Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

our first Christmas holidays in Toronto

Now that we're in a country where Christmas is very important, and given that you can be of any religion (or none) and still take the chance to have a special time with those close to you, here's how we spent our first Christmas holidays in Toronto:

Christmas Eve

This was the best day by far:  We went to see a musical.  A musical inspired on a true story about the author's mother.  Just the title by itself had piqued my curiosity enough to warrant going.  And that title was "My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding".  How about that!  It was funny, it was heart-warming, even a bit inspiring, if nothing that will be epoch-changing; and I bloody darn enjoyed it a lot.

And what did we find once outside?  It was snowing!  Against every single weather forecast, it was snowing!  Granted, it didn't mean much to Torontonians, because for them snow on the 25th (NOT the 24th) is what matters, but since, for us, the 24th is the most important day, I was jumping up and down with excitement!  And we went for a walk to Toronto University which, with no people and a thin blanket of really white snow, looked calm and beautiful.  It was really a wonderful surprise.

Afterwards, we had dinner at a French restaurant called Le Saint Tropez.  The food was perfect:  nothing fancy, with a very home-made feel, with the taste just right, with nice wine,  a cosy atmosphere, and quite an affordable bill on top of all that.  I really was having a fantastic Christmas Eve, but there was one more detail that we couldn't miss: opening our gifts, at home, with the lights dancing on the Christmas tree.   I had planned for a warm, loving Christmas Eve, and it worked, and I was grateful.

Christmas Day 

Unfortunately, the forecasts were accurate for Christmas Day:  rain.  No snow, just rain.  And we didn't do much, except what anyone else might do back home:  eat, relax, eat, relax, watch a movie, and eat more.  Although that last one was quite a meal... at an Indian restaurant!  Because, after all, try finding an open place on Christmas!  You'll have to have either Korean, Chinese or Indian!  (which, quite honestly, is quite a good selection, anyhow)

Boxing Day

Boxing Day must have had a meaning at some point, but today there's just one meaning to it:  shopping!  Supposedly, most shops will have the best offers of the year on Boxing Day, and hordes of shoppers practically raid the malls and shopping centres.  Being our first Boxing Day, we weren't going to miss it, so we headed to Eaton Centre, took some pics, tried to get our special boots to endure the cold and snow to come, and got out of there as fast as we could (our shopping-crowd tolerance is remarkably low, I'm afraid).

Fortunately, spending so little time shopping left time for a very refreshing movie by Almodóvar, Los Abrazos Rotos, and I say refreshing because, after all, most of the movies we see here are North-American, and seeing something from across the ocean was definitely welcome.

A musical, ethnic food, shopping for snow-boots, snow, rain and movies.   And inordinate amounts of quality time.  Not bad at all for our first Torontonian Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

happy Winter Solstice!

Just when I thought I would have nothing to write about this week Toronto decided to surprise me once more.  My habibi told me he was going to some "Festival of Lights" at Kensington Market (a Toronto neighbourhood) where they'd have giant puppets, fire-eaters and such.  He, always interested in street theatre, is always on the lookout for stuff like that.  Me, I like that neighbourhood, and thought a festival of lights would be nice, so I decided to join.

So, we arrived to Augusta and Oxford about an hour after sunset and lo and behold, a whole parade!  Lots of giant puppets, people on stilts, groups playing very lively music, lots of people holding lamps and lights of all sorts, it was so alive!  And the best thing was that it was just very open and flowing, anyone could participate in the procession and have fun, it was definitely a party for everybody. 

The more we followed the procession, the more performances we saw.  The whole atmosphere was if you had stepped on an alternate universe: the houses, the lights, the singing... And then, when we saw a number of people dressed as suns, it hit us, we were in the middle of a Winter Solstice celebration!   We were celebrating the birth of the sun in the longest of nights!  and what a following this pagan feast had!  thousands of people!

We went along (and partied along) until we reached a park where the pagan aspect of the whole thing took on huge proportions.  There were dancers playing with fire, and a huge offering (a heart, actually) was set on fire while musicians played.  The sight of the burning heart, the loud rhythmic music, both the towers of the Financial District and the CN Tower in the background, that was crazy, and magic.

I absolutely loved the experience.  And it gives me a great excuse to wish you all a happy Winter Solstice!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Festival of lights at Kensington Market

pagan Toronto burns an offering at the Winter Solstice

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

silver scales and steel

I can't help marvel at the lake's (and its skies') colours, moods and changes...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas, Western style

Christmas is often about three things:  being with family, a festive environment, and the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  Being a (GASP) non-believer, I'm left with just two of those.  Having the job I do, the family element is difficult to arrange.  Having lived in China for over 4 years, the environment was absent too.  So you might understand why I'm so thrilled to spend Christmas in Canada now!  I'm delighted by decorations, songs, people being excited, snow...  And so I've applied myself to experiencing Christmas with the same excitement and interest as if I were visiting some Asian nation to experience a local festival.

First, we went to Dundas Square to celebrate the lighting of the square's Christmas tree at "Illuminite".  I loved the setting: the square is not too big and has a number of screens here and there, giving it a modern look. We heard Christmas songs by Sara Westbrook.  No, I had no idea who she was, but she was sparkly, sang well, and so kept me happy.  We also saw a performance by Circus Orange, which uses fire, acrobatics and drums in an interesting combination but which, at points, seemed too repetitive and not dramatic enough.  Nevertheless, at least parts of it were quite nice and rhythmic (and the pictures may make it look even more interesting than it was!).   Finally, there was another performance by Circus Orange to carry fire to light the tree, and THAT was very well worth the wait, because they made a sort of procession across the square, and the atmosphere they created with their slow movement, the fire and the fire-bearers was very special.  And finally the Christmas tree was lit with beautiful and soothing blue hues, contrasting with all the fire-play we'd seen.   And so, officially, the holiday season started.

