Italian For Beginners

In October 2002, I had the pleasure of visiting Italy for too short a period but fell in love with it just the same. Here are some of my thoughts from that time and that continue on. Someday I'll return.

Having contracted bronchitis just before I was to leave for Italy, I made a quick trip to the doctor's office and armed myself with antibiotics. I vowed not to let anything slow me down. After enduring a 9 hour flight, I arrived in Rome in the pouring rain. With no luggage. Thank you Al Italia! After a dangerous but exhilirating cab ride, I arrived at the Scalinata di Spagna. A hotel at the top of the Spanish Steps you say? What a fantastic idea! Try walking those steps with no lungs to help you. The room was not ready. Ugh. The lobby wasn't big enough to even wait in so out into the rain I went. Luckily, there was an enterprising street urchin selling umbrellas. I looked down the soaking Spanish Steps wheezing and thinking, this is going to be the worst vacation of my life.

About an hour went by, the clouds parted, the sun shone and the angels sang. The room was ready, the luggage was found and brought to the hotel and maybe this would work out after all.

Rome was wonderfully chaotic and breathtaking (it wasn't just the bronchitis at this point). Figuring out the subway was easy, a couple of straight lines just like ours and off to the Colisseum it was. I was not prepared for the staggering beauty of this structure especially since you step out of the subway station entrance and Pow! there it is. There were costumed Gladiators wandering about for the tourists. After touring through there and feeling properly awed, spent time looking around at the Forum and the ruins. There were cats sleeping in and among the ruins and this seemed strangely poetic. A great deal of walking ensued and the sights, sounds and smells of Piazza Navona, Trevi Fountain, St. Peter's Cathedral, Piazza del Popola and about a million other things filled my head and my heart.

Shopping (okay, window shopping) on the Via Condotti was fun and ritzy and made me feel just like the Eurotrash I've always longed to be.

The food was great and I fell in love with a little Ristorante called Alla Rampa at the bottom of the Spanish Steps near the hotel. The whole experience was that much more charming with guitar and accordion playing musicians serenading diners outside.

There was a good deal of time spent recuperating from walking in little cafes which afforded great people watching. I was supposed to head to Venice during this trip but feeling there was enough water in my lungs, I thought going to a city surrounded by water would be a bit much. Rome forced me to stay a couple of extra days and I was powerless to resist.

Possibly the most charming moment of my life: I was walking along a little street and a 70ish year old man and I collided. He looked at me, smiled and simply said 'boom' and shuffled along on his way.

I went to a church and saw selections of classic opera performed by a Tenor, Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano and an 11 piece orchestra all dressed in 18th century costumes. If I was ever to find God, it would have been there. He was hovering at least I'm sure. I also loved the fact that all the wind instrument players of the orchestra smoked heavily at the intermission.

Whether they were trying or not, everyone in Rome was just plain sexy. There is such a thing as sexy ugly too but sexy just the same. Even the homeless had cooler shoes on than I did.

The hotel was expensive but charming and the rooftop patio/breakfast room was cool. You could see St. Peter's from the little shuttered terrace off the hotel room.

Eventually the rest of the journey had to be made so off by train to Florence it was. On arriving, it was clear there was a different vibe at work. The city seemed a bit less friendly and perhaps a little seedier but at the same time, more casual. There were a lot more shifty characters and ne'er do wells skulking around.

Seeing Michelangelo's David at Galleria dell'Accademia made me stop and think: Hmm, so that's what I look like naked. So many art treasures to take in there and at the Uffizi and of course interesting architecture everywhere.

More walking and shopping on the Ponte Vecchio which has always been a bit of a dream for me. The Arno River was a bit murkier than I'd imagined but still a sight with its 7 bridges. From a distance standing in Michelangelo's Square, the city was more majestic and beautiful looking. Toured through the Duomo (cathedral) and it was pretty amazing, did a guided tour through the Pitti Palace and saw more treasures, classic art and general beauty.

The low point of any of these excursions was the more often than not mulletted group of Americans complaining about the stuffy air inside these ancient beautiful palaces and leaning on statues and looking bored much to the tour guide's and my consternation.

