Pale gold appearance. Unique sharp aroma of candied apple and citrus. Dry but ripe fruit and heat (14% abv); strong acidity, light-to-medium body. Grapefruit, ripe fruit, mineral. Very good length with lingering citrus finish. Arguably unusual Pinot and I quite like it. $28 at Crosstown. See Joie Farm; winemaker’s notes (PDF).
Clear, pale gold in the glass. Medium nose of citrus and apple with a slight floral quality. Dry, strong acidity, light-to-medium body. Lemon, mineral, tart apple. Good length, with a crisp though slightly muted finish. 12.6% alcohol. Overall good.
$27 at Steamworks Wine Thief. See Tightrope Winery.
Clear light gold in the glass, with medium-intensity sweet floral aromas. Medium-plus body with a slightly oily feel in the mouth. Off-dry, with very nicely balanced floral, spice, and agave nectar flavours. Good length with a nicely evolving finish. 13.5% ABV. This is probably the best B.C. Gewürz I’ve yet tasted. Definitely recommended.
See Joie Farm.
Cathedral, Raymond Carver - Always wanted to read Carver; Junot Díaz suggested this one in a recent interview. Some of the best short stories I’ve read in ages. Modern Chekhov, etc., sure. But they’re also slow-burning page-turners—and after all, isn’t that a large part of the point of reading? I can’t say that they always preserve a kind of dignity in the everyday-or-worse characters; but they make them real and mundane in a way that’s extremely compelling and fascinating and believable. But beyond that, it’s the interactions between people that shine: it’s almost a relief to be shown that what can be most important are these encounters, whether in crisis situations or not. I read this from Carver: Collected Stories, and look forward to reading more.
The Dog Stars, Peter Heller - Good and sometimes great writing; insightful, suspenseful, pensive, and with three-dimensional characters. And it’s a page-turner. I don’t care how many post-apocalyptic books have been written blah blah blah; does it really matter? Anyway, I haven’t read many, but I think this stands on its own, and the situation is ultimately a framework, a platform for characters (mostly Hig) trying to understand themselves and their motivations. Beautifully done, in my humble opinion. A great summer read—but I say that partly because I read it in the summer, I suppose.
Tenth of December, George Saunders - Saunders draws you in with surprising humour and squeezes, simultaneously. In less capable hands, some of these portrayals might have come across as condescending; but there’s enough insight, not to mention familiarity, to push things forward in a sympathetic way and towards ends which render the details just that. The reader feels inside these heads and incorporates a complete internal consistency. Entertaining and enlightening.
Levels of Life, Julian Barnes – An unusual premise, to say the least: the history of ballooning leading into the loss of a spouse. But it’s pulled off beautifully. Barnes has become one of my favourite writers.
Claire of the Sea Light, Edwidge Danticat – It’s a beautiful arc, but at a point—specifically, through some of the chapter “Di Mwen, Tell Me”—the writing falls apart a bit. But overall it made me want to read some of Danticat’s earlier books.
A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan – For some reason I read this over a longer span of time, more like a series of related short stories—which I’ve heard argued they really are; but I’d like to go back to it and make the character connections more concrete. Even as short stories, though, I found the book sharp and entertaining.
A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers - Some reviews I’ve read are I believe over-thinking things. This is a novel about a character that is perhaps not likeable, but at the same time maybe it exposes some fears that there’s more of him in us than we feel comfortable with. I thought Alan was developed quite well. It’s important to remember that we’re restricted to his world view—not, perhaps, an unreliable narrator, but one who is somewhat aware of his naïveté and has lost confidence as a result—and that the language is his, and what we can see of politics and Saudi Arabia is from his point of view. He’s self-aware in his unawareness, and that’s pulled off pretty well. It’s an easy read, a lightweight book in many ways perhaps, and the ending is perfunctory. But I think Eggers made an uninteresting type into an interesting centrepiece, if not exactly a protagonist.
Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens – More than any other writer, I think, reading Hitchens feels like being engaged in conversation: one after which I feel sharper, and speak and writer better. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, but this one is distinct because he was such an interesting guy, so ultimately a lot of the book is not directly about him. The chapter “Mesopotamia from Both Sides” is particularly brilliant, providing more context and explanation for Hitch’s “support” of the second Iraq war, and reducing it to the personal in an incredibly affecting way through the story of Mark Daily.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer – No single volume of course can completely (and impartially) distill the tone and direction of a country like the United States over the course of several decades. But this gives a strong impression of a wide range of some very American characters through their fascinating stories. The only Writers Fest event I attended this year was an interview with Packer, and it was great.
Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, Eric Klinenberg - Due to “the rising status of women, the growth of cities, the development of communications technologies, and the expansion of the life course,” many—most—of us are now living alone. I didn’t need convincing (I live alone and cannot imagine ever cohabiting again), but thought this would be an interesting read. It was, although there was I think too much emphasis on the elderly. It’s a new area, so the author has actually done a pretty good job of pulling together anecdotes from various cultures and countries (pointing out once again, among other things, how backwards and behind we are in terms of social policy compared with the Scandinavian countries). I bristled every time he described the appearance of a woman interview subject, though; I don’t think I’m misremembering or miscounting in believing that he didn’t do so to the same extent with the males. Perhaps my biggest lesson from this book is that I should plan to live close to my daughter when I’m older. Ultimately it’s one of those books that probably could have been shorter by half, perhaps comprising a series of interesting articles. But if you’re interested in the topic, it’s a worthwhile read.
Hallucinations, Oliver Sacks - I didn’t enjoy this as much of some of Sacks’ other books: the chapters are organized around types of hallucinations, with patient stories sprinkled throughout, whereas I really enjoyed the expanded case studies of, for example, “An Anthropologist on Mars.” Still, lots of fascinating material here; the author always makes one think about one’s own perception. If you like his books, there’s no reason to skip this one.
I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains, Chuck Klosterman - My initial review for this book was going to be: “Merely clever.” But then as I got further I started to think it wasn’t even very clever; and it isn’t funny. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed a couple of Klosterman’s earlier books. Here are a couple of quick examples: “Necessity used to be the mother of invention, but then we ran out of things that were necessary. The postmodern mother of invention is desire; we don’t really ‘need’ anything new, so we only create what we want.” If he’s trying to be funny with this sort of end-of-history thinking, he isn’t succeeding. But I don’t think he’s trying to be funny here. Do I need to give examples? I’m not going to bother. Or this sentence: “He refused to pretend that his life didn’t feel normal to the person inside it.” WHAT?! The book is full of this kind of thing. It would be head-scratching if it was worth scratching one’s head about. But it isn’t.
How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti - It’s hard to rate this book. It feels like an early draft of something else; the question is whether that something would ever be any good. I tend to think not. I suppose that the main problem is that the narrator is for the most part so incredibly unlikable. Narcissism doesn’t really describe it; perhaps vacant and spoiled do. To be sure, there are a few decent moments; but they’re buried. For me the book and the author were made all the worse for apparently completely misunderstanding one of the nicest moments in The Little Prince.
I didn’t see as many movies this year as I usually do (see 2010, 2011, 2012). The reason: Breaking Bad (see below) which, multiplying its 62 episodes by 48 minutes, is the equivalent of about twenty-eight (28) 1.75-hour films.
★★★★ – Best movies I saw this year
Upstream Color (trailer): Nine years after the amazing Primer, one of my favourite sci-fi movies, director/actor/composer/etc. Shane Carruth does it again. If only every movie could be so engaging, puzzling, and thought-provoking. I’ve seen it again, read articles, and am currently watching it a third time, carefully, in twenty-minute doses. I’m not sure it can really be described: perhaps the atmosphere of The Tree of Life and the intrigue of Stalker? Just see it.
All Is Lost (trailer): Harrowing, maybe partly because I was feeling a bit out to sea myself when I saw it, but it’s a great almost-wordless performance by Robert Redford (in contrast to George Clooney’s yabbering in the similarly-themed Gravity—see below). It draws you in and onto the sea with the unnamed man.
