…on Island View Beach.
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With love, from scratch, and with some of the country’s best theatre artists, we build, rehearse and create our plays in our own home, a renovated 19th century church in Fernwood – Victoria’s most interesting neighbourhood.”
From The Belfry‘s website
Victoria is blessed to have such an energetic arts scene!
To The Belfry last night to catch one of the shows in the theatre’s annual ‘Spark‘ festival. This excellent festival runs for nearly two and a half weeks in March and offers a number of full length productions in rep in The Belfry main house and studio theatres, in the Metro studio and in other locations across the city.
As I have mentioned before in these marginalia the Kickass Canada Girl and I have season tickets to The Belfry’s regular season and this year we took advantage of the accompanying reduced price offer to pay our first visit to the festival as well. It proved a most interesting evening.
The show that we had selected – Toronto’s Outspoke Productions’ “SPIN” – started at 8:00 of the evening in the main house, but for those who chose to arrive early a number of ten minute ‘mini plays’ could be sampled in odd nooks and crannies around the building. The Girl and I saw three – ranging from an interesting audio production for which an audience of three donned headphones in a tiny ‘broom cupboard’ to listen to a monologue whilst rifling through a treasure box of memorabilia – all the way to a Mohawk woman of a certain age shocking the genteel burghers of Victoria with knowingly racist humour.
“SPIN” was itself an intriguing disquisition by singer/songwriter/actress/poetess Evalyn Perry on the early history of cycling – the invention of which turns out to have been a major feminist event. The show featured – and this was a first for me at least – a bicycle percussionist! By this I mean (should you require clarification) a man who uses a bicycle and its component parts as a sort of drum kit rather than someone who plays percussion whilst riding upon a cycle!
We enjoyed the show greatly and found the story of Annie Londonderry (not her real name!) – the first woman to ride a bicycle around the globe – both fascinating and moving. We felt, however, that as a whole the piece needed a little structural work; that perhaps the balance of the material was not quite right for the length of the show.
Very grateful as ever that we have such splendid endeavours on hand to inspire us.
William Shakespeare – The Tempest
To those who live in any degree of proximity at all to mother nature – be it through custody of some humble (or grand) garden (or yard!) or by virtue of residing on the brink of the barely-charted wilderness – the persistence of the myth of the phoenix will make perfect sense.
To the centrality of the bird (with its magical ability to fly all-seeing above our prosaic earth-bound existence) to mythologies from around the globe is added the life-giving power of the renaissance/resurrection connate in the cycle of the seasons. The added bonus in many versions of the myth of the cleansing/regenerative power of fire only adds to its potency and illuminates the Christian church’s desire to appropriate this pagan apologue (along with many others of course) into its oeuvre – however temporarily it may so have done.
Further idle musing upon the subject of the bird summons for me images of autumn – of the fallen dead leaves fueling November bonfires – of the blade-razed stubble burning in crimson swathes across the moribund fields as the chilled charred soil surrenders to the winter… and then of spring – the first tender shoots pushing their tremulous way through the dank, inclement loam, searching for the first warming kiss of the sun god’s life-giving rays…
But I fear that I digress – and this time I have not yet even begun…
This post – although appearing at an appropriate juncture in the new year – is not actually about nature at all, but rather concerns a quite different rebirth – though one just as keenly welcomed as is (or would be!) the spring itself – or indeed the fiery metempsychosis of the indomitable bird. Allow me to elucidate…
Way back in the early days of these dribblings I posted to this blog a miscellany of images which included one such of my favourite Greater Victorian supplier of meats – Orr’s of Brentwood Bay. I proselytized all too briefly regarding the extensive merits of this Scottish family institution at the time, but in a further post not two years later I found myself reporting the sad news that Orr’s was no more – having in the meantime gone out of business.
It is with great delight – therefore – that I can now report that Fraser Orr has again set up shop in the neighbourhood, this time even closer to us in Saanichton. We will once again be able to source Ayrshire ham, black pudding, Scotch pies, Forfar Bridies, Clootie dumplings, proper haggis and all manner of wonderful meats and other provender from the auld country.
