Monday, February 26, 2007

Random February

Found this via A Somewhat Old, But Capacious Handbag (excellent name for a blog, by the way). Someone is building a replica of The HMS Beagle - the ship took Darwin on his journey to discover natural selection and changed the world. There is a website with lots of information, including ship plans and a blog about the progress. What a brilliant idea! Now, if I could only get on the crew...

Earlier this month, there were a couple of days where I saw a commercial for a new product called Motts Fruitsations – basically, wee cups of applesauce blended with other types of fruit. Great idea, I like Motts, it's all good. Except the tagline at the end of the commercial said "with the surprising real fruit taste". Or something like that - I'm a little iffy on the details, intended to check the motto, but now can't find it - it appears to no longer exist. Probably for the exact same reason that I'm blogging about it. Call me picky but is it not reasonable to expect real fruit in a product called Fruitsations? This was a lot funnier in the beginning of the month way I might have been able to refer to a link and we could all fall about laughing together...

One of the benefits of being single is that you can read while you eat dinner - which also has the benefit of making it easier to ignore the cat sitting next to you, cranking up the woeful eyes, trying to persuade you that really, it's animal abuse not to share. You know you’ve watched too much CSI when your choice of dinner reading material is Temperance Brennan dissecting a badly decomposed body - that woman does get a little detailed at times - and it doesn't affect your appetite at all.

The Forward of the Month Award goes to John, who sent me this example of a mistranslation (the statuette – a really quite handsome depiction of an arrow in a tasteful neon chartreuse - is in the mail, John):

I laughed my arse off.

Also very funny of the “laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe” variety is this video of talking dogs and this one of the reason behind a mysteriously increasing water bill.

Something happen to me this month, something that makes everyone I know look stunned and then they whimper. Sometimes, there are tears. Thanks to the efforts of my friend Sue (mother of Amanda the Wonderchild), she and I have tickets to the Police Reunion Tour in Juy. Yippie!

What about the Oscars? Did you watch? What did you think?

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Movie Miscellany

The Oscars are on Sunday and of course, I'll be watching. Every year, I tend to wonder why - the Golden Globes are so much more fun - but for a person who is mad about the movies, it's a command performance. Since the ANI (Accursed Neck Injury) has apparently meant a permanent departure from watching movies in the theatres, I haven't seen all of the nominees for best picture the way I used to, but in honour of this evening of glamour, recognition, painful tributes and endless speeches, today's post will be about recent rentals, starting with a smattering of nominated movies.

Little Miss Sunshine. Dysfunctional family on a road trip. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Nonetheless, it's a charmer. Greg Kinnear is turning out to be a great character actor in a leading man's body, Toni Collette is always wonderful (for a very Australian movie, watch her in Japanese Story), Steve Carell is becoming one of my favourite actors (I expected The 40-Year-Old Virgin to be abysmal dreck, but it's sweet and very, very funny and he's wonderful in Anchorman). And the kid's awesome.

The Devil Wears Prada. Without Meryl Streep, it would have been utterly forgettable. But because of Meryl Streep, it was fantastic. I am in awe of her. Still think Helen Mirren will win Best Actress, though.

The Departed. I'm going to confess something: I know Martin Scorsese is supposedly a genius, but for a long time, his movies have left me less than enthused. However, after watching The Departed, I'm on the bandwagon. This was an absolutely brilliant film, with absolutely brilliant performances.

Cache. A movie exploring how you live with guilt, this is very French, very ambiguous, very much about sparking dialogue and thinking. And I loved it. Instead of spoonfeeding the audience with the appropriate reaction, this one leaves it to you to make up your mind. Watch the interview with the director on the special features - incredibly thought-provoking, felt like a philosophy class. I love movies that assume you have a basic level of intelligence.

The Illusionist. A lovely story, beautifully told, the sepia-toned palette adding to the period feel. It was interesting to watch two actors of incredible calibre choosing different ways of being Austrian. Edward Norton speaks his lines in English with a hint of a German accent, whereas Paul Giamatti speaks English with the cadence of German. I want to see this one again - I kept getting pulled out of the story by trying to figure out what was happening. My fault, not the movie's.

Snakes On A Plane. A lot of fun. Not so bad it's good the way Anaconda was, but nonetheless, a good ride.

In Her Shoes. I've been looking at this one for a while, thinking it sounded rather fluffy, but given my above-mentioned love of Toni Collette, I knew I'd get it once it moved to the cheaper racks. And it's an unexpected treasure. It has a lot to say about the relationship between sisters, between friends and about finding out who you are. I should’ve known Toni wouldn't work in crap.

