Not Just Another Concert at the Chan Centre

We wait­ed a long time for a bus to UBC on Broad­way, but for­tu­nate­ly, thanks to some run­ning in the rain and hav­ing got­ten tick­ets ahead of time, we made it in to the CBC Orchestra’s after­noon Con­cert at the Chan Cen­tre just before the doors closed. This was impor­tant, since the con­cert was being taped for broad­casts (it will be aired on April 18th on In Per­for­mance, June 11th on OnStage, and Septermber 10th on Jazz Beat) and miss­ing the first half would have been a major dis­ap­point­ment.

Pam and I were at the con­cert for a bunch of rea­sons. First of all, it was an inter­est­ing pro­gram: the Shostakovich Piano Con­cer­to No. 1 (this is actu­al­ly for Piano, Strings and Solo Trum­pet), a pre­mière of a new work, and the Sym­pho­ny No. 2 of Kurt Weill (of Three Pen­ny Opera fame). The con­cert was billed as ‘Swing Soft-Play Hard’, about the Jazz influence/orientation of the sec­ond work on the pro­gram, the pre­mière. The sec­ond rea­son was that I’d nev­er heard the CBC Orches­tra before, and I was curi­ous. They are, as it turns out, the only Radio Orches­tra in North Amer­i­ca. Third­ly, I knew the soloist per­son­al­ly. In fact, I knew the soloist when we were young — I’m think­ing when we were around 15 or 16 years old. We took a typ­ing class togeth­er at the Friend’s School in Bal­ti­more. I still remem­ber the three of us (my broth­er, my friend, and I) all typ­ing ‘All Glad Lads Fall’ as the typ­ing teacher called out the words. Hey, 2 books and prob­a­bly 1,000 times that much typed lat­er in total (includ­ing right this very moment!) and I’m glad I spent that sum­mer get­ting it right from the start.

Oh, one more thing: when I knew the afternoon’s soloist, their name was David Buech­n­er. Today, he’s a she. She’s Sara Davis Buech­n­er, and a world-class pianist and fac­ul­ty at UBC.

I’m hap­py to say that for me, the Shostakovich was absolute­ly bril­liant. If you had a check-off sheet for every­thing that makes a great per­for­mance, it was there: tone, pac­ing, wit, ensem­ble, dra­ma, sen­si­tiv­i­ty, you name it. I doubt if I’ve ever heard a bet­ter per­for­mance of any of Shostakovich’s music, and the CBC is one of the best orchestra’s I’ve ever heard. Add to that a fan­tas­tic con­duc­tor (who I’d nev­er heard of until today: Yan­nick Nézet-Séguin), who is the artis­tic direc­tor of the Mon­tréal Sym­pho­ny, and only 31 — watch out for this guy; he’s going to be a major league tal­ent, and I’ll bet he’ll be the direc­tor of an even big­ger orches­tra in a few years. Sara was ter­rif­ic, and I hope I get to hear her again. We met her after­ward back­stage, and although she didn’t rec­og­nize me at first, I point­ed out that we had both changed a lot in the inter­ven­ing years. We all agreed to get togeth­er when the term is over (espe­cial­ly Piano Juries, which are very time con­sum­ing as I remem­ber from my — and my par­ents’ — years in music schools).

I was a lit­tle anx­ious before meet­ing Sara. I’ve nev­er know­ing­ly met any­one who is a tran­sex­u­al (although in 1 or 2 cas­es, I’ve sus­pect­ed that this was the case). Also, I only knew her per­son­al­ly before the change. At any rate, the unusu­al-ness of being back­stage after a big con­cert prob­a­bly over­shad­owed the unusu­al-ness of meet­ing up with a for­mer child­hood friend after a sex-change oper­a­tion.

The rest of the con­cert includ­ed the first time I’d ever heard the Kurt Weill work live. It was a real treat, and had a lot of the charm, wit and gor­geous har­mon­ic shifts that you hear in works like ‘The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny’. As for the new work (the one with the Jazz influ­ence), well, all I can say is that I real­ly didn’t like it, and will leave it at that. I’m still hop­ing that I’ll hear a pre­mière of a new Cana­di­an work that will real­ly knock my socks off, but it hasn’t hap­pened yet.

