Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Book of Mormon!

I had been wanting to see the musical The day The Book of Mormon since I found out it was going to be produced even!  And it finally happened, today, in Toronto!   

This was no disappointment.   A fantastic irreverent musical satire about religion, getting Africa, AIDS, war, diarrhoea, missionaries and musicals themselves in the mess, in true Trey Parker and Mark Stone style.  Real good fun.  Unless you're the serious kind.  In which case you should most definitely stay away.   

Monday, May 20, 2013

Next Music from Tokyo Vol 5

The story (told by the bartender) goes like this:  some doctor with Japanese heritage flies every year to Tokyo, listens to indie rock bands, chooses the 4 he likes best, and flies them over to Toronto!  And so is Next Music from Tokyo born.  Well, remember, so we were told.  But it's a good story, right?  Plus, it takes place at The Rivoli, which I hear (I say I hear, because like I said, I know next to nothing about music!) is quite the institution with, for example, Adele singing there before rising to fame.

Anyhow, it was really yuanfen (缘分, destiny?) that I got to go:  I had never heard of the event, but two good friends who're really into bands suggested we go.  Advance tickets had sold out.  Door tickets had sold out.  But when I went in to enquire if there were really no more tickets left, someone had just given back EXACTLY THREE tickets and asked for a refund!  So we got in!

Warning:  I know nothing about bands.  The following opinions are unfounded and biased.  That being said... the event rocked!   The first group, チーナ (Chi-na) was super energetic, fun, and just hear-this-and-feel-good-and-have-fun-with-us.    You really want to hear them live, they had energy!  The second group, ハラフロムヘル (Harafromhell) was not much to my liking, but they had a curious country-like style.   But the third one, きのこ帝国 (Kinoko Teikoku), wow!  I fell in love with the lead singer right from the first song.  I'm probably wrong here, but I'd say I could feel a slight Icelandic influence (like For a Minor Reflection, or Sigur Rós), but anyhow this group was just superb.  You've got to listen to them!  Or even better, see them at a concert!

All in all, these were humble bands giving their all to a very excited audience (which included, not surprisingly, a big Japanese fan base).  That was a night to remember!  凄かったぜ…

Sunday, May 19, 2013

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO)

Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).  May 17th was chosen because on that day in 1990 the World Health Organization took homosexuality out of the list of mental disorders.  It's a day to remind us all to fight for sexual diversity and gender freedom.

Yesterday, numerous brave people around the world demonstrated for their rights and equality, many of them facing counterdemonstrations (some of them violent and dangerous).  In that context, Toronto deserves a special mention as a place where calls for tolerance and and diversity are not only welcome, but clebrated and given their rightful place.

IDAHO was celebrated with a raising of the rainbow flag at City Hall.  With a reading of a speech by the mayor of the city, Rob Ford, who even with his frequent dissing of LGBTQ events had to participate.  With the presence of numerous teenagers from Gay-Straight Alliances from all over Canada.   And with a concert by The Cliks (preceded by Molly Thomason, from Nova Scotia) whose lead singer, Lucas Silveira, who was voted Sexiest Canadian Man by the readers of Chart Attack (Canada's premier music magazine), is an openly transgender man.

With the rainbow flag gracing City Hall, with some 400 people of diverse sexualities, genders and beliefs, we all celebrated tolerance and diversity, freely, swaying to the rhythm of a super sexy transman's deep voice.   Kudos, Toronto. Kudos, Canada.  Kudos, IDAHO!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A night of learning - Leil Tikkun Shavuot at the MNJCC

Yesterday night the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre organized an all-night Jewish learning festival to celebrate Shavuot, the day Jewish people commemorate the giving of the Torah to Moses.  Me, still running on the fuel of excitement from my last event at the centre ("Yidishtog", a day of lectures about Yiddish, in Yiddish), certainly curious about this strange thing where people collectively pulled an all-nighter to learn, and having received confirmation by the event's manager herself (!) that absolutely everyone was welcome, overcame exhaustion from an intense work day and showed up for the third of seven "learning sessions".  Each session was an hour long, with breaks in between for socializing and noshing, and during each session numerous activities (lectures, singing, praying, analysis, reflection, etc.) took place in different rooms, so you could in fact choose the path you wanted your night of learning to take, which I thought was absolutely brilliant (so many choices!).   


Third Session
11:15 PM to 12:15 AM

Spiritual Revelation: The "Still Small Voice" Within.  With Michelle Katz

The purpose of this activity was to open "our hearts and minds to interact with G-d and others" through niggunim (wordless melodies), reflections, and silent meditation.   I reckoned that, as an atheist non-Jew (or with 1/8 to 1/4 Jewish ancestry in the best of cases) trying to know more, niggunim and silence were probably my best shots at trying to begin to understand the Jewish religious experience.   I was slightly terrified, feeling like a sort of intruder, and an ignorant one at that!  But this was no exam, and Michelle welcomed us all (just about 5 at the beginning) and led us gently through "finding the Torah" in our hearts, finding ourselves, and "finding G-d".   At first, I'm afraid I didn't do too well.  But mostly because, if you're an atheist, the deity part of the equation is painfully missing.  On top of that, I'm definitely a "moving-meditator" - when I need to reflect on life, on decisions, on pain, I move (I walk, I run, I hike), and though static stillness may work for me, it can't compare to "moving stillness".  And yet near the end a sort of tiny enlightenment took place, and I realized that another reason that the session was not "rocking my senses" was that I am, at this point in time, in a peaceful place.   And I was grateful.   And I felt compassion.  So the meditation did take me somewhere after all, hey?   


