This is a picture I did not take of a woman wearing a parka, pink pyjama pants, and slippers, sitting on a dining room chair with her feet up, and sipping coffee in zero-degree weather on the balcony of her new condo.
English is a bitch of a language. It’s imprecise, follows rules… until it doesn’t feel like it, and lacks the right word for entire swaths of human emotion and experience.
And yet, English is capable of great cunning and impressive cleverness. Take, for example, the passive voice.
Scourge of good writing, we are told to eschew it. Take responsibility! Take action! It’s hardly the most subtle of cop-outs when companies and politicians are trying to do crisis management, but boy do they love it for that purpose.
Passivity can be used sneakily, too. And it can make you wonder if the person meant to do that, or did it subconsciously, and so quite possibly meant the opposite of what was said, but felt obliged… or something.
To wit: I recently returned from three weeks overseas. These two sentiments were said to me. (See what I did there?)
“We missed you.”
“You were missed.”
Now, at first glance those two phrases might appear to say the same thing. But do they? The first one pretty explicitly states that the people in question (i.e. with whom I was conversing at the time) missed me while I was gone. Aww, thanks.
The second phrase backs that up — I was missed — but does it say by whom? Nope. So can I assume the person who said it actually missed me? Nope. Well, depending on the relationship there, perhaps. But what if it was someone with whom you weren’t well acquainted, or who might have an unknown agenda?
The person who said it could mean he/she missed me. Or that person might not have missed me at all, but wanted to sound good and curry my favour with apparent expressed affection. And so basically he/she might have made a statement resting on the assumption that someone probably missed me, and if I want to assume that person was one of them, so be it, but he/she isn’t going to just come out and say so. Convoluted, no?
Now, I might be cynical (hell, I’m all kinds of cynical), but I find language fascinating, especially when in use with people you don’t know inside and out. Like would your Mom ever greet you after weeks away with, “You were missed”. Not bloody likely.
Sure, analyzing relationships this way might be courting trouble, but with some people, I consider it an act of sanity to apply some rigor to our interactions. People are sticky and messy, and some are fairly diabolical.
While you don’t want to be ruled by paranoia or “what ifs”, it’s not a bad thing to be cognizant of people’s efforts in how they present themselves. At the very least it can make you more aware of how you present yourself as well.
This past week having brought us Valentine’s Day, of course the digital landscape was awash in content about relationships and sex and being more successful at both of those and whatnot. This was one of them.
As I read it, I got a little twitchy, as I am still wont to do, recalling the trials and tribulations of a long-distance relationship even this many years later. The Internet was getting mainstream then, but it was primitive. We mostly communicated online via telnet programs and email. Not too many people had cell phones yet, and those phones didn’t have cameras, apps, or any of the other key features that enable you to be connected 24/7. Hell, we wrote letters to each other.
But what I found really interesting about that article is that it’s a lot more broadly relevant than just for long-distance romantic pairings. I don’t know how many times it’s happened at this point where I’ve run into someone, or have intentionally met up, and they’ll inquire about something that we’ve never talked about before. Now, I freely admit to my senility, so my reply is often, “Did I tell you about that?” And as often as not the reply will be that they saw me mention it on Twitter or Facebook. Right.
This week Sherry and I headed down to THEMUSEUM (I picked up a new friend along the way) to see Sue Johanson speak as park of The Sex Dialogues, the speaker series that’s part of the new Science of Sex exhibit.
Most of the folks I know were first introduced to Sue back in high school; either she came to speak or you heard her radio show or saw her on Degrassi or what have you. In my case she came to my high school, and as I vaguely recall (it was 20 years ago…) she was more cringe-inducing than knowing chuckle-inducing back then. No wooden dolls this time, either, which, coincidentally, she could have used when someone asked what scissoring was.
She’s definitely aged – she’ll be 84 next month – but still looks mostly the same, and the personality is still there. A bit less energetic, perhaps, but that’s more than fair. Apparently she keeps trying to retire and they keep asking her to come to places and speak. Lordy, people, let the woman rest. We have other sex educators out there now. And you’re sending a senior citizen out in the snow in the dead of winter. Sheesh.
