in spiritual terms since my father's illness.

Hard to explain- perhaps size. Perhaps proximity, or lack thereof. My mother is a faithful servant of St. James cathedral and good for her, but I don't want to set foot in it for reasons of my own. Perhaps familiarity- in times of trouble (spiritual, logistic) I prefer to be alone and find a wall to back against and plan a way out. Something knows me too well at St. James. St. Mike's is a Catholic church and is larger - more space to hide - or simply easier to sit and listen to the nothing that occurs in a good church.

Less of a chance to be asked to sing. Or to dinner.

It isn't Christmas, but so much of my religious feelings can be summed up in a Thanksgiving story. I was living alone and avoiding my aunt's house for yet another burnt-turkey dinner for as long as possible. There had been a reprieve - the dinner would be held after Thanksgiving proper - so on the holiday itself I wandered into a Baptist church, hoping I could sit alone, listen to the spheres, find solace w/maker, etc.

Not a chance. Baptists (and I was raised one) are to the most part, very welcoming. 'Love the sinner, hate the sin', that sort of thing. And blessings to all involved, but they won't let you sit alone on Thanksgiving. It's also worse, when the general community is rather well knit.

Dig if you will, a picture- I am sitting alone when a late-middle-aged gentleman approaches me before the service begins.

"Are you new here, son?"
"I just came in for some quiet."
"It's a good time for quiet, for reflection...you're welcome to sit with my wife and I. Do you have family in town?"
"Uh...really...I just wanted to..."
"It's hard when your family is away. Are you fighting?"
"Wha? No. I just wanted..."
"Are you a Baptist?
"I was raised a Baptist at Spring Garden..."
"Spring Garden! I know Pastor Dalzell! WHy don't you..."
"Thanks, no, but..."
"Mary! This young man knows Gordon!"
"Does he want to sit with us?"

By the end of it I wanted everyone ELSE in the room to meet their makers on a non-refundable basis. So this might explain the Catholic tinge. I'm not Catholic so I can drift over the trappings and at least be alone in a quiet room for a few minutes to suspend and try to believe.

Try. Key word try.

And outside of all this and Christmas, one weird bit of Baptist Sunday school education returns from time to time. Not the lessons, or the Arrowroot cookies (which were rather good) or the whole Judeo-Christian thing, but the first exposure to schtick- kind schtick and in the best intentions schtick, but very much schtick. Years of hearing stories begin with a confidential tone or swiping from a rollicking yarn into a morality tale has made me very attuned to schtick, and intimately acquainted with the ability to tell, very quickly, a conversation from a sermon.

Friday, November 26, 2004

What stays.

I can’t address Christmas as a media event or a marketing strategy, despite the fact that undeniably it is both of those things. It’s been a cliché for generations to say that Christmas. It’s easy to paint something with a broad brush, and that it the brush is sopped-up with paint resting in the corner in every room where a treatise on Christmas is considered.

Like any other exercise in virtue, the Christmas holiday is perfect as a manipulative tool. The expression “C’mon, it’s Christmas” is as overused as “But I love you, doesn’t that matter?” or “I thought we were friends, isn’t that something?” So let’s get it out of the way early- yes, all things associated with Christmas can all skewed wrong. Countless memories and associations with the holiday are the result of somebody telling you the way things should be (anyone who has ever endured a pre-Christmas shopping crush or preachy ‘the way it should be…’ speech understands this).

In an effort to avoid this trap, I have no convictions about what Christmas should or should not be. The only venue for my recollections is to put them into a much smaller context, into the box of perceptions and memories that is collected in childhood. The box is filled with fewer and few items later in life- perhaps, like any childhood collection, the true value or lack of value of once-loved trinkets becomes evident with age and experience.

But the items remaining in that box were, at one time, sacrosanct. This is the melancholy and glory of things past. The box remains, as do the items within. The box is never overflowing, and there must be some reason, in emotional or psychological terms why it is filled with anything at all.
Example
I want to start with Dylan Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales because its the most impressive of the cultural touchstones that I associate with the. Bringing up ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ will leave the gentle readers thinking that this is all either camp or elaborate sarcasm, although the association with Snoopy & the gang is no less intense in my Christmas past than Thomas’ ”wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea.”

I don’t defend this or say it makes any sense, it’s just what has happened. This is the shifting, unreliable nature of memory- the exquisite childhood recollections of a genuine master of the English language (and a drunk, if you want to get snippy about it) and a full colour cartoon of arguably the most commercialized comic strip known to man, vying for space in my memories of a holiday designed to honour the birth of Christ. Yes, it’s nuts.

