Tag Archives: music

Jess Hill: An Upcoming Star

I’d actually say she’s already arrived but there are still peaks to rise to. Jess Hill is one of Canada’s (and Vancouver’s) hot new singers and songwriters. I’m no expert on music but I know a catchy tune and can relate to a well modulated voice, and the beautiful chanteuse has both. Not only that, but her songs have lyrics that spin you into an atmosphere and mood as well as any tale.

Jess has been featured on CBC radio, at the Folk Festival and at various venues across western Canada. She’s just cut her second album, Orchard, which is sure to be even greater than Road. Her videos (check out the you tube below) are whimsical and fun, and sultry. http://www.youtube.com/jesshillsorchard And like many artists of East Van, crows feature in her songs. They are our ubiquitous bird and they grace songs, painting, sculptures and poems.

Until Oct. 18th people can vote at 100.5 The Peak for their top artists. Jess has made it into the top 20. You can listen to each performer there and make up your own mind. But vote now before the deadline. http://www.peakperformanceproject.com – to vote see the top right corner of the page. The winner receives $100,500 toward their music career.

http://www.myspace.com/jesshill

http://www.jesshill.ca

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Faerieworlds: A Realm in Review

A week ago I took a break from the daily toil and went to Faerieworlds in Eugene, Oregon. What is it? It’s a three-day camping event involving many bands and fairies, of course. Why do this? Because I can. I can dress up, have fun, camp, sleep in, dance, party without worrying about anything more than where to eat and when to shower.

The drive was long with an accident on the other side of the highway which had the looky-loos slowing down. We went 10 miles in an hour. And it seems that regular summer volume on the I-5 also slows down to a crawl. After many hours we arrived in Eugene at Buford Park where Faerieworlds took place. This event has been going eight years according to the website and there are a few things that could have been better laid out, such as where to park when registering, or picking up registration. There was one table with a guy yakking to two people and instead of one of them serving us they continued to listen to him so I went to the vendor registration instead. We received a wristband (not to be taken off) and a laminated tag, and it was unclear if both had to be worn. I never wore the tag. There was no list of events so knowing when a band was on could only be gleaned from catching the emcee, and things like the costume contest, well, I never knew about it at all. There was an event guide but it seems the $110 membership fee didn’t cover even a photocopy of the scheduled events.

The site is a big field, like a pasture, with trees only at the perimeter, and a mixture of grass, hay and blackberry brambles mowed down and removed, but there were still scratchy snags and very uneven ground. You wouldn’t want to go barefoot. Faerieworlds (or the park people) wouldn’t let us drive onto this field with our camping gear, which seemed odd because the ground was hard and there wasn’t any nice foliage to protect. In fact, they did let us drive on to pack up so it makes no sense. Luckily for us, we were near the road and didn’t have far to cart things. Another bizarre Faerieworlds rule was no glass or campfires of any kind, including camping stoves, yet I saw one fire that people had started up for something and obviously all the food vendors used stoves of varying types. Plus the taverns had glass bottles (though they served in plastic). It’s one thing to control fires but I’ve been to some very large camping events where campstoves are never a problem and people have never tipped one over and started a fire. So this rule was just dumb and inconvenient. A friend who went last year with her two kids didn’t have a good time because she had to go elsewhere to cook and didn’t find people friendly at all. Luckily we got by on cold food.

We camped in inner circle camping, which is noisier and nearer all the vendors and stages (there was the main stage and a smaller more intimate stage in the food area). Portapotties were banked out on the road and another set on one side of the camping. Adequate number for the bodies there but they only flushed them in the morning which meant by evening there was no water or paper towels in the cleaning stations and the toilets were becoming disgustingly full and devoid of toilet paper. In the dark that’s scary. A shower trailer was also on site and though they had odd hours of operation (7-11 am and 9 pm-1am) there seemed to be little in the way of  lineups.

At least six bands played on the main stage. Faun, a German band, highlighted Saturday night with Delhi to Dublin from Canadaplaying beforehand. Other bands included Stellamara, Woodland, Gypsy Nomads, Telesma, and smaller groups on the more intimate stage called Neverworlds. What was extremely nice about the setup was that we could be at our camp and still hear the music clearly. Or we could go around the vendor area, dance anywhere or be up in front of the stage. The music was great and well worth the money. However, many people did not enjoy being woken up to the Faerieworlds alarm Saturday morning which consisted of very loud German techno. I’m not sure why they thought they needed to wake fairies up at 8:30 anyways. I just wonder why the bands ended at midnight on Saturday when it was the main day of the event. Having music go later (everything seemed to close too early that night) would have been better.