An Absence at Work and Online Tryouts

It was a bet­ter week at work, large­ly because one of the peo­ple I work with had a back injury last week but was able to make it in this week for part of each day. In a large com­pa­ny like Fideli­ty Invest­ments, where I used to work, if some­one was out with a sick­ness or injury, you filled in with some­one else, and projects didn’t usu­al­ly suf­fer unless the indi­vid­ual was absolute­ly key and their absence was unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly ill-timed. Con­trast that with a com­pa­ny of about a dozen peo­ple, where any sin­gle employ­ee has key skills and knowl­edge, so take them out and things grind to a halt. Last week had real­ly been a lit­tle crazy, as I had to try and fill in with all sorts of tasks that I’m clear­ly not trained to do. I mud­dled through some­how, often learn­ing as I went.

Speak­ing of knowl­edge, I’m once again going to see if all this accu­mu­lat­ed triv­ia I’ve col­lect­ed in my gray mat­ter over the years can pay off or not. The Jeop­ardy Game show has announced that for the first time, they’ll hold online try­outs. While this means that thou­sands of geeks will be hunched over their com­put­ers fir­ing off answers (and they explic­it­ly say ‘Not in the form of a ques­tion this time’) to var­i­ous Potent Pota­bles, Rhyme Times and State Capi­tols, I’ll see if I can make it this time. I had tried out in per­son in Boston some 15 years ago and came very close…but not quite.

In the off chance that I do make it to being a con­tes­tant, at that point after the first sta­tion break where Alex Tre­beck tries to make some con­ver­sa­tion with me based on some bio­graph­i­cal tid­bit on the card, I’m hop­ing it would be about music, or per­haps mov­ing to Cana­da (I’m sure he’d like that, being a Cana­di­an him­self), and not the fact that as a stu­dent I had green hair and once protest­ed Mar­garet Thatch­er. Bet­ter not to share any of that, to be sure.

You Wanna Talk Money?

This in from the Unit­ed Press yes­ter­day:

WASHINGTON, March 16 — The Sen­ate vot­ed Thurs­day to increase the nation­al debt lim­it to almost $9 tril­lion, the fourth hike since Pres­i­dent George W. Bush took office.

The vote was 52–48, with three Repub­li­cans join­ing Sen­ate Democ­rats in oppo­si­tion, the New York Times report­ed.

Sen. Charles Grass­ley, R-Iowa, head of the Finance Com­mit­tee, urged a vote for the bill, blam­ing the increase in fed­er­al spend­ing on the Iraq war and nation­al secu­ri­ty.

Pam and I were talk­ing about the fact that the US will soon be mov­ing from tril­lions (1,000,000,000,000) to 10-tril­lions (10,000,000,000,000). Gee, if they keep this up, they can move from 10 to the 12th pow­er to the next big num­ber, 10 to the 15th pow­er, or a quadrillion.

If these num­bers don’t make any sense, maybe this will: The Share of the Nation­al Debt for every US cit­i­zen is now at about $27,729.20. Accord­ing to my research, that’s just about the cost of a 2006 Toy­ota Prius. So in the U.S., every Man, Woman and Child owes the equiv­a­lent of a Prius.

I often say that we left the US for polit­i­cal rea­sons, but much of it comes from not want­i­ng to be in the mid­dle of the the com­ing fis­cal melt­down. We won’t be entire­ly insu­lat­ed from it here in Cana­da (far from it, in fact), but I like to think that we’ve moved our­selves slight­ly out of way.

It’s hard to believe that just before we left, I was talk­ing about the decline of the US in these terms:

…It’s not only about hat­ing (yes, I must admit it, I hate) the man who sits in the Oval Office, as well as the craven Vice Pres­i­dent. It’s not only about how the coun­try is cloud­ed over with signs that read ‘Call 311 for sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty’ and TV Net­works that spew polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da that Prav­da would have been hap­py to print or broad­cast. It’s not only about more home­less on the street with no atten­tion paid to their plight, or the fact that chil­dren no longer learn music or art in many pub­lic schools, or that peo­ple seem to think that a mag­net­ic rib­bon on their gaso­line-gulp­ing SUV con­sti­tutes sup­port for the troops in a war that just goes on and on as far as the eye can see. It’s not only the grow­ing cul­ti­va­tion of reli­gious fanat­ics, both here (the Chris­tians) and abroad (the Mus­lims). It’s not only the fact that athe­ists are not even con­sid­ered cit­i­zens and sci­en­tists are seen once again as heretics for teach­ing the facts of evo­lu­tion. As far as I look on the hori­zon, I see decline for the US, social­ly, polit­i­cal­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly, and philo­soph­i­cal­ly…

Gee, not only was I depress­ing, but I wasn’t even close to how bad it could get. As Sarah Vow­ell (who I must admit, I sort of have an intel­lec­tu­al crush on) said on the Dai­ly Show last month: “I talk about going to [Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s] Inau­gu­ra­tion and cry­ing when he took the oath, ’cause I was so afraid he was going to ‘wreck the econ­o­my and muck up the drink­ing water’… the fail­ure of my pes­simistic imag­i­na­tion at that moment bog­gles my mind now.”

