Historectomy – Brexit edition

Those who do not learn from history represent 100% of the human population.

We have plenty of examples where ignoring history has preceded disaster, and in some cases, preceded a very similar event or process. But correlation does not indicate causation. For one thing, I cannot think of a single example where someone stood up and cited something from history, thereby averting a disaster.

That said, I adore the study of history and so playfully offer the following commentaries on recent efforts to “make Britain great again.”

GreatImmigrationLordy

 

 

Sharing a laugh, enjoying great food at The Edmund Burke

The Edmund Burke

Family-owned gastropub that welcomes you as a friend

If you’re looking for an unassuming place to enjoy wonderful food, a decent pint and good company in the City of Toronto, The Edmund Burke is the place.

Conveniently located at the western end of Toronto’s Greektown, within a block of Broadview subway station and its many bus and streetcar routes, The Edmund Burke is a small, family-run gastropub that seems to have one mission: make its customers feel welcomed and satisfied.

In fact, I hesitate to call it a gastropub as that comes across as more pretentious than this place is. Visiting The Edmund Burke is like hanging out with your closest neighbours, because in many ways, you are.

The husband-and-wife team—Ginger & Russ—that owns the place live in the neighbourhood and can be found behind the bar or clearing tables at all hours. Their goal is to enliven and enhance the neighbourhood, and they do this in spades with a quick smile and attention to detail. And to add to the family feel, Ginger’s brother John serves as head chef and culinary mastermind.

The food is simple, both in range and presentation, but that simplicity works to its advantage. Chef John understands his ingredients and lets them do the heavy lifting in his cooking.

With none of his dishes are the taste buds overwhelmed; rather, they are cradled by a few flavours, each having a specific place and purpose.

A good example of this is his recently introduced pulled pork sliders. Where others might take the delicately cooked meat and smother it in a sauce that screams spice, Chef John allows the flavour to come from the meat itself, keeping sauces at arm’s length.

He then tops that with a subtle apricot slaw that offers just a hint of sweetness coupled with a crunch to balance the meat’s tenderness. Given that I generally dislike apricot, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the slaw.

SONY DSC

Owner Ginger Robertson pulls the perfect pint

The chicken schnitzel is lightly crusted with the moisture sealed in, keeping the meat tender. And it sits atop perfectly prepared seasonal vegetables and a generous helping of spaetzle (a soft egg noodle). Although I quite enjoyed the chicken and vegetables, I have to admit to being so-so on the spaetzle, but that may just be me.

The Chicago-style beef burger with fries was completely solid, however, and a wonderful mix of flavours from the aged cheddar and garlic aioli. You may wonder how you make something as simple as a burger pop. Chef John does.

The pub itself is cozy without being claustrophobic, like so many Toronto restaurants, so you can draw together as a group or sit apart for quiet dining. By the same token, it can get a little loud should you be sitting near a particularly boisterous table.

The one aspect of the place that throws me off a bit is the choice of dining tables, which seem better suited to a rural truck stop diner than an urban gastropub, and particularly when set in contrast to the beautifully finished bar and beer taps. That being said, everything about this place is delicious, and you’ll be so focused on your meal that you’ll never see past your plate.

And finally, in keeping with the neighbours-looking-after-neighbours theme, Russ and Ginger have done everything they can to keep Chef John’s food reasonably priced without sacrificing on ingredients or his skills, and prices are more than competitive with the bars and restaurants in the area. Their menu would never be classed as cheap eats, but given the mastery that goes into the food preparation and the portion sizes, I’m ecstatic to pay $16 for the schnitzel or burger.

See also:

dine.to’s The Reveal – The Edmund Burke

Pints galore

Taps to tantalize all tastes

Happy Fathers’ Day, Mom

Not to detract from the well-earned celebrity of men everywhere who receive this single day of praise from their children, but not all of us had a man figure prominently in our childhood. For me, the only men who impacted me growing up were my grandfather (thank you) and a handful of very special teachers (thank you, Mr. Muhlstock and colleagues).

Toronto Island

My mom (purple top) was literally at the centre of all we did.

No, for me and a lot of kids like me, the leading father-figure in our lives was our mom…in my case, Jeannette or Jan.

