You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘culture’ tag.

Cokebaby and I went to see Doubt: A Parable at the Neptune Theatre this weekend. It was a fantastic show, well-acted, and with a really cool stage design. The play was wonderful and I’m looking forward to checking out the film when it comes out on DVD.

Now, I don’t consider myself a hoighty-toighty kind of person even if I have, in fact, been to the opera. TWICE. Three times if you include the 10 minutes Measha Brueggergosman performed at the Royal Nova Scotia Tattoo one year. But that’s besides the point.

I was floored by the astounding number of people who had no clue about theatre etiquette. To be honest, I think many of these people thought they were going to see Doubt in the movie theatre rather than, you know, the theatre theatre.

For those people who are wondering, here are some clues to help figure out the difference:

  • were you handed 3D glasses at the door?
  • are the floors sticky?
  • were there movie ads playing while you wait for the lights to dim?

If you answered no to any of the above, then you’re actually in a theatre with live actors. Yes, this would explain how “real” the experience is in the absence of those 3D glasses.

So, now that we’ve established that you’re in a theatre for plays, here are some tips on etiquette:

Just because someone in the house coughs does not give you license to do the same. That goes for the next person, and the person after that, and so forth. In fact, try to stifle your cough. And if you’ve got a dry heaving cough that you haven’t been able to get rid of for days, you’re better off seeing a doctor about it than attending the play at all.

If someone does happen to cough this should not also be considered the prime opportunity to open your box of candies, bottle of pop, or packets of gum.

For that matter, you should keep your food products and resultant belching in until you’re back at home or in another suitable environment.

And bathroom breaks? In most cities you’re not permitted to leave until intermission unless you’ve got some kind of personal emergency. Once those lights dim, consider yourself in prison lock-down. Come on, it’s only an hour and a half people. Plan your bowel movements like the rest of us and use the facilities beforehand.

And for goodness sake, don’t snap your gum throughout the performance (or ever, really but in this scenario in particular) or try to take notes (!) on loose leaf paper.

No word of a lie, all of these things happened to the point of distraction. And if I was hearing it, how do you think the actors were feeling? Yes, maybe they’re trained to ignore it all. But frankly, you weren’t invited to watch your friend perform in your living room. You and I paid money to see and hear a live play, not the sounds we’re most accustomed to hearing in a dining room.

Kthxby.

Remember the scene in The Simpsons where Homer is daydreaming about the land of chocolate? Well, that was me in the south of France only it was with foie gras. Um, wait a second. That sounds kind of gross on a lot of levels. Well, even though I only had it twice in the nine days we were in France, it was equally as glorious as it was horrendous. But, like they say, when in Rome do like…Hedonismbot.

Here are some gastronomical highlights from the trip:

cwbuecheler from Flickr

Photo credit: cwbuecheler from Flickr

Picnics—By far, our favourite thing to do when travelling in Europe is checking out the fresh local produce and putting together meals to go. In Nice, we frequented the Cours Saleya Market & Monoprix, while in Avignon we enjoyed the offerings at Les Halles & 8 à Huit. Things we looked for included sundried tomatoes, olives Niçoise or en herbes de Provence, fresh baked bread, and, of course, fabulous cheeses. Whatever you do in France, if there’s an open display of cheeses that aren’t pre-packaged, for goodness sake don’t touch anything. In Paris, Cokebaby got his hand slapped for reaching out. Just remember, cheese is like a religion here. Don’t sully the alter. There are also plenty of pâtisseries and chocolatiers to go around for dessert.

Wines of the region are rosé and Côtes du Rhône which you can purchase for incredibly reasonable prices. Even champagne is dirt cheap here. For special treats we tried Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (a sweet fortified wine) and pastis (an anise-flavoured liqueur usually served on ice with a pitcher of water that you can use to cut it to your liking). In Nice, we found a great wine shop called Côté Vin where the young shopkeep was keen to speak English and gave us some great recommendations for local (and organic) wines of the region without an ounce of pretension.

Le Atmosphere (Nice)—On opera night, we tried finding a recommended restaurant called Chez Palmyre. Finding no signs of life there on that night (or any other) we wound up on the very touristy Cours Saleya Strip where we were reeled in by an employee. Yes, yes, tourist trap antics. But we were running late and it was literally a two minute walk from the opera house. We went with the formule which got us a starter, main, and dessert for 13,50€. Each of us had a fish soup (served with croutons and rouille), grilled sword fish with roasted vegetables in rice. For dessert I had a creme caramel while Cokebaby opted for chocolate mousse. For the price, service, and quality of food we weren’t disappointed.

