Fancy food and a disappointing film

Thursday night Glen had arranged dinner at Auberge du Pommier, one of the more upmarket restaurants in Toronto. We went with Ur and Israel, Pete and Royden, and Bec and Alastair, so it was a nice big catch-up. It had been a while since all eight of us had been in the same room together, what with various travels and such. Thursday was also the day after Ur’s birthday so it worked out well for a catch-up.

Glen and I caught the subway with Bec and Alastair up to York Mills, timing it perfectly with Pete and Royden’s arrival too. Ur and Israel were already inside. We did the hello thing, chose our seats and then took forever to decide what to have from a rather short menu. The main decision was: did we want the tasting menu of five course or should we go for individual appetisers and entrees? The whole table either had to have the five courses or no one could have them.

Then most of the table didn’t want the suckling pig, so could we have the duck instead. Oh, but some want beef instead of pig. And someone still wants the pork. Can we have that? Is that all right? The waiter checked. It was fine. Considering what kind of place it is, I should think they’d be only too willing to accommodate.

We chatted, had some fine, tucked into the food as it came out. Some of the dishes were nicer than others. I didn’t really need a whole bowl full of raw tomatoes. The ginger stuffed cherry was a bit interesting. The quail was nice. The duck was delicious (I don’t think I’ve had a duck that good before). The dessert was a let down. Dousing the cake thing on the bottom in whiskey is a bit of a risk if you ask me. There were pieces left unfinished. We’ve had better meals at lower prices before, however, the company was good, so it was still a good night.

We said goodbye to Ur and Israel as they’re the only ones with a car and they had to get home for the babysitter. The other six of us caught the subway back to the condo, chatting and laughing in the elevator as it ascended. There was another couple in the lift with us, and once everyone else had gotten out it was just Glen and I and them. They asked how we all knew each other, and thought that we’d bought in the condo together. Of course we hadn’t but it made me realise how special it is that we have a group of friends in the same building.

It was hard waking up Friday morning. I got up just after 7, Glen having staggered out of bed a little while before. Eventually he went off to work and I began editing my book. I have until the end of October to get it right, and I figure if I keep to the schedule I set, I should be able to get through editing it twice before the deadline. I am a little concerned I’ll have to rewrite a third of it but I’ll see how I go. I reached my goal of editing four chapters today and feel good about my progress.

We went to see the fourth of our five TIFF films tonight, Kill Me Three Times. The film was meant to start at 5:45pm but when I got there, it had been moved to 7pm. A little frustrating but it meant we could go get dinner beforehand. We walked to Pai, a Thai restaurant near Scotiabank Theatre (where the film was), and managed to get a table. They were busy so we were lucky. We ordered. Food came. We ate. It was ok. Thai food in Toronto isn’t much to rave about, compared to back home.

We made it back to the theatre in time for the film to start. It was packed. We had seats right up the back in the corner. The film is an Australian production with Simon Pegg. It’s about a hit man, and people in a small town trying to bump other people off for money, an insurance policy, infidelity blah blah blah. I’m sure I’ve seen a film like it before, with almost exactly the same plot, except set in an Australian coastal town and done far slicker and far funnier. There were a couple of laughs but they were more titters than guffaws. Honestly, I’d advise against seeing this movie. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth your time.

We were meant to go to play games at Amy’s tonight, but we left the movie feeling less than energetic. I think the week of social activities has caught up with us, and what with Glen working all week too, Fridays aren’t the high octane fun fest they were in our twenties.

Boyhood and Teen Lust

Our movie marathon continued, with us going to see Boyhood on Tuesday night and Teen Lust on Wednesday. But before that I finished the first draft of the sequel to my book on Tuesday.

It’s the third time I’ve attempted this book, the other two times stopping before the end (about 65,000 words in). This time I actually managed to get to some sort of conclusion. There is a lot of editing still to be done, but for the rest of Tuesday I was happy with what I’d achieved. Can’t edit a blank page and all that.

Wednesday I tinkered with characters, finding photos to represent them and pulling together some descriptions of their features and mannerisms. Admittedly, most authors do that first but I find I prefer to get as much writing down as possible before going back and locking things in place. I find more exciting things happen then.

