If you are anything like me, you likely spent much of last week glued to your television. As much as I knew Donald Trump was a liar, had ignored conventional norms and undermined governmental institutions, excoriated those whom he perceived as disloyal, and was not respected by most who had worked with him, I never would have guessed that he would incite an insurrection on the Capitol of the United States. Yet we all watched it on national television.
There is no doubt that what we saw was an insurrection, nor any doubt that Trump incited it. What can be done to hold Trump accountable has yet to be determined. Reasonable people agree that accountability is necessary but disagree on how.
What is interesting is the extent to which others were complicit in what happened. All those legislators who agreed with his “big lie,” that he actually won the November 3rd election, or that he lost it because it was rigged. All November, much of December, even until the Congressional debates on the evening of January 6th, legislators who know better insisted that the will of the people should be overturned by Congress. By lying to their constituents, all those legislators can be seen to have encouraged those who attended on January 6th in their mistaken belief that attending Congress on that date could lead to Trump’s continuing in office. What consequences these enablers will face is unclear. I hope, as Mitt Romney said, that by choosing the wrong side, they will be forever branded in history for their attack on American democracy. We’ll see.
What is also fascinating is the extent to which social media companies have recognized that they too could be complicit in what happened. It’s clear that the internet has been replete with posts encouraging disinformation, violence, the use of force and of weapons to keep Trump in office. That Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter have banned Trump from their sites sends an important message. That Apple, Goggle, and Amazon have removed Parler, an alternate extreme right internet site, from their app stores is a good sign. Presumably, the internet will no longer be available to any groups or individuals violating corporate standards. Internet access to millions upon millions of readers is novel in history. The political consequences of disinformation, using violent language, and encouraging violence on modern technology has now become apparent, and social media companies have been made aware of their responsibilities. The rest of us need to understand the issue and decide where we stand.
Anyone watching on Wednesday will have been struck by the clear security lapse which occurred. That the Capitol police were overwhelmed was apparent early in the afternoon. But where were the Washington, DC police? The FBI? The National Guard? Everyone knew that Trump could influence those marching in his name. He chose not to do so. His tweets to the crowd only encouraged them to continue. The chief of police for Washington, DC said that there was no intelligence that would have alerted them to the need for greater advance security. Given the plethora of internet communications about the event in advance, that can’t be true. There were also reports that the mayor of Washington, DC had asked for National Guard assistance before the event. That request was apparently ignored. National Guard troops were available in Maryland, Virginia, and in DC itself but the federal government official responsible for giving them authorization to assist was AWOL. Clearly, a full investigation of the security lapse will be held and further culpability on the part of those responsible will be established.
The difference between security on this occasion and on other occasions, when black Americans were protesting, could not have been more clear. It is not hyperbole to say that everyone watching had a visceral personal experience of the racism which permeates law enforcement in the United States.
It has already been said that January 6th will be known as “a day of infamy” in American history. In my lifetime, it seems analogous to the assassination of President Kennedy, the Watergate scandal, and 9/11. We are still in the middle of it and don’t know how it will ultimately play out. It gives us much to think about. If nothing else, it teaches us the fragility of democracy and how we must always be alert to how our words and actions affect our polity.
***** Note that streaming of Messiah/Complex (post of December 31st 2020) has been extended to January 31st. It’s worth making a special effort to see it. *****
So many people I know think they don’t like opera. They have little experience of it and perhaps are intimidated by the foreign languages, the length of the performances, and the use of music for all the dialogue. Whatever the reason, they avoid anything which smacks of opera.
The 2020 New Year’s Eve Gala concert from the Metropolitan Opera of New York on Thursday should be an exception. Filmed in Augsburg, Germany, live from the neo-Baroque Parktheater (“a marvel of glass and cast-iron” which opened in 1886), it is a delightful concert appealing to opera experts and novices alike. It premiered on New Year’s Eve and is available to view by streaming until January 13th.
The setting is stunning. When most other opera houses around the world are shuttered, this performance comes from an opera house which is small, intimate, and with what appear to be windows which let in natural light. Lighting for the concert used the windows to wonderful effect. All the seats on the floor of the hall were removed, replaced by a small round stage where the performers sang, accompanied by a pianist for some songs and a small string ensemble for others. The production was conducted according to German COVID-19 requirements, shot with numerous cameras, linked to the control room in New York, and directed by Gary Halvorson, the director of the Met’s Live in HD theatre transmissions.
The Gala program includes arias, duets, and ensembles from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment, Puccini’s La Boheme and La Rondine, Verdi’s Il Trovatore and La Traviata, and others, as well as operetta excerpts and Neapolitan songs. These are some of the most popular pieces in classical music and will be familiar to many who think they know nothing about opera. Excerpts from the concert are available on YouTube.
The performers are sopranos Angel Blue and Pretty Yende and tenors Javier Camarena and Matthew Polenzani. Blue starred as Bess in the Met’s production of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, which opened the 2019–20 season. She is founder of the non-profit Sylvia’s Kids Foundation, which offers scholarships to high school graduates. Yende comes from South Africa, made her debut in Latvia and has sung with most major opera companies around the world. Mexican tenor Camarena is “one of opera’s most celebrated bel canto singers.” He made his Met debut in 2011 as Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. American tenor Polenzani made his debut at the Met in 1997 as Boyar Khrushchov in Boris Godunov and has sung nearly 400 performances of 40 roles at the Met since.
The women wear lavish dresses, the men tuxedos. Needless to say, their singing is superb. It was wonderful to see them perform live in such a setting, and to know that people were watching together from all over the world.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased on the Met’s website at metopera.org. Once you have a ticket, you can watch the concert as often as you wish. The concert can be seen on a computer, mobile device, or a home entertainment system (via Chromecast or AirPlay).
The Gala Concert has been marketed as part of the Met’s fundraising campaign “to support the company and protect its future.”
To put it into context, you may be interested to know that the New Year’s Eve Gala has contributed to labour conflicts at the Met. The newsletter, Ludwig Van Toronto, on January 1, 2021, published an article by Anya Wassenberg entitled “THE SCOOP | Frictions Grow Between Met Opera, Met Orchestra And Staff After New Year’s Gala.”
