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Saturday, June 28, 2008

That's All I Can Stand 'Cause I Can't Stand It No More

I got a dehumidifier today since I could not take any more of the damp, humid heat and I don't want to get an air conditioner.
At least not yet.
The dehumidifier resembles an 'R2 unit' from STAR WARS (this is my friend Jean Pilotte's description, not mine, and it is a good one.) Instead of beeps and meeps, it makes a low drone. So I put it in the living room not the bedroom. The humidity level in the apartment is already appreciably lower, though I don't know if it is the machine or the cooling off at the end of the day that is responsible.
So I didn't get jack else done today. I am not a hot weather person. It remains to be seen whether I am a cold weather person this winter, but from past experience I'd have to say Yes. You can always put on another coat. There is a limit to how much clothing the law allows you to take off.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ellen Woodbury's Second Life

Disney animator Ellen Woodbury has joined the blogger ranks with this wonderful chronicle of her new 'second life' as a sculptor in stone.
Ellen was the lead animator and designer of Zazu the hornbill in THE LION KING, and Pegasus in HERCULES. She left Disneys two years ago, moved to Colorado, and began seriously working on her new career as a fine artist in stone. Ellen has landed some important commissions and exhibited in shows in the area and her work features stones and techniques I've never heard of. I literally read her blog with my jaw dropping. Who knew there were such things as honeycomb calcite and red travertine in the world?
Well, all right then. So I didn't know. Now, I do. Read Ellen Woodbury's blog to see how she brings an animator's sensibility to stone--her work has a tactile, organic quality that is a joy to behold.
Tonight I'm attending a film festival in Toronto that features 2008 Sheridan BAA graduate Ellie Ventura's senior Sheridan animation project, Crema Suprema. Ellie was one of the first Sheridan students to work in the new stop motion studio at the college, and Crema Suprema has been accepted into several film festivals already. I'll report back on the festival after I attend!
And last night was my first dinner party at the new apartment. Jean and Melinda Pilotte, old friends and new neighbours here in Oakville, attended along with two new friends I met in the past few weeks. Gizmo the cat actually sat on my chair and attempted to join us at the table, but otherwise was very well behaved and seemed completely over her recent indisposition.
The weather continues erratic; just before the dinner, I heard a tremendous clap of thunder. Then another. But the sky was clear, even sunny; not a drop of rain was falling. The storm was three miles to the north, drenching the Pilotte's house and flickering their lights.
Weird, weird weird weather but it's at least not baking.
Speaking of baking, I used my new induction cooker to cook some very nice bean soup. The kitchen didn't heat up, the heater 'turned on a dime' to exactly the temperature I needed, and the pressure cooker stayed pressurized without constant adjustments to the 'flame'. I'm sold on this, and I plan to use it for most things other than stirfries. I'm also a convert to electric kettles; they really do boil the water faster than an old fashioned tea kettle.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Updates and Downpours

The weather has been crazy here; a slow-revolving 'pinwheel' has kept the rains and storms alternating with patches of bright (and high UV level) sunshine. But at least it has not been broiling the way it was two weeks ago, when the humidity and heat reached Savannah levels. I almost broke down and got an air conditioner, and will do so if the humidity level returns. Although I may try a dehumidifier first.
The three ceiling fans are doing an excellent job keeping the place livable, and I recommend this type of cooling to everyone, even if you also use an AC. The fans are more efficient at moving the cool air around where it's needed and they won't give you chills or breed Legionaire's disease.
Gizmo the cat is also much better after her four day illness. I don't know if she picked something up at the vet's or was traumatized by the large and bouncy puppies that shared the waiting room for her when we were there last Thursday but she was sick as a --dog--from Friday until Monday. I tried cooking rice in chicken soup for her as per vet's instructions. She did not eat it. She's back to her rabbit dinner food, which contains probiotics that will help settle her tummy, and I've not noticed anything untoward in the litterbox or on the floor this morning. So fingers crossed, she's better.
July 1 is Canada Day and I have decided to stay in the Oakville area simply because large crowds do not send me. The "Erchless Estate", home of Oakville's founder William Chisolm, actually consists of four historic buildings on the lake. They are holding a strawberry social on the holiday and there are fireworks at lovely Bronte Harbour in the evening that may be just as much fun than the ones in Toronto and possibly less crowded; they are certainly closer to home. I have posted an event on something called Linkup. One person has subscribed. It's better doing this with someone than traveling alone, and most Canadians made other plans long in advance of the holiday. I'm also going to try to take a trip to the Toronto Islands on Saturday via ferryboat if it doesn't storm. If it does, there are plenty of great things to do in downtown Toronto, even on Queen's Quay.
As in New York, there's no excuse to be bored in Toronto.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Day in Toronto

