Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I & I = US

I couldn't let 2013 end without writing this post about the main reason I was given the chance to go back to Lebanon this summer:  the exhibition I & I = US and my husband's participation in its opening event.  


Frankly, I was lucky to see everybody working together towards the opening night.  One of our dearest friends was the plastic artist behind it, the impulse behind the whole event.  From her heart, firmly linked to the Levant and to the rich cultures of Al Andalus, poured out the challenging, questioning, moving and nurturing pieces of the exhibition.    It was she who envisioned an opening with the powerful music of a viola virtuoso and the rich performance of a Butoh artist in the midst of her tangible poem to Lebanon: "I & I = US".

Of course, that's not to say that things ran smoothly and happy all the time - anybody who's ever tried mounting an exhibition will admit what a stressful and complex task that is.   But among the boxes, bubble wrap, scaffolding, noise, chaos and curious staff wondering what all these crazy artists were up to, I felt truly fortunate to see them in full creative process, trying out ideas, dreaming, and entering a zone I could only watch, mesmerized, from a distance. 


The opening, like I mentioned in my previous post, was amazing.  It was inspired by love, sadness, grief, resurrection... universal subjects, for sure, but particularly poignant in Lebanon's case.   It touched everybody, whether by leaving them dumbfounded, confused, shocked, moved or transported to another world.  I wanted to post my video of it.  Alas, not only was it was badly taken and badly lit but, unfortunately, it was too long for my computer to process.  And you would probably have missed out on most of its energy by watching it on a flat screen instead of having being there...  Sorry!

But - of course - that was just the opening.  The exhibition itself touched on so many symbols, ideas and aspirations... There was a cedar sapling, a blood-red saj (a Lebanese recipient), stars, and Buddha heads, and a poem's thoughts translated into Armenian, Persian, Arabic, Chinese and more; there was a call to all of us, the us that hate the them, the them that struggle with the us, the us and them who, whether loving or hating each other, will end up decaying, disintegrating, six feet under, together...


Naturally, all that creative energy could not simply fizz out.   Days later, interviews followed.   And afterwards, a photo-shoot too.  And that was another artistic blast.  Plastic art and dance merged, the exhibition became a playground, and time was frozen thanks to the magic of yet another artist - the photographer.   

Like I said, this wonderful creative experience was the whole reason behind our trip, and I remain intensely grateful to the creators, the crazy, loving, gifted creators that made it possible for me not only to see again a place I used to call home, but to participate, if only as a pair of eyes, of this creation.

And with that, I conclude this series of posts about Lebanon and about a trip of a lifetime.   

Monday, December 30, 2013

David Cronenberg's EVOLUTION

If you're in Toronto or will be before January 19th, head to this exhibition at the TIFF Bell Lightbox about Cronenberg's filmography.  Not only is there one of the teleporter pods from The Fly (and that should be reason enough), but there's a whole room about Naked Lunch and you can even have your photo taken at a bar with a mugwump sipping a martini!  Totally awesome!

And should that not be enough (come on!), then you head to the last part of the exhibition where you sign up to participate in some simulations to have a biotech implant designed just for you at the BMC Labs!  To enhance you as a human being!  Of course, it's all make-believe, but you do actually get to have one of those alien-looking thingies 3D printed for you!

Not bad at all, eh?

Friday, December 27, 2013

Walter Mitty, snow and Chinese food for Xmas

I've been far from family (geographically, not emotionally) for many years.  And I'm not very traditional to begin with.  So unless I put an extra effort, I can't quite produce a traditional Christmas experience, LOL.  On top of that, with 50% of Torontonians being from abroad, this city seems somewhat less Christmassy than other, less diverse places, which doesn't help.  

That being said, it was a nice Christmas day, with a feel-good movie to start:  "The secret life of Walter Mitty".  It didn't receive good reviews, but I couldn't help but get excited about Greenland, Iceland, the Himalayas, travel, adventure, strange experiences...    

It was also a Christmas of snow, plenty of it!

And of excellent dumplings, mapo tofu and bok choy at our favourite dumpling house... (Chinese food for Christmas? are my remote Jewish genes at work here?)

