Monthly Archives: August 2011

Continuing the library visits

Last year I started a project to visit all 17 branches of Edmonton Public Libraries, having only seen my local branch and the downtown one.  I visited six more, but I only ever got around to writing up four of the visits – and I can’t find the pictures I took on those visits either.

From memory, then:

7.  Lois Hole Library is a large brand-new facility set in a huge parking lot in parkland in the west end in the Callingwood neighbourhood (which, as far as I can tell, is pronounced exactly the same as the Ontario town of Collingwood).   It’s modern and attractive and spacious, with the kind of high-ceilinged plate-glass foyer that feels like a new arena complex.  That part of town is one of the ones that reminds me a lot of Mississauga, meaning that it was probably developed in the 1970s.  On this visit I ended up explaining to a library employee what I was doing, because I was showing her the bizarre phenomenon of having two checked-out books (different titles by the same author) which the bar-codes thought were actually one copy of one book.  She noticed that I was having my holds sent to Strathcona so she offered to fix it, which is why I had to explain.  I went there one Saturday last fall when I had a rented car.

8.  Woodcroft Library is a small branch across the road from the Westmount shopping centre.  I went there by bus, when I had time to spare doing some other errands north of the river.   I don’t remember what I borrowed from that branch; I do remember a nice display of the pro-library campaign signs and buttons that they were inviting people to display during the municipal election.

That brings us to this weekend.  On Saturday I pulled over to the side of the road on my way back from Namao (the base) when it looked like I was probably within a developed enough area to find a library.  I used the EPL application on my iphone to find the closest library  (I just love that concept!) and it directed me to Londonderry.

9.  Londonderry Library is actually in the basement of a shopping mall.  Despite its low ceilings and lack of natural light, they’ve done a good job with white walls and angled low bookshelves to make it look inviting.  The kids’ section and a little bit of browsing space are upstairs at ground/shopping level.   Although there isn’t much study/lounge space, the collection is about double the size of that at my home branch.


So now I’ve been to more than half of the current branches (two new branches and two re-builds are planned, and one re-build is under way) .  Some of the others I’ll need to visit on weekends when I have a car, but there are still a few that are feasible by bus.  And the weekend visiting is easier than it used to be, because now all the branches are open on Sundays except in summertime.

Jack Layton memorial

Yesterday I went to a candlelight memorial thing for Jack Layton, on the steps of the Legislature.

Edmonton note for readers from elsewhere: it seems that pretty much anything important with lots of people happens on the steps of the legislature. They are big sandstone steps. The City Hall doesn’t have nearly as big a gathering place, and it’s filled up with wading-fountain and there isn’t a high spot to speak from. I’ve been to the steps of the Leg for speeches during a charity walk, and on Canada Day, and I’ve been invited to lots more rallies and things and not gone. Oddly, I’ve never actually been inside the legislature. Also, when I first moved here, I thought “The Ledge” was some geographic formation on the hillside of the river valley, not the riverside buildings and parkland of the seat of provincial government. Fortunately I figured it out without betraying my ignorance.

I went with a couple of knitting friends, and I wore my orange sweater. There were lots of people there – the paper said thousands. The formal part had several important local NDP people, including a well-loved former provincial party leader and a U of A student. There was a really good social-justice choir, but we didn’t sing O Canada. I thought it was almost perfect – not too long, mostly inclusive, funny bits and celebration and lots of repetition of the Jack Layton quotes and common sayings (I’d forgotten how much the roll-up-our-sleeves was iconic). Our MP Linda Duncan was obviously very sad and close to choking up, but she managed that well enough not to make people uncomfortable either way. Afterwards, people left their candles and other shrine-gifts and wrote chalk messages on the steps, but I didn’t stay.

The one thing I’d have done differently if I were a speechwriter with time to think about it would be to make sure there was more explicit inclusion of people who might not see themselves as NDP but who wanted to honour Jack’s contributions and be part of carrying on a progressive agenda – I wondered, sometimes, what some of the looking-forward hints in the speeches would sound like to someone whose loyalties were Liberal or Green or old-school red Tory (although they might have voted for Linda or Lewis or Ray federally and Rachel provincially), whether they’d sound too partisan or excluding.