There must have been about 100 vendors and the quality was verygood. Not a lot of original jewellery but enough, as well as some supremely amazing masks out of leather or formed plastics with feathers or fibers. As well there were several vendors selling wings of course, either one of a kind, handmade or mass produced. There were two taverns. There was clothing from silk fairy tatters to steampunk, accessories, and little magical things to go along with wings. Next year I think I’ll save up to buy one of the masks. They weren’t cheap but they were beautiful pieces of art. The vendor area also included some games, courtesy of a local Renaissance faire and was a maze of colorful items. Unfortunately some vendors only took cash and the official table selling the bands’ music only took cash because they divvy the money up to the bands. Still, I could have worked out a system for having credit cards and paying out each band.

What was probably the most fun besides the music, were the costumes and spontaneous performance art. There were numerous styles of wings and costumes that people had made. There were trolls and goblins in a tug of war, satyrs and wizards, dryads and Na’vi, steampunks and purple fairies, and all sorts of people just doing their thing. Some did spontaneous performance art, like the caterpillar and the dryad pictured here and I loved that. It’s inspired me to go back and listen to more music next year and maybe try a few more outfits for fun.

http://www.faerieworlds.com/

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Modern Bands and Zombies

A new phenomenon has cropped up in the last five years that I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was slowly oozing up through the groundwater of culture before this but I never noticed it. True I don’t see a lot of live bands…well okay that’s not true. I go to one place that often has a live band that plays while people drink and socialize. They often talk through the music. There are no vocals (usually) because the band is meant to give background atmosphere.

Now bands that play in pubs, cabarets and other music venues might have vocals and the people most assuredly are drinking but the crowd could be mixed as to being there more to socialize with others or more to listen to the band. But even if the band is one for dancing to, I’ve noticed this new trend.

Zombies. Yes, zombies watch bands. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a venue with tables and/or with a dance floor, the zombies move to the front of the stage, effectively blocking the view for anyone who is sitting at a table. The zombies, in their mindless absorption and idolization, stare at the band, unmoving, often lacking any facial expression or  emotion, a drink forgotten in their hand. That’s all they do. Stare. You might see a foot tapping like some latent nerve twitch that can animate a body after death, but that’s it.Their slowly rotting brains must think they’re at an outdoor concert or perhaps they’re all on zombie drugs. It doesn’t matter if the band just crawled out of the garage or is a big name. The zombies don’t move.

Where did the zombies come from? Obviously they were animated out of music culture, some assortment of eldritch notes coming together in a way to draw the bodies close, like a Pied Piper’s enchanted flute. But there the animation stops. It’s not enough to spur these bodies (usually young and in their 20s) into actually dancing. Perhaps there was a shyness or ineptitude in movement during the zombie’s half-life that translates into the barely animate.

Perhaps there is some perceived notion still firing sporadically in the zombie brains that says it’s not cool to dance. Perhaps the band emulates some aspect of zombie worship and the sounds that emit and marry in the air are like honey to zombie bees. I really dont’ know and can only speculate. Once in a while, later in the evening, when alcohol seems to have worked some reanimation charm, some of the zombies will start to emulate human beings, leaving only the most inanimate standing vacantly in front of the band.

It used to be that it wasn’t cool to show such mindless adoration but in the absence of modern gods, this is where the zombies go. But don’t worry, they won’t clutch at your head trying to gnaw your brains and they won’t drop gory body parts all over. They lack the life to do that, even in front of a hugely noisy, raucous punk rock band. Yes, I saw zombies in front of the Little Guitar Band, which really only hurt my ears and left me guessing at lyrics that could not be heard by anyone. At one point I think they sang, “I have a hernia and lost my shoe,” which oddly might be appealing to zombies. But the zombies never moved.

The most these zombies will do is annoy you. After all, zombies aren’t really alive and no longer have the common courtesy that might have been exhibited in live humans. They’ll stand in front of you, disregarding that perhaps you arrived early enough to get a seat and a view. They’ll take over the dance floor, not understanding that perhaps you want to dance. Zombies after all, aren’t exactly models of society and they sure don’t exhibit culture.

Will they go away? I doubt it, until the next wave of animated humans realizes zombies aren’t dangerous and sweeps them off the dance floor with…well, dancing. I do wish, however, that zombies would go back to the graveyards and gnaw brains like they’re supposed to. There, the rudeness of zombies doesn’t matter.