So why not accept it as nuts? The appeal to one over the other is the same impulse that makes you crave a simple plate of pasta and olive oil rather than an elaborate 5 course French meal, or sheepishly covet a cheeseburger when a healthy, nutritious and rather tasty collection of stir-friend vegetables is available for the same price next door.

But I digress…we were getting into the intellectually acceptable Christmas chestnut. If you haven’t read A Child’s Christmas in Wales, don’t. Find a recording of Dylan Thomas reading it (Richard Burton would do in a pinch, as would Anthony Hopkins if such a recording exists) and listen to the booming, Welsh bass before you take on the text itself. It’s one of the few examples of true oratory, the kind of delivery that probably died in days when Victoria reigned, or at least muttered itself to death because nobody could get away with it. Thomas can.

The piece itself is a short series of Christmas related scenes, sometimes narrated to a listening child:

“But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."
"But that was not the same snow," I say. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss, minutely -ivied the walls and settled on the postman, opening the gate, like a dumb, numb thunder-storm of white, torn Christmas cards."

My mother, who has a touch of Welsh in her, would take out the worn and scratchy record usually on Christmas eve. It became a tradition rather late in my childhood and I didn’t care for it at first. My sister (an anglophile) and mother took particular delight in Thomas’ descriptions of his family, which get a bit twee (Auntie Hannah gets into the Elderberry wine, the dog was sick). But as I grew older, it was the lilting Welsh accent and the respect for things past that brought me back to the recording and the prose repeatedly.
"Were there postmen then, too?"
"With sprinkling eyes and wind-cherried noses, on spread, frozen feet they crunched up to the doors and mittened on them manfully. But all that the children could hear was a ringing of bells."
"You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat and the doors rang?"
"I mean that the bells the children could hear were inside them."
"I only hear thunder sometimes, never bells."

So it is part of Christmas, due to its respect and affectionate longing for that sense of those snippets that remain, all parts of Thomas’ own box of half-wrapped memories.
Example
I stole a piece of Thomas for my own father’s eulogy. It suited so well his actions during his final days, those stretched hours where, as his mind and body stilled, he spoke to and answered people who were not in the room. Those voices were real to him, in both his distant past and in his glimpses behind the curtain that divides us from those things gone which we hold dear. I said that my father was aware of the voices, of the sound “out of all sound, except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep.”

From tragedy to cartoons. A necessary leap.
Example
The notorious Charlie Brown Christmas Special has a weird history- Schulz’s Peanuts gang might have been immortalized on T shirts and posters in the 60’s, but cartoons were another matter. His syndicate wasn’t interested in animation- it was expensive, hard to book, and mostly drawn overseas at the time. But Schulz had written the material for his friend Lee Mendelson, a producer who wanted a crack at animating it. Coca-Cola ponied up the dough, and immediately regretted it since they couldn’t sell it to a network. They subsequently ponied up less dough, right in the middle of production, requiring longer hours and less pay. Bill Mendelez animated it, painstakingly drawing a Coca-Cola billboard around the ice rink (since removed from later screenings).

The voice talent was even more complicated- Mendelson and Schulz agreed that they wanted real children to be the voices in the film, so they auditioned kids for their personality and the tone of their voices. Very young kids. Young enough that when the actual recording session began, many of them could not deliver pages of dialogue, let alone paragraphs. Eventually, a frustrated Mendelson took line-by-line readings and spliced them together. This explains the distinct, slightly ‘off’ readings in the film- their intonation isn't quite conversational, and the result might stay in your head because doesn't quite sound the way people speak (to be fair, it also doesn't have the halting quality of bad acting).

By the time it was done, and Schulz had convinced a jazz trio he liked to record the music (Vince Guaraldi did it more or less for free- they were allowed to keep royalties since nobody involved thought it would make a dime), CBS agreed to show it. Then the balked at the lack of laugh track and the religious overtones (even in ‘64- I guess it wasn’t Frosty). Then they relented. Balked. Relented. And finally broadcast it.
Example
This is the part where you’re supposed to read that it’s entered television history, which is where I lose interest. I just know the broad story- Schulz’s work is held in usually high regard among cartoonists because it was genuinely cynical and philosophical in its early years, and did things that were not ‘cartooney’ per ce. He was eulogized by unlikely sources after his death in 2002, including Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), Berke Breathed (Bloom County) and Bill Waterson (Calvin and Hobbes), all of whom have a greater cachet as ‘artists’ than Schulz ever did.