More wonders abound: Went on a 5 hour tour of the hills of Tuscany stopping in a little town to visit a church and then onto Castello del Trebbio, a 12th century castle surrounded by olive groves and grape orchards. The castle's own wine and olive oil making and the history of the site and it's owners was exquisite and interesting.

The hotel Boccaccio in Florence was a little more Spartan but charming and with a friendly and helpful concierge who got us reservations at a very busy and semi swanky restaurant but with very low prices. All through Tuscany and Rome, the food was very imaginative and darned tasty. Even the simplest things like breaded vegetable soup was amazing. I thought it was a typo but it was vegetable soup with bread put in it which absorbed most of the broth making it more like a hearty stuffing. Yum.

Off to Verona where again, adjectives became meaningless. Quaint and history filled with its own unique ruins, it was like a miniature Rome with a more relaxing pace. The Roman Arena which is still used for operas can seat 25,000 people. Unfortunately there were none playing at the time.

Visited the beach at Lago di Gardo and a castle with a town built all around it and watched the sun go down, sob, sniff. Juliet's balcony was cool in that you know there was no real Juliet in Verona right? kind of way. Watched a one day National strike go by and felt the sun kiss my face while safely encsconced in a nearby cafe.

Met up with Matteo, a guy whose website I had found and sent email to asking about the Opera there and he insisted on showing us around and was a fantastic host. He had at one time studied to be a tour guide so he was up on everything. He then invited us to dinner with his friends. He was funny and friendly and a great resource for any possible question we had. Dining out, it was interesting to find horsemeat as a prevalent menu offering. Lots of rabbit too. I couldn't bring myself to try eating Black Beauty or Thumper but I did have some delicious pasta with Daffy Duck in it.

From Verona, the journey ended in Milan which was a little disappointing. The world famous (Teatro Al) la Scala opera house was closed for renovations and fairly boarded up. Even their massive and impressive Duomo was scaffolded all over the front. The hotel was sterile and 'big city' and not welcoming at all.

I wanted to cry at having to leave since everything up to Milan had found me amazed and enthralled. Italy, I want to make love to your whole country. Okay, maybe not the homeless, I just want their shoes.

Random thoughts:

Everyone in Italy is sexy.

It is okay to bring your dog into a restaurant and have them sit quietly at your feet.

Even if you're not a wine drinker, when in Rome...

Those tiny Smart cars and scooters don't look dangerous but they are.

The Pope is not hurting for cash.

Tourists are boorish (me excluded).

I can haggle (a little). Try it in the leather market in Florence.

Fine Italian shoes are pretty cheap 'over there'.

I think I can now speak Italian but deep down, know that I can't.

There seem to be a lot of Somalians in Florence.

Florence needs a bath.

Frittata sandwiches are good.

Ice cream floating in coffee is very good. It's even better when there's a little crooked waffle shaped like the Leaning Tower of Pisa sticking out of it.

Opera in a church can make me cry but I can hold it in.

You can smoke wherever you like.

Walking up the Spanish Steps with bronchitis can require the use of a ventilator until you find the elevator off to one side.

McDonald's here at home do not have marble foyers and do not serve drink drinks.

Blockbuster and Footlocker should not be considered ambassadors of North American culture but they're all over the place.

Trains arrive about 1 minute prior to their scheduled departure time and they depart on time -- Run!

Australians in cafes also complain about other tourists.

Dubliners have thick accents - nod and smile.

Tourists from Pennsylvania sometimes look like they're trying too hard.

People will expect me to stop talking about this trip eventually. I may. I may not.



Well, what can I say? I crapped out of finishing my NaNoWriMo project this year. Unless of course in the next several hours something pushes me to speed past the 35,137 words I've written so far. It seems a shame since many of the words that found their way into my junior epic were really quite good words.

I hearkened back to what I'd done with my novel last year. Nothing. Tsk tsk, not good. Why then continue with this one?

After speaking with wise friend Fred, I was made to realize that we had both proven last year that we were up to the task and therefore, we didn't necessarily need to prove this again. Oh yeah, he crapped out this year too.

He vowed, a passage made easier through several glasses of wine, that he would make some sense of what had already been written and soldier on with his own timetable. Well then, if it's good enough for Fred, it's good enough for me.

