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Weekly Winnipeg Wednesday Music… Day

July 17, 2013

I forget what I actually called this weekly spot, so feel free to shuffle those words around a bit.

This week, my music recommendation is dedicated to Rylaan. We shared our first dance to a song by Flying Fox and the Hunter Gatherers, a band that I’ve been following ever since.

They recently put out an EP called Fruit and Ash, which you can listen to over at their Bandcamp.

Quirky and dramatic, their music never fails to take me on an epic journey.

Enjoy the ride!

Top seven things Winnipeggers are proud of.

July 17, 2013

For the Fringe out-of-towners who have moved into Red River College’s residence, I have provided a handy list of things we will brag to them about over the coming weeks:

1. Slurpee dominance. Any sane group of human beings would balk at the idea of drinking little bits of ice and sugar in -40 degree weather, but not Winnipeggers. We make a point of drinking Slurpees year round so that we can win that epic title. It’s no wonder that there are so many 7-Eleven locations in this city. Personally, I have moved away from Slurpees recently in favor of coffee-related beverages, but when it’s sweltering (and sometimes when it’s freezing outside, too) I crave a good ol’ Pepsi Slurpee.

Which leads us into our next point…

2. The Winnipeg Jets. I have heard it from NHL officials themselves that the MTS Centre houses the loudest fans. We’re all just so happy to have the gang (or a gang) back after their fifteen-year hiatus. I have been lucky enough to witness the joy that erupts in our arena – it’s a beautiful thing. The Moose… who were they, again?

3. Neil Young / The Guess Who / any notable musician we can claim. Unfortunately, some bands fly under the radar for most people, even though they become extremely successful abroad. And then, some artists are just so niche that their international following doesn’t even touch our ears. Case in point, Venetian Snares.

4. The Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Most of us know that the RWB is world-renowned and, also, the oldest Canadian ballet company. I love me some ballet, but as a contemporary dancer, it pains me to know that not many locals are aware that Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers is also the longest-operating modern dance company in Canada. Regardless, we’ve got some terrific dance coming out of this city, which very few ‘Peggers venture out to see.

5. Guy Maddin. Most people are proud of Maddin’s film work, even if they’ve never seen anything he’s made. And still some locals, when you mention his name, will ask, “Is he that football guy?”

6. Anna Paquin / Nia Vardalos / Adam Beach / any Winnipeg actor who acted in a Hollywood film. I will take this time to mention that Winnipeg is abundant with actors who don’t get screen time at Cineplex theatres, but I digress. It’s super cool that some of our talent has made it in the big bad world of Hollywood.

7. That episode of _____ we were mentioned in. The Simpsons, King of the Hill, The Office…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UlAZD9Xx5-Y

We feel that we require these references to validate our existence, because the rest of Canada forgets about us from time to time. Thankfully, our un-discovered-ness presents a bit of allure to the outside world.

Now you know a little bit more about Winnipeg. Next, I recommend that you go watch “My Winnipeg”, but keep in mind that Guy Maddin’s lens has a dollop of Vaseline on it, so to speak – the truth is rather blurry.

Beating the Heat at Clay Oven

July 16, 2013

I hear voices outside my room.

This building has, so far, been mostly deserted. Not many students are in summer classes, and this residence is still too new for it to be full.

But now it is, because of the Fringe!

Red River College has graciously opened its doors to Fringe performers, who every year struggle to find a place to stay in the city for two weeks. So far, I have chatted with half a dozen new renters who are all excited to be here.

The postering has begun, the tech times are in full swing… bring on the theatre!

As I mentioned Saturday, I was running back and forth from the city for Folk Fest and Fringe Fest. Friday evening, I had a spare moment in the city for a much-needed shower. My friends Josh and Rylaan decided to take this spare moment of breath to take me to Clay Oven‘s new ballpark location.

Clay Oven food

Delicious.

Upon entering the building, those recognizable spices were in the air. The elevator taking us to the top floor was postered with images of the spices I was smelling, informing me on the health benefits of tarragon and cardamom. A nice touch, which was sure to come in handy soon.

The restaurant itself was spacious, sleek, and modern. We were early, so we had our pick of the entire restaurant. We opted for air-conditioning and a booth (knowing full well we’d be dealing with spicy food).

Menu-reading became a large task – as someone not very familiar with Indian food terminology, I found myself confronted with dozens of new words. A separate menu informed us about their hakka appetizers and entrees (hakka is essentially Chinese food with an Indian twist).

Our server, Nicole, was a crucial part of our experience. While my friend Josh knew a lot about the menu, there were many questions that required more in-depth answers. Nicole was not only able to answer them, but offer suggestions based on her own preferences and which choices were popular.

