The Oscars (2011)

Halle Berry, Sandra Bullock, Helen Mirren - 2011 oscar dressesThe dresses, that’s the Oscars for me.  The beautiful gowns and the ones that make you wonder ‘what possessed her?’  So anything that provides both oohs and aahs of admiration and WTFs of astonishment is worth watching.

But there’s a whole show wrapped around the dresses.  This year’s show was one of the most disjointed that I’ve ever seen.  The hosts – why?  Anne Hathaway I expect to see accepting an award or sitting in the audience.  And James Franco – I hang my head in shame (as a long-time but former GH watcher) but I’ve never heard of him.  And he was nominated in Best Actor category.  I thought “aren’t there enough people in Hollywood that they don’t have to double up?”

James Franco & Anne Hathaway, with big OscarListening to CBC Radio’s Q this morning, the panelists on the Oscars gave shape to my rather confused impressions of the show.  Actors, one said, should not host.  If they’re at a career high, they’re likely to do it no good by hosting (James Franco being the case in point).  And if they’re not, they’re not going to help their career.  In that panelist’s opinion, stand-up comedians and talk-show hosts know how to do it.  They know timing and know how to ad lib.  And they are not being viewed, and therefore judged, as ‘Actors’.  They are of the industry, but apart from it.  Please God, there must be some young comedians or hosts able to do the job if the Academy wants youth for the sake of drawing the ‘prime’ demographic.

Another point made was that the most articulate and interesting acceptance speeches came from writers, not actors.  You would think, the point was, that actors would know enough to write out their lines and memorize them.  But no, flailing around and saying nothing at great length – that’s what we got.

The big moment was Melissa Leo’s “f” word.  I’d thought she’d seemed kind of insincere at her shock at herself.  I thought maybe she was just covering, the way you do when you say something stupid then try to pretend you meant to say it.  The Q panel thought she had meant to say it, and described her “shock” as the worst piece of acting ever seen.  I don’t know if her wrestling Kirk Douglas for his cane as they walked off stage was planned or NYC school choir at Oscarsnot – it was pretty funny.  So was Christian Bale seemingly forgetting his wife’s name in his thank-yous.

The Best Song candidates seemed mashed up together without much fanfare.  The historical flashbacks to previous Oscar winners were confusing to me.  The school choir at the end – why? Nice for them, certainly, but this is the sort of thing you shouldn’t have to watch until you’re living in the old folk’s home.

I wish Best Picture could have gone to both The King’s Speech and The Social Network.  But, given that it can’t, I’m glad The King’s Speech won.  Maybe the reign of King George VI is long past, but speech impediments aren’t.  It’s a story about a real issue, and a real history poster image for the Oscarsthat is worth knowing.  It’s impossible to deny the reality and influence of the story of Facebook too.  Especially when, as was happening in my household, one person was carrying on a dialogue about the Oscars on Facebook during the commercials.  I was surprised that no one from The King’s Speech or The Social Network thanked the people who lived the stories on which these movies were based.  Christian Bale did that for The Fighter.

And my favourite dress?  The woman from ABC. Stunning, and I couldn’t find a picture of it.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Feb. 27/11)

Mary's wedding dress frightens NorrisNorris and Mary, in the little cottage of horrors, were riveting this week.  And it was nice to see Nu-Amy.  But the week belonged to Blanche.  May she, and her portrayer Maggie Jones, rest in peace.  They are missed.  There were so many scenes, and bits of scenes, in Wednesday and Thursday’s episodes in the telling of Blanche’s passing photo of Blanche on sideboard– facial expressions, a line spoken, even a word.  Blanche was there.

Despite knowing for over a year of the passing of Ms. Jones, it still wasn’t real while watching Corrie St.  Whenever Deirdre would say something about “Mother coming home” I’d think oh maybe she is, maybe it was a huge mistake.

But no, Blanche died in her sleep the day she was to fly home from Portugal. Poor Deirdre sits at the table under the banner Barlows & Liz in front of banner for BlancheSimon and Amy made for their Nana Blanche.  Ken, with a kindness one doesn’t always expect from him, raises no objection to her smoking in the house.

We – and the Barlows – get the details of her time in Portugal from her friend May. Before she comes in, Liz asks “is she the one with the anorexic daughter?”  “No, the gay son with the dogs,” Deirdre replies.