The Wicker Man. I adore the original – it’s one of those movies that people have either never heard of or they love its campy thrills. Given that, this one was on shaky ground before I start watching it, but I tried to approach it with an open mind. It's fairly agonizing - the script sucks, there are inconsistencies, the acting's really not great (Nicholas Cage, Oscar winner - this, Ghostrider, what happened to your career, dude?). I also loved Neil LaBute unflinching look at sexual politics and men at their worst in In the Company of Men. However, now that I’ve seen his version of a classic, I wonder if maybe he just really doesn’t like women. Stay far, far away.

Bon Cop, Bad Cop. One of the most enjoyable movie experiences I’ve had in a long time, Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a gritty (and very funny) Canadian thriller about two cops – one from Ontario, one from Montreal – who are forced to partner up to catch a killer. Quintessentially Canadian (even down to the killer’s motive), it’s hugely enjoyable when you know of the rivalries and issues between English and French Canada, but even without the “inside” knowledge, it’s excellent. It’s exciting, a nailbiter and incredibly funny. I hope they make a sequel.

(will you look at all that linking? Hey - it's for the Oscars. What better reason to namedrop?)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Dear Enbrel

Dear Enbrel,

The first time I met you, two years ago, you changed my life and in so doing, gave me a second chance. You took away the pain and inflammation in my joints and the damp sogginess that had been part of me since I was four years old. And, just as astonishing, you took away the nausea that had also been part of me for over 30 years. It was like magic. Every day, I got a little stronger, discovering what healthy feels like and everyday, I fell more in love with life, feeling drunk with the intensity of it all, happier than I can ever remember being. You were everything I'd hoped you would be.

That's not to say that there weren't some problems - nothing is 100% perfect, is it? It turned out that just as you intensified all the colours in the world, all the beauty, you also intensified everything else. There were drastic changes in the way I ate as my body no longer put up with any kind of crap and for a long time, I ate no sugar at all. That was OK - sugar is no good for you anyway. As my immune system fought against being suppressed, my histamine levels went through the roof and I became allergic to almost everything, eventually most vegetables and fruits. Not terrific, but as the rest of my diet was alarmingly healthy for the first time ever, I accepted it. I also accepted the increase in asthma symptoms and my skin becoming oversensitive. developing rashes where the seams in my clothes rubbed against the skin, but it seemed a small price to pay for feeling so good.

T
he weight melted of me and at first, I thought it was because I was moving more, but then realized that half of the calories I ate went to you. It took me long time to change the way I ate - after all, I was used to eating less than it would take to make me full to avoid intense nausea, but eventually, I figured it out and ate more then I ever had before. I called it "eating like a real person" and despite the significant impact on my budget, it was OK – eating again was wonderful. At first, I thought you were making my fibromyalgia worse, but eventually found out that one of your side effects were "neurological symptoms", such as muscle tension. It felt like almost every muscle in my body was in constant spasm( hint: the bladder is also a muscle. You can learn to ignore feeling like you have to pee all the time). The pain in my muscles and tendons was a little harder to learn to live with, but I discovered muscle relaxants and medication for nerve pain and that kept me going for a while longer.

B
ut the thing is, dear Enbrel, I have lately realized that over time, you have restricted my life almost as much as the arthritis did two years ago. I feel better generally and I do more in my home, but my territory has become increasingly narrow, limited to my immediate neighbourhood because it hurts too much to drive further. My ability to do anything for longer than half an hour is gone, because I need to constantly switch what I'm doing to keep the muscle spasms at bay. And then we get back to those pesky nerves. Not only do they register pain at a very loud level, but not too long ago, they seemed to get confused about things, e.g., having difficulty switching over from registering cold to warm, so that despite my legs being warm, they still felt like ice. That was kind of scary. And they weren't the only thing that was getting wonky - I was no longer feeling healthy, my body taking the fight against your suppression to another level and I feel strange all the time, not right. Long story short, Enbrel, the bad is outweighing the good.

I am sorry to say this, because we have had a good time, you and I, but I have decided to move on. I found someone new, someone much like you - both of you suppress the TNF (tumor necrosis factor), but whereas you are made from mouse cells, I am told that Humira is made from cloned human cells and I hope that this difference will be enough for what's been happening to simmer down, so that I can feel healthy again.