Joy of joys! For this we are truly grateful…
No-one could suggest that Vancouver Island – which so often seems to be uniquely blessed when it comes to climate – has not experienced a proper winter this year. The past few days have found us buffeted by a serious storm which many of us are hoping is the very last gasp of this particular winter before it surrenders to the impending spring.
Fingers firmly crossed!
In the meantime, some pictures of snow and ice…
a. rough, untamed, barbarous
b. (of theories, plans, etc) not thought out
At the top of the New Year it feels as though the weather here in Victoria is determined to blow away utterly any echo of the year that has recently stumbled to a close. The winds over the past few days have truly been ‘rough, untamed and barbarous‘ (not to mention that they add a significant chill factor of anything from -6°C to something considerably worse) and show no signs of abating anytime soon; indeed the half a gale that is blowing as I write is supposed to go the whole hog later tonight.
The sea has taken on a mean look. Protected by the Gulf Islands the Haro Strait never sees more than mild whitecaps but this belies the ferocity with which the winds can whip across its surface.
Though the land temperature merely hovers around zero the wind chill rapidly dissuades one from spending much time outside.
It is at such times that we are grateful to live in a well insulated house equipped with a heat pump, the which does an excellent job of maintaining the internal temperature at a most pleasant 70°C. With our new gas log fire we can face down the external conditions and remain toasty warm inside whilst watching the elements raging outwith our picture windows.
For those unfamiliar with such things the trick – incidentally – with heat pumps (which work in a manner similar to air-conditioning) is to maintain as close as is possible the same temperature at all times. It is considerably more efficient (and cost effective) to run the system constantly than to allow the temperature to drop and for the hear pump then to have to struggle to raise it again. Though this may seem counter-intuitive to those who are familiar with the sort of central heating systems more commonly found in the UK, one rapidly gets used to the idea.
“A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.”
Snow in Victoria is a lot like snow in the south east of England; it doesn’t happen that often and it is always a bit of a non-event when it does. Compare these images with the shots that I took in Kamloops last Christmas…
Hard on the heels of my last post (which detailed the first two days of an elongated weekend of musical delights here in Victoria) and following a brief intermission, comes the second half… as it were!
To The Belfry theatre on the Sunday for a matinee performance of a new entertainment – “I think I’m fallin’” – based on the songs of Canadian singer/songwriter (and all round icon) – Joni Mitchell.
Now, one might argue – were one being particular – that this is not strictly a piece of theatre at all… at least not in any form that I have previously encountered. It is in fact more of a performed homage. There is certainly no overall narrative and such character as there be rises largely unfiltered from Mitchell’s poetic lyrics themselves.
The five massively talented singer/musicians brought their full vocal and instrumental gifts (including a couple of particularly wonderful voices and some gorgeous harmonising) to bear on new and in some cases most imaginative arrangements of the songs. Inhabiting the stage in a variety of configurations the cast mercifully resisted the temptation to over dramatise the selected numbers; the songs being allowed to breathe on their own and all the better for it.
If the above comments intimate in any way that I might not have enjoyed the piece then they have misled. Certainly it helps to be a Joni Mitchell enthusiast to fully embrace the show – but there is, as you might expect, no shortage of same in Canada. I came late to Mitchell (as to many things!) but I am now a perfect proselyte.
The final event in our busy (extended) weekend actually took place on Tuesday – giving us a much needed night off on the Monday. Along with 1500 other like-minded souls we gathered at the Theatre Royal in downtown Victoria to re-kindle acquaintance with a face from way back when; Roger Hodgson – co-founder and former member of Supertramp.
For many of us who were in our late teens back in the UK in the early 1970s Supertramp provided an essential part of the sound track to our growing up. Their beautifully produced and quirkily dramatic songs put them into much the same camp as Genesis and other similar(ish) progressive rock outfits. It turns out that – if anything – the band was even bigger in Canada than in Europe.
