26 December 2009

Stuff I Like - December

Gangster knuckle tattoo, what?
1) My new tattoo

I know, I know. A hand tattoo. That's a pretty big commitment - but I have a few lovely rings that cover it perfectly for job interviews/high society functions/my own wedding type events. The decision came on the heels of another - I have decided to extend my half sleeves down to what are called "sushi sleeves" (3/4 length - names for the fact that sushi chefs usually are fully tattooed underneath their blouse-things) and I figured that one measly knuckle couldn't hurt. I was in LA last Monday and I just marched down to the nearest tattoo parlour and said "let's do this."

I like it. It makes me feel somehow more gangster despite the fact that I am not even gangster in the slightest - I'm like, the exact polar opposite. Well, despite the knuckle tattoo... Oh! And what does the V stand for? (other than Vodka, Vancouver, Violence and erm....) Violet, of course. You should all get one!

2)CocoRosie

Music starts at the 30 second mark. Watch this.

Let me start of by saying that I should, under any normal circumstances, hate CocoRosie. Freak-folk as a genre sounds like exactly the kind of thing that I would run screaming from whilst shoving my tiny fingers in my even tinier ears, but somehow this sister act snuck under my radar and made me a convert. From the moment that my BFF Xstina dragged me into her office and youtubed me to death with their videos I have been smitten with them, a near-romantic obsession. A strange blend of folk, hip hop, opera and children's musical toys, CocoRosie could easily veer into pretension and cliche, but somehow they manage to stay clear of awful and just make me happy instead. Of course, they live in Paris and are huge in Europe and you can sniff out a hipster by merely mentioning their name - but je vous aime. Le Sigh.

A lifelong dream, fulfilled. "I saw the best minds of my generation...."

3) Poetry


After a nearly 5 year hiatus I have been writing poetry like a teenager (let's just hope that it is better and less angsty than when I was a teenager.... eep!) No longer am I filling notebook after notebook - now it is all on m'little laptop, but it feels the same. Two, even three bouts of inspiration bombard my brain each day and I am just frantically trying to keep up and get it all out. Perhaps it was my November visit to San Francisco and the City Lights bookstore that triggered this renaissance of couplet and haiku, the swirling spectres of Ginsberg and Kerouac and Ferlinghetti rushing through my brain and tweaking and pulling at various synapses and making them crave an alternate form of expression. Or maybe I am just depressed and bored to be home....

The really unfortunate thing is that I happen to hate the word: Poetry. I don't think that there is another word out there that can make you seem so up your own ass, so incredibly pretentious and d-baggy than poetry. Shudder. So please don't ever call me a poet unless you want a beret up your keister. I own some. I am ready.

A different kind of Uke.

4) The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain

I don't really feel that I need to say too much here about how great this is. It kind of speaks for itself. Especially when you watch them perform Lou Reed's 'Satellite of Love.' Bing Bang Bong, indeed.

They don't call me Violent Violet for nothin'.

5) Optimum Wound Comics

I'll admit - I'm not and never have been a super big comic-reading lady (with the exception of all of the Tank Girl and Sandman issues I could get my teenaged mitts on.) I'm not one of those girls who finds comfort while safely ensconced in the basking glow of nerd approval and the geek-points that obscure manga can accrue. I do, however, savour a hard boiled crime caper with film noir styling and that is why I love Jason Thibault's baby Optimum Wound (and it's stepchild Blunt Force Beating, for which I write sometimes.) I will admit that this is kind of a shameless plug for a close friend and his endeavours, but I have been psuedo-promised that this year Violet Dear's image may make a surprise appearance in one of his stories, Battles Without Living Witnesses (but probably as alter-ego, Violent Violet) and wouldn't y'all like to see that?

"It was an insignificant bullet" - Brandon's Klaus Kinski tattoo.

6) Werner Herzog

I have mixed feelings about Wernie's latest offering, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans but that doesn't change the fact that he is a member of my 'trimurti of favourite of living directors' along with "King of Venereal Horror" David Cronenberg (a fellow Canuck!) and the exquisitely surreal David Lynch. Recently, my good friend Brandon got himself a tattoo of Klaus Kinski in Herzog's "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and I realized that I had never seen it. Once I picked my jaw back up off of the ground, I watched "Fitzcarraldo" and its accompanying documentary "Burden of Dreams." Amazing. I am now hooked. I try to watch a Herzog film (and there are about 100) once a week.

But really, the main reason that Herzog is unbelievably awesome comes from this anecdote here.

exs and ohs
Violet Dear

25 December 2009

Violet Dear's Christmas Message to Friends and Readers

Many Christmas Cracker Hats....ALL AT ONCE! (And my late Grandfather's patented shoulder tea-towel)

This was written for my best friends yesterday - I decided I wanted to share it with you, dear readers...

Christmas Eve means a lot more to me than Christmas Day - it always has. My family celebrated on the Eve and the only Xmassy thing I did on the 25th was open Santa's gifts. For me, today IS Christmas.

I am sitting on my Mum's living room floor, surrounded by gifts and a beautifully decorated tree (thanks, X) with cats weaving their way around as they eat ribbons and claw at the pompoms on my new Mukluks. I'm listening to John Denver's "Rocky Mountain Christmas" and eating Mandarin oranges while I wrap some final presents. Sure, I am not filled with as much frantic Christmas excitement as I would have been 20 years ago, but it still feels good. It feels like a link in a chain of tradition that spans generations in my family.

What a year. What an insane amazing year! I spent 10 and a half months of it scaling mountains and climbing ruins, speaking Hindi and eating bugs - but my heart was always here with youse guys! (gag, I know - but it's Christmas time. C'mon....)

Last Christmas I felt gutted and wrung dry - completely homesick and missing my culture and traditions. As you may have heard me rant - India celebrates Christmas, ermmmm, incorrectly to say the least and I was regularly found drying my tears in front of "Nigella's Christmas Feast" clutching a peppermint latte (from the only Western coffee place nearby) humming "Silver Bells" under my breath. (On Christmas Day itself, I must admit I was not complaining - living on a boat in the Maldives kind of sucks the sadness from anyone....)