The Met is the largest classical music organization in the US with about 1000 employees including musicians, stagehands, and members of the chorus. It is said that the Met has lost $154 million in revenues since the pandemic began. On Thursday, Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians complained that the Gala continued the Met strategy of outsourcing its musicians which was “artistic malpractice and unacceptable.” In December, the stagehands were locked out. The unions are concerned that employees of the Met have not been paid or supported during the pandemic, and that future contract negotiations will be affected. I had assumed that the “fundraising campaign,” which was the purpose of the MetStars series and the Gala, would have supported as many Met employees as possible. Apparently, it did not extend to the musicians, stagehands, and chorus.
Comments about the New Year’s Gala reflect the situation. Most agree that it was a splendid concert with great music and fabulous production values. Some chose to boycott the concert because of the labour issues. I have no informed opinion about the situation. The only thing I will say is that the Metropolitan Opera has led the world in making opera accessible to the masses. If making opera more popular is one of the objectives of the MetStars series, including the Gala, then it will contribute to the future of the art. That is a good thing.
As for the concert, it is absolutely exhilarating. The choice of music is diverse, demanding, delightful, and upbeat. The words reflect common operatic themes, the vagaries of human experience, and are translated in the subtitles. The performers are super-energetic and totally engaging. That they touch each other, hold hands, and hug is novel and good to see after ten months of rigid physical distancing. By the time they end the concert, singing Auld Lang Syne, they clearly are having great fun. It’s a concert which will leave you smiling as you enter the new year.
(By the way, Ludwig Van Toronto, and Ludwig Van Montreal, are websites dedicated to lovers of classical music. Their email newsletter notes that while the mainstream media is cutting back on classical music coverage, Ludwig Van is investing in it. Its motto is “If You Think Classical Music is Dead, You’re Dead Wrong!” You can choose to receive the email newsletter daily, weekly, or monthly. I had no idea that it existed and am delighted to plug into what it has to offer. Check out their website.)
Christmas 2020 has been the most wonderful opportunity to access music. It’s as if multiple choral groups and musicians decided to share their talent and creativity with the world in a common desire to rise above COVID-19 and give a gift of hope. The result has been memorable in the best possible way.
The most sublime of the music emerging this season has been Messiah/Complex from Against the Grain Theatre. Billed as “A daring reimagining of Handel’s classic featuring voices from across Canada,” it is a breath-taking rendition of the classic music in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone.
Produced in cooperation with the Toronto Symphony and the Banff Centre for the Arts, the production was co-directed by Joel Ivany of Against the Grain and Reneltta Arluk, Director of Indigenous Arts at the Banff Centre. The twelve soloists and four choirs come from every province and territory. They sing in their own languages and with visuals of the entire country… amidst northern snows, by ocean waters, in the woods, on the prairies, in the heart of our largest urban cities, at work or school, beside campfires. The language has been updated and the photography is contemporary. All of the artists contributed from apart, on video. But they worked together to give Canadians and the world a seasonal gift that would lift spirits and provide hope in this difficult time. The production is a musical and visual tour de force which shows the talent, creativity, and diversity of Canadian people and the breathtaking beauty of our country.
It is a profoundly moving experience. In the few weeks since it launched, there have been 55,000 views. Viewers are wild with praise: “so beautiful and so terribly long overdue,” from New York, another writes, I am “sobbing thru the beauty of this Messiah… and saluting CANADA for leading and showing the rest of us what true Diversity and shared Joy and Beauty and Hope look and sound like and unite us across all different races, religions, cultures into what makes us most extraordinarily HUMAN.” From Nashville: “absolutely extraordinary! Leave it to Canada to bring us a performance of such unusual brilliance at the tail end of such a miserable year.” “Life-enhancing,” “transformative… I will never hear Messiah the same way again,” “not enough superlatives.” “Possibly the most uplifting thing I have seen during this whole wretched COVID time.” “Astonishingly good musically and challenging, eye opening and… beautiful.” “Like no other Messiah I’ve ever heard or seen. Stunning visuals, beautiful voices, and whole new meaning for some of the words.” You get the idea. Whatever your normal response to the usual Messiah, this is a truly memorable experience which you should not miss.
This production went public on December 13th. Streaming has now been extended to January 31st. The history of how the production came about and profiles of the soloists are readily available on YouTube. Accessing the production itself seemed slightly more difficult. The performance is free of charge and can be streamed as often as you wish. To access the performance, you register on the ticket portal of Against the Grain’s website. Select a ticket beginning ASAP; only one ticket is necessary. Once done, you can access the ticket in your account. When you open your account window, you will see the name of the production, Messiah/Complex, in red. Click that and another window will open, with the words “view livestream.” That opens the YouTube stream of the live performance. It took me a while to figure it out, but it is well worth it.
I now see that Margaret Atwood posted a Tweet with a direct link to the video on You Tube. If she can do that, I can too.
Enjoy and Happy New Year.
Don’t anyone ever say that the Christmas spirit is not alive and well in Toronto.
On the Tuesday before Christmas last week, my husband, who is the chef in our family, went to do his final shopping for Christmas dinner. He is seventy-six and looks his age (although he insists that he is still only thirty-nine). He uses a cane for balance and to alleviate the pain in his back.
He went first to Fiesta Farms, our favourite local supermarket known particularly for its organic foods and excellent fruits and vegetables. He went early in the morning, assuming that he would beat the crowd. Alas, when he arrived, there was already a long line-up of customers all masked and appropriately socially distanced. The line-up was the longest he had ever seen since we returned to Toronto. It stretched across the front of the store, around the corner and all the way down Christie Street to the end of the store at the back. As he walked down the sidewalk beside the line-up, several people suggested that he join the line-up ahead of them. Each time he demurred, reluctant to jump the queue. When he got to the end of the line-up, the woman ahead of him also suggested that he go to the front. He insisted that he could wait like everyone else. He wasn’t there more than a couple of minutes when the store employee staffing the front of line-up approached him and insisted that, no, he was to come into the store right away. Apparently someone from the line-up had told him about my husband, and getting him into the store ASAP became a priority. That saved my husband at least a half hour of waiting.
