Tuesday, May 31, 2011

concert in the park

Because of Congress 2011, Fredericton's annual outdoor entertainment series launched early this year.  Last night was the great duo of Isaac & Blewett.  The first time I ever saw them was in Officer's Square many years ago when I lived in an apartment across from the park so I always associate them with open air, summery concerts.

If you're in Fredericton there are nightly concerts until Friday.  My must-sees are folk-pop darlings The Olympic Symphonium on Wednesday and Joel LeBlanc (of Hot Toddy) and friends on Friday.  The regular concert season gets underway next week and then you pretty much can enjoy free music and entertainment in the heart of the city every day until Labour Day.

Is it any wonder why Officers' Square was recently named one of the Top 10 Public Spaces in the country?

Monday, May 30, 2011

herbal magic

As soon as I saw the basil bonsai on the Sweet Valley Herbs site, I knew I had to head to the market on Saturday to pick one up.  Thyme-size basil leaves grow in a perfect globe on a hardy stalk - no pruning required.  Don't let the pint-sized leaves fool you; they pack full size fragrance and flavour.

Sweet Valley Herbs are no strangers to Boyce market regulars.  For several years Aaron and Anna Randall, their three daughters and Aaron's dad Bud have been getting up bright and early to offer up delicious fresh herbs for market-goers.  You might not know they also supply garden centres around the Maritimes.

A major greenhouse expansion last year meant they could diversify into new products, of which the basil bonsai is only one.  You can check out the all their great products on their new web-site as well as tips on growing herbs and recipes from Chef Aaron (he actually started growing herbs in order to have fresh product for his restaurant kitchens 15 years ago).  Ooooh.... basil scones? Bonsai!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

backgrounds: jared peters at ingrid mueller art + concepts

If you haven't had the chance to get to the new home of Ingrid Mueller Art + Concepts on Regent Street, now is the perfect time to go.  Last night she opened a new exhibit by Saint John artist Jared Peters.  Backgrounds is an exploration of meaning, memory and identity.   The images are both dreamlike and familiar and rendered in a luminous palette; a wonderfully cohesive collection from an emerging artist.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

laura nyro

I've been on the hunt lately for great music on cassette (a necessity when your car is your grandparents 12-year-old Buick).  So to score Laura Nyro's 1968 album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession for a toonie was pretty satisfying.

Released when she was just 21, Nyro's second album met with critical acclaim for her sophistication, her vocals and her innovative melding of jazz, soul, girl group harmonies and solid Brill Building-style song-writing. Her commercial success actually came from other people covering her songs (but in my opinion, her renditions are superior in virtually every instance.)

She's the sophisticated, offbeat and criminally lesser-known counterpart to Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Ricki Lee Jones and if you liked Diane Birch's 2009 album Bible Belt, you need to check her out.

happy birthday miles davis

1959... Miles Davis and John Coltrane in the studio performing "So What" - Does it get any cooler than this? It does not.   (I love at the 3 minute mark when Coltrane starts his solo and Miles heads of to the side for a smoke break. 'Cuz it's Coltrane, he's gonna be awhile.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

mendelssohn, tchaikovsky and the miramichi

I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace.      
Felix Mendelssohn to Ferdinand David, July 30, 1838

After being appointed principal conductor to the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in 1835, Mendelssohn had appointed his childhood friend violinist Ferdinand David as the orchestra’s concertmaster.   It would be 1844 before Mendelssohn would fulfill his promise to David and deliver the Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op 64.   But if I had to choose an opening theme to run through my head for six years, this would be a strong contender.  While working on the concerto Mendelssohn was in constant contact and discussion with David. The resulting concerto benefits great from having been composed with the input of a professional violinist.  