Maison Nani (Avignon)—We kind of hit the jackpot with this little gem of a restaurant. The atmosphere is warm and homey, the service impeccable, and the food was everything we wanted it to be (and then some).  On our first day, we arrived close to the end of lunch service so we missed out on the specials but after our meal we vowed to come back early to check them out. Both days the place was filled with locals and the owners were around greeting everyone personally. Our meals ranged around 8-12€ and you could purchase a 75cL Cotes du Rhone wine for about 4€. The wine came in unmarked bottles that brought the term house wine to new meaning but who can argue for the value? I indulged in a foie gras salad served with toast. Simple but delicious. For dessert I couldn’t resist the café gourmand: a cup of espresso with a sampling of Chantilly cream, a cake that tasted like homemade Ferrero Rocher, crème anglaise, and a raspberry crumble for under 4€. On the next visit, I was very happy to get the special tart of the day made with broccoli, onions and olives, with a side salad, and vegetables (potato salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, mustard fennel, lightly salted and boiled string beans).

jenny downing from Flickr

Photo credit: jenny downing from Flickr

O’Neill’s (Avignon)—At supper time many of the restaurants along the main strip were closed, we assumed, due to it being low season. Back alleys turned up international cuisine for very reasonable prices. It probably would have made some sense to have Chinese food for the lunar new year but, frankly, we didn’t come to France for the Chinese food. So, we stopped in at O’Neill’s Irish pub. Um, yeah, that didn’t make much sense, right? The thing is they had a bunch of French items on the menu. While Cokebaby enjoyed his pizza Alsace (ham, olives, mushrooms and Emmenthal) and pint of Kronenbourg blanc, I was happy to receive the yummiest (and biggest) salade Niçoise with a goblet full of vin chaud (aka Glögg or mulled wine).

Le Courtois Café/Pâtisseries (Nîmes)—A family-run business since 1892, this gorgeous spot is situated in the same courtyard as a palm-tree and crocodile fountain (the city’s emblem). The dining room had crammed seating but elegant Old World decor. Cokebaby and I felt like the veritable bulls in a china shop and if the weather had been a bit warmer we probably would have enjoyed the experience more on the patio. That said, the food was delicious and the service both pleasant and efficient. This was my second and last foie gras salad. Not quite as delicious as the first but it came with a tasty side of scalloped potatoes. Cokebaby’s poulet Basquaise (chicken served in a clay pot with peppers and smoky spices) was not the most memorable meal but he enjoyed it nonetheless. On the way out we passed the display case of pastries and, although incredibly tempting (and probably where they excelled in terms of food), we passed them up in order to move on to the sites of the city.

Restaurant du Gesù (Nice)—This was a quaint little Italian restaurant situated at a cobblestone square across from a church. We opted to dine outside in the enclosed patio next to a heat lamp. The food here was simplicity at its best. We shared plates of gnocchi (potato pasta) with Gorgonzola, and ravioli with pistou (basically, pesto without the pine nuts). On the blackboard they had featured a wine of the month which we tried out for 14€ (this time it came in a corked and labelled bottle). By the time we were served our meal the place was packed with locals and students.

********

Our last day in Nice was spent trying to cram in as much food and drink into our faces before we had to fly back. We had croissants, café crème, wine, cheese, beer, pastries, and more. By the end of the night I was wholly and truly satisfied that I could indulge no more. Thankfully, vacations do have to come to an end sometimes. Otherwise, I’d be the size of an elephant. That or I’d have to take up smoking as an appetite suppressant which I’m convinced is the only way everyone stays so thin in France. Kidding..!

Sean Munson from Flickr

Photo credit: Sean Munson from Flickr

One of the worst things you can do on a trip is tempt fate. Case in point: on our train ride to Avignon I noticed an entry in our guidebook that talked about Le Mistral winds in southern France. Living in Halifax, I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that rain falls sideways, that umbrellas must be purchased seasonally, and that good hair days are when you don’t have to leave the house.

So, reading about how the south of France—which until that point had been giving us temperatures of around 13 degrees—could even remotely compare to the wind tunnels of downtown Halifax, gave us a good laugh.