Wine and Cheese in Port Moody and Émigrés Compare Notes

This after­noon Pam and I took the Sky­train out to the Lougheed Town Mail sta­tion, where Matt picked us and fer­ried us up to a Wine and Cheese Par­ty at Oanna’s house up the hill (about a 15 minute dri­ve, and a great help). It was a bright, sun­ny day, and a lit­tle cool, but gen­er­al­ly pleas­ant. We saw lots of patch­es of melt­ed snow as the car climbed the small moun­tain where Oana’s house was.

We had a real­ly nice time, meet­ing a lot of her friends and Oana was par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful in giv­ing many guests a prop­er intro­duc­tion so we knew of where inter­ests might inter­sect. Some­times we also learned of oth­er coin­ci­dences that only arise after a bit of con­ver­sa­tion, like the fact that the small town of Wait­s­field, Ver­mont was also fre­quent­ed by one of the oth­er par­ty guests, who often vis­it­ed there from Mon­tréal(!). Oana had assem­bled a great vari­ety of cheeses includ­ing Sage Der­by, Aged Gou­da, Wens­ley­dale with Man­go, Tiger Blue (which is a BC bleu cheese that is quite good). and sev­er­al oth­ers, and Matt also con­tributed some fiery (and even more fiery!) sal­sas. We brought some Bril­lat Savarin, a lit­tle Salt Spring Island Chévre and some Mimo­lette, which were also munched on along with the rest of the ‘cheesy comestibles’, as the Mon­ty Python sketch goes.

It all Depends on Your Point of View
We also met anoth­er cou­ple of Amer­i­can émi­grées. Ceci­ly and Lar­ry moved here from Cal­i­for­nia at about the same time we did. They were retired from work­ing in IT with a daugh­ter in col­lege, and are now liv­ing in Bel­car­ra, an area on the east side of Indi­an Arm (a north­ern fjord of the Bur­rard Inlet), about an hour or so from down­town by car.

After each of us told the oth­er our sto­ries ? which were sim­i­lar enough; We’re all escapees of Bush’s Amer­i­ca, even though were were safe­ly sur­round­ed by friends and rel­a­tives who were in blue states ? we got to com­par­ing the dif­fer­ences that we noticed between where we were now and what we remem­bered of the US.

Mass Tran­sit: They felt that it wasn’t done right here, main­ly because there weren’t park­ing lots near some of the key Sky­train hub sta­tions, mak­ing a ‘park-and-ride’ strat­e­gy incon­ve­nient or down­right impos­si­ble. In addi­tion, they said that they sus­pect­ed that a lot of peo­ple didn’t pay the fare (it is on the hon­or sys­tem). I’d have to say that we didn’t expe­ri­ence this at all, since we don’t have a car, and I nev­er gave a thought as to whether there was ram­pant cheat­ing on the part of pas­sen­gers (since we were so care­ful that we thought we’d be caught if we ever didn’t pay and nev­er asked any­body).

Roads: They felt that Cana­di­an roads were not main­tained as well, nor were they as wide or fast as Amer­i­can free­ways. Again, with­out a car, we had no way of know­ing. In fact, when we have dri­ven up to Van­cou­ver from Seat­tle, we’ve noticed that the road appears to get bet­ter after you cross the bor­der, but this is just one high­way, and we just don’t have expe­ri­ence with the rest of the road­ways.

Cost of Liv­ing: We both agreed that some things were much more expen­sive: our biggest com­plaint (no sur­prise) was wine. Com­ing from Cal­i­for­nia, they par­tic­u­lar­ly missed good, cheap wine. Here wine is nei­ther good, nor cheap. Odd­ly enough, they felt that there was less vari­ety of fruits and veg­eta­bles in the mar­kets, where we, com­ing from Boston, had observed exact­ly the oppo­site. That’s not all that sur­pris­ing. I was hap­py to learn that their expe­ri­ences so far regard­ing med­ical care (they had got­ten cov­er­age the begin­ning of this month, just like us), was that it was just as good as what they had under the HMO back in Cal­i­for­nia, and that the wait for a doc­tor here was, if any­thing, short­er than the one they had under the pri­vate med­ical sys­tem of the US.

