Monday, December 21, 2009

My Black President



Mmabatho Ramoupi sings an a cuppella rendition of My Black President. This song by Brenda Fassi, is about and dedicated to Nelson Mandela. The song became a rallying cry for justice and freedom in South Africa and around the world.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Holiday Travel Survival Tips

This is the busiest time of year on the travel calendar. So how do you survive the stresses?

1. Advance Online Check-in 24 hours prior to Departure
To avoid the long line-ups try checking-in online at home. But before you actually book your seat, go to seatguru.com in advance and find out what airline you will be travelling on and make a list of seats that look appealing to you. This way you’ve done your homework and can better determine where you wish to sit. Often times, the airline will have pre-assigned you a seat which depending on the flight capacity, you might be able to switch.

The point about online check-in is you can only do this 24 hours in advance.

2. Check Flight Times Before You Leave Home
Visit gtaa.com, the Toronto Pearson International Airport schedule

3. Smart Packing
This is a big issue especially with gifts and things. Remember gift wrapping a present does not in any way mean your gift will be exempt from Custom searches. It’s quite the opposite. Everything needs to be transparent, making the Custom officials do their job faster.

Make sure your carry-on luggage is within restricted liquid limits. Remember the Liquids and 3-1-1 Rule. That's any number of 3oz (or 100ml) or less of any 1 type of liquid, all of which must fit inside 1 plastic zip-lock bag. You can pick up empty refill bottles or travel-sized toiletries from drug stores or hold on to the tiny toiletries from hotel rooms.

For rules on packing requirements visit either the Voyage.gc.ca from Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or CATSA, the Canadian Airport Transport Security and Authority.

The CATSA has a handy “Pack Smart” list you can check which has a complete item list or a search engine you can use if you are not sure of some of your items.

Packing oversized objects like skis, a snowboard. Check with your airline on this. You might find it’s better to leave your skis and snowboard at home. If you’re planning a short ski trip many of these resorts are fully equipped for rentals. And if they don’t rent there will be a local tour operator nearby who could.

4. Arrive to the Airport Early
If you have an early morning departure overnight in a hotel near the airport.

5.Getting to the Airport
Leave the car at home if you can. The TTC actually has a #192 Airport Rocket which is an express bus to the airport from Kipling Station. For the price of a TTC ticket you won’t need to worry about the parking.

6. Check-in Luggage
Check-in only one bag if possible. Even better if you can travel light and carry on all your belongings. Go to luggagelimits.com for all the handy info.

7. Airport Security
Make sure you have all your documents and forms on hand at all times. You want to dress without hassle as you’ll have to remove clothing and shoes. TripAtlas.com has come up with an easy Tip Sheet you can download online. It’s called Secrets to Getting Through Airport Security. The CATSE publishes a list online titled “Speed up screening” on how to manage your bins, understanding the physical search and more.

8. Keep Hydrated and Eat Properly
Pack healthy snacks, lunches for flights as most airlines with the exception of international flights no longer offer complimentary food.

9. Coping with Kids
Thankfully most of the holiday travel will be short haul flights under four hours. But if you find you’ve got connecting flights or will be on a long haul, be prepared. In both cases, parents should pack toys, treats and try to keep kids under control. Other passengers will love you for it. Things like being mindful of your child kicking the seat in front of them or pulling a passenger’s hair etc…

10. Medications
Some travellers need their prescriptions. Just make sure you pack this in your personal belongings and have the necessary documentation ready to show the Customs officials. The pills should also be in their original labeled bottle.

11. Stay Healthy
You want to be mindful of germs. You can pack small packets 100 ml (trial sizes) or less of hand sanitizer for the plane and remember to keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes and nose. To help you survive holiday travel, Cheapflights.ca has a handy Top 10 list of “Things To Keep In Your Hand Luggage To Keep You Healthy.” you can read it on their web site.

The list includes: taking an inflatable neck pillow and using your coat as a blanket. Many airlines are no longer providing pillows or even blankets. Antibacterial wipes to wipe down your seat area like the tray and TV monitor. Also carry fizzy Vitamin C tablets. They dissolve in water and can be taken during your flight.