"It's called 'Novy with a schmeer on a bagel!'"
"I've never heard it called that before."
I was describing one of the delicacies of New York --in a strong Brooklyn accent--to a polite, if slightly shocked, native of Nova Scotia at the Waterfront Festival in Toronto. Queen's Quay was sprinkled with tall ships and tall people wearing bright blue kilts striped with black, the colors of Nova Scotia. People were handing out flyers advertising the beauties of the region, which appeared to be considerable. And they were giving away foam lobsters on metal leashes, very Daliesque. I got one.
"I've never been to your province but I've had your lox."
Then I had to explain what lox is. This is not surprising since the word is a variation on the German/Danish word lachs, not English at all. Nova Scotia Lox, or novy, as it's known in New York, is considered the finest smoked salmon in the world. The man in the kilt smiled proudly. "I will have to remember that."
Queen's Quay and the Toronto waterfront is very desirable living space with a great many amenities that I did not have time to properly explore. I had a date, a theatre date. The theatre in question was the last remaining functional double decker theatre in the world, the Elgin and the Winter Garden on nearby Yonge street. I took the streetcar which literally burrowed under Union Station, then switched to a subway. Toronto is the only city where I've seen streetcars going under ground. It makes sense, and it's an easy and free transfer to the subway.
The Elgin and Winter Garden are two theatres that literally sit one on top of the other. Built as a 'high class vaudeville house' in 1913 by American theatre owner Marcus Loew, the lower half was originally called Loew's Yonge Street theatre. The name was changed to the Elgin when it was restored. "Why?" I asked. "And who was this Elgin?"
"There is no historical significance to this whatever," the giude replied. "When they were remodeling the theatre, they were changing the sign and found they had the E, the G, the N, and the L. So all they needed to buy was the "I". it was done solely for cost."
The cost of restoring the two theatres was considerable. The downstairs Yonge Street changed from live entertainment to sound movies in 1928. The upper theatre was closed. Everything in it stayed where it was for nearly sixty years.
When it was inspected in 1981, it was a time capsule of the vaudeville age. Remarkably, over 100 pieces of scenery were still in storage, though heavily deteriorated. The ceiling of the Winter Garden was still hung with the thousands of beech leaves and lanterns that gave the illusion of an actual garden. Everything was intact, but the leaves crumbled to powder upon being touched, and the huge central stairway acted as a funnel for soot and pollution, so all was black and fragile.
The two theatres were restored, complete with new beech leaves, thanks to the Ontario government that now owns the theatres. And what a treasure they are. The Winter Garden is breathtakingly beautiful, with the colored lamps once again twinkling in a leafy rooftop, and the pillars that support the building camouflaged as tree trunks. The original drop front with a country scene is still used as the main curtain. I expected to see Buster Keaton run out from the wings and do a little soft shoe with his double on the stage. And yes, he and his family vaudeville act had played this theatre when it was new.
The Elgin's decor is more conventional, but it too was lovingly restored to its original 1913 appearance, including the misspelled name 'LIZT' on one of the entranceway's commemorative cartouches. (These also commemorate 'Tableaux' and 'Vaudeville'. I don't know what the former is, but would like to see the latter make a comeback.) The Winter Garden has the same fairyland quality as the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, which was ten years older and considerably larger and restored from a similar state of decrepitude to its original glory. How much nicer both these theatres are than the nasty plastic boxes of your average 'multiplex'. Even if the show was mediocre, you could enjoy the theatre. This was in fact the original idea. The entertainment at the Yonge Street (lower theatre) was continuous, and patrons came and went as they pleased. Performers did two-a-day downstairs, with the Winter Garden reserved for one performance per day for the 'class acts'
Over one hundred pieces of scenery were found intact in the theatre. Most of them are in storage still awaiting restoration. Three vaudeville flats, "The Peacock Flat", "The Butterfly Flat" and "The Lane" were restored and hung on the walls of the now much enlarged building. Old retail spaces were converted to modern lounges and additional bathrooms during the renovation. One of the original dressing rooms was restored, complete with old makeup pots and some donated costumes.
As a special treat we were allowed to see the original 1913 men's room, which was clean and contained original fixtures, but was no longer in use. Our guide actually knocked on the door before unlocking and entering the room. "I'm notifying the ghosts that we're coming," he said, with a perfectly straight face.
"Have you seen any ghosts?" I asked him.
"I had someone or something tap my shoulder one day, and when I turned around nothing was there. It was a very firm tap," the man continued, "I definitely did not imagine it. And sometimes the elevators--which must be manually operated with a control--someone must bring it to you when you want to go somewhere, you can't move them by pushing a button--move by themselves when I'm the only one here."
Sometimes the elevator also stops by itself on the third floor of the seven story building. There is no door opening on that floor. "Was there one there historically?" I asked. "I don't know," the man replied.
I ended the day by going to the Toronto Powwow in honor of Aboriginal Nations Day. The weather tried to rain, thought better of it, and the day ended warm and beautifully.
Today I have to work to get more stuff out of boxes and get ready for a meeting on Monday.
And I must look after Gizmo, who had some health issues this weekend, but appears to be doing better now. I think she was annoyed at being dragged to the vets twice in a month and wanted to give the lie to his pronouncement that she was just fine. Maybe she wanted to teach me a lesson about going out all day and leaving her alone, who knows.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ten Days that Moved the World (it seems like that sometimes)