I've done my best to honour that second chance you gave me to become the person I'd always wanted to be and that is why I am going, even though the thought of leaving you scares me spitless. It is because the pain and weirdness going on in my body is distracting me from living, requiring too much time and attention, leaving the rest of my time and energy depleted. It is time for the good to outweigh the bad again.

I will always be grateful for what you gave me and I wish you the best. Thank you for giving me back my life.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Thoughts on Love

So, it's here. Valentine's Day. Second only to New Year's Eve in terms of its ability to convince single people that they're losers. On New Year's Eve, not only don't you have someone to kiss at midnight, but you're also encouraged to take stock of your life and find it wanting, whereas on Valentine's Day, at least it's just your love life that's in the toilet, not your entire existence. Don't get me wrong - a day for lovers is a wonderful idea, but when it's subverted and sucked into the maw of the moneymaking machine, it just furthers depression. Valentine's Day is everywhere - and has been since just after Christmas - and there are hearts and cupids and red and pink things everywhere and every single commercial on television seems to be about jewelry or happy couples or desperate, grasping attempts to make a product, any product fit into the holiday and every year it seems to just get bigger and bigger and bigger. And when you're single, there are times where it feels as if the entire world is suffused with love, except your little corner of it. Unlike the commercials, your fairy tale is the dark one, the one with peeling paint, cobwebby corners and sometimes, you feel like a medieval leper, walking down the street ringing your bell, chanting "unclean… unclean… unclean..."

As you might be able to tell, the bloody day makes me bitter - not because I'm single, but because of the relentless messages of worthlessness that get throttled at me because I am single, generally (remember Bridget Jones's Singletons?) and especially in the middle of February. In the past, my friends and I have engaged in various little revolutionary movements to take back the day or include us in the festivities in some way. There was a year where Michele and I baked a cake with white frosting and decorated it with dozens of cinnamon hearts. We were young and inexperienced in terms of baking (well, in terms of pretty much everything) and by the time we served it, it had fallen apart, thus fuelling the creation of the Anti-Valentine's Day holiday: nobody we knew liked the day - if single, you felt like a loser, if in a couple, it never lived up to your expectations (even when said expectations being pretty modest - most men just don't seem to get it). And so, celebrating the Anti-Valentine's Day gave us a place to put all that upset and depression, but in a funny way, so you could at least share a laugh with good friends about it. Another time, a group of single friends and I went out to dinner and came prepared with roses for each other and a list of Three Great Things About Being Single.

Being in love is wonderful. Being part of a couple that works is terrific. But being single is also really rather great. I've tried the fling, the unrequited love, I've done the dance around an attraction that never gets off the dance floor, I have settled and I have had a grand passion. All of them taught me things when I was there and more when I wasn't. And the most important thing that I have learned is that I can make myself happy, that being single is just another state of being, no better and no worse than being partnered.

And so, over the years, I have chosen to expand this day to cover love in general and in so doing, realized that I have an embarrassment of riches in my life. I love a great many people (and animals) and there’re quite a few people who love me just as much. What more do you need?

Happy Valentine's Day. May there be much love in your life today.

P.S. But just because I still like making fun of the Valentine's Day machine, here's a link to Bad Valentines Gift Ideas - you know, for the other side of the coin. My particular favourites – not as a potential recipient mind you, but in terms of how they make me laugh - are the Owl Puke, Benjamin Franklin's Fart Proudly, Why Size Matters and I'm Sick of You by Iggy and the Stooges. Lovely.

Monday, February 12, 2007

HazMat Flashback

A few weeks ago, I'd just come out of the grocery store when I noticed a strange smell in the air. At this particular geographical point in the neighbourhood, if it smells of anything other than vaguely downtown-ish, it's usually freshly baked/slightly burned bread from one of the bakeries in the market. This was not that smell. This smelled more like... well, it's sort of hard to explain, but the best description I can come up with is that it smelled as if God had farted. Vaguely puzzled, I didn't pay much attention and continued on my way home. As I headed towards the corner where turn onto my street, I heard a fire truck behind me and turned to look. I don't normally do that - when you live close to Toronto's busiest fire station, howling sirens is not an unusual sound. But turning around, I saw the unusual sight of the fire department’s Hazmat truck flying past me. I have never before seen a Hazmat truck in person and lets just say it piqued my interest. After I'd been back home for a little while, I noticed a smell coming from the hallway vent and investigated. It was a very strange. Like burning tar. Long story short, it turns out that a shingle factory to the east of where I live was on fire and there had been some concern that it might contain toxic materials, hence the Hazmat truck. No harm done, except property damage and an afternoon of stinky air.