My husband then went to the local neighbourhood butcher shop, Vince Gasparro’s Meat Market on Bloor Street West. Again, there was an unusually long line of people, maybe fifteen, lined up on the sidewalk outside. Again, a woman ahead of him suggested that he go to the front of the queue. She said that she knew the woman at the head of the line and she would not mind. My husband responded that perhaps the people between them would be less keen. Whereupon, his neighbour went down the line asking each person if they would mind my hubby going ahead. None did. The woman at the head of the line went into the shop and spoke with Pat Gasparro who was working the cash register. My husband is a regular customer there, long known to the family. Pat stepped out of the shop and yelled, “Irvine, get your ass in here right away.” And he did.
When my husband got home, he was delighted that the shopping had gone so quickly and that he had been treated so well by his fellow shoppers. Are people with canes treated this well all the time? Or was it the spirit of the season? Whatever. It was a community act of kindness which was much appreciated.
Feeling constrained? Without inspiration? As if the pandemic is going to go on forever? To help lift any malaise, check out the “Met Stars Live in Concert” series from the New York Metropolitan Opera. It will feature twelve live concerts performed by Met stars from around the world, singing in striking venues close to where they live. If the first concert is any indication, this series will live up its promise of “the intimacy of an at home concert with the production values of the Met’s HD video series.”
The first concert was last Saturday with tenor Jonas Kaufmann from the Polling Abbey near Munich in Bavaria. Accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch, he sang twelve of what are said to be the most difficult and significant tenor arias from the Italian and French opera repertoire. Selections included “Nessun dorma” from Turandot, “E lucevan le stelle” from Tosca, “Ah! lève-toi, soleil” from Roméo et Juliette, and “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Carmen, and others.
Critics have called the concert “splendid,” “mesmerizing,” “a jewel of a program” with “high production values,” “video as good as a movie theatre, sound… probably better.” Between sets, the concert featured video excerpts of his operatic roles with the Met over several years and also with the Salzburg Easter Festival.
A concert ticket at $20.00 buys digital access to the original concert and access to the video of the concert to stream at leisure for twelve days thereafter. I loved the concert and seeing the abbey, and have enjoyed re-listening to the concert this week.
The concerts are scheduled every second week from July 18th to December l9th. Stars will appear from Vienna, Malta, Switzerland, France, Berlin, Wales, Oslo, Barcelona, and the United States. You can find the schedule of stars in recital at Met Stars Live in Concert, where tickets are available for purchase. Once you have your ticket, you will be sent a link to the original concert which you can then use for repeat streaming.
The next concert on August 1st is American soprano Renée Fleming singing from the music salon at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. Her program will include: “Endless pleasure, endless love” from Handel’s Semele, “Baïlèro” by Joseph Canteloube, “Ah! Je ris de me voir” from Gounod’s Faust, “Da geht er hin” from R. Stauss’s Der Rosenkavalier and other arias by Korngold, Cilea, Puccini and Harold Arlen. She has appeared with leading opera companies and orchestras around the world, and is the recipient of numerous national and international honours. Since winning the l988 Met’s National Council Audition, she has given more than 250 performances in 22 roles with the company. She made her Broadway debut in 2015 and, in 2018, was nominated for a Tony Award for her role of Nettie Fowler in Carousel. Her concert promises to be sublime.
Don’t forget that the Metropolitan Opera is still streaming their repertoire of HD opera videos, free of charge, every day. The list of operas released each week is published on their webpage the previous Friday. Each opera video is released at 7:30 p.m. EDT and available for viewing until 6:30 EDT the next day. Last weekend was Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Puccini’s La Bohème.
In recent years, the City of Toronto has started naming laneways. It’s an interesting endeavour which is greatly enriching the city. It includes all different types of people. In learning about past residents, we learn about our neighborhood and we build community for the future.
The first such endeavour near us was the laneway between Manning and Euclid Avenues, south of Harbord Street named after Frank Kovac. The proprietor of a local car repair shop at the corner, Frank had a reputation for honesty, ingenuity, and providing the best possible deal on any repair brought to him. When he died of cancer at an unduly early age, everyone in the area wanted to recognize him. Naming the laneway after him seemed the ideal way.
Another laneway south of Harbord between Markham Street and Palmerston Boulevard was named after Lucie Tuch. She and her sister were the children of eastern European immigrants who lived in the large house at the corner of Markham and Harbord. Both girls became dentists and practiced together in the family home for decades. Lucie also died of cancer prematurely, a great loss to her family and her patients (including myself) who loved her.
While we were in Vancouver, eight other laneways were officially dedicated in the area.
One is in honour of Alan Borovoy, who was raised on Grace Street and later was General Counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association for forty-one years. Apart from numerous test cases on civil liberties before the courts, Borovoy and his organization were instrumental in securing the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Another lane is named for Wayne and Shuster, Johnny Wayne and Frank Shuster who, after high school at Harbord Collegiate, appeared more than 65 times on the Ed Sullivan TV Show in New York City. They became Canada’s most famous international comedians. Wayne grew up on Palmerston Avenue. He died in 1990 and Shuster in 2002.
Another of the laneways is named for Beatrice Minden. She attended Clinton Street Public School and Harbord Collegiate and, after the death of her husband in l966, created the Beatrice and Arthur Minden Foundation to support cultural and medical organizations and scholarships in Toronto and Israel. For her 90th birthday, friends and family created the Beatrice Minden Endowment at Inner City Angels. This gift brings two artists to work with students of Clinton Street School each year. For Clinton’s Centennial in 1988, Beatrice funded the creation of “The Art Room.” She died at 99 years of age, after fifty years of philanthropy.
Morley Safer Lane is named for the son of an Austrian-Jewish upholsterer, born in 1931. Morley attended Harbord Collegiate and, briefly, the University of Western Ontario. He decided early that he wanted to be a foreign correspondent, so quit university to become a newspaper reporter. He had a 60-year career as a broadcast journalist and reporter, best known for his long tenure on the CBS news magazine program, 60 Minutes.