But something about his work (both cartoonists cited his earlier years in particular) obviously had enough kind of resonance to influence a Pulitzer Prize winners. In the realm of Christmas’ past, what matters is what remains- I don’t remember my Sunday school lessons from 1975, but I do remember a scratchy print of ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ and appreciate it even today. Not quite camp. Downright quaint and quietly religious, a simple just-on-this-side-of-the-border-from-preachy lesson about the ‘real’ meaning of Christmas that somehow avoids the clichéd whining that starts up at the start of December.

Not to say that Schulz nailed something that theologians have not, but as simplicity goes, there’s something almost musical in Linus’ line-by-line reading of the passage from the book of Luke- “And it came to pass, in those days…” etc. The rest of it feels like a security blanket where projects just feel like so much window dressing.

I sneak off sheepishly to watch the special because I saw it and liked that scratchy print at the age of 8, and still was young enough to think that the word ‘special’ and ‘television’ together was somehow sincere. The screening was special. The screening represented the wider Christmas and all things that followed.

And all commercialism complaints are duly noted, but so what if it was sponsored by Coca-Cola? Dylan Thomas was sponsored by Guinness in a somewhat unofficial capacity, but the influence is undeniable.

A missing person's case

http://www.cnn.com/2004/US/11/25/spongebob.stolen.ap/index.html

Really, anything you can do to help.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

The well meaning friend asks, "So what do you do?"

I want to ask, 'About what?'

She would just answer, 'About Christmas, Michael. What do you do?'

I don't answer with anything other than a shrug. But I sit quietly a moment and leap backwards to 1983, as unlikely a time as any but it is the first Christmas that keeps its own company rather than being a part of its own preamble. I was 15 in 1983 and received two records from a girl I probably should have had a crush on - she did not onto me - but the general concensus is that it would have been a good fit. She was a film fanatic as well, and had given the soundtrack to two movies we had seen together- Brainstorm (Natalie Wood's last movie), and Sophie's Choice.

Example


Holiday classics, they are not. But there's a lovely soft suite in the Brainstorm score called 'Michael's Gift to Karen', renamed 'Suite for Natalie Wood' after her accidental drowning during principal photography. Rent or buy the movie, you'll find a better-than-average sci-fi flick with an odd elegaic quality about it. Sophie's Choice speaks for itself. I think Brooke and I both liked the recorder solo, and the simplicity of the theme. Marvin Hamlish, butt of endless Gilda Radner jokes and horrible 70's pop can be forgiven several sins for his score.

So one of my first, one of the most distinct memories of Christmas has to be a strange assortment of lights and scents and gentle, lovely music from strange sources. Brooke had given me Brainstorm as a birthday present, and Sophie's Choice as a Christmas gift, both American imports, both rare and something you would have to take great care to find. I arrived home from an evening out in a blue cordouroy school jacket smelling of cigarette smoke (not mine) and 15yr old girl's perfume (also not mine). The house was asleep. My father insisted on keeping the tree lights on all night as a solemn decree- the passing traffic would know it was Christmas in our household.

I dropped the needle onto the record, the speakers barely whispering. The tree filled the room with red and yellow and icy blue light as I breathed in an assortment of air- perfume, smoke, paraffin from the candles my mother burned compulsively all through december, the pine tree, the remnants of my parent's coffee. I could taste traces of somebody's kiss - probably Brooke's - some kind of lip liner that was something close to strawberry. I could pick up each flick of dust on the record (the recording was very quiet and did not survive vinyl well), and all of it suffused into itself.

In 2004 I think of being alone in the living-room with that sound, those scents, and somewhere think that the season was still early. Close enough to childhood to remember initial thrills and the timeless sense that came with Christmas- it was something old, something mutually respected, if groused about behind closed doors- I
felt that it around me, rather that something I rode upon. I felt I was in it. I had a pocket full of birthday money and a black eyed girl's lipgloss on my lips. I was happy and lost and that moment has sealed itself into a frame that drifts behind my eyes on dark nights during the holiday season.

Late November, 2004.

I work in an office where one cannot check web-based email or blog. This isn't unusual, nor particularily unreasonable, so I escape to the cafe downstairs to use a computer and drink a coffee whenever the volume of work gets to be too much.