From the almost immediate entrance of the violin – an unusual feature in a concerto - this is a take-no-prisoners kind of concerto.  And with Symphony New Brunswick, Moncton-born violinist Jasper Wood tore into the challenge.   His physicality makes him a delight to watch – at times playful, at time fierce and at times with the wide stance and springy knees that draw to mind East Coast fiddlers.  But this is no kitchen party.  Wood is a virutouso.  One of the great testaments to his skill came six minutes into the first movement when the orchestra fell completely silent.  For the next minute and a half, it was just one man and one violin.  I’ve never heard a crowd so breathless in the Playhouse.   The audience could barely contain their enthusiastic applause in the final seconds of the Concerto and delivered Woods a well-deserved standing ovation.

I have come to the conclusion that it is a failure.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky following the second performance of his fifth symphony
In the spring of 1888, 11 years since his last symphony, Tchaikovsky set out to write his fifth symphony.  He struggled from the beginning despairing at one point that he was completely finished as a composer.   But once he broke through this creative block Tchaikovsky composed rapidly completing the symphony by August 1888.   The initial reception of the symphony was mixed and after the second performance the composer himself declared the work a failure.  He was particularly troubled by the ending in which after a taut 40 minute struggle optimism wins out over the sorrowful resignation to Fate.  He worried that it was “insincere.”  But the symphony is abundant in such sincere moments of beauty and texture, especially the splendid second movement, that you want to forgive him for possibly taking the easy way out.  

And indeed by 1889 audiences, critics and Tchaikovsky himself had come around and it has remained a hugely popular orchestral work.   The triumphant finale led to it becoming particularly popular during the Second World War.  It was wonderful on Tuesday night to sit in what is, relatively speaking,  a smallish concert hall as a larger-than-usual Symphony New Brunswick enveloped you in the sound of this monumental work.


One of the great surprises of the evening actually came early on.  In their programming Symphony New Brunswick includes works by New Brunswick composers. They opened last night's concert with Miramichi Ballad, a 12-minute suite from composer Kelsey Jones.  In 1950 Jones was the founding conductor of the Saint John Symphony Orchestra, a forbear to today’s Symphony New Brunswick.
From the opening horns, this suite hit grabbed me physically in the same way as Copeland’s Appalachian Spring; that is to say somewhere around the heart and reaching up to the lump in my throat.  Like Appalachian Spring this is music for a ‘New World’; a land defined by geographic vastness, by rushing rivers and forests primeval and by the people who build their lives there.  Based on folk songs of the Miramichi, it’s a beautiful work that deserves to be better known by New Brunswickers.   I am now on a hunt for a recording. 

The 2010-2011 Symphony season wraps up tonight at the Imperial Theatre in Saint John.  Looking  forward to what the orchestra offers us in 11-12!

Monday, May 23, 2011

victoria & dash

Victoria, Self-Portrait, 1835

The problem with reigning for 63 years, I would imagine, is that people only really remember you as the rotund, dour-looking monarch who spent the better part of her life dressed in mourning.  It's easy to forget that the world's longest-reigning female monarch came to the throne in 1837 as a girl of 18.

Her mother had raised her under a system of rules and protocols designed to keep her weak and dependent.  Victoria's one loyal companion was Dash, a tri-coloured King Charles Spaniel.  Ironically her dearest companion had originally been given to her mother by Sir John Conroy; the two people who had conspired to keep the young Princess in isolation.  But 13-year-old Victoria soon made Dash hers and he rewarded her with fidelity.  On one occasion she went sailing on a yacht and the spaniel reportedly jumped in the water and swam after her.  On her first meeting with Albert she was taken with the prince and made note that he 'played with and fussed over Dash.' According to her own diaries, following her coronation on June 28, 1838, the young Queen rushed home to Buckingham Palace and ran up to her rooms to give Dash his usual bath.