Throughout the year I had the chance to witness unparalleled beauty, often coupled with soul-crushing sadness. The smiles of orphanned children, the sweet nature of abused dogs, the collective pride of downtrodden nations. It all made me realize how unbelievably lucky we all are as we sit in our warm houses surrounded by Nat King Cole, Clark Griswold and the Grinch, smells of holiday cookies wafting through the air. We have so few problems comparatively - let's all be thankful and happy!

Of course, my year wasn't all travel - we had a time of unspeakable tragedy as Heppy lost her brother Evan - a pain that will continue for a long time to come - and as usual, in some sort of weird cosmic symmetry a time of happiness and discovery as I met my brother (Hi Tyler!) Both events will continue to shape and change my life forever.

And as anti-climactic and, in ways, depressing coming home from my giant trip can be it is worth everything just to be here and celebrate with my friends, my family and well, Nigella.

So you might feel all Bah-Humbuggy, you might say "Oh, f*%@ Xmas right in it's goatass" but just try to remember that today of all days is about reflection, family, joy and, let's face it - life.

I love alls y'alls - Merry, Happy, Joyous Christmas.

xoxo
Violet Dear

17 December 2009

See, Jain, Think

My favourite quote.

During the Christmas season I know that we are supposed to reflect on family and friends and our good graces - but lately I have been getting a bit more esoteric than shortbread and giftwrap.

See, it was nearly a year ago exactly that I visted a humongous, strangely gawdy/beautiful Jain temple in Mumbai, where I was living at the time, and I am not sure if it is all the yoga I have been doing lately but I can't stop thinking about the quote pictured above.

Jainism is one of India's strangest religion - an offshoot of Hinduism that was first practiced 2600 years ago, around the same time that Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha, to you and I) was walking the countryside and creating his own religion, Buddhism. Jains are a super strict ascetic bunch who are so passionate in their vow of non-violence to ALL creatures that they sweep the ground in front of them as they walk (as to not step on bugs) and wear masks at all times (to avoid inhaling said bugs) - hell, they don't even eat food grown underground (that's the bug's food.) The practice is just common enough throughout India that many coffeeshops and hotels have special Jain menus. It is a fascinating and deeply tradition steeped religion - I am in awe of the Jains I have met.

You can see the weeks old bullet holes in the pillars at Leopold's.

A few days before Christmas (and our weeklong trip to the Maldives) my Mum, S and I toured downtown Mumbai mere weeks after the attacks, stopping to see the damage to the Taj Hotel and even having a drink at the iconic Leopold's (where 11 had been shot dead during the seige.) The Jain temple, one of the biggest in India, was the highlight of my day (even more than the vultures circling the Parsi 'Towers of Silence' - but that is another entry.)

"Every man is the architect of his own fortune." The quote written on the stairs in the temple hit me in the chest with its simplicity and wisdom - I had one of those cliched "A-Ha" moments (no, not one of those - one of these.) We were blessed with sandalwood tikka marks on our third eye and headed to another of Mumbai's sights - but this one was the most important to me.

The bowl filled with the fragrant sandalwood tikka for blessings.

So this Christmas, one year later, I reflect not on Jesus, not on Allah, not on Shiva - but on Jain wisdom and it's simple messages of non-violence and responsibility for oneself. Quit worrying about gifts and gossip and out-doing your neighbours. Worry about yourself, your own state of peace and your own joy. To be a navel gazing yogi - focus on this moment, right now and really live in it - make it perfect. If we all try this the world will be a better place. You are the architect of your own future. Remember that.

....and also remember, I do like gifts too. I'm not that spiritual.

Bless this S.

Before anyone writes me any outraged/patronizing/prosletyzing comments about Jesus please, please try to remember that every single one of the world's religions feels just as passionately as you do that they are the only RIGHT ones. You've made mistakes before, right? Like that time on that school trip? Or that time in Cabo? C'mon.

08 December 2009

Autopsy Turvy....

Violet Dear goes on the strangest fieldtrips.

The Old Morgue is the coldest room in the building that stands at 240 Cordova Street in Vancouver's - hell, Canada's - most notorious neighbourhood: The Downtown Eastside. Here, amongst the tricks and johns and junkies stands the Coroner's Court. This art deco building (1932) houses the Vancouver Police Museum's collection of guns, gore and city-specific crime lore and just happens to be curated by my good friend Joanna.

She is the reason that I find myself here, in the sketchiest part of my fair city on this subzero degree day shivering and cursing the airplane that ever pried me from Fiji. As I am not working (thank you, S) until I start school I find myself with the luxury to volunteer and flit around for a while this December. Because I know that Joanna always needs help down at the Museum I decided to pop in for a few days to research some topics for their blog (and also here, natch.)

As I mentioned last week I am always fascinated by the turning shifts and changes in any city's history, especially mine. I don't know whether it is the traveler or the historian in me but I cannot think of a better spent afternoon than one elbow deep in the seedy underbelly of this Klondike port town turned beacon of livability. The Vancouver Police Museum - whose building also houses the former morgue and CSI lab - is at the navel of this belly (too far?)

Care for a cold one?

On this brisk December morning the old morgue was really, really cold. Perhaps that is why an infamous Vancouver coroner was known to keep one of the big slab drawers reserved exclusively for beer..... The rest of the morgue has been converted into a display showcase for some of the city's most infamous crimes pre 1960 - macabre cases of murder that make people gasp and tarnish our affable reputation. Who's livable now, bitches?

Sir, I am not willing to overlook your, um - warts.

Through the morgue is the autopsy room - famous for one very special visitor, one Mr. Errol Flynn, legendary film actor of Robin Hood and swashbuckling fame. In 1959 a nearly bankrupt Flynn arrived in Vancouver, a 17 year old plaything in tow, to sell a yacht to a wealthy local businessman. After a few days of parties and rich food he retired to his room on Burnaby Street (mere blocks from my old heritage building on Jervis) complaining of a sore back. He was discovered dead hours later by the girl and transported to the City Morgue for his autopsy.

Over the next few days press and gossip rags from around the world descended on Vancouver to dissect the case of Flynn's death. The news of his humdrum heart attack was spiced up by his practically pubescent companion (when approached at the airport as to why he always had such young women with him he replied "because they f*%$ so good!") and the fact that his wife was safe at home in Hollywood, oblivious to teenager's existence.