The funny thing was that during the couple of hours it took to find out what was going on, I wasn't as alarmed as you'd think I'd be (nearby shingle factory fire + wind from the east + Hazmat truck = concern, one should think). And it was because it reminded me of my bike.

When I was about four years old, we move from an apartment to a tiny rowhouse. There were four streets like this and on both sides of every street was a long line of rectangular houses, one connected to the other and you could walk from one end to the other on the flat roofs. Every year, usually in the summer (I think), workers would come to tar the roofs. Or maybe they used asphalt. The neighbouhood would be suffused with the smell and I remember riding my bike along the street breathing the smell of tar. I liked that street and that little house with its tiny, stamp sized backyard and an apple tree that had the best apples. And I loved my bike.

I'd had a bike before, a little girl bike. The only thing I really remember about it is learning to ride it without training wheels, the first time with my dad running behind me with a hand placed lightly, but securely on the back of the bike so I wouldn't fall. I remember feeling sure that only two wheels couldn't possibly stay upright, but one day, I was riding down the street with my mom running behind me. I remember exactly where I was - a few houses down the street when I realized that mor was standing still in front of our house and I had done it alone.

But the bike I always think of when I think of My Bike was my second one. It was beautiful. A metallic dark champagne colour that changed to black at the end of each steel tube. It looked a bit like the brown horses that have black socks and since I was pretty horse mad at that age, it wasn't long before the line between bike and horse blurred. I lived on that bike like a feral child on the vast grasslands, riding it everywhere, sharing my life, my joys, my sorrows with it. One of the places I went to was a riding school. Every day after school, I would ride that bike through the streets of the suburb where we lived, through the park and down the steep hill that we used for tobogganing in the winter. I remember that if you didn't apply your brakes on the hill - which was a delicious thisclose to out-of-control feeling - it would give enough speed to carry you through the straight part of the path and with a bit of extra pedalling, once you turned right where the park changed into forest and the path changed from paving to hard-packed earth, you had a choice: you could continue on the path or you could veer off to the trough carved by endless children's bikes. Riding fast through that would actually make the wheels slip off the ground and you’d fly. I did that every day and it was like a secret entrance to a magical world of warm stables, of diving into the blissful smell of horses, of the sounds - the quiet whickers, the clop of hooves, the brushing of flanks. Losing yourself in sound of a horse chewing a carrot treat, your hands full of the softest nose and warmed by its breath. Then I would ride home again, eat my afternoon snack and do my homework. And after dinner, I would ride my bike with the other children in our street and I taught myself to do so with each end of a rope tied to the handlebars like reins. And so, my bike transformed and became my horse.

I miss that bike.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Snow Queen

Last week, there was a heartfelt plea from Rachel H. in the comments, asking me to use my apparently by now widely (well, at least in the comments of my blog) recognized powers to please, please make the snowing stop. And she's not the only one who's had enough (I always thought Canadians were a hardier sort - after all, it's only been about three weeks).

The problem is this: despite a developing case of SAD making its appearance within days of winter kicking in, I am still enjoying it. I know. It's perverted. But there's something about the bracing northerly wind sweeping down the length of a long south-north street, seemingly straight from the Arctic, blasting through your body right into your bones, making your hands have that cold-bleached reddened look that causes them to buzz and hum as they warm up once you get inside. And when it snows, really snows? I'm as excited as a five-year-old with a new sled, exclaiming "it's snowing! It's snowing! Will you just look at that!" and humming one of my favourite old Danish songs that goes something like this "sneflokke kommer vrimlene, henover diger trimlene…”, which has something to do with flocks of snow tumbling in a crowd over the dikes. Unfortunately, so far, "really snows" hasn't lasted very long, qualifying only as some sort of snow shower, as opposed to a good wallop of a snowstorm.

And then there's this. Normally, I avoid going to the market on Saturdays because it looks like this:

but I did this past weekend, moving fast in a windchill of -17 and I dropped by St. Urbain Bagels for a hit of really excellent poppy seed bagels (and maybe one with cinnamon and raisin) and they’d just come out of the oven. I put the brown paper bag inside my jacket and heading home in the freezing cold with the smell of freshly baked bagels wafting in my nostrils, my body feeling the warmth seeping through the bag… well, it was heaven.

