Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rules / Signs

A few gems from recent travels. I'll hopefully keep adding to these as I go along.

Dress codes:

Syracuse NY
i.e.: This ain't no filthy blue-collar tavern you mashers! (but what about tube tops?)

Syracuse NY
i.e.: no urban males under 30?


Sure - just get all 'eco' on people to make them obey. That'll work.

i.e.: NO FUN. (who knew drinking boxes could kill?)

I thought this was fantastic. Your car could just be towed to some big ol' random field somewhere in upstate NY. Then I saw a Fields Auto Towing Service tow-truck and figured they had a pound somewhere. Dang.


Winnipeg's Bridge Drive In (I think I'll have me a rasp(whoa!)berry coalada)


Concerned Citizens:


Queen Street, Toronto

Can someone please explain these to me?

The Franglais: (Montreal style)

"Edited" signs like this old one below from Ave. du Parc and St. Viateur are not too hard to find in Montreal. Since bill 101 was introduced in 1977, signage laws in Montreal dictate that all business signs must be either entirely in French, or if another language is included, it must be no larger than half the size of the French. In other words, French must be visually dominant. Fair enough. But if replacing your original sign isn't an option, a little typographic doctoring can do the trick, even if it renders what's left grammatically incorrect. What was once Italian Mercerie (also known as 'haberdashery'), is now just a backwards, mashed-up repetition of the French. Fantastique.


Queen Street West, Toronto

Posted in the window of a vacant property on Saint-Laurent blvd. in Montreal, in clear and bold defiance of Bill 101!
Hmm... anything?

More on La Loi 101 :

CBC article Oct. 22/09

archives de Radio Canada

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Your opinion is important to us.

Over the past several months, CBC Radio One's Montreal morning program Daybreak has developed a rather irritating obsession with listener feedback. Comment has replaced content, as seemingly every news item or topic of discussion is framed by the constant prompt to call, email, text, or tweet one's opinion on the matter. "Matter" being the operative word here, as most of what comes in doesn't, and the result is continual interruption of the program's flow as air time is given to random, insubstantial comments on a host of moot points.

The apex of Daybreak's feedback loop came one morning when a listener wrote in to complain about the irrelevance of a certain 'news' story (something about a local couple's complicated divorce), which prompted host Nancy Wood to turn it back to the general listenership and ask: "Well, what do you think? Is this story relevant?" At that point I let out a stifled scream and switched the dial to CBC's French sister station, Radio Canada Première chaine, whose morning program, I might add, makes Daybreak sound like this. Seriously.

I can understand the impulse behind this desire to democratize news coverage - greater accessibility and involvement of the listenership in theory creates greater loyalty and better ratings. That's great, and there is, of course, room for feedback and listener input on the radio, (a stellar example being CBC radio's Cross Country Checkup on Sunday afternoons at 4pm). But proper context has to exist for it to be of actual relevance, rather than a shallow, free-for-all for the sake of "giving voice" and "being heard" about things that, in the end, are neither insightful, informative, or offer intelligent debate. A perfect example of this is cbc.ca (I hate to excessively pick on the Morthership, but she's the one I watch, read, and listen to most) where people can post responses to news items. Depending on the story, you can fairly confidently bet yer bottom dollar that these will deteriorate into a total nut-bar showcase. Racism, prejudice, and loud and proud red-necks are alive and well in this fair nation.

I can only hope Daybreak's bandwagon reflex/genuflect to the Twitterites and the cult of the iPhone is temporary, and that they'll realize that the 'average Joe' opinion is a poor substitute for intelligent, in-depth journalism. Until then, I'll be over at Radio 2.

Listen to a very good discussion about listener feedback on the Q podcast for Monday February 23, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Wheel Club

I've been meaning to post about this place for a loooong time, and a recent visit (after a 6-year gap) has provided just the right impetus.

Discretely located on Cavendish blvd. just south of Sherbrooke St. West, in NDG, The Wheel is a private club which graciously opens its doors to curious, country-lovin' non-members every Monday evening for its weekly Hillbilly night. Doors at 8, Fun 'til 1. And getting there at 8 is a must if you want to snag a table. This place is packed with old timers, twenty-somethings and everyone in-between who come through these doors in search of a unique, authentic experience that helps you forget you're in a modern mega-city and it's -20 outside.

Part '70s rec-room, part Legion, with wood-paneling and checkered tablecloths galore, The Wheel Club is tucked away in the basement of an otherwise unremarkable building, and is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Created over 40 years ago by local old-time country music legend Bob Fuller, Hillbilly night gives musicians and music fans - amateur or not - a place to converge and enjoy the experience of playing music, talking and dancing together in a place that feels like their own.