The presentation went on for around two hours, and was all Q&A, with questions submitted on chits of paper before things got started. She had said she was going to talk a bit about the Science of Sex exhibit, but that didn’t happen. She did laud KW for having it, and being progressive, as Toronto wasn’t hosting the exhibit anywhere.
The Q&A went on a bit long, and I got the impression there was a lot of redundancy in the questions, since she skipped a bunch. Overall, people seem to be pretty vanilla and the myths busted were the same ol’, same ol’, far as I was concerned.
What I did notice was that things felt distinctly… dated. As someone on Facebook mentioned, Sue was pretty damned progressive back in the 70s and 80s. But the information in the Q&A seemed really heteronormative, monogamy-centric, and technophobic. (She did say straight out that she’s a technophobe.) Someone asked about keeping the spark in a long-distance relationship, and pretty much all she recommended was talking dirty on the phone. Really? No smutty texts or Snapchats? No Skype or Hangouts? No remote-controlled fun? Oh, Sue.
I think she’s a great resource and introduction to sexuality and being smart about it for young people who are coming from a place of cluelessness (really, schools, we need to do much better). But after a certain point, I think it’s time for Violet Blue (warning: NSFW pictures) and her ilk.
There were even a handful of questions asked that Sue had to ask the audience about. Which made it fairly obvious that she doesn’t do a lot of research these days or spend much time online. That said, I don’t know how much of the average populace is using coconut oil as a lube or contemplating giving a “blumpkin”…
Re. the former: don’t. Like Vaseline or baby oil, etc., it’ll wreck condoms, plus there are bacterial risks and other issues. Hit up Come As You Are or whatever’s local to you and get some decent lube. Re. the latter: why??? Actually, don’t answer that…
Overall, it was great to see Sue, but yeah, let her retire. Let the next generation take over. Coincidentally, I found the exhibit itself to be similar to the presentation – very heteronormative and whatnot. That said, I chatted briefly with David Marskell, THEMUSEUM’s CEO, shortly before we left, and he said they’d approached a number of people in the local LGBT community, and no one had wanted to participate, which was too bad. I don’t know who was approached or what was offered, but the result was the poorer for it. Oh well.
All in all, A good initiative, and important for young people. There’s a lot of ignorance and misinformation out there, and it’s dangerous. As for us old folks who’ve spent way too much time in the past couple decades online… our kids are more the target audience than we are. Though really, being reminded of the basics, or what the baseline of knowledge really is for a lot of people, wasn’t a bad thing. Stay safe out there.
Back in July of 2010, I did a post about podcasts I was enjoying. I was much newer to them then, having forsaken the radio for content that was actually new, original, and – gasp – educational. Well, it’s been a few more years, and my podcast listening has grown and expanded, so time to share a few more that I enjoy.
Andrew turned me on to this one, which comes to us from the BBC. If you’ve ever watched a show like Britain’s Secret Treasures, this is quite similar, and one of the objects featured so far is one that was also on the show.
Each podcast they feature an item from world history and talk about what it is, when and where it came from, what it was for, and other socio-cultural contexts, often with interviews with really interesting folks. There’s already been some Attenborough.
Two British people get questions in from all over the world, though mostly from other British people, about anything and everything, and then they endeavour to answer them. Some of them relate to trivia, some actually require a bit of research about origins and such, and some of them are filthy and funny. Cuz, y’know, it’s the internets. Olly really, really loves his cat, Coco, and Helen hates cats.
These were some of the first podcasts I started listening to, and now that I’ve long since caught up on the backlog, still enjoying a few of them, specifically Stuff You Should Know, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff Mom Never Told You, BrainStuff, TechStuff, and Stuff to Blow Your Mind. There are also some video ones that I catch up on while painting, doing dishes, etc.: Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know, Stuff of Genius, Stuff From the Future.
They cover pretty much anything and everything, and there’s enough of them that if the topic isn’t of interest, just skip forward.