Although Mom didn’t always meet up to the stereotypes of a father—I can’t remember throwing around a baseball or going fishing with her—she was always there for my brothers and me, ready to help us with any problems we might be facing or ensuring she found us an understanding male to speak with (e.g., Big Brother).

I remember when my youngest brother Shawn played hockey as a young kid. In a rink full of Dads, yelling support for their Lafleur, Howe or Gretzky, there was my Mom, cheering on my brother…almost completely oblivious to any of those NHL superstars.

Connected

Mom is always connected to us (even when we fight her on that).

Mom was the one who made sure we had a roof over our heads. Mom made sure we were fed and had all our school supplies. Mom was the one who made sure we never knew we were as poor as I suspect we were. Mom was the one who made sure our home life was as normal as the next kid’s.

But perhaps Mom’s greatest legacy is that she ensured her boys would grow into gentle, caring men, who respected women, less as people to be protected and more as people to admire and celebrate. And in the case of my brother Scott, also to understand the importance of your children and to be a great parent, which he is.

Mountain top

Queen of all she surveys

So, happy Fathers’ Day, Mom…and to all the other single women raising children. You have my deepest regard.

Party pooper

But never forget she is MOM first, cool Dad second.

See also:

Dads: Not just an oatmeal cookie

Urban jungle

Despite being the urban capital and largest city of Canada, Toronto is much more than a collection of steel, concrete and glass. Sure, we host the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and a vibrant business core, but we also have a wide array of green spaces, where within minutes of almost anywhere, citizens and visitors can leave the social world behind and relax with Nature.

This past week, I spent a full day exploring such sections of Toronto, wandering along Taylor Creek Park and down the Don Valley Trail. Here’s some of what I saw.

With the walk home, my entire circuit for the day was 18 km (roughly 11 miles). Enough to leave my camera full, my body exhausted and my soul refreshed. All proof that you don’t have to journey to the hinterlands to experience Nature; it’s all right here if you but look for it.

Startlingly meh: The Conjuring 2 (review)

conjuring 2 poster

I don’t really have the stomach for horror films. It’s not so much that I scare easily, but rather I am incredibly jumpy and therefore startle easily…and I don’t enjoy that sensation.

That being said, I have an idea for a horror film and decided I really needed to watch some before trying to write one. Thus, I finally acquiesced to my friends’ attempts to get me into a theatre, and last night, saw The Conjuring 2.

In many ways, including the opening scenes, this movie is a grandchild of the paranormal investigation classic The Amityville Horror. In the same timeline as that “based on” true event, a family in North London is being haunted by the spectre of an old man who is quite literally turning their lives upside down. The church sends American investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to determine the merits of the case, only to discover it is linked to haunting visions in their own lives.

Lots of booming, thrashing and screaming ensue. Faces suddenly appear over shoulders. Bodies fly around rooms. More screaming. Demons, crucifixes and biting, oh my.

You can probably tell from that last part that I wasn’t very enthused about the movie. And to a large extent, I blame that on me more than the movie. I just don’t like horror and I don’t like being startled, which is really all this movie was: a two-hour effort to make me jump. Even at that, I think I jumped about six times and was never horrified or even mildly disturbed.

My friends were more effusive in their praise. One said it was the best horror film he had ever seen; he had never been more frightened. Others said it was a solid horror film that they quite enjoyed, although almost universally they said it wasn’t as disturbing as the original The Conjuring, which they insist I watch.

The story was pretty linear. Sceptics vs believers. Haunted, possessed child with glowing eyes and altered voices. Spectral specialists who speak wooden dialogue about God while dealing with their own demons. And underneath it all, an adorable love story between the real-life Warrens that went nowhere and added nothing to the story.

Twin warrens

Lorraine & Ed Warren: real and as portrayed by Vera Farmiga/Patrick Wilson

If you can get past the dialogue, the performances weren’t too bad. Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) and Vera Farmiga (Lorraine Warren) do what they can with relatively two-dimensional Bible thumpers. Frances O’Connor, who played British mom Peggy Hodgson, did a very admirable job of portraying a woman who has taken about all she can from a world determined to crap on her at every turn. This could easily have been two hours of her screaming insanely, but she brought realism to the role.