I would, however, like the record to show that I've never requested anything below say, -15 or so. This past week with almost double that has been a bit ridiculous. Especially if one has for instance, spontaneously popped to the grocery store without bundling up and are now barrelling down the street trying to get home before various appendages turn to frozen meat and suddenly, one hears a loud clunk coming from the direction of one's left rear wheel and suddenly one's wheelchair starts spinning in circles. And oddly, the world around seemed to slow down while the chair continues to spin like one of them G-force thingies, while the second between discovering that whipping your hand of the joystick isn't stopping the chair and realizing that you have to turn it of somehow allows for an eternity of worst-case scenarios scrambling through your brain, including the one where you are stuck on the sidewalk in minus plenty with no mittens, no scarf and a cell phone that's needed replacing for some time while part of your brain is deeply confused, yelling "but it isn't even Mercury retrograde yet!". Luckily, once I turned on the chair again, both motors worked and equally luckily, Dave, the brilliant repair dude was right in the neighbourhood.

Nervewracking adventures notwithstanding, I have a feeling the universe won't listen to me if I clearly don't mean my request to make winter stop. So, Rachel? Give me another couple weeks, maybe until the end of February. By then, I should’ve had enough.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Nobody Does It Better

The lovely Lynn of the comments has for some time now been naggi... erm, strongly encouraging me to watch the new BBC version of Jane Eyre. I'll be honest: I'm not a huge fan of the Bront√ęs. Ever since the first time I saw a film version of Jane Eyre, I thought that she was a hopeless milquetoast, the prototype for a doormat and while we are on the characters in that story, Rochester? At best he's a little mad, at worst he's an unmitigated jerk. Sure, I'm as fond of dark and brooding men as the next girl, but heroes such as Rochester and Heathcliff push it into dark and tortured territory to the point of being more than a little unhinged. Remember the adage: never lie down with someone was more problems than you. Even when I was young, before I learned that fact the hard way, I looked at Rochester and every instinct told me to run screaming for the hills. Yet Jane keeps coming back. These days, I would send her to a shrink. Give me Jane Austen, thank you very much. Her heroines have some spunk. (and yes, I'm ducking to avoid being pelted with rotten tomatoes by Bronte lovers)

(As an aside, the best thing about Wuthering Heights is what Dave Allen did with it. He's the man who taught me that smart-funny is infinitely more attractive than pretty much anything else - I've had a big, honking crush on him since my early teens, when we would watch his show every Saturday and I was beyond upset when he died in 2005. The show was a mix of stand-up – well, sit-down, really – and skits and one of the recurring ones was variations on Heathcliff and Kathy forever running across the moors screaming each other's name. Quicktime example here. More of his work here, including his famous sign-off line: “goodnight, thank you, may your god go with you”. How can you not love a man like that?)

However, getting back to the main track, when I saw that my local PBS station was showing that latest BBC version of Jane Eyre, I had to watch it because I'm pretty sure that if I didn't, Lynn would stop sending me beautiful pictures of Ireland. And am I ever glad I did.

By the end of the first 30 minutes or so, I was sort of enjoying myself - BBC could make paint drying seen interesting - but still very much stuck in my previous perception of the characters. Jane (Ruth Wilson) was plain, self-effacing and boring (plus, I kept getting completed distracted by Wilson’s long upper lip) and Rochester (Toby Stephens) is arrogant, cranky and rude. After about an hour, that started to change. Rochester starts to slowly become more attractive and charming and as you increasingly understand how he was trapped once, long ago and has remained trapped for a decade and a half, you begin to see how Jane represents everything he thought he'd never have. By the end of the first of the two-hour episodes, I'd fallen for him, just as Jane did and found myself wanting to help him (clearly, I also need therapy). And speaking of Jane. There is this moment where she sits down to do is self-portrait and looks at herself in the mirror, truly seeing herself for the very first time and in that moment, we also see her for the first time and realize that she is exquisitely beautiful. The actress brilliantly portrays her steady sanity that so attracts Rochester with a stillness that's magnetic.

This interpretation has been adjusted a bit for modern sensibilities. Jane has more spunk than the original material perhaps indicates, some of the language appears somewhat modernized and there is an understated steaminess that completely sneaks up on you. Purists may have issues with that, but any production of any play, opera, ballet, book will be interpreted differently - that's what makes it art. And somehow, the whole thing seeps into you, making you discover these two people, just as they are discovering each other. Brilliant.

I should have known. After all, the BBC is not only generally wonderful, but also created the ultimate Pride and Prejudice - the six-hour miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Yep. Nobody does it better.