It is almost December. The stores nearby have an assortment of perfect gifts that are past their best-before date relating to my life. A Coca-Cola replica radio would be perfect for my Uncle 10 years ago. 5 years ago. Maybe even last year. Now he is too tired and largely too ill to appreciate it. It would take too much effort to turn the dials, to learn a new mechanism when he has a transistor radio that does the job just fine and is familiar.

For my father, an assortment of sweaters. A few books. A collection of stories on CD. Nothing that can help him now. And this is exactly what I am trying to strike from my mind this season. I am trying to figure out exactly when the last unencumbered Christmas was, and I have to go back to 2000, new millennium, consistent job and just after a raise.

2001 brought a layoff. In 2002 my grandmother died and my father started Chemotherapy, and it was horribly obvious (if ignored) that it would probably be his last Christmas. 2003 was the first without my father and it would have been unbearable if it were not for the fact that we, as a family, were still being thrown clear from the demolition of his death. We sailed through the holiday, rather than appreciating the trappings. It would hurt too much to associate, to compare.

Example

My sister's dog. No creature looks more mournful than a Pug.

Last year, my mother invited my all of in-laws to her house for Christmas dinner. I arrived, gritting my teeth and asked what I could do to help. She said "Drink champagne and smile," so I did, filled with the momentum that one collects in the wake of a tragedy. Last Christmas was not a treat, it was insult to injury given the events of the year. The wounds were still fresh- what's another scratch while you wait for the bones to knit?

This year is far enough away to be...and I hesitate because I can't find the verb. To be new, and thus sterile at least of all Christmas' past. I can dwell on the loss of my father or I can breathe deeply and recognize all that is around. It is the survivor's instinct, it is what my father would have wanted- to carry on. I have a beautiful wife and a good job and my family, thus far, is healthy or maintaining and therefore anything - everything - else is gravy.

But there is price to this, an occasional wrinkle in the sheet that covers everything so it looks like reason. Something is waiting for me. A slide of my father viewed through a small projector. A tactless comment from a stranger about cancer, meant as black comedy and followed with a profuse apology, and still, cutting, intrusive. I can laugh about it, I can grit my teeth and mutter my dark joke about A Chemotherapy Christmas ("and we all have a lump in our throat") and even notice the hypocricy of trying to laugh at the horrible and being hurt when somebody else does on my time.

Hurt, in the sense of bruised, of reminded, rather than offended. It is Christmas 2004 and I am walking through downtown Toronto trying to either find some semblence of when there was not an hole in this season, or to navigate that hole, to find a way through.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Resonance

Walk into the Home Depot of your choice, and the in-store music has been set at 1974-76 and 1983-87. Nothing inbetween. Like the Guess Who? You will be appeased. If you can't get enough of Billy Joel's 'Uptown Girl' (and really, who can?), it's waiting for you as you cruise the aisles looking for le tool juste.

I've spent a few weekends helping a friend with a clean-air initiative at some of the GTA's finest Home Depots, and the demographic aim is frighteningly true. Let's assume that the 80's hits are for the 30 somethings who are just handling their first home, and the 70's are for the greyer (and more financially viable crowd) whose kids are old enough that they can turn that back bedroom into that study they always wanted. Somebody did the math and figured out that these people will respond best to this music at this time.

Example

None of this is rocket science. Noel Coward quipped about "the potency of cheap music" decades ago in Private Lives. But standing around the Home Depot outlets scared the hell out of me in sort of an espresso shot of nostalgia. It reminded me that pop music is a cheeseburger with fries, best new and not left sitting around to congeal. It also reminded me that, damn, I not only remember when the songs were new, I remember when they were relevant.

Resonant, even. I remember when the Thompson Twins' 'Hold Me Now' was associated deeply with a few girlfriends (capricious youth). I remember where I was the first time I saw 'The Boys of Summer' video. Depeche Mode's 'The Policy of Truth' struck me as a fairly valid life philosophy for years (and yes, one should always tell the truth, but when doing so in an uncomfortable situation, I no longer hear synth and drum tracks). I know a large contingent of people who weep openly at a chorus of Alphaville's 'Forever Young', something I'd like to avoid.

I gave up on most pop due to the fact I have lousy taste in same. This explains the rush of 1984 summer heat when I heard Dan Hartman's 'I Can Dream About You' alongside the Java firelogs. I remember the basement of the departed (and collapsed) Uptown theatre, the frozen, dark interior contrasting the muggy, solid heat of the outside as we filed out into the alley.