Joe Bertucci Lane runs parallel to Clinton Street south of Harbord. Joe Bertucci was described as a “neighbourhood character” and long-time resident of Little Italy “who sat on his porch and always provided a helping hand for his neighbours.”
Then there is the Huggins Family Lane. John Huggins and his wife Wyvonie immigrated to Toronto and bought their first home on Clinton Street in the 1960s. For many years, they were the first and only black family in the area. John worked as a porter for the CNR, Wyvonie raised four children who attended Clinton and then King Edward School. Their lane connects Manning and Clinton.
The laneway between Euclid and Palmerston south of Harbord is called the Jewish Folk Choir Lane. The choir began in 1925 and became one of the most popular choirs in the city in the l940s and 50s. Apparently, “songs of resistance and solidarity… had been part of the Choir’s repertoire during its heyday.” Conductor Emil Gartner and his wife Fagel Freeman, the accompanist for the choir, lived on Palmerston Avenue. Their home became the centre for choir activities even after the conductor died in 1960.
The Via dei Giardini Lane, meaning “Way of the Gardens,” is unique. It is named for five families: the Vellones, the Decarias. the Rizzutos, the Dadettas, and the Soldanos, all of whom emigrated from Southern Italy to the Palmerston community in the early 1960s. They lived next to each other and, together, created a garden where they used to grow and then can peppers and tomatoes. Working and harvesting their joint garden was a tradition for 45 years. This laneway is between Euclid and Palmerson south of Ulster.
Check out the laneways in your area. If they are not named, there is an opportunity to do so through the city. If they are, it is worth the effort to find out the stories behind the names.
Flying and the future of the airline industry have become major topics of discussion. The decision of Air Canada and WestJet to sell all their seats has provoked considerable controversy. The airline industry and some experts say that blocking the middle seats is unnecessary and that other new practices make an airplane flight safe enough. Taking temperatures at the airport, passengers wearing masks, staff clothed in PPE, enhanced cleaning of the aircraft interior, and more sophisticated ventilation systems, together, are considered sufficient to ensure that aircraft do not become hotspots for the virus if flights are full.
Both my husband and I flew back to Toronto from Vancouver in June, me on the l9th and my husband on the 30th. In both cases, the airport was virtually empty and preflight formalities were accomplished very quickly. There was little point in pre-registering as each passenger was required to complete a questionnaire about symptoms of COVID19 and prior flights taken, before checking their bags. There were few shops open at the airport, and no opportunity to buy even a newspaper. Sitting at the gate, most passengers wore masks and observed proper physical distancing. Loading into the aircraft was by zone; each lined up individually to keep passengers as separated as possible.
As for the flights themselves, both were cheaper than they have ever been and there was no extra tariff for fuel. Temperatures are taken before security, and everyone was required to wear a mask. Most importantly, all the centre seats were empty. That does not mean that there was a six-foot space between all passengers, but the large aircraft was at least one-third empty and the flight was quite pleasant. People did not physically distance as they were actually loading and unloading, but because there were many fewer passengers, there were fewer lineups, and the normally tedious process went much more quickly than formerly was the case. As the amount of hand baggage to be stowed up top was less, that cause for aisle congestion was also lessened. Waiting for luggage on arrival was quicker than normal, too.
Wearing a mask for the whole day, from arrival at the airport in Vancouver until leaving the airport in Toronto, was the one truly onerous requirement. Getting used to wearing a mask takes some doing. Staff would remind passengers to ensure their mask covered their noses if necessary. And to drink the water or eat any snacks, one had to improvise an alternative, if only momentarily. No food was provided on the flight, but most people had brought something to eat for the long flight across the country. Once seated in the aircraft, the staff provided personal kits containing several bottles of water, hand sanitizer, and gloves. The water was absolutely necessary; the rest was reassuring.
Canada is such a large country and cross-country connections are so extensive that flying is essential to the well-being of the economy and the populace. The future of the aircraft industry is a priority which takes some thought. Among my friends and associates, however, I have detected a strong disinclination to fly anytime in the near future. People would prefer to drive, even if it means driving long distances. The questions for the travel and tourism industries are: How will they entice people back to travel? What can they do to seduce Canadians back onto aircraft?
In my view, personal safety from the virus is the top priority of everyone at the moment. It strikes me that, for flying to become a viable option again, the airlines would be wise to make it as pleasant as possible at all fare levels. This may well mean continuing to block the middle seats for the foreseeable future so that the flying experience can be somewhat less congested than has been the usual case in recent years. I suspect that people would be willing to pay more money for the more space that this seating plan would provide. Certainly, my husband and I would have been willing to pay more in June for the service we received then.
The airlines need to gather data on why people are flying, what they think about current conditions, and what effects the various accommodations that the airlines are making will have. The more empirical data that is collected, the more future passengers may be inclined to fly.
I used to ride my bicycle to work all the time. Then, thirteen or fourteen years ago, a car knocked me off my bike while I was riding on Bay Street. The car did not stop. I was sufficiently stunned that it took the urging of pedestrians on the sidewalk to get me to stand up and move off the road. That was the last time I rode a bicycle in Toronto.
The expansion of the bicycle network during the pandemic is an incentive to climb back onto a bicycle and make cycling part of my life again. Last week, my son took my old bicycle to “Dave… Fix my Bike” on Christie Street to have it serviced. This week, I picked it up. Dave warned me that I should be wearing a yellow vest all the time, and that cycling in the city is not easy. I just came back from my first excursion and learned that he is right.
I went out very early on Sunday morning, when I thought there would be little traffic. I planned to cycle east along the bicycle path on Harbord Street, then down the new enclosed bicycle track around Queen’s Park, then back along the old bicycle path on College Street, and up Palmerston Avenue to our back laneway. A short jaunt which I figured would be manageable as my first bicycle venture in years. It was manageable, but not without some trauma.
I knew almost immediately when I rode my bicycle up our laneway that the seat was too low. But I had insisted upon that, and was glad of it for the moment. I needed to make sure that I could put my feet on the ground and prevent a fall if I should lose balance.