That was mid-November.    Next day there was the "Santa Claus Parade", which had crowds gathering along the route to catch a glimpse.   The weather was quite mild and perfect for all parents to take their children to watch the parade and wave at Santa, but we decided the crowds were just a bit too much, that we were just a bit too short (LOL) to get a good look, and so we stayed just for a short while.  And anyhow, what's the point of a Santa without snow?  ;-)

Finally, the last week of November we had another taste of Christmas but, this time, Swedish style!  We headed to the Harbourfront Centre where I had glögg (warm wine with almonds, raisins, and spices, brilliant!) with pepparkakor (ginger snaps), while we looked at some crafts and bought cider and, what else, lots of pepparkakor! (they're just too good).  We also entered a raffle for a trip for two to Sweden  (no luck, though; sigh).  And, since the weather was cold but really sunny, we sat by the harbourfront and enjoyed our gingersnaps, the sun, and a pleasant, simple Sunday afternoon.


Christmas is just 10 days away, the holiday is definitely in the air, and even though I won't be back in Mexico for it, being in practically in the same time zone and definitely in the same continent as family does make a difference.  

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friday, December 11, 2009

golden Winter hues

the most beautiful golden hue I've seen on the lake so far (the photo doesn't do it justice); it lasted just moments

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Steel-blue december waters

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le cirque des freaks: Halloween!

Yes, I know, Halloween took place quite a while ago, but I've had so much to write about and only  now did Halloween's turn come.

One of the great things about being in Toronto is that we get to see a number of Western festivities celebrated BIG and amongst people who've been celebrating them for quite a while (remember, our last 4 and a half years were spent in a wholly different cultural environment: Beijing).   Halloween was definitely one of the dates I waited for the most eagerly, and I sure didn't get disappointed!  Among all the celebrations taking place in the city we chose to go to the one on Church Street because it was open to the public, it was the biggest celebration in the city, there was going to be a costume contest and, best of all, it was free.

But, of course, since I was going for the full experience, I decided I had to wear a costume, or at least attempt to create one.  And so I dressed all in black, including a Matrix-style long coat, put some kohl around my eyes, and had my habibi write a curse in Chinese with kohl on my chest:  "After reading this, you'll die in seven days" (看完了七天后將死).   The idea was that people would ask what the funny characters meant, I'd do a little performance where I'd read the curse aloud in Chinese, and then I'd let them know their gruesome fate...  Yeah, I know, sounds silly, but Halloween is a great time for doing silly stuff.

Well, let me tell you, it was quite the experience.  First, the costume contest was at a small park off the main street and the costumes were really extraordinary.  There were characters from Alice in Wonderland, there was a minotaur, a chandelier and, though she arrived too late to participate, the A H1N1 virus!  Who arrived being rolled down the street by a group of "doctors"!  

The whole street had become a sea of freaks and of spectators gawking at them.   You can't believe how complex, creative and simply out of this world some of the costumes were.  It was so good, in fact, that I asked my habibi to help me think of and design a costume for next year.  As a very serious task.

As for my own costume, it had an unexpected result.  Given that so many Canadians have tattoos on them, only ONE person asked what I had written on my chest, the others probably just assuming I was yet another tattooed guy.   BUT the Chinese-Canadians, those DID react!  (how could I have forgotten there would be lots of Chinese speakers around?!)   Quite a few read the "curse", looked surprised, then amused, and then took pictures of me with them; a few others just pointed their cameras and shot; a kid laughed when this foreigner talked to him in Chinese; and a few, just a few, looked really and honestly scared after reading the curse.  Oops.

I am definitely going back next year.  And I'm going to come up with some great costume, it's just too good an opportunity to let it pass.

from impending snowstorm to serenity

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

"To be straight with you"

By DV8 Physical Theatre, at Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto. A chilling, freakingly awesome portrayal of the hell gays and sexual minorities suffer in most of the world. A must. Seek it.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

December sun

Winter sunshine through office window

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Autumn light, Autumn colours

As November comes to an end and the weather gets colder, trees lose most of their leaves and snow is a real possibility, it's my last chance to share the last colours and lights of Autumn.

This first set of photos is from a walk we took in and around Toronto University, a fantastic place to go and enjoy a bit of urban nature, with all the yellows, oranges and reds we needed amidst both traditional and modern architecture (and, on top of that, we stumbled upon a sale of old books at Harry-Potteresque building, brilliant!). 

This second set is from the last sunny day where you could have gone out in just a T-shirt.  Granted, it was about 9 degrees, BUT that included the wind-chill factor, and the days had been rather gray and rainy, so when the sun came out in all it's glory and the temperature was really quite high for the season, all of Toronto took to the streets, parks, and the harbourfront (where we went) and simply basked in the warm suns rays, strolled, and were simply happy.   And we had a small surprise too:  at the Harboufront Centre there was a Mexican Day of the Dead festival, where we found traditional Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead) and calaveritas de azúcar (sugar skulls!).   Awesome!

So, I guess it will soon be time to start posting about snow and cold weather but, in the meantime, it was a nice, sunny, red Autumn, as it should.