No mention of any unmentionables in the autopsy report.

But most gossip centred on Flynn's most, ermmm, prodigious feature. Women were said to line up by the hundreds to try and catch a glimpse of his member - but would they have felt the same way if they had known what coroner Glen McDonald had known? Flynn had been afflicted by "huge VD warts," four of which McDonald's partner removed and set in formaldehyde. Upon some consideration of the potential scrutiny their handiwork may face during a second autopsy in Los Angeles the coroners elected to replace the VD warts - with scotch tape. Apparently, no further questions were asked of the duo regarding the subject. It seems they got away scotch free (way too far, yeah? Sorry. It's been a pun-filled day.)

I emerged from the morgue feeling that warm (now there's irony) sense of connection to my city's history and my forebearers lives that can only come from setting your feet (and keister) where those who have come before you have stood. Joanna had many, many more surprises to show me in the Coroners Court building - downstairs and down, downstairs hold many treasures (Tommy guns! Opium pipes! Old crime labs! Mannequin after mannequin!) that I will tell you about very soon.

In the meantime, try not to get Shanghaied as you wait for my post on Vancouver's seedy opium history. You'd best also try to avoid Mr. Flynn's, ermmm, condition as well....

Atmospheric Autopsy Shot to end with.

03 December 2009

Stuff I Like - November

Me and two of my BFFs - Jason and Kevin (not my cat - see below)

1) My friends.

OK, OK - I know it's sappy but man, did I ever miss all of my friends.

I traveled for a long time, met a ton of amazing people (here is one of their awesome blogs) and had a lot of late night beer (and in Australia, wine) fueled conversations, and yet here back in my home city I have the funniest, happiest, most intelligent and let's face it - good looking - group of pals any gal could ever ask for. I just wanna hug the hell out of all of them and never leave again.

(See what I just said there about not leaving ever again? We all know that is a lie, but I can pretend. For now.)

Ms. Beatrix Fruitbat. As someone asked me last night "Well, for miss and mizz what is the difference between the S and the Z?"
I deadpanned "Um, the difference is like Zebra versus Sebra. Um, duh?"

2) My cats.

I realized something recently - I never talk to you guys about my cats. And that's weird - because I pretty much talk about them all the time. I am an official crazy cat lady. I have had Mister Kevin (Kevin for short) and Beatrix Fruitbat (Trixie) for 6 years next month and as irritating as it is to clean their litter box and shove angry clawing cats into carriers for their annual vet check up I am smitten. It's gross. I talk to them all high pitch-y and do that thing pet owners do when we ask our animals a series of questions: "What are you doing? Whatcha doin' Mr Muffin Monkey Pants? I love you! You're a lover, arentcha? Are you a lover?" (This is an actual exchange Kevin and I had this morning.) I'll be the first to admit that cats can be kind of shitty pets (they are not 'aloof' and 'intelligent' they just have small brains) but I am happy with my guys. I'm just waiting for them to finally answer all those questions I keep asking....

3) The Rickshaw Theatre


There is always something about the worst, crackiest neighbourhoods in a city that attracts hipsters and artists. My city has the worst skidrow in North America (no, seriously. Yeah, we have socialized medicine and decriminalized marijuana and are all liberal and shit, but we aren't like, Sweden. We have problems.) and it lies smack dab in the middle of the most historic and special area of the city, spilling over into touristy Chinatown and even touristier Gastown - it's not uncommon to see horrified groups of cruise ship passengers shielding their children's eyes from the sight of junkies shooting up next to jib-dancing sex trade workers. Like, at 11am. The buildings are spectacular, the cobble stone streets are charming and the businesses of what was once Vancouver's healthy, bustling shopping district have closed - yet slowly gentrification is setting in. People who look like me want to go to shows and restaurants and dive bars in the "Downtown Eastside" and some shrewd business people have recognized the humongous money making potential of catering to us.

For years my friends and I have ironically slummed it at hip hop nights at the Columbia and Astoria and slammed pints of beer at the comically named Funky Winkerbeans - but I have never seen such an ambitious restoration as the Rickshaw Theatre (took me a while to get here - to the point - but I did.) Formerly a chopsocky kung fu theatre in the seventies, this theatre has been gutted and beautifully restored into a rocknroll venue - a night club with theatre seating rather than tables. Half of the seats have been removed to all for more milling around room, and the gently sloping floor allows for shorty-pantses like me to actually see the stage. I love it. And I love the fact that sometimes all it takes is one revitalized space in an area to kick off a renaissance. Vive le Jank.

I am actually blushing right now.
4) Neil Diamond

It just is. Lately I can't stop myself from repeatedly pressing play on the sweet sounds of the Jewish Elvis. I actually have seen Neil in concert (as well as Nearly Neil once) and I could hardly keep myself from throwing panties at the stage, although I was with my Grandma at the time, and trust me - I was too busy holding her back to have time to do so...

There is something so amazingly innocuously sexy about seventies Neil -well here, snuggle up with this. You'll be glad you did.

No, seriously. Go see it.
5) Precious

You know how some years there is a movie that everyone is like "Oh, yes - you simply must see and if you don't you are a cretin and I don't even want to know you?"
Well, this time they are right..... I emerged from the theatre after seeing this film feeling raw and gutted, my face red and my eyes puffy. I was afraid to speak words to my friend Alexis for fear that I would do that sputtering thing and just lose it right there in the lobby. Precious doesn't go for obvious tear jerking - it is fresh and original and really, really disturbing.
"I feel like I have been to war" I remarked to my friends when I could finally speak. And I'll put this here on the record: if Mo'Nique does not win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar I will never watch them again. And I like, LOVE the Oscars.... Serious. Go see this movie.


(PS - I am aware that this is being posted in December - won't happen again. Pinkie swear.)

26 November 2009

Must be the Weather....

The forecast for the week in Vancouver as I was leaving San Francisco. Rain rain rain rain rain rain.

I know, I know. I've done the typical thing - arrived home, sat on my ass and haven't posted in a week. I am so overwhelmingly tired (not to mention busy seeing friends and getting, let's face it, tipsy) that the idea of re-sizing photos and writing something witty seems like an insurmountable chore. I'm drained.