Before Midnight (trailer): I haven’t seen the prior instalments in this series, Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004). No matter—this stands alone as a brilliantly talky movie with surprising and subtle revelations about friendship and marriage. Both Hawke and Delpy are great.
Captain Phillips (trailer): I’ve never liked Tom Hanks, and/or the movies he’s acted in. Although I’m not as sure that this quite deserves my four-star rating overall, Hanks’ incredibly affecting scene at the end puts it over the top: one of the most emotionally impactful things I saw this year, following a relentlessly tense—and believable—hour and a half or so.
Breaking Bad: Not a movie, but then I don’t watch television and I saw this at my own pace and without ads, which made it seem more like a series of films. I don’t watch television because of advertisements and quality. Breaking Bad, at least via Netflix on my iPad, didn’t have those issues; but it definitely reminded me of the third reason I don’t own a television: time commitment. I don’t regret the time I spent here, but it did cost me a number of movies in the theatre this year: there’s only so much video I can take. At any rate, despite a couple of weak episodes, this was an incredibly consistent long piece ultimately dealing with many forms of ambiguity. It was not (usually) broken into neat little episodes, and I often found myself watching from midway through one episode to most of the way through the next, without noticing or having troubles picking up the next time. The last “half season” was pretty brilliant—with the arguable exception of the last episode (see for instance Emily Nussbaum’s piece in the New Yorker, The Closure-Happy “Breaking Bad” Finale). Will I watch another series? Probably not. But it was fun to be in on the cultural phenomenon of the moment, and the VIFF interview session with series creator Vince Gilligan, on the eve of the finale, was one of my favourite live events of the year.
★★★½ – Definitely worth seeing
12 Years a Slave (trailer): It was great. And yet. Was it the music? There was something that distracted or diminished the film. Was it the usually good Brad Pitt, whose character didn’t quite gel? Was it editing? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll watch it again some time to try to pick it apart a bit better.
Safety Not Guaranteed (trailer): I was casting about on Netflix and found this great little movie. It’s funny and poignant and sometimes surprising: a film about some young journalists from Seattle pursuing a story about a fellow who posts an ad looking for a time travel companion.
Europa Report (trailer): Most underrated? Much sci-fi seems to be totally unrealistic and/or over-the-top. I read somewhere that NASA consulted on this. It shows in the more measured, and therefore realistic and suspenseful, tone.
Nebraska (trailer): Saw this at VIFF. Sure, Bruce Dern was great. But overall it felt slightly slight; and I didn’t like being so obviously expected to laugh at some of the characters—this wasn’t gracefully done.
★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these
Star Trek: Into Darkness (trailer): Yes, well done again. But I’ve had enough of these all-evil characters, Khan or not: I hate superhero movies and this hovers dangerously close. I want an exploration/aliens film next time out with this franchise (and perhaps that word is itself damning).
★★½ – Credit for effort
Camera Shy (trailer): IMDB: “This dark comedy follows a corrupt city councilman whose life spins out of control after a mysterious cameraman begins terrorizing him.” Kind of amusing, and not an awful film, but ultimately a sort of amateur proof-of-concept effort.
★★ – Please promise me you won’t see even if you’re curious
The Conjuring: The worst movie I’ve seen in a long while; I haven’t seen many horror films, but this seemed to be an amateur re-hashing of the few that I have. Fortunately my friend had free tickets. Boring, often-awful acting, and docked an extra star for claiming to be based on a “true” story. Anyone in the audience who took the laugh-out-loud claims in the title cards at face value should not be allowed to vote. Or at least to see movies.
The Place Beyond the Pines: What a dreadful movie. By turns maudlin, amateurish, boring, and improbable, it was at times laugh-out-loud awful–particularly when Gosling was playing Gosling parodying Gosling in Drive. And then it turned into a made-for-TV movie.
Predators (2010): Why on earth did I watch this? I must have been drunk. I have to be more careful with Netflix. Laughably awful.
