Category: Greater and Lesser Culture

Fierce farm animals and rodents seeking romance

Last Saturday the street gang headed into the wilds of Toronto, wisely parking at Yorkdale since Nuit Blanche was on that night (thank you, Andrew, for driving). We TTC’d it to the ROM, and after some poor signage-induced elevator adventures, took in the Terracotta Army.

The exhibition was set up with a similar progression to other exhibitions we’ve seen there (like the Dead Sea Scrolls), where you enter and learn about the time and place and culture in what is now China’s northern Shaanxi province, and the rise and reign of the First Emperor. It was a period of dynastic upheaval, so there was plenty going on, which led to some major changes in Chinese life, from military careers to taxing the peasantry.

There was also this awesomely cheesy narrator display with a guy in a fantastically fake fu manchu moustache doing his thing.

There was more video in this exhibition than I remember from before, but that might just be because it was more recent. There were battle reenactments, how the site was discovered, an overview of the weaponry, etc. They had the farmer who found the whole thing, too. A guy about a million years old with his long pipe and no teeth, explaining how he was trying to drill a well, and had he been 30 centimetres to this side or that, he would have missed it all.

What surprised me a little bit, though, is that I didn’t feel they did the best job of communicating just how enormous the site is. Like, seriously. Maybe I just missed the pictures/video that communicated that, but I recall seeing better scale pictures in National Geographic.

They did explain reasonably well that there have been four main pits found (plus small, more decorative ones with the bronze water fowl and such), what was in each, and how many warriors there are overall, along with horses chariots, livestock, etc… And there were excellent examples of much of what’s been found. (More info.)

The horses look a bit small for “actual size”, but apparently they believe them to be accurate for the time. I liked the horses, as they were solid and plump-looking, much like myself. 🙂 The warriors ranged in size a bit, and the proportions weren’t quite exact in many cases, but the detail and individuality is impressive. They even had patterning on the bottoms of their shoes.

The attire, accessories, weapons, and original paint jobs were all customized to each soldier’s rank and duties. Weaponry was real. Molds were used for body parts and faces (unsurprisingly), but after assembly, individual details were added by hand, so no two soldiers are identical. And there are nearly eight thousand of them. In addition to infantry, there were cavalry, officers, administrators, and entertainers. Everything an emperor would need to keep himself protected, comfortable, and entertained in the afterlife.

And, of course, I can’t forget our favourite part of the exhibition — the livestock! There were fabulous small versions of cattle, goats, dogs, chickens — some still painted and many with fantastic expressions. The chickens were 2200 years old and looked like something you could buy in St. Jacobs tomorrow. There was a crotchety-looking goat that Melissa fell in love with, too. 🙂

Keep in mind that all of these figures — human and animal — were stand-ins for the real thing. In older times, real people, horses, and livestock would have been sacrificed to be buried with the emperor (not just in China). Sometimes just buried alive. Lovely. Given the scale of the First Emperor’s tomb, methinks more than a few people were grateful that the custom had changed and it was ok to use ceramic representations…

And then, at the end, in the gift shop, Melissa found my favourite part of the exhibition: Beat-down Frog. Hand-carved by master artisans, as they made sure to tell you, and not much over an inch high, he is truly awesome. (Yes, given the holes in the stick it’s possible he’s intended to be Flautist Frog, but it’s far more fun to think of him brandishing a 2×4.)

beat-down frog

After that we wandered a bit, had coffee and killed some time in Yorkville, people-watching, then separated for an hour or so to do our thing before we headed to dinner at Thai Basil.

And then, downtown! To Massey Hall and braving the Nuit Blanche hordes (Yonge St. was closed off) to see David Sedaris. Interesting mix of people in the crowd, though folks seemed to know what they were in for with him. 🙂

He read from his latest book, which is a collection of “fables”, to use the term very loosely. The book is a bit of a departure for him on the surface, but totally him once you get into it.

He read a bunch of other stuff, too, including other published stories, diary entries, etc. And showing how much the writer he is at all times, he would actually scribble notes and whatnot while reading. It was fascinating. Many laughs, some thought-provocation, and the only real downside was the incredible dryness of the hall (not helpful when both Sherry and I were getting over colds and trying not to cough).

And from there, back on the TCC to Yorkdale, and headed home. (We were all pretty tired, so no Nuit Blanche for us.)

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

On Saturday I attended a screening of Gone with the Wind at the Guelph Galaxy with Andrew’s Mom, Mary, and sister, Jan. One-day-only event at a few venues, showing the film in HD. I’d only ever seen it on tape before, so I was totally looking forward to it. HD doesn’t really make a difference on a print shot 70 years ago, but it looked as good as it’s gonna get.

The theatre was pretty much full, which is kind of awesome. And, not uncommonly for such special events, there was a certain camaraderie in the air. I also found out later that an old high school friend of mine was at the same show.