I don’t know how much of May we will see, but thank you, writers, for giving us a glimpse of Blanche’s friend from the One O’Clock Club.  What a treat she is!  “Is there a war on?” May asks as Liz hands her a glass of sherry or wine.  She’s somehow already established herself as fey enough that you can’t help but wonder if she actually thinks she’s back in WWII.  You can see by Liz’s face that she’s not quite sure either.  So May elaborates; “is there rationing?”  Deirdre twigs first, after all she’s Blanche’s daughter.  May wants more in her glass.

Peter, reacting to "she was the nicest person"Ken reacting to "she could be curmudgeonly"May tells them about Blanche’s new man, Arnold, and her plans for marriage.  Somehow, it’s nice thinking about her being in Portugal, happy with Arnold, “with the sun on her specs and the breeze in her slacks,” as May describes her “sweet” friend Blanche.  The camera focuses on each eye roll and eyebrow lift from the others.  Peter even asks “Are you sure you’ve got the same person?”

May shows Peter photo of pug VictoriaPeter steadily tops up May’s glass as she works her way to the bottom of the bottle.  She shows him a picture on her phone, “Here’s my son’s Pug, Victoria.”  She has trouble getting her next words out, “And here’s his Miniature Sch – Schnau – Schnauzer, David.”  (The son is a soccer fan or a glitterati fan?)

Deirdre washing dishes & cryingMay totters on her way and Deirdre washes dishes and cries.  Ken makes bookings to fly to Portugal.  She needs to be with her mother.  I know it’s a story, and they’re all just characters in it, but I’m glad.  Beautiful episodes that gave a proper farewell to the wonderful Maggie Jones.

 

Skating on the canal

Low-flying on glass, long swooping strides pushing you along.  Wind Rideau Canal skatewayat your back propelling you.  Wind coming at you, slowing you, your legs pushing forward into its face.  It’s you and the power and glory of winter.  From the National Arts Centre to Carleton University.  It’s skating on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa.

I never learned to skate when I was a kid.  I spent my very first years and my early teen years in a small Ontario village where the arena was the centre of town.  Girls figure-skated, boys played hockey.  Everybody cheered the local heroes – the Junior D hockey players with NHL dreams.  It happened for a few.  They left on hockey scholarships, went to farm teams.  Mostly, they came back.  Probably they play in the old-timers games at the arena now.

We didn’t live in that village during those formative years that would have given me proficiency on the ice.  When the village kids started skating lessons, we’d moved to a city.  Organizing skating wasn’t so easy.  I never took lessons.  Public rinks were scary places full of people who knocked you over as you stood wobbling on narrow blades.

Living near the canal

Later I moved to Ottawa.  A friend and I rented an apartment off Elgin Rideau Canal skatingStreet near the canal.  She was from my hometown.  She had taken skating lessons.  She owned two pairs of skates.

So to the canal in winter.  She held my arm until I was steady.  She showed me how to push and glide.  She glided alongside, holding my arm.  Then she let go.  I panicked, but I didn’t fall over.  One foot, swoosh, then the other pushing ahead, swoosh, then again.  I was skating.  It was like flying.  In daylight and in dark – swoosh, glide, glide, swoosh.

It was the beginning of my love affair with snow, cold, ice, winter.  I moved away after that year.  Next winter, I lived near a large pond that froze solid.  I bought skates.  I can skate!  No.  Skates on, totter on the ice, fall over.  Stand up, fall over.  Take a step – no swoosh, no glide.  Just bruises.  Skates got hung up, eventually lost.

Graphic for Rideau Canal, from Via Rail siteFifteen years later, back in Ottawa.  Living on the other side of downtown this time.  But treks to the canal in winter.  You could rent skates there now.  Fearful, maybe it had all been a dream, maybe I’d make a fool out of myself.  There with another friend who couldn’t skate.  I wasn’t going to be able to help him.  He gave me courage:  we’d made fools of ourselves in enough places, we might as well do so on the canal.