Ten days after the furniture arrived, about sixty per cent of it is unpacked. It's a lot easier to take things OUT than put them IN.
I replaced my long lost Savannah sideboard with my first piece of Canadiana. It's a small, Mennonite-built sideboard of some dark stained pine that matches surprisingly well with my existing furniture and fits perfectly into the space near the kitchen. It doesn't overpower the room and provides a suitable storage space for the silverware (which is too large to fit in the minute silverware drawers in the kitchen and so resides in a box on top of the cabinet) and the very lovely place mats.
A local household store is going out of business so I got a lot of material for half price. Not bad timing at all.
And there is so much to do here I am seriously considering taking a day off from unpacking today and going into Toronto to see the Nautical Festival while it's not thunderstorming. Some Newfoundland and Labrador ships sailed into Queen's Quay yesterday and I may just go there today since I love tall ships so much.
Solstice Weekend also features the Aboriginal Day and the largest outdoor Powwow in Toronto and I do not intend to miss that. It's going to be held come rain or shine, probably rain, and I'll be there just after I finish my tour of the splendid Winter Garden and Elgin Theatres on Yonge Street. These are the last surviving 'double decker' theatres in Canada. The Winter Garden is upstairs from the Elgin and is so small that it is best for intimate standup. It was originally a 'high class' vaudeville house. The only other survivor in the world is (no surprise here) the New Amsterdam Theatre in New York, which was splendidly restored a few years after the Elgin. But the New Amsterdam's roof garden theatre was apparently portable and only operational at certain times of the year. Toronto's Winter Garden was solidly built indoors, literally upstairs from the Elgin (originally called Loew's Yonge Street Theatre). It was and is designed to look like an outdoor garden, complete with actual beech leaves hanging from the ceiling. It originally had fans in the back of the theatre to rustle the leaves as if you really were outdoors. Fairy lanterns hang among the leaves and tree branches are painted on the walls. The theatre was closed in 1930 due to its small size and the bankruptcy of its owners and miraculously all the leaves were still attached, though blackened with soot, 60 years later. It looks like a magical place and I cannot wait to see it.
What a change from dull, uninteresting Rochester.
Gizmo went to the vet yesterday and was given a good bill of health. She got her Revolution, which is necessary since there are a lot of mosquitoes here. Pesticide spraying was made illegal here six months ago, and there is a price to pay. I'll bear the bites, but won't take the risk with Gizmo.
She was very sick this morning, probably throwing a hairball, but she's taking it easy now and I will keep an eye out for her to see if the vet was right about her good health.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Monty Python's Moving Circus

Put your life in a box. Better yet, put your life into 147 boxes with another hundred or so smaller ones packed inside most of them. Then take it out again. Moving is sort of like pushing a larger than usual pig that's been broken up into pieces--call it a pigsaw puzzle-- through a dyspeptic python while reassembling the pig as you go. What comes out at the end is supposed to be a furnished apartment with your belongings more or less intact and sort of where they are supposed to be. Moves actually take longer than this; I will be rearranging books and filing stuff and moving furniture and replacing the long lost Savannah sideboard well after the last cardboard box has gone.
I placed an ad in the local Freecycle advertising free moving boxes and three ladies have come, so far, to pick some of them up. This saves the boxes from the recycler and gives the ladies a welcome assist on their own moves. The price of boxes has tripled since I got these (and about sixty per cent of my boxes were actually found at the college or in the recycling bin in the basement--my Christmas presents last year were mostly made of cardboard.)
And shipping the boxes will add 100 per cent to the bill, due to the increased cost of gasoline. So everyone wins.
Most women in Oakville are either retirees or very young women with small children. The ladies who got the boxes all had kids, and two of them brought the children with them. I learned something new about Gizmo today--she is very, very good with very small children. The kids, age 2 1/2 and 6, were fascinated with her and she actually went over to be with them, only meowing when they insisted on petting her while she was eating. She wasn't afraid, never showed signs of anger, and the kids were pleased to be told that 'she likes you'.
Gizmo is a truly Great Cat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Best Bad Idea

Do you ever wonder why no one makes animation desks out of those cool metal mesh shelves? You need only put them together according to your own pattern and put a wooden desktop on it. You can add or rearrange shelves when you need them.