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A marvelously literary, techtastic, thinkalicious day

Thanks to the lovely Sherry and Melissa and their ticket procurement, this morning our book babes posse (Sherry, Melissa, Dana, Ashley, and myself) headed to the Kitchener Public Library for a reading and whatnot by Margaret Atwood.

Her appearance had a two-fold purpose: a stop on her Year of the Flood book tour, and as the kick-off to KW’s The Word on the Street festivities.

Good times were had by all. The Year of the Flood is a tale that occurs simultaneously with Oryx and Crake, which is my favourite Atwood book. Ms. Atwood is as smart, funny, and knowledgeable as expected. And there was even singing! (There are hymns in the book and she demo’d one.)

The interview part of the presentation was unfortunate, as the interviewer seemed unprepared and out of his league on a number of levels. She went easy on him, I think, but not 100%, which I think was fair, and, I admit, left us cackling a bit evilly.

Sherry has a more detailed account of the festivities.

After the presentation there was a signing, so Sherry and Ashley got books signed and we had fun making fun of the romance and sci. fi and romantic sci. fi books in the carousels while we waited.

Margaret Atwood, signing Sherry's copy of Year of the Flood

After heading back to Andrew’s to switch up my laundry, I headed home briefly to grab a bite to eat, check out a map of UW to determine where to park, and then was off to grab a tea and Smile Cookie at Timmy’s (yay, Smile Cookies!) before arriving at the university for Cory Doctorow’s lecture as part of his Independent Studies Scholar in Virtual Residence gig. The crowd was an interesting mix of students, alumni, older folks, and Cory Doctorow’s parents. 🙂

Delightfully, he’s an awesome speaker, too, combining great storytelling with stupendous intellect and the occasional well-placed geek joke. The time absolutely flew. And the Q&A was, blessedly, much smarter than at Atwood’s talk. (The fault did not lie with Ms. Atwood in that case…)

As for what he talked about, mainly his primary schtick. The history of copyright and its evolution (or failure to evolve…) Public vs. Private. Who owns what and when. The internets as the biggest copying machine ever, and The Powers That Be’s attempts to suppress that (laughably unsuccessfully). Some talk about his own experiences with his work and those he’s met and their various attitudes and stories. The aforementioned geek jokes… The talk will be online, so I’ll link it up when that happens.

Got me thinking a fair bit, too, about the fringes — those who are spearheading, intentionally or inadvertently, the (r)evolution of the dissemination and transformation of information and creativity. I considered the theatre people I’ve known (and that environment when I was in it), and the discussion about online marketing with people in the fringe porn business (at the Buck Angel presentation).

Many of them would love “mainstream success”, but aren’t allowed to have it. Either they don’t have the money to buy into the right machine, or what they do isn’t deemed acceptable or marketable by the aforementioned Powers That Be, or they don’t have the expertise to connect to, manage and manipulate the right channels — the list goes on.

So they’re forced to try and make their living outside the commercial box, however they can, and lo — a new world of business was born. One that didn’t need the folks who said “you can’t play in our sandbox”. Hell, they didn’t even need the sandbox. There’s the joke that tech innovation online is driven by porn, and it’s well-known that many revolutions have been driven by people in the arts, people who already live on the fringes.

But what I started wondering was how many (r)evolutions have happened due to intentional, passionate, angry instigators and participants, and how many happened almost accidentally. Simply because those who turned everything on its head weren’t allowed to play the game they had been told was the only game in town. And they couldn’t pick a new, more acceptable game (in theatre school they repeatedly said not to do it unless it was the only thing you wanted, and you really wanted it) and refused to starve (either physically or creatively), so they found alternative routes and means.

Cory Doctorow, UW Independent Studies lecture

Might I note that the only person I’ve met with a bigger watch than Mr. Doctorow wears is Steve Wozniak, but damned if I could get a clear picture of it. Also, Mr. Doctorow has apparently dropped out of four universities. Two more than I have! Gotta catch up! 🙂

A handful more photos from the day’s literary events are here.

As I tweeted as well, definitely want to thank both of them for their presentations. We frequently bemoan the state of culture here in KW, so a day as stimulating as this is both very welcome, and shows that there is passion for the arts out there, across a wide range of demographics.

Coffee and Colm: Melissa and Melle do Stratford!

Last Friday, Melissa and I played hooky a bit (day off for me, half-day off for her) and headed west to Stratford. My last jaunt there was two years ago to see The Merchant of Venice, which, alas, underwhelmed.

This time, however, our theatrical experience couldn’t help but be splendid. After all, we were going to see Colm Feore. 🙂 He’s doing the title roles of both Macbeth and Cyrano de Bergerac this year — we went to Cyrano.

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Neil Gaiman on religions possibly much better than ours…

As with many things, seeing what a cock-up we’ve made of many facets of organized religion, one can only hope that Mr. Gaiman’s suggestion is correct. 🙂

Picked up my copy of New Scientist over breakfast this morning (along with Fortean Times, my favourite publication) and found myself puzzling over an article that began

That a complex mind is required for religion may explain why faith is unique to humans.