Once I reached Harbord, I learned that bicycle paths are not without their hazards. The old paths are not protected from traffic and veering out of the bicycle lane is a constant fear. The road surfaces are cluttered with debris, gravel, and even glass, and it’s necessary to beware of potholes. The worst are the streetcar tracks which are a notorious trap for bicycle tires, so much so that even I remember that it is necessary to cross the tracks at a ninety degree angle.
Watching the road is not sufficient. One must also watch for the cars, on the road and also parked or parking. Madly ringing my bell, I was petrified of being doored by any one of the many cars I actually found stopped beside the cycle path. And then there were the other cyclists. Most knew that I was a very slow-moving hazard blocking the path, and passed to avoid me. The occasional one came up behind and we exchanged comments.
Generally, the venture went well, except that my bicycle basket fell off and I had to brake to avoid hitting it. I pulled the bicycle onto the sidewalk, re-attached it and proceeded on my way. But then it fell off again. This time I decided to carry it, held by my left hand over the handle for the front brake, hopefully in a position which did not block my knee as I pedalled. The basket was a pain but I managed to get home without feeling obliged to jettison it. Next time, no basket.
Next time, I will also use the derailleurs and the speed controls to manage the bicycle. This time, I put my right hand on the handle and the rear brake and did the entire trip without changing the controls. At Queen’s Park, the track goes up and then down a little hill. Frozen as I was, without the confidence to let go, I could not take advantage of the bicycle to enjoy the change of pace.
Coming up Palmerston, I was on a small local street which I had to share with passing cars. It’s less reassuring than when riding on a designated bicycle lane or track. At the corner of Ulster Street, I had to make a left turn. I was frightened to make the appropriate hand-signal and asked two women pedestrians if I could make the turn. They assured me that I could. When I explained that I hadn’t been on a bicycle for years, they suggested that I get rid of the basket and raise my seat. Right on.
As I rode down Harbord, it occurred to me that if I were to fall, I would hurt myself and it might take months to get over it. I wondered if I should be doing this. But then I told myself that cycling was on my bucket list and I couldn’t give up. If I did, that likely would be the end of it for me. So I went on. I’m sure that it will get easier. When I ride the ravine tracks and the Leslie Street Spit, I will be happy that I did so.
We know we are back in Toronto when we can walk around the corner from where we live and find a first-rate new restaurant. “Y Not Italian!” is very small, with 24 seats inside and just a few tables on the patio. Last Saturday afternoon, our son and daughter-in-law suggested we try it. I assumed a reservation would be necessary and was sceptical that we could ever get one on such short notice. When I phoned, they had a table for 5:00 p.m. which was just what we wanted.
“Y Not Italian!” Is an off-shoot of the larger (96-seat) EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) restaurant at 138 Avenue Road. It opened in mid-February and closed because of the pandemic less than a month later. During the pandemic, it has survived preparing take-out and also Meals for Front Line Workers, twice a week, for several local hospitals. Its menu is similar to the pop-up patio menu at EVOO, and features delicious, home-baked EVOO bread and EVOO olive oil. Both restaurants are owned by Peter and Nikole Catarino. Prior to opening EVOO in 2016, Peter had a restaurant called Spuntini (meaning “appetizer”) on Avenue Road for over twenty years.
We had three courses each and were delighted by what we ate. My daughter-in-law had the Sardine alla Griglia as an appetizer, which featured three large sardines. I had the Melanzane Parmigiana, eggplant topped with tomato sauce and cheese, which was the best eggplant I have ever tasted. Among us, we had two salads, the Insalata Caprese like no other such salad we had ever had. The Gnocchi con Formaggio was very good, and the Fettucine al Divo with chicken, roasted red peppers, white wine, sun-dried tomato pasta, and cream sauce delicious. My husband had a veal scallopini with mushrooms in Marsala wine sauce. Probably because we were having such a good time, and the early evening air was so pleasant, we all opted for dessert. My Tiramisu was a real treat. All portions are very substantial.
Prices are more than reasonable. The three-course meal for four people, without drinks and tip, came to $150. The service was excellent. The waiter was masked, the food was nicely paced, and we had no sense that we had to hurry. Because I had made a reservation, the restaurant had my name and telephone number to meet the public health requirements.
During the pandemic, take-out has been the mainstay of the restaurant. One Google reviewer noted, “the kids loved it and even better, the adults loved it as well!” Other reviewers have called it “a little gem.” The promo indicates that the take out is “good for groups.”
“Y Not Italian!” is at 538 Manning Avenue M6G 2V9, at the corner of Harbord Street. Reservations are essential for the patio. It is open after 5:00 p.m. to 9:00, Tuesday to Sunday. The telephone number is (416) 546-7576. Delivery can be ordered through Uber Eats.
My husband and I went to Vancouver on January l9th for the winter. We were booked to return to Toronto on March 26th. The pandemic intervened and we elected to stay in place in our apartment on the west coast. Our house sitters were exceedingly generous and insisted that we stay away until we felt safe to return by air. We had assumed it would be the end of April. But then the end of April dragged into May and then into June. Clearly, we had to come back. Our house sitters had a life of their own, and we wanted to come home. It appeared as if Air Canada was “physical distancing” by declining to sell all the middle seats on the aircraft. That seemed safer, but the policy was only in effect until June 30th, so the time to return was now.
Returning home after an absence of five months presents challenges. I have no idea where whatever I need is stored in the kitchen. It’s there, for sure, but where takes some thought. The garden is overgrown and number one priority is to get the gardener in to do a “spring cleaning” and plant whatever is necessary for the summer. Then there is the car. The winter tires need to be changed, and because it has sat for five months without being operated, the brakes need to be rotored. Post-pandemic lock up, I need to get a haircut, and a pedicure. Still on the list is a visit to Costco to replenish basics, a window cleaning from White Shark, a chimney sweep, and a meeting with the accountant to finalize the income taxes we were not able to file from away. The list gets longer daily.