The Wheel has a house band, backed by Fuller on upright bass, that will cover all manner of old-time country music - bluegrass, honky tonk, hillbilly, etc. - but with one caveat: the cut-off date is 1965. (After that, things started getting a bit glamorous*). Note the absence of a drum-kit, in true keeping with the purist's preference for a bass-driven rhythm section.

Monday night is also open mic night, and anyone with a song to sign is welcome behind the wagon wheels to give it a whirl. Many local players on Montreal's alt-country music scene cut their teeth at the Wheel. It's a safe and welcoming place to get a feel for playing in front of an audience that doesn't seem to mind if you sing a bit flat until you work the kinks out. This is no place for show-offs.

Any feelings we may have had of crashing someone else's party were quickly dispelled by the friendly atmosphere, despite being among the very few first-timers there. Even the hipsters sitting at the table next to us, to their credit and with fiddle in hand, were obviously there to play some music. I was envious of their ability to mingle through the crowd of regulars, knowing several by name, and of having a place to regularly come to that feels like a small-town home away from home. That's a rather precious thing in a sometimes alienating city.

One highlight is the snack bar, where you can buy a basket of munchies, including cheezies, chips, popcorn, and pretzels, to go with your draft beer. I remember a combination Dad's cookies/popcorn basket on my first visit in 2003. I also like the personal-sized pitchers. Perfect for the ladies.

Another bonus is the raffle. We didn't stick around late enough to take part this time (I think the draw is at 12:30), but last time, tickets were sold at about 10:30, and at the time of the draw, a couple briefcases were brought out to the front of the stage area. Inside were the prizes: your choice among dozens of mix-tapes of old-time country music from Bob Fuller's massive collection of 45s. It doesn't get much homier than that.

If getting there from my north-end neighborhood wasn't such a pain in the butt (count on at least one-hour travel time by multiple modes of transit), I'd be there way more often (they have a Sunday dart league! /sigh). Friends with cars are good, but then you have to draw straws over who stays sober. At any rate, folks in NDG have a good thing going. Here's hoping it'll stay around long after the old timers get a bit too long in the tooth to shake a leg.

For a more in-depth look at The Wheel Club, see Craig Morrison's site, Montreal's Roots Music Scene

The Wheel Club
3373 Cavendish Blvd.
Directions here.

*Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, image from The Porter Wagoner Show, c. 1967

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey

If you find yourself traveling to the USA, make sure your next pit stop at the Duty Free shop includes the purchase of this fine Kentucky tipple. Sadly unavailable in Canada (at least not in QC. Damn you SAQ!), the bottle alone makes it worth picking up. Isn't it gorgeous? (Wild Turkey folks take note.) If you're curious to know more, I find this site more helpful than the company's actual website (www.bulleitbourbon.com).

Better than sucking on a dusty leather glove through a hangman's noose.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy 3rd Birthday Cultural Flotsam!

Wow - three years of Cultural Flotsam and I'm still finding stuff to post about (although admittedly, my 'terrible twos' weren't as terribly active as I'd planned). Still, after that little sabbatical of sorts, I feel ready as ever to share with you some more totally useless but nonetheless intriguing (hopefully) tidbits, odds and ends, gewgaws, and other random "what the - ?" stories.

Thanks for checking in!


PS - I'm not the only one who's quite fond of this b-day image:


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Halifax by the sea

Oh boy - This is going to be one of those long, long posts with lots and lots of photos. There are just so many beautiful, surprising, quirky and interesting things to see in Halifax - I just had to stop every 20 feet to take another picture. It's that "love-goggles" effect I get when I travel. Everything is interesting. Oh yeah, and this city is great for your glutes: very hilly.

I was really hankering for a little east-coast fix lately (completely seduced as I was
by those Newfoundland ads on TV and in the paper), but while that didn't seem quite in the cards this summer, I did have an opportunity to zip over to Halifax for the weekend. It was good enough to tide me over until I do make it to the Rock.

Ironically, I did manage to sample a bit of Newfoundland at the Newfoundland Grocery Store, 6061 Willow Street map here

This store's got all the charm and authenticity I could handle. All the products are uniquely Newfoundland-made and imported for nostalgic ex-pats and curious others.

Of course it felt weird contemplating buying wonderfully strange Newfie merch like canned corn on the cob, or Newfoundland Nobs and Lumps without having ever set foot over there, but I did manage to make up my mind eventually and walked out with this bag of kisses. I'm only mildly embarrassed to admit I ate the whole thing (give or take a few).