How ‘Wired’: Pam and I noticed that our Inter­net ser­vice here is far bet­ter than the best that we could get in Boston. Lar­ry and Cecil were blessed with a phe­nom­e­nal (and quite atyp­i­cal) fiber-optic link direct­ly to their house­hold back in the states, which is some­thing I know is way above the norm.

Cana­di­an Demeanor’: We both agreed that Cana­di­ans were far more polite and friend­ly than we found Amer­i­cans to be. I was actu­al­ly sur­prised to hear this, since I assumed that my per­cep­tion was skewed by the fact that Boston is reput­ed to be the very rud­est city in North Amer­i­ca. Nev­er­the­less, we both found our­selves sur­prised and pleased at the cour­te­ous­ness of our new neigh­bors. Lar­ry was now a Fresh­man at the Emi­ly Carr Insti­tute, and found that he was quite pop­u­lar and accept­ed by his class­mates (many, I expect, who would have been his daughter’s age).

Movie the­atres: Here we both shocked each oth­er. I was impressed at how many there were and how nice they were. They felt that they couldn’t find any any­where. I think this says that movie the­atres here in BC are more clus­tered with­in the city, and the con­cept of a mul­ti­plex in a sub­ur­ban mall is less com­mon (although I’ve been to a pret­ty huge one at the Metro­town mall, but maybe that’s not far enough out to qual­i­fy as tru­ly sub­ur­ban).

Those were a few of the things we talked about. The biggest dif­fer­ence between us is prob­a­bly our work sit­u­a­tion (we’re not retired yet) and where we set­tled (after a brief peri­od rent­ing not too far from us on False Creek South, they moved out to rur­al Bel­car­ra and we stayed in the city). They still dri­ve every­where and have a dog. We have no pets and no car. Do these things affect the expe­ri­ence of Cana­da vs. the US? Prob­a­bly a bit. Ceci­ly and I both not­ed that the News media in the US has become a drum­beat of vio­lence and sen­sa­tion­al­ism, which is some­thing you don’t get up here. This makes for a very dif­fer­ent pop­u­lace and a very dif­fer­ent life, in the end. It was fun to com­pare and con­trast, and I bet I’ll get the chance to do it again, per­haps with more Bush-dodg­ing Amer­i­cans.

One more bit of evi­dence of how small the world is: I also met Karen and Zhongxi, who both per­form on the tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese mouth organ, the Sheng (I believe that’s the one). I also found out that by coin­ci­dence, Karen had stud­ied piano at Ober­lin Con­ser­va­to­ry with none oth­er than an old fam­i­ly friend of ours, Peter Takacs. Those coin­ci­dences just keep com­ing, don’t they?

Chicken Pot Pie

I had grown fond of the small pot pies served at À la Mode in Granville Mar­ket — they occu­py a lit­tle cor­ner in the mar­ket, and are per­haps a lit­tle hard to find. Some of the pies I’ve had are in lit­tle alu­minum tins, and oth­ers in large porce­lain mugs with a mar­velous swath of pas­try laid on top of them and warm fill­ing in the mug, usu­al­ly mush­rooms and gravy or onion soup. The alu­minum ones had tuna, crab, lamb, turkey, chick­en and beef. But none of these pre­pared me for what I dis­cov­ered tonight.

It’s a Fri­day, the end of a long week, for both Pam and me. This morn­ing it snowed a bit, but by the time I was back the Island, it was clear, albeit still quite chilly, and the sun had not quite set yet. I was think­ing about a pie for din­ner, and noticed that they had some uncooked pies in a cool­er on the side. The sign said to ask staff about them. I asked about chick­en pot pie. The guy there told me he had to go and look to see if there were any left in the back. After sev­er­al min­utes of wait­ing, the phone of the oth­er woman who worked there rang. She asked me if I was the fel­low wait­ing to find out about the sta­tus of a large chick­en pot pie and I said I was. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there were none of that kind left. I was a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed, but then a sec­ond lat­er she said “Tell you what, come back in 10 min­utes. I’ll make you one.” I went about my oth­er shop­ping, get­ting sta­ples for the week­end (par­tic­u­lar­ly break­fast): lit­tle red pota­toes, onions, dou­ble-smoked bacon from the butch­er, eggs and sliced bread. When I returned, the pie was ready, in a box, and wrapped up in a bag. I took it home and baked it in the oven for about an hour.

The results were sub­lime. A fresh­ly-made, hot chick­en pot pie straight from the oven is just about the best thing I can imag­ine on a cold Fri­day night. We pol­ished off half of it, along with some sal­ad. Dessert was some raisin and pecan bread with cream cheese and Chamomile tea. Bliss.