Archive for the ‘Canada’ Category

The Bag Collector

There’s probably no better time than when I’m looking to move from my apartment to bring up a rather peculiar aspect of my life, and that aspect is that I collect bags.
When I say that I collect bags I don’t really mean that I collect them. I don’t go to antique bag stores in dingy alleys on a search for rare, old bags in mint condition. When I say I collect bags I mean that I find it hard to throw bags after I use them.
If you will open the cupboards under my sink or look above the desk in my workplace you will come upon hordes (okay, not hordes, but too many) bags in different shapes, sizes and texture. Stacked or meshed together in a dizzying display of colors and logos. In many of them you may find old receipts, which hearken back to the day the bags were originally used. Canada, where I reside, environmentally-conscious as it is, has recently implemented a five-cent price tag on carry bags. You bought something? You want a bag? Pay up. This can be annoying because sometimes you’re just walking down the street from somewhere to somewhere and want to buy something and you don’t carry a bag, because when you left the house/office/Turkish bath you didn’t know you were gonna buy that something and you find your self having to pay–

But I digress. The bottom line is that it is a good thing. No, not for the environment, for me! Yes, finally I have use for all the bags I’ve been saving! It even makes the bag-collecting more special, because each bag that is stacked in my house has been bought and paid for. It is a product, exactly like the things it’s carrying. So now I may have fewer bags, but the value of the “collection” is much higher. Of course, once in a while a bag is thrown, especially if it serves as a garbage bag. So yes, I don’t necessarily horde them, I use them when I can.
Because you see, that’s the whole point. My mother is a bag collector, and for some reason I followed her footsteps with the same twisted psychology which lies behind this bag-collecting perversion, and here it is:

You never know when you’re gonna need a bag.

That’s right. You never know! Why waste a good bag after a one-time use? Yes! I am the original environmentalist! I didn’t throw bags away before I used them at least a second time after the original usage. Now, I am sure I’m not the only one who doesn’t throw out bags after a one-time use, especially in this environmentally-conscious day and age, but still, I believe that I have taken the bag-collecting skills into a new height, because, well… you never know when you’ll need one!

I can say it without it sounding inappropriate so I’ll say it: there is something very Jewish in the not-throwing-stuff-away school of thought. Jews have been persecuted for many generations by many persecutors and always found it hard to stay in one place, so the order of the day was to move. Move. Move. And when you move, you need to pack, and when you pack, what do you need? You got it. Bags. Lots and lots of bags. So I’m pretty sure it is in our collective gene pool – to not throw packaging materials away. If I could save boxes without filling up my apartment and suffocating on carton fumes, I guess I would’ve collected boxes too, because, you know… you never know when you’ll need a box.

One of the greatest scenes in modern cinema is the scene from American Beauty – pretty much the thematic centerpiece of the film – where the bag dances in the wind, and it is indeed beautiful. One of the reasons it’s beautiful is because it is a bag being set free. It does not need to carry anything anymore. It does not need to obey the whims of man. It is a free spirit, doing as it pleases, jumps here, flies there, and dances.

If I had the guts to do it, if i could let go, I would’ve waited for a particularly windy day, and then take all my bags outside and set them free. I would watch them fly down or up the street, or get caught on a tree branch, or stick to a window like a squashed bug. I would let them all go, all the bags I’ve collected, and let them do as they will, or rather, let the wind do as it will with them.

Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not really “green” to throw plastic bags all over the place, but it’s a metaphor, right? The metaphor.

Hmm… or is it?

Yeah, it’s a metaphor.

For now.

Canadian For Beginners

If you are coming to the great and wonderful land of Canada you should learn to communicate with the locals. It’s not easy sometimes, and most times it’s frustrating, but still, once you get the hang of it you’ll be like a fish in Lake Ontario.

I have been here for almost two years now and have compiled a short thesaurus to help you navigate the rough waters of Canadian lingo*:

“It’s cool with a nice breeze” – It’s cold and windy.

“It’s cold” – It’s freezing.

“It’s freezing” – You better leave for the equator.

“It’s hot” – It’s rainy

“It’s rainy” – It’s hot

“What are you doing tonight?” – Wanna go have a drink?

“We need to talk”  –  Wanna go have a drink?

“God, I’m won’t finish this before seven” – Wanna go have a drink after seven?