Next up - JWD Books on Barrington Street.

The only bookstore I've seen that rivals New York's famous STRAND, if not in exact volume then at least in sheer spirit (although JWD is decidedly more chaotic and hence, I think, more fun). JWD is two overflowing floors of non-stop books books books. Chock-a-block. Choking with books. So full of books it cuts a window through them to let in the light of day. But as much as I love this type of crazy shrine to the written word, my brain does tend to turn to mush from the over-stimulus.
Where do I start? Where does it end?

I was thrilled to make it to the legendary FRENCHY'S used clothing store. I'd heard about it on my first trip to Halifax in 2001, but back then the only location was across the water in Dartmouth and being January, I was less inclined to make the trek. Since then though, they've moved over to Halifax, and after a recent fire claimed their larger space, set up these modest digs right around the corner from Steve-O-Reno's drive-through cappuccino stand (see below). Frenchy's did not disappoint, and if you don't mind digging for your treasure through large bins (a system I find makes sense and is somehow less overwhelming than flipping through rack after rack), chances are you'll come up with some gold too.

Speaking of gold, this is a gem. Located at 2854 Robie Street in the parking lot of a hardware store, Steve-O-Reno's Cappuccino Drive Through is a Halifax institution that has also more recently spawned a regular ol' sit down shop on Brunswick street. But this one has more soul. More soul than all the Timmy Ho's across the land combined.

Halifax has good food. One breakfast favourite was The Good Food Emporium, on Gottingen street in the North End.

Just loads of good, basic vegetarian grub, and the best fishcakes I've ever had. So good I couldn't even stop to take a photo of my plate before wolfing it all down.

Part of the the North End's DIY scene is the Roberts Street Social Centre, an independent collective space featuring a zine library, silk-screening facilities and an artist-in-residence program.

And finally, no self-loving Halifax tourist should resist a visit to the Economy Shoe Shop, one of the more popular pubs on Argyle Street.

Handy links:

Book lovers rejoice: JWD Books
Art lovers rejoice: eyelevel gallery
Low-tech lovers rejoice: Sometimes Always at the AGNS
Coffee lovers rejoice: Java Blend
Organic Food lovers rejoice: Fid Restaurant
North End lovers rejoice: Go North Halifax

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Create your own Blues name

This is a fun game to play. Click on the image to enlarge.

Boney Gumbo McGee

Friday, April 03, 2009

Cool grit! Victoria, BC

Death by Bunnies and Rainbows. This is what I expected when I went to Victoria, BC, last November to install a show at Open Space Gallery. I had no idea what to expect besides squeaky-clean streets and lawns, and general British-colonial WASP-ness. Of course it was all that, but with a lot of neat surprises too - many of which I can't remember, unfortunately. I'm beginning to think it's time I start keeping some sort of travel diary as the ol' memory doesn't quite fire up like it used to.

Take for instance Fan Tan Alley, a wonderfully bizarre, barely noticeable, super narrow, winding alley packed with great shops and restaurants (deke left after the post-office box). It seems to go on forever at first, unveiling one interesting store after another, and mercifully isn't overrun with over-priced touristy gew-gaws.

One favourite: Heart's Content. Great shoes (I couldn't resist a pair of FLY London ankle boots)

Just knock on the door and place your take-out order of noodles from the back lane behind this restaurant.

This Coke machine on Pandora street just before you reach Fan Tan Alley, generously offers the cheapest cans in town from behind its otherwise forbidding cage.

A delightful juxtaposition of genres:

The completely unique and intriguing Ministry of Casual Living artist-run exhibition/residency space.

View of previous installation thanks to Flickr.com

Sands Funeral Chapel - We Love Our Hearses

One of the artists in the show (and Victoria resident) Marlaina Busch took me to the legendary Big Bad John's at the Strathcona Hotel, for a rather raucous round of pints. A bit of a rough-and-tumble place but still rather harmless if you can put up with a bit of leering. Oh, and they'll take your bra if you want to add it to their collection.

Worth the visit:

Habit Coffee and Culture, 552 Pandora Avenue
Read review here

Rebar restaurant. Canada's answer to the legendary Moosewood Restaurant and cookbook empire. 50 Bastion Square (off Langley St.)

The Bengal Lounge at the Fairmount Empress Hotel, 721 Government Street. I can't vouch for the food, but the décor is classic grand hotel ostentatiousness!