It occurred to me later that the candlelight memorial rally thing last night in memory of Jack Layton was entirely secular, unless the Sanskrit poem was more religious than Aditya Rao’s translation sounded. How much my subcultures of choice and our Canadian society have changed during my lifetime – it didn’t feel like anything was missing without any mention of afterlife or prayer, and I didn’t even notice that until sometime today. For me, I feel a lot more strongly about religion being private and consensual than about grief being private, so almost any mention thereof would have felt inappropriate in that context, and I’m really glad that none of the speakers stuck it in. And I know nothing about Mr. Layton’s own religious background or current preferences, any more than I know whether he was legally married as opposed to common-law married, because that has never mattered to me and it hasn’t been obvious in anything I’ve read. (NOTE, this does not mean that you should tell me anything about their marital status; I like not knowing.)  I imagine it would not be that way in the USA.

I don’t really like riding my bike at night in a crowd on the High Level bridge. (I prefer it to the descent and ascent needed to cross at the other bridges.) But there was something really neat about being part of that crowd coming and going, the exuberant kids and quieter adults, the flecks of orange ahead and behind, and then just riding home on Sask Drive which has almost no traffic due to the construction, looking across at the river and downtown, appreciating the warm night, and thinking what a great place this is to live.

A proto-musical at the Fringe

If you’ve watched the TV show Slings and Arrows, remember the musical “East Hastings” that Richard got swept up in, in the third season? It was a perfect parody of shows like “Rent”, but the bits we heard were such a good imitation of the modern Broadway musical that the tunes were catchy and the lyrics rhymed elegantly and it sounded like something I might actually go see if it existed.

Twenty-Five – I just finished watching this song cycle at the Fringe. I enjoyed it. “Song cycle” apparently means that it doesn’t have plot moving it along or narrative between the songs, just a set of songs loosely connected on a theme. I kept thinking how easily it could be expanded into that kind of successful Broadway show, with a bit of storyline and some costumes and probably a few more performers and songs … but on the other hand, it was really cool to be sitting in the second row in a tiny venue, catching the performers’ eyes at the parts I loved, and then buying the original cast recording for “five or ten bucks, whatever”.

I don’t have the vocabulary to say why the songs were such great examples of the kinds of songs in the idiom of the modern Broadway musical, and I don’t know enough about different lyricists/composers to say whose work they reminded me of. The absolutely perfect rhyme and meter of the lyrics, slightly prioritised over poetry and sense? The kind of predictable harmony? The way that the accompaniment and rhythm were less noticeable than the singers? The choruses and repetitions, and the title tune reprised a couple of times in different ways?

My favourite songs were actually the two that varied most from this genre, the one that sounded like a Scottish lament and the rap with beatbox about being caught up in G-20-related protests. The songwriter/accompanist Joel Crichton and the performers Darren Paul (baritone), Richard Lee (tenor), and Joelle Prefontaine (alto) are all young and seem to be local, so I will watch for them in other shows in the future. The singers all have good trained voices and a nice mix of losing themselves in the story while singing but being aware of the venue before and afterwards.

I’d say this is my second favourite show so far.

A calm Fringe Sunday

Yesterday morning I  went to the Chapters store where I had arranged to meet up with a friend from Montreal.  She ended up being quite late, being dependent on relatives for rides, but we texted back and forth. Basically, we just went to the beer tent at the Fringe and hung out in the shade knitting and talking all afternoon. It was really nice and relaxed, and made me laugh at myself a bit for how reluctant I’d been to be social and disrupt my weekend.

Then I went to see one play, and then came home and went to bed.

ONEymoon – at the library, sold out. Light, funny, fictional, one-actor show. The actor is good at the Fringe-promotion thing – she added me on twitter just because I’d mentioned something about #yegfringe. She talked in Dutch for some of it (pretending to talk to her relatives at the wedding), and she had a couple of audience members come up to read speeches she gave them – one was in Dutch and the guy said “Can I do this in Spanish instead?” and the other guy started to add in extra stuff, which was actually pretty funny. Bob our retired computer guy was there (I remember seeing him at Fringe shows in other years).

Twitterverse tells me that American comic actor Zach Galifianakis attended a show I was at. I don’t think anyone’s seen Nathan Fillion though.

Fringe 2011: an easy day with five plays

Today I saw five plays at the Fringe. I also did some tidying and dishes and laundry this morning, went to the market, and between plays dropped off the shopping at home and lay down for a rest. As long as I park my bike on the perimeter instead of trying to walk it through the crowds to the main parking, this is easy.

