“And that is the wavering commons; for their love
Lies in their purses, and whoso empties them
By so much fills their hearts with deadly hate.”
— William Shakespeare, Richard II (via sicvisumsuperis)

I’ve been an atrocious blogger these past few weeks. The fault is in my stars. And by my stars, I mean Starz, because I can’t stop watching… uh…. uh…. …. ugh, this was going to be such a solid joke until I realized I don’t know a single show that airs on Starz. I don’t even think we get it in Canada. I don’t even have a TV, and not in the smug way other people don’t. I don’t have a TV because I’m too poor to buy one.


“I wanted a settled life and a shocking one. […] I wanted to be loved by someone like my tough judicious mother and I wanted to run screaming through the headlights with a bottle in my hand.”

A Home at the End of the World, Michael Cunningham, pp. 142.

One of my favourite passages from one of my favourite books. I’ve been feeling this extra much lately.

Apparently Michael Cunningham has a new book coming out soon, but it sounds awful. I can’t wait for it.

Why isn’t there a service where you can grab clips from full episodes of streaming TV and embed them? 

For instance, just now, rather than finishing my assignment, I was going to post a clip from an episode of The West Wing that is salient to the memo I’m writing. There’s a bit in the live debate episode in season 7 where Arnold Vinick asks the audience who the largest source of foreign oil is — people shout out Saudi Arabia or whatever, and the answer turns out to be (gasp, eh?) Canada. The fact is still true, some eight-or-so years later, by the way. I’m writing a fake memo on Keystone XL, so it seemed like an appropriate thing to post.

But the clip isn’t on YouTube. So I’m now convinced that I should be able to embed parts of a full episode on my blog. Consider that The West Wing is available on Netflix, and that at least a not-insigificant portion of you subscribe to Netflix. So I should be able to say to Netflix, “give me a link that’ll embed from 22:20 to 24:37 of this episode on my blog” and I should be able to use that link where appropriate, and anyone who also subscribes to Netflix should be able to click on it and watch the clip I’ve selected.

But this only 2014. Only 2014.

(The great challenge of technology is that its stunning leaps have become so frequent that the commoner is now less concerned with the length of the previous stride than the timing of the next one. [cf. iPhones])

Why do the cool cafes close so early in the evening? I don’t understand this. Ottawa has some lovely little places to have a tea and a scone — do you take tea in sugar, mum? you’re probably asking me in a patronizing British voice — but they’re not open past 8 or 9. 

How are cafes open all day — we’re talking at 11am and 2pm and all the other minutes when most people work 9 to 5 — only to close when I get home? Is there seriously no market for a cafe open late that isn’t Starbucks? I refuse to believe that. 

Cafes should have bi-opening hours: 6am to 11am, then closed, then reopen from 4pm to midnight. 

I’ve been getting voracious cravings for various pastries this past week, including but not limited to:

cherry cheese coffee cake


pain aux raisins with a modest number of raisins 

How much would it cost to have a pastry chef on hand for, I dunno, let’s say 24 hours a day… 6 days a week? 

"He’s a rich, good-looking cavalry officer with nothing better to do than make love to pretty women."

I’ve come to the conclusion that I read too many 18th and 19th century novels about the French and Russian aristocracies in my teens.

I have this unreasonable expectation that an element of society should exist simply to go to the opera and have afternoon teas in gardens and send notes through the post that are delivered to the recipients on silver trays by obsequious men with names like Potts and Binns and have lovers stashed away in pieds-à-terre and read serial novels in trendy magazines and attend salons with avant-garde artists and hold high posts in the public service or on vague, officious councils.

I have this other unreasonable expectation that I should be an integral part of this enviably useless class of people. Modern life is comparatively banal, n’est-ce-pas? I began reading Balzac’s Cousin Bette this afternoon, and I’m consumed — once again — by the French centuries of the past.

Someone bring me a time machine, please. And a brioche. Now where did Binns run off to…

This probably isn’t an ABBA song most of you know. It’s from their very last album of the same name as the track itself. In fact, The Visitors was the very first album released commercially on CD. It’s a bizarre sort of track that betrays a group on the precipice of collapse, trying to embrace a new decade’s new sounds, with mixed success. I have a soft spot in my heart for this track, but it’s easy to see why most people didn’t/don’t. Quite frankly, it’s an odd song. 