Tuesday’s movie was called Boyhood and was just on at the regular cinema. It’s been out for a while, and been receiving great reviews. It’s filmed over 10 or 12 years with most of the same cast, including the same kid actors who you get to grow up on screen.

We went with Julian and Mike, grabbing the lateish session at 8:15. We thought it was a two hour film; it was closer to three. In that respect it was a bit long, particularly as not a lot happens. I know it’s a bit of an odd thing to say when you are literally watching people grow older on screen, right before your very eyes, but honestly, not much happens. A lot of navel gazing, some teen angst that never really tips into anything more because no one can be bothered. Patricia Arquette was her usual intense self but I like her so that was fine.

I left with a very full bladder and feeling a little bit depressed about getting older.

Wednesday’s film was Teen Lust as part of TIFF. It’s about an 18 year old boy who is going to be sacrificed in his parents’ satanic church – unless he can lose his virginity. Canadian made film, didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Some funny moments with some good performances, however, half the actors seemed to be hamming it up and the other half were going for something more serious.

Lots of cheers from the audience. I’ve never heard of the director so maybe he’s a local favourite. Or maybe his friends were there.

After the movie, Glen, Julian and I went over the road to Guu, a very noisy Japanese restaurant and ate some food. I was weighed at the gym on Monday and apparently I’ve lost 4 kg over the past year and about 5% body fat. Not sure how accurate it is but if true, it’s good to know that I haven’t been stacking on the wait. I’m sure going to the gym regularly has helped.

Two more TIFF films to go.

A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Monday night was our second TIFF film of the season, a Swedish offering called A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence.

One word: weird.

Four words: weird with interesting bits

Apparently it’s the third film in a trilogy, though I don’t think it really made a difference whether you’d seen the others or not. Actually, if you’d seen the other two films, you might have known what to expect.

Either way, it was a very weird film with lots of long takes, very slow action, still cameras with flat colours and repetitive phrases, actions and themes. Overall it’s about humanity and how we should treat others the way we wish to be treated. There’s also a good point about the exploitation of others for our own enjoyment.

There were some beautiful scenes in it, and a few that were amusing because of their alienness. I did think, though, that after a while the repetition gets a bit tiring and you want something to happen or it all to be over. Perhaps that’s the intent and it’s another comment about life.

One of the most interesting and disturbing scenes was of British colonial forces marching a line of shackled Africans into a big drum that’s lying on its side. The drum has horns sticking out of it and spins once the soldiers light the fire beneath it. A beautiful sound starts to emanate out of it. After five minutes or so, the scene shifts to a bunch of decrepit old white people hobbling out onto the terrace to watch this spectacle. You watch them as they’re served champagne and it’s all very intense and unsettling.

After the film, the director, Roy Andersson, answered questions from the audience. I liked him. Even though English is not his first language, he was down to earth with his responses (he doesn’t like bright colours so he mutes them in his films) but there’s thought and empathy behind what he does. There were the usual sycophants and wankers in the audience, as there always are at these things. Following a suggestion from a friend, we’re now going to call them wankophants.

Three more TIFF films to go (plus Boyhood tomorrow night).

Apparently autumn (or fall) isn’t when I think it is

The other day I was given a question which said, “Which season is it?” I needed the answer to access some money a friend had sent me. Well, thought I, it’s September so that must make it autumn (being an Australian we say autumn rather than fall). However, the friend who sent me the money is Canadian so I typed in fall. 

DENIED!

Not wanting to try again with ‘autumn’ in case it was also wrong and I got locked out, I messaged my friend and asked what the answer was, whether he had put autumn because he knows I’m Australian.

The response: summer.

He then went on to explain that over here summer lasts until the autumn equinox, around the 21st of September. I vaguely remembered something from earlier in the year when everyone was saying summer hadn’t started at the beginning of June but at the summer solstice.

Back home, seasons don’t really mean much. It’s either hot or not-so-hot. We count the seasons based on the month, so summer is December, January and February. Autumn is March, April and May. Winter is June, July and August. And Spring is September, October and November.

Of course, they have little bearing on what’s actually going on with the weather. Autumn is largely consumed by summer so you’d be lucky to get a bit of cooler weather by the end of April. The leaves don’t turn red or brown or orange so there’s not much to see.