Well, that was a mistake.

Mother Nature does not like to be taken lightly. She’s kind of like that mean popular girl in high school who’s all fake-nice to the people she thinks “matter” but will claw your eyes out if you mess with her in any way. As a result of overhearing our snide remarks, Mother Nature unleashed Le Mistral upon us in the same way.

Although we didn’t hear about it until days later, apparently we were arriving during the end of one of the worst storms to hit the region in a decade. As a matter of fact, the name Avignon derives from the Roman word avenio meaning “town of violent winds.” That turned out to be a fact we didn’t find out about until our second day in the quaint little town.

We found ourselves shivering in a bus shelter outside the train station, as cold torrential rain poured down. When we boarded the shuttle bus into town, as further evidence of why one should never mess with Mother Nature, a woman sat in front of me who couldn’t have wanted to be more Amy Winehouse if she was Amy Winehouse: crazily styled hair amassed atop her head and in the process of layering makeup upon her skin. The only reason I could be sure she wasn’t the real deal was because the real Amy Winehouse was probably in rehab or maybe doped up and sprawled out on a bathroom floor somewhere (I still was having problems figuring out what time it would be back home let alone in the UK. Not that there’s really an acceptable time to be doing blow).

It turned out that our hotel, the Hôtel Cloître Saint Louis, was only a few short steps away from the train station. All our cold little worries melted away once we arrived. I must admit that we splurged a little here to stay in a charming 4-star hotel that was formerly a monastery and recently converted to a hotel that housed very modern rooms. Our room had a bathroom on one level and a bedroom overlooking a grassy courtyard.

Because we’re troopers and didn’t want a little bit of foul weather to ruin a perfectly good vacation to Provence, we decided to grab a bite to eat at a local bistro before visiting the Palais des Papes. This is what the UNESCO World Heritage Site has to say about the historic site:

In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy. The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th-century Christian Europe.

If you’re any sort of a history buff, you’ll know that seeing this in real life just made our day. One of the great things about the little town of violent winds is that so many of the locals were amazingly friendly and let me struggle along in French. I think it amused them but it gave me the much needed practise that I was hoping for.

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

Strolling around a random beautiful churchyard

At the local market in Les Halles, we bought some Brie from a vendor who was so excited about his city and the fact that we were staying at the Cloître Saint Louis that he basically gave us a real life audio guide of tips on the best views of the city, particularly from the rooftop of the nearby church.

The next day we went to the Pont Saint Bénezet (of the Sur le pont d’Avignon song) where, although sunny and beautiful, we learned the true meaning behind the town’s name. Fun fact: back in the day, a couple of priests were blown off the bridge into the frigid water below. To console them, the pope sent them his personal physician and…some money. Because nothing eases pain more than cold hard cash.

Sadly, shopping in Avignon consisted of window browsing (apparently the French version of this phrase translates roughly to window licking). Even with 50% discounts, most prices came out to the same original price in Canadian dollars. So much for Soldes d’hiver 2009.

Next up this week: Gladiators! Bull fights! And national train strikes!

I’m not by any means a culture vulture. At least by some standards. Sure, I like watching some indie or foreign films, am passionate about world food and wines, listen to a wide variety of music, and am fairly well travelled. That all being said, when it comes to things like ballet or opera performances my experience is pretty limited. By that I mean mostly through secondary school field trips. (For the record that’s a long time ago).

It’s not that I don’t enjoy these types of cultural experiences. It’s mostly because a good deal of my adult (and therefore able to afford things) life has been spent in a small city. Frankly, since moving here it seems to me that the options are fairly limited and I’m not about to repeat the brutally uncomfortable experience at the Halifax Metro Centre when we went to see the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo with Cokebaby’s family and accidentally heard some beautiful opera performed by Measha Brueggergosman.

In fact, outside of that experience, one of the few others I’ve had with opera is through a very small collection at home that includes safe bets like Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. However, on our trip to Italy last year we made it to The Barber of Seville at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice and were so amazed that we wanted to repeat the experience. It was an opulent opera house and overall wonderful performance which I enjoyed immensely despite undergoing the early stages of a sinus infection that would make the flight home almost unbearable.