The weather probably does not help - Vancouver's patented dark grey skies and mix of rain and waiting-for-rain has been known to sap the creativity and energy out of many a soul. It has been sunny for a total of one hour in the last week - literally.

But this weekend I am going to hunker down and spend a few hours getting re-aquainted with cropping and captioning and witty one liner-ing. It's coming. I promise. Hell, you'd have SAD too....

See you soon -
Violet Dear

13 November 2009

A Polynesian Spree

Colourful village life.

The South Pacific has always held a huge amount of fascination for me, ever since hearing the haunting minor key of “Bali Hai” in grade nine band class (I love musicals – ALL musicals. My close friends call me a gay man in a woman's body and I tend to agree, sister.) Growing up, something about the idea of the sand, coconusts and grass skirts (on women and men – hello again sister!) mixed together in my brain with the scent of Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion and frangipani and I figured that that must be what Polynesia was like. Turns out I am not too far off the mark.

Eighteen months ago, right before departing on this trip, I attended a big Global Ball/Conference for my company in Honolulu, and even though I was excited I was a little bummed at what I viewed as a slightly more pedestrian destination than, say Dublin where the event was held the year before, or Capetown where it is next year. Nonetheless, when I packed my bags (oh the luxury of being able to pack a full suitcase of clothes, make-up and shoes for six days!) and I landed my old fascination popped back into my brain. It did smell like Hawaiian Tropic, people were eating macadamia nuts and poi and hell, I even learned the hula.

The whole time, though, I knew that I was in a pre-fab, Americanized Hawaii – a faux Polynesia meant for tourists and Americans who want desperately to pretend that Hawaii is actually part of their nation and not just a particularly pretty spoil of nineteenth-century conquest (colonizers? The US? Never!).I managaed to mostly escape the feeling when I ventured to Haliewa on the North Shore of Oahu and ate lunch from the iconic shrimp trucks, followed by a huge cup of Hawaiian shave ice (hours after braving the depths to swim with Reef Sharks...) but the cloying feeling that I wasn't really experiencing Polynesia still remained.

Shake it like a polaroid picture.

After a week in Fiji I can put that feeling to bed for good. Though it was been overcast (the planet knew a Vancouverite was approaching) for half the time, the softly swaying palms, the crooning local music accompanied by a plinking ukelele and the fresh flower smell in the air fulfilled my expectations completely. While Viti Levu (the main island) remains split between ethnically Fijian people and Indo-Fijians, the islands are more traditional with villages existing as they have for centuries.

I ventured to the village on Waya Island a few times last week, the first for Sunday morning church service. Though an atheist myself I wanted to see the local customs in action - people here are overwhelmingly Methodist and at their services mix local tradition with fire-and-brimstone preaching. It was all in Fijian of course, but I think I got the gist (screamy man with bulging eyes pointing and probably telling us how hot hellfire is.) The choir was really the highlight – somewhere between gospel, Boney M and ceremonial Polynesian. I was moved to happy tears listening to the beautiful singing.

Such amazing singing.

A few days later I walked down to the village to attend a local craft market prepared by the women for the resort's tourists. The sand lined lanes and corrugated metal buildings reminded me of small villages in the Maldives – here the main industries are also fishing and resort work. The small clutch of buildings was teeming with small children, the older ones having been sent away to a larger island during the week for school, and these little ones love to ham it up for the camera.
ahh, mild narcotics.

We were treated to a long kava (a slightly narcotic powdered root mixed with water) ceremony with the chief and the mayor. The procedure is simple but must be followed – and if you are offered kava it is unthinkably rude to turn it down. Your host will pass you the small coconut bowl containing a few healthy slurps of the murky water and you clap once and shout “BULA!” (the all purpose greeting of Hello in Fijian.) Everyone else also shouts “Bula” and then claps three times. As you finish your cupful you hand it back and clap three times, and it is on to the next person. This is repeated until the kava is gone, with subsequent rounds following almost the same procedure – the saying of “Bula” is omitted. After each cup your mouth feels filled with novocaine and numbness envelops your lips, tongue and throat. Apparently the locals drink enough that this numb feeling spreads all over their bodies. While it tastes...interesting, to say the least, I found it more and more pleasant with each round. I am brought S a packet home.

Local kids mesmerized by the pale folks.

Music, dancing, tightly knit village groups and staunch Christianity mixed with local beliefs – Fiji is at once similar to Hawaii and completely unique. Every person that I met was genuinely kind and friendly, from the gardeners eager to have a chat about the island plants to the local women who greeted me by name every time I walked by. This is a place that is easy to love, and I can see myself coming back time and time again...

…...and that's not just the kava talking.

Chillaxin, Fiji style.

The Exotic and the Mundane.

Religious candles? Mundane. Tiny Tim, Lucille Ball, Little Richard and Dali? Exotic.


In one week I have to get a job. And find an apartment. And register for classes. And basically be expected to behave in a way more suited to a grown woman.

Oh my god.

I have lived the last year of my life like a vagabond – no responsibilities, no permanent address, no job – and it has been awesome. In less than one week I will return to Vancouver and head straight back into boring old routine.

In a way I am secretly thrilled at this prospect.

While it may seem boring and mundane, I think that at least for the first three months I will be intoxicated by the blasé, aroused by the most basic household tasks and perfectly content to go to classes, write in my free time and eat, drink and be merry (literally, it will be the Christmas season) with my friends.

Given long enough away, the exotic and the mundane switch places.

Until the itch comes back, that is. Months after returning home I will inevitably start planning my next long trip, as well as a myriad of mini breaks and small get aways. I am addicted to travel.

But for now I am just keen to go home and wash some dishes, pet the cats and cook for S.

Who wants supper?

(Don't worry, dear readers.... though I am going home I have about a billion experiences and a ton of photos I have yet to post, plus all of the experiences I will have in Vancouver (Sushi! Winter Olympics! My Favourite Neighbourhoods! Seedy Nightlife & Dive Bars! Stuff I Cook! Stuff I Eat! S Looking Cute!) See - don't be sad. In the immortal words of Karen Carpenter, "We've....

This is one of two apartment buildings in LA owned by the Carpenter siblings in the seventies and named after their hits. "Close to You" is next door. I bet you wish I was kidding....