12. Talk to your Travel Agent
Travel agents have a wealth of knowledge about your destination and your flight booking.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Road to Castagno: A Renaissance Dream



From the timeless beauty and magic of Tuscany, springs this romantic tale of an artist's unfulfilled dream to paint the portraits of the town's people on the chuch walls of Castagno de Andrea.

The Road to Castagno is a portrait of a Canadian portraitist in his adopted landscape. Michael John Angel is a classically trained painter who studied in Florence in the 1960s and returned to live and work in Italy in 1989. Michelangelo is both his namesake and his mentor. Angel was inspired to become a painter at the age of seven when he first saw pictures of the Judgement from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The village of Castagno d'Andrea in the remote mountains of northern Tuscany is lovingly photographed in warm tones that evoke Renaissance images. Angel first visited the village when he went there in 1957 as an apprentice to his teacher, who was commissioned to paint a crucifix in the church commemorating the 500th anniversary of the town's most famous son, the painter Andre del Castagno. The film shows Angel's own work in progress, a commissioned mural in the same church that will eventually include more than 100 figures, all portraits of the villagers.

Angel works on initial portraits in his studio and painting en plein air. The indoor shots give scope to a discussion of the art of painting and portraiture, and the outdoor shots allow exploration of the intriguing, timeless countryside. Other than one conversation, the only voice beside that of Angel's is that of the local priest, who gives us a brief history of the town starting with its relocation in 1335 when a rock slide from Mount Falterona covered the town.

DVD available at: www.mycompass.ca

Monday, December 14, 2009

Young Leopard



A young leopard rests in the shade. Head Ranger of Ulusaba Karl Langdon talks about how the leopard hunts and the importance of the leopards long whiskers.

The leopard is a member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four "big cats" in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion and jaguar. Once distributed across southern Asia and Africa, from Korea to South Africa, the leopard's range of distribution has decreased radically due to hunting and loss of habitat, and the greatest concentration of leopards now occurs chiefly in sub-Saharan Africa. Due to the loss of range and declines in population, it is graded as a "near threatened" species. Its numbers are greater than other Panthera species, all of which face more acute conservation concerns.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Authentic African Sound: The Nut Whistle



Two Shangaan musicians play an authentic African instrument. The whistle is made from the hollowed out nut from the black monkey orange tree. Three holes are cut into the nut to make the whistle. It produces a unique traditional African sound.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Building Boon Hits Upstate New York

GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK. Al Gore tells us. Sheryl Crow supports environmental causes, and hundreds of other celebrities are leaving their green thumbprint on the growing eco trend.

So what does a former industrial town in upstate New York do?

Syracuse, N.Y. -- quickly earning the accolade as “Emerald City” for environmental breakthroughs -- recently staged a Healthy Buildings Conference for academic researchers and other professionals from architecture, building products and services, public health, urban planning and environmentalist types.

And the timing couldn’t be better, report city insiders.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lions Hunting at Night in Kruger - SA



A pride of 5 lions and one male stalk their prey at night in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Ulusaba's head ranger Karl Langdon takes us on a thrilling night safari. We follow the lion pride through the African bush as Karl gives fascinating narration of the lions hunting behaviour.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

African Frogs Singing in Kruger



On a night safari, African singing frogs pierce the darkness with a cacophony of mating sounds. Karl Langdon Head Ranger of Ulusaba, identifies the different frogs by their songs, from the Bubbling Kassina to the Banded Rubber frog, to the Painted Reed frog. It is a feast for your ears.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

RIU Opens: the most talked about resort in Costa Rica




I wonder if singer songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk’s upcoming vow renewal at the swanky Riu Guanacaste Hotel in Costa Rica will go off with as big of a bang as dare I say a recent visit I made to this sun-kissed beach property?

But then again, I was on hand to celebrate “the” most talked about resort opening this Central American country has witnessed in a while.