NaNoWriMo have mercy on my soul.



My ongoing love/hate affair with Canadian Stage Company continues. They do often manage brilliance but on occasion, they do manage to bore me to tears. And I hate to cry. Unless it's at a particularly heartwarming commercial. For anything.

Billed as a dark comedy about death, I went to see Vigil starring Brent Carver and Martha Henry at Canadian Stage Company on October 30, 2004.

I'd previously seen Brent in Larry's Party at CanStage (a musical adaptation of the Carol Shields book that nearly worked) and before that some years ago in Kiss of the Spider Woman and in that he was excellent. What is it about him always managing to get down to his underwear in these plays? Is it in his contract or does he only seek parts written that way? No matter.

Poor Brent has 99.9 per cent of the dialogue. He made it through most of it without incident although I can't blame him for some of the stilted words he had to speak. His character has returned to wait for his aged and somewhat infirmed aunt to die. Ms. Henry's task is to basically lie in bed and react to her nephew's observations and witty remarks along with bitter remembrances of his youth which she is gamely able to do, a tribute to her skill and ability as an actress. She is able to elicit sympathy, empathy and laughter with ease. Mr. Carver does the same but with a torrent of dialogue and a lot of futzing about on a ridiculous set.

The problem with the play is that it would have read really well as a story. Story or stage dialogue is so different from your everyday vernacular that it just doesn't sound natural. As in Angels In America, my main complaint was that people simply do not speak like this. I understand heightened reality, I just don't necessarily have to appreciate it when it's heightened out of the realm of believability. Also see David Mamet, often praised for his writing style. His writing style is great, his dialogue sucks. Please take a simple lesson from Mr. Tarantino's diner scene in Resevoir Dogs as an example of dialogue people can relate to.

The dark comedy seemed more dark in a mean sense than a funny sense. I say throw caution to the wind, make fun of death, politics, religion but apart from reactions of shock and delight from the blue haireds in the audience, please remember not all of us have said blue hair yet.

Morris Paynch has been lauded and semi lauded depending on which review you read for this play. There is obvious brilliance oozing from Mr. Paynch's brain and you'll know what I mean if you were lucky enough to see the enthralling production of The Overcoat now wowing international audiences. It was dazzling and all done with movement and no dialogue. It was triumphant. Perhaps Morris was just bursting to use a whole lot of extra words since he couldn't in The Overcoat?

In what is becoming a habit for me, perhaps as I age (but before my hair turns blue), my tolerance wanes -- I left at intermission. No longer does it matter that tickets are overpriced for everything. I cannot justify sitting there in the dark and being tortured, exquisitely or not. My vigil ended early.


Something Wicked This Way Comes

Fear surrounds me now
The clock is ticking again
NaNoWriMo time


Female Drummers of Guinea

Tanya said 'Let's go see the Female Drummers of Guinea' who were to appear in concert in Toronto. I said 'okay'. This was to do my part in supporting her in her newfound interest in the sport? art? hobby? skill? of drumming and also because I like experiencing culture if only from a distance. She'd recently begun taking a weekly class in African drumming with her Mom. I knew it was serious when they both bought drums.

This sounded like an interesting cultural event (the concert, not the class) and since I had no insight into what a show by this group might be like, I figured I might be pleasantly surprised.

I recalled fondly my memories of attending a concert by the Bulgarian State Female Choir several years ago as they toured in support of their album Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. The show was an aural and visual delight with their clear unusual voices and traditional folk costumes. After each song, they rearranged themselves according to voice and the sound they wanted for that song. I have no idea really what they were singing about and it may well have been 'we have your money and you can't have it back now'.

They finished their performance with several encores, the last being a phonetically learned Oh Susanna which brought tears to everyone's eyes. Or was that just me? I'll cry if there is a particularly touching Office Depot or McDonald's commercial on TV. The choir was quite a sensation and success there for a while having appeared on Carson's Tonight Show and even making an appearance on several tracks of a Kate Bush album (I'm dating myself). Where have you gone Kate? And where have you gone strong Bulgarian women?

So I was on board for this drumming extravaganza not knowing what to expect.