10 November 2009

The "Eh" in Medicare

An Aussie and a Canuck react in horror to some pretty rightwing ideas on US Heath care.

The caricature of 'socialized medicine' is used by corporate interests to confuse Americans and maintain their bottom lines instead of patients' health.
-
Michael M Rachlis in
The LA Times

Courage, my friends; 'tis not too late to build a better world.
- Tommy Douglas


So I'm Canadian. Despite the minor ambiguities of cultural and social identity that arise from my nationality it's a pretty damn good thing to be. Like if I had to choose again - no problem, Canadian all the way, thanks, gimme my unicorn festooned passport and away I'll go.

Being a Canadian around Americans has always been a mix of fun and good humoured irritation. The irritation comes from constantly having to explain that no, we don't like in igloos (although sometimes to fuck with them I will play along and talk about Flossie, my sleddog) and yes, we have large cosmopolitan cities with millions of people and no, I don't say 'eh' (except when around other Canucks who have thick accents - it rubs off) and wow, it is amazing that I sound like I am from the West Coast (because I AM, bozo.)

One point that Americans I've met have always been educated to some degree about is Canada's healthcare - at least enough to know that we have it and they want it. Even if they didn't have any idea that a good chunk of their famous people are, in fact, Canucks (here is a nifty list) they absolutely knew about our free medicine. Yep - we pay more taxes in Canada, yes we are all a bunch of liberal, swingin' sixties pinko commie bleeding hearts and yes it is minus forty Celsius in Winnipeg in the winter (I've been there, crying icy tears on Portage Ave) but we have free universal healthcare that everyone has equal access to. Hallelujah and Amen, brothers and sisters.

But lately something has changed. And I know what it is.

American cable news is pretty effin predictable - and it is the best indicator of the next shifty move of the government. The news is slanted in a way that appeals to the uneducated lowest common denominator by scaring the shit out of them.
"Ma, someone on the teevee says Iran is bad."
"Ma, someone on the teevee done say that Iran hates America and personally hates m'freedoms!"
"Ma, someone on the teevee says that Iran's gonna 9/11 us!"
"Ma, we gots ta go killify Iran!"
And so on.

Network news is simply another arm of the government spin-machine. It serves as a warning bell of the next controversial action the US is gonna take. Therefore, if you hear rumblings on CNN about how 'bad' X is when X used to be 'good' that means that sometime soon X is going to be enemy number one. The subtle process of discrediting what the public should now view as bad starts early, and the rest of the world watches in horror as we see people actually fall for it.

Which brings me to how healthcare is viewed by Americans now. I had the pleasure of meeting dozens of awesome yanks in Fiji and universal medicare was the hot topic. Wasn't it true that I had to wait days for emergency care? Didn't I have access to only the most substandard doctors? Why were so many Canadians coming up to the US for care when in Canada it is free? All evidence that the CNN/Fox News/MSNBC news machine is already hard at work discrediting the Canadian system to prevent Americans from really thinking about universal healthcare as an amazing thing that would benefit everyone. They are being force fed pap about Soviet era bread queues for doctors appointments and poor quality services. As the manager at Sephora on Hollywood Blvd informed me and Lou yesterday "when I wanna go see a doctor I wanna go to mine right away - not like in Canada." We couldn't even correct his misinformation (I go to whatever doctor I want, whenever I want to- and it is free)- it was too frustrating.

I am a Canadian. What the news is telling you about our system? IT'S NOT TRUE.

An infuriating but enlightening conversation took place with two young twenty-somethings from New York. The topics ranged from immigration (they hate those illegals) to schooling (you simply must go to a private school) and of course, the giant pink elephant in the room - healthcare.
"Why should I have to pay for people who smoke and eat KFC?" Said Mr. NY.
"Well, if you think KFC is so bad why doesn't your country make it really expensive, or even illegal?"
"You can't do that! People have a right to eat what they want!"
"What about the right to not die of a heart condition? Or the right to not go millions of dollars in debt because you drew the unlucky straw and got a sick baby?" I countered.
"It doesn't work that way - healthcare is not a right!" He shouted.
"Well, in Canada it is. And I couldn't be happier."
"What prevents your doctors from rushing people through their offices, if they make less money?" I looked at him, baffled.
"It's not about money. It's about helping sick people. Somewhere along the way, the American system has forgotten that."

Listen, you won't be able to get two Canadians who agree on healthcare. Our system has flaws - some bigger than others - and it does need some measure of reform. There are even some people trying to change it into a two tiered plan (which is very un-Canadian and jerky, I say) but the basic point is that ever since Tommy Douglas (the 'the father of medicare' - a few years ago we voted him as our 'Greatest Canadian') empowered us with the notion that our lives are worth more than medical bills and exorbitant fees it has changed the social consciousness. We are worth it. We deserve it. It is a right.

On the other side of the border, those with insurance in America seem to view visits with umpteen specialists, a multitude of scans, unnecessary procedures and immediate action as a right - yet studies still show that we as Canadians are significantly healthier and more satisfied with our care. We also do not have the right to sue our doctor (the idea would never even cross my mind) so that keeps costs lower for the taxpayer - (s)he aren't weighing out potential lawsuits in their head as they treat their patient.

If you don't believe me, this article from the LA Times is what I was reading this morning in sunny Los Feliz, Hollywood that spawned this train of thought. I really love the statistic that we in Canada spend 10% of our economy on healthcare, compared to the US's spend of 16% - the huge increase in spending still leaving 50 million citizens without insurance. Human rights aside, from an economic standpoint universal healthcare makes more sense!

A brief message to the Yanks out there: Listen, guys - your 'system'? It's broke. It needs to be fixed. You are the only First World country without free healthcare. And your news is lying to you. Talk to a Canadian or Brit about what we have before you let Glenn Beck tell you how to feel and shock you with half truths and horror stories about the Healthcare bill passing in the House.

Taking care of people lesser off than you does not make you a socialist - it makes you a good person. There's a difference.

And even if you don't choose to cover all of your citizens and residents equally - well, whatever. That's your choice. But for the love of God - quit dragging Canada's system through the mud by using false information! This is not about Canada - like usual - it's about you.

See, in Canada we even have dedicated Leprosy Sections! Modern and free heath care!
(Just fucking with you - this is in India....)