Example

'Streets of Fire' is sort of 'Blade Runner' by way of...hard to say...add the name of the 50's good-girl-bad-boy flick of your choice. 'High School Confidential' will do just fine. It's set someplace that's not quite the past and definately not any definable now- imagine if the 50's and early 80's had collided on a Chicago backlot. It's vaguely a musical, more like an excuse to shoot a lot of neon in the rain. And the music...produced by Jim Steinmann of 'Meatloaf' fame, is operatic and generic at the same time.

But at 15 or so, I loved it. Unlike anything else I'd ever seen. It has a small, weirdly loyal cult- I saw it a few years ago at a midnight show during a blizzard (my excuse- my wife was out of town and I was already downtown and couldn't sleep). For a bad mid-80's movie to garner a 500 plus crowd during a blizzard is one thing. And the way everyone rose to join the last chorus of 'Tonight Is What It Means To Be Young' was either sweet or deeply creepy. I voted for the latter and snuck out early.

It might be the rush of nostalgia or just the general weirdness of midnight movie people. I saw Jaws once, and heard a sell out crowd quietly murmuring "Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies..." as Robert Shaw sang to himself onscreen. Good times.

Reject the decking of any halls with these

Christmas Carols To Be Banned/Burned

1. 'Jazzy' versions of any Christmas carol performed by a pop star who has decided to reinvent themselves as either a jazz singer, or a 'master of the classics.' Rod Stewart, I am looking directly at you.

2. In that same vein, any scat-jazz version of any carol. Jaymz Bee, must I say more? And Holly Cole, we don't need another version of 'Santa, Baby'. One was enough.

3. New Country camp is not acceptable. I might not want to listen to Brooks and Dunn do their inimitable version of 'Sleigh Ride', but if stuck in a room with it I could sum it up to a difference in taste. Were those same people to do a version of "All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth" with comic Alabama lisps (excuse me, 'lithpth'), I believe there is a case for prosecution.

4. Any carol that requires regional sound effects. I've recently heard loons dropped into 'Silent Night' with (supposedly) native Canadian chanting in the background. This wasn't nearly as bad as 'A Parisian Christmas' which featured sound effects of a lively open-air Parisian market all muttering into a version of 'Holly Jolly Christmas', badly, between Gitanes.

5. Synthesizers should be used sparingly, if at all.

6. Not-quite-carols should be banned in general, and especially now. Anyone who has ever faced a coffee-house solo guitar (or worse, a duet) of Chris DeBurgh's 'A Spaceman Came Travelling' knows what I mean.

Example

...uh, and before I sound truly high and mighty about all this, there is also a long list of guilty pleasures, including-

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas. What can I say? Makes me feel 8.

2. Julie Andrews/Andre Previn's Christmas Collection (A Firestone Tire premium from the late 60's). Perhaps the nicest Christmas album ever available at Esso and Canadian Tire stores during the 1967 Christmas rush.

3. Nat King Cole singing, well, more or less anything Christmas themed. Not proud, but it does strike me as the music my grandmother was humming along to when I was a babe in arms.

4. Bob Marley's version of 'White Christmas'. Look for it, it's out there. Weirdly sincere.

5. The Phil Spector Christmas Album.

6. Sting, singing 'Gabriel's Message'. This does contravene the ban on not-quite-carols since it's kind of a broad musical tribute to the Angel Gabriel rather than Mary and the kid (if anyone else has a better classificaiton, mail it on over). I like the song because it's weird, otherworldly and slightly creepy. A guy in a Santa beard and Santa red coat and hat while simultaneously wearing Bermuda Shorts and red pumps is also distrubing (and in front of the downtown Bay this morning), but not as evocative on a snowy night.

For the record, I'm not saying that Santa in shorts and pumps was directly affiliated with The Bay, I'm just saying he was there.

Magic Hour

I walked around Yonge/Dundas a few evenings ago, feeling like I was somewhere alien- maybe it was the fall of light at dusk. Cinematographers call it 'magic hour', some movies have actually been shot entirely at magic hour because the sky is still lit but the sun is nowhere in sight. It obviously doesn't last long, so such a procedure costs a great deal of money, but the results are stunning. 'Days of Heaven' and 'Heaven's Gate', both flawed films, look gorgeous.