Beavertail stand, Rideau CanalSkates on, stepping fearfully out on the ice.  Step, swoosh, glide.  Glide, swoosh, glide.  I did it.  So did he.  I helped him balance a few times when he tottered.  We fell a couple times.  But so what?  We swooshed and glided the whole length of the canal.  It was just as magical as it had been before.  I felt like Toller Cranston.

The canal was a different place then.  The ice was kept clear all the way to Carleton.  Hot chocolate and beaver tail stands were all along the length of it.  Other skaters also were.  But you still didn’t feel crowded, you didn’t feel like a rat in a lab maze.

A skating Nanook of the North

Canal, by QueenswayWhen I’d first skated there, only a rink-sized patch of ice was kept clear near the Arts Centre.  The rest was left to the wind Zamboni.  Your ability to skate the length of it depended on the wind and your skill in navigating ice bumps and snow.  There were no lights, no hot chocolate-filled oases along the way.  You were on your own in the elements.  It was nice, especially at night, the feeling of being alone in the frozen tundra.

But the lights, hot chocolate and fellow skaters of 15 years later was also nice.  You didn’t feel like Nanook of the North, but you did feel part of a Christmas card world.

I’ve never tried skating again.  I don’t know if I could or not.  I own skates.  They hang in Skating on the canal at nightthe closet and, when I look at them, I hear the swoosh swoosh sound of the blades and feel the crisp winter air of Ottawa.  It’s ok with me if the Rideau Canal is the only place I can skate.  It makes it magical.  In Ottawa, I can be Joanie Rochette.

The top and bottom two photos are from the blog Images of Centretown, the 2nd is from Wikipedia, the 3rd is on the Via Rail site and the 4th is from Let’s Go Ottawa (Dec. 6th 2010).  Thanks for reminding me!

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Feb. 20/11)

Audrey & Lewis, the morning afterSo many strange pairings this week, so many good scenes.  Lots of story building.

A biggie with Audrey and Lewis.  What is he doing?  Is he smitten or is he taking her for a ride?  If so, what kind?  Is he tired of the escort business, of being nice to people like that dreadful accountant lady with the twins?  Or does he have a sideline in emotion-driven financial fraud?

Natasha at Rovers, stood up againSian & Sophie - see you, girlfriend  Gary & David, in Platt kitchen

Natasha and Nick.  Is he smitten or just unable to avoid her?  Girlfriends Sophie and Sian.  Is Sian really smitten or is she just between boyfriends?  Gary and David.  Not smitten, but some powerful moments in beautifully staged scenes.

And the couple that has to take the prize for weirdness:  Mary and Norris in Brontë country.  Mary is becoming more like Kathy Bates’ character in the movie Misery than she is Cathy in Wuthering Heights.  But she’s funnier than both characters.

Norris & Mary leaving in RVWatching her and Norris on this vacation has been frightening and entertaining in a ghoulish way.  Every scene has been so wonderful it’s hard to pick.  Leaving in the motor home with Mary’s choice of music, of course, being Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ – a wonderful eerie song made terrifying by it being Mary’s choice.

Mary’s dinner served in resplendent style in the Brontë-esque Mary serving dinner - toad in the ole!cottage:  toad-in-the-olé.  The two of them happily working on magazine puzzle and slogan contests.  Norris, of all indoor people, going stir-crazy wanting to go out and walk in the brisk country air.  And Mary wanting no part of it, only wanting him to keep working on contests so they can win vacations to other wonderful lands.  “We can walk in the Florida Keys.”  Mary breaking into song, Susan Boyle’s ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ .

Norris sleeping, with puzzles, Mary frighteningAnd Friday’s finale, when it gets truly scary.  She hides the laces to Norris’ boots so he can’t walk.  Then she, oops, accidently breaks the wiring box for the telephone.  And remember, Norris was complaining when they got there about only getting one bar on his cell phone.  “There’s a land line,” Mary said.  Run, Norris, run, with or without  your boot laces.

Meatloaf

Meatloaf, potatoes au gratin, tomato & artichoke salad1 1/2 lb ground beef

1/2 lb ground pork or pork sausage

1 cup soft breadcrumbs

2 eggs, well beaten

1 cup milk

3 tbsp minced onion

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp dry mustard

1/4 cup ketchup

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce or Lea & Perrins steak sauce

– Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl, and then put in an ungreased loaf pan.  Bake at 350˚ until done, about 50 mins.