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Weird Tales’ 85 Weirdest

I’m never up to speed when I’m reading and sometimes read magazines a long time after publication. This was the case with last year’s Weird Tales. I’ve found these magazines are easier to deal with while working out so I’m reading many after the fact. Weird TalesMarch/April 2008 issue listed 85 of the weirdest storytellers in the last 85 years, celebrating the magazine’s (of course) 85th anniversary. That means they started in 1923. Imagine how the world and the concept of fantasy and the weird has changed in that time. It’s a lifetime.

This list of storytellers covers everything from writers, musicians, filmmakers, artists to entertainers. I found that I knew most of the names on the list (that has a short paragraph or two of description) and started thinking about who wasn’t on the list that I would have added. Of course the magazine went with who they thought should fit in there, plus recommendations from the readers. Their list has these names (the first list those I know and the second, those I hadn’t heard of):

  • Douglas Adams, Charles Addams, Laurie Anderson, J.G. Ballard, Nick Bantock, Clive Barker, Art Bell, Bjork, David Bowie, Ray Bradbury, William S. Burroughs, Tim Burton, Kate Bush, Octavia Butler, Angela Carter, Nick Cave, Lon Chaney Sr., Cirque du Soleil, Joel and Ethan Coen, Alice Cooper, David Cronenberg, R. Crumb, Roald Dahl, Salvador Dali, Samuel R. Delany, Philip K. Dick, Steve Ditko, Harlan Ellison, M.C. Escher, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Edward Gorey, Gunther von Hagens, Jim  Henson, Robert E. Howard (the one I don’t agree should be on this list), Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, Frida Kahlo, Andy Kaufman, Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick, Madeleine L’Engle, Gary Larson, Tanith Lee, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, David Lynch, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dave McKean, Michael Moorcock (not so sure he’s that weird either but loved his Elric books), Alan Moore, Catherine Moore & Henry Kuttner, Grant Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Mervyn Peake, Penn & Teller, Bill Plympton, Thomas Pynchon, Anne Rice, Rod Serling, Dr. Seuss, James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon), Clark Ashton Smith, Stephen Sondheim, Rev. Ivan Stang, Hunter S. Thompson, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Waits, Alice Walker, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Roger Waters, Wim Wenders, Thornton Wilder, Robert Anton Wilson, Warren Zevon.
  • (now the ones I didn’t know) Art Bell, Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Charels Fort, Rand and Robyn Miller, Chuck Shepherd, Osamu Tezuka, Kool Keith Thornton, Kara Walker, Sylvia Townsend Warner.

That’s it. Only a few I didn’t know and most of those illustrators/painters but not all. But then Weird Tales set up a tab on their website www.weirdtalesmagazine.com called Share Your Weird, where people could list other names they thought should have been on the list. As I read through the initial list I agreed with most but found a few that I thought were weird enough to be on there as well. Reading through other people’s comments, there are many more weird artists out there than the 85 slots and people made good ponts. In fact they could probably have done 85 weird filmmakers, 85 weird comic artist/writers, 85 weird fiction writers, etc.

Here are a few that I would have added, not just because of their impact on me but on a genre (in no particular order):

  • China Mieville–his bugheaded women in Perdido Street Station is weird enough, not to mention the cactus people. But then maybe he’s not old enough. Interestingly, of the living artists in the list of 85, no one is under the age of 40.
  • Federico Fellini–moviemaker who was doing bizarre films of ancient Greece and Rome, of love and of fools way before the more recent films (Amarcord, Satyricon, 8 1/2)
  • Peter Greenaway–filmmaker who must have been influenced by Fellini as well as by impressionist painters of the 18th century. His films often have scenes with dead animals, still lives with bugs, and great symbolism which I love. Definitely on the weird side. (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; Prospero’s Books, The Pillow Book, The Draughtsmen Contract, 8 1/2 Women [the Fellini influence])
  • Gahan Wilson–weird and creepy cartoonist where his people often looked like they were in pain or melting.
  • Jean Cocteau–Long before Wenders, Kubrick, Cronenberg, Greenaway, or Fellini, there was Cocteau doing silent films in black and white. His Beauty and the Beast La Belle et la Bête  was erotic and sensual before people talked of such things. The line of sconces, arms holding torches, set some of the stage for weird but arty films to come.
  • Brian Eno–his full name alone is weird (Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno). This avant garde musician started with Roxy Music and has been producer on some of the bands you know today (Coldplay, U2, Talking Heads). His own work of eclectically weird songs and sonic landscapes, such as “Music for Airports” puts him as king of weird in the musical world.
  • They Might Be Giants–their lyrics alone are equal to the imagery in China Mieville’s books. How to make hit tunes from nonsequitirs and have them make sense–that’s these guys.