Spring is a mix of wet and dry, November picking up some horrible heat every now and then, but also mixed with a few downpours. In that respect, it’s a bit like spring in the northern hemisphere. 

It’s a bit of a mind shift when you’re so used to doing everything by calendar months to have to switch to remembering when solstices and equinoxes take place. I prefer our system, but I suppose it’s because it’s the one I’ve grown up with. Either way, the dates are largely arbitrary. The essence of winter here lasted for about six months, spring for three weeks, and summer is just buggering around. One minute you think it’s gone, the next minute it’s blazing. 

Oh the joys of weather.

Fall colours.

Fall colours.

 

Lightning, barbecues and films

The days since returning from Newfoundland have passed in a blur. I’ve been doing some paid work which is helping to keep the bank balance up a little bit (though need to find some other clients soon or else the travels will be curtailed somewhat), so that took up a bit of Wednesday and Thursday. I’ve also been working on my book. There’s going to be a lot more to do on that in the month ahead. And I’ve been going to the gym again so that’s really the usual stuff. Of course, there are the fun things too.

Lightning Storm

On Friday night there was an amazing lightning storm in Toronto. Glen and I had been invited up to Bec and Alastair’s for the evening, and while there we saw the storm rolling in from the north. Lightning struck some distance away but it wasn’t long before the storm hit us and there was fork lightning all around. The best part: multiple strikes of lightning on the CN Tower. Most conversation ceased once that started as we waited excitedly for it to be struck again. I think that’s the first big storm we’ve experienced in our 14 months here. Epic!

BBQ with Friends

Street artWe went to Dave and Antony’s on Saturday night. Their friend Tom was over from New York (we’d met him in Sydney), and then their friends Richard and Jim from Hamilton/Dundas were also there for dinner. We ate a mountain of food, including baked brie with bread (totally decadent), barbecued sausages and chicken, and then a lot of desserts (including an Eton mess I’d made. It’s fast becoming my go-to dessert). We played multiple rounds of Cards Against Humanity at the end and then toddled home some time after 10:30. For some reason I’d gotten very tired. Must have been the wine.

Toronto International Film Festival Begins

TIFF is on again for another year. We bought a ten-pack of tickets some time again and I’d selected our movies while I was in Newfoundland. I’d been through the program, chosen a selection of options, created a spreadsheet with the dates and times, and then given it to Glen to choose which ones of those he’d liked best. We had our top five but when I went to book them, I couldn’t get three of them because they’d either sold out already or the time in the program was different to the one in the booking system and the new times were not suitable for us. I had to go through our full list of 13 films to finally get five. I collected the tickets on Friday.

Sunday was our first pick, a new French film called The New Girlfriend. TIFF had the premiere of the film on Saturday night. It hasn’t even been screened in France yet. It’s about a woman who discovers that her deceased best friend’s husband is a transvetite. Roman Duris plays the husband and he does an excellent job in portraying the character. There are light-hearted parts throughout so it’s not a harrowing tale. I think the subject matter, about desire and femininity, is handled very well, though there is a bit of a mix-up between transvestism and transsexuality that could have been smoothed out a bit better. Still, it was a very good film. The director, the main actress and Duris were all there at the end of the film to answer questions. 

We have another film to see tomorrow night.

Once that was over, Glen and I went shopping in Hudson’s Bay Company as we need white clothes for Dine en Blanc in a fortnight. A whole bunch of strangers get together to have an elegant, all-white dinner somewhere outside in Toronto. Finding white pants is hard.

Farewell, Newfoundland

Tuesday was our last day in Newfoundland and we had long way to drive from L’Anse aux Meadows to Deer Lake. The drive takes about five hours from door-to-door, which back home would seem like a fool’s errand, but here, after doing so much driving, seems like a run down the road. This must be what people who live in the Outback think about driving.

We woke up at a reasonable time, half waking soon after the sun rose because people don’t believe in block-out curtains in Newfoundland apparently. There was a venetian blind on the window above the bed, but this did diddly squat in keeping the full burning might of the sun out of the room.