Heralded as the hottest brother sister hotelier team, Carmen and Luis Riu did not disappoint and scrimp they did not. In between the usual speeches and ribbon cutting ceremony, the five-star property’s Matapalo Beach was the backdrop to a colorful fireworks show that set the night ablaze in bouquets of diamond glitter.

Surrounded by a sea of Costa Rican big wigs, the Riu’s even had the Costa Rican president on hand to bring in their celebrations. The President of the Republic of Costa Rica Oscar Arias Sanchez is no shrinking violet either. A Nobel Peace Prize recipient, he brokered peace in the 80s to this once civil war strife region of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

But on this full-moon evening with 400 champagne-toting guests, Mr. Sanchez regaled on how wonderful this new venture will be for the economy and for the growing importance of the tourism industry there.

Wayne Noseworthy, product development director for Sunquest Vacations, was ecstatic about the night’s full pageantry but was even more elated that RIU has added this property to its collection of over 100 hotels and resorts in over 16 countries. “Sunquest is the exclusive partner with RIU and we are thrilled about this expansion.”

The Rius aware of the location’s isolated wilderness have thankfully bowed to sustainable practices and have made an innovative water filtration plant on-site which minimizes waste and maximizes reuse. Ever wonder where your shower water goes? At this 701-roomed all-inclusive resort, soapy waters from showers and washbasins are filtered, bleached and treated with ultraviolet light. After that, the water is reused for toilet tanks. Eco-loving clients will surely give high marks for that.

So why did RIU Hotels & Resorts open in Costa Rica? “Costa Rica is a destination that greatly complements our portfolio with its stunning scenery and beautiful beaches. The nature surrounds the whole travel experience and it really impressed me when I first visited years ago,” begins Luis Riu, CEO of RIU Hotels & Resorts who added the country is popular among Canadians with the main tour operators in America already working with the country.

Still in these economic times is it a good idea to open a new property? Luis admits the economic situation has affected the completion date on the RIU Palace Guanacaste which is currently slated for next spring.

“Of course the economic scenario was not the best one possible, but we believe in this destination and we want to respect the commitment we acquired with the local community and our partners,” he says and adds, “The opening of a new hotel is a long-term project and we can’t be stopped by temporary difficulties. RIU constructs and owns all of its hotels in America and Riu Guanacaste is no exception.”

Last month, the Costa Rican national newspaper ‘La República’ reported that the Guanacaste Tourism Board Director Mauricio Céspedes noted how the Riu Guanacaste is the only project in the region that actually opened on time this year.

Inspired by Spanish colonial influences, sky high ceilings mesh with walls decorated in the latest art collections by Spanish modern artist Martin Fernandez. Your clients have ample diversions to help them wile away the hours. By day, it’s a ginormous pool with a built-in jacuzzi, spa and fitness facilities and by night the casino and night shows are popular choices.

Located on the Pacific Coast local tour operators such as Swiss Travel and Guanacaste Tours can arrange for fun off-site activities. One day I managed to act like a monkey and hung out in a cloud forest, zip-lining across the tree-tops surrounded by howling monkeys.

If zip-lining in this jungle paradise is not your speed be a local cowboy, known as 'sabaneros,' and try horseback riding from a traditional hacienda into the wilds of Rio Negro Hot Springs. Your journey includes a refreshing dip in this mountain river. Another day we drove into the wild wet lands of El Viejo on the doorstep of the Palo Verde National Park for an out-of-this world river cruise along the Tempisque River. In between the egrets and kingfishers, we got a jolt as a pair of crocodiles decided to head toward the boat. Then white-faced monkeys scampered in the thick brush eyeing us as we eyed them. It was all good fun.

Now when Chantal arrives for her big day (it’s November 27th) undoubtedly she will have fond memories too. Right now her Facebook and Twitter accounts are describing her heavy duty work-outs in preparation for her bikini. She’ll need some mosquito repellant too. Happy 10th Chantal!