I’m sure I could come up with more weird. Oddly enough there are no poets in the mix in either the magazine or my list. I would need to actually do more research because there is plenty weird. Lewis Carroll is before the 85 years of weird but Jabberwocky would be on that list. It would be interesting now, to do a list of 50 weird poets though some people might think that all poetry is weird. And to Weird Tales, it was an interesting issue and well worth reading a year past the publishing date. That’s what I love about fiction magazines: they’re often timeless. And here’s to at least another 85 years of weird tales.

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The Death of Rock Stars

Untimely deaths in the world of entertainment may not be every day, but they are a little too common, and of course because these people are famous we hear of all the sensational aspects that went along with the death. Looking at three stars of the music world, we have Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Michael Jackson, to name a few but perhaps the most famous deaths.

Elvis made it to 42 and died from complications of obesity and drugs. His life of fame ate at him and like many stars, brought out the hollowness of always being in the spotlight and having money to satisfy every desire but a happy heart. His funeral was big and his grave still gets many fans at Graceland.

John Lennon, didn’t die by his own hand, but was shot down by a nut, at the age of 40 (and Lennon actually said in a interview that day that he would probably be popped off by a loony). I remember when he died and I was incensed that the local paper didn’t even mention it on the front page of the newspaper. But some deaths hit the front pages because they sell newspapers.Because Lennon had moved on from the Beatles to a new phase of his life, his death was big but probably not as big as Elvis’s though they had been contemporaries.

Michael Jackson made it to 50, so did relatively well of the three big stars. He too died from drugs, addiction and who knows what else. His funeral this week was a spectacle with rock and movie stars and the thousands who attended being chosen through a lottery. It was in one sense a big dead concert, with booklets being given out as souvenirs or mementos of his memorial.

Comparing funerals and the splash that any of these men made in death could be difficult. Even Sarah Bernhardt’s death in the 20s held a spectable. Jackson has died in the age of computers and internet, blogging and tweeting. That his death will have hit more media forms than any other big stars death is obvious. This will of course increase his impact on his fans, or the number of people influenced by him. On TV, there must be at least five stations with long, dedicated shows to dissecting Jackson’s life. Not to mention every news hour covered Jackson’s death in detail.

Although stars often do charity and public works, funneling some of the gross amounts of money they make into good deeds, they are not overall big on world impact. That often takes world leaders and the power of their countries behind them to make those changes. But the King of Rock n’ Roll, the King of Pop and the Fab Four were known for their music, for touching the hearts and souls of millions of people. On TV, in movies, on stage, they were more visible, more beautiful and more charismatic than our world leaders.

Is it any wonder then, that we idolize them, place them on pedestals and call them our modern gods? People must place their faith, hopes and dreams on someone. We may not all be famous but we can fantasize of these princes of music and try and dig into evey aspect of their lives. And we can hate them enough to pull them down or shoot them, should they show a flaw or just somehow be what we can’t be.

Michael Jackson, like Elvis and John Lennon, left a huge legacy. It will stay in the hearts and minds of people for a long time. It will be a hundred years or longer before they fade from memory. But other stars will rise and shine and burn brightly for a time, then fade. And amongst those supernovas, there will be millions of other stars, not so bright, but the lives of you and me and those around us who deserve attention and love while alive. The price of fame and fortune was that Elvis and Michael at least, sought drugs and were unhappy. So we, the little stars, should remember this and be happy that we have the ability to be obscure and not always in a spotlight that can singe us to the soul.

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Michael Jackson: Shooting Star

I grew up with Michael Jackson, or his music anyways. But that’s not hard to say for most of us. After all, when a career spans forty-five years, many people can say the same thing.

As the news rolled in, people and media have expressed their shock, that they were stunned. Sadly, I can say I was not. I have said that I expected that Michael would die an early death, like Elvis, than live to a ripe old age. I have called him a shooting star for years, for he is and was exactly that. A shooting star ascends high into the heavens, or so high up that everyone can see that light. But such a bright light eventually comes to an end. As opposed to a star that shines constantly and brightly for eons and then fades out at the end of a long lifetime, a shooting star seems all the brighter for its briefer lifespan, and that it will descend much quicker. The candle burned out long ago, to paraphrase Elton John.

That Michael Jackson was a brilliant musician and stage presence, the greatest pop icon of his time, is obvious by the number of albums he sold and the money he made. It’s irrefutable. That he lived a happy and normal life is arguable. The signs are not so hidden at all that Jackson was a troubled and unhappy individual. Like many of us, I’m sure he had his moments of happiness, but like many of us he was also unhappy with who he was. And he had the money to do something about it.