Another Discovery one, technically. (Discovery bought How Stuff Works a while back.) The two hosts from TechStuff and another guy. Longer format, and topics cover a potentially broader range – e.g. science that’s not necessarily tech, as well as social implications and things like that.
Part of the Maximum Fun network now, though publishing is a bit inconsistent. Interesting little vignettes from history. Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, often presented from a really unique and brain-twisting angle.
Dan Savage’s advice show wherein people call in and leave questions, comments, rants, etc. It’s human sexuality-centric, though there are cultural aspects as well, particularly those relating to non-vanilla, monogamous, heterosexual relationships and interactions.
I don’t listen to this one regularly, but will binge listen for a week or two until I’m tired of the weird problems of the young/old/gay/straight/bi/trans/kinky/etc. I don’t always agree with Savage’s perspectives or advice, but I learn a fair bit, too, which is even better than just being entertained.
Another one from Maximum Fun, and fairly new. Justin, the husband co-host, is also one of the three brothers on My Brother, My Brother, and Me. I tried listening to that one but wanted to punch all of them after about five minutes, so I don’t listen to it anymore.
In this one, Justin plays the dumb everyman to his wife, Sydnee, who is a doctor. They (mostly she) present a medical condition, phenomenon, etc. and discuss how it was perceived and treated throughout history. As you can imagine, many of them are rather horrifying from a modern perspective, but can also be kinda funny, hence the tagline, “A marital tour of misguided medicine”. Everything from headaches to fertility issues shows up, and if you’re the kind of person who makes it a point of visiting 19th century surgical museums while on vacation (yup), you’ll dig this.
This is weird. That cannot be overstated. Ostensibly it’s a community updates radio broadcast from a desert town in the US. Except there are angels and aliens and wild dogs and homicidal wheat and wheat byproducts. There’s not just a local constabulary, but a Sheriff’s Secret Police. There’s a long and expensive boardwalk, except there is no water anywhere near the town.
There’s an eccentric old woman and a dreamy scientist, and random shadowy characters who come and go. Occasionally people get vaporized. Or there’s a bake sale. Anything could happen. Like I said, weird. But with fun music and compelling overall.
The Moth is a series of storytelling events that go on around the US, and are semi-professional. A lot of the speakers present more than once, there are awards and a championship and such. A lot of the speakers are also professional writers and the like, and I gather you call a hot line to pitch your story idea, and they work with you to polish it up and get it ready for prime time.
The podcast is a distillation of these stories (which are also played on the radio in the US, I gather), and rarely disappoint. In fact there’ve been a couple of times when I probably shouldn’t have been driving while listening, they’re that engrossing. There’s a book, too, of hand-picked stories, which I will be reading soon. Highly recommended.
Probably the most well-known of any of these. I believe it remains the number one podcast in the US. I am not a fan of the host, Ira Glass’, voice, but you get used to it. It’s a bit like The Moth, in that it contains in-depth stories about lives often very unlike your own. But it’s also journalism, too, to get these stories, with a fair bit more socio-political commentary, whether it’s about a Chicago school with a lot of gun deaths, or just how dangerous acetaminophen is.
The topics cover an amazing wide range, and some shows are a lot more heart- or gut-wrenching than others, which is cool. The amount of work that must go into making these shows is staggering.
From the CBC, podcast version of the radio show. All manner of science, and plenty of dinosaurs – everyone likes dinosaurs! I’ve also noticed that there tends to be a lot of women among the scientists they interview, which I appreciate.
Same folks who wrote the books and whatnot, and similarly themed topics. Pick some aspect of society, dig into it, go “hmm”. Not consistently produced, and haven’t seen one in a while, but there’s a considerable backlog.
A great way to get to know the breweries and beers of Ontario, and the people who make them. (Craft brewing folks tend to be a lot of fun.) I find Mirella Amato, the host, to be fairly pretentious, but it’s not really about her. I also tend to only listen to every other podcast. They do two per brewer, first picking a couple of their beers and talking about them, as well as the brewery history and whatnot. Then in the second one they pair the beers with cheese, chocolate, etc. A podcast about people talking about tasting things strikes me as a bit dumb.