I thought it was a great idea. Then I started the project.

The first thing to remember when trying to do this, if anyone else is mad enough to do so: Never buy the metal shelves on Ebay. There is something wrong with them if you do. My shelves were subtly warped. This may be symbolic of animation, or of the owner of the desk, but the upshot of warped shelves were: sometimes the posts wouldn't go together, and the shelves had interesting tilts when they were assembled.The little black sleevey things that are supposed to keep the shelves tight to the posts kept popping off. I swear that once one of them jumped about six feet, projectile style.

The next thing to remember is to put a shelf at the bottom. I did not do so, and my spavined shelves threatened to collapse like something out of a Laurel and Hardy movie until I slipped a shelf up the legs like a pair of pants, held it where I wanted by placing it on a pile of books, and attaching the sleevey things, then kicking the books out. The result was about as pleasant as a public hanging; after retrieving the sleevey things, I managed to stabilize the bottom of the shelf.

My old animation desk top needed to be attached with O rings and S hooks. Trouble is O rings don't self-thread. They would not drill into the desktop, no matter how hard I tried, and since they were designed for metal they wouldn't have held anyway. I wound up using the S hooks and some cup holders. That's right. They're the ones you see hanging down in old kitchen cupboards, except that these had a spring closure designed for California earthquakes. (My tool box has a lot of earthquake picture mounts, etc. left over from my time in LA.) I then tied the whole mess together with aluminum wire.
(Update: I changed the cup holders to self threading O rings today and removed the wire, also lowered the desktop by five inches. It's now a really good, functional, desk with a lot of storage space.)

A surprising thing happened. The mess of warped metal actually seemed to straighten up and turn into an--animation desk! and not a bad one either.

And I discovered that the little sleevey things could be forced up from the bottom to make the warped shelves seat more or less tightly. It felt really, really good to use the hammer on them. I hit them very, very hard.

Gizmo managed to get up on the top shelf and peer down at me sweating below. Her fur bulged out between the wire frames for all the world like an old fashioned egg slicer.

I had constructed the thing in the living room and now had to push it down the hallway to the studio. In an act of sheer genius, I had dumped the expensive (and functional) wheels that came with the Ebay find. There were little plastic feet that would, I thought, protect the floor. What I didn't figure on was that they would grip the floor like a limpet and fight to stay where they were.
At this point, the shelves seemed to morph into a living creature with a mind of its own, and that mind was distinctly unfriendly.

I started pushing the desk toward the studio, the feet advancing by a series of shuddering jumps. As it reluctantly slid down the short hall, making a sound like a Wookiee mating call, I saw my idiotic cat sitting directly in front of the oncoming metal train.

"Get the *&@# out of the way!" I screamed. Gizmo did--and went into the studio, and sat directly in front of the thing, which had somehow turned the corner and was pushing a wheeled shelf ahead of it. My next remarks to Gizmo were even less printable, and I backed the shelves out before I ran over her.

Eventually I got the desk where it was supposed to be. It's behind me right now. I'll try to post a picture. It does not look at all bad, and there is plenty of storage space on the shelves. And here's an extra special Martha Stewed hint: To keep the books from falling out of the side of the shelves, I used aluminum wire threaded between the posts in a pattern that I have dubbed "The Drunken Spider". It looks really, really good. If I had the energy, I could thread little pink ribbons or something through it. It worked a lot better than the expensive metal 'side shelves' I purchased--in the wrong size! So yes, it is possible to build a functioning animation desk from wire metal shelves.

But next time, if there is a next time, I won't do this next time.

Canadian Capers

"What are you doing in the elevator?"

The questioner was one of two arrogant-looking twentysomethings standing in the hallway of a 1924 Rochester apartment building. I had loaded my 'accompanying' goods into the ancient machine while waiting for my neighbour who was to drive me and Gizmo to Canada. He was late. Yoga session. Which would not have been a problem if it weren't for the pair trying to get me out of the cab.