He was a good looking, handsome black child who grew to adulthood and was still attractive. Looking at those early pictures of Michael, you can see he is still black, his hair curly yet fashionable. Slowly his wide, broad nose, narrowed and narrowed again to the skeletal aberration that it became. I certainly hope that the plastic surgeon who mangled Jackson’s face doesn’t advertise that he did the great Michael Jackson. Of course, Jackson also had surgeries to change the shape of his jaw, his lips, his cheekbones, his eyes until the face does not resemble the earlier Michael Jackson at all. How much plastic surgery is needed for a burn of long ago? Not that much, I would think.

He took to straightening his hair, getting rid of any semblance to the negroid curl. And his skin turned white. It’s said that he suffered from a skin pigmentation problem, vitiligo. On white people this sometimes shows as a darker patch, or a pinker patch of skin. On black people, it shows as white or pinkish skin. This could possibly be true but any person I ever saw who had this condition, where the melanin starts to leave the skin, had it in patches, not an overall and even discoloration. Though it’s possible that he started with this and had a chemical depigmentation performed using monobenzone, to even out the skin tone. He also did not exhibit conditions of albinism, evident by the darkness of his hair and eyes. (The Philipines, as one example, sells many skin lightening soaps.) There are numerous ways listed on the internet on how to lighten your skin tone. Michael Jackson had the money, which gives you the means, to do this to the extreme. Perhaps it started as a pigmentation problem but I believe he went in search of being a white man.

These extreme examples of changing his body indicate how unhappy he was with who he had been born. And proves that money can’t buy you happiness. He was too famous to walk anywhere without being recognized, therefore negating his chances of having normal life experiences. As Michael grew farther away from a normal life (even as a child in a performing family he was more used to spotlight than to family life) it became more unattainable.

Where were the family and friends that could bring him back to center? His family wasn’t a good example as they all lived in the limelight to one degree or another as well. If Michael’s only friends were other stars (as often is the case) then they may have been his yes men, only telling him how wonderful he was, never saying, Michael you’ve gone too far. Or Michael, you’ve got to eat or you’re going to die. But if there were those who tried to balance Michael’s extremes, maybe he just didn’t listen. After all, he was rich and powerful in the music world.

Michael lived in fantasy palaces, with private zoos and was probably happiest when he took his creative genius into the realm of  music where he was an innovator and a leader. I was never that in to pop music but I would argue that there is no better music for teenagers, because pop music is catchy, upbeat and fast enough to engage a young mind. Yet Michael was seen as a god, not as a man. I’m sure he was a romantic icon for enough teens as well.

We have a tendency in our world today to put rock/music stars and movie stars upon pedestals. They are our modern gods. But we (people, the masses) are a fickle lot, that get bored too quickly and demand too much. If our gods slip up, we will pull them down, we ridicule them and we hate them for the fame and money and beauty that we cannot hang onto ourselves. We will pick at their every flaw and as their pedestal crumbles we will hack it to pieces.

And then Michael, the unfathomable recluse who invited children into his palace, was charged with child molestation. Whether true or not, such an accusation is devastating and scarring to the core. It could not do other to a man estranged from a normal life who could only live on the idolization of his fans. Even the supposed three children he had with the rather plain woman (who disappeared from the scene shortly after) were suspect. No matter how a man bleaches himself, or suffers pigmentation problems, they won’t transfer to his children. And black being more dominant than white would show in the features, yet these kids (the few pictures that exist) are more white than anything else, one especially being extremely white.

Michael Jackson’s life had become a circus, the star on its descent. The millionaire who owed millions. When I recently looked at a progression of pictures of Jackson through his life and I saw how thin he was (not just slim, but very thin) I knew he suffered an eating disorder as well. This fits in with someone so desperate to change into someone else. Anorexia starves the body on all sorts of levels. Not enough nutrients to feed the muscles or the organs and then those organs must work harder. Anorexics, unless they try to seek help and recover, often die of heart attacks when the strain on their hearts become too much. It really was inevitable.

Michael Jackson may have had other conditions too; it’s not clear. But one thing that is, is that he was fighting his body his whole life. To be so gifted and die so conflicted. Could most of us ever hope to shine so brightly? Could any of us fear to burn so painfully? I feel sad for his life, that he couldn’t have loved himself more. Michael Jackson joins the other shooting stars, the famous who died suddenly before their flame burned out naturally: Jimmy Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, River Phoenix, Princess Diana, John Lennon and many others.