“I’m unhappy” – Wanna go get drunk together?

“I’m happy” – Wanna go get drunk together?

“I Love You” – Let’s go have a drink in a really nice place.

“Let’s have sex” – Let’s go have a drink in the nude.

“You guys want more beer?” – Beat it or pay up.

“Can you split the bills?” – It’s not like splitting the atom, you know.

“Oh, I’m sorry” – Oh, I’m sorry you stepped on my leg by mistake.

“I apologize” – I apologize, I didn’t notice you pushed me.

“Next stop College street” – You will all be able to breathe soon. (this is more of a Toronto speak, actually).

If you know of more Canadian speak please feel free to add it!

*This list is based upon findings in the Province of Ontario. I wouldn’t count on it being relevant in Quebec. They all speak French there. Not to mention British Columbia, where they all speak British.

Winter is Coming

Ha. There we go again. How’s that Weather Girls song goes? “Humidity is rising, barometer’s getting low”. Only in Toronto it doesn’t rain in the winter, is snows and freezes.

We had a fairly wet, cool summer. Now it’s fall, and it starts getting colder and colder. Last winter was very hard for me. Up to that point, the coldest temperatures I’ve ever experienced were -5c, so it’s understandable that finding myself in -15, -20 territory was a… revelation.

As a general rule, I dislike coats and sweaters and layers of clothing. I feel most natural in a t-shirt. The immense cold of the Toronto winter, including the lack of sun, has had a real effect on my mood last year, and when spring finally came, I felt as if I’ve awakened from a deep slumber.

The winter actually scares me. I remember quite well how I roamed (stupidly) around the streets last November without any head cover and lost sensation in my ears. I remember walking up Bathurst street, arriving to the streetcar stop, and trying to ask someone something, only to realize my jaw is numb and no words, only gurgles, are issuing forth from it. I remember going out on Christmas Eve and taking off my gloves and taking out my camera to snap some photos at the ice rink next city hall – and it was so cold that I couldn’t hold the camera for more than a few seconds.

It might well be I’m overly sensitive because I hail from a warm country, but it doesn’t change the fact that I suddenly feel this sudden urge to book a ticket to California and come back in March. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love the snow and all – it was the best part of the winter, although it too overstayed its welcome – but this is really going too far.

One of my great pleasures is too just walk. To walk around town and see places. And no, I haven’t yet seen everything Toronto has to offer. In the winter you just can’t do that. You hurry from one warm place to another, trying to minimize your outdoor time as much as possible. So that sucks, because you get four months where you’re an indoor prisoner. I don’t even remember where I walked or what I did last winter. It’s all a blur. To me, it was if I experienced one long snowy, frozen month. Come on, No human is meant to experience this shit. Why can’t we do like bears and hibernate?

The funny thing is Toronto got it the easiest compared to the rest of Canada. To other Canadians, we’re like a friggin’ resort town in February. It’s true what they say, that everything is relative.

There’s only one thing i can’t understand: Where do all the squirrels dissappear to for four months?

But that is for another post.

Catching up

I try to watch at least 2-3 movies a week. I don’t always succeed. Sometimes I’m too tired, too busy, too distracted. It doesn’t help that as of right now, I don’t really own a DVD player and TV set, only a laptop, which really isn’t the ideal choice for that. I cannot watch DVD’s using my laptop because of the copy-protect encryptions that the studios put into them. Sure, you can rip it, or watch it in fits and starts, but it’s really no fun this way, it makes the viewing experience tedious. Ironically, downloaded movies play with no interference at all. So the copy-protect method does not really prevent ripping out the movies, it just won’t let people who want to rent of purchase legit DVD’s watch them on their laptops, thus forcing them to explore (cough) other (cough) methods of watching movies. When will the corporations realize that fighting a technological war with millions of talented computer geeks is a lost cause? Just release the movies. People will buy them. People will rent them. So you’ll make 80 million instead of 90 million. As it is, the vast majority of people who are downloading movies illegally wouldn’t have watched those movies in any other way. It’s really a win-win situation. Laptops have become a viable viewing platform. Give us DVD’s with no redundant encryption methods that could be cracked by a ten year old. it’s just useless.
Anyway, I’m going on a tangent here. Whatever there is to be said about laptops as TV’s, it’s not the ideal viewing platform. The screens are small. You have to tilt them to get a good picture.

