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a minor inversion, or a major diversion?

The mass e-mail was terse and to the point. I have a daughter who is starting piano lessons, it read. Is anyone interested in selling an old upright piano?

So for what would be the first time in years, I sat down today and played the piano. The piano and I have always have some sort of love-hate relationship. I love to play the piano. I just hated to practice.

I started playing the piano at the age of six under the tutelage of Mrs. Zilberman in her North York home. Eleven years and three piano teachers later, I’m taking my grade 10 exam. I remember preparing half-heartedly for that exam: it was the end of May of 2000, one month left in high school, worrying about university responses possibly lost in the mail, or final final exams. And a few weeks before a departure for Shad. Piano exam? Frankly, I don’t remember practicing at all.

I remember walking out of that exam with a sense of release, a sense of freedom. Never having to practice that goddamned instrument anymore. I also remember passing with honours — barely, as just one mark lower would require me to take supplemental exams before attempting ARCT. Hah, ARCT. Yeah right.

And I didn’t touch my piano for a few weeks… months… years.

So for what would be the first time in years, I sat down today and played the piano. A little Chopin, some Bach, and little Brahms. Some hacky attempts at Rachmaninov. Some Norah Jones, for good measure. I love to play the piano. But my fingers are brittle and slow, now adapted and practiced for the keyboard of a computer rather than of a piano.

So I sit there for an hour, hammering out bar after bar, repeating left hand until perfected, and then right. I get out the wind-up metronome, but discover that it’s broken. For the first time in years (and probably years while I was still playing), I’m really practicing. And hey, it’s not so bad. I manage to play a Chopin prelude almost up to speed. I sight-read the first few bars of a Beethoven Sonata. I finish, like I used to, with a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen, with powerful thundering chords that resonate through the house.

Me? Sell my piano?

I took a picture, my piano and I. We’ve always had some sort of love-hate relationship, and it looks like we’ve finally made our peace.

reaching the end of LMB

I am deeply grateful and forever indebted to my former housemate, who, two days before the end of my last term at university, suggested that I borrow from her and read Young Miles, an ominbus edition of two of Lois McMaster Bujold‘s earlier books. I was skeptical… a female science fiction writer? I was a fan of Douglas Adams, Orson Scott Card, and Larry Niven, and I wasn’t sure if Lois McMaster Bujold would fit the bill. Could she be as witty as Adams, or as masterminded as Card? Or could she weave a technical reality like Niven?
Nevertheless, I declined, noting that I couldn’t possibly read and return the book in the two days before I moved out. She, of course, disagreed, but then again, she was always up all hours diving deeper and deeper into a stack of books. I kept the title in mind, however, and the next time I was at a bookstore I picked up a copy.

I finished reading it that very night. After staying up all night reading, of course.

I was enthralled from the first page. Her first few books are very swashbuckling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stories about a young boy, Miles, of high but troubled birth, trying to make his mark on the world and universe. The rest of her Vorkosigan saga tells a stunningly vivid tale. You learn, in pieces, about the history of the backwater planet and the origins of its caste-like system, and you watch the development and struggles of the main character to grow, learn, and survive. You also get a few insights into Miles’ parentage and the general universe and times in which he lives.

The series is an absolutely entertaining read. Things I love about it:

  • Bujold has an incredible flair for creating characters that are vibrant and leap off the page, but still have complex personalities and multi-dimensioned traits.
  • Her continual re-introduction of old characters, so we get to see what happened to previous secondary characters and watch their (sometimes painfully slow) character development.
  • Bujold always addresses some core theme or value in her novels and novellas — she always has some subtle story or point to make, and she does so masterfully without interfering with the plot at hand.
  • Much like her characters gradually changing from novel to novel in her saga, Bujold changes her themes and sub-genre with great fluidity over the decades. Her books range from straight science fiction, to mystery, to fantasy, or even to romantic comedy.

There’s one last piece of unread Bujold: “Winterfair Gifts”, a novella (everything else she’s published, I’ve read). I’ve been saving it for a rainy day. Some part of me also dreads reading it, as it would sadly mean no more new Bujold novels to read. No more updates on the lives of her intriguing and witty characters, no more social commentary on family values or honor. No more exciting swashbuckling adventures. But hats off to her, for changing my perceptions: before her, I never knew science fiction could be like this!

back and forth

So I’m back from my little jaunt in Atlantic Canada: 9 days, 2700 kilometers, 3 provinces, 3 national parks, countless provincial parks, lighthouses, 20 km of hiking total, 6 lobsters and 28 oysters later. It was fun. If you’re a fan of nature and hikes, beautiful scenes, fresh seafood, well, the maritimes are for you. Memorable events from the trip include hiking Fundy, PEI National, and Kejimkujik National Parks. Walking on the ocean floor at Hopewell Rocks. Seafood. Lots of seafood. Lots of pictures.