Meatloaf in pan, cookedThis is my mother-in-law’s recipe and it’s the best meatloaf I have ever tasted.  The addition of pork makes it juicier than those made with beef only.  I have added small amounts of chopped celery, water chestnuts and/or olives.  They are good in it, but not necessary.  Marji preferred to mound the mixture in an iron skillet so it browned all the way around and the grease flowed off it.  I prefer a loaf pan so it has the traditional meatloaf shape.  When it’s done, I pour the grease off – carefully.

The top photo shows it served with potatoes au gratin and a tomato and artichoke heart salad.  The potatoes came from a box and take the same length of time to bake as the meatloaf at the same temperature.

 

The King and Us

George VI portraitColin First as George VI, in The King's SpeechWallis Simpson makes me think that there may well be a God, and that He is on “our” side.  I cannot imagine what the world would look like had Edward VIII remained on the throne.  And it’s thanks to Wallis Simpson that he didn’t.

He came to the throne in 1936 when the build up to WWII was already taking place.  Hitler had firm control of Germany and was looking to expand that control further in Europe.  Neville Chamberlain, British PM at the time, believed the best way to handle Hitler’s Germany was through “appeasement” – let him have what he wants and he’ll leave us alone.  Edward VIII, it seems, went even further than appeasement.  He and Wallis were pretty close to Nazi-sympathizers.  They enjoyed socializing with high-ranking Nazi officials.

Edward VIII, Duke & Duchess of Windsor, at home with pugsNow, maybe that was Wallis’ choice more than his.  It seems that she did the thinking in that family.  But I believe that if it hadn’t been her, it would have been someone else leading him around by the nose.  The one thing that seems very clear from reading history from that time is that Edward was a fun-loving man who really didn’t want to be bothered with heavy matters of state.  So he may have fallen in love with another woman who was marriage material, but based on assessments of his personality she probably wouldn’t have been any more competent as a war-time Queen than he would be a war-time King.

"We Four" at home, with dogsAs unsuitable as Edward was to inherit his father’s crown, so too seemed Albert, his younger brother the Duke of York.  As second in line, he’d never really had to worry about wearing the crown.  An introspective man, he wanted to pursue his own interests.  As Duke of York, that was just fine.  He married a strong woman, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.  She, a perfect home-grown match for a royal marriage, had been long courted by him and had refused his proposals.  She didn’t want a life anywhere in the Royal Family.  At that time, life as the central Royal didn’t seem a likelihood!

Edward VIII to Duke of Windsor

Poor Bertie stuttered badly, but it didn’t really matter – he wasn’t going to be in a position where public speaking was a major part of the job.  Then the unthinkable happened.  After George V’s death, David became Edward VIII and he refused to give up the American twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.  Parliament refused to waive the rules about divorced persons joining the Royal Family and there was the abdication crisis.  That was a crisis for the country.  Succession to the Throne had to be a familial crisis for Bertie and Elizabeth and the two Princesses.  “We Four”, as the Duke of York called his family, had a good and comfortable life mapped out near the limelight and with benefits, but not in the limelight.

Coronation photo of George VI and familyBut step up he did, and became George VI.  Elizabeth became a stalwart Queen consort.  Britain, still under Chamberlain as PM, engaged in war with Germany and won.  George VI truly lived up to the oath that England’s monarchs take in that being King probably cost him his life.  His daughter Elizabeth has gone on to be one of the two longest-reigning British monarchs ever.  And she has seen the Royal Family through some spectacularly rocky times during those decades.  She’s done it with grace and wisdom, just like her father and mother.

I haven’t yet seen the movie The King’s Speech, but I hope Colin Firth wins the Oscar for Best Actor – for his sake and Queen Elizabeth’s.


Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Feb. 13/11)

car's final flipCar at rest, with Molly insidecutting car frame apartTyrone’s car rolling over and over and over – wow!  Then, next episode, the firefighters cutting the car apart.

The car and the jaws of life were the stars of the week.

