Saturday, December 31, 2016

Wishing for a happy and peaceful 2017

Of course, it will take a lot more than wishing to bring about the kind of year that the world deserves.

Many people think of the Monday after Labour Day as the real New Year. I can understand why but January 1 feels like a new beginning to me. All the brand new calendars, the beautiful Christmas tree out to the curb, the settling-in after holidays to challenge the winter.

2017 is going to be a major challenge. A lot of people around the world and here at home are going to need help and support. I hope we will all do what we can to reach out to our community and beyond.

New Year's Eve is a much-anticipated celebration and, sad to say, is often a letdown for that very reason. Here's a story I've shared before in which New Year's Eve lived up to all expectations. It's the story of New Year's Eve in Madrid.

Friday, December 23, 2016

From Macy's to medieval music; from Scrooge to the Bolshoi

Back in the balmy days of August when we made our entertainment choices for the months ahead, Christmas looked something like this:

As I always think it's nice to incorporate some theatre and music into the Christmas rush, we went ahead and scheduled our outings and bought our tickets not really remembering that the reality of Christmas is often this:

We managed pretty well though and only had one day where the weather was unpleasant and — being in Halifax — it was more rain than snow. Rain and wind.

Ever since William was a little guy, we've tried to go to the Neptune Theatre Christmas production each year. In August, when we were getting the tickets, we had no idea where William might be during the holidays so we bought two tickets. But William is home from university and was happy to join us for the family tradition so Dan searched out a third ticket. Neptune had only two tickets left, both in the balcony, on opposite sides from each other. I said I'd be happy to go to the balcony (not!) so the ticket was bought.

They didn't make me go to the balcony though. Dan went up and William and I sat in the aisle seats of Row E. You get good seats when you buy your tickets in August.

Neptune's Production was Miracle on 34th Street. (Photo borrowed from Local Xpress.)

It was really good and we all enjoyed it. It runs until well after Christmas so you might enjoy it too.

That was indeed a busy day for us as we had two major events. We had a delightful early dinner at Brenton Persian Grill. I had Fesenjan:

A traditional Persian stew made with pomegranate molasses, walnuts & sauteed onions served with (or without) sliced chicken breast and saffron basmati rice. We recommend you have it with our Shirazi salad.

I took their advice and had it with the Shirazi salad which was finely chopped cucumber, tomato and red onion in lemon juice and mint and was delicious. I took home some leftover Fesenjan which Dan ate the next day and said my dish was probably the best of all three that we'd ordered.

Then we were off to the Cathedral Church of All Saints for A King's Christmas 2016, music from the University of King's College Chapel Choir.

The music was magnificent, the narrator was dramatic and accomplished, the stories and poems were eclectic. Some of the music was sung in Latin, in French, in olde English and in Gaelic. A lot of it was quite profound.

A very different evening was spent with the actor Rhys Bevan-John who did a one-man show of A Christmas Carol. It was nothing at all like I expected but it was great fun and it retained the message of the original story and the redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. We're big supporters of Eastern Front Theatre whose production this was and we were pleased when the artistic producer, Jeremy Webb, told us that he had solicited support from the business community to provide a theatre experience for families who can't usually afford tickets. That will be a Christmas Eve event.

I'm very glad we were able to take in these live productions but in the end, it may turn out that the highlight of our season was on a movie screen — the filmed live performance of The Nutcracker by the Bolshoi Ballet.

What is it that makes something the "best in the world"? The Bolshoi has often been called that and from the very first movement of the dancers, you would get no argument from me.

The two principals dancing the roles of Marie and the Prince were Anna Nikulina and Denis Rodkin.



Anna was born in Moscow. In 2002, she completed her training at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography (teacher Elena Vatulya) with distinction and joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company. She rehearsed under the late Yekaterina Maximova. In 2004, at the age of 19, she danced Odette-Odile for the first time. Today her teacher-repetiteur is Nina Semizorova.

Denis was also born in Moscow. In 2009, after graduation from Moscow State Academic Dance Theatre Gzhel he joined the Bolshoi Ballet Company where he started to rehearse with Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Now his master-repetiteur is Yuri Vladimirov. In 2013, graduated from Bolshoi Ballet Academy (The Faculty of Education).

When Anna and Denis danced — alone, with other members of the company, or in their breath-taking pas de deux, it was easy to imagine that their feet were not touching the floor. I can't begin to describe the transcendence I felt while watching them.