But my biggest praise goes out to Madison Wolfe, who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl through whom the spectre works its evil. Half victim, half conduit, Janet’s struggles first to understand what is happening to her and then cope with feelings of abandonment as her friends and school become terrified of her (rather than the evil) are heart-breaking and play out across the young actress’s face. A true example of where a performance rises far above terrible material.

Janet

So many questions in those eyes

Unfortunately, even the stellar performances of O’Connor and Wolfe cannot save a bad movie that looks and feels like so many of its genre. That it is based on a true story—the Enfield poltergeist—doesn’t make it any more real for me; it may mean more to people wrapped up in poltergeist lore.

The slide show of the actual event participants during the closing credits, however, is an interesting touch. If nothing else, it tells me the set designers did a good job.

So, by the end of the evening, I wasn’t really any further ahead in my understanding of horror films and if this is an example of what is available, no more inclined to take in other films of this genre (or at least, sub-genre).

 

See also:

The Conjuring 2 fails to raise goosebumps. Bruce Demara, The Toronto Star

The demon-hunting Warrens are back in The Conjuring 2. Richard Crouse, Metro News

The Conjuring 2 is gorgeously shot and smartly conceived. Brad Wheeler, Globe & Mail

 

Much war, little craft

Warcraft-Movie-Banner-01

It is important to start this review of the movie Warcraft by stating: 1) I do not play video games; and 2) I like fully self-contained movies.

I went into seeing Warcraft with incredibly low expectations (perhaps unfair) and walked out having those expectations largely met and perhaps slightly exceeded.

Based on the video game series of the same name, Warcraft tells the story of Orcs determined to take over a new world because their own has died, possibly due to a malevolent force harnessed by their leader. The residents of the new world—populations of elves, mages, dwarves and humans—however, aren’t willing to lose their world…or at least the humans aren’t, and so fight back with the help of The Guardian, a wizard of immense power who lives in a tower and who is dealing with his own problems.

And while most of the movie is the playing out of this conflict, there is also an underlying mystery of what this malevolent force is, which leads to an Orc chieftain questioning the morality of the proposed genocides, and a couple of father-son/mentor-student relationships to suss out.

You may notice that in this description, I have offered no character names but rather simply archetypes. That’s because none of the characters is particularly memorable, nor is much of the movie. Perhaps if I had a greater familiarity with the game, much of this film would fall into place for me, but without that, the movie is mostly just a series of tropes with dialogue so wooden, the average porn filmmaker would be aghast.

Perhaps this is racist (specie-ist?), but I struggled to tell one Orc character from another, in part, because none of them had any personality much beyond “Hulk smash”. Thus, when an Orc would rampage into a scene, I had no emotional cues and so simply sat as a witness to events rather than being a participant. And even where I could recognize specific Orcs—the aforementioned chieftain and leader—the characters tended to be so two-dimensional (despite shelling out $20 for IMAX 3-D) that again, I was left cold.

Manly men

Three men and a movie reviewer (also a men)

The human characters weren’t a lot better. All the men look like my friend Danny, with whom I saw the movie, and women were almost non-existent. I do, however, have to give the filmmakers credit on two fronts here. First, although most of the humans were Caucasian, there were several of other ethnicities. And none of the female characters (I repeat NONE) were damsels by any measure. Each of the women, whether Orc, human or somewhere in between, were women of conviction and empowerment.

As to the plot, my biggest beef was that the writers seemed to simply drop in a device whenever they needed it to move the story forward, without any contextualization. I’d like to give you some concrete examples, but any of the major ones would, ironically, be spoilers. Suffice it to say, you are advised to check your credulity when you pick up your 3-D glasses.

Everything that occurs in this story was much better covered in Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Stargate…and The Ten Commandments.

But, in a strange way, that may end up being Warcraft’s saving grace as it frees the audience from having to participate in the story. Instead, you can just sit back and let the movie dance on your retinas, which is about as deep as it will go.

And this is possibly the one way in which Warcraft actually exceeded my expectations: it was visually captivating. The animation was incredibly good, with the Orc characters seemingly as real as the human actors. The fur of the giant wolves looked soft and the body movements of the griffins entirely plausible. Stylistically, I would put this movie in the realm of Avatar rather than Lord of the Rings.