Supertramp were unusual in that they featured two main songwriters – in Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies – who shared the writing duties in a roughly even split. When Hodgson decided to leave the band in the early 80s Rick Davies carried on as the leader. Eventually Supertramp stopped playing Hodgson’s songs completely whilst the latter – now touring as a solo artist – featured just those compositions.
As is often (though not exclusively) the case neither constituent has been able to match the achievements of the original line-up (at least in the eyes of the record-buyers/concert-goers) and in both cases their later careers have consisted in the main of providing a nostalgic revisit to the glories of the past…
…in which – in this instance – we were happy to indulge.
I am habitually to be heard at around this time of year bemoaning the sorry reality that the weather has turned against us, that the nights are drawing in, that everything natural is dying and that this be my least favourite time of the year (at least until the following February or March; which months frequently offer strong competition). Shortly after voicing such jeremiads I am highly likely to be heard again – apologising to those for whom November is their birth month and as a result the main event in a much loved season!
Since our arrival in Victoria last year I have been obliged to modify this inveterate impression somewhat. The Victorians – presumably as a means of counteracting similar bouts of ennui – appear to have chosen this particular quantum of the pre-Christmas season to stage a wide range of quite unmissable events. Thus is was that over the weekend just passed we found ourselves with no less than four delectable entertainments to attend in five days.
In a post from early October last year I wrote:
“Friday found us back at the Mary Winspear Centre for another charity event for which the Girl’s best friend was helping to organize the silent auction. The most worthy cause on this occasion was the raising of funds to support the excellent work done by ‘THRIVE Malawi‘.”
This year’s equivalent fell a month and a half later – but still on a Friday. The main attraction was also a repeat performance:
“The centrepiece of the event was a concert by local ensemble – The HiFi. All you need to know about this assemblage of musos – who describe their schtick as “New Orleans, West Coast brouhaha” – is that not only are all concerned amazingly talented musicians, but one of them is actually an internationally reknowned boogie pianist appearing under a pseudonym for contractual reasons. Anyway, they all appeared to be having a lot of fun – as were we!”
We have now seen The HiFi twice and – frankly – we love them most dearly. If you live around Victoria do keep an eye out for them at Hermann’s Jazz Club, where they are regular – if infrequent – performers. Should you appreciate good music in any form you would surely find it difficult not to be impressed.
On the subject of the ‘dearly beloved’ – come the Saturday night we were back at the Mary Winspear to catch Barney Bentall and the Cariboo Express. Barney Bentall was a leading figure in Canadian music in the 90s and had a string of hits with his band – The Legendary Hearts. Of The Cariboo Express Barney’s website reveals the following:
“The Cariboo Express is a one-of-a-kind variety show cast with renowned Canadian musicians, led by Canadian superstar Barney Bentall, along with Ridley Bent, Dustin Bentall, Kendel Carson, Matt Masters, Wendy Bird, various special guests and a backing band comprised of some of Canada’s finest musicians. Each of the core members have music careers of their own, but every November the group convenes to raise funds for various worthy charities in the spirit of song, community and giving back to society.”
Saturday was our second time with the Express and it is difficult to put into words just how much fun this show can be. With up to fourteen musicians on stage at any one time – each of them having a seriously good time – no audience could possibly resist.
We didn’t even try!
“And I rose in a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in a shower of all my days”
Following a gloriously dry, hot summer it was probably inevitable that – when the weather finally broke – Autumn would offer a complete contrast. It has accordingly thus far been emphatically wild, wet and windy. When it has not been raining the skies have – in the main – resembled more closely those with which I am familiar from the old country.
Every now and then, however, something shifts and we awake to find a sunrise such as this:
Last weekend we ventured north to Nanaimo to pay a visit to the Kickass Canada Girl’s mother. As is our wont we took the shorter but slower (and considerably more relaxed) route via the Brentwood Bay/Mill Bay ferry. That particular day was not sunny!