Reports are saying that he died of a drug overdose or a cocktail of deadly proportions. Not really a surprise. Jackson was reportedly addicted to painkillers (Vicodin, Demerol, etc.)  since the face burning episode. Put on top of that, the numerous surgeries and his anorexia and you have a collapse just waiting to happen. A bit of a star’s standard way out, whether planned or accidental. This shopping list of pharmaceuticals does support my theory of a man disenfranchised and unhappy with the way his life continued to unfold. So he closed the book.

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Travel: Ennis, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Ennis

Ennis is in the southwest of Ireland and we stayed the night after our long drive through the Burren. Its Gaelic name is Inis. We found a little B&B a little farther out of the town center. All the Irish towns have the oldest buildings at the center and the newer more moderns ones the farther out you go. The streets were once built for carriages and are narrow. If there is any parking, people usually just drive up over the low curbs and you have to drive around the cars. This was true of Donegal town too. Ennis was set up as a one way, with the sidewalks widened and penant shaped streamers through the streets. There was some sort of game, the local team or something that was winning but I can’t remember what.

Rose Cottage, our B&B, wasn’t a cottage but had a small dining area as well as a wee pub downstairs with quite lovely and clean rooms upstairs. The food seemed kind of Americanized so we went into town and found one of few restaurants open. The food there was extremely good, one of those higher end restaurants. I believe it was called the Town Hall, denoting what it once used to be.

After dinner my sister and I wandered up the street to a cute little pub. There were people playing inside but as opposed to an organized band they were more just jamming. A fiddler or two, I think one on bodhran but it was very low key and background. I don’t even remember much about that pub.

The next day we wandered about the town, which still has many medieval buildings, and did some shopping. I think it was my favourite town for the looks and being just a pretty place. The streets all gently curved and the shops and pubs have an old feel. This town had the most medieval feel of the towns we had been in. There were many interesting shops and I wouldn’t have minded more time there. We found our way to the Ennis Friary by asking the Garda (the police) since we somehow couldn’t find a street that went through and it turns out there is the old friary, the ruins, and the new one, which is still in use. Of course we wanted the ruins.

Ennis Friary was built in 1240 making the town a religious center. It was a Franciscan center until the expulsion of the monks in the 1800s. It’s a fine example of gothic architecture, with remains of the cloister walk and many walls with the skeleton of the windows left. Some windows, side by side, would have a different design from one to the next. The floors were festooned with old tombs, leaving no space to walk that wasn’t over someone’s grave. I found that tombs older than about the 1700s were unreadable. Many were set in the walls and the O’Brians and MacMahons were families of note in the eiarly days of the friary.

The friary has some great sculptural images, with a monk, a skeletally thin Christ, and a virgin Mary as some of the plaques and such embedded in the walls. The Creagh tomb was large and ornate, in better condition but then it was put in, in 1840 and incorporated some elements from the 1500s. Overall, the friary was in good condition, for a ruin. I really wished these old churches still had the stained glass. It’s a bit hard to imagine what they would have looked like in their full glory, with the bright hues of glass, candles, wooden ceilings and floors, rushes perhaps, and walls not yet pitted by age and weather in rebellion.

When I get back to Ireland I want to spend more time in Ennis and exploring around the town.

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Cruise Ship Comparison: Norwegian and Carnivale

I have now had the opportunity to take two four-day cruises; one to the Bahamas and one repositioning cruise up the coast from LA to Vancouver. These cruises have confirmed that I am not in any way a cruise person.There is just way too much time on a boat than out seeing the sites. If you like doing things in a hotel, that’s what a cruise ship is; a grand hotel with shows, casino, bars and restaurants, and a small pool/hot tub.

The two cruise ships were Carnivale and Norwegian for the Bahamas and North American coast respectively. The Carnivale ship was older and as one of my friends said about the decor, “It looks as if a gay fashion designer took acid and threw up all over the place.” The decor was very date and garish with green, yellow and gold decorations (and then tacky Christmas decorations on top of that). Chairs and design overall were date. Norwegian’s cruise ship (the Sun) is only ten years old and is fairly tasteful with wood accents.

Both ships have small outdoor pools and hot tubs (I think). Carnivale had assigned seating for dinners. The problem with this was that you were always sat with the same people and whether you got along or not, you didn’t get a chance to meet new people. However, the meals were excellent and definitely top of the line in desserts and in flavors. The other choice was the ongoing buffet for late night munchies or fast food stuff, which was mediocre.