Dash (1836) Sir Edwin Landseer- commissioned by the Duchess of Kent for the seventeenth birthday of her daughter Victoria
When Dash died in 1840, the Queen had him buried at Adelaide cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle.  The marble effigy includes the following inscription:

Here lies
The favourite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victoria
In his 10th year
His attachment was without selfishness
His playfulness without malice
His fidelity without deceit
If you would be beloved and die regretted
Profit by the example of

If you're looking for some entertainment appropriate to the holiday, I recommend the The Young Victoria.  There are a few historical liberties taken but it's a beautiful film and Emily Blunt is winning as the young queen.  But you will want to keep the tissues handy!

Friday, May 20, 2011


It was May when I moved into this house four years ago.  A bunch of forget-me-nots from the backyard in an old perfume bottle on the powder room sink always reminds me of those first days in my little house.

three little birds

waiting for mom or dad to bring back breakfast while mom or dad looks on

Rise up this mornin',
Smiled with the risin' sun,
Three little birds
Pitch by my doorstep
Singin' sweet songs
Of melodies pure and true,
Sayin', ("This is my message to you-ou-ou:")

Singin': "Don't worry 'bout a thing,

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right." 
~Bob Marley~

It's surely a measure of how busy and distracted I've been that I didn't notice until two days ago that a little family of robins had taken up residence in the corner above my porch swing,  (and even then it was actually my friend Bridget who brought it to my attention.)  Bird behaviour is fascinating to me.  I love the way that during the day as the three little babies hang out in the nest - and nearly over the nest they're getting so big - one of the adults sits nearby in the very old hydrangea shrub that hugs the porch corner and the other sits higher up in the power line.The adults are amazingly vigilant constantly looking about and letting out chirps of warning when necessary.  (I should note that I was several feet back when I took these pictures and then cropped in closely.  Want to be very respectful of their little home.)

I could watch them from the living room window all day.  And how amazing are nests?  What smart feats of engineering.  I'll be so sad when it's empty!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

here comes the sun again.

Finally! After nearly two weeks of cold damp drizzle and rain the sun is out! Enjoying a beautiful spring afternoon in the back yard.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


photo: Sybil MacDonald, Facebook
That boat should not be on those rocks.  That's the first thing your should know.

The next thing you should know is that everyone is safe and life has returned to next to normal.   

This morning around 9, as happens every morning at 9 every day but Christmas and New Year’s, the ferry from my hometown of Grand Manan island prepared to dock at the mainland port of Blacks Harbour.     

Normally those final minutes of the 90-minute crossing are the same every trip:  pack up your books or magazine or deck of cards, finish the last of your tea, stash your cafeteria tray, say your goodbyes to friends and make a final pit stop at the washroom before heading down to your car to continue your day.   As the ferry turns and prepares to back into the dock, there’s always some tilting and churning and grinding. If you’re an islander you don’t normally pay much attention to it.  For my mother it was when she realized she was walking uphill to the restroom sink, that she knew something was not right. 

On this morning, mere metres from the final destination, the ferry ran aground.  Nothing has been officially determined but it looks like a mechanical problem.  In any case, a full load of passengers and crew found themselves stranded within sight of the dock but still too far to make an obvious exit that wouldn’t involve boats.  They were listing badly, it wasn't known if they were taking on water (they mercifully weren't) and there was no indication of the condition of the Island’s one link to the mainland.  

The “first boat” that leaves the island at 7:30 a.m. is what you take when you’re “going away for the day.”  On any given day you have a number of elderly people heading for medical appointments.  You’ll often see mothers with babies and young children headed to Saint John for a day of shopping or visits with family.  And there are those, like my dad who was making his second trip to the mainland in as many days, for whom this is a business commute.   The first boat is usually filled with passengers and with a sense of anticipation for the busy day ahead.   Today those days took a detour.

From accounts and photos people were very calm and orderly.  Passengers uploaded iPhone pictures of people standing calmly on the top deck in the morning fog.  The only sign of anything unusual was that everyone was wearing orange life jackets.  There seemed to be some debate as the minutes ticked on as to whether passengers would be evacuated from the ferry by lifeboat or whether they would wait for the Bay of Fundy’s famous tides to rise and loosen the boat from its position.  The decision was made to begin evacuating by lifeboat.