WARCRAFT-Movie-2016

But back to the second point I raised at the start: self-contained movies.

Everything about Warcraft seemed to be designed to set up the myriad sequels that will be made, a trend in Hollywood blockbusters (and block-blowouts) that pisses me off. If nothing else, it shows complete disdain for the audience as it says “We really don’t care if you like the movie.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have an issue with sequels and spin-offs in general. But when I go to a movie, I want to see an entire story play out, rather than have to wait for the next installment or rely on having seen the previous installment to understand the story (looking at you, Avengers).

This is one of the reasons why I am possibly the only person on the planet (this one, at least) who found The Empire Strikes Back to be lacking. It was a placeholder or bridge to The Return of the Jedi, nothing more.

Will I be back for Warcraftier: Where’s Your Messiah Now?

Not unless someone else is paying me to watch it…and for some reason, my online mahjongg isn’t working…and it’s raining or something.

 

See also:

Movie review: Warcraft by Danny F. Santos

Giving, gratitude and karma

Puppet girl

A cherished symbol of appreciation and friendship

When someone contracts me to write or to develop marketing creative, I expect to be compensated. Most often, the compensation is money, but on occasion, it is a service-for-service barter.

But, as often as not, I voluntarily offer my creative services to friends and acquaintances who are pursuing passion projects or who are doing something about which I am passionate.

I’ve Tweeted and Facebooked madly about a nearby restaurant that specializes in bacon sandwiches.

I’ve created promotional posters for crowd-funding campaigns of a short film I would love to see made and a bizarre puppetry show at distant Fringe festivals.

Locked up

Their photo, my verbiage

And in other cases, I’ve merely retweeted and shared posts by favourite bloggers, artists and journalists.

Yet for all of this work—almost universally welcomed by the sources—I have never directly been compensated. And not only am I okay with that, I am actually pleased. Compensation was never my goal.

I’ve had a few friends who’ve witnessed my mania and offered feedback like:

They should be feeding you for free for all this work.

Or

I hope they appreciate what you’re doing for them.

And I smile and shrug, because again, that isn’t my purpose.

Instead, my goal is to apply my passions and skills to help others achieve theirs, even if unsolicited and unrecognized. The point is the doing, not the acknowledgement.

This isn’t to say that such recognition isn’t welcomed and received with gratitude. Pretty much everyone to whom I have offered my gift has expressed his or her joy and appreciation in receiving it. And in a few cases, I have even received wonderful gifts.

After psychotically promoting the anarchic puppet improv spectacle PuppetUp! through social media, the show’s co-creator Patrick Bristow gave me a souvenir puppet from the show to express his thanks. I was grateful for this gesture and cherish the puppet for the sentiment it represents. But the greater gifts I received in this effort were the friendships I formed with the co-creator and the puppeteers that we still maintain years later.

Ironically, if I have struggled of late, it is in the simple acceptance of acts of kindness from others, whether unsolicited or in response to acts on my part. As much as I eschew the same behaviour in those to whom I offer kindness, I feel like I should at least compensate people for theirs to me. Instead, I am making an effort to simply say thank you.

If nothing else, you’re setting up some good karma.

And I smile and shrug, because ultimately, I don’t think you can force karma in any direction.

To my mind, the very desire of and attempt to create good karma negates it. Doing so implies a need for compensation for kind deeds.

It must be enough for me to do the good deed. Karma will do what karma will do.

I used to dismiss my efforts with a waved hand and a quick: It’s nothing. I now realize that is a discredit to myself, to the gift, and to the recipient.

It is not nothing. It is decidedly something. But it is something that I wish to do and offer gladly.

It is, perhaps ironically, a symbol of my gratitude to the recipient.

Hockey calendar

Sharing a passion with fellow fans

[And now, to completely deflate the seriousness of my message, does anyone else hear the music to The Little Drummer Boy?]

When Gods evolve

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Genesis; 1; i-iii

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days (William Blake)

I know the feeling.

I am the Creator and the Destroyer. I am Fate pulling the strings of Destiny. I am Existence itself. The Void remains until I choose to illuminate it.

A tad full of myself? Perhaps.

But it comes with the territory, because I am a writer.

Despite all present evidence to the contrary, I am an introvert; and as a child, I tended to avoid contact with others out of fear of injury and a touch of self-loathing.