ET Canada will broadcast the wedding vow renewal between the Canadian songbird and Our Lady Peace front man Raine Maida on Monday, December 7 - 7 p.m. EST or 7:30 p.m. PST on Global.


To Know:
Riu Hotels and Resorts
For bookings contact Sunquest Vacations

El Viejo Wetlands

Swiss Travel Costa Rica

photo credit: Stephen Smith/mycompass.ca

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Worth Waiting For: Aboard Holland America’s MS Maasdam


We’ve all heard of last minute vacations but how does booking a cruise aboard a sold-out ship two hours before departure sound? Turns out a Holland America cruise I took encountered just that.

One couple cancelled two hours before we embarked on a seven-day New England/Canada cruise aboard the MS Maasdam. In a NY-minute another couple booked their last-minute trip and arrived to the pier, suitcases in tow.

Was this just an aberration?

“Last minute bookings like this happen more often than you would imagine,” says Rick Meadows, executive vice president for HAL’s marketing, sales and guest programs and adds, “This one had to be quite the photo finish.”

With the economy not-so-down and the trend of staycations this past summer, cruisers haven’t despaired. In fact, this particular route around since 1995, Rick maintains wins a big popularity contest among the cruising set with some even booking a roundtrip cruise.

Read more
Photo credit: Stephen Smith/mycompass.ca

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cuban Invasion at Canada's busiest intersection


It felt like Blade Runner invaded Yonge-Dundas Square Labour Day weekend. Flashing Times Square sized billboards and a squadron of Blue Angels thundered overhead leaving their vapor trails as the jets banked towards the CNE’s International Air Show.

But you didn’t have to look further than the vintage Havana Club Rum car parked on T.O’s new urban plaza to know that Cuba was calling.

There were no Fidel sightings but if you popped by the Cuban Photo Show, part of the Viva Cuba Festival that took place last Friday, you would have seen a photo of a young Generalissimo from his Revolution days.

Photographer Roger Humbert explained how his image depicts a life-size poster of Fidel hanging in a crumbling room in the Museum of the Revolution. “I really liked the wall colour and the way the light was streaming in from the windows,” he said.

The photo show’s producer Stephen Smith invited an ensemble of photographers among them photographer duo Bill and Kris King to showcase the best of Cuba and judging by the crowd’s reaction they didn’t disappoint.

Many stopped by the al fresco photo exhibition tent to catch the images of of dancers, musicians, landscapes and wildlife. “You brought us down memory lane,” smiled one visitor. Another man, an architect from Iraq was intrigued by the island’s beauty. “I would love to go there,” said Basil Orfali and added, “These photos help me see just how beautiful the people are.”

When Mr. Smith was approached by the Cuban Tourist Board to produce this photo event, he was more than delighted. “I really wanted to give back to the people of Cuba. I wanted to highlight the uniqueness of the Cuban culture in all its colour, complexity and diversity. The independence of the Cuban spirit is inspiring and humbling.”

Organized by the Cuban Tourist Board in partnership with the Dundas Square Management, the Viva Cuba Festival also had sponsors from Air Canada Vacations, Barcelo Hotel & Resorts among others.

Over 800,000 Canadians visited last year. The Cuban Tourist Board reports so far this year looks pretty good with 567, 626 arrivals till the end of May showing an increase of 11.8 % compared with the same period last year.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Buzz on Sting

Quebeckers don’t let the weather get in the way of a good time. Case in point: Last month’s Summer Festival.

While rainstorms were hitting Ontario and Eastern Canada, it seemed every day, festival revellers managed to put on their Wellies, grab their brollies and march on down to the Plains of Abraham for the 11-day summer event, rain or shine.

They rifled in to watch Styx, Placido Domingo, and Kiss among many other musical talents using a $45 pass that was good for the entire festival. Friends of mine managed to catch Ramon Kelvink Jr., the legendary high wire artist, daringly cross a steel wire stretching from the Price Building to the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac which was pre-empted several times due to the weather. “We didn’t know what was happening and when we finally did see Ramon, I held my breath for the whole 20 minutes,” said Kris King, editor of ejazztravel.com.