Clay Oven food 2

Another angle on this beauty.

A smorgasbord was in order (we wanted leftovers for days): an appetizer platter (samosas, veggie pakoras, and paneer pakoras), mozzarella naan, vegetarian thali with naan, hakka manchurian noodles, and chicken biryani with basmati rice.

A soothing glass of red wine paired excellently with the variety of flavors we received. A similar effect was achieved with the cool minty yogurt sauce (similar to tzatziki) that came with my thali – delicious.

I’m a cheese fiend, so I was eager to try the paneer. It was good, with a really interesting texture. The paneer pakoras were particularly delightful, but in my thali the paneer fell a bit flat in comparison to some of the other dishes.

Mozzarella naan has to be one of the best inventions ever. It was better than any cheesy bread I’ve had at an Italian restaurant.

My stay at the Clay Oven at Shaw Park left me full but wanting to try more of their amazing food.

Eventually, I hope to know their menu off by heart. I intend to go back for lunch or dinner, especially on a day when they are empty (ie. when there isn’t a game on) and their servers can really dedicate a lot of attention to my questions.

The makers of magic

July 13, 2013

My apartment looks like it has survived a wicked storm, as my rushing around (from Folk to Fringe and back) has prevented me from being organized in any sense of the word.

Over-commitment is my middle name. When someone asks if I can do something, I generally say yes, even if it means that I am up late into the night before, chewing on my lip and reading tutorials to map it out. There is always a learning curve with a side of anxiety.

In the end, it’s worth it. Example: Folk Fest.

Winnipeg Folk Festival parking lot with clouds

The last morning of the festival

This year, the Winnipeg Folk Festival put me on Main Gate Box Office crew as a volunteer cashier, which means that I am responsible for helping customers purchase tickets and trade them in for wristbands.

Retail work of years gone by had bred certain habits into me, but this was a whole new ball game. I was given a daunting document that listed all the different wristbands available – about 3 dozen varieties. The tickets also seemed impossible to decipher, so my first shift hung over me ominously on Wednesday afternoon.

6:30 pm. I was handed a till and told to count it and get out there. There is a definite pause before I accepted my first customer, but then I was rolling. Lots of learning happened during the doing, and challenges were presented and overcome one by one.

By 11:30, the adrenaline of the game had worn off. Till counted (not balanced totally, but close), I shuffled off to sleep in my tent, surrounded by my stumbling campmates (stumbling not from exhaustion but other adventures).

I had the next day off, so I awoke early to the sound of singing and wandered around a bit. A great peace settled over me; phone dead, I had no deadlines or responsibilities for a few sweet hours.

By the time my wandering led me to the backstage area reserved for volunteers and performers, breakfast was just about ready. My friend, Chris, was there, too.

Chris is an inspirational individual, with a desire to make the world a better place by bringing the magic that lives at Folk Fest to everyone else. Often, when the stars align to make something cool happen, he joyfully attributes it to serendipity.

This serendipity led to a series of overlapping conversations with new friends. Chris’ friend joined us, then I found another one, then we met someone new while standing in line for food.

A picnic table was claimed as ours, and one by one each of us left. It was fascinating to watch these empty seats filled with new friends who we could learn about. I witnessed half a dozen people cycling through this way, and as I left the table, I knew I was allowing someone else to become a part of this unending conversation.

Apparently, the night that I slept early, the Northern Lights emerged over the campground. Aurora Borealis or no, campers can enjoy magic at Folk Fest, and it was on my second night that I could traipse around properly.

The Folk Festival campground is a whole different experience from the festival itself. The amount of collaborative creativity that goes into this unique world is amazing. The Castle Boys’ creations, jam spaces, a colony of oversized games including Battleship and Fenga (Foot Jenga), and an installation of a Cyclotrope are just some of the many wonders you can discover.

I was transported, for a time, to a beautiful world of whimsy and wandering, but the city streets draw me back. It’s a relief to think that on those streets I can run into people like Chris, who will attempt to unearth that magic in the real world.

Follow Friday!

July 12, 2013

Follow Friday, for those not addicted to limiting our digital dialogue to 140 characters, is a weekly opportunity to “holla” at our friends and idols online, hopefully aquiring a handful of followers for everyone in the process.

Today, I’d like to extend this Twitter tradition to full-size blogs.

The murky waters of the web are sometimes difficult to sift through, but if you survive out here long enough, you’ll find gold. Here are some of the golden independent blogs that I have found – all by Winnipeg authors.