And of nice walks in a quiet, calm, snowy Toronto, where the soft snow crunched beneath thanks to Saturday's ice storm.  Here, a pic of one of my favourite local parks, Grange Park, with OCAD University lit purple in the background:

So, no, not traditional.  But still a merry Christmas for me.   

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Eve at the Cathedral Church of St. James

I'm afraid that, as a die-hard atheist, my goings to churches tend to take on a rather experiential, instead of religious, air.  

That being said, being yesterday night at the St. James Cathedral of Toronto for the Christmas choral Eucharist with the aim of listening to Mozart, Bach and Mendelssohn (OK, OK, credit where credit's due, it was my husband's idea, he's the cultured one) also meant seeing the überdiverse crowd of Toronto (in stark contrast to last year's Reykjavík-Viking crowd) wishing peace to each other, communing en masse, and kneeling to pray intently.  That, frankly, was very moving.  

So, from a non-believer to the believers, thanks for the special experience on a special night, and may you have a very merry Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ice Storm

Yesterday we had the worst ice storm there's been since 1998.   Freezing rain fell overnight, and this morning everything had an incredibly thick layer of ice!  Though I'm aware there's quite a few people that are suffering the consequences with no electricity or even with unfortunate accidents, I will admit that, being the first time in my life I experience something like this, it was fascinating and, frankly, even fun! (with all due respect for those adversely affected by it, I insist).  In fact, we spent some 4 hours out in the cold braving slippery streets and freezing wind in awe at nature's crazy turn.   Now I know what some fairy tales refer to when they talk about "forests of ice"...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

6 steps to overcoming a cold rainy dark winter solstice

We went from a freezing but beautifully snowy winter weather to a horrible cold, foggy, wet, rainy weather.  Fortunately, we managed to turn what could have otherwise been a very meh Saturday and winter solstice into a very enjoyable one with these 6 steps:

1.  Persian brunch!  At Tavoos.  No better way to start the day than with chai, warm bread, jams, baklava, and good friends (a very important ingredient, needless to say).

2. Embracing the rain and the ambiance it creates.  That is, you tell rain to go f*ck itself and you still go for a walk and appreciate this side of the city.

3.  Coffee break at Café Diplomatico.  Specifically with an espresso corretto (an espresso with a bit of alcohol, sambuca in this case) at a place that's been serving Toronto for 45 years, where Sophia Loren visited, and where scenes of Atom Egoyan's Chloé were filmed. 

4.  You stop to admire the contrast between purple cabbage-like plants and the snow.

5.  A casual browsing and cosy Balfour Books.  

6.  Last stop: warming up again with an espresso macchiato with almond milk at Voodoo Child, which excels at little details like matching cups and sugar bowls, while watching life and streetcars go by... 

Happy winter solstice!

Xmas at The Rex

So glad we decided to venture to The Rex.  Yesterday night - a fantastic Christmas-themed show by Jake Wilkinson and his band.  Honestly, sometimes you feel like in a Woody Allen movie set in New York at this place...

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

complex Mexico City

This December I was lucky enough to have to go to Mexico City for work, which meant I could have some free time to be with family, to meet new family members, to enjoy things I love about the city, and even to see a new thing or two...


It's a cliché, I guess, but one of the best things about going to Mexico is the food.  And, for me, being vegan, it's certain specific items, mostly local and basic and that are difficult to find in restaurants even in Mexico City.  And I can definitely say this trip was a huge success.  First of all, at a family lunch they prepared an avocado soup with chili and maize strips!  That was SO good! and unexpected!  and perfectly spicy! and naturally fully vegan!   Score!   And next day?  Next day I went with my family to Coyoacán's Market (Coyoacán is this very colonial, nicely preserved part of Mexico City) to have quesadillas (sort of like tacos, I guess) with mushrooms, squash blossom (I love that!) and my favourite, huitlacoche (a maize fungus that is dark and has an earthy flavour), all three smothered in rich, just made, hot sauces.  Superb, man.  Superb.  And to quench my Toronto induced caffeine addiction?  The Mexican equivalent of Starbucks, Cielito Querido, which has surprisingly good espresso, is 100% Mexican, and has plenty of folkloric touches to give it a very distinctive ambiance.   Triple score!  (quadruple, when you take into account my sister's vegan eggplant pizza, of which I ate more than my fair share)  


Additionally, being a city of its size (20 million plus inhabitants?), there's art everywhere.  There's urban art, like a mural I saw at the Insurgentes subway station and which included images of a winged shirtless guy holding two rainbow sticks and numerous peculiar characters.  Or like some gigantic alebrijes (folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures) almost two stories tall on a street in downtown Mexico City.  As well as a shocking and stark exhibition at La Domus del Ausente (The Domus, or Home, of the Missing One)...  