Quelle horrible.

But what could be worse? If you’re a Sting fan like me the worst thing would be missing his concert while he was in the same city. Quelle catastrophe not be in the audience. I mean I just couldn’t be a no-show to the guy who gave the world “Every Breath You Take,” and “Fields of Gold.”

So I double checked our trip dates and double checked Sting’s only Canadian stop to his two-city North American tour. (The other place was a no-name town in Connecticut, called Ledyard which weirdly overlooks the Thames River). I figured maybe he decided on this unknown New England leg for some house hunting as word has it Justin Timberlake just bought in Greenwich and Joan Rivers’ house is up for sale.

My other half and I were to finish a Maritime cruise (more on that later) in La Belle Ville de Quebec and here I was wishing that if only I could get all the stars to line up I’d get my wish. The cruise would be wonderful but wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if Sting could be the cherry on top?

I checked yet again. There it was on the Internet. Sting was scheduled to be in Quebec City the same weekend. Now for most, when we mention Sting, here’s the typical reaction: Eyes widen and light up. A big smile consumes the whole face. I don’t know what Sting has but there is this appeal that transcends all generations. Maybe it was his claim to fame with “Roxanne,” or “Message in the Bottle.”

Whatever it was, I was ready to get an update on this vintage model known for his eight-hour tantric sex acts with wife Trudie Styler.

Except Mother Nature had another idea. It rained the day before. It rained the day of. “I can’t believe it. What if they cancel Sting tonight?” I moaned to Stephen, sprawled on the bed at the Hilton with views ironically of the Plains of Abraham.

It didn’t matter. Rain or shine I would be there. We munched on Lebanese by the Saint Jean Gates and marched on by to the Bell Stage. The skies opened with a glimmer of sun splashing across the clouds. Now streams of followers started jockeying for spots. People hunkered down on the grass, claiming small pieces of green real estate as their own. “Hey I can’t move,” muttered one disagreeable sort, splayed on the ground with cooler under his derriere.

Finally after dodging the crowd we found what was to become our turf near the stage. Heavy metal indie rock band, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cranked up the decibel. It’s been years since I was at a concert and forgot how loud “loud” can get.

Darkness descended and behind me, 120,000 spectators stood, red lights flickering to the Hydro Quebec pins mounted on everyone’s chest all part of the hardware for the Quebec City Summer Festival pass.

We watched as the icon appeared, clad in a heavenly white t-shirt and NASA-inspired white trainers. Legendary bass in hand, tunes from The Police started and continued. I watched him like a hawk, waiting for je ne sais quoi I guess a moment where his personality would shine. One song bled into another. This guy was not quitting despite what I thought was a touch of a cold (he wasn’t hitting notes at times, and it wasn’t a new rendition either).

Between sets, he occasionally gulped from a gargantuan white tea cup (he had two cups) perched atop a Moroccan-designed table, the only reminder that this was no ordinary stage. I wanted him to whisper some sweet nothings to the crowd. Instead, sparse one-liners that were few and far between were delivered over the plains to an audience who were largely there to well…party. One girl was having a lover’s tiff. Another couple brought their fast-asleep baby tuckered out in a back sack as daddy slurped on Molson Dry. Still there were those who smoked, drank and smoked some more.

Hey people don’t you know this is a Sting concert? I thought to myself as Sting stung the oblivious audience. Later, I spoke to some music critics who explained how the guy who has sold over 100 million albums worldwide wasn’t really known for his stage performances anyway.

The next day’s headline read “A haircut for Sting.” Word had it he got his hair trimmed and on Saturday he ate a six-course lunch at Saint Amour (www.saint-amour.com, 48 rue Sainte-Ursule) to show off his new look before the concert. He stayed at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac (1 rue des Carrieres) and left on Sunday around 2pm aboard his private jet.