I’ve been going a lot to the cinema in Toronto. At first, it was about one movie a week. Now it’s more like one movie every two weeks. But still, I go to a lot more than I used to. I don’t really mind going to movies by myself here. It’s more fun when you’re with someone, naturally, but it’s not as depressing as it was back in Israel, which I didn’t do a lot just for that reason. I think it’s because a lot more people here go the movies alone, so you don’t feel like you’re the only one. I think Israel is a much more sociable country than Canada and the US. When you go to a movie house in Israel, you hardly see people alone. You see a lot of couples, groups of friends… Israelis love to be together, to be in groups, there’s even a term for is in local slang. It’s called “Hevre”. The closest translation I can think of is “Bunch of people”, but basically it’s untranslatable. I don’t think there’s another word like it in any other language.
So yes, it’s a very miserable experience going to the movies alone in Israel. In a country which is like one big family (including all the usual confrontations), doing inherently social activities all by your lonely self just feels wrong and depressing.

Anyway, I’ve watched a lot of movies over the years. It started very early, and after those early films, which were basically holiday revivals of classic movies, my “official” cinema viewing began with another revival showing of Star Wars in Tel Aviv, sometime in the beginning of the 1980’s. I can’t really say what I exactly felt back then, because I don’t remember. Also, I’ve seen this movie so many times since then, that I can’t recall my initial impressions. I do know that it made me thrilled and excited about the possibilities of Cinema. It was a movie that combined everything: Drama, comedy, special effects, great score, to an unbelievable effect.
In the years following that I watched a lot of 80’s dreck (yep, at some point, Police Academy was my favorite movie of all time), but we were kids, we weren’t really that demanding, we watched everything, as long as it entertained us. I’ll be the first to admit that my cinematic tastes weren’t particularly sophisticated, but that was a time when the main reason to go to the cinema was to have fun, and not ponder about life or the human condition. and to this day I think that having fun in the movies is nothing to be looked down upon.

Apart from the idiotic but enjoyable 80’s comedies, Spielberg was my main diet. Not only films directed by Spielberg, but the entire “Spielberg universe”. The Goonies is one of my favorite films ever, it reminds me of childhood innocence and great, straight-up adventure stories. The Zemeckis films, like Back to the Future trilogy and Romancing the Stone (with the shot where Michael Douglas’s head pops out of the water in the pool between Kathleen Turner’s white, long legs, which is one of the sexiest scenes I ever had the privilege to watch).
And of course, The Spielberg ones, when the guy was having an amazing streak with the Indiana Jones movies and E.T.

There are those movies that you need to watch if you consider yourself a serious film buff. It’s like being an art major and not seeing a famous Picasso or Van Gogh. Those films need to be seen because they have an importance in the wide context of the art of filmmaking, either in relation to a director, an actor, a technical innovation, or anything else that serves as some kind of benchmark in the chronology of film and filmmaking.

Some of these films I saw in real time. As my cinematic tastes expanded, I went back and caught up on some that I either missed when they first came out or wasn’t even born when they did. Even when I didn’t feel like watching an “important” film (because that word makes you look forward to a tedious experience, like those books they made you read in school and write a report on), but I tried to do it anyway. Sometime I didn’t know what all the fuss was about – I’ll admit that some of these movies have been copied and imitated many times and thus lost their initial innovative uniqueness. But for the most part they remained good movies. Some were indeed stupendous, and I couldn’t believe I’ve waited so long to see them.

And some… well, some had eluded me.

It’s hard to put the finger at the cause. It just happened. I never caught them on TV, there were always other movies I wanted to rent and I always said “yeah, I should see that sometime”. The bottom line is that there are some heavy hitters out there, classic, trend setting pictures that I haven’t seen to this day. I’m quite ashamed of that, really.
Some time ago I made a conscious decision to eliminate that shameful blight on my cinematic pedigree by picking them up one by one from Amazon – yes, actually buy them, as if to clean my conscious, but it didn’t really materialize. Also, I refuse to download them from (cough) certain (cough) sites. It just seems that if I’m about to watch them for the first time, this is not the way to do it, which is silly when you think about it – I mean, wouldn’t it be better to watch them than not watch them at all? Go figure. It’s not really rational, this whole thing.