My escape from this fear was my imagination and the worlds I created.

Where the world around me was filled with questions, uncertainty, chaos, the worlds of my mind were clean, certain, orderly. Good was good. Bad was bad…and even bad was good given time and understanding.

And over all of it, I was God.

The world didn’t exist until I put pen to paper, and just as quickly, it blinked out of existence when I lifted that pen.

I am no longer that child—well, perhaps a less fearful child.

The world in which I live is coloured with all shades. It has texture. It has flavour. And while it still has chaos and uncertainty, I am better able to embrace that chaos, to find freedom in uncertainty.

Likewise, the worlds I create have become more nuanced. Nothing is either good or bad, but instead is delicate and needful.

And over all of it, I am God. But even Gods evolve.

God Creating The Universe

God Creating the Universe (Layne Karkruff)

Where once I enslaved my worlds to my control, I am now more apt to offer degrees of freedom, to allow my worlds to ride the wave of existence.

I completely reserve the right to rain fire and brimstone, but am more likely to use a gentle hand with my charges. What were once caricatures are now sentient beings with a full range of emotions and thoughts, prone to mistake and capable of wonder.

And perhaps, in allowing my worlds to move beyond me, I achieve true Godhead. For as much as I no longer define their existence, they no longer define mine, and I am free to be me.

Ehyeh asher ehyeh.

I am that I am.

 

Visiting Toronto? Try the bacon! (review)

Ossington

The familiar red awning says it all

(Trying my hand at food reviews)

If a restaurant earned a one-word review, that restaurant is Rashers and the one word is bacon.

Bacon is all you really need to know about Rashers, which specializes in all things bacon, offering multiple cuts—British style, peameal and strip—in a variety of formats…well, one format (sandwich) in a variety of constructions. (You can also order any of the sandwiches without bacon, but we can’t be friends if you do.)

My personal favourite and weekly go-to is the Beer BLT served on a ciabatta bun, which I sometimes get with double bacon just to blow up my electrolytes.

Beer BLT

Beer BLT (double-bacon), potato wedges (salt & pepper), homemade beer mayo

For the less adventurous, but just as hungry, there is the traditional bacon butty (British bacon, white bread, brown sauce) or the Hogtown grilled cheese (peameal bacon, aged cheddar, multigrain bun). For the more adventurous, the Full Monty (full British breakfast on a bun) and the Brie & Bacon (no explanation here).

And to help you hold all that delicious bacon grease are various potato sides, including wedges (my fav), curly fries and tater tots. Oh, and ask for the beer mayo, a homemade ambrosia that offers a subtle sweetness without the oily heaviness you might expect from a mayo.

But surprisingly, I think the best thing about Rashers is the staff, who—come to think of it—kinda smell like bacon. You will never meet a friendlier group of people who seem to love what they do and are truly grateful to see their patrons. If you’re a regular, you receive an eager welcome upon opening the door, and if you’re a newbie, you are immediately greeted with smiles and offers of assistance.

Rashers staff

Serious intent disguises the welcoming smiles that greet you

My weekly pilgrimage is to the Rashers location on Queen Street East near Carlaw Avenue in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. That it is squeezed between an over-priced tea shop and over-priced pet store makes Rashers’ more than reasonable prices a nice change of pace—its belly-filling sandwiches priced around $8-$10 and sides at $4.

The only real challenge with this particular location is lack of seating, which is essentially 4 bar stools against the window or a triplet of old-style school benches out front. Fortunately, at least from Spring to Autumn, there is a park a couple of blocks West that seems to make the food taste that much better.

More recently, Rashers opened a location in the Western end of Toronto’s downtown core on Ossington, near Dundas. A significantly larger place, this location has booths for dining in comfort and a central bench for stand-up dining (can’t remember if there were stools). And for your entertainment during your meal, they installed a huge mural along one wall that essentially bacon-ifies familiar motifs and Toronto-centric events or landmarks (e.g., Toronto Raptors, Ikea monkey, Yellow Submarine).

Bacon raptor

Both locations are easily accessible via local transit, whereas you may have issue at busier times finding a place to park in either neighbourhood. Regardless, you should make the effort to check these guys out.