Food notes for today: Nomad’s Kitchen is still good, the naan from the other place is precooked and nowhere near as good as the fresh naan from New Asian Village, and the wood-fired veggie pizza is really good.

Afternoon Delights and Emergency Exits – I’ve seen this modern dance company before, and I enjoyed them again, especially in the longer funny piece about flight attendants. They had the stylized gestures down pat.

The Big Smoke – This one-person narrative was my favourite show of the Fringe so far. It was poignant and very realistic. I won’t put any other spoilers until the run is over.

My Name is Jonas – comedy sketches loosely based on Weezer’s Blue Album, done by members of local improv company RapidFire Theatre. The funniest was the Jane Austen-esque dialogue that was full of sexual terms like cockblocking and wingman.

N.O.N.C.E – Another one-person narrative, this one written by the performer and mostly autobiographical. He’s an English performance poet, telling the stories of his time spent teaching poetry in a prison. I’ve recently read two books by people who taught creative writing in California prisons, and this guy was more interesting than either. It was more thought-provoking than I expected.

Bye Bye Bombay – A cast of one, but filling out the overwhelming impressions of a visit to India with video, music, puppets, dancing, a sari, and other props. The character was also dealing with the death of the mother she hadn’t gotten along with, and I was glad to see that theme done in an understated way.

Now that I understand how it works so I’m not embarrassed, I really like the way the Fringe artists advertise for their shows by talking to people. When done right, it feels intimate and sincere. Almost always it makes me more inclined to want to see the show (although I think the guy whose brother sings like Roy Orbison is annoying, reciting the same patter without making eye contact or maybe without knowing the right way to interrupt people comfortably). Also, after the applause the actors often recommend other shows and invite actors in the audiences to shout-out for their own. The N.O.N.C.E. guy talked to me yesterday. The When Harry Met Harry guy talked to our queue tonight and I told people I’d enjoyed his show. And there are several more on my wish list after encounters and recommendations.

I’ve always started out my show-shopping by trying to avoid one-person shows, because I used to feel like it was more interesting to watch the interactions in a larger cast. But I think I should change this rule, because I’ve seen so many good one-actor shows here and not just this year.

Fringe 2010: almost forgotten

When buying tickets for Fringe 2010, it was really bothering me that I couldn’t remember whether I’d been to any plays the year before.  Eventually I realised that I could see my order history from previous years on the Fringe tickets website. As I thought, last year I went to two plays one afternoon. They were called Seeking… and A Cynic Tells Love Stories.

I’m not sure which bugged me more, the idea that I might have missed a year or the idea that I might not have written it down. I’ve kept some kind of diary, journal, or datebook record of my life since I was nine years old, and I still have all of them.

First night at Fringe 2011

I went to the Fringe theatre festival when I’d lived here less than a week, and I first discovered Big Rock Traditional Ale (my current everyday favourite) at the beer tent that first Fringe.  Anyway, this year for the first time I managed to get one of the Frequent Fringer 10-show passes (they don’t sell very many). I’m going to use most of it this weekend because I have some weekend-night commitments and because next weekend I need to take it easy before the Sunday-morning half-marathon race.

When Harry Met Harry – a one-actor show about a man of fussy routines. A little bit of audience contribution. Australian actor, great facial expressions, funny.

9 Months to Mars – this was a comedy, but to me the best parts were the not-ridiculous parts, the credible characters and possible story. Plus, anything about space travel just has me from there. I really wish Defining Gravity hadn’t been cancelled after one season; even though it wasn’t perfect, it was a story.

I have four tickets to shows today, so far.

Folkfest 2011

I didn’t go to everything. Well, nobody can, because for half the time there are six stages going on at once. But also, I chose to pace myself by leaving early a few nights, arriving late one day, and skipping a couple of sessions to have down time.

For lots of the side-stage time slots, they schedule sessions, three or four acts together with some theme, and they take turns or jam together playing each other’s songs or covers or old standards. This is sometimes really fun to listen to and watch, and it looks like it’s fun for the musicians too. When I had a choice between a session like this and a concert, I almost always picked a session.

My notes are a jumble of whether they were good, whether I enjoyed them, whether they are my kind of music, and stuff I barely remember. I think that there are lots of musicians who do great live shows, but whose recordings I’m not likely to enjoy as much; I’m not entirely resolved on how to figure that out though.