At the market

At the Cours Saleya Market

This is all to say that we had some high expectations of the Opera de Nice on our recent trip to southern France. So, on our first day on vacation we took in a day of walking around Old Nice, stopping by the opera house to find out that all the main tickets were sold out and that we’d have to come back at 16:30 (not 6:30 as I almost made the mistake) to purchase last minute tickets in the upper tier. It was to be expected so instead of being disappointed we spent the rest of the morning touring through the market stands where we picked up some souvenirs and the best sun-dried tomatoes ever made.

Eventually we made it back to the opera house where I’m pretty sure I asked the ticket agent in French if he wanted two seats at the opera. To his credit he didn’t laugh at me and continued to converse in French without switching to English. As the assigned seating was sold out he lamented that the only tickets available presented poor to no visibility. But they were also only 8€ each.

From where we were seated we could see only part of the stage and that was only when standing. Although there was an overhead with captions to follow, that too was half obscured. It seemed that I understand all but every fifth word but it also seemed that every fifth word was the most important.

The opera itself was one that we’d not heard of: Les Contes d’Hoffman. Not Le Comte Hoffman as we originally thought while listening to the performance. A somewhat important distinction. You see, one of the main characters sounded like he was the Count from Sesame Street and every time he entered the stage with that distinctive laugh I thought we were about to get a lesson in French numbers (which actually would have at least been educational in some way). The unmistakable laugh only further confused my understanding of what was going on because I naturally assumed he was “Count” Hoffman when, in fact, he was actually the “nemesis” Lindorf.

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

From the set of Les Contes d'Hoffman

Then, at some point—no word of a lie—a giant baby’s head emerged on the stage. For a little while it was all we could look at. We were transfixed and beyond perplexed and losing the plot line with every passing second that we weren’t paying close attention to the words or overhead.

That’s when it got really weird. A bald-headed robotic woman sprang out of the head. All bets were off at that point. It felt like we were watching a live-action episode of The Simpsons. I imagined Lenny and Carl standing by the enormous tête asking, “Ain’t you never seen a bald chick leap out of a giant head before?”

Even after the automaton proceeded to sing the very beautiful aria, Les Oiseaux Dans La Charmille, we couldn’t put the oddness out of our minds. Yet we persevered.

Then, the stage was flooded with identical blind couples tapping their way with white canes across the stage. By the time Act II came along Cokebaby and I were entirely lost.

Apparently there was an Act III but we never saw it.

For us, the opera didn’t end when the fact lady sang. In fact, there was no fat lady at all. And maybe in the absence of one, it ends when the bald chick leaps out of the giant head. I’ll have to test that theory out on our next operatic excursion.

[Wolfville is one of my favourite places to visit in the province. So, I have to admit it was really hard for me to read this post because I don’t need any convincing that it’s also a great place to live. If only I had a driver’s license…But I digress. If you haven’t been to Wolfville, you seriously need to drop what you’re doing and go there right now.]

By Chris Campbell

For some reason it was cloudy every day we went house hunting in Windsor. I accepted a job offer to work in the birthplace of hockey and had given my notice in Fredericton. We needed to find a place to live when we moved to Nova Scotia from New Brunswick in June of 2000. It wasn’t an easy decision as I’d grown up in Fredericton, went to school, worked and learned to make films with my friends at the NB Filmmakers’ Co-operative.

Lured by the challenges of a new media startup in rural Nova Scotia, the decision was made to move me, my partner Carolyn and our three children to a relatively unknown future in the Annapolis Valley. Searching for a house (our first house) is a challenge, but doing so remotely is even harder. We found a real estate agent and began our quest. Two days were set aside to find a place and on the first day it wasn’t going well as everything seemed either too small or too run down and we didn’t see the sun at all. For the second day our agent suggested we expand the search to include more of the surround areas such as Wolfville and Kentville.

Chris Campbell from Flickr

Photo credit: Chris Campbell from Flickr

On day two we drove down the highway from our motel in Windsor to Wolfville. The sun broke through the clouds as we came over the hill before the Gaspereau River. We saw Blomidon and the Minas Basin spread out before us and we said “wow” and knew that this was going to be the place. We liked most of the houses we saw and found one that fit within our budget and much paperwork and administrative costs later, we owned it.