My newest pickup, recommended by two very different friends, which is a good sign. It’s about design in the world, architectural and otherwise. (A project of the American Institute of Architects, among others.) It looks at things you may never have seen, and things you look at every day. Mars could be talking about a specific iconic building, or about a guy who is trying to draw All the Buildings in New York. A good way of shifting your perspective a bit.
I find Chris Hardwick a little annoying sometimes, and things can get pretty in-joke-y when Matt and/or Jonah are there. However, they also interview really cool people, so those are fun. I don’t listen to all of them, and skip the ones where it’s only Chris and co. talking, or when the guest is someone I don’t know or care about. Plenty of great geek culture, though.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s space-y show/podcast. Have to admit I haven’t listened to this one in a while. He gets some really cool guests, but the musical bits are so annoying. Includes both Tyson talking science, and discussing with the guests. The cool part is that they’re not all boffins. Could be Dan Aykroyd or Tony Bourdain or Joe Rogan.
So there’s my current line-up. As a bonus, here are two video series of which I’m also a big fan.
John Green delivers the history of the world in 10-ish minute chunks. He explains the what, where, when, etc., as well as how those things affect the world now. He also has mad love for the Mongols, which never stops being funny. Aside from learning a more inclusive, less west’n’white version of history, you’ll also get fun tidbits, like how the Silk Road (which wasn’t just one route) helped bring the plague (Black Death, anyone) to Europe from Asia.
Big props to Dave for turning me on to this one. Sparky Sweets, PhD, delivers book/play summaries and analysis on classic works of literature, from Austen to Shakespeare, in 5-ish minute increments, accompanied by entertaining animations and charmingly colloquial language. Seriously, just go watch one to understand. Frankly, his summaries and analysis are better than a lot of the formal education in lit that I’ve received. And way funnier.
I thought I’d posted this recipe ages ago. Sort of – I posted a link to the original, but not my improved version.
Starbucks Ginger Molasses Cookies
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp ground ginger
3/4 C (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 large or x-large egg
1/3 C regular molasses (fancy, not blackstrap)
Turbinado sugar (for topping cookies – granulated sugar’s crystals aren’t big enough)
Heat oven to 375F, rack in the centre. Line baking sheets with parchment, Silpats, silicone liners, or aluminum foil and set aside.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger together in a medium bowl. Whisk until combined. Set aside.
Cream butter and brown sugar together in a large mixing bowl with mixer on high speed, until light and fluffy, about one minute. Turn mixer down to medium speed and beat in the egg and molasses, then increase the speed again to high and beat for another minute until the mixture looks smooth and no longer curdled. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula intermittently.
Turn the mixer down to low and mix in the flour mixture gradually. The resulting dough will be fairly stiff. Pour some Turbinado sugar onto a small plate. (You can get it at the Bulk Barn.) Roll some dough into a ball in your hands (about 1 1/2 inches across for medium-sized cookies), then push one side of the ball into the sugar to partially flatten the cookie and coat that side with sugar.
Transfer the cookie dough to the cookie sheet, sugared side up, and repeat until the sheet is full. Cookies don’t have to be 100% flattened out – they will spread a bit while baking. How much they spread depends on how stiff the dough is, etc.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, depending on your oven (test bake of a couple cookies is recommended), until the cookies have spread and cracks have started to form in the tops. You want them to stay chewy so you don’t want them to start looking browned. Remove from oven and cool on the baking sheet ’til you can pick them up, then transfer to a baking rack to finish cooling if you have one.
Recipe makes about two dozen medium-sized cookies. The dough can be frozen for up to six months. (You can roll the dough into a 1 1/2-inch log then just slice off the cookies.)
The original recipe nutritional info, which lists the recipe as making one dozen cookies:
– 290 calories
– 3g protein
– 42g carbs
– 1g fibre
– 12g fat (7g saturated)
– 275mg sodium
This year is the 10th anniversary of my friend’s death on December 22nd, 2003. A number of years ago my aunt’s sister died on Christmas morning. A friend’s father-in-law died this morning.