Event Horizon (1997): Another unintentionally horrific sci-fi. I don’t understand why the production crew and actors would persevere when it should have been obvious that they were working on a stinker. Acting, dialog, and especially premise were terrible.
Deep ruby in the glass, with a garnet rim. Subdued but very appealing nose of wood and blackberry. Medium body, subdued tannins. Dry but quite fruity: cherries and blackberries, along with subtle oak and spices. Slightly bitter finish; really good length. A bit of heat from the 14.5% alcohol, but not overwhelming. Really enjoyable Shiraz; recommended. See Torbreck Wines.
Many of those expressing grief forget, or ignore, or don’t realize, that Mandela was different in at least one important way from Gandhi, to whom he seems at least this week superficially and inevitably compared. Madiba refused to renounce the use of violence. Good for him. Partly as a result, he was able to achieve what he did, without resorting to violence.
Gandhi, too, has been misrepresented and misunderstood. Reading the excellent Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, I realized for the first time the mixed results he achieved: among many other things, he failed at what was arguably his most important mission, keeping India united.
My father now regards Mandela as one of his heroes. And yet, I recall my dad telling me while Mandela was still at Robben Island that he would have taken the same action that the white South African government had, as Mandela had threatened them. And we have a Canadian MP who called Mandela a “terrorist,” and apparently still considers him as such.
It’s quite easy with hindsight, when so much has been achieved, to join the throngs of praise and believe that we were all and always on the side of justice. But the really important thing is to recognize when change has not yet occurred, and to have the courage to back those who are sacrificing for it in advance. Who deserves our attention and support right now?
I was nipping across Carrall Street for a guilty pleasure the other night and ran into the fellow who’s helped out at Glory Food Market since years before I moved into the neighbourhood. I suppose we were both feeling unimaginitive, as Oscar Wilde may or may not have thought, or at least said, but he said he doubted he’d be able to go for a cycle that evening, as he had the night before when he had been caught in rain. I said I thought he was safe in that respect, and he replied, you never know. Actually, you do, I said.
Well, almost. Thanks to a nifty weather service called Forecast, one can, on their iPhone or other device, get a very specific prediction of precipitation for the next hour :
I have found this aspect of the service to be fairly accurate. Overall, however, my experience with Forecast, and iOS weather apps in general, has been fraught. As a result I’ve turned into something of a weather app junkie. It seems a lot of others have as well, and the field is crowded. But it seems particularly difficult for most of them to get things right. For me, at the simplest level this means the ability to tell me accurately whether or not I need to carry an umbrella for the day. This is an important question in Vancouver for much of the year, and it is surprising how often most of the apps get it wrong, in my experience—and entirely anecdotally, but consistently enough over the course of a couple of years to be quite noticeable.
It is also surprising how tempting it is to try to live with the apps that sport a nifty user experience, or at least a beautiful data display. Weather apps are not usually “deep,” or I’m normally only interested in the initial display which purports to answer my basic question above; so interaction design—behaviour—is usually not bad, or not central. (I have quickly discarded those apps where it has been.) I have always been particular about the design of software, down to their icons: I am even loathe to ugly up my Springboard (or Dock) with anything but the best-finessed set of pixels. Luckily, I’ve found that there is generally a good correlation between the quality of app design and functionality.
Except for weather apps, or the predictions they provide for Vancouver. There are some nicely designed entrants, like Yahoo! Weather (although it has a lousy icon):
Unfortunately this app, along with almost all the others, cannot seem reliably to predict rain, and it doesn’t really matter how lovely an app looks if it doesn’t work. There is the Apple Weather app: it is easy to look at and I think it has been unfairly maligned, as it in my experience no less accurate than most of the others:
The Weather Network app seems to be among the most popular with people I’ve surveyed informally; unfortunately, along with suffering from the same general inaccuracy as the others, it looks a bit cartoonish:
There have been others, many others, with which I’ve experienced more or less the same results: being caught without an umbrella; or strolling through sunshine with one that has been reduced to functioning as a cane.