PS - I just want to clarify that I do not think Americans are any more stupid than other folks - trust me, I have been all over the world and can attest to the fact that people are stupid equally everywhere.

08 November 2009

Goodbye to the Strange (Unless You Count West Hollywood)

You can't get more LA than this - a trip 3 years ago.

So here it is. My last night in somewhere-not-North-America spent lounging on an idyllic beach in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji. The last 10 days have been the complete opposite of the past 14 months of my life – I lazed around and did next to nothing, a sharp contrast to my usual constant ethnographical explorations and arduous bus journeys. Surveying the beautiful beach spread before me, I remarked to an American pal "There's so much not to do!"

Tomorrow I head to LA, and while not home it is certainly a lot closer than anywhere else I have been. The next two weeks (which I will spend in Hell A, Palm Springs and San Francisco) are the last puny vestige of this nearly year and a half journey around, well, Asia and beyond – a Pacific Rim odyssey that has led me to places I had never even dreamt about. I must admit, this last hoorah has been a highlight – I recommend Fiji wholeheartedly.

Will I miss the strange? The unknown? The exotic, whether it is the whiff of dog meat in Vietnam, a gonging prayer bell in India or the bogan twang of a rural Aussie accent? Absolutely. But am I happy to be heading somewhere that I can get a decent taco, a kiss from S and all of the products I saw advertised on Saturday morning cartoons that weren't available in Canada? Well, yeah. That'll be good too. For a while....

So now, on to my second home of California, and you can dream, on such a Winter's Day, that you are there too....

...minus all the awkward Papa John stuff, of course.

Viva Los Angeles!

07 November 2009

Fiji - Pretty Much the Best Place Ever (9 out of 10 nights, at least)

Tomasi and I right after the conga line broke up....

They say that you're supposed to drink your best wine first – that way, when you are still stone cold sober and at your most observant and critical you can enjoy the good bottle completely. All substandard bottles should come later, finally saving the 9 dollar bottle of swill for the end of the party when the Trivial Pursuit questions seem to be getting a lot harder and no one cares what the wine tastes like as long as their glass is full.

The opposite logic holds true for travel planning.

I am predicatable in a few ways: I will always order another round if you do too, I will never turn down cheese, I will stuff my bra on Hallowe'en and I always – ALWAYS research the hell out of my travel destinations. I'm that girl who pipes up with the random useless facts about the gross national product of Laos or the medieval history of Budapest while you would rather sip your pint and talk about ball sports or boobs. So of course, dutifully as always, while in Melbourne I picked up the newest edition of the Fiji Lonely Planet and started highlighting.

Fiji is pretty much the best place ever.

My mind was made up pretty quickly that for this trip I would eschew the typical ethnology and history that interests me so much and head to some islands to relax and unwind before heading back to North America. Fiji is not a typical backpacker destination – the only accomodation option on the islands are resorts, but most have dorms. I chose the Yasawa group, a rough and rugged chain of volcanic islands a few hours by boat from the main island of Viti Levu known for their beautiful beaches. Unlike the Mamanuca chain, the Yasawas have resorts and lodges for all budgets and are thought to be less touristy than these islands. And if Lonely Planet had anything to say about it, Octopus Resort is the place to stay.

The gushing half-page review was not enough for me – LP has tricked me many a time and I needed more proof. I popped onto tripadvisor to see that out of over 157 reviews, 140 give Octopus top marks. The most common compliment? The food. Well, you all know me – that was the decisive factor. Not to mention the extremely ethical nature of the place – they supply jobs, scholarships and a generator to the small village located behind the resort and make every effort to be eco-friendly. I booked four nights in their dorm (they have a wide array of accomodation choices all the way up to posh luxury bures) and figured I decide the rest later.

After a night in Nadi at a perfectly nice hostel I set out for Waya Island and Octopus. My first few hours were a bit tentative, but after the first evening I was sold. Like an adult summer camp (reminding me - in a good way - of Dirty Dancing – I mean, is there any other way to be reminded of it?) the resort is chalk full of activities. I made an ever rotating cast of pals and proceeded to relax on the beautiful beach, snorkel the reefs, sip cocktails, conga-line around, engage in boardgames and discussion, swim in the pool and get lomi-lomi massages. More importantly, I feasted on the three inlcuded meals a day – the food was simple but excellent.

Simple and amazing - Hallelujah omelette bar.

I booked myself an extra night and pondered my next move. Should I head back to Viti Levu? Further North in the Yasawas? Pop over to the Mamanucas? Stay put at Octopus? I finally decided to catch the ferry 30 minutes North and stay at Boteira Beach for a few nights, after which I would spend one night on the 'party island' of Beachcomber and then onto to Nadi for one final day.I bid goodbye to Octopus and all of the amazing staff there and landed, this afternoon, at Boteira.

It is the same price as Octopus, which is the thought that keeps running around my head as I take in the surroundings, so very different than what I am now used to. Where Octopus had about 60-80 guests of all demographics, here I am one of 9. The esthetically pleasing walkways, sand floored restaurant and relaxing common areas have been replaced by a haphazard, ramshackle collection of eerily empty barn-like buildings. My spotless dorm has been replaced by a cavernous space of which I am the only inhabitant and the bathrooms more resemble an outhouse than the modern, clean amenities offered by Octopus.

Do I sound bitter? Only slightly.....more homesick for my last resort – which is silly, but true.

Kini and Kidi - they had eachother in a headlock and were play fighting only moments beforehand.

I want my fresh fish with pineapple salsa and roasted vegetables and gourmet pumpkin salad and traditional Fijian Kokoda (lime cured walu – like a coconut ceviche.) I want my nightly kava ceremony – a muddy tasting slightly narcotic drink served with much pomp and tradition in most South Pacific countries. I want dorm bed – freshly made every morning, supplied with a showering towel and a beach towel and decorated with fresh flowers (never have I seen such a thing!) I want to talk to the staff of all ages who are encouraged to mix and mingle with the guests (unlike hotel employees in so many other countries) and who all knew my name.

To add insult to injury the price for the meals and dorm bed are exactly the same here at Boteira Bay as it was at Octopus. To give you a comparison that would be like paying the same rate for a Fairmont or Hilton and getting a Best Western instead. I think that the feeling of poor value is what is really getting me as I sit here eating my breakfast of cold cereal and dreaming about the omelette bar at Octopus.....