So taking the 2007 AFI list of the best 100 movies ever made as a model, here they are, those classics that I have yet to see and don’t really have any excuses:

On The Waterfront (1954)

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

The Deer Hunter (1976)

Nashville (1975)

Cabaret (1972)

The African Queen (1951)

All the President’s Men (1976)

And some foreign titles from the top 250 films of all times from IMDB (a list that quickly loses it’s credibility thanks to what seem like hordes of impulsive teenagers):

The Seven Samurai (1954)

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Yojimbo (1961)

Nosferatu (1922)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The King and I

I love the books of Stephen King.

Maybe that’s not the most original literary or cultural statement out there, because, I mean, the guy has a lot of fans, and I’m sure it would’ve been much more impressive if I came here and told you that my favorite author is some unknown genius that I’ve discovered long ago and he’s my fun little secret. Well, that’s not the case here.

Because there’s no denying one simple fact: During the last 30 years, King has published 51 novels and short story collections, and I’ve read 26 of them. Now, that’s roughly half, and I’m sure there are far greater King afficionados out there than me, but the fact is that there is no other single writer of whom I’ve read so many books.

It took me some time to start reading King. As a kid, I was too frightened by his gruesome reputation, I guess… :-), but I think it was sometime in the early nineties when I picked up my first King, Gerald’s Game, one of his lesser known works but one of his most terrifying ones, and I was hooked ever since. To this day I think that Gerald’s Game is one of his best.
The Stand is an epic tale about the end of the world as we know it (Cell, one of his latest novels, a brilliant refelection on our cell-phone addicted society, reminds that classic in more ways than one). The Shining is a frightening piece about descent into madness, and It is a masterpiece about the pains and joys of childhood, with a shivers inducing twist.

Many have already said this before, but I feel I can’t write about King without saying that myself: The genius of this author is in his ability to weave the supernatural and the horrific into an everyday reality we all know and are able to identify. His stories do not take place in dark, grimy, cob webbed castles or in hunted forests, but in broad day light, usually in picturesqe American towns.
The real horror lies in the psyche, in the stuff men are able to do and dream of, in parallel realities just beyond our doorstep.
In his magnum opus,The Dark Tower, King plays the parallel reality idea to the hilt, along with countless influences ranging from Sergio Leone’s westerns to The Lord of The Rings books. It tells of a parallel world which at some point coalesces with our own and sends our heroes into an enormous quest.

The Dark Tower is super cool because it inhabits not only its own storyworld, but also many of King’s other stories, which, if you’re an avid King fan, makes for a lot of fun reading.
This series has its upside and downside. It is filled with amazing imagination and harrowing scenes (It is more Fantasy than Horror, but why pigeonhole it?), but it was not envisioned as a seven book series from the outset, meaning King basically made it all up as he went along – and sometimes it shows – But still, The Dark Tower is a wonder to behold. I wish I could make-up-as-I-go-along a story like this. 

Stephen King was in Toronto a few days ago as a guest of the Canadian Booksellers Association. The ceremony included some warm words from fellow writers Margaret Atwood and Clive Barker (who went up and spoke with such a husky voice, I wasn’t sure if it’s from cigarretes of if he just screamed all week at someone). Barker told of how Stephen King helped launch his career by calling his first short stories collection “The future of horror”. After that the both of them hugged. It was quite touching.

And then King went up for a one-on-one interview conducted by American writer Chuck Klosterman, which turned out to be poignant, informative and extremely funny. One only have to read a King book to know that the guy has a great sense of humor, but to see him on stage crack jokes is another thing entirely. After the interview was over, King recieved a life-achievment award, said a few words, and then it was over.
Here are some picturs (sorry about the blurriness…)

King gets his award…

…and the speech afterwards

Today King is probably the second most famous writer in the world (after J.K Rowling), and it was amazing to see the crowd’s enthusiasm when King entered the theatre. You could’ve thought we weren’t there to listen to an author speak of his work but to watch a rockstar doing his thing. King himself isn’t very comfortable with all of this, he admited, but he learned to accept it, and even enjoy it.