Which left me amazed and potentially delighted that journalists at New Scientist had succeeded in interspecies communication to the point of being certain that dolphins and whales have no belief in things deeper than themselves, that ants do not imagine a supreme colony at the centre of everything, and that my cats only believe in what they can see, smell, hunt and rub up against (except for Pod, of course, who when much younger would react in horror, with full fur-up, to invisible things), and that there are no Buddhist Pigs, Monkeys or whatever-the-hell Sandy was.

Who we are

Trans in the red states

An interesting read that Andrew forwarded to me. Good for its own merits, but also because of what it got me thinking about.

On Friday evening Sherry and I were talking about a couple people who work at the local Sobeys. Young guys who are pretty visibly gay and just… doin’ their thing. And, as Sherry noted, charming the old ladies all over the place. Heh. Neither of us remember many, if any, gay kids that comfortable in their skins at that age when we were in high school.

Sure, I know at least three people I went to high school with who are now out, but they didn’t come out in Grey County. And sure, when I got to theatre school in Toronto plenty of people were outer than out (in some ways being merely heterosexual seemed to make you rather less cool…), but that was a societal microcosm, too. I’m sure for some of my fellow students, that first taste of personal freedom was absolutely intoxicating.

The article made me think, too, of an old high school friend who married her wife in Hanover after same-sex marriage was legalized here. Caused a bit of a stir, I’m told. But hey, it’s a small town, and there’s only so much new gossip to talk about. I suspect things settled down pretty quickly after that. After all, she’d been out and been living there (and working at a job where she interacted with lots of folks) for years.

Sure, there are people who are virulently hateful, but I’ve found that more often than not in small towns and rural areas, it’s simply a matter of ignorance a lot of the time, of not being exposed to people who live differently than you do. And once that’s out of the way? Everyone just goes back to doing their thing. They might not agree with it, but there’s also a certain… decorum to be observed.

As the article notes, it’s still not always accepted, or even safe, to be trans or gay or in any way different in a lot of “red” areas, but at least there are hopeful stories, too. Of people getting exposed to different ways of life early, as kids, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal by the time they’re adults.

This is a good part of why passage of measures like Proposition 8 in California, while angering and depressing, didn’t make me despair too much. We are learning. We are changing. Even amongst the cornfields and blue collars, and the day will come.

Gestures

The other day heading up the street to run errands, I noticed this sign.

Ali Baba sign for veterans' dinner

And my first thought was that it was a nice gesture. Except then I got to thinking…

This area has a lot of people of German extraction. Kitchener was Berlin until 1916. I can’t imagine every person who lives here and who has a background that happens to be on the Bad Guys’ side of the World Wars arrived (or their family arrived) prior to 1914. I wonder how a sign like that would make me feel if I was a Canadian citizen and a veteran who didn’t fight for Canada, the US, or Great Britain.

It reminded me of the girl I went to high school with (I’ve told this story here before, I’m sure), who was in Air Cadets, and who went to one of the war memorials on Remembrance Day one year. A veteran there started talking to her, and asked if her family had served. She said they had, and when he asked where and with whom, she told him what areas of the German forces they’d served in. The conversation pretty much ended after that.

I guess her grandpa wouldn’t be welcome to enjoy a free steak dinner.

I buy poppies now. I never used to. I even went out of my way on the weekend to buy one from a veteran. (He flirted with me; it was pretty awesome.) I don’t buy them out of any sense of remembrance or patriotism or whatnot, really. I buy them because the money goes to help people.

And as time passes, acts like buying a poppy make me think about how things change, and how history illustrates how we change as people. And how, really, the Bad Guys stop being specific people or countries and can be more accurately identified as Bad Ideas. Racism, sexism, homophobia, antisemitism, and all the other ills of the world that flare up and over which battles break out from time to time.

Of course, we humans like our enemies clearly defined and thoroughly blame-able. So I’m sure by the time that there are no more Canadian, US, or British veterans of the old conflicts, we’ll have a new set of identified enemies that threaten us, and we’ll make new veterans to toast with steak dinners and support with poppy drives.

90 or 60-odd years ago, our enemies looked different than those we’ve pegged as our enemies today. How interesting, though, that in the decades that have passed, we as a country have come to physically resemble every group we’ve pegged as an enemy, either at present or in the past.

Wait and Hope

One of the things I become more regularly aware of as I get older, and, at the same time, of which I am oft-reminded when I still frequently forget, is that my social sphere is a microcosm. When most folks around you believe what you believe, and like what you like, it can be easy to start to think that either a) that’s “normal”, or b) that everyone else believes and likes the same things.

I’ve had the conversation with several people recently centering on “I don’t understand how anyone could vote Republican”. Of course, “Republican” in this case not only refers to political affiliation, but also implies a large and nebulous set of social and cultural values typically more “conservative” than my own.

Basically, I don’t really understand how people can hold those opinions and values, either, because I don’t share them, but I know they exist. And I know they’re approximately half of the folks populating our continent.

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