Need some news? Turn to www.chrisd.ca. They filter through other news sites, so you don’t have to.

Need photos from that arts event you went to? Leif Norman is your man. You name it – he was very probably there, and he quite possibly made one of his excellent photo essays about it.

Need photos of Winnipeg locations? Winnipeg Love Hate. We all love and hate this city sometimes.

Need some laughs, or need to be creeped out, or both? The classic Wpg Bus Stories. Started by Winnipeg Film Group’s Jaimz Asmundson, perhaps as a way to rant about some frustrating occurrences on Winnipeg Transit, this blog accepts submissions.

Need a hand choosing a beer? Colin Enquist and Cody from the Cranky Beer Blog. I started following both these gents on Twitter, and their beer suggestions and reviews have been very helpful.

Need to enjoy some rad chicks chatting about television? These young women cover it all. It’s entertaining when you’ve seen the shows and informative when you haven’t.

Need to learn how to write a blog? Liz Hover, a fabulous woman who transformed the National Screen Institute’s web presence a few years ago. Also, she has a cool British accent.

Need to see cats and dominos? Flippycat. Okay, this one is really a blog, per se…

My memory is not what it once was (I must have hit that 3 TB limit recently), so I apologize to all those fabulous bloggers who have been overlooked.

500 words per day may not sound like a lot, but after several posts of this length in a row, it is easy to feel the weight of those words more fully.

The admirable writers in this city who continuously crank out content deserve some recognition here. It seems to me that the goal of a writer is not to be a flash in the pan, but to build constantly towards a larger goal. I have been astounded by Winnipeg journalists and novelists alike.

Writing is not as easy as I thought it would be.

After my brain tires of finding fun ways to word phrases, all I can manage to eke out is, “It was good,” or “Very nice things.” The fractured vagueness crept up on me earlier this week. How simple it would be to allow myself to make Duplo-block sentences instead of Lego ones.

Readers, I am working hard to ensure that this blog provides some summer stimulation. If I ever fall into grade 1 writing quality, please knock me upside the head.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rylaan for being my sounding board for ideas. Rylaan, you have been amazingly helpful. Thanks!!

More Manitoba Music Wednesdays

July 10, 2013

It’s Wednesday. You know what that means! Actually, you probably don’t.

Wednesday is the day of the week in which I link to a song by a Manitoba band that I particularly love. Since this Wednesday happens to fall on the first day of Folk Festival, I thought it appropriate to redirect your attention to an artist who will be performing there.

JD Edwards Band is a very funky group of artists. This video for “Go On Home”, released just yesterday, captures their energetic performance style.

Hopefully, your step will have a bit more lilt after this tune hits your eardrums. See you at Folk Fest!

The secret to festival-hopping

July 9, 2013

Winnipeg is known for its festivals. Our Fringe Fest is one of the largest in North America, and our Folk Fest is known worldwide for its quality.

When summer hits, you can hop downtown for Jazz Festival, Soca Reggae Festival, Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition (MEME), or even the aptly named ManyFest (okay, this one is in September, but it’s a cool concept – a whole bunch of festivals combined).

I think the reason why I haven’t had too many commenters on here yet is because everyone is so busy living it up at a festival somewhere. Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself.

These festivals, while they often have free events, usually come with a price. A Folk Fest pass will set you back at least $300, and though every Fringe show is $10 or less, that price of admission can add up when you’re seeing dozens of them, like many people do.

I have a secret.

I know how you can get in for free.

No, it doesn’t require jumping over any fences or making counterfeit tickets. The organizations who run these festivals rely heavily on volunteers. You trade your time for admission and other perks.

Folk Fest Volunteer swag

A T-shirt is just the beginning!

For example, Folk Fest provides food for all 3,000 of their volunteers, and you get to go backstage and see how the show is run. Pretty cool stuff. I could be sitting beside Dallas Green while we both enjoy a delicious meal at La Cuisine.

I know that for some people, volunteering is not always possible with their regular schedule. But it never hurts to ask – volunteer coordinators will be pleased to know that there is interest in their cause. For students, it might just be a perfect arrangement.

It’s not just the big summer festivals that need volunteers. I volunteered at WNDX Festival of Moving Image last fall, and not only did I get a bag of free stuff in return, but I also developed some very valuable connections to people with similar interests to me (some of whom had paying work to offer me). It’s really easy to get to know someone when you’re working with them for a four-hour shift.

Tomorrow, I am heading to Birds Hill Park for my first shift at the Main Gate Box Office. It’s my first year volunteering there. I have heard glowing reviews of how Folk Fest treats their volunteers, and I am very excited to be joining the team.

