Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Kindness of Strangers

When I returned home from work yesterday, I found a large box had been delivered to my door, and this was inside.....

It is two feet high, and covered in a variety of fabrics, felt flowers and ornaments

This little tree was made by Carmen Bury, the lovely woman I met at the Manhattan Vintage Show in New York in October.  Ms. Bury also made the spectacular coat I was thrilled to wear for a few minutes at the show.  Apparently Ms. Bury received some commissions after the Vintage Show, and she wanted to thank me for my part in showing off the coat to a larger audience.  I was touched by her generous gesture, and delighted to be the recipient of a piece of her art.   I am always surprised by the warmth and openness of many of the people I have met on my visits to New York City.  People who say they find New Yorkers unfriendly are obviously not meeting the same people I do. 

This gift got me thinking about what "The Christmas Spirit" means.   I'm glad many people see Christmas as a time to share their good fortune with others in need, but I wish the giving spirit could be spread out over the entire year.   Even if you are not able to give time or money, never underestimate the effect that a kind word or gesture (like a handmade gift) can have on someone's day.  Perhaps they have reached the end of their proverbial rope, and your kindness adds another knot for them to hang onto. 

I wish all my readers a peaceful and happy holiday season.  May you be lucky enough to share good food and good conversation with people whose company brings us joy, and not stress.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fun With The Fishes!

So remember when I said at the end of my previous post about my birthday trip to Toronto that we went to someplace magical? You'd better grab a beverage and take a seat, because this is a long one...

 We went to play (and not sleep) with the fishes!

Ripley's Aquarium of Canada opened in Toronto in late 2013 and is one of three aquariums owned and operated by Ripley Entertainment (the other two are located in Tennessee and South Carolina).  Everyone I knew who had been there had wonderful things to say about it, so Heather and I decided our birthday trip was the perfect opportunity to see what the fuss was about.  The Aquarium is not a marine park like Sea World or Marineland and has no "performing" mammals.  I have never been, or would ever go, to one of those places, and if you have seen the documentary Blackfish, you'll understand why. 

It was ideal that we were going to be there on a weekday, as I would definitely NOT recommend going on a weekend or anytime when kids are out of school.   The mission of the Aquarium is to promote education, conservation and research, and to that end, is very kid-friendly with hands-on exhibits, programs, day camps, an Ocean Explorers Club, and even sleepovers (you really can "sleep with the fishes)

The aquarium has nine different galleries featuring various saltwater and freshwater environments from around the world.  The first thing you see at the entrance to the "Canadian Waters" Gallery is a giant cylindrical tank full of small fish.  There were hundreds of them, and without warning, they would change direction as one unit.  It was fascinating and rather hypnotizing.

The aquarium is not very large, and can be covered in about two hours, depending on how long you linger in different exhibits.  Except for the open area in the middle, it is also very dark, and because of the lighting in the tanks, very blue which gives it a rather other-worldly atmosphere.

The Canadian Waters exhibit had the largest lobster I've ever seen (top right).  That's his claw resting next to a regular size lobster.  There were also some rather unpleasant looking creatures like the wolf eel  (bottom right) and some large flounder-like fish (bottom left). 

A giant two-storey tank recreated a Pacific Kelp "Forest", which included a wave machine that simulated the surging current of the British Columbia shoreline.  I stood in front of the tank for a while watching the up and down motion of the fish.  If you were extremely stressed or anxious, I would think that time spent in front of this exhibit being very therapeutic.

I shot a brief video on my phone to capture the motion of the current

The tropical "Rainbow Reef" was home to over 100 species of fish, in all shapes, sizes and colours

Illuminated screens provided details about the various types of sea creatures in each exhibit, but as the screens were constantly changing, and were not right next to the exhibit, it was difficult to figure out what the specific fish was you were looking at.

The Dangerous Lagoon was the largest, and my favourite, exhibit.   It contains nearly 2.5 million litres of water in which two kinds of sharks, roughtail stingrays, green sawfish, sea turtles, and other smaller fish swim.  A moving sidewalk carries the viewer through the tunnel, or you can chose to walk on the stationary part of the floor.

This giant green sawfish seemed to be relaxing across the top of the tunnel and remained unmoving the whole time we were in there.  It was very strange having this primitive looking creature suspended overhead, so close you felt like you could reach up and touch its belly.

With the light shining through from the top of the tank into the dark tunnel, and sharks swimming lazily all around you, the atmosphere was oddly dream-like.

....until one of them swam directly over my head, causing me to jump - more nightmare than dream!

I was soooo excited to see Majestic Sea Flap Flaps (aka stingrays) up close, with their minimalist "faces".

magical underwater kingdom

After the tunnel, I assumed the rest of the aquarium would pale in comparison, but I was wrong...