Our host at the ballet did a short interview with Denis Rodkin at intermission. She introduced him to us as the "most beautiful man in the Bolshoi company." He's a beauty all right. He played the Prince a little shyly, a little distant, but also warm and loving. He was very appealing.

There you have it, some of our Christmas entertainment. There may be more to come; I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Blue lights, bubble lights, revolving trees — it's Christmas!

A few days ago, I told Dan I had come up with a new slogan that I hoped would catch on: "Christmas. It's all about change!"

I was reacting — immaturely, I suppose — to some annoyingly sweet reference to Christmas being all about love and family and tradition and doing it in such an over-sentimentalized, tear-jerking, exploitative way that it just rubbed me the wrong way. It was trying to take you back to where it thinks your childhood Christmas is lurking.

But I guess they're right. Christmas isn't about change. It's about doing things over and over and over, every year, in exactly the same way. Isn't it? Isn't it?

You can see that I made myself think.

In fact, every year, I look at the Canadian Tire catalogue and all the flyers and brochures from the hardware stores and the department stores and I see page after page of "new" Christmas stuff — new-style trees and wreaths and lights and ornaments — and I always wonder who's buying it? There's way too much simply to supply a young generation of people just starting out and buying their Christmas stuff. But doesn't everyone else already have all their stuff? And don't they use it making the same Christmas year after year?

It so happens that we went the other night to David Myles' Christmas show with Symphony Nova Scotia. David does put on a good show. He has so much personality and he’s funny — not to mention a good singer/musician. He sang a lot of the old familiars and some of his own Christmas compositions which turned out to be nice also.

One of the songs he sang was one I didn't know: Buck Owens' Blue Christmas Lights.

(Excuse me, Miss, but do you have any...)

Blue Christmas lights for my Christmas tree?

I want some blue Christmas lights just as blue as me

The one I love has set me free, but I still got her memory

Give me blue Christmas lights for my Christmas tree. . .

It wasn't a great song, not particularly memorable, but there must have been something evocative about it because right there, in the middle of the concert, I began to think back to my childhood and the very first tree I ever saw that was covered completely with blue lights.

In the '50s, in Chatham, NB, I lived in the NB Power Commission houses — commonly called the "hydro houses" — right on the edge of town. I often remind people that the Welcome to Chatham sign was in our backyard.

There were six houses, three on each side of the small cul-de-sac, each one across from its own mirror image. On our side, our house was closest to the road. In the middle was the Calabrese family, and next to them, the Parks family.

The Parks two oldest girls were almost my age — Edith (Edie) a little bit older, Lynn a little bit younger — and we spent a lot of childhood time together. It was always a little bit of an adventure for me because their family was very different from mine. It was a big family, four kids then, five later, and much more raucous than mine. My family would probably be considered reserved.

When I look back now, I think the Parks parents, Anna and Howard, were very young — maybe barely out of their 20s. They were from up-river. Anna was from Whitneyville and Howard from (I'm pretty sure) Sunny Corner. Howard was robust and a great kidder. My mother probably wouldn't have approved of some of the things I heard when I was over there.

But they took great enjoyment out of life and Christmas was a time of year that they leaped into with gusto. They had spectacular decorations and it was there that I first saw a tree that was completely lit with blue lights. And now that I think about it, the blue-lit tree was only one of their Christmas trees that I remember. One year, Howard had the tree on a revolving platform that turned at the flick of an electric switch.

Of course, the tree had to be placed out into the room, away from the walls, and it had to be decorated all the way around, not just on the part that faced the room. I may be embellishing it in my own memory but I think there was music involved too. I think Christmas melodies played while the tree was revolving. It was quite a neighbourhood attraction.

Another year, the Parks' tree had these lights. Do you remember these?

I'm not sure they ever caught on in a big way. I've probably seen them a few times since that year at the Parks but I think I remember reading or hearing that they weren't very reliable and maybe were more trouble than they were worth.

Our family pretty much had these and we had them as long as I can remember.

Every year, they came out of the box and Dad would untangle them and plug them in and replace the ones that weren't lit. The only new bulbs that ever got bought at our house were the little packages of replacement bulbs.

But you can't run a consumer society on a family like ours, who used all the same Christmas stuff year after year. (I still have some of it — not the lights but the treasured old glass ornaments.) Today, Howard would have the time of his life at the Canadian Tire, changing it up every Christmas and delighting little neighbour kids with theme trees, coloured trees, and trees of all sizes for all occasions — tasteful, tacky and otherwise.

Howard would have a ball.