And then the call came. Tanya was sick and leaving work early and had gone to pick up some tickets at the venue. Through her congestion I heard the sad words 'the concert had been cancelled'.

How to write of a concert that never was? I guess I could have safely said: They came, they drummed, they left. They were women. From Guinea. With drums.

Would it have made a difference if I actually knew where Guinea was? Probably not.
Had they heard of Tanya's cold and been scared off? Possibly.
Was there a rider in their contract that couldn't be met? There must be 12,042 green jellybeans in a ceramic bowl surrounded by Celine Dion look-a-likes or we will not perform! Something like this is more likely. You know how those women of Guinea can be. Where is Guinea again?


My Boots Match My Horns

For this year's NaNoWriMo project I will be again trying to force myself to spew 50,000 words that make some sense together through November. http://www.nanowrimo.org Last year I found it thrilling, fulfilling, heartbreaking and tedious all at the same time.

My title this year comes from my friend Cathy. She was relating a story about one of her schizophrenic relatives who leaned over and whispered to her one day 'my boots match my horns today'. I immediately set about stealing this title. It's appropros that this came from Cathy because she is so often to be found with glaringly mismatched horns and boots.

Cathy has been my favourite target for dispensing fashion advice to as gleaned from the TLC show What Not To Wear. Stacey and Clinton should rule the universe!

Until I got my teeth sharpened, Cathy used to look like a 50+ year old woman who had idolized Maude for several years. Always shiny and clean but covered in yards of drapery and layers usually in varying shades of black. A goth Maude. With beads and broaches and bangles and bracelets. Shudder. Lady Godiva didn't freedom ride for that look sister!

I began slowly by asking if she'd seen the show. I explained the premise. Several times. I urged her to watch it. I begged her to watch it. Then I just got mean.

After several probing questions about what she thought about her particular sense of style, I learned that she was very self concious about her chest and her butt as are most North Americans I've encountered. Interesting then to see that she would wear things gathered at her breasts or long tailcoatted items hugging her butt. This is not the way you want to go according to Stacey, Clinton and the laws of the universe. Anything nearly hitting the floor on a short(ish)person makes you look like you have no legs. Think about it! What's under that coat propelling you along? Wheels?

The capper for me was the day Cathy came in to work wearing some sort of post Maudern three quarter length jacket (over the rest of her signature black) all aglitter with sparkly coloured bits sewn throughout. Put a microphone in her hand and Ladies And Gentleman, Miss Liza Minelli...cue the New York New York music.

I had a hard time not saying anything but I managed. That is, until we were walking back from a break and someone said to her 'Oh, are you going out dancing tonight after work'? That freed me to let her know that this fell into the showbiz evening wear category and was not perhaps the most appropriate attire for the business world.

It worked! Well, not right away. After she wore it to work about 4 more times, I guess I gave up and she gave in probably around the same time. Unbeknownst to me, she was also being regularly attacked by a kindly sister in law about some of the same clothing issues. Lady Catherine began in earnest to shop with rules for her body type swirling around her. Better rules swirling than yards of fabric.

The next thing you know, there were shorter jackets, pants that created a line from the hip down, coordinated outfits sometimes not featuring exclusively black. The gods had woken up and looked down. They set to work rescrambling her brain and sent her out in the world to do good. She was prouder of herself than I was.

It was lovely to see someone who was 40 look her age again and not 52 looking like she belonged on the boardwalk in Atlantic City. She looked better, felt better, got a new job, and changed her style all because of a silly TV show and a guy with no cause to be mean but who just liked to be. Now, her boots did finally match her horns.

Now what the fuck is up with that lipstick?

Following the rules of Nanowrimo, I'll be writing something altogether different as I've just now written this. Damn. I'm keeping the title though. It rocks.


Silence of the Lammermoors

You'll be glad (or indifferent) to know that Lucia di Lammermoor was a much more enjoyable opera experience for me than last week's tale of terror and with relief I report there was not a wing-ed hat in sight. (see Handmaid Horror)

At first I was puzzled, what is this stinging sensation in my hands? My bewilderment turned to quiet joy as I realized the feeling was from clapping! I remember clapping! And several times no less.