Life boats are by their very nature designed as a last resort.  They are designed for necessity not comfort.  My mother said watching the shuddering, jerky descent of the first load of thirty passengers to the water below made her think that staying put and waiting out the rising tides seemed like the preferable option.  The lifeboats are also not capable of powering themselves and so were towed to the ramp by a zodiac.  The tide being as low as it was, the climb up the ramp from the lifeboat was steep for passengers with canes and wheelchairs and young children.  

After the first lifeboat trip, a salmon boat from Cook’s Aquaculture arrived and passengers were ushered to the vehicle deck where they boarded the waiting boat.  Still no pleasure cruise but far preferable to facing the lifeboat at least in my mother’s mind.  (Their response this morning along with their response to December’s devastating floods have pretty much cemented Cook’s reputation as Charlotte County’s good Samaritan company.)

Not long after my parents came ashore the ferry was able to dock and cars began to unload and islanders, pragmatic as always, began to resume their regularly scheduled day.  The time from my father’s first email that they had gone aground (only my father would title such an email "Shipwreck") to his email as they drove out of Blacks was barely over an hour.   But it felt so much longer.    And the extent of the damage is still not known nor when ferry service to the island might resume.

As unenviable as the situation was the passengers were never in any real physical danger.  But the psychological impact for all islanders even those who live away is real.   Grand Manan is lies in the middle of the Bay of Fundy, 32 kilometres away from the rest of New Brunswick.   The island is geographically large enough and the population such that most days there is little sense of isolation.  Yes, going anywhere else takes a bit more planning for islanders than for others but that’s how things are on an island. Mostly life on an island just fills you with a sense of community, resilience and self-reliance.

Most days you don’t think that one boat, one ocean-going vehicle – and not even a terribly large one as ships go -  is the only tie that binds you physically to the rest of the world.  And sometimes that tie doesn’t hold.   

We come from an island. We count on that boat.  That boat should not be on those rocks.  It’s a lot to absorb.

UPDATE: it's now being reported by some sources that the ship wasn't grounded but was wedged under the ramp.  Sure it will be some time before we know all the details.  In any case, the boat was not where it was supposed to be.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

the new girl

I have, and I am not ashamed to say it, a huge girl crush on Zooey Deschanel.  She's a smart and quirky actress who, among other things, starred in the unbelievably adorable (500) Days of Summer, is one half of the retro-sweet folk duo She & Him, she's charming and funny on twitter and tumblr, she's married to the lead singer of Death Cab for Cutie and she's named for a Salinger character.  Even her ad for cotton is a dream, for heaven's sake.

So the news that Fox has picked up her show The New Girl for the fall season makes me very, very happy.  I'm not even sure how I feel about the show itself based on this trailer but I feel my life will be better with weekly hits of Zooey.

(also this trailer seems to have the seem rehabilitating effect for Time of My Life as 500 Days did for Hall and Oates)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

's wonderful: happy birthday fred astaire

I am uncertain about the man, but I feel, in spite of his enormous ears and bad chin line, that his charm is so tremendous that it comes through even on this wretched test.
David O. Selznick on signing Fred Astaire to RKO in 1932

As much as I love watching Fred Astaire dance - and how could you not?  Listening to him sing is one of my great joys.  No perfect smooth crooning here, he was actually very humble about his self-perceived lack of singing talent.  But the great composers of the American songbook felt differently.  Irving Berlin ranked him with Sinatra and Crosby not necessarily for his voice but for his unique interpretation of the songs.  Jerome Kern considered Astaire the supreme interpreter of his songs - and once you've heard Astaire's version of "The Way You Look Tonight" it's hard to disagree.  His singing introduced a conversational phrasing and spontaneity that made every lyric seem like a fresh thought.  And it could probably be argued that his style was a greater influence on subsequent generations of pop music than his crooning companions.  In any case, he was just an awfully swell fellow...