Monday, September 25, 2006

The Holy and Undivided

This is Trinity College, though I made a bit of a bish and missed the prettiest bit of the facade. As far as I can gather, the University used to have a collegiate system like Oxford and Cambridge; I'm not entirely sure what function is performed by the remnants of this arrangement, other than decoration.

Hart House is what the Union would be if it had a gym, fitness classes, numerous sports teams, a theatre, a jazz choir, a chorus, several bands, a bridge club, a chess club, a proper cafe, and about five thousand other facilities. I think they won World's Debating last year. Oh, and it's free.

Underneath the Arches

This made me think of the ceiling above the staircase into Hall in Christ Church, though it's far smaller. It's the underside of an arch between Hart House and some other big quad. I had to get quite squinty to take the shot, and I have to admit that the angle of the lamp is a bit disconcerting, like something out of Dracula. You get the idea though: pretty, no?

Hart House

Hart House was modelled on Magdalen College Oxford, or so people keep telling me. I did feel a twinge of familiarity when first confronted with this vista.

Not Just The CNN Tower

Out for a walk in the last of the autumn sunshine, I saw this lovely building (which is some part of the university though I can't say what exactly) and snapped it. Though the sky above Toronto may be thoroughly scraped, there is still plenty of Olde Worlde prettiness at ground level, and this shot inspired a glut, some of which I shall upload above for those who may wish to picture my environs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

New to Sin

Where I am from Sin refers to dangerous, irresponsible and highly pleasurable behaviour which dissolute bon-viveurs find irrestistably attractive. Canadians have seen the perils of this racy and unsettling term for their law-abiding people and reclaimed it as the name for the National Insurance card, ensuring that no one need be menaced by those three little letters that lead straight to hell. Over here they lead to state-run pensions and an accurate and efficient income tax system instead.

Yesterday m'chum and I went and queued up for our SINs (ho ho) and experienced yet again the wonders of a functional beaurocracy. We were in and out in 60 minutes (including optional 30 for same day - same day! - service). The form was the world's shortest and simplest. The staff were kind and helpful and smiled. The people queuing all chatted and fetched each other forms from the carousel. The furniture wasn't bolted down. It could have been a 1950s village post office on the Isle of Wight.

But here was the telltale sign of the colonies: despite involving the world's shortest form I nevertheless managed to run into trouble owing to having been born in a small, unremarkable and not at all famous town in Scotland whose chief distinction is having at some point in the distant past given its name to a large and glamorous town in Canada which has since become very famous indeed. Had I been born in Banff, Alberta then I expect I would be much better at skiing and landscape photography. As it is, Banff, Banffshire has given me a curious accent and an indelible addiction to chips. However, there is no quarrelling with fate, and it is Banff, Banffshire takes the laurel for producing me, a fact of which the official was readily convinced when I adduced the necessary vowels and evidence of calorific consumption. I did wonder whether the two Banffs have anything at all in common, besides a name and persistent subzero temperatures. About as much as I have in common with an Olympic swimmer, I expect, or my ex-boyfriend has with an internationally renowned global economist. They'd certainly differ in their attitudes towards SIN.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


This weekend saw the end of the Toronto International Film Festival ( - sorry, I can't do hyperlinks yet) which I was lucky enough to be in on, owing to the largesse of a friend in the industry. It me feel like a true Torontonian since it's a huge annual event for the city and (I believe) the world's second biggest film fest after Cannes. For a week in September the place is overrun with limos and closed-off streets and long queues of fans hoping for last minute seats - or so it appeared as I swept past them with my industry freebies...
The insider access did mean that I wasn't choosing the films myself, and when it emerged that the first film was about heroin abuse, I began to wonder if perhaps I wouldn't be better off in the library after all. This sensation was compounded by discoveries about subsequent subjects, which included teenage suicide, apartheid torture, and exploitative globalisation. (In fact, the last one turned out to be a heart-warming clash-of-cultures romantic comedy, with the plot merely framed and fuelled by a US firm's irresponsible and unethical labour practices in the developing world, so that was okay.) Now I hardly need further goading into emotional lability at the best of times, and especially not when so far from home, but even I found these films nothing but uplifting, since they were beautifully made and very thoughtful.
In several cases the directors gave Q&As after the screening, but the audience really went through the roof one night when a staggeringly inarticulate, tattooed and scruffy youth with an offputting stoop appeared, gargled a few words of earnest but pointless greeting and shambled off again. This was someone called Heath Ledger. However, since he was not responsible for the script, I can wholeheartedly encourage you to see Candy (Neil Armfield, Australia 2006) which is superb beyond anything that a portrait of despair and depravity deserves to be and has made me into the High Priestess of the cult of Geoffrey Rush. Some will be more attracted by Heath Ledger, of course. Takes all sorts.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