All the performers put on an excellent show and worked Donizetti’s score to its core, a piece filled with flourishes and frilliness but also dark and ominous claps of thunder. Some of the music at times seemed at odds with the action taking place. Then again, if I was singing about politics or tricking my sister into marrying the wrong fella, I might want to do it to a snappy tune too.

It also sounded to me like the composer may have cribbed several bits from other composers but this could just be trace memories of old Bugs Bunny episodes or car commercials.

The sets were silly and didn't serve the story well at all but would I still be human if I couldn’t forgive once in a while? Can I hold the set designer responsible for the fact that my imagination cannot make the leap from seeing a twelve foot rectangular wooden coffin like box to imagining it to be a beautiful fountain where love’s first bloom is watered?

You may recall the blue alien diva in the film The Fifth Element who sings a lovely aria?
This is Lucia's song 'Il Dolce Suono' (The Sweet Sound) that comes after she's killed her new husband in a fit of madness and despair. Covered in blood and with more than a little crazy on her face, she manages to sing this loveliest of songs and begins hallucinating that she and her true love are back at the fountain (box) and then that she's preparing for their wedding.

With half the town a witness to her sweet torture and a brief respite of lucidity, she by her own hand...well it involves a sword and her throat. If you’ve ever tried to get blood out of a white dress, you may know something of her anguish and ultimate decision.

A comedy of manners this opera was not but for pathos and romantic sentimentality, it beats La Boheme in my opinion. At least Lucia doesn't cough and give in; she goes out with a slice.

Handmaid Horror

Attending any opera can be an exhilirating experience. Your spirit can soar or your wings can be clipped causing you only to wish you were flying too close to the sun. The Canadian Opera Company in Toronto recently presented an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale to good reviews. Hmph.

What can I say about The Handmaid's Tale? Dinner was really really good! Oh yeah, that happened before the opera. At Biff's. Yum.

I had previously thought Margaret Atwood's novel of a not too far off totalitarian world where reproduction is monitored by the govermnent great, the film terrible and now I can add that the opera was a live horrorshow.

Whenever you hear the word dissonance in relation to a score, immediately substitute it with noise you do not want to have pay to hear. To me it sounded like the usual instruments had been wrested from the hands of the musicians and replaced with garbage can lids and firecrackers. It could just be that some trickster had placed all the sheet music upside down on their stands. You get the picture.

I very much enjoy boundary blurring in other art forms such as film and music but when it comes to opera I guess I enjoy the traditional. I don't want video screen projections, I want the drama to come from the voice, the setting and the lighting, not from shrill distractions. Without seeing the modern however, I have no benchmark to evaluate the beauty.

There wasn't enough beauty to keep me there past Act One. In fact I noticed several other people's ears bleeding at intermission as they climbed into the waiting ambulances, I mean taxis.

Positive notes on the production: The colors were pretty. The choreography was interesting. The Handmaids look less goofy than you'd expect in their winged caps. Next up is Lucia di Lammermoor which got middling to bad reviews depending on what you read. Can't wait!


I Wanna Be A Part Of It....My First Visit To NYC

Arrived in New York City at La Guardia airport after a fairly uneventful flight (Thursday February 13, 2003). The actual airplane may not have been full but I was, with expectation and excitement at setting foot in what has been called the greatest city in the world. Not being sure exactly what to expect, I was fairly certain that I wouldn’t have much trouble adjusting being the big city boy that I am.

Stepping into La Guardia was one of the underwhelming experiences of my life. Somehow I had expected some sort of grandeur to greet me and was surprised to find the most interesting thing about the joint was the boxes of Statue of Liberty shaped chocolates for sale. Come to think of it, I may be giving things an unfair shake here. I’ve never been in an airport that particularly took my breath away. Onward!

We shared a stretch limo ride with a couple of businessmen through the borough of Queens. Queens was interesting only because it’s not Mississauga. I hunkered down and waited for the city proper to arrive in my sightline. Soon the streets got busier, the buildings got taller and the hotel beckoned. The second small fright was upon me, the swellegant Hotel Michelangelo had scaffolding around it. Unimpressed but undaunted, we entered the hotel. The lobby was a sight for sore eyes. The type of elegance I had been waiting for. From the chandeliers to the marble to the grand piano, I was home (away from home).