This isn’t terribly unusual. People die all the time. But it feels like it is. In this season of togetherness and celebration and relatives stressing you out, it feels like a sin of some kind for people to die, or come close to it. It seems more tragic. And then I feel disrespectful for everyone who gets sick or into accidents or dies around the other 50 or so weeks of the year.
And does that feeling of Yuletide tragedy get pushed back further every year like the retail-drive Christmas season does?
It’s vaguely like how I feel bad for anyone born between mid-December and mid-January. Well, your birthday’s going to suck. Like that’s the worst thing that could happen around your birth, or like there aren’t other “inconvenient” days to be born throughout the year.
It feels like we’ve done this to ourselves. And by “we” I mean those who celebrate Christmas. If you don’t celebrate anything in late December/early January, someone’s death doesn’t necessarily take on extra and somewhat manufactured weight. Though western culture has done its damnedest to infect everyone with the Christmas spirit. I mean really, can’t we just leave the Jews alone to enjoy their movies and Chinese food?
Perhaps there are also historical ties. In the day, when people died in the winter (and this still may be the case, depending where you’re at), they couldn’t be buried right away. They pretty much literally had to be kept on ice until spring thaw when the body could be interred. So you had however many weeks or months of being indoors more, with more darkness outside (until December 21st, at least), and possibly more aloneness, to grieve, to think, and kind of… wait. There was that bit of closure that wasn’t possible because when spring came you were going to have to go through it again to some degree, if you chose to.
If you go way back, you have Solstice taking place around the same time as Christmas (not a coincidence). So there are ideas of the shift of darkness and the return of light and new life. You don’t have to look very hard to find where Christianity got its metaphors… But winter cold and darkness and loneliness and other seasonal hazards are real, and there’s little question why not all elderly or isolated people “don’t make it” til spring.
Blessedly, I have not had that many friends die throughout the year. I don’t have enough of a basis of comparison for whether I dwell on it more this time of year, or it makes me more sad. I do know the season comes with more baggage than most times of the year — for me and many others. This is why I have friends who don’t celebrate at all. In fact, they’ve taken years to divest themselves of obligations on The Day, in favour of eating badly, drinking heartily, and enjoying geeky and/or trashy entertainments. I admit to a certain envy.
Ultimately, though, right after a death during the holidays, there’s one concrete thing that would make a death you’re close to harder. The administrative details. You’re supposed to be winding down at work and gearing up for baking and shopping and all manner of social occasions. And all of a sudden that has to come to a screeching halt, replaced by hospitals and funeral homes and decision after decision. Except that all the festive stuff doesn’t entirely go away. The people and the decorations and the food. And you don’t get any time to exhale, to start processing.
I’m sure funeral directors and the like can verify that death doesn’t take holidays, nor display any particularly religious or secular affiliation at this, or any other time of year. But I suspect there are some things different about managing the mortal coil departures lounge this time of year.
The point of these musings? Nothing, really, beyond a brain dump of things on my mind lately, having had both birth and death wander by in close proximity. (That makes it sound like I recently miscarried or something. I didn’t.)
It’s December 21st, the shortest day, and longest night, of the year. Thomas never did tell us what we’re supposed to do about the return of the light…
Last evening the food creators and food lovers gathered at Uptown 21 for the second in their 21 Takeover dinner series (hashtag: #21takeover). This time the host was Scott Vivian from Beast in Toronto, and his wife/partner/pastry chef Rachelle.
The lovely Paula and I were invited to join in the festivities, and so we arrived with bells on, tummies empty, and smartphones at the ready. (Many thanks to her for most of the photos, which were quite superior with her camera vs. my iPhone.)
So, what were we in for? A sneak peak…
And what is a lovely dinner without wine?
After some intros and welcomes and such, we were off to the races, beginning with the Tawse Riesling Spark paired with a tangy and crunchy morsel of scrumptiousness that was the amuse.
The amuse bouche was pickled onions and Brussels sprouts with crema on Taco Farm tortilla tostadas. It was a snap, crackle and pop of a starter, and the plate (we were served family style) was quickly bare.
Next up were some of Rachelle’s breads, and I could have eaten either of them alone… or just the butter, too. So soft, so rich.