AND, because I like to cause myself stress, I have gotten involved with a number of Fringe shows (as stage manager, contributor, etc). Tech times start this weekend, which means that I need to travel back and forth from the campgrounds. Luckily, there is a free shuttle for volunteers that stops just three blocks away from my residence, and the venue I’ll be at for Fringe is just around the corner.

So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, you know why – it may be any combination of partying, working, and lack of reception.

Is there even Internet out there?

Regardless, I have some ideas for how to continue to entertain you while I am away. Stay tuned!

To veg or not to veg?

July 8, 2013

Somebody asked me if I had any dietary preferences today, and I hesitated. I ended up saying, “Vegetarian?”

For the past year or so, I have been craving the taste of meat less and less. Instead, I crave tofu and chickpeas and beans and noodles. And potatoes – I love my potatoes.

I was already prepared to embrace vegetarianism on Saturday, when I saw The Ghosts in Our Machine at Cinematheque.

This film, unlike many other animal rights documentaries, takes a positive approach to convincing you that animals deserve our respect and attention.

Instead of showing us the horrific treatment of animals in farms or labs (like PETA videos do), we are treated to a series of video portraits of various animals in cages. Each beast gazes into the camera, so that we really get a sense of the personality behind their eyes.

I fell in love with animals. I fell in love with pigs and chickens and cows (especially cows).

The film doesn’t completely push vegetarianism or veganism upon the audience. It shows us that there is a way to allow an animal to live a full and happy life, even if they are living on a farm.

But the implication is that it is way too difficult to know what companies are mistreating their animals. It seems that all of them are, even organic farms.

All this boils down to my recent decision to opt for vegetarian meals 80-90% of the time. I can’t quite cut out meat yet (partially because I want to try the meaty dishes in the Exchange, so I can talk about them on here). And honestly, who doesn’t love a good strip of bacon from time to time?

Regardless, I will be making a concerted effort to cut down on the meat in my meals, and dairy too (though cheese is really hard to let go of).

The first place I am headed is the Culinary Exchange, since I got my meal card on Friday. I read the list of salads with excitement (a spinach salad with artichoke hearts, a Caesar salad with a house-made dressing!). The cream of mushroom soup I had over the weekend was fantastic. I can’t wait to discover more items to enjoy.

Mondragon will be another place to frequent. To be honest, I forgot that this cafe/bookstore has a grocery store in it. How perfect! I could purchase fresh veggies and their southern-fried tofu strips to make a wicked salad, and I could eat more dragon bowls. I could eat dragon bowls EVERY DAY. Dragon bowls are the best. I love dragon bowls.

Dragon Ball

I don’t have a picture of the dragon bowl yet… so enjoy this image of a Dragon Ball. Image by Layz88 on DeviantArt.

I think I will make a list of vegan and vegetarian options in the area, so that any student living in residence in the future can consult it if that suits their lifestyle. READERS, I need your help! Please submit ideas for restaurants.

This is not a promise to become a vegetarian, but just to try it out.

I’m going to go get a dragon bowl now…

Some sevens on 7/7

July 7, 2013

Today is the seventh day of the seventh month. That is an arbitrary enough occurrence for me to make a list of seven things. Actually, I’ll make two.

Seven curiosities about my two-bedroom room:

1. There is a motion sensor that switches off the lights after half an hour or so of inactivity. Handy for when I leave and forget to turn it off (my family will agree that I do this rather often), but many a writing session has been interrupted by my having to wave my hands around and get out of my chair. Maybe it’s a sign I need to get up more.

2. My door has a deadbolt that just spins forever. That is not to say that the door is unlocked – the card key locks it automatically (so no, you can’t steal my stuff). But this additional lock seems to be purely decorative, at least for now.

3. The bathroom has no cabinets or places to put things, and the sink is teeny. At first, I thought this was cute. Now, I have trouble fitting soap and a tube of toothpaste on my sink.

4. Each room comes with a desk, which comes with a small locked filing cabinet. One of the filing cabinets opens, while the other does not. I moved the locked filing cabinet over to the bathroom, where it acts as a pedestal for all the things I can’t fit around my sink (see #3 above).

5. The shower door opens into the towel rack, meaning I have to awkwardly reach around the shower door while trying not to drip water everywhere. I’m getting used to this, but I may just hang my towel on the shower door itself.

6. Whenever I awake, I hear a noise that sounds like the shower is running. I get paranoid that someone has snuck into my room to use the shower. This is not the case…. so far.

7. The bed headboards seem to be attached to the wall. So, if you move the bed, you leave a big chunk of wood. It looks silly.