The room itself was great (more on that later) and after exploring it briefly, it was time to set foot into the city, get some grub and orient ourselves. We had several things to do that day and my great concern was locating the theatres that all of New York was expecting us at that afternoon and evening. On the slate was getting to the Ed Sullivan Theatre to pick up tickets and line up for Late Show with David Letterman taping and then to locate the Ethel Barrymore theatre so we weren’t thought déclassé latecomers for Nora Ephron's Imaginary Friends.

Problem solved, the theatres were about a 10 minute walk apart. In fact everything in the theatre district was accessible with a simple quick jaunt, the quickness of the jaunt being mandatory noting the freezing temperatures. A note on pedestrian travel in large cities: I can simply navigate the haphazard streets of Rome with little or no difficulty but I cannot follow a simple numbered grid like the one that informs New York City! Thankfully, trusty navigator John showed off his unerring knowledge of consecutive numbers and order was restored.

For lunch we popped into a quaint little bistro on 43rd Street. For some reason or other it was called Bistro 43. Lovely little tables, cool furniture and barely full, we enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, some delicious crab cakes, had a smoke and coffee at the bar and then off we were, $86 (American) lighter in the wallet. Note to self: Add up strange little numbers on menu before ordering.

At this point I must say that I’ve always fancied myself a big city boy and living in Toronto, I figured that NYC would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the buildings, the crowds on the streets, the noise level, the traffic, everything seemed amplified and heightened. I didn’t feel unsafe or anything, just smaller than usual. This all passed within a day and from then on, I was simply meant for New York.

Back to the warmth of the hotel to thaw for a short while and it was time to head off to the Ed Sullivan Theatre for the David Letterman show taping. That was a process in itself, with a huge queue to get the tickets. Working the crowd were a dozen or two Letterman minions in Late Show jackets. A bit of ‘where you from’ and ‘do you watch the show often’ quickly led into exclamations of what a great show it would be and how we should all revere Dave and make sure to be up and positive for him. I was too frozen to commit myself to idolatry at this point but was excited nonetheless. After getting the tickets, we were allowed to line up inside the Roseland Ballroom on the next street over as it was too cold to leave us outside. It was a kick to be there (even if we were herded like cattle) knowing that one of my favourite bands Portishead had filmed a live concert inside a couple of years earlier. Of course I own this concert on DVD.

Talked to a couple from Colorado while waiting and they apologized for all the American TV they foist upon us gentle Canadians. Apology accepted. One last call to arms by what I suppose was the head minion/booster guy for the show. This little pep rally was all about how we were all to laugh loud and hard no matter what. If Dave said something that we weren’t sure was funny, it was probably funny and we should laugh. At this point, I felt like perhaps I was being indoctrinated. Wasn’t the whole point supposed to be that Dave says something and I decide if it’s funny and then laugh or not? Marching into the show amid clapping and shouting by the evil Letterkids, we found that the Ed Sullivan Theatre which looks pretty big on television, seats including the balcony, 500 people. I thought we’d have to sit on Dave’s lap and tell him what we wanted for Christmas, we were that close even 8 rows from the stage.

After band introductions and a few musical numbers, Dave came out and said a few words and then we were all set. The big guest for the evening was Kurt Russell. Quick – name your favourite Kurt Russell movie. Thought so. Also on were ‘Kid Scientists’ and that was cute but not an A list celebrity among them. Homer Simpson did the Top Ten list via monitor and Dave screwed that up and they had to restart but otherwise, the show went off like clockwork. Ok, like a clock that reads an hour like sixty-five minutes. I’m not mentioning the fact that the night’s previous show had Queen Latifah and Lou Reed on. Whatever.

Scurried back to the warmth and luxury of the hotel to get dressed for dinner. Had a couple of lovely phone messages from Tanya and from Cathy wishing me well in the Big Apple. Ate at the Roxy Deli in Times Square and had breakfast for dinner, the deli being like The Pickle Barrel is here and although good, there was way too much food.