A giant "Goliath Grouper" that must have been at least 5 feet long

a venomous Lionfish

and two of the most bizarre and delicate-looking sea creatures: a Weedy Seadragon

.....and the Leafy Seadragon.  These must have been created during one of Mother Nature's abstract experimental periods.

rainbow-coloured coral

Ray Bay, featuring four different kinds of Stingrays, was incredibly cool.  As corny as it may sound, I was filled with awe watching these graceful, primitive-looking creatures glide around their tank.

In the Discovery Centre, both of us took the opportunity to mingle with some Clownfish (Nemo!) and touch a Horseshoe Crab (my photo in the "bubble" is at the beginning of this post).

And then we entered the most colourful exhibit of all....

Planet Jellies!

 An entire wall, approximately 10 feet high, complete with mirrored ceiling, was full of Pacific Sea Nettles, propelling themselves through water that was backlit to appear a brilliant blue.  Lighting effects also cause the nettles to constantly changed colour, and you really did feel like you were on another planet.  I could imagine sleeping there, surrounded by a quiet kaleidoscope of colour.

Top: translucent Moon Jellies  Bottom photos - tiny jellies no more than a few inches in diameter

One of the last galleries was the Life Support Systems, where you could see the inner workings of the aquarium, and the tanks, filters, etc. necessary to control the various aquatic environments.

And last, but by no means least.....

The Shoreline Gallery is located at the top of Ray Bay, and if you put your hand in the water, Stingrays will swim up from the bottom of their tank, close enough to allow you to stroke their smooth, slippery skin.  Heather and I both were able to touch a few of them, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had.

My review?  Two thumbs up and definitely worth a repeat visit!  The Aquarium provides an entertaining and educational visual feast, for adults and children, and although the admission fee is rather high, we felt we got our money's worth.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Keepin' It Weird

Just a brief post to show off one of the things I purchased in Toronto.

I found this jacket at Public Butter in Toronto.  It's leather, but a very inexpensive, suede-ish leather.  It's not vintage, as the brand is sold on the shopping channel (the things you can learn from internet!), but I still liked it.  I don't own anything else in leopard print aside from a pair of leggings, and the turned-up cuffs added a bit of "cool" factor to an otherwise straightforward single-breasted jacket.  And it was $10.

I've been taking posing lessons from Melanie - can you tell?  I will never reach her level of expertise at the laughing action shot, but at least I am mixing it up a bit.


And in other news.....

Speaking of Melanie, she and I, along with a few of our blogging friends were featured in Still Weird Zine last month.   Still Weird Zine was launched in October 2015 by Greg Clow and Sheryl Kirby "to celebrate the great creativity, style, humour, and perseverance of middle-aged freaks" and when I read the section below on their website, it reassured me that they were my kind of folks:

A Note About Inclusivity
If you’re reading this, at some point in your life, someone has probably yelled something derogatory at you from a car window, so you likely understand what it feels like to be insulted or disrespected for your appearance or culture. Still Weird Zine is a place for those of us who want to celebrate our weirdness and differences from mainstream society and, as such, we have a zero tolerance policy towards racism, sexism, homophobia, body shaming and any other type of trolling that is hurtful or insulting to a particular person or group, including other music, style or culture-based genres.

I received an email from Sheryl Kirby to let me know  I was one of their "10 Fabulous Fashion Bloggers Who Are Keeping It Weird".  Also included in the list were Melanie, Vix, The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas and Judith so I was in splendid company.  I've been called "weird" many times over the course of my life, and I've become good friends with my inner freak, so many thanks to Sheryl and Greg at Still Weird Zine for recognizing a fellow weirdo. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Birthday Shenanigans in the Big Smoke

You know those surveys that companies send you by email, asking you to "take a few minutes and share your feedback with us"?   This past summer I completed one such survey after attending an event at the Luminato Festival in Toronto, and after reading the obligatory message at the end which stated that everyone who completes the survey will have their name entered into a draw for the chance to win a prize, I thought, "yeah, we know what the odds of that are...."

Turns out they were better than I expected, as I received notification that I had won a prize!!

 Photo of the Gladstone Hotel by Toronto Photographer Kevin Steele
I won a free night's stay, and breakfast for two, at The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto.  The Gladstone,   located at the junction of Queen Street West and Parkdale, and at 126 years old, is the oldest continually-operating hotel in Toronto.   In its current incarnation, the hotel has two floors of artist-designed guest rooms and three dedicated gallery spaces,  I was very excited to have the opportunity to stay there.   My bestie and I had not had a chance to celebrate our birthdays (hers was in October and mine was last week) so a mini-vacation in Toronto seemed like the perfect birthday treat.

The hotel lobby is chock full of art, like the sculptural tangle of chairs Heather is sitting on (right).  I wanted a photo of me on the stairs - I loved all the old woodwork in the building.