How fast was Tyrone driving on that narrow country road to have a car roll over that many times?  How, indeed, was more damage not done to Molly and the baby, seeing as how she had removed her seatbelt just prior to the crash?

car on narrow road, before the crashI was angry at Tyrone for flying at Kevin about not fixing the brakes.  I was glad he got over it quickly and realized that, yes, he should have checked before driving off in a car he knew had brake problems.  Earlier, as soon as I heard Ty say – oh the car’s outside, it must be done – I thought hold on a sec, it’s exactly where you left it, maybe you ought to check with Kev and see if he has in fact worked on it.  Of all people, a mechanic ought to know better than to just drive off in a car without checking that the work has been done.

Molly’s anger at Kevin when she finds out about the brakes – well, you can see that since she knows there is another story that Tyrone doesn’t know about.  You can see why she, and Auntie Pam, could think Kevin had done this deliberately.  But even she will have to realize that no, Tyrone didn’t check that the work had been done and yes, Kevin had been calling and calling until she turned the phones off in exasperation.

Eddie Windass shows it allsleepy kitten with turtle toyAnd on Friday, another graphic image of horror.  Eddie Windass, in his bathrobe and underwear.  Every time it comes back into my mind’s eye I have to go to the dailykitten.com to try to expunge it.

Coronation Street: A defence of John Stape

Ok, I know John Stape is a lying weasel who spends way too much time feeling sorry for himself and plotting John Stape close upnasty schemes.  But, at heart, he is a high school teacher who loves to teach.  He likes to read and likes to talk about literature and teaching.  He isn’t pining to write the great English novel.  He isn’t wishing he were teaching at university level or at some fancy school.  He loves teaching English to ordinary kids in ordinary schools.    He isn’t pompous in his knowledge or interests, and he isn’t too well-read.  He’s an ordinary guy with a BA in English who got a teaching degree.

There aren’t that many of them on soaps, you know – people with arts degrees, teachers, people who enjoy being well-read.  On Coronation Street, Ken is all those things.  But for years, he’s also been whining about it – he wants to do more!!!  And Deirdre – well, you’d think reading the Guardian or whatever paper it is Ken prefers is the weirdest thing on the planet.  She’s constantly moaning about Ken having his nose buried in “his” papers or watching nature programming.  Maybe she ought to put her nose in his paper once in a while.  Knowledge and awareness of the world isn’t a bad thing for you, Deirdre.

At least Fiz appreciates John’s love of teaching.  Maybe, as Deirdre recently suggested, it would wear off over the years (assuming, for the moment, that John didn’t continue doing stupid things).  But leaving out his stupid actions and their consequences, even if Fiz doesn’t share his intellectual curiousity, she respects him for having it.

No one else on the street really cares about much outside their own little world.  Yes, there are a lot of people like that in the real world but that doesn’t make it the apex of human accomplishment.

Carl Hutchins, played by Charles KeatingOn American soaps, there occasionally have been characters interested in the arts and literature.  I think of Carl Hutchins, from years ago on Another World.  Cultured, refined and erudite (and also English) – he’d have made Audrey swoon!  He also was a millionaire, lived in a mansion full of artwork, and had connections with the big-scale criminal world.  Not, by any stretch, your average English teacher.

And that’s what John Stape is.  Take away the propensity to fall for overly-developed students like Rosie Webster and an apparent lack of understanding of the common English word “no” and you’ve got a regular guy who likes to read and also enjoys transmitting his knowledge and passion for literature to others.  That’s admirable, and rare in Coronation Street and all the other serials.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Feb 6/11)

Sophie kisses SianA jaw-dropper at the end of Monday’s episode.  Sophie, having scrubbed the back of her neck raw trying to get the temporary tattoo off, crying.  Then Sian coming in to make up with her after their fight.  Then Sophie kissing her in a not “just friends” way.  And Sian maybe returning the feeling?

A couple weeks ago, after Sian and Sophie had a little hissy spat, I read a comment somewhere online that said something about their ‘lesbian moment’ in a kind of eye roll way.  I thought, oh, it’s just teenage girl stuff – emotions and hormones all over the place all the time.

Certainly, Sophie’s emotions had to be running amok at this moment in her room.  To recap the past couple days Sian reading text to Ryan from Sophie - "Liar"of her life:  she’s upset because her BFF had turned on her like a savage, taking the word of Ryan over hers about him coming on to her while he and Sian were split up for a nanosecond.  In trying to weasel out of the spot he’d got himself in, Ryan blamed Sophie.  He said she’d always said to him that if he wasn’t attached…  And Sian, confused by hearing two very different stories, chooses to believe him and turn on her friend.