Seven things that are wicked about my room:

1. The most amazing design decision ever: there is a light switch ABOVE THE BED. I don’t even need to get up to turn off the light. I can be as lazy as I want! Hooray!

2. The kitchenette is extremely useable. I have seen cupboards elsewhere that are too high for a shorty like me to use – these are well-placed. Also, the amount of counter space is perfect for what I need it for.

3. A full fridge?? Awesome. I stocked it full of beer, like a true college student.

4. The toilet is one of those water-saving ones. It doesn’t use much water. Sometimes it feels like you’re peeing into an abyss, but I am happy to conserve water.

5. High ceilings, big windows! This place may only be 400 or 500 square feet, but it feels huge. Plus the windows open.

6. Roomy wardrobes. I fit all my clothing in there! Do you believe it? I hardly do!

7. Air conditioning that works. I sometimes take this for granted, since my father is an HVAC professional, but I know that some apartment buildings struggle to keep their temperatures liveable. A/C is a must-have to battle Winnipeg’s sweltering summer weather, and I am so thankful that I can live here comfortably.

Finding the heart of the Exchange

July 6, 2013

My plans for the weekend involve seeing Ghosts in Our Machine at Cinematheque. Whenever I go to this theatre, I get a little sappy…

My love affair with Winnipeg’s Exchange district began a couple years after my high school bubble had broken. I had asked my filmmaking instructor for advice on where to find equipment when the school’s gear was taken out, and she recommended the Winnipeg Film Group (WFG). So, I headed down to the Artspace building and purchased a membership.

It amazes me to think that I was once ignorant of this fantastic area. As a child, I only came here for dance recitals and festivals, and it took me a while to realize that the theatre district is only one part of the Exchange. There is so much more to see here – every nook and cranny seems to contain somebody or something awesome.

Since getting this job, I have been asked a few times to define the boundaries of the district. While I could consult a map and give specific streets and corners as a boundary, I prefer to describe it as a feeling. When you’re in the Exchange, there is a sense of building and progression. The energy of the artists working and living here buzzes in the air, and even businesses outside of any creative sector seem to have a great appreciation for innovation and the arts. It’s when you step off a curb and recognize that feeling dissipating that you know you have left the Exchange.

Exchange - Google map

Google’s definition of the Exchange: http://goo.gl/maps/hGGSV

To me, the heart of this area is the Winnipeg Film Group. Once you enter their offices, you become a part of something bigger – part of the filmmaking and film-loving community at large. WFG’s theatre, the Cinematheque, is a fabulous place to gather with others and take in a thought-provoking documentary or a stunning narrative work. And for those of us who like to make our own films and videos, the Film Group is the start of many of our careers.

I sat down with Mandy Leith yesterday, who had travelled from Victoria to Winnipeg for one week as a part of her Get on the Doc Bus project. Our conversation at the Underground Cafe was brief but energetic (I hardly had time to eat between talking), and I was pleased to hear that Mandy had been impressed by our local film community.

Mandy and bus

Mandy Leith and her bus are traveling from coast to coast to “explore Canada’s documentary legacy”.

When I asked her to describe her experiences here, her usually eloquent way of speaking broke down a bit:

It just feels like it’s got a lot of heart, and uh… yeah, I don’t know whether I’m really able to be that articulate about it, because… I just feel really moved. You know, I’m leaving today, this afternoon, and I was driving down Memorial [Boulevard] up to the train station and I had this lump in my throat, and I can’t account for it. I’m just… utterly taken with Winnipeg, and for me, Winnipeg Film Group is kind of the heart of it.” – Mandy Leith

Mandy told me that in her hometown of Victoria, their equivalent to WFG is a bit removed from the downtown core, so while the community is vibrant, there is a still something of a disconnect. Her focus on documentary film is to use it as a tool for community building. Her OpenCinema initiative brings people together to watch and discuss films in a cafe-style setting, which provides a better forum for interaction.

I agree with her views on community building through film. I have experienced it in my own life. Discussing shared experiences with family and friends has allowed me to understand them more fully. That’s part of what is exciting about this blog project – I can post my thoughts regarding an event, but someone else can comment and talk about things from their own perspective. We can learn from each other.

This is my story of how I became enamoured with the Exchange (and the downtown at large). For some, a pub like the King’s Head is The Place To Go, or Red River College is their home-away-from-home, or Manitoba Theatre Centre brings them back on a regular basis. Regardless, there is something for everyone here, and I think that having such a strong, dynamic area is a thing we should be proud of as Winnipeggers.

Readers: What is your “heart” of the Exchange?