It took us a day or two, but we figured out the best way to eat seafood while in the Maritimes. Avoid expensive restaurants. What you really want to find is a “fish market”. Look for them near harbours or wharfs at cities, or ask a local. When driving around in the country side, look for bays or inlets where you see fishing vessels. An authentic fish market is just around the corner. Buy a pair of lobster crackers and forks, an oyster shucking knife, a cooler bag, a few rolls of paper towel and some dry ice. Throw them in your trunk, and when you come across a fish market in the morning you can “brown bag” your lunch (and perhaps your dinner).

Speaking of seafood, we went to the maritimes intending to eat a large number of lobsters, but only ended up eating six. Instead I developed a new craving: Malpeque oysters. Be sure to learn how to shuck oysters. It’s a life skill that everyone should know. A nice guy showed us at Carr’s Fish Market, just off Stanley Bridge in PEI. Home of the best (and cheapest) Malpeque oysters ever! Most fish markets will sell choice Malpeques for about $0.75 per.

Regrets? Few, thankfully. Not spending more time in Fundy National Park, which is gorgeous and has wonderful beaches and trails (we didn’t have time to finish the challenging Coastal Littoral trail). Not being able to kayak: our expedition was cancelled due to winds. Not having time to go to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (next time!). And not eating enough Malpeque oysters. Have you any idea how hard they are to find in Toronto?

doing as vegetation does

It was a rather short four day work week, thanks to good ol’ Queen Victoria. Apparently, Victoria Day is not only a celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday, but also the reigning Monarch’s birthday. Interestingly enough, by royal proclaimation Canada has historically changed the “official birthday in Canada” of a reigning monarch to align with Victoria Day. I guess when you’re the Queen you’re allowed to change even your birthday.

This weekend was rather relaxing. Between attempts at finishing a course project for a grad school course (now three weeks overdue … and counting), I managed to watch a substantial amount of television. Including a couple of documentaries show on CBC’s The Passionate Eye: Bowling for Columbine and Journeys With George. Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine is as controversial as it is witty, and much of the kerfuffle has been well discussed, argued, rebutted, and beaten to death by the media. Thus, I have very few words to spare on this documentary. As a Canadian, it should be obvious to which side of the controversy I find myself on.

Journeys with George is a winner. The film is Alexandra Pelosi’s self-proclaimed “home video” of her year on the campaign trail with then-Texas Governor George W. Bush’s bid for the Republican Candidacy and ultimately the White House. It’s a remarkable piece, providing an insight into political journalism, the incredulity of the campaign trail and rallies, the political shenanigans between a candidate and his or her press pack, and the surrealism of two very different individuals who just happen to be trapped on the same plane as a result of their goals and inspirations, not much unlike one of my favourites, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Read on for a short review.
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still reading…

So I just finished reading a non-fiction piece, Edison and the Electric Chair : A Story of Light and Death by Mark Essig. I picked the hardcover book up for quite a steal at $5.39 at the local Indigo. It’s quite an interesting read: in a style not much unlike Bill Bryson (in his famous A Short History of Nearly Everything) Essig recounts almost laughable historic gaffs and misconceptions about electricity; he goes on to detail the great inventor Edison’s struggles in creating electric light and the difficulties in delivering this new product into the homes of the masses; finally he segues into the dangers of electricity and the development of the electric chair: a humane alternative for execution. This morbid curiosity into capital punishment was spawned recently from perusing Dead Man Eating, an addictively grotesque website archiving the last meals of inmates prior to execution.

I’m moving on to read Moon Handbook: Atlantic Canada in preparation for my jaunt in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island later this summer. As of today, travel guides from all three provinces are hurtling towards my mailbox at an accelerated pace. Had I known you can order free travel guides through their respective tourism office websites, I wouldn’t have forked out some exorbitant sum for the book.

Why Atlantic Canada? Lobsters, hiking, coastal scenery and towns, and of course, photography. The only problem is now figuring out where to go and how to spend the oh-so-valuable vacation time. Any trip suggestions from well-travelled readers?

blog v2

It’s finally time to face the music. My old, aging, blog is dead. Rest in peace. The jury is still out, but the coroner’s report suggests that the blog died because it was hardly updated, the software was horribly written (by none other than yours truly), and the “true” focus of the blog became horribly convoluted.

So how is this blog going to be any different? Well, let’s see…

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