Kevin yelling at Sophie about the tattooComing home to lick her wounds, Sophie gets some sympathy from her father.  Until he sees the tattoo on the back of her neck.  He does not hear her say it’s just henna.  He screams at her, grounds her and slams out of the room.  She Sophie scrubbing her neck to remove the tattoodecides that tattoo’s coming off.

Crying, hurting inside and on her neck, and Sian comes in to apologize.  She’s realized Ryan was lying about Sophie.  And, even after his mother (a pinnacle of morality herself) tells him to tell Sian the truth, he doesn’t.  Sian works it out for herself.

The whole situation with her, Ryan and Sian happened because she didn’t take Emily’s advice about sometimes a lie of omission is better than the full truth.  Emily’s counsel was keep yer mouth shut about Ryan coming on to you.  She should have listened.

Sophie tells Sian she doesn't like RyanI don’t know where they’re going to go with the kiss between Sophie and Sian, but I think Sophie could find herself in even more of a dilemma between her faith and feelings.  I don’t know if Emily will be able to help her because Emily is open-minded and kind-hearted.  To my knowledge, churches that have full-immersion adult baptism generally do not believe that God is equally accepting of all His creatures, even the gay ones.

Resort Towns (Feb. 2/11)

Brighton, in December, although still a fairly bustling city, bore little relation to Brighton in June or August.  Jury often felt there were few things bleaker than a seaside town in winter.

– Martha Grimes 2002, A Richard Jury Novel, The Blue Last

resort towns Port Stanley, on lake ice bankI usually agree with Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury on everything, but not this one.  You could call summer resort towns bleak in winter, but it’s a beautiful bleakness.  I like summer resort towns much better in their off-season.  They can also be lovely in their season.  Sun, sand, fun – that’s why we go.  But, for me, too many of us go.

I went to Brighton once, in April.  It wasn’t as wind-swept and, yes, bleak as it would be in December.  It was cold; there was no bathing in the sea.  But there were the arcades, the beach walks – and, best of all, there were no crowds.

Port Stanley beach in summerI live near a lakeside resort town.  Port Stanley on Lake Erie is beautiful in summer.  Wide expanse of sand beach, wide expanse of fresh water warm for swimming.  Small downtown streets with interesting shops.  A pier with fishing boats tied up or chugging into port.  Teeny cottages cheek by jowl in a rabbit warren of lanes near the beach.  Mansions on the beach and up the hill, built as summer homes for wealthy merchants of a century and more ago.

Lifeguard station in JanuaryI rarely go to Port Stanley in summer.  But I love going in winter.  The beach is empty.  The wind howls in off the lake.  On a good cold day, when your ears are ringing and your eyes streaming from the wind, you can run into Mackies on the beach and warm up with a hot drink or a cheeseburger or hotdog with the famous Mackies sauce.  Walk another block or so and go in the shops, most still open in winter.  Go into a bar and it’s local people, fishermen and schoolteachers, talking about next year’s fishing quotas or whether there’s going to be a ferry or not.  They’re drinking ordinary beer from bottles, not asking for fancy stuff on tap.

Mackies on the beach in resort town Port StanleyGet a take-out pizza or go to a fancy dining room.  There are a lot of good restaurants in Port Stanley, more than in the average small town.  That’s because it’s a resort town, I guess.  The volume of business is there in the summer to support a year-round operation.  That’s nice for the winter visitor – excellent food and no one waiting for your table, wishing you’d hurry up with your crème brûlée and get out of there.

I’ve been in a lot of summer resort towns.  I’ve found I prefer them in their off season.  It’s not that they’re better; they’re just different.  Port Stanley Harbour winterThey’re sleepier, cozier, nicer.  They’re hibernating, getting their strength back to deal with the hordes of sunworshippers, wannabe models, families with overexcited children, slow-walking pensioners.  The off-season is when a town is what, and who, it really is.  And the added bonus, of those in cold climes, is the wind whipping at you, making you feel alive.

(winter photos by Jim Stewart, beach in summer from Environmental Defence.)