So I was excited when Forecast became available in Canada. It doesn’t look half bad, and it is easy to pick up and use its gesture-based interface (I like the little bouncy hint that’s displayed when it is first opened):
Forecast is “backed by a wide range of data sources, which are aggregated together statistically to provide the most accurate forecast possible for a given location.” (There are other apps, like Weathertron, which use the same consolidated data.)
Unfortunately, I’ve found that an average of wrong tends to be wrong. (It’s interesting to ponder why the inaccuracy. I have a colleague who told me a few years back he had a meteorologist friend who claimed that many of the weather services use computer modelling, rather than a meteorologist, to predict the Vancouver weather. Whether or why this would be the case, I don’t know.)
So I’ve been coming back again and again to the one app that seems to be able to answer my umbrella question most consistently. It is called Atmosphérique Pro, and while it and its icon are not the best of the lot, it is as far as I can tell the only weather app that uses, or uses exclusively, Environment Canada as its data source.
As another Vancouver “winter” approaches, I’ll keep Atmosphérique Pro on the first page of my Springboard, and continue to cast around for alternatives. If there’s a weather app you depend on, please leave a comment.
What a peculiar bunch of people we have in power here in Canada.
Peter MacKay says the government is “protecting families” from marijuana. What does he mean by this, exactly? Are stoned hordes gathering on the suburban streets to bash down white picket fences? Are “families” some sort of incubator of pretend 1950s-type, perfectly behaved (read: boring) people? Does he have a clue that there are “more one-person households (3,673,305) than couple households with children (3,524,915)” in this country (Stats Canada)? Does this mean that he thinks the majority of Canadians are weed-smoking violent criminals from whom the rest need protection? Or that the majority of households don’t need “protection” from the rampaging stoners?
Then Jim Chu, Vancouver Police Chief and the President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, claims he had “not seen” the stories on Justin Trudeau’s “admission” (big fucking deal) of pot use. What planet is he living on? Does he read the news?
And what’s with The Globe and Mail? They report this shit with a straight face. No questions asked, apparently.
The city seems to be pretty strict in enforcing the requirement for a busking license—I’ve known pretty good musicians who have been shut down—except, it seems, in Gastown, where I moved in early 2010. The “musicians” who play outside my building are enough to induce a trance, or the development of OCD.
In 2010-11, there was a rhythmless saxophone player who repeated a couple of be-bop riffs ad nauseam. His utter lack of meter was admittedly sort of fascinating: way, way beyond rubato, the beat seemed truly random, arguably unreproducible by anyone who can count.
In 2011-12, we had an accordion player—he seems to have graduated to other areas of the downtown; I’ve passed him on Granville and near Waterfront Station recently—who played the same couple of tunes over and over and over.
In summer 2013, there have been two regulars.
First is a fellow on clarinet who plays short phrases from “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “We’ve Only Just Begun.” (What would the Duke think of that?) He seems also to have a vague recollection of some Gershwin. I think. It’s hard to tell. “Noodling” is a good word for it. And again, if there is a meter, I cannot detect it.
Worse, if that is even possible (and oh yes, it is), there a guy with a recorder who repeats the same five-note figure for hours. Hours. Five notes. I am not kidding. The busking conditions and guidelines state that there is a one-hour maximum: “After 60 minutes, you must move to a different location at least one full block away.” They should add a maximum for the number of identical phrases played within a two-minute span.
Obviously at least some of these people are mentally challenged; I’ve approached the recorder player, with plans to offer him twenty dollars if he will pack up for the night, and have received nonsensical responses. His loss. But having to close my windows or play Nine Inch Nails in order to drown out this sanity-challenging stuff is not fun, and has become less so. Maybe these characters do have licenses; but I doubt it, and they don’t seem to be on display, as is required by the city.
I don’t think I’ve once heard anyone decent play on the street here. I’m not sure there’s anything to be done other than try to enjoy what might eventually be remembered as one of the last quirky things about the neighbourhood. At least we don’t have to listen to aspiring beat-boxers, I guess.