In his opening remarks, amid less important business, Nick addressed the elephant in the room: all of the terrible moustaches. (His, of course, was very manly and could only increase his chefly powers.)
After the breads, Krystina introduced the evenings wineries: Rosewood Estates, Tawse, and Lailey, and the wines we’d be enjoying (for those who chose pairings). For the first of the courses on the menu, we’d be enjoying 2010 Rosewood Pinot Noir.
First up of the courses was the cauliflower and croutons with a gorgeously bright salsa verde. The warm “brown” roasty flavours and all the bright green flavours were good friends, and the Pinot was just the right weight and complexity.
Next up was one of my favourite salad ingredients: smoked trout, with Greek yogurt, beetroot, and quail egg. I could have eaten the whole plate by myself, easily.
Whew, one course under our belts, and our appetites thoroughly whet for what was to come. To prepare us for the next round, the Tawse 2011 Chardonnay arrived. Might I note, I’m not a big Chardonnay fan, but this was lovely, subtle stuff.
Then things got serious as the “poutine” arrived: fried gnocchi with wild boar and cheese curds. Epic. (The gnocchi was described as tasting like “the best Tater Tots ever”.) The Chardonnay had just enough body and brightness for the richness of the poutine. An oakier variety would have been “funny”, as my Dad would say.
After pillaging that plate with vigor, things got a bit more ethnically inspired. (Is something Quebecois-inspired ethnic for us? I guess…) It was time for the battered and fried squid with fish sauce vinaigrette, Thai basil, and pomelo. And might I note here that I am not generally a big squid eater, but this was fantastic, and I happily ate tentacles — even for the camera. The Chardonnay was lovely with the tangy, Thai-inspired flavours at work.
Next up was the special wine, the Lailey 2011 Syrah. Glad I got to try it, because Krystina finagled the last of it from Derek. Amazing stuff. Rich, well rounded, and not a hint of that overbearing “green pepper” I worry about with big Ontario reds.
So naturally the next course got its meat on in a big way. Venison with mushrooms on a bed of pine nut grits. And again, not a venison fan, but this was perfectly cooked and so flavourful. I ate my share and some of Amela’s this time. Yum! Even more crazy was that I happily wrapped each bite in mushroom, and anyone who knows me knows my utter abhorrence of the things. I don’t even know who I am anymore, and I don’t care.
Next up we went back to the veggies and sweetened things up a bit with squash, pepitas, and feta with a wonderfully complex maple glaze. The smell of it was intoxicating. So perfectly “fall”. (We argued over what was all in the glaze. It was almost… Moroccan.)
And with that, my friends, we’d completed the main menu. What remained was the announced sticky toffee pudding (I have not words for how much I love that stuff) and a mystery dessert made with chocolate that had been delivered by Ambrosia Pastry that afternoon. (If you have not tried their many varieties of bean to bar chocolate, you are SO missing out.)
Another first arrived next: mead! Not that I’ve never had it, just that I’ve never liked it, typically because I find it cloyingly sweet. (Same issue with ice wine.) But this was a dry mead (yes, it exists!) and was a whole ‘nother ballgame. This was a 2011 Rosewood Estates Harvest Gold Mead. And the honey it’s made from is from Krystina’s family’s own bees.
And lo, with coffee and tea and such served if mead wasn’t enough, the desserts arrived. The announced sticky toffee pudding positively SWIMMING in toffee sauce, and a beautifully simple chocolate tart. People… it was a miracle that every table did not come to fisticuffs over these desserts. Rachelle is made of magic.
The tart let the chocolate shine. It was rich and complex and just sweet enough. Even the pears garnishing it could have been their own dessert. I hurt me to my core to cut it in half for Paula to have her share.
And the pudding… moist and festive and the sauce… well, people did shooters of the sauce. ‘Nuf said. (Seriously, I ate sticky toffee puddings across the UK and could have stayed right here for the finest.)
And with that, the meal came to an end. But not a belly was left unstuffed nor a taste bud untantalized. Huge thanks to Nick and Nat for the invitation, and to Scott and Rachelle for the meal, as well as all the kitchen and front of house staff who made the evening run flawlessly.
