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2011 8th Generation Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc

Very pale silver appearance. Strong nose of citrus and ripe apple, along with a vegetal quality. Dry, strong acidity, medium body. Strong lemon along with grapefruit and pear. This is a really decent Sauv Blanc; too bad it appears they don’t produce it any more (as of date of writing, the 8th Generation site doesn’t list a recent vintage). About $23 at Crosstown.

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Brian Francis Loch Ryan, 1931-2014

Note: I planned on submitting this to papers in Vancouver and Queensland, but the quoted costs made me laugh out loud (e.g. $1700 for the Brisbane Courier Mail). Posting it here will probably make it more accessible to people who actually knew him, anyway; and it will not expire.

Brian Francis Loch Ryan, age 83, of Vancouver, BC, September 19, 2014, at St. Paul’s hospital, from general infection and complications of Parkinson’s disease. Rugby player, teacher, poet and jester; husband, father and friend to many. Finally at rest after an interior psychological revolution and what he called “the best years of his life.” He loved life, animals and the great outdoors. He will be missed.

Born in Blackall, Queensland, Australia, March 27, 1931, to Dorothy Madge (née Loch) and Francis John Ryan. Grew up in Goovigen. Educated and abused by Christian Brothers, St. Brendan’s, at Yeppoon.  “Best and Fairest Player,” 1954, Past Christian Brothers Football Club. Teacher’s College in Australia, completed degree at UBC. Moved to Canada in 1957 and taught high school physical education, science, social studies, and library in Kamloops through to 1987. Retired to Halfmoon Bay in 1994. Pilot and home-built airplane enthusiast and member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Poetry enthusiast and writer; onetime winner of the Globe Challenge limerick contest. Loved skiing.

Married Diane Joyce Frederickson, July 21, 1962. Survived by children Chris and Jennifer, and granddaughter Karina; and three of four sisters in Australia, Jacqueline, Dorothy, and Veronica; and in-laws John and Marg Frederickson and their children. Predeceased by wife Diane in 2007; his sister Pat in 2013; and his beloved dogs Scout, killed by a snake November 23, 1943; and Chester, 1994.

Donations to Parkinson Society BC appreciated.

Robin Williams

He’s been remembered in recent days for the obvious stuff: Mork; Good Will Hunting; Doubtfire; and so on. All great. But for me, and I think my daughter Karina, it’s his reading of “The Fool and the Flying Ship” that is most memorable. All of  his manic inventiveness is here. The voices, the enthusiasm, and what I assume is a good dose of improv are hilarious. He was one of a kind.

Meyer 2013 Riesling

I visited Meyer August 9, 2014 and picked up two bottles of this Riesling along with a couple of their great Pinot Noir releases. It’s well worth visiting their tasting room.

This Riesling is their first, and produced in small quantity; I believe it is only available at Meyer. It’s clear, light gold in the glass, with medium intensity aromas of citrus and minerals, along with subtle ripe apricot. Off-dry, strong but well-balanced acidity, and a medium body. Stone fruits dominate; there is a lemony acidity which develops nicely in the finish; this wine has good length. Overall very good; I’m looking forward to future vintages. 11.5% alcohol. About $20 at Meyer.

See also the winemaker’s release notes and tasting sheet (PDF).

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Joie Farm 2013 Pinot Blanc

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).

Joie Pinot Blanc 2013

Tightrope Riesling 2012

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.

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Joie “En Famille” 2011 Reserve Gewüztraminer

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.

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Reading 2013

Another year, some more great books (see also 2011, 2012).

Fiction

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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.

After the Quake, Haruki Murakami – I didn’t take notes and honestly can’t remember much about this book. Maybe that says something.

Non-Fiction

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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.

Movies 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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★★★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.

Blue Jasmine (trailer): Essentially a tour de force by Cate Blanchett, but also Woody Allen seems to have been stronger again recently.

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.

Gravity (trailer): Like a roller coaster ride. Incredible visuals. There were just three problems: George Clooney’s inane chatter; some religious bullshit; and—sigh—sound in space.

Philomena (trailer): About what you’d expect, but in a good way. Some complained it was anti-Catholic. I say: more, please.

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.

Chinese Take-Away (trailer): Funny and affecting indie film about a couple of guys who can’t speak each others’ language, searching.

★★★ – If you’re bored and you’ve seen the above, rent these

Oldeuboi (trailer): I watched this 2003 original on Netflix as the reviews of this year’s remake made me curious. It was often quite watchable, but ultimately over the top.

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).

Rap is War (trailer): Another VIFF film; didn’t see enough this year. Interesting documentary on an underground Cuban rap outfit; would have been better if it had been shorter.

★★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.

Torbreck Barossa Valley 2011 Woodcutter’s Shiraz

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.

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