Sting might have left but the festival atmosphere raged on as street performers strutted their stuff by the esteemed Chateau, across from Simon’s and along Rue St. Jean. We sipped on organic coffee at La Brulerie de Café de Quebec (575 rue Saint-Jean), dined al fresco at Piazzetta (707 rue Saint-Jean) one evening, feasted on gelato at Tutto Gelato (716 Rue St Jean) and for our final evening, it was a chocolate extravaganza.

The gal readers I’m sure will appreciate the rich taste of fine chocolate. Over at the Choco-Musée (634 Rue St. Jean) local entrepreneur and chocolatier Erico created this emporium to the cocoa bean. Besides learning about chocolate history, and how rich empires profited on the taste of the day, you can watch how chocolate is made on the premise, purchase freshly made creations or try his delectable gourmet ice cream. I especially recommend his mega chocolate and gingembre ice cream, a refreshing taste of ginger that helps clean the palette.

So Sting has gone but like his song says, “If you love somebody set them free.” A bit hokey, a bit cheesy, but hey he let me turn the clock back and walk down memory lane. This Englishman in…well Quebec.

The price of tickets for admission to all performances during the 11 day festival: $45CAD. The last 4 days of the Festival, a day pass sold for 25$ CAD.

More on Quebec: http://www.quebecregion.com/e/ or toll-free 1-877-783-1608
Photo courtesy: Steve Deschenes/Quebec City Summer Festival

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bringing Down The House


Outside showed no mercy, as tornadoes raged on the Toronto burbs but legendary jazz artist Bill King knew his show must go on.

“Not again,” he said recalling last month when the artistic director of the popular Beaches International Jazz Festival was forced to shut down the annual summer festival on the last Saturday hours earlier due to flash flooding. That was a first.

Now faced with Mother Nature obstacles once again, the producer of The Real Divas took the stage at Lula Lounge in Toronto with his Real Divas in tow.

The female foursome (Kinga Victoria, Josephine Biundo, Sophie Berkal-Sarbit and Lauren Margison) fearless to the crackling thunder hitting the streets, diva-d it up for their debut CD launch of Café Society.

Showing no mercy, the singers paid tribute to some of their favorite artists and to familiar tunes ranging from the British Invasion sixties group “The Animals” to Broadway medleys that Bill personally re-arranged adapting the pieces to suit each singer’s strength.

With hip hop, reggae and house music dominating the youth music scene, it’s a blissful tonic knowing there’s a young generation ready to celebrate and embrace the classics, fusing the songs with a contemporary edge.

Sure home grown performers Michael Bublé and Diana Krall sing the classics but how many times have you seen The Real Divas in action? Check them out next time they play in your neck of the woods.

For bookings and more info see www.billkingmusic.com/realdivas.cfm

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Artful Royals of Buckingham Palace

Who said the Royals are old school anyway? Royal Watchers and techno geeks take note.

Despite the Old World pomp and circumstance surrounding the British monarchy, the New World with its sublime slices of modernity is what the the Royals like to nibble on.

These days you can watch them on their Royal Channel on youtube.com, catch blogs posted daily from their favourite charitable foundations, become an FBF of Queen Elizabeth and post comments on her Facebook page, and for eight short weeks shuffle along with the rest of the crowd touring the Queen’s official residence all the while using a touch-tone digital audio guide that pipes in the voices of the actual staff who work at Buckingham Palace, discussing all things royal of course.

To boot, Buckingham Palace is hosting a celebration this summer. read more...

Friday, July 3, 2009

My Date With A Prince

Okay some of us go through life kissing plenty of frogs with none ever turning into a prince. But what about meeting one? I decided to go for the real deal.

Buckingham Palace is normally off-limits but not this time.

Since 1993 during the months of August and September, Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, has opened the door of her private residence, offering public tours to some of the State Rooms while she and the rest of the Royals head up to Scotland to their countryside retreat.

On this occasion things were different. read more...
Photo: Graham Jepson/VisitBritain

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Relic Hunters by London's Tower Bridge

Face it, London is so ancient you feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare.