We finished off a box of Rice Krispies for breakfast and the most of the rest of the milk, which Glen had bought the night before. We packed up and were on the road some time around 8:30, and set off for St Anthony’s. 

St Anthony’s is even further north that L’Anse aux Meadows so just going there was a bit of an achievement because it’s closer to the tip of Newfoundland. Glen wanted to go because he’d been recommended to visit the Grenfell museum.

Sir Grenfell was a doctor in the 19th century who came over from England to Labrador on a religious mission. He was so appalled by the living conditions of the people in this part of the world that he stayed here as the doctor but then later as head of an organisation which built hospitals, orphanages, schools and did a bunch of other good things for the community. He’s a bit of a hero up here.

We went to the Museum first, watched a film about his life, read the interpretive panels, and then went to the house he and his wife and four children lived in. It’s behind the hospital. It’s a beautiful old style house that would have been freezing in the winter. It’s a ‘living museum’ so it is set up how it would have looked when they lived there, complete with a polar bear rug on the floor.

We checked out the old things, heard a bit from the museum guide, and then beat a hasty retreat as we had to get to Deer Lake by 5:30 to meet Tim and Vaughan.

The weather was perfect again so we had beautiful views out across the sea towards Labrador, and then when coming into Gros Morne. We stopped about halfway to visit Port aux Choix, which is another national park site where four Aboriginal groups lived/visited over thousands of years. It may have been a good place for them to land but it’s not very pretty. I’d go so far as to say it’s desolate.

Glen with a giant milkshake at Anchor Cafe

Glen with a giant milkshake at Anchor Cafe

We stopped in at the visitor centre for a little while, watched a video, read the panels, and then went for lunch in the town at the Anchor Cafe. The food was pretty good.

Glen drove most of the rest of the way to Deer Lake, with us stopping at a few locations along the way to take our final few photos. Glen and I talked about whether we’d come back, and while I’ve got no burning desire to return immediately, I could see myself visiting again, probably spending more time in Gros Morne to do some hikes, and do a bunch of other things. Whale watching and iceberg hunting would be on the list too.

We arrived at Deer Lake on tie, returned the car and waited for Tim and Vaughan to get there from Corner Brook. We then went for dinner at Mary Brown’s, a fried chicken fast food place that wasn’t as awful as it sounded. It’s probably one of the better places to eat in Deer Lake. Glen and Vaughan mostly talked shop but it wasn’t too bad. We bought ice creams from the service station and ate them on a bench outside Mary Brown’s. It’s nice to have friends around the world.

They then dropped us back at Deer Lake airport and Glen and I went through security. Our flight is delayed ten minutes, though hopefully only ten minutes. I’m looking forward to being home and getting back into a routine for a little while. I have some work on, plus a book deadline which I don’t think I’ll make.

I’ll probably get to the middle of the month and be itching to go on holiday again.

I still have to find a moose.

This is Viking Country

We woke up at a reasonable time on Monday morning, packing our bags, loading the car and then going for a quick breakfast at the restaurant. I wanted to get going early-ish as we had a four hour drive ahead of us to get to L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland. This is where the Vikings settled, about five hundred years before Europeans got here.

There was no rain as we left and the further north we went the brighter the day became. We had perfect weather on our drive up, weather we’d wished we had the day before. Bright blue skies contrasting with the vibrant green of the trees and the sulphuric orange and yellow of the rocks along the coast.

We stopped at The Arches Provincial Park along the way, which has some archway rock formations on the beach. The beach is also covered in rocks and pebbles of various colours and patterns that have all been worn smooth. It was a great place to make a stop.

After that we stopped at a couple of points to take some photos, wherever the view was too breathtaking to pass up. At one of the stops I picked some crackle berries. They do indeed crackle when you bite into them. They don’t have much flavour though. We also stopped for petrol, Glen almost frantic that we’d left Cow Head with only 3/8ths a tank full.

Along the drive we also saw Labrador across the water. It’s not that far after all so we were wondering if we got up early enough on Tuesday whether we could take the ferry over and get back to Newfoundland in time to get to Deer Lake. We can’t. We’ll just have to go another time. Still, it was pretty cool to see Labrador from Newfoundland.