We were happy with the house and being relatively close to where we were going to be working and to live in such a beautiful place. The kids could walk to school and the neighbourhood was quiet and peaceful. But we didn’t really know much about Wolfville, so we began to explore our new home. The first pleasant surprise was the Just Us! Coffee roasters in Grand Pré. I had been enjoying the coffee for a while and now lived just down the road and would smell the roasting coffee on the way to work.

Things got even better when Just Us! opened a café downtown in Wolfville in the Acadia Theatre building, which had closed just before we arrived. The café was part of a co-operative established to restore the theatre and after a few years the Fundy Film Society was screening great films that I wanted to see in the Al Whittle Theatre (in recognition of Al, who ran the theatre for almost half a century). To supplement the big screen films is the video rental store Light & Shadow, which has an eclectic collection of films to rival any large rental chain.

There are great restaurants and Paddy’s Pub, where they brew delicious beer and often feature talented local musicians from the surrounding area in the evenings. The town is filled with music and art from the bars and restaurants to the theatre to the Saturday morning farmers’ market with live music accompanying the diverse food and crafts for sale.

Wolfville is a progressive town with a wonderful lack of fast food chains and a commitment to environmental responsibility with anti-smoking and anti-idling (for cars) initiatives. As you walk around the town and through the walking trails you’ll be greeted with smiles as it’s a very friendly place. Even though I work in Dartmouth and need to commute during the school year, I love the balance that Wolfville has struck between work and life with nature and essential things such as good food and drink, good films, and a strong sense of community. Wolfville is a wonderful town that I’m proud to choose as my home.

Chris is a long-time media creator with a keen interest in combining storytelling with new technologies in film, video, audio and the web. During the day he teaches Screen Arts at the Nova Scotia Community College in Halifax with an emphasis on producing and post production. He’s also taught workshops in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and Bermuda. In the past he’s edited a feature-length documentary film about the end of segregation in Bermuda, shot video, recorded sound, hosted radio and TV shows, made web sites, and served on several arts boards and juries, including the NB Filmmakers’ Co-operative. In his spare time at home in Wolfville Chris writes on the web at bitdepth.org, shares photos on Flickr, and microblogs on Twitter.

A view from under the A. Murray McKay Bridge

A view from under the A. Murray McKay Bridge

Nobody likes being called names. But anyone who’s moved to the East Coast is probably familiar with the term “come from away.” No matter how long ago that move was, the phrase sticks. To me it implies that I’ll never quite fit in or belong. A friend turned me on to a new phrase that I instantly became a fan of: East Coast By Choice. Thus my blog was born.

Here, I’ll write about life as I know it. That means from the perspective of a thirtysomething, Euro-Asian (not to be mistaken for Eurasian) Canadian who grew up in Toronto and moved of her own free will to Halifax in August of 1999. My interests are mostly in books, food, culture, and travel but I’ll be blogging about pretty much whatever catches my fancy at any particular moment.

First, here’s a recap of why I decided to be East Coast By Choice.

What sold me on Halifax?

The fall, Peggy’s Cove, ducks in the Public Gardens, the smell of salt air on the skin.

What do I miss about Toronto?

Diversity (not just of people but opinions and experiences). The bright lights, big city. Anonymity (you seriously can’t go anywhere in Halifax without bumping into at least one person that you know).

Why I continue to stay?

Friends, family, pace of life.

The Best of Halifax

Restaurants: Seven Wine Bar, Mosaic Social Dining, Opa Greek Taverna, Chabaa Thai Restaurant, The Old Triangle, and the list goes on.

Trails: Shubie and Point Pleasant Parks (especially for dog walks)

Day trips: Annapolis Valley, South Shore

Fresh produce: Farmer’s Market, Pete’s Frootique, any number of Select Nova Scotia producers/vendors

Worst of Halifax

Public transit: sometimes buses just don’t show up, or are late, or are early but move on anyway, and don’t even get me started on things like routing and schedules.

Youth crime: like most urban centres it’s a problem but either it’s on the rise in Halifax or it’s being reported about more frequently; in either case, something needs to be done to set these kids back on the right course in society.

City council: citizens are so disgruntled that the last electoral voter turnout was a mere 37 per cent.

Now it’s your turn.

What’s your best and worst list of the city?

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Categories

Archives

Twitter Updates

    My Dog Makes Headlines

    My Dog Makes Headlines

    Flickr Photos

    Kimberly (a.k.a. @AliasGrace)

    More Photos

    Protected Content