Monday, May 28, 2007

Toronto's Garbage

The City of Toronto has decided that it will compete directly with Canadian Tire and Home Hardware by selling garbage cans to reduce household refuse. Well, it's not really competing since residents will be compelled to buy one of the City's receptacles. One's garbage collection fee will be the price of the container, a function of its size. While I'm a fan of user fees in general, am I the only one who thinks that a $300+ jumbo container will last no more than two garbage days before it's nicked?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Everything I Love: Sour Grapes

Tonight on Buffalo's WGR 550, Chris "Bulldog" Parker asked whether Buffalo Sabres fans can, in good conscience, root for the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup finals. Bulldog himself hopes that the Senators are annihilated because, although he loves Canada because he loves hockey, he's too bitter about the Sabres' defeat in the semi-final. Seems counter-intuitive to me, since what does that say about Buffalo if the Sens are swept by Anaheim?

The humiliation for Bytown, however, was when the Team 1200's Lee "The Franchise" Versage called in from Ottawa to plead for Bulldog and the Buffalo fans to cheer for the Sens because the two cities have so much in common. No they don't, Lee, and to steal a line from a very good friend of mine, your call embarrassed me and it embarrassed yourself.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rant: The Political Panel

Partisan political punditry used to represent the worst in televised politics. Discussions between politicians or their advisors are pointless since they seldom answer questions or address one another's arguments, preferring to parrot the party line. A rare exception was a panel on CBC radio's Morningside on which Stephen Lewis, Dalton Camp, and Eric Kierans had candid discussions about Canadian politics in the 1990s. My guess is that they never received their parties' talking points because party hacks thought they were all dead.

These panels used to be the intellectual basement for televised politics, until pseudo-celebrities started debating serious issues on this gong show.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Canadian City Pronunciation: Toronto

Last week I reviewed the correct pronunciation of Ottawa. Today we look at Toronto, a city name butchered by Canadians and foreigners alike. "Toronto" is pronounced "Tronno", like the 1982 Bruce Boxleitner flick with a "no" on the end. When said with a clipped southern Ontario accent, it comes out sounding like "Chronno", with a "ch" sound as in "chips". While many wince at the "To-RANT-o" commonly heard in places like Windsor, the real fingers-on-the-chalkboard version is the over-enunciated "Toe-RON-Toe" employed by the city's mayor, David Miller, who is not actually from the city and should generally be ignored.
Photo credit: JamSki

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Review: Spider-Man 3

Movie adaptations of comic books are good when there are lots of fights with ghoulish villains. In Spider-Man 3, Spider-Man fights with decidedly un-ghoulish villains played by Forman from That '70s Show and Lowell from Wings. That's when there is any fighting at all. Most of the movie has the goofy-grinned Peter Parker gushing about his feelings for Mary Jane Watson and having heart-to-hearts with Aunt May. It reminded me of last year's Superman snooze-fest. On a go/no-go scale, I give the Tobey Maguire-Topher Grace Battle Royal a "no-go".

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rant: Air Travel

A few observations about the safest most irritating way to travel:

  • If you need to use the on-board washroom before take-off, you need to drink less.
  • Don't blame insufficient leg room on being too tall... blame it on being too cheap to buy business class.
  • Air France is just like Air Canada, except that the flight attendants are polite.
  • People used to wear their best suits to travel. On today's trans-Atlantic slumber party, they now wear their best track suits.
Photo credit: ricklibrarian

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Luxembourg Gardens

For election Sunday in Paris we bought baguettes and pastries and picnicked at Luxembourg Gardens, the expansive park that flanks Luxembourg Palace, home of the French Senate. In cities where most residents are apartment dwellers, parks are the hub of daytime activity. In Toronto, where most live in houses, they're primarily for dogs.

The fountain was full of model sailboats that children pushed into the breeze and while their parents fed french bread to pigeons. Back in the shade, fastblitz chess matches drew the interest of tourists who were mesmerized by the flurry of hands and moves as time ran down on the three-minute timers. My favourite activity were the games of p├ętanque, a bocce-like game, where metal balls are thrown as close as possible to a marker. Some players are skilled take-out specialists, making seemingly-impossible shots to dispose of another team's ball with a deafening clank. I had previously thought this game to exist only on the Cosby show.

Photo credit: Hello Hillary

Canadian City Pronunciation: Ottawa

I've had all that I can take of those geniuses on Buffalo's WGR 550 butchering the name of my hometown. "Ottawa" is not pronounced "Attawa", as though you're slapping your 300-lb buddy on the back, saying "attaboy" for scarfing down his 10,000th chicken wing at the Anchor Bar. It's "Ot-uh-wuh" and the first syllable is pronounced as though you're saying "awe". The end of the word, however, is not pronounced "awe", it's more like "wha", as in "wha the... how did the Sabres get swept?"