I think that a big part of Stephen King’s charm is his generosity and down-to-earth attitude. He doesn’t sit in his Ivory tower and looks down upon us mere humans, and he doesn’t carry himself with a dishonest humility. He knows he is good, but he knows that what he does is not some sort of humongous task that isn’t possible for others to tackle, and by that I don’t mean the fame but the success as a writer. One only needs to read his amazingly candid and inspiring work, On Writing – part autobiography (including the tale of his accident from 1999), part an unpretentious and extremely readable guide for the basics of writing fiction – to realize that.

It was really exciting and special to see and hear Stephen King in person. I don’t think even J.K Rolling has that – The ability to charm and entertain an audience to such a degree. In spite of what King says, I think he has some performer genes in him. He’s very good at it.

During the interview, he said that he’s not writing horror, but books. The reason his books are in the Horror section is “they need to be arranged alphabetically somewhere”. I think there is some truth in it, but I also think that Stephen King has managed to tap the the human psyche in a way that few authors – or artists for that matter – has been able to do. His characters, even the minor ones, carry within them a psychological whirlpool of amazing versatility, including pop-references galore. When he’s at his best, Stephen King forces us to peel our eyes, forget about all the bullshit which dominates our world – both our inner world and our outer world – and through his characters, makes us peer into our souls and seek out the truth. And although the truth is sometimes unpleasent and usually scary, it can also be liberating.

Summer in Toronto

The post below this one belongs to my favorite genre of posts, the Self-Pity Post. Isn’t it fun to read those? Well, fuck it. I felt frustrated and needed to get it out. But hey, let’s try to be a little more positive, or at least more cheerful, shall we?

It’s summer in Toronto, and I have nothing to wear. That is probably the gayest thing I have ever written. No, really, I left all my summer wardrobe in Israel because the suitcase was packed full of sweaters and large, bulky winter shirts, not to mention that stupid 400 shekels suede jacket I bought as if I was planning to go to movie premiers every week-

Oh, I’m doing it again. Ok, I’ll try to be positive. Think… concentrate… smile… alright, take two:

It’s summer in Toronto. and I’m buying summer shirts. For some reason, I found myself with three striped shirts. Someone told me that stripes make me look wider. So now I have three striped shirts. How about some variety, ah? Just call me Merril Stripe. So I went and bought a shirt that says “Kiss me, I’m Irish”.
Alright, I give up, I have no sense of fashion whatsoever. It’s hopeless. I might as well-

Arrr! I’m doing it again. I have to be more positive. Enough with these boring rants already!
Ok, here we go. Concentrate, breath deep…

It’s summer in Toronto. And it’s so fucking hot sometimes…
Ohhhhhh! 

It’s Summer in Toronto. People are chirping, birds are smiling, and the squirrels are running to and fro, carefree and happy. It’s a strange weather, dry but pleasent, but they say that it gets pretty sticky around August-
Alright! I give up! I mean, I’m talking about the weather here, people. What can be more BORING than the weather?!

Can we talk about something else please?

It’s summer.

In Toronto. 

I’m hopeless, aren’t I? 

Being green

Well, I’ve been here a month now. Came on the train from New York City on a chilly April morning. We crossed the entire state of New York in a ten hour trip. It was pretty amazing. 
I spent the first few days in Toronto at a luxury condominium (for free!) after helping some Israeli guy I met on the Net (no, not on Jdate!) to move some furniture up there. That same guy helped me find the current apartment I’m staying at, until I’ll find a more permanent one, inside the city of Toronto. It was meant to be a temporary thing. Just for a week or so. It’s been a month already.

A month. A whole month have passed here in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Actually, It’s really a nice place. Very green, very quiet. Pretty houses, children on bicycles, families in the park, birds chirping… zzzzzz.

Oh, sorry. I fell asleep there for a minute. The truth is that you really need a car here in order to live a normal life. The nearest grocery store is a 20 minute walk. It’s really insane. It takes me two hours to get to work. I first have to walk to the bus station. That’s 20 minutes right there. The trip itself, to the outskirts of Toronto, takes about half an hour. Then I take the subway to downtown. That’s another 30 minutes. And then I can either walk 15 minutes or wait and take the streetcar. all in all, it takes me almost two hours to get to work, and then two hours again to get back to the land of Far Far Away.
Add to that the fact that I live in a basement with no real windows and you have to ask yourself what the hell am I still doing here. But let’s not beat the apartment thing again. It’s starting to get boring.

Let’s see some pictures instead!

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