I neglected to ask who created these hanging gloves over the front desk - another example of how the hotel incorporates art into every space.

There is only one elevator, built in 1907, and guests are not permitted to operate it themselves.   Fortunately, the hotel is only 4 floors, so unless you have lots of luggage, it's an easy walk. There are photos of Hank Young, "The Gladstone Cowboy" on the landing of every floor, and I thought I had taken a picture of one of them, but apparently not. 

Our room was the corner suite overlooking Queen Street West, and if it weren't for the lack of closet space, I could have happily lived there.   The elegant decor was by Toronto designer Kate Zeidler.

Outside our room was one of the hotel's public art galleries, complete with fainting couch!

The weather was perfect for a stroll so, after unpacking, we decided to explore the neighbourhood.    The Gladstone sits at the junction of Queen Street West and Parkdale, a diverse neighbourhood that includes West African, Tibetan and East Indian restaurants, cool vintage stores, and necessities that make the area feel very livable (like a movie rental store).  Parkdale is also home to Glory Hole Doughnuts, which has been on my list of places to visit since it opened in 2012.  Their hand-made  doughnuts have such exotic toppings/and or fillings as coconut cream pie filling, sweet potato cream, cinnamon, lemon basil glaze, sweet bread crumbs, or peanut butter cream cheese frosting.  The selection varies depending on the time of day and by the time we got there, there was a limited choice.  I had the apple, jalapeno and bacon fritter (very light and tasty), and Heather had a sweet potato cream and a lemon ricotta donut hole - both of which she thoroughly enjoyed.  The doughnuts are expensive (around $3 each) which is why they are a treat, and not a staple.  I'm not even a fan of doughnuts, but I would go back and get another.

We also stopped in at Public Butter, another Parkdale treasure, which carries a large selection of vintage clothing, furniture and accessories alongside their own screen-printed t-shirts.  There was a 50% off sale going on (which happens frequently) and I scooped up two jackets and a vest for $10 apiece.  Score!

After a delicious dinner at Odd Seoul, a Korean fusion restaurant on Ossington Street, we went back to the Gladstone and entertained the idea of checking out an Art Party hosted by the hotel, and ended up watching a Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracey marathon on TCM instead.  Apparently we are not the party girls we thought we were.

The next day we headed to Bloor Street West and passed by Holt Renfrew.  I've never been particularly impressed by the clothing in their Christmas windows, but the props are usually cool, like the giant scissors and bow in the photo on the left.  The poor mannequin on the right appears to have been left holding his nuts.

I had been told by a friend about an installation by Canadian Artist Kent Monkman at the Gardiner Museum and added it to my list of things to see on this trip.  Monkman is a first nations artist of Cree and Irish ancestry whose mediums include film, painting, installation and performance.  He uses humour and camp to focus the viewer's attention on the shameful treatment of the Canadian Indian at the hands of colonial settlers.

The installation consists of a nine-foot cliff carved from styrofoam, topped with two taxidermied bison, and the figure of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, Monkman's two-spirited alter-ego.   The Great Plains Indians used to hunt buffalo by herding them and driving them off a cliff (known as a "buffalo jump") while hunters waited below to finish them off.   At the base of the styrofoam ridge is a pile of broken pottery, representing the pile of buffalo bones often found at the base of a buffalo jump.  Two-dimensional abstract figures of buffalo appear to be walking away from the cliff.

A buffalo made of pieced-together hides is suspended by wires, appearing to be mid-leap from the cliff.  The white settlers drove the bison to near extinction in the 1800's, killing them for their pelts, and leaving the meat to rot.  They later collected their bones and used them for fertilizer and for making bone china.

Clockwise from left:  Miss Chief Eagle Testickle;  one of the Picasso-like two-dimensional renditions of a buffalo - the figures become more abstract in shape the further away from the cliff they get. Bottom right: a pile of broken pottery topped by a handpainted clay cattle skull (looking very much like Picasso's famous "Bicycle Seat").    The connection between the bison and bone china is the reason why Monkman chose the Gardiner, which is Canada's national ceramics museum, as the location for his installation.

I had never seen the Gardiner Museum's collection of ceramics, so took some time to check out some Japanese and European Porcelain.

In art, as in life, I am drawn to four-legged critters.  Clockwise from top left:   A pair of German Meissen pugs from the early 1940's; English porcelain rabbit tureen from 1755 - 1756;  German Meissen Monkey Orchestra from the mid-1700's; Japanese porcelain puppy c. 1680.

I don't get very excited about dishes, but I did think this German-made tea and chocolate service from the early 1740's was very impressive.

The porcelain figures in the cabinet on the left were approximately 3 - 4" high, and remarkably detailed.

and then we went somewhere magical, where we saw fascinating, mystical creatures....which you can read about in my next blog post