So I guess the moral of my story is that unlike wine, you should save your best accomodation for last while traveling so that you can really appreciate it – build up to the nicest (rather than the cheap goon) otherwise you inevitably will be disappointed.

It is with some guilt and more than a slight bit of traveler's shame that I, Violet Dear, am heading back to Octopus for my final two island nights rather than pay more money for ferries and resorts that may end up as disappointing as this one. I may even kybosh my last night in Nadi for one more in paradise – a slightly busy, fun loving one, a but a paradise nonetheless.

I may even carry a watermelon.

After a glass of really good wine, of course....

Traditional bures hidden in the palms. See you in 2 years, Fiji.

02 November 2009

A Review of "Shantaram"


V is currently in Fiji and is having difficulty getting a stable internet connection, so she hasn't been able to update her blog and won't be able to for a bit. She's been writing a lot, so as soon as she's got a stable internet connection again there will be a lot of content coming.

For now, here's a review of Shantaram she wrote while we were still in India that's been published by the fine folks at Blunt Force Beating. Here's a snippet:
"Leopold’s Bar is an institution in Mumbai. It opened its doors in 1871 and is still a popular expat and backpacker hangout today, featured in every guide book and travel show made about crazy Bombay – The Maximum City. It hosts a mix of douchebag hippies on their way to party in Goa, young urban professionals here to celebrate merger completions and red nosed Western ex-patriots escaping their demons.
...
It’s one of those books that are always found in backpacker neighbourhoods in Asia – Shantaram is by far the book of choice for India. Every second traveler has a finger wedged in this 900 page monster, in whose pages Leopold’s is mentioned so often that it is practically a main character."
Have a great week everyone.
-s

29 October 2009

Excuse Me While I Kiss This Wine - A Day Tour in the Yarra Valley

It's mine - all mine! Crush it right into ma mouf!

Any evidence I ever needed that I am truly an adult comes from my increasing and voracious interest in wine drinking, err...tasting.... My number one priority for Australia was to get out there and start tasting – seriously tasting – as many of the local wines as I possibly could. Mission Accomplished.

The Yarra Valley is a cool temperate area 1 hour outside of Melbourne that is famous for its wineries and as an ideal location to produce Sparkling Wines of the highest quality – Domaine Chandon (of Moet &, for all you non-high rollers.) I booked myself a full day tour and starting dreaming of all that wine....

**********

See, in our teens my best friend Heppy and I would pool our money and ask an older buddy (a 'boot' in Canadian slang) to procure us a bottle of the worst wine money can buy – a sweet white German monstrosity called Schloss Lauterheim. My seventeen year old palate could not distinguish between the sickly sweet bile taste of the cheap hooch and the magnificent reds my mum was drinking – had the good stuff been cheaper we probably would have drank that instead. It was about getting off our face, nothing more.

The full truth is that Schloss (if you drank too much we called it "Getting Schlossed") mixed well with Sprite and clove cigarettes and we split many a bottle of the gut-rot before I finally had had enough and could stomach no more. "I am finished with wine." I announced, reaching for vodka (a trend for me for many years) "It's gross."

It is with a red-stained mouth that I shake my head in horror at the memory, for now I am a Wino.

That is not to say I drink copious amounts of the stuff (although sometimes....) I now simply love to truly savour and enjoy a beautiful, special glass of wine. I love to learn about the different vintages, oaking processes and grapes, and I have a fascination with meal pairing.

Before the Yarra Valley, I had only been on a wine tasting tour of the Okanagan Valley in BC – my mum, S and I popped by 3 or 4 vineyards 2 summers ago. At that point I definitely loved wine, but knew little about it. S was often entrusted with the selection process in the liquor store or at restaurants – at that point the only thing I knew was that I didn't like Cab Savs.

How things have changed. I now worship at the altar of Zinfandel, adore a spot of Shiraz and a glass of Pinot Noir. I confidently order Malbecs and Pinot Grigios, Bourdeaxs and Valpolicellas....and still don't like Cab Savs.

********

Step One - We will have lots of fun.

Our first stop of the day was at an adorable heritage winery, St Huberts (Aussies pronounce in St Hugh-bitts, but my Canadian brain repels that and insists on St Ooo-bear – the proper, French pronunciation.) It was there that my awesome guide Nick walked us through the steps of basic tasting:

a) hold the glass up to the light and admire the colour
b) swirl it around (holding only by the stem to avoid heating the wine) and 'open it up'
c)first sip, quick and straight down
d) second sip, slosh it around all luxuriously over your teeth, tongue, lips and gums – 'chew the wine'
e) third sip, ignore your pride and slurp it up into your mouth like a little mini-gargle and 'smell the wine from the inside' as the aroma fills your mouth with wonderful boozey fumes. (This one is my favourite.)

I'll take it!

We sampled four wines – a 2008 Sauvignon Blanc that tasted light and green apple-y, a nutty Chardonnay that reminded me of popcorn (I generally do not like Chards – 'Cougar Pop" as my mum calls them) a 2006 Cabernet Merlot (plasticky and too oaky for me) and a great Pinot Noir called The Stag – I liked this one so much I bought a bottle.

Violet Dear: Wino.

Now it was 11am, I was drinking wine on an empty stomach and let's face it – was a little tipsy. We moved on to Rochford. This is an unbelievably gorgeous vineyard that also hosts major concerts in the Spring and Summer – recent acts include Chris Isaak (!) Leonard Cohen (!!) and the B52's (!!!) I am sorry to say I didn't love their wines as much as the other wineries offerings, other than a great Muscato with honey-ish fizz that I could see myself accidentally getting plastered on a hot Summer patio day... I will also say that they have the closest thing to a Cab Sav that I would consider drinking – not too oaky and with a strange-in-a-good way gruyere cheese flavour.

Frankly Rochford didn't need to have the best wines because the lunch that they presented (incredibly included in the tour!) was spectacular – I actually moaned while eating it. A few times. Of the four choices (a kangaroo ragout, a chicken dish, a pumpkin lasagna and a fish) I reliably chose the fish. (Of course I did – have you met me?)

Please, sir - can I have some more?