Apart from the domestic issues, Toronto as a city has all sorts of appeal. In the drug store, I found Lysol disinfectant wipes on sale at $3.00 off. In Vancouver they had been hard to find. At Fiesta Farms, I found cleaning alcohol which I never could get in Vancouver. Fiesta Farms has shopping hours for seniors, pregnant women and the disabled every morning from eight to nine Monday to Saturday. Those hours are much more extensive that we have experienced elsewhere.
People in Toronto are wearing masks and masks are now mandatory both on the TTC and in all public places. In Vancouver, masks are recommended on public transit and “when physical distancing is difficult” but are not required. Wearing masks takes some getting used to, and the protocol for how to deal with them (when eating for example) is not clear, but they are reassuring.
In Little Italy, there is considerable change. “Il Gatto Nero,” one of my favourite bistros which has been in the neighbourhood for forty years, has now closed. Around the corner from our home, an old café which I have never seen open has now put out a makeshift patio onto the sidewalk and we actually saw someone sitting there eating takeout. Across the street, a new restaurant opened in mid-February at the corner of Manning and Harbord. Called “Y Not Italian?” It is an excellent restaurant which we visited Saturday evening and which I will write about in a separate post. We probably got reservations on short notice only because the restaurant patio just opened last Wednesday. Within weeks, I predict that it will be swamped and tables will take some time to get.
The prevalence of bicycles in the city is refreshing. The new 25 kilometres added to Toronto’s bicycle network, in addition to another 15 kilometres already approved for 2020, is sufficient to get me back on a bicycle. That City Counsellors voted 23-2 in favour of the expansion saves years of future hassle. Although the addition is considered temporary, I cannot imagine that, when people become used to cycling on the expanded network, there will be any desire to do away with the changes. More likely, this will be a stimulus to further growth. For all the problems of the pandemic, some good is clearly coming out of it.
Now that we have a smart television we can actually use, my husband and I are learning about the incredible choice of movies now available in our own living room. Even if we watched movies 24/7, we could not possibly take in the cornucopia of choice now available.
Wednesday was National Canadian Film Day. A Livestream featuring Sandra Oh, Ethan Hawke, Colm Feore, Atom Egoyan, and many more actors, directors, and producers active in the Canadian film industry streamed Wednesday evening and is still viewable on YouTube. A curated list of 20+20 Films, Canadian films which are available on CBC Gem, Netflix, Crave, Cineplex, and other streaming services is available on the National Canadian Film Day website. Reel Canada has also produced a list of 150 Canadian films which are available to you to explore. This is your chance to catch up on the classics and those that you have missed.
“Hockey Night in Canada” has given way to “Movie Night in Canada” on CBC at 7:00 p.m. Saturday nights. This Saturday, it is “Still Mine” (2012) and “Brooklyn” (2015). There are questions about how these movies qualify as “Canadian,” but they do, and there is some criticism that the movies are chosen to be unduly family-friendly, but access to Canadian films is a good thing, and my husband can always choose what he likes on Netflix.
Thursday nights, films that were projected to premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival are now being featured on CBC, CBC Gem, and CBC Documentary. The first was Barry Avrich’s “Made You Look: A True Story about Fake Art,” which relates the story of “the largest art fraud in American history.” It’s a fascinating film. See the complete schedule on the link just above.
CBC Gem is available for free as an app for iOS, tvOS, and Android phones and tablets. There are CBC Gem apps for Android TV and Fire TV, too. Gem is also accessible on a PC or Mac via your web browser at gem.cbc.ca. To stream Gem content to your television, use Apple AirPlay or Google Chromecast.
Did you know that the National Film Board of Canada has an online Screening Room featuring over 3,000 productions? It is available at https://www.nfb.ca. The collection includes documentaries, animations, experimental films, fiction, interactive projects, new releases, old favourites, and films from some of Canada’s best-known directors. Films can be streamed at no cost and downloaded for personal use for a small fee. There are films for both adults and children, in English and in French. There are NFB apps available for mobile devices and smart TVs.
On Netflix recently, I watched “The English Game,” an historical story of how professional soccer was born in England, and also multiple episodes of “Dirty Money.” The third episode, on Jared Kushner, is a detailed exposition of how he and his family have made their money. He’s hardly the kind of man who should be the right hand of any American president.
We hear music in our souls, and our spirits soar up like seagulls (I haven’t seen any eagles recently). Keeping cozy at home, which apparently is a national trait of Danes (which I claim as part of my ancestry through my maternal grandfather), I have a chance to listen to and learn about music. So I am discovering.
It is embarrassing to admit that only recently have I come to know the vast resources available on YouTube. How could I have missed it? My grandson has used YouTube for years. I gather that now there is even a YouTubeKids for music, videos, games, and all sorts of learning activities specially curated for children and youth.
Lori asks, “Why sleep, when there is so much to listen to on YouTube?” Where have I been all this time? There is even YouTubePremium, which is free for thirty days and gives ad-free performances even when your computer is off-line. And AppleMusic. And all those other streaming services which I am just beginning to appreciate. Wedded as I was (note the tense) to compact discs and the music I have downloaded to iTunes, I have never before taken the time to explore more modern means to access music. That was then; this is now.
The pandemic seems to have stimulated a cornucopia of creative activity waiting for us to share. I have already mentioned free access to the New York Metropolitan Opera videos which I gather can be converted into a subscription at a modest cost.
The Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra’s Ode to Joy, “From Us to You,” performed March 20, 2020 on YouTube was among the first. To date, over 2.6 million people have heard their rendition. A couple of days later, musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed Appalachian Spring using the same “playing together although apart” modern technology. If you have not yet heard these, check them out.
I have since discovered that Canada’s 125-year-old Mendelssohn Choir has fifteen of its concerts since 2014 available as webcasts on its Vimeo/Livestream webpage. You can also visit their history blog.
Even Toronto Consort, Toronto’s outstanding early music ensemble which I have written about before, has preview tracks of its most recent compact disk “The Way of the Pilgrim: Medieval Songs of Travel,” on its webpage. You can purchase their CDs from Marquis Music, Amazon.ca and iTunes.