Then we headed for the Ethel Barrymore Theatre to see Imaginary Friends starring Swoozie Kurtz and Cherry Jones. Billed as a play with music, it was very funny, interesting and very well done. It was written by Nora Ephron and dealt with the tumultuous and litigious relationship between authors Mary McCarthy and Lillian Hellmann. Sitting behind us was Jane Krakowski, ‘Elaine’ from Ally McBeal and I stared at her just long enough to make her uncomfortable and then concentrated on the rest of the diverse New York crowd. Back to the hotel, a little HBO and settled in for a great night’s sleep.

Up at 7 a.m. on Friday for a little Italian style Buondi breakfast in the lounge of the hotel. To me, it’s not breakfast without bacon and eggs so this particular meal doesn’t count. The hotel room by the way, was lovely and comfortable. The bathtub was fantastically deep and came complete with an overhead heating light which made me feel a little like a human Big Mac but so what, I needed that extra warmth. The light opera emanating from the little CD stereo in the room made it a rather lovely bath. The only thing I wanted to consistently laugh at was the long winding walk down the corridors to the room. If I’d had a Big Wheel, it would have been like a scene from The Shining…..redrum, redrum.

Walked a LOT during the day. Hit Rockefeller Plaza where the NBC studios are and watched one or two brave and nearly frozen people skate on the rink. Strolled along Park Avenue and took in some of the sights and shops. Managed to hit FAO Schwarz, Barney’s and Bloomingdales for some light and pricey shopping and went in and had coffee and a snack at the Trump Towers (not as pricey as we’d expected). On to Central Park which was beautiful though near deserted and covered in a light dusting of snow. Saw some happy couples in handsome cabs touring the park and went through the little zoo area. Must be a wonder in warmer weather.

For lunch we went to Basil’s Trattoria at Lexington and 57th and had some lovely Italian food. Good atmosphere, busy and elegant but not fussy. More walking took us through Times Square and Broadway. Times Square is showier than Las Vegas in my opinion and a wonder of advertising and unabashed consumerism. This ain’t your father’s Times Square -- you know how many blocks you have to walk now to find a hooker?

Took a few photos, saw Letterman regular ‘Rupert G’ walking by the Ed Sullivan theatre and stopped at a coffee shop for some more fuel. They had ‘black and white’ cookies, remember those from Seinfeld?

La Boheme at the Broadway Theatre – dazzling and outrageously enjoyable. Baz Luhrmann outdid himself with this productioni. The sets and lighting were magic in motion and the performers wonderful. When it finished, a wash of applause flooded the theatre. Sat next to a couple of thirty something but already eccentric New Yorkers and laughed to ourselves at them. The only celebrity spotting here was of Margaret Colin. I seem to be the only one who knows who she is in my tiny circle of life. Look her up yourself. She looked great.

Had dinner at the Southside Grill which was a little restaurant down some stairs and out of the way and the food and wine was very nice. We decided that we needed to see another show and ordered tickets for Cabaret the following night.

Saturday was another walking day. The anti-war protest was being held at the UN and everywhere we went we saw placard carrying peace hopefuls on their way. Walked to Grand Central Station which was big and reminded me of our own Union Station, to Macy’s for some shopping, to the Empire State Building after finding that the beautiful Chrysler Building was not indeed the Empire State Building and then had lunch at Harrie’s Café & Bar. Real breakfast – delicious.

In the afternoon we decided to head for Ground Zero and took a subway ride to get there. That was a bit confusing with all the train switching that you need to do to basically go in a straight line. Take the Q to the W to the N or the R and so on. The subway ride there was uneventful and the trains were cleaner than I thought and not as graffiti filled as you see on television but the stations were dark and a little uncaring.

It was strange to see the massive area where the World Trade Centre stood as now it basically looks like a huge construction site. People were hawking photographs and memorabilia all around it. Land of the free, home of the quick buck.

It was a bit emotional seeing a plaque of September 11, 2001 heroes posted there. Went over to the big financial building to get another view and walked along the river and spotted the Statue of Liberty.

On the ride back, a group of young people serenaded the whole car with a rousing patriotic ditty in wonderful harmony – they were in town for a music conference.

Off to see Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) in Cabaret at Studio 54. If only those hallowed halls could talk – maybe they could explain the faint musty smell? What is that smell? Liza? Maggie T.? It ain’t teen spirit, I can tell ya that.