On a recent visit a few blocks from the historic Tower of London, currently home to Dressed To Kill, a fascinating collection of King Henry VIII’s armour never before seen since the time of his daughter Elizabeth I, and past the Tower Bridge, another piece of architectural mastery, I spotted a block-sized abyss on 20 Fenchurch Street.

Construction worker-types congregated around the chasm, some with arms crossed, while others were scratching their heads. I peered out from my cab that resembles a film prop from the sixties TV hit The Avengers, and stared in unison with the now growing brood.

What's up? read more...

What’s With The Archaeological Site By London Bridge?

Face it, London is so ancient you feel like you’re walking in the footsteps of Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare.

On a recent visit a few blocks from the historic Tower of London, currently home to Dressed To Kill, a fascinating collection of King Henry VIII’s armour never before seen since the time of his daughter Elizabeth I, and past the London Bridge, another piece of architectural mastery, I spotted a block-sized abyss on 20 Fenchurch Street.

Construction worker types congregated around the chasm, some with arms crossed, while others were scratching their heads. I peered out from my cab that resembles a film prop from the sixties TV hit The Avengers, and stared in unison with the now growing brood.

What is it?

Turns out last year the Museum of London Archaeology Service (www.museumoflondonarchaeology.org.uk ) uncovered a late Roman masonry cellar here. What baffles the team is the mysteries surrounding a glass vessel found with the letter A. Nowhere in London have archaeologists ever been able to find Roman glass of this quality dating to the fourth century.

No one knows what to make of this extraordinary piece and experts predict likely it will remain a mystery.

So what’s going to replace the gaping hole? That’s no mystery. Try a 36-storey building nicknamed the Walkie-Talkie. Located in London’s emerging “Eastern Cluster,” the estimated over £200m (US$400-million) development is the brainchild of Uruguayan-American architect Rafael Vinoly (http://www.rvapc.com/) who brought us the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and the new Fortabat Museum in Buenos Aries. Needless to say, the radical complex has been a thorn in the side of some critics.

Originally the new yet-to-be-built structure was going to hover nearly 200 metres tall, with many reporting it would severely impact St. Paul’s Cathedral. Back to the drawing board it was. Design alterations have been made and the Walkie-Talkie is expected to be completed by 2012. To date three phases of archaeological excavations have been planned with the third one now in high gear.

Oh what would the ghosts who flowed over London Bridge in T.S. Elliot’s Waste Land say?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Annigoni: Portrait of an Artist


This award-winning, critically acclaimed motion picture is based on the life and times of the last century's most famous portrait painter, Italian master Pietro Annigoni.


This is the first film to tell the story of Annigoni. From his artistic birth in Florence, to the height of his fame and fortune Annigoni pursued his own path, standing alone against the forces of modernism in art. Annigoni was a bohemian, a drinker, a fighter and a womanizer, yet the world's most powerful and celebrated people sought him out for portraits. Pietro Annigoni was once called the painter of beautiful women but chose instead to be the painter of beggars.

100 Best Movies You've Never Seen by Richard Crouse http://www.amazon.com/Best-Movies-Youve-Never-Seen/dp/1550225901
"Exquisite... a superb and memorable film"
John Haslett Cuff - The Globe and Mail

"Intellectually intoxicating... a fascinating document"
Independent Eye

"A stirring and compelling work"
Geoff Pevere - Film International

"Poetically photographed, accompanied by a stirring musical score"
TV GUIDE

"...has a single minded passion worthy of the artist."
Peter Goddard - Toronto Star

"...amazing...hours of televisual excellence."
Patrick Watson - CBC Writer/Broadcaster
video

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Need for Speed: Indy Chicks do "The Oval"


Instead of sporting femme fatale attire like in Thelma and Louise we’re decked out in sponsor-ladened fire-retardant coveralls, balaclava, gloves and shoes. With a blonde helming the steering wheel on a mid-western fall day sun overhead, Speedway Indiana never looked better.
Shoe-horned in a purpose-built two-seater racing car, sitting behind Indy 500 darling Sarah Fisher, I was ready to hit the world’s most famous racetrack, The Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Who said chicks can’t drive? read more...