I am gearing up for the “One World: Together at Home” concert tomorrow (Saturday) evening April 18, 2020. It bills itself as the largest ever “broadcast and digital performance in support of frontline healthcare workers and the WHO.” Organized in cooperation with Lady Gaga, it will feature over one hundred artists including Canada’s Céline Dion and Justin Bieber. Check out your local schedules to see it on CBC, CTV, and a host of other channels, or catch it on your computer, beginning at 2:00 p.m. EDT. Enjoy.
What an extraordinary Easter it was this year.
Apart physically, as never before, we seemed together more than ever. On Saturday, our family enjoyed a get-together by Zoom: some at home two hours north of Ottawa, others in the eastern GTA, Bill and I in Vancouver. Sunday morning, Bathurst United Church which for decades has met in the chapel at Bloor Street and Walmer Avenue in Toronto, conducted their Easter service by Zoom. Thirty-one members (a good number for this very small congregation) participated, including many old-timers like me who haven’t attended in person for years.
My brother and sister-in-law, who are Roman Catholic, attended four masses over the Easter weekend, all virtual. They could choose mass from their home church or from a dozen other Catholic churches around the city, or cathedrals around the world. My sister and her friend welcomed Easter Sunday morning by tolling the bell at the Gothic yellow wood St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City, Yukon (built in 1902).
Most sublime was to see and hear global musical icon Andrea Bocelli singing Music for Hope live on Easter Sunday in the empty Duomo di Milano. He sang at the invitation of the Cathedral and the City of Milan, accompanied only by the magnificent Cathedral organist.
His repertoire? Five of the most-beloved pieces of music in the Christian tradition: César Franck’s Panis Angelicus, Charles-François Gounod’s Ave Maria, Sancta Maria (from Cavalleria Rusticana) by Pietro Mascagni, Domine Deus by Gioachino Antonio Rossini, and John Newton’s Amazing Grace. I wept.
Streamed live on Sunday, April 12, 2020, his concert is now trending #1 on the YouTube charts, heard by over 33 million listeners in less than 48 hours. You can still hear it on YouTube. A grand thank you to Andrea Bocelli and the Italians for this incredible gift to the world. A magnificent assertion of hope and renewal in a troubled world.
You may be interested to know that the Andrea Bocelli Foundation (ABF) has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for respirators, medical beds and other necessary medical equipment for several hard-hit northern Italian hospitals. As of today’s date, they have raised €237,638, with more coming in since the concert.
Apparently, the New York Times has cancelled April Fool’s Day. On whose authority? Did Trump order that? Governor Cuomo? It’s probably an illegal order. April Fool’s Day has never been a statutory holiday. It’s part of our freedom of expression as a culture. Since when can a newspaper dictate the cultural expression of the masses? Or Trump for that matter? What are they afraid of? Hackers taking over the world? I guess they could, but we desperately need a little levity. And, besides, I have never heard of such an order in Canada. We live in Canada.
But now we know that the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 (hopefully not extending into 2021) is not a joke. We are in it for a long haul. Who would have guessed that we would find ourselves in a period of cataclysmic historical change? I wonder if people felt this way at the beginning of World War One? Or on the fall of the stock market in 1929?? Or the start of World War Two? Maybe 9/11 is the closest in my generation. When we emerge from this pandemic, the world will not be the same. In an instant we will have pivoted to modernity.
“In these hard times,” to use my son Ben’s favourite phrase, we need to look for the bright spots. Already they are apparent.
In Canada at least, the tedious war between partisan interests, premiers and the federal government, and groups mobilized to pursue their own agendas, has ended. We are all in this together. We need each other. Our lives depend on good leadership and the cooperation of every citizen. This common experience will change our political culture and create a new climate of collaboration. We may be less wealthy, but we are already more cooperative and more nimble than we have been in decades.
Our Parliamentary system is working well. The government proposed to give itself the broadest possible powers necessary to fight an unprecedented epidemic. The Opposition challenged their draft legislation as over-reach. After hours of negotiation, but in historically fast time, all parties agreed to a compromise which appears to have given the government the powers it needed for a much shorter period. That Quebec was instrumental in proposing the compromise is a good thing for confederation. For all the last-minute drama, the parties did agree to an expedited process to approve the legislation in the House. And did you notice how quickly the Senate convened to approve the legislation? A refreshing reassurance that the Senate can move with expedition when necessary.
We are lucky to live in Canada. Our politicians of all stripes are rising to the challenge. Our civil service and public servants are professional and not gutted. We have a strong banking system and banks which owe a debt to the society which has sustained them. We have a public health care system and a social welfare infrastructure which provides the basis for speedy responses. We have the CBC which, for all its faults, is professional and brings the country together. We have business, cultural and community sectors which are innovative, energetic and willing to do what they can for the common good. For all our political and cultural diversity, we share common values and a sense of community.
We now know that we are living through a revolution. B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry noted that, in this age of modern technology, physical distancing need not mean social distancing. In World War One, young men and women left their families to fight abroad. Only the occasional letter or parcel arrived between family back home and the troops and medical personnel overseas. People lived in a state of dreaded anticipation. By World War Two, the telephone was commonplace at home, but less so across the water. Today, communications around the world are instantaneous over a proliferation of devices and apps. People (particularly those in the wealthy industrialized world of which we are a part) can see each other, conduct business, share common experiences of every possible kind, even write a book collaboratively with a host of experts located all around the continent.
Compare the spectacle of partisanship and dysfunction south of the border. Their response has been a horror show, and will lead to horrific results. Trump and the anti-science Republicans around him are doomed. What we are seeing is a massive human experiment, a comparison between how a pandemic should be fought versus how it is being fought in the USA. Canada’s going to come out looking good in this.
So while we do our part as troops in this environmental war, we are living through a total transformation of our society. It is our technological revolution. We are hurtling towards modernity in all sectors of our society and our lives. Governments are working collaboratively across the country (when did that happen last?) and with business and labour (both nationally and locally). Our public health care system will never be the same again. E-education is coming on a massive scale, whether we like it or not. Even the musty old legal system has stopped. When it gets going again, the old practices and culture that impeded reform will be swept away. Truckers and grocery staff are now recognized as essential workers. All sectors of the economy are joining in a communal effort.