"I don't see what gives YOU the right to use it," the blond whined.
"I'm moving and I announced this move several months ago."
"Well, I'm moving!"
"Well, I'm NOT moving until my neighbour gets here," I said, privately imagining a scenario that began with them trying to forcibly remove me and my things, and ended with my landing a punch on a snub nose. The blonds left.
The neighbours arrived. We manhandled the huge computer box, cat box, document box, spare pots, small suitcase, cat and me into the rented "time share car", a Honda Element SUV, if that is not an oxymoron. Its name was actually Eastman. This was somehow significant. One of the seats had to be removed to accomodate Mr. Computer and Mrs. Monitor. Damn computers anyway.

Somehow everything fit, just. Gizmo, dumped unceremoniously into her cat carrier, howled as I shoehorned her and me into the remaining back seat. The howls were repeated at hourly intervals on the way to Lewiston. Since there was nothing else I could do, I picked her up and held her so that she could see the drivers (her old friends) and some of the outdoors. She quieted for a while after each session.

"Don't you want to even see the cat's rabies certificate?" I asked the customs agents at Lewiston.
They showed no interest in any of my documents other than the work permit. They were surprised that I already had it. I'd gone to Buffalo to get it a few days earlier, to prevent standing in line with Gizmo at a border post and minimize the stress for her.
There was no line in Lewiston. In fact, there was only one other person asking for border clearance.
"Do you need to see my contract or lease or degrees?"
"No. You already have the work permit. Do you have a car following, or plan to bring one in the future?"
"Then get out. Welcome to Canada."

The moving truck with three tons of stuff cleared Customs in about five minutes a week later. The clerk said my papers were so well put together, she could find nothing to change.

The truck driver informed me that he deliberately chose that particular office since the clerks were generally pleasant. "Nine times out of ten you will get someone like that clerk. The tenth time will be a dragon. If I'd taken you to one of the other posts, there is a 90 per cent chance that your goods would have been impounded and gone over with a fine toothed comb."

The new apartment at Queen Mary Drive was a real change from the Rochester apartment in more ways than one. I formerly thought the closets were ill planned and located. They swallowed the books easily and will take the shelves that I have yet to build (once I get them out of their boxes.) The super and his wife and their grandson have been extremely helpful, even cat sitting for Gizmo when the movers came. They wanted to keep her too, but they had just bought a small Siamese kitten and Gizmo promptly slapped it upside the head. Once the two were kept separately, Gizmo was a neat and considerate house guest.

"She's part Siamese," they told me. And when the kitten mewed at me in Gizmo's voice, I believed them. This explains her 'talkativeness', her gutteral growls and occasional babylike wails, her high intelligence and slim figure (no pet owners are NOT all like our pets! I only wish I had Gizmo's build and turnout.)

Things are starting to change, though. I got a medical exam before leaving and the incredulous doctor told me that I'd lost ten pounds. "Get out of a job, get a new job, leave the country, pack up three tons of stuff," I suggested. I guess packing is sort of weightlifting with a reward.

The welcome has been great across the board. On June 7 I attended a party at the home of WE MOVE TO CANADA'S blogger and author Laura Kaminker and Allan Wood in Port Credit. The Oakville resident's association can count me as a member and I'll attend their picnic next weekend at Foster Park. I have been to Friends Meeting in Toronto and took in the "Woofstock" dog show afterward near the St. Lawrence Market, copping enough free food for Gizmo to keep her in cat chow til September.

The studio and printer will be set up today, and I have a little work to do with hooks and so on before the animation desk top can be attached to the metal shelving. The Mighty Wurlitzer will make an admirable control center for teaching materials.

And my boss has asked if I could do some extra work this July, so there may even be a little money coming in.

The three ceiling fans are working hard, but the heat hit 100 for two days (40 C) and I was actually about to knuckle under and get an AC when the most violent lightning storm I've seen in years broke and washed most of the yuck away. The humidity level rivaled Savannah's for a day or so.

Now that I have the bicycle (which fits neatly into the storeroom along with the shelves!) I plan to do some exploring. Watch this space.

Canada is a lovely country and I'm happy to be here. I was surprised to hear that some Americans do not like living here and go home after a while. Whatever for?
The most obvious difference I've noted is that people here are a lot more polite. Strangers say Hello to you in the street just the way they do in the American South. This is a custom that I enjoy.
And there is, how do I say it...less tension here. As if I crossed through a curtain of it when crossing the border, and now I'm on the other side. It's not Heaven, but it's what used to pass for normal.
Maybe I'm just reacting to not having to plan for the move. It's done. The unpacking will take most of the rest of June, but at least everything is here.

I'll try to post when things happen. Lots more will be happening here than in Rochester, that's for sure.