But I wanted to write a little more broadly about ABBA. I grew up listening to ABBA, so my bias will shine through, but I don’t think ABBA get enough credit. Or rather, they’re not given any credit. For a band that is among the best selling of all time — we’re talking AC/DC, Queen, Whitney Houston territory — there is a curious lack of respect for ABBA among the general public. You look at other artists in this rarefied air — Michael Jackson, The Beatles, AC/DC, Queen — and it’s easy to identify how these artists were special, what they brought to music that we hadn’t heard or seen or felt before. Not ABBA, though. Seriously, google reaction to their induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Whatever you might think of the appropriateness of the venue, the sheer vitriol the band inspires from a certain crowd is bizarre.

You might argue that it’s because there isn’t anything special about ABBA. It’s a vanilla group of Swedes who made some good ditties that everyone forgot about a decade later. But I think it’s something more serious than that: ABBA is a pop group for women. Or at least, that’s how it’s portrayed. ABBA gets no respect from the writers of Rolling Stone because all they hear are vacuous lyrics set to uninteresting rhythms. But if you listen to their lyrics, they’re no better, or worse, than those of Elvis or Michael Jackson. Rather, they sound worse because they’re not sung by husky, masculine, textured voices of character, or backed by bass and electric guitars.  This sounds like bubblegum music, and so it must be dismissed. I would take ABBA’s vocals over those of Led Zeppelin any day. Plus, a good melody is a good melody is a good melody, no matter if it’s courtesy of a symphony or a Stratocaster or the Swedes.

I submit that ABBA is — for better or for worse, though I’m firmly in the for better camp — one of the defining bands of the 20th century. A decade before the 80s, they set the stage for that decade’s pop revolution, full of synthesizer hooks and ethereal vocals. They were among the first groups to do what we would call music videos now — they just sort of stood and sang, but they anticipated video killing the radio star. And despite what you may think, they were genuinely interested in experimenting. Their sound changes dramatically from Ring, Ring in 1973 to The Visitors in 1981 — at times, it’s harder and rock-like, and other times it’s soft, ballad-y work. Taken as a whole, ABBA’s discography is eclectic but singular: it’s always ABBA, even when it’s not what you think ABBA should sound like. In that way, they presage people like Prince and Lady Gaga who maintain a personal style as they blend and bend genres of pop. 

You should respect ABBA more. That is all. (I kinda ran out of steam here at the end. I’m tired and it’s a Friday night…)

Gossip of the Provincial and Urbane Varieties

It’s been a very Lester Pearson-y sort of day. I feel like I blog too much about LBP, but this isn’t really about him, so you can de-glaze (unglaze?) your eyes now.

I spent the morning in Wakefield, a quaint little tourist town half an hour from Ottawa, nestled in the foothills of the Gatineau region. A bunch of us went yesterday for a concert, and then spent the morning brunching and browsing the little shops along the main road. Despite my occasionally pretentious urbanity, I must admit that I find small towns completely and disarmingly charming. I always imagine myself moving to one — having dropped everything in my old life — to start an ice cream store, and just living. I even got a taste of some Wakefield gossip. It had to do with quarrelling neighbours over a large dog. I was engrossed. Anyways, Lester Pearson is actually buried in the cemetery in Wakefield. I didn’t go to see him, but Wakefield seems an appropriately restful sort of place for our greatest Canadian.

Then this evening, I was catching up on reading for my Can-US relations class, and I was reading about the Suez Canal Crisis and how my boy LBP solved the whole thing (…at least temporarily…) and won that silly little Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. I realized how intrigued I am by the entire diplomatic climate of the mid-to-late 1950s. Smoke-filled rooms at the UN, where diplomats sip bourbons and engage in high-minded gossip; anti-communist sentiment sweeping through North America, as the Cold War mentality becomes a permanent reality; a severe crackdown on homosexuality, particularly in the diplomatic corps; New York City, a city on the precipice of the 60s; and so many tweed suits. TWEED EVERYWHERE. It seems that it should be the setting of a TV show or a movie or a mini-series or some such thing. I was then reminded of that subplot on Studio 60 in which a young, brilliant writer (think an Aaron Sorkin type, because that’s what Aaron Sorkin was getting at when he wrote said subplot) wants NBC to make a show about smart people discussing policy (think The West Wing, because that’s what Aaron Sokrin was getting at) at the UN. I think the show-within-a-show was called Nations. I would watch the shit out of a period piece set at the UN. Someone make that happen. Please.

I woke up to this morning — MARCH 22ND — to another snow storm. This winter hasn’t overstayed its welcome so much as it’s moved in, hasn’t payed any rent, and leaves piles of cocaine around for me step in when I’m trying to get ready for work. 

Ottawa continues to be the worst. What was Queen Victoria thinking?