The theatre inside was set up like duh, a cabaret with small round tables all round the stage with lamps on them and food and drink was being served. Very cool and the Cabaret girls warmed up on stage before the formal show began taunting and teasing patrons seated close to the stage. As there was no curtain, it was pretty informal with cast members just sort of coming on and off stage until the gradually building rim shot of a snare drum signaled that things were about to begin.

Who the hell knew that Doogie Howser could pull off with great aplomb the role of the Emcee?! Now I know. Would love to see the show again. A much grittier and more dramatically impactful production than the movie was. The ending left everyone stunned with its horrible tableau. A moment of silence while everyone gathered their wits about them and then thunderous applause.

Following that, we whipped to a nearby restaurant, The Iguana, for Mexican food. A bit noisy but delicious food. From there back to the hotel for some rest. Very strange watching Saturday Night Live knowing that it was taping a very short distance away. Yawn, zzzzzzz.

On Sunday, we braved the unrelenting cold and found the Dean & Deluca coffee shop and had some warmth in the good coffee and some nice muffins. Did some walking and window shopping and bought some souvenirs at the NBC Experience Store. Sob, sniff, and gulp, back to the hotel for some packing and a cab to the airport waving goodbye to lovely New York City.

No coats or shoes allowed through the security machine at LaGuardia which seemed to have no heat, it was probably as cold inside as out. Sat in a little typical bar / restaurant in the airport so we could smoke and grabbed a hamburger. Airport food? I know, I know….but probably the best damned hamburger I’ve had in 10 years.

Up in the air. Homeward bound. New York, I’ll miss you but I’ll be back! Down to the ground and back to the welcoming arms of sleepy little Toronto (and out of the path of a snowstorm that shut down New York and had people cross country skiing through Times Square where only hours earlier we’d basked in the warmth of the millions of lights) (of crass commercialism) (but they’re still spectacular).

Building A Mistry...A Letter to Rohinton

Honest, I'm not a stalker and I don't write 'fan' letters but in this case the power of Christ, rather the power of fantastic writing compelled me... And I felt honoured that Rohinton Mistry wrote back (in longhand no less)! Here's the body of Christ, I mean, my letter:

I am writing to register my complaint that your books are so wonderfully written and completely engaging that I am finishing them too quickly!

A friend recommended A Fine Balance to me. I bought it and got so wrapped up in the story and characters that I found myself quite worried about them and what might happen next. Such a tragic tale filled with life and hope written in such a beautiful manner is a rare thing.

I then bought Such A Long Journey and once again was entranced. Your characters and descriptions are alive on the page and in my mind. I read it in record time. I so wanted to intervene and offer any assistance I could to help everyone along.

Family Matters is what I now have on the go and I’m forcing myself to not read too much at once so I can savour it. My consolation in finishing Family Matters is that I have bought but not yet read Tales from Firozsha Baag. Congratulations on the short-listing for the Booker prize by the way and good luck.

I was delighted to see how you dealt with Germaine Greer’s criticism of A Fine Balance through the discussion of how humankind cannot bear very much reality. I had read her remarks on the Internet and was at a loss to understand how anyone could say the things she did.

As I’ve been fairly ignorant of India’s history and perhaps history in general, your books have provided me with a lot of food for thought and information that I simply wasn’t aware of.

I’ve been busy recommending your books to anyone who will listen and after a suitable digestive period has passed, I’m quite sure that I’ll read them again and
re-appreciate them.

Thank you for a wonderful reading experience and best wishes.

He then almost immediately lost the Booker Prize and I'm slowly shifting blame away from myself. And yes, perhaps my letter was a touch too smarmy but I meant it at the time and stand by it now.

The Passionate Guy

By calling this blog Passion of the Dale I mean no disrespect to "the Christ".
I mean Jesus! I hardly know the man. (Sorry, Meryn Cadell, I sort of, well, outright, stole that idea from you. It's the Christian way right?)

Apart from a family connection to religious fanaticism I make no claim that I will go on at any length about my views or thoughts on Mary's Boy Chile JC. Then again...

Everyone should be going to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) before November 1, 2004. Write a book. Fast. You can do it Kippy.