The concerts I saw:
Angelique Kidjo – I got there partway through and wasn’t quite into it but she seemed really lively.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – very lively, neat harmonies. Someone I talked to Friday didn’t like them but I did.
Gipsy Kings – they were great. I knew of them before but hadn’t really listened.
Lissie – impressive young woman
Taj Mahal Trio – old bluesman. To me the blues is more drinking music, and I’m not so fond of it in concerts.
Noah and the Whale – these ones I had pegged from the description as “my kind of music” and I wasn’t far wrong. Young, English, indie-rock, conscious-hipster suits and hairdos. I hadn’t heard of them before so I was thinking “I bet their music’s been on the soundtrack of “Being Human”, but oddly it hasn’t been yet. So far, I actually liked their concert better than their CD.
Kíla – I think this was my favourite first-time listen. They sing in Irish and play traditional instruments but their sound is more hard-driving rock-ish. I loved watching their bodhran player, and I hope that I manage to express that much joy and energy in anything I do.
Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – a mix of instrumental jazz and bluegrass, which I have to admit made me sleepy.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings – Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing, Tom Wilson. Were also great.
Deer Tick – the only side-stage concert I saw. They were new to me and good.
Andrew Bird – violin, guitar, and whistling – I actually didn’t listen to him that much, although I was sitting there for the whole set. Oops.
Lyle Lovett and his Large Band – Everything this guy said between songs was weird, or an unfinished thought.
kd lang and the Siss Boom Bang – k.d. lang was really in fine form. I have never seen her in concert before. A friend said that she used the same setlist at Calgary folk festival. She played some of her old familiar songs “Miss Chatelaine” and “Constant Craving”, some other people’s songs, Neil Young’s “Helpless”, a Talking Heads song, and “Hallelujah”, and I forget what else. She seemed relaxed and comfortable and funny on stage.

Sessions I went to and short sets between mainstage acts:

Clancy, Bracken, and McCarthy, Delhi2Dublin, and JP Cormier – I loved Delhi2Dublin at Blue Skies, and I sought them out here so I could dance. It was also neat to see how they combined with the traditional Celtic musicians and traditional Cape Breton fiddler, doing some jigs and reels together and then playing backup on each other’s songs.

The Once, De Temps Antan, Jeremy Fisher, and Amelia Curran – I got there after the introductions, so I’m not positive that the woman whose voice I loved was the woman in The Once.

James Keelaghan, Tim Robbins, Sean Rowe, Mary Gauthier – This was the best session I attended, with a theme of “And they call it democracy”. James Keelaghan was the host. He is like another Stan Rogers – he looks like my favourite university librarian and he made me cry. Mary Gauthier was fascinating, and her backup fiddler Tania Elizabeth was extremely cute. And one of Tim Robbins’ backup guitarists looked very familiar to me. I never did place him, except to guess that maybe I just think he looks like the TV character John Munsch.

Colin Linden, John Rutherford, Amos Garrett, Matt Andersen – I loved Matt Andersen at Blue Skies, and I still think he’s great. But I was mostly overwhelmed and should probably have taken a break, since I don’t remember much about this session.

Bill Bourne, Kat Danser, Ky Babyn, John Rutherford, Kayla Patrick – this session of Alberta musicians was recorded for a CBC radio show, so it was more polished and programmed than most. Kayla Patrick and Ky Babyn are both very young local singer-songwriters and I imagine I’ll run into them both again. Bill Bourne is sort of a weirdo. Kat Danser is a local young woman with a huge powerful bluesy voice and songs full of unsubtle innuendo, like a younger Georgette Fry.

Serena Ryder, Brandi Carlile, Jeremy Fisher, and Deer Tick – this was a good session and my only chance to see Brandi Carlile whom everyone was talking about. Serena Ryder is hilarious.

Tweeners I saw/heard between main stage sets included Matt Anderson, Mighty Popo, Kat Danser, and some more I forget.

Musicians I missed: Brandi Carlile on mainstage, Garnet Rogers, The McDades

Musicians I bought recordings of: kd lang, Kíla, Noah and the Whale, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, James Keelaghan, Mary Gauthier, Blackie&the Rodeo Kings, delhi2dublin, Kat Danser.