Norwegian boasted thirteen restaurants, freestyle dining (you sit when you want to) and lobster. The reality turned out to be five restaurants that had an extra cover charge ($10-$25) and then on top of that there was often an extra $10 for any food of quality on the menu. Three restaurants seemed to be the same buffet, which was mediocre, with two (the Four Seasons and the Seven Seas) having the same menu. There was a pasta/pizzeria buffet (with dinners in the evening) and a Mexican tapas bar with only light items. When you count up the restaurants available without spooning out more money, the number goes way down. Oh, and lobster, well yes, they did have it at the other main restaurant. I had to send mine back because it was mushy (and half a tail). Other meals were dry or bland, with a shrimp bisque being so salty it was inedible. Desserts were kind of what you’d expect Mom to cook. Overall, Norwegian’s food was disappointing and middle of the road.

Extra costs are something cruise lines don’t always tell you about up front. Norwegian certainly did not advertise they had restaurants asking extra charges on their website. They also charge $12/day per person for gratuities to the staff while Carnivale charged $10/day (that cruise was about three years ago so prices may have changed). Booze is never included but Norwegian also added in an “autogratuity.”

Carnivale’s entertainment contained a song and dance number and maybe other things I don’t remember. All their bars had the same 70/80’s music and nothing but rap being played in the one disco every single night. Most of their “socials” saw no one going to them and the music was not that good.

Norwegian had a preview night of a comedian, some music and a woman gymnast doing a nautical number using the silks (two long pieces of fabric suspended from the ceiling in which various moves, spins and drops are done). It was beautiful, well executed and worth watching again. On the second night they had a musical adaptation of Peter Pan (called “Pan”) which had few words and was very well done in dance. I enjoyed it a lot. The following night had a guy from Vegas (George Solomon) who had a great voice but it was very old style Vegas, and a magician from Montreal, Jean-Paul (not sure if that’s his last name or not) who mixed comedy with his tricks. He was good even if he played up the creepy stalker jokes just a bit too much.

The musicians in the various bars, including a lovely Observation Deck (enclosed) with views of the ocean, were good and varied, compared to Carnivale’s mediocre music. Norwegian did seem to have better success in social gatherings, including people in the disco. This included having the comedian in there one night and having the dancers come in to kick off another party, mostly to sell more alcohol.

The staterooms weren’t bad in either ship. However the beds were more spacious in Norwegian but uncomfortable. I tend to have back issues and though my back had been okay before the trip I was definitely in pain afterwards. Both ships had casinos, duty frees and art galleries. Having been duped into the free piece of art in the Carnivale cruise (which meant I couldn’t carry it away but they had to ship it for an exorbitant cost of $40–I told them to keep it) I steered away from Norwegian’s, especially after they said they were the originators. Nothing, truly, is free.

All in all, it wasn’t anything I’d do again. I’d rather fly to the place and stay in a land hotel where I can get out when I want. And if I want a casino I’ll just go to one. I can see how it would be good for families and for elderly people who may get tired faster. For some people, they loved the games, and the whole gestalt water hotel experience, but for me it was being stuck in one place too long.

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Dancing and Its Allure

I’ve been dancing or taking dance lessons in one form or another for many many years. When I was a wee child of four I took tap dance for a breath or two, enamored by the colorful outfits more than anything. I barely remember it and my mother had some health issues then and couldn’t keep me at it.

At various times as an adult I took jazz dance, Afro-Brazilian, samba and many years of belly dance. I’ve taught belly dance for the past year and a half and am accomplished enough, though I would not consider myself excellent. I would need to be much more fervent about practising every day and taking advanced workshops, which are often too pricey for me. But the moves are second nature to me and no matter if I’m dancing in

The thing about most of these dance styles above is that they are performance dances. You don’t dance with a partner and they’re meant to be watched. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t dance them with others and sometimes this has happened in belly dance, where musicians will play a piece, several women come out and dance and sometimes mimic each other’s moves. A dance can also be choreographed for a group of dancers in any style, whether ballet or belly.

Though these dance forms can be choreographed but overall you learn various moves and then can mix and match as you please. Put a shimmy after a chest drop, or go from a hip circle to a chest circle to snake arms and back to a chest circle. There is no set routine and move.

I took a dance step into the unknown this year and have just completed a beginner’s class in Argentine tango. This is like all dance, a dance to be enjoyed and of course one that can be performed and watched. Where I went from formulating my own moves I was now learning to follow. Of course, I could have learned the lead part but chose to stick to one. And tango is indeed always a partner dance. It’s as far as you can get from belly dance.

Tango involves subtle but clear movements by the lead with a hand and palcement of the foot. And it is mostly if not all about the feet, the step and the movement of them in tandem or separately. What I find interesting is that the lead chooses what step you might perform but the follow gets to do the more elaborate steps.