Millions of people in lock-down and mandatory isolation are a captive audience who must find something to do to fill their time. In modern times, we are used to going out and about, shopping in the malls, using the gyms and the parks, visiting our friends and relatives in public spaces, restaurants, bars, discos. We are not used to being cooped up. How we deal with being housebound will be a major test. We need to find ways to divert ourselves in close quarters and in the physical presence of only our immediate family. It’s time to read the classics, take up an old or a new hobby, learn to play the piano, take up cooking, declutter the house. In the weeks ahead, we will talk about what people are doing, how they are doing it, and what resources are available to assist.
To survive, we are also going to need to learn about modern technology. Have you heard about Zoom? Two weeks ago, I knew nothing about it. Now I hear stock shares in Zoom are skyrocketing, and that it will sweep the world. Last Saturday, I was at my first Zoom gathering with my family. It was a hoot. I am meeting my close girlfriends for a Zoom date this coming Friday. Our next post will feature a Guest Blogger who will tell us how to set up Zoom and how to use it.
Did you pick up on the fact that Canada led the world in ensuring that the 2020 Olympics will be postponed until 2021? We had a great Winter Olympics in 2010. We know what hosting an Olympics entails. Good work to the Canadian Olympic Committee and the athletes who led that effort.
And did you notice that the Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear the appeal from the City of Toronto against Doug Ford’s arbitrary cut to the size of the Toronto City Council in the midst of the last municipal election? Maybe we will get some much-needed clarification of the modern law relating to the powers of municipal governments, and the standards of fairness that apply to the municipal context. This is going to be very useful.
It’s time to make lemonade out of lemons, everyone.
I’m shell-shocked. As is everyone else. So much has happened so quickly. Each day brings new information about what we should, and should not, be doing. It’s mind boggling. And now we find ourselves in the fight of our lives.
Two weeks ago, we were preoccupied with railroad blockades and Indigenous rights in Canada and the Democratic primaries in the United States. Our son living in Whitby sent an email asking when we were coming home. Our other son living in Petawawa encouraged us to stay in Vancouver as long as we could. That Saturday, our house-sitter called to say she had just cancelled her April trip to California and could stay in the house if we wanted to delay our return. At the time, we’d never discussed how long she could stay; we assumed to the end of April. She has since assured us that she will look after our house and the cat for as long as it takes… which is well over and above what we can really expect.
My husband and I are both 75 years old and, like most people our age, have co-morbidities. Neither of us were keen to go through YVR or Pearson, nor to spend four to five hours in the petri dish of an airplane returning to Toronto. It was my husband who first proposed that we stay. Uncharacteristically, for the blue-stocking BC chauvinist that I am, I was plagued with doubts and worries. For ten days, we dithered (“I dithered” may be more correct) about whether we should take our return flight to Toronto which was scheduled for March 26th. That would have been yesterday.
Last Saturday, Air Canada sent an email telling us that our 1:30 p.m. flight was changed to 6:30 a.m. because of “a government travel advisory.” They also offered us an opportunity to upgrade to another class of seat. I had had it. I pressed the button to “Cancel Booking” without waiting for the later instruction which told me how I should have proceeded if travelling on Aeroplan. Maybe I will lose those points. Maybe I won’t. But If I do, it won’t compare to the exorbitant airfares countless others have now had to shell out for new tickets home.
Having made our decision to “stay in place,” I thought that the hard part was over. We have a nice two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in an old rental building in West Vancouver. It has a balcony and a view over the water. Our “cottage in Vancouver” (which I’ve written about before) seemed a perfect spot to sit out a pandemic.
How hard could it be? We are bloody lucky to have the place. The Sunday before the library next door closed, I took out some books. Among them, three volumes of stories by Alice Munro and Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance, Canadian classics I have never read. I figured that would tide me over.
Alas, on Sunday evening, I discovered that our fifteen-year-old-plus television was on the fritz. How could we survive here in isolation without a tv? The story of the tv will be a blog post in itself, but by Tuesday morning, we had a new television. Had not yet set it up. Too tired.
By now, there were many more pressing priorities at hand. Like what do we do if one of us were to get the virus? How would we self-isolate or go into quarantine in this apartment? The reality of the existential danger facing us sank in. We had to think seriously about our living arrangements, our standards of sanitation, our interactions with each other, and how we were going to survive.
I wanted to get Effervescent Bubble going again, and dear friends encouraged me to do so. But how to get it going when all was doom and gloom and I felt anything but effervescent?
I certainly don’t want to dwell on the hard news which dominates the media. I want (no, need) some good news, some levity, some practical instruction about how to survive. I also yearn for more efficient contact with the people I love, both those in my family, and the many friends across the country and around the globe who are already part of the Effervescent Bubble community as well as those who may choose to join us in the future.
Last Thursday, Mike Crisolago’s article entitled “Beat Isolation Blues with Virtual Concerts and More,” published on everythingzoomer.com, appeared in my Inbox. Apparently, the New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming their Encore opera repertoire free of charge. That night, I watched La Traviata and loved it. (Another blog post to come.)
Lori Myers, my EB editor and friend in Toronto, wrote an email telling me about a virtual “family birthday party” planned for Saturday night, using Zoom. I had never heard of Zoom. My two daughters-in-law (the technologically gifted members of our family) hadn’t either, but they suggested that we form a Video Chat group on Messenger. And then there is FaceTime and Facebook and all the other social media that bring people together when they are physically apart. (Another obvious blog post.)
It occurred to me that if we are to endure a pandemic, we have all the tools at hand to meet many of our basic social needs even while in isolation. Many already operate in a virtual world. For others of us, this pandemic is going to be a crash course in modern technology.
On Sunday night, Lori sent me a long, long email setting out dozens of topics that would be of interest to people who have followed my blog. Clearly, it’s time for The Effervescent Bubble to get off her duff and reconnect.
It feels good to be back on board. I look forward to our ride together. Keep safe.