12:15 AM to 12:45 AM

Menchie's at Midnight

Yogurt break courtesy of Menchie's Frozen Yogurt!  Including (thank you my vegan-loving Toronto!) mango sherbets!   And an impromptu performance by those that had participated in the "Instant Choir" activity the hour before (while I was "nigunning" and meditating).   Hearing those songs in Hebrew brought me closer to the whole Leil Tikkun experience, while paradoxically making me feel slightly separate at the same time, as these simple details, the songs, the stories, were part of the singers' lives in a way they were not part of mine.


Fourth Session
12:45 AM to 1:45 AM 

Imagining our past:  Jewish gay experience in contemporary historical fiction.  With Shlomo Gleibman.

How could I not attend this one?  It represented one of the things that seemed so intriguing about this night.  It was about learning (in a Jewish context, of course) in a broader sense.  Not only were there prayer and Torah related activities, there had been cooking, singing, meditation, feminism-related discussions, and even this, a discussion of queerness in Jewish historical fiction?  Wow.  I had seen already a rather good Israeli film (Eyes Wide Open, עיניים פקוחות) about gay experiences in a Jewish Orthodox setting, and it was interesting to know that not only were North American writers writing Jewish queer historical fiction, but that some of those books had even reached a mainstream audience.   And, again, talking about the homoeroticism of two Torah students in a novel, in and of itself, seemed quite remarkable, and wonderfully inclusive, in a night of learning.


1:45 AM to 2:00 AM 
Snack break with Sweets From the Earth

By then, the energy boost from a delicious VEGAN chocolate chip cookie was not only welcome, but essential!   Especially if I was supposed to last another session...


Fifth Session
2:00 AM to 3:00 AM

Guided Chevruta Study - Receptivity and Revelation: Opening to Not Knowing.  With Aaron Rotenberg.

This was about "not trying to learn everything tonight" and studying "Hasidic texts and Abraham Joshua Heschel on the wisdom of not knowing", chavruta-style, which means it's done in pairs, where both read the texts and then discuss them to discover things together through argument and logical discussion.   The manager of the Jewish Life Department at the MNJCC agreed that, if I was going to do a chavruta study, it most definitely had to be this one, coming as I was from a place of pretty much not knowing.

I was paired with a man in his 50's (I guess?).  A super friendly and approachable person that was happy to discuss the texts to such levels that at one point we were talking not about the impossibility of defining what knowledge was, but also about the impossibility of even defining what "not-knowing" was!  I must blame one  of the texts (there were five) for driving us there, but another one let us descend a bit from our abstract discussion cloud and talk about knowledge as a non-arrival place, a place you're always approaching, a place that looks vaster and bigger the closer you get, and a place that remains permanently just without reach.  Though the exercise probably intended we would at some point argue about the possibility or impossibility of knowing the divine (the texts we were reading made clear reference to the divinity), my partner was more than happy to argue with me in a broader way about knowing and not-knowing everything, anything and nothing.   Plus, the texts were bilingual Hebrew-English, and his solid knowledge of Hebrew even opened my eyes to a better interpretation of the English translation.


For a few years now, out of personal curiosity (no doubt spurred by the discovery of Jewish ancestors) I have been approaching Jewishness from various fronts.   Through film.  Through music.  Through history.  Through language(s).  For an atheist goy (or 1/8 - 1/4 Jew), I thought I knew quite a bit.   

I was too tired to make it to the 6th and 7th sessions and the closing ceremony at sunrise.  I grabbed a bagel from the snack break.  And I left knowing much more, in new ways I had not known, and knowing I knew next to nothing after all.    A night of learning alright.   Chag shavuot same'ach.  Happy Feast of Weeks.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Magnolias, cherry blossoms, and a sunset

At High Park. Relaxing. Soft. Grateful.

Sakura Hanami at High Park

Sun. Cherry trees blossoming in full.  Families and friends, most of them Asian, enjoying picnics under the trees in a collective hanami (flower viewing or appreciation) of the sakuras.  One fine Sunday.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Spring. Finally. Thankfully.

I can finally declare spring has arrived to thios city.  Not only was it sunny and warm, but the cherry trees are in full blossom!   Yay!   And with them the mangolia trees (one of my favourites and which reminds me of my springs in Beijing) and flowers of all colours and shapes.   Sun.  Warmth.  Flowers.  Endorphine and happiness rush.  Ahhhhh.

Come as you are

In true Torontonian fashion, a sex shop where you can be offered a look at colourful glass dildos, transmen mags, vibrators and Power Play guides in such a welcoming, friendly way that you could never ever feel the least bit embarrassed or uncomfortable.  A true embodying of its name, "Come as you are".