There's a town in Colombia where bodies, or parts of bodies, victims of violence of different sorts, float through, and people from that town "choose" bodies or parts of bodies to make a niche for them, to maybe name them or give them their own surnames, to look after them and their souls, in exchange for favours and miracles.  This tragic effort of remembrance of the unknown ones is photographed by Manuel Echavarría, and the colourful niches only serve as an even cruder contrast with the horror behind them.   

On the other hand, there's Ciudad Juárez, in the north of Mexico, on the US border, where hundreds of women and girls have been murdered since the nineties ("las muertas de Juárez", "Juárez's dead women").  Mayra Martell documents that, through photography and video.  She takes photos of the bedrooms and objects of many of the girls, left intact by their parents in vane hope of their return.  She photographs a "missing person" poster for one of them, and how it deteriorates with time...

It took me a good three long blocks of deep breathing and distracting myself with other thoughts to keep from breaking into tears, I was really distraught by that exhibition.  Not all art can be colourful and happy, can it?      


I had to enjoy my beloved Coyoacán, of course!  Its old cobblestone streets, the old haciendas and churches, the roots of ancient trees breaking through the sidewalk...  I go back there every time I visit the city, and I never get tired of it.  Coyoacán simply rocks.  But I also saw something, in a different part of the city, I had passed by a number of times in that isolating box we call a car, and which I had never stopped to look at: the Chapultepec Aqueduct.  Though the remaining part is colonial, it actually replaced an Aztec one!  Meaning:  very, very, VERY old.

Also, I couldn't skip revisiting our Angel of Independence.  The place where Mexico City goes to celebrate soccer victories, to demonstrate against abuse, to celebrate diversity.  Built for Mexico's first centennial as an independent nation, it remains one of Mexico City's most iconic images, and vastly overshadows the monument for the bicentennial, which is so shamefully nondescript I decided not to post a photo of it.

And, for a nice change of character, right by the Palace of Fine Arts a bronze cast of Louise Bourgeois' Maman, her gigantic spider sculpture.   


Then again, going back to Mexico also means facing one of colonialism's most damaging after-effects:  an impoverished class composed of mostly native and mixed ancestry Mexicans.  Mexico is doing its fair bit to try to revert the oppressing classism and racism that used to prevail, but it's probably too late for most indigenous languages.  Years ago, the government of Mexico City was considering making Nahuatl, the Aztec language, part of Mexico's active culture, giving it new life and having all government officials learn it and learn about indigenous culture.  Big dream, no results.  A real shame.   

By the way, before anybody gets offended (why?) for my choice of MAIZE for this part, please remember that one of the creation myths of mankind in Mexico involves the gods using maize to create humankind...


If the revitalization of indigenous languages has a hard, long road ahead, at least the acceptance of queerness has made incredible strides in Mexico City.  Yes, of course, I expected to see numerous gay bars and clubs, and I was not at all surprised to see young people expressing same-sex affection freely.  But I also spotted older people, 50+, doing the same!   And when talking with straight people, well, it simply seems that non-straights have become quite a non-issue!  I mean, intolerant fascists breed everywhere, but every time I go back to this city I can tell it's become more and more inclusive, so kudos, Mexico City! 


Let me end this post about this great trip (work was gruelling, but also very productive and positive, but this is not a blog about work, ok?) with a video from a religious procession I witnessed on a Sunday.  I believe it was in honour of a Virgin of Coyoacán, though it could have also been a procession on its way to the Guadalupe Basilica, where the Virgin of Guadalupe was going to be revered on December 12th.  Whichever it was, it was colourful, and vibrant, and completely mestizo.   I considered myself extremely lucky to have seen it, as well as to have enjoyed so many beautiful, rich, complex parts of Mēxihco Tenōchtitlan...