October 13, 2014

The New Pornographers at the Commodore Ballroom

Jeem might not have been the oldest person at The New Pornographers concert last Saturday night, especially if we're calculating his age in dog years. It was, I suppose, a slightly more mature audience in attendance at the venerable Commodore Ballroom that night to hear a slightly more mature band.

The afternoon began for Sherry y Jeem with a VIFF movie, probably one of the lesser lights in our strange movie-going process, then a simple walk down the Granville strip to be greeted by an unfriendly bouncer. "No ins and outs and no smoking. Sir." Ins and outs? You mean I am to be locked in this place all night without any hope of fresh air? Or a smoke? Not that I want to smoke of course, but that's not relevant to you, bouncer Brutus. Well. In hindsight, that might not have been the right thing to say to my burly friend on steroids.

Anyway. Once finally allowed into the Commodore, after many promises to behave, at least on Jeem's behalf, we found a table of sorts and a server who offered us wine for $7.50 a glass or two for $15. Somehow the incentive for two didn't seem all that great so we ordered two glasses. And then two more. This might have continued into the night, I don't remember.

Nearby, patrons were busy looking at their phones (some for much of the night it appeared to me) and taking selfies. Why come to concert with a group of friends if all of you are going to spend much of the time looking at your screens? I even noticed one young concert goer with ear buds in his ears for much of the concert. How does that work I wonder?

The New Pornographers, based in Vancouver, have been together since 1999, or even earlier depending on your source. They have achieved significant artistic recognition and some commercial success. Sometimes compared to Arcade Fire, their music is often complex in melody and texture, featuring intricate vocals especially from Neko Case. It's a thinking band and a super group of sorts, though never having quite achieved the commercial success they truly deserve.

The Commodore Ballroom, with no ins and outs mind you, is a fine venue. It can accommodate about 900, maybe more, and most will be standing for hours on end. No ins and outs after all. There were two warm-up bands, one local and one from the Excited States. The latter, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, was actually quite good indeed. Finally, the Pornographers took the stage at 10:30p. Jeem had been yawning for two hours and the "special" on two glasses of wine wasn't helping, nor the no ins and outs policy. Not that Jeem had any reason to go in and out of course.

One hundred minutes later, after the obligatory encore, the show was over. The concert was good. Sound quality at live events is always an issue for me; sometimes a CD offers much more.

Our crowd of fellow travellers, ran the gauntlet of bouncers again, this time as they directed people out of the building, stumbled into the early morning hours of the Granville mall. My bouncer friend Brutus took one look at me and Sherry, smiled and said "Get home safe you guys." We took the SkyTrain.

Photos by Jim Murray (except exterior of Commodore and band logo). Copyright 2014.

October 10, 2014

United Way 2014 ~ we are possibility?

A year ago I was in the first half of my four month secondment to the United Way of the Lower Mainland. I was a Campaign Associate from Local 704 of the BCGEU and from my employer: KPU. It was challenging and fun. I worked with some great people and I would have done it all again this year, had it been possible. It wasn't.
Instead I find myself involved in the employee campaign at KPU and in that capacity I attended the kick-off of the Metro Vancouver Campaign. Free breakfast and networking, whatever the hell that is, and some feel-good presentations and the new campaign video.

At one point in the morning we were given pieces of a puzzle of sorts and somehow, through the confusion of several hundred humans tromping around, the puzzle became a map of the region. At the end, several pieces were missing and the presenter quickly said that was because there was much left to do. When the map was "flipped" it became the slogan for this year's campaign.

The United Way does great work in our community. It makes crucial investments in key areas to make a difference in the lives of people challenged by poverty and injustice. However.

The numbers of children and families living in poverty, of people living rough on our streets, continue to increase. A poverty rate of 20% in a province as wealthy as ours might be acceptable to Premier Christy Clark; it shouldn't be to the rest of us.

A Vancouver homelessness rate that has increased by over 300% in the past 3 years might be an inconvenience to Mayor Gregor Robertson's re-election next month; it doesn't add up in a city with houses and apartments standing empty because wealthy non-residents buy property in this city simply as a hedge.

For real change to happen we need to change our governments and that possibility can't come soon enough for those who need it most. Are we ready?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

September 23, 2014

Royston Roasting Coffee House on Vancouver Island

The Royston Roasting Co. is located in Royston, oddly enough, just a few kilometres south of Courtenay on the old island highway. The company's primary focus is providing fair trade, organic beans to fund raising groups across Canada and private labelling to others. More recently the owners have developed their own branding and a coffee shop too.

The operation began simply enough as a coffee supplier to the Comox Farmers Market over ten years ago. Today the owners, Dyan and Gary Spink, operate the roasting company and its coffee shop in downtown Royston, though you might miss the "downtown" altogether if you're barrelling down the highway as most people seem to do. Slow down. Enjoy the drive. Stop for coffee.