For many of us it was our first time but it seems that quite a few had taken at least beginning tango before and some were intermediate dancers. There were some leads who moved too fast, some who didn’t indicate the move clearly enough and follows who would anticipate or not follow. That was my biggest problem; I tended to try to anticipate the move. If you’re learning one step, that’s fine because you’re just repeating the step. But if you’re learning to dance tango, which means the order of the steps can change, then anticipating will have you going in the wrong direction from your partner.

Only a couple of the leads (all men in this case) were arrogant about their knowledge, which ticked me off. They were intermediate dancers and I was a beginner for the first time. It’s one thing to ask your partner to relax and let you lead; it’s another thing to keep correcting in an arrogant voice and then tell your partner that she’s nervous. I wasn’t nervous but I was learning and trying to memorize the step, try to get the tempo right and try to follow.

The instructor, Peter, of Dance Addicts (in Burnaby) is a good instructor, funny, relaxed and easy to approach. Because he is such an accomplished dancer and lead, following him is a lot easier. When I can afford it, I’ll take more tango. It will take a while to become accomplished enough at it. Like belly dance, or any other style, all dance takes practice.

Dance is always about flow (whether it’s jerky, stop and start or like water pouring) and grace. Belly dance and tango have a commonality in that they are both sensual dances. The accomplished dancer doesn’t just have feet being placed in the right spot tot he right style. They also have a particular style and grace, which is shown throw line of body, personalizing/flair/sensuality, tempo, movement of feet, hands, arms and head. Dance is always about the whole body, whether part of it is active or passive.

Only the last two classes of the eight-class session in tango started to feel like dance. We weren’t just getting the steps down, but putting them together to music. I closed my eyes for several dances, trusting in my lead and did find it made it better. Instead of anticipating  I tried to feel what his body was telling me in the direction to move. It was fun, it was work. I have a ways to go yet but it’s another form of dance and one thing I do love, it’s dance.

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Neighbors

Vancouver has neighborhoods set up with market areas. It’s not all neighborhoods but some of the better known ones are Kerrisdale, Kitsilano, the West End, Champlain Heights, Commercial, Fraser/Kingsway, Main St., etc. We have a few malls outside of downtown but not a lot. What these community shopping areas do is keep people local and able to shop within walking distance.

I live near Commercial, which has many shops and numerous restaurants/bars. We have several fresh produce markets that are cheaper and better quality than Safeway’s, which I rarely ever go to (and it’s farther). Some of the places have live music and there are a variety of funky shops from clothing to futons. Other cities have different styled areas. Calgary is so spread out that they have big box shopping centers everywhere and you have to drive around the center as it’s not set up for walking. Of course, they sometimes get real winter too.

I do remember being in Montreal, and like Vancouver there were shopping districts. These tended to be much larger but then so is the population of Montreal. What these areas do though, is give a better sense of community and culture, as each place takes on a particular flavor. Kerrisdale has wealthy older people and part of the Jewish community. Kitsilano is trendy with a lot of young (yuppy) couples and families.

Commercial Drive has the old Italian community and a lot of artists. We’re considered the bohemian part of town and there are a fair number of artist studios in the vicinity, which spawned the East Van Culture Crawl. This happens once a year (this year it’s Nov. 21-23) where studios are opened to the public to wander through. Some have demonstrations and some have items for sale. Thousands of people now go through the Crawl.

Even more than community of shops, I have found a community with my neighbors. Our street is not very long and partly blue collar industrial. Our particular block is the only one with houses on both sides of the street (about six per side). That’s pretty small and most of us have lived there for years. I’m not a homeowner but a long-term renter. I know my neighbors and through my landlords the people across the street. We nod to each other, stop and talk as someone is raking the leaves, or knock on a door to drop off a jar of jam.

My neighbors have a key to my place. If I’m stuck somewhere I can call them to feed the cat. We watch each others’ homes and cars and we’re aware if there are unfamiliar people in yards.The part I like best is just being able to say hi to my neighbors, to recognize them and their pets. On our little street, I like this sense of familiarity. When I was young I don’t remember it being this strong but then I was a kid. My mother knew the neighbors and I was long-term enemies with my neighbor two doors down, while my brother and hers were best friends.

So I’m glad I have that community sense in my neighborhood. It makes it real, and borrowing an egg or a cup of sugar are things that happen often enough, as well as stopping in for a glass of wine or to watch a show. And we have a lower crime rate because we know each other, and better understanding of any happenings. Here’s to my neighbors.

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