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jack Granatstein on the Division of Powers

The success of Hee Haw's guest blogging last week has convinced me that this space is enhanced with voices other than my own. The Webber contributed this to the Parking Lot:

I went to see military historian Jack Granatstein last Thursday night at the Toronto Public Library, for a lecture on his new book, Who's War Is It? How Canada Can Survive in the Post - 9-11 World. It was a really good lay-of-the-land speech about the state of Canada's military and how Canada thinks too much in terms of values when it comes to international affairs and not enough about interests.

It appeared to be a good night out for the residents of the nearby retirement home, but predictably a few trouble makers showed up to vent their frustrations about the US, George Bush, and the environment. Professor Granatstein, no doubt used to this after teaching at York for 30 years, took them all on with vigor. He had many good lines, but there's one that I must share...

Someone claimed that Tony Blair was quitting because he is so unpopular over the Iraq War, citing Labour's losses in the recent municipal votes, to which Professor Jack laid the smack down with, "Did you vote for David Miller because you hate Stephen Harper? People don't vote in municipal elections on national issues. They vote for garbage pick-up."

Review: Music & Lyrics

The Hugh Grant-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy, Music and Lyrics, was the in-flight movie en route to France, so I was a captive audience. Grant plays a has-been pop star with one shot to get off the Holiday Inn '80s Night circuit by writing a song for a teen diva. His disturbed plant-waterer Barrymore is recruited as his lyricist and, over late night writing sessions, romance blossoms, and then withers when they disagree over changes requested by the pop princess. This follows the romantic comedy template: courtship, hook-up, break-up, reunion, and falls apart at the break-up over a trivial conflict (especially since we all know that Hugh Grant is capable of much worse). There are a few chuckles at the beginning of the film thanks to Hugh Grant's skill with self deprecation, but otherwise, on a go/no-go scale Music and Lyrics is a tedious "no-go".

Monday, May 14, 2007

Do you have something simple, like soup?

Traveling is a great opportunity to sample new restaurants and cuisines. Not everyone feels this way. Witness this exchange with a fellow tourist from Boston in the middle of a Paris street where we were browsing menus:

Boston: Do you speak English?

David: Yes.

Boston: Oh, thank God - have you eaten anywhere around here? Nobody will tell me what the things on the menu are. I'm afraid they'll serve me creepy crawly things.

Clearly, this woman had recently seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and mistook Paris for Pankot Palace, and Camembert for Snake Surprise.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

A great quotation from a cynical accounting professor who's teaching us an exam preparation course:

"The Toronto Maple Leafs aren't a hockey team, they're an entertainment act. Nobody expects them to win hockey games. As long as they put on a show, people will pay lots of money for tickets."
Like the opera.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

AZERTY Keyboard

Email was frustrating in France thanks to the bizarre AZERTY keyboard used in that country. Several letters are reversed, punctuation marks are impossible to find, and the shift key must be pressed to type numbers. Using it is what I imagine post-stroke recovery to be like.

Photo credit: Cosentino

Friday, May 11, 2007

My Heart's (Bleeding) in the Highlands

For those socialists who are distraught or rioting over last weekend's defeat in France, I say fear not. Scotland is more than willing to bear the distinction of becoming northern Europe's economic basket case.

Photo credit: reabhecc

Everything I Love: French Politics

On our first night in Paris we dined on French sausages at Montmantre and then climbed to le Tire Bouchon Piano Bar for beer and wine. On our descent, the blue light of the Royal-Sarkozy presidential debate flickered from the windows of every restaurant, bar, and corner store, with as many as twenty customers crammed around thirteen-inch sets.

I caught the last half-hour of the marathon debate and it reminded me of how much more I enjoy Quebec leaders debates in Canada to either the federal or Ontario versions. French politicians, animated and charismatic, seem to directly engage one another and speak from the heart rather than their notes. Over 20 million people tuned into the debate and, from what I could make out, they were treated to a meaningful discourse.

Election fever exceeded any I've seen in North America. Everywhere we went, people were arguing over the Sarko-Sego question. Election coverage pre-empted prime time television programming as the candidates swung across the country for the last three days of rallies. On Saturday, when campaigning was to have stopped, flag-waving young socialists paraded past a cafe where we were eating and got into it with a young couple drinking espressos.