There is an outside patio at the coffee shop though within the chairs are much, more comfortable. The coffee is good; the espresso smoky, strong and slightly smug, which might reflect the barista more than the actual roast. I would prefer more crema, but all things considered, this is a reasonable doppio by West Coast standards.

The coffee shop, which also serves breakfast and lunch items, is a funky kind of place. The barista could well serve your espresso then strum a ukulele and break out into song, as she did on our recent visit. It's all quite wonderful and it's a place Sherry and Jeem have been coming to for several years and a great place to stop for a strong coffee before going off towards Cumberland (home of the best pizza on Vancouver Island: Riders Pizza) or further north on Vancouver Island. And yes, don't let go of your children around here.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.

September 22, 2014

Garry Oaks Winery on Salt Spring Island

Garry Oaks Winery is located on a 4 hectare terraced vineyard overlooking the Burgoyne Valley on Salt Spring Island. It began in 1999 when Marcel Mercier and Elaine Kozak purchased a 100 year old farm and began converting it from sheep to wine. The winery gets its name from a stand of rare Garry Oaks on the property.

I don't know where the Garry Oaks are, nor would I know them to see them. My dilemma, shared by countless others I'm sure, might be a potential marketing opportunity for the winery.

It's all rather unpretentious, which is a good thing. The wine tasting room is simple  yet stylish and the tastings are always good natured.

The wines are interesting. Prism, a blend of Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay, is acceptable, though a wee bit on the sweet side. A red, the Zweigelt, an Austrian varietal not often seen in North America,  is okay too, probably best decanted once or twice.The Pinot Gris is highly acceptable, rich, clean and fruity without overpowering. It is easily our favourite from this winery.

When on Salt Spring we always seem to stop at Garry Oaks Winery, sample and buy. There are sheep in the field next door, which attract attention from tourists, and on this occasion from Jeem, thinking only of a nice rack of lamb to go with  the Zweiglet.

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.

September 18, 2014

Rendezvous Patisserie on Salt Spring Island

It is a bit off the beaten track. In fact, if you don't know about this patisserie on Salt Spring Island you probably won't stumble upon it, unless you happen to be visiting the popular pub Moby's on the Upper Ganges Road and even then you might miss it.

Among the assortment of boats and repair shops, sits a little piece of fine French pastry making.

Rendezvous Patissierie is small and unpretentious. Arriving in Canada from France in 2004, Brigitte and Bruno Gonzalez settled on Salt Spring. French pastries followed fairly quickly and Brigitte began selling her pastries at Salt Spring's popular Market on Saturdays and Tuesdays.

The shop opened sometime thereafter. It is not necessarily a place to sit and enjoy a coffee and pastry, though some do; the coffee is limited to a thermos carafe of drip coffee. The pastries are fabulous and include tarts, meringues, canneles and some savouries too.

The croissants are rich in butter and melt in your mouth as they should. They might well be the best croissants I've ever tasted. It's worth it to buy an assortment  of pastries and take them back to the "resort" to eat by the lake. With a good book and a nice bottle of French wine, wouldn't you agree?

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2014.

September 17, 2014

Mistaken Identity Vineyards on Salt Spring Island

Mistaken Identity Vineyards is the third winery to take root on Salt Spring Island. Nearest to the town of Ganges, it's more or less across the road from one of our favourite sources of provisions on the island; The Country Grocer (local produce, local owners, you know the drill).

In the past I have not much liked the wines from this winery, but having tried, and enjoyed their Pinot Gris at the Seaside Restaurant, we went for a tasting during the last week of August.

Melanie was our charming host for an assortment of pours, and Summerdale (the dog) was never far away. This is a simple and unpretentious kind of place, with a deck and yard to picnic and sip your wine, while looking at the vineyard. It is surely a more interesting place than Salt Spring Vineyards, which seems to be an afterthought in wine making at best and a ten percent plaything at worst.

The winemaker at Mistaken Identity is Jesse Cooper, recently from the brilliant Black Hills Estate Winery in the Okanagan, and from time well spent at a winery in France of all places. It might be a bit early to say for sure, but the wines of Mistaken Identity are beginning to take on a rather noticeable identity, at least by my standards.

The Pinot Gris is luscious and fruity with a crisp, citrus flavour, and it is clearly my favourite. The reds show signs of potential merit.

Mistaken Identity, and Jesse Cooper, are worth a look. Something good is happening here and I hope it continues.

If you are interested, as I would be if I had the money, it appears Mistaken Identity Vineyards is for sale. Not sure why it's for sale, but the asking price is only $2,100,000. It seems a bargain given the price of things on Salt Spring Island.

Does that price include Summerdale I wonder? More importantly, does it include Jesse and Melanie?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2014.