Next up in the 21 Takeover series is the gents from The Bauer Butcher. It’s gonna be a meat-tastic (and magnificent!) menu. Take a look. (And Nick wasn’t even kidding about the bacon fat baklava…) That one’s December 11th and it’s selling out FAST.
This is a picture I did not take of a gaggle of skinny Asian teenagers standing just up from a downtown street corner, huddled against the wall of a restaurant and sharing a pair of iPod earbuds. At random intervals they would burst into multi-part R&B harmonies in English, with all the overwrought drama of a Boyz II Men reunion. They’d sing a few lines, then stop, usually burst out laughing, and converse in rapid-fire Chinese. Rinse and repeat until I crossed when the light changed.
A Fiddler on the Roof. Sounds… addictive, no?
Not the classic opener, but you might agree had you been at the showing of Fiddler we saw this week. I promised no singing or dancing, and kept my word. But we had ladies behind us singing, people off to the right trying to start a clap-along, and several people trying to grapevine their way to the parking lot after the show.
It was good to confirm that I still knew the play almost by heart (we put it on in high school). And though my appreciation of musicals has certainly waned the last few years, I do still love this one.
For the set design they leaned heavily on the influence of Marc Chagall, as he also inspired the original staging, and was both a Jew and a geographic contemporary, more or less, of the characters in the story (he was Belarussian by birth).
Chagall did plenty of work that showcased shtetl life and such, though I admit the style didn’t really work for me. The primary colours and simplified storybook styles jarred with the brown, homespun world depicted. I get that it reflected the elements of fantasy and imagination in the story, but I kept looking at the “mobile” on the ceiling and being distracted by the child who looked like the kid from Where the Wild Things Are.
The initial scenes worried me a bit, as they really played up the schtick and yuks, which, while likely true to original stagings, isn’t really my thing. Ask Sherry — I’m not a fan of stylized. After the first couple of scenes, however, things largely smoothed out and the comedy was allowed to be a bit more natural.
Scott Wentworth played Tevye, which amused me a bit since we just saw him as Shylock a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the Jews are just one guy. He was a bit different from other Tevye portrayals I’ve seen — and let’s face it, it’s easy to just follow the leader where that character is concerned. He was a bit… smaller? Which worked for Wentworth. Also more conversational and less theatrical, if that makes sense. The audience certainly liked him, and there was definite play in the performance.
Golde I didn’t like so much. Granted, she’s a bit of a straight man and always bossy and grumbly. But her singing particularly was annoying. Clearly she’s not usually a musical actress, and while they worked with Wentworth’s vocal limitations well, not so for Golde, and she ended up weird and shrill a number of times. She and Tevye had their moments of camaraderie and comedy, but it wasn’t consistent.
The daughters were interestingly cast from a physical perspective. Their performances were fine, but they managed to use size and physical presence to underscore their personalities and roles. And while I found Tzeitel’s full-face grin distracting at times, it did make her lovely. Motel… well, I know the character is a nebbish, but it still grates.
I found Yente stuck out a bit, too. She was a tad young for my taste. Seemed odd to have an ancient, doddering rabbi, and a middle-aged Yente. In my mind they’re kind of opposites that fit together somehow. She was also the only one who had a really noticeable Jewish accent. Which is typical, and part of the comedy, but still.
I wonder, too, how many actors who’ve played the Fiddler have been women. The Fiddler at that performance was, and our high school one was, too. I always enjoy seeing how they costume the Fiddler. A hint of jester, but a certain elegance somehow, too. And goodness knows I love me some fiddler/violin music.
The set was simple and very wooden, which is to be expected. They made use of tiny prop houses to represent the village, which I liked. They cast a warm and close knit glow and feeling. Though I was compelled to text a picture to Andrew with the Zoolander reference of, “Is this a shtetl for ants!!!”
Overall, while not every aspect of the play’s presentation worked for me, I appreciated that they tried some different things, and enjoyed myself a great deal.
And I managed to make it all the way home without a single folk dance step.