Example

Watching the flood of neon and oversized TV signs the other evening looked like a better-lit 'Blade Runner' to me, at street level, so I'm going out with a good digital camera to catch something. If I can photograph the sidestreets around an intersection I've been visiting for 30 years, and make it look foreign or new to me in a photograph, I've succeeded.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Rearranging the Story II

Last word on Parrish. Really. From today's Star-

"Parrish said she wanted to resign when she met with Martin on Wednesday night, but in a conversation that ended with a friendly hug he persuaded her to stay. He fired her the next day after published reports in which she was quoted as saying that Martin and his advisers could 'go to hell.''I was ready,' Parrish said yesterday. 'I just needed a shove.'"

Again, she's trying to make it look like she's controlling the situation. Was about to quit, after all. It was PM Martin and that sneaky hug that got her to hang on. So it's not like she was fired, she just needed impetus to do the right thing (which she was going to do anyhow, after all). Impetus such as being...fired?

There hasn't been a good meltdown for a few years. Tom Jakobek started out well, but by the time his family came in to testify that, indeed, his financial dealings were weird, he began to look more and more like a propped-up paper lion than somebody who was willingly trying to bluff his way out of a situtation. More sad than tragic. Stockwell Day had the makings of a great sociopath, but by the time he wept during a press conference (was mortgaging his house to pay for legal fees for a libel suit), it was evident that he really didn't understand the consequences of his action. Unpleasant, but not a true manipulator.

Parrish had a great bunny-defiant-against-the-headlights kind of look to her, the same look that Conrad Black is getting as the forensic auditors sharpen their pencils. A look motivated by a voice in the back of the head that says "Nobody can stop you. Nobody can do a thing."

Friday, November 19, 2004

Rearranging the Story

I might lose my lefty credentials, but I'm glad that Prime Minister Martin canned Carolyn Parrish. She doesn't trust Bush? Sign me up for that club. Highly critical of US Foreign policy? Again, I'll sign. But the "I hate those bastards" comment was a stupid thing to make in the presence of the media, allegedly asking the reporters present not to play the clip was insipid (kind of like sprinkling sugar to get rid of ants at a picnic), and the flip flop between "I'm just plain-talkin'" and "Offend? Me? So sorry..." was so blatently manipulative...

To wit:

"Parrish told Canadian Press on Wednesday that 'I have absolutely no loyalty to this team. None. After what they've put me through and lots of my colleagues, they can go to hell. But he's (Martin's) not going to control me, so all he's going to do is end up looking weak.'"

"She then told CP, 'if he (Martin) loses the next election and he has to resign, I wouldn't shed a tear over it.'"

(both quoted in the Toronto Star)

A pretty clear line in the sand. Want more?

"Vowing to never be silenced by Martin, Parrish said she has no regrets. 'Every time he gets up and reprimands me, be it ever so gentle, it just feeds it and he looks like he can't control me, which he can't,' she said."

1. Proud status as rebel/aggressor
2. Open contempt for the party (why not quit? why wait to be fired?)
3. Impersonation of somebody who's controlling the situation, thus...

"...she did talk to Star columnist Chantal Hébert, saying she was relieved to be gone, though she noted how odd it was to be tossed out less than a day after she and the Prime Minister held a conciliatory meeting — one that ended in a goodwill hug. 'Actually, I was on the verge of quitting when I went in to see him. I thought better of it because he was so pleasant and understanding,' Parrish told Hébert. 'He was cross at the beginning but I was satisfied we left on good terms,' she added."

leading to

4. Proud victim/martyr status. Plus, how could any of this have gotten so far? After all, they hugged.

Cheap manipulative crap. Referred to as such. She is now a hero in some circles and demonized in others. It's politics, shouldn't be surprised, the deck is stacked and it isn't even being shuffled properly.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Manipulators

The problem with dealing with a manipulator is that they're dealing you cards from a stacked deck. It doesn't matter to you whether it's intentional or not - did they wake up that morning and stack it themselves, or was it passed on from generation to generation, already stacked - the point is, the deck is stacked in whatever favour best suits them.

The fun part is when you point out logically, clearly, and dispassionately that the deck is stacked. The manipulator will probably look deeply hurt, shuffle the deck with great ceremony and say "How about now?"

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Credit where Credit is Due

Me- Nice blog. Considering registering to leave snippy comments.

Mr. Groucho- Thanks and please do. I love snippy. Especially from you. No one does snippy like you do.

Me- I should have been a Moyle.

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