Norstead

We arrived at the L’Anse aux Meadows visitor centre at about 1pm and headed in, passing a woman who said there were moose nearby. Moose! We hurried in then went outside the other end. No moose.

Glen didn’t want to wait for the 2pm talk as it was 1pm and he ABSOLUTELY HAD TO EAT LUNCH NOW. We argued in the foyer, no doubt making the person by the counter feel uncomfortable, but it was all done with relative good humour. She gave us pointers on where to go.

We went to the nearest place, a cafe just down the road in a little seaside village. The food and drink took a while to come as there was only one person working there, but it didn’t really matter. We hoped we’d make it back for the 2pm tour but it didn’t quite matter as it was so beautiful out on the deck.

While we waited, I went down to the water’s edge and took some photos. Unlike the rocks at the Arches, these rocks were thin and shale like. They were pretty cool. Food came, as did the drink. We finished off and then got talking to the English couple behind us. They were going to catch a ferry to Quirpon and stay in a lighthouse! Very jealous. It was nice to chat to them.

We’d missed the 2pm tour and the next was at 4pm so we went to Norstead instead, a tourist attraction that’s been built to look like a Norse settlement. The main feature is a big boat shed that contains a boat called a knarr.

It’s a working replica of a Viking boat that was built in Maine in 1997, transported to Greenland on freight, and then rowed from Greenland to L’Anse aux Meadows. It retraced the journey of Leif Ericson, to see if it could be done. Leif did it with 35 men. In 1997 they did it with 9. It took 10 times as long to arrive in Newfoundland, but they did. The boat now sits at Norstead.

Norstead have a bunch of interpreters in the different buildings. Some were a little bit awkward when only talking to two of us. Others were interesting. We saw how they would have lived then, including seeing that 35 people would have slept in one long room. Only the chieftain and his wife got any privacy, and still they were in the same building.

I found the wool area the most interesting, watching how they spun the wool with this loadstone thing. It was so simple yet so fascinating. And then there was the loom that was used to weave everything, including sales. It looked so complex and slow but if that’s all you had to do all day, I’m sure you’d get so proficient at it that the loom would just fly.

After the buildings, we climbed up the little hill and looked out over the sea. The weather was so perfect that everything was bursting with colour.

L’Anse aux Meadows

We returned to L’Anse aux Meadows with a half hour to look around the interpretation in the centre. The Vikings only wintered at L’Anse aux Meadows for a few years across about a twenty years so their influence on the place is so minor compared to the Aboriginal peoples who were also there. I thought the interpretation handled the connection between the Aboriginal peoples and the Vikings really well.

The tour started at 4pm, Glen and I both anxious to see a moose. The guide took us along the boardwalk. I asked about some of the plants and trees that were about the place, and he pointed out which plants the bake apple grew on. He also confirmed that I was eating crackle berries and not something else.

We went around the mounds that signify the Viking settlements. Everything was covered over in the 70s after the last excavation to keep it all protected. You can still walk around everything and the guide pointed out what was what. There’s also a reconstructed long house there as well that you can go in, but Glen and I had seen most of that sort of thing at Norstead. We went for a walk along the coast instead to get us back to the parking lot.

Along the way I found a desiccated bake apple and either a rotten or under-ripe one. Bake apples, though they grow wild, are worth a lot of money. About $90 for a barrel or gallon or whatever it is. They’re not very big so they need to collect a lot of berries. I also found some patridgeberries which are like grapes. They were tasty.

At Norstead I ate crowberries. They don’t have much of a taste. Like cracker berries. Glen rolled his eyes every time I exclaimed about a newly discovered berry. Anywhere else and I’d refrain.

We still didn’t see a moose. However, L’Anse aux Meadows was on my list for Canada, first because it’s where the Vikings landed in North America, and second because it’s right at the top of Newfoundland. Two achievements in one day.

We went for dinner at the Norseman in L’Anse aux Meadows, which is one of the nicest restaurants in this part of the country. The food was good, hit the spot. I’ve eaten a lot of cod while in Newfoundland. I suppose it’s the thing to do.

Afterwards we drove to our accommodation at Burnt Bay Cabins. We stopped a few times to take photos along the way as everything is so beautiful. The sun was going down as we got into town. Just beautiful.