In a grocery store on election day, we were accosted by a man asking whether we'd voted. When he learned that we were Canadian, he pumped his fists and declared triumphantly that it was "a great day for France. For twenty-five years we've had some sort of socialism, and now we will have twenty-five years of business!".

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Perpendicular Parking in Paris

The smartest thing about a SMART car.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thank You, Hee Haw

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to my cousin George for his able stewardship over the past week. Thanks to Hee Haw, the word "hockey" actually appeared in a non-derisive post and I now know that I'm not half the gentleman I thought I was. Thank you, George, for bringing your sharp wit and subtle sophistication to some of the Parking Lot's most entertaining posts yet. I hope you'll do it again soon.

Before I run off to clear my ears from one of those signature Air France landings, I'd like to respond to a comment left last week by the Webber, who wrote "I am pretty sure David would never have mentioned Voltaire or extinction in his posts!". Well, just for you, Sean, I snapped this picture at Voltaire's tomb. He's definitely extinct.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Writer Comes Back From Vacation

I am handing the reigns back over to David’s more capable hands. It has been an honour writing on the Parking Lot this past week and I can honestly say that I have a new respect for bloggers. Both writer and editor combined, the blogger has to determine whether a piece is in fact interesting before even sitting down to write it. I’d like to thank Rubber Duck, who I deferred to when I didn’t trust my own editorial instincts. I once read a short story called “The Writer takes a Vacation”. The point of the story was that the writer never takes a vacation. There’s always another chapter, another article, another post to think about. Let’s hope Dave had a few moments of real vacation in Paris. It will probably be quite evident after his first few posts that he didn’t.

How to be a Gentleman

For my birthday, I received a book published by Brooks Brothers called “How to be a Gentleman.” I thought I would share my favourite instructions.

"A gentleman knows how to make a grilled cheese at 2am and an omelet at 7am."

"If a gentleman attends a great many bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, he buys his own yarmulke."

"Unless he is a Texas Ranger or a cattle rancher, a gentleman does not wear cowboy boots with a suit."

"When a gentleman feels the urge to colour his moustache, he shaves his moustache off."

"When a gentleman outgrows his clothes, he gives them away to charity. He does not pretend that someday he will lose weight. When, and if he does lose weight, he certainly will not want to celebrate by wearing out of date clothes."

"A gentleman has never been seated beside a boring person at dinner."

"A gentleman may not be able to dance a samba, but he should be capable of a fox-trot, which is almost like not dancing at all."

"A gentleman reads a newspaper, preferably the New York Times, at least three times a week."

"A gentleman always carries a handkerchief. Because it is always clean, he readily lends it to others."

"When a gentleman realizes that his fly is open, he zips up-on the spot, if convenient."

"When a gentleman quotes Shakespeare, he does not give the name of the author. If the quotation is not quite accurate, all the better yet."

Monday, May 07, 2007

A digression on an expression

The expression “keeping up with the Joneses” has an unlikely origin. It is said to have first been used in reference to American novelist Edith Wharton’s great-aunts Mary and Rebecca Jones, who horrified the rest of their austere society by building a mansion in uptown Manhattan. So next time you use that expression in reference to your neighbour’s new patio furniture, think of what those poor New Yorkers were up against.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

We're All Ottawa Senators Fans Now

At the beginning of the playoffs I went for a run in downtown Toronto wearing my Ottawa Senators jersey. I was honked at, yelled at, and given the finger. One car even followed me a half block so the angry driver could ensure that I caught all his expletives. Yet when I went for a walk in my Sens jersey yesterday the response was considerably different. In fact, the only responses I elicited were friendly ones. The comparison isn't entirely fair. Running in a Senators jersey is a more antagonistic statement than walking. A hockey sweater isn't your everyday running attire and I had clearly gone out of my way to lord it over disappointed Leafs fans. Nonetheless, it’s apparent that Torontonians are reconciling themselves to the fact that the hard-working Senators, Canada's remaining hope for the Cup, are a very likeable team.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dispatch from Paris: Ou etes vous, Michelle?

Between the funky keyboard and Hee Haw's momentum I wasn't going to blog until I came home, but by then I fear a great tragedy will have taken place. France, it seems, is on the eve of electing a president with a belief in the free market. Where is Michael Moore to save the French from themselves, and interfere with the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Rant: The New Globe and Mail

I’ve never been one to embrace change but I’m not in the minority when I say that the re-designed Globe and Mail is a failure. The Globe is Canada’s most serious newspaper. You used to be able to tell that from five feet away. It looked substantial and assured of itself. It had a visual quality that insisted it be read. But the new design has squandered all that. The once airy masthead is crowded, the layout has been cluttered with lines, and the new sans serif font makes the paper look perfectly at home beside the tabloids. A dignified old lady has become a petulant little child. The only redeeming or at least understandable change is the paper’s smaller size. All the big dailies are going this way and it’s easier to handle on buses and subways. Still, one of the best things about the weekend was picking up that goliath Saturday edition, bursting with newness, and putting it under your arm.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

He went to Paris...

Looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.

Sniffing and Swirling in Niagara

The town of Jordan is little more than a quaint touristy strip. The expression “blink and you’ll miss it” would apply to a pedestrian here. Sara and I arrived Saturday morning to celebrate our second anniversary in mixed form. I, a little hung over. Sara, a little over-zealous. I knew this when Sara, normally a flawless driver, backed her SUV into the only other car in the parking lot. Luckily there was no damage and, since people don’t actually exist in Jordan, no one saw it. Shortly after checking into our hotel we met our wine tour guide, Dan, a 70 year-old who doesn’t look a day over 45. Our wine tour included tastings at three wineries: Jackson Triggs, Strewn, and Caroline Cellars. After picking up the seven girls who would join us on our tour, we were off.

Jackson Triggs is the biggest and most technologically advanced winery in Niagara. We learned that French oak casks produce better wine than American oak, ice wine grapes are picked at -8, and hot, dry summers produce better vintages because water dilutes the grapes. We then tasted four wines from their 2004 vintage. I was surprised that they didn’t switch the glasses after each tasting. ‘But I can’t tell if I’m tasting the butter in this chardonnay or the oak from that Riesling.’ Next stop was the much smaller Strewn Winery. I didn’t enjoy the wine as much here but the salmon lunch was quite good. We were also given a brief tutorial on food and wine pairings. Our third and final stop was at Caroline Cellars. Caroline Cellars is a family-run winery with no presence in the LCBO. That’s a shame because the wine here was easily the best of the day. Or was it all the attention? As soon as I finished a glass, a fresh one with a new wine was placed before me.

On the way back, Dan gave us a tour of Old Niagara. This historic, elegant little town deserves more than a quick pass through. But our hotel, Inn on the Twenty, was enough reason to stay in Jordan. We had an excellent dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, well-known in the region.

All in all, it was a fun and informative trip. And I came up with a handy expression: “What’s bad for the farmers is good for the vintners.” Though if I were to actually use it, I’d probably need to figure out which wine goes best with a knuckle sandwich.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dropping the Ball

It’s with a great deal of pride and no small amount of trepidation that I temporarily take over the reigns here at Out in the Parking Lot. Maintaining the quality of Dave’s writing and the interest of his readers will not be an easy task. I just hope I don’t drop the ball. And so for my first post I’ve explored a history of ball-droppers. Here are the five biggest ball-droppers of all time.

5. Dallas Cowboys QB, Tony Romo.

With 1:19 left in last year’s NFC wild card, Romo fumbled a routine snap and botched what probably would have been a game-winning field goal.

4. Mark Kelley.

Mark Kelley drops the ball every time he appears on the National’s Road Stories. I have better things to do at night than watch Mark Kelley hitch-hike across Canada or walk the Bruce Trail.

3. The American Electoral College.

2. The last Dodo Birds.

The last Dodo birds dropped the ball when they went extinct. When other animals were busy adapting, the Dodo Birds were just hanging out. You know when you go extinct you have really let the team down.

1. Louis XVI.

He bankrupted France, financing America’s fight for liberty-a counter-intuitive move if there ever was one. He married the haughty Marie Antoinette. He invited such beacons of liberty as Ben Franklin and Voltaire to his court. Louis dropped the ball when he dropped his head, ending centuries of Absolute Power and aristocratic privilege. The Sun King would have been rolling in his grave.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Guest Blogger: Hee Haw

While I'm in Paris this week, my cousin Hee Haw (George) has generously agreed to be a guest blogger. George is an advertising man, responsible for several celebrated campaigns. He acquired the moniker Hee Haw one summer when he started receiving mail addressed to "Hee Haw" and "Banjo". This puzzled the farmer, who collects our mail at the cottage, to no end. I try not to ask...

Everything I Love: Our Theme Song

The song from which this blog takes its name is about the whisky drinking, fist fighting, and necking that takes place on a normal night outside any ramshackle honky tonk. In this description of west Texas nightlife, the real show is out in the parking lot. As the songwriter Guy Clark has said, "it's the antithesis of the Boot Scootin' Boogie". Clark and guitarist Verlon Thompson performed our anthem a couple of weeks ago at the Homer, New York show and I recorded a portion of it for your viewing and listening pleasure.