More Grub

Today's dastardly confection was a Key Lime Pie, inflicted on my unresisting corse by my other housemate. She is a tremendous baker and kindly gave me a big squelchy slice of tangy loveliness after dinner. Delicious, and a particularly fitting conclusion to my aerobics class: since K was responsible for introducing me to the Athletics Centre it seems only right that she help me unravel any good it might be doing.
I am starting to think it is about time I shared with the household my own gift for cholesterol-filled creations, the making and eating of which have often brought solace in strife. Unfortunately, I can't afford butter, which is twice the price it is in Britain but essential to all my favourite recipes. Meat is also madly expensive, as are most dairy products, including, bizarrely, milk. How can milk be expensive? They have made it genuinely cheaper to drink Coke. So until Canada gets its own version of CAP (or whatever makes milk affordable in Britain), anyone with any vegan recipe ideas is welcome to make them known...

Monday, September 18, 2006

Today I had a paratha, a severely good and terrifyingly calorific confection which I had somehow missed out on in my years of curry-eating in the UK. It was prepared by my lovely friend and housemate Shama, who is a magnificent cook and unerringly generous in sharing the latest scrumptious concoction with whoever is hanging around the kitchen. She fills the kitchen with lovely smells and my life with good cheer. Afterwards I made myself rather sloppy instant noodles and disintegrated tofu, which was nothing like as good (though considerably healthier).
Here is Shama, even more beautiful than her parathas.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The World Needs More Canada

Or so announced the big sign in the bookshop. Given that, in terms of land-mass, Canada is the second largest country on the planet, I found the claim unpersuasive. However, on inspection they seemed to have personalities more than acrage in mind, as the backdrop was made up of the names of hundreds of famous Canadians. At least, I assume they are all Canadians. Otherwise it is was just a rather puzzling list of famous people.
Of course everyone knows about Glenn Gould and Margaret Atwood and Robertson Davies. But David Cronenberg? Saul Bellow? Oscar Peterson? My own prejudices will be obvious, as the list doubtless also contained the names of renowned geologists, software designers, Nobel-winning Economists and the like, none of which I would have recognised or remembered. But it was a long and impressive list for a "new" country (and I didn't notice mant Inuit-looking names up there) of only thirty million people. Incidentally, of these 30m, 10m live in the Greater Toronto Area. This means fully a third of the nation is using the same two off-licences.
One thing I found strange was that the names were printed in fonts of varying sizes, whether to reflect the (supposed) magnitude of their fame and achievements, or as a purely aesthetic exercise, I couldn't say. In any case, I was quite put out to see the wonderful Alice Munro in only the second-biggest font (anyone unfamiliar with her work should acquaint themselves with it as a matter of urgency) and thought of engaging the bookseller in an Atwood v. Munro face-off. On balance I decided he would be more likely to respond to critical remarks from people actually buying something, which I wasn't: books are expensive here, ironically for a nation of loggers. And of writers, indeed.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Distant Nuptials

Today is a very exciting day: two very old and dear friends are getting married (to each other), in the most long-awaited marriage ceremony since Scott and Charlene. In fact, by the time this goes up they will, barring forces majeurs, already be wed, which is hugely exciting and cause of much celebration, espcially for those of us who have been following their romance with avid interest for years and years. I need hardly mention the depth of my disappointment at missing it all: raising a solitary glass at a remove of thousands of miles isn't much consolation. But enough grumbling: it is a marvellous day, so let joy be unconfined and the echo of popping champagne corks echo across the pond. No photos for this post, alas...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Grapevine To The Right...

Today I went to the Athletics Centre. Despite having lived in and around Oxford for eight years, I don't know if Oxford even has an athletics centre, and I lived next door to the (noisy) college sports ground for months without even knowing it was there, with the odd jog along a picturesque towpath as my spasmodic concession to the need for cardio-vascular health. The sports centre here is enormous and unlovely (as you can see) and situated right in the middle of the campus, so there is no escape from a choice between exercise and guilt at not exercising. They also make it unreasonably easy by running a massive variety of classes, at all times of the day, which are free to University members, and for men and women of all ages, so one isn't intimdated into atrophy by oceans of improbably flexible PE majors. Above all there is the primal draw of highly rhythmic music, by which I am readily hypnotised into forgetting that I am sweating and in pain. As a consequence of all this, I have a made a find. They are called abs. I suppose I had been notionally aware of something separating my intestines from the layer of superadipose fat, but I wouldn't have gone so far as to call them abs. Now I have willed control of them. Extraordinary. These illustrious seats of learning really do exist to fuel the thrill of discovery. Next I would like to discover a means by which I can replace my precipitous heels after aerobics without hobbling agony. A litter, perhaps?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Somewhat in the manner of the old British television test cards, here are the current inhabitants of my bed. I am off to join them.

Scarlet and Black

Scarlet and BlackToday I worked out how to move pictures from my camera to my computer. I realise this isn't very advanced but we all have to start somewhere. If I am lucky I might be able to work out how to put them on here, too. Wouldn't that be clever?