It was a Red Emperor Fillet served with chat potatoes and a pesto cream sauce – it was firm and wonderfully cooked, and the potatoes were roasted to perfection. I was so expecting a schlocky "included lunch" that the perfectly seasoned and unique dish completely caught me off guard. It was delicious – worth at least 30++ in a Melbourne restaurant. We were served a full glass of our choice of wine – I bucked tradition and chose a full bodied Pinot Noir with my fish – always gotta do things differently!

The next stop was the (in)famous Domaine Chandon – one of only four outside of France (the others are Argentina, Brazil and Napa.) This high end sparkling wine (it cannot be called Champagne because it is not produced in the one eponymous valley)comes in three varieties – a sparkling Shiraz (red champagne-ish! Who knew?) a dry, more traditional white and a golden coloured sweet Cuvee Riche. Nick took us through the entire fascinating process of how sparkling wine is produced (and just how long it frickin' takes!) and then we headed for the tasting.

No sir, I still don't like it....

I learned something valuable that I did not know about myself – it is not purely the cheap Baby Duck sparkling wine that I do not like – I even hate the most expensive. This suspicion has been in my brain for a long time – S's brother likes to sit in the VIP areas of LA clubs and a bottle of Moet or Kristal inevitably gets doled out, but each time I gagged on that I blamed it on the copious amounts of Grey Goose I had imbibed earlier in the evening. This time I sampled all three and they still tasted of bile and wine coolers to me. Call me unedumecated – they make me want to yak.

Cutest bottles ever.

The final stop of the day was my favourite – the small, family owned Yering Farm. There was a real sense of tradition and a respect for doing things differently here – we sampled our delicious wines on the grass of the winery, soaking up all of the spectacular scenery and peering out for kangaroos in the distant fields. By this point in the day we were all tipsy and now friendly with one another and Nick even got behind the counter to do some pourings. A perfect end to a perfect day.

The effervescent Nick pouring out our wine.

I arrived back at Lindsay's house and opened the bottle of The Stag that I had bought at St Hubert's – she and I had been planning on going to a Drag Night in St Kilda but the day caught up with me and instead we relaxed and ate good snacks, talked girlie shit and by gum, we finished that bottle.

No surprise there.....

26 October 2009

A Perfect Sunday Supper - A Trip to Lygon Street

Melbourne's Commercial Drive, without the hippies and d-bags.

Melbourne's Little Italy is legendary – and for good reason. One out of every ten Melbournians was either born in Italy or has Italian parents and the result is a city that takes its food – 'just like'a mama used to make' - incredibly seriously - sometimes a tad too much so.

After an afternoon spent at the Old Melbourne Gaol (that's jail to us North Americans) I strolled up to Lygon Street, the city's main Italian area and home to a plethora of authentic eateries – everything from gelaterias, pastry shops, pizza places, fine dining and coffee houses. It is a huge swath of people eating, whether they are sitting, standing or walking with a cone or latte in hand.


I was baffled by the sheer choice of places to eat – every place was packed and each one looked better than the next. So I did what any traveler would do – I asked a local.
“Excuse me, are you from Melbourne?” I asked the first group of people who walked by. They paused.
“Yes we ahhh.” They all said in unison, their lack of R sounds proving their Australian citizenship.
“If you could only eat at one place here on Lygon Street, which one would you choose?” They all looked around for a moment, as if stunned at the idea of being forced to choose only one. Suddenly one woman's eyes glazed over dreamily.
“DOC – I would eat pizza at DOC.” Everyone else in her party seemed galled that they hadn't thought of it first.
“Of course! DOC! You must try it. It's....”
“....amazing.” another friend finished.

With a recommendation like that, who was I to second guess? I headed straight there.

After over a year looking through phonebook sized- photo menus this is a revelation.

DOC stands for Denominazione D'Origine Controllata, a term given in Italy to products deemed worthy of carrying the name, Italian foods with ethics and authenticity that keep them from turning into breadsticks at Eastside Bloody Mario's, and it is owned by real live Italian speaking Italians (a rarity in Vancouver!) This Pizza and Mozzarella bar (a new trend that will hopefully pop up in my city soon) is set just off of Lygon on Faraday St – and I knew from the moment that I walked in and was seated that this place was different than the kitsch-fest Eye-talian joints lining the main road.

White walls, minimalist deli-nouveau décor, chalkboards covered in scrawling Italian – the emphasis is on the simple food, with no checked table cloths or chianti bottle candle holders in sight. The menu is populated with basic pizzas, anti pasti (including big chunks of hand torn fresh mozzarella) and salads, and the wine list, while small, contains a nice array of Aussie and imported offerings.

Wine and salt - this is what runs through my veins, ladies and gentlemen!

I ordered the most straightforward dish on the menu - the venerable Pizza Margherita. This simpler-than-simple pizza consists of three toppings: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves. (I elected to pay a bit more and have them add buffalo mozzarella as well – a favourite!) I am not alone in thinking that a pizza joint can be judged on how well they are able to prepare a basic margherita - there is really no room for error in its simplicity. Sometimes the things in life that seem the easiest are actually the most difficult to execute properly. I paired my pizza with a glass of Panorama Shiraz, keeping with the whole “Hey, I'm in Australia” thing I have going....

In my next life I will be an Italian woman. Or Italian dog. Or goat. As long as I get to eat this all the time...

Twenty minutes later the pie arrived – a paean to the art of pizza. Yes – it was simple, but gloriously so – its lack of fancy, jazzy toppings allowing the basic beauty of its chewy, crispy crust and thin, fresh marinara sauce to shine through. The cheese covering the base was lovely but a little bland – but each bite with the buffalo mozzarella was a revelation. The delicate, almost watery nature of buffalo mozzarella seeped onto the pizza and transformed the crust into a creamy soft velvet, mixing with the sauce but never becoming soggy. Nothing overpowered another ingredient- it was me, some milk, some wheat and a tomato and it was perfect. Viva Italia.

See the wonderful watery runniness of it? They way it slips into the sauce? A perfect buffalo mozzarella.

Finishing my wine (using the tasting techniques I learned on my Yarra Valley tasting tour) I headed across the street for some dessert. Did I ever.

Brunetti is a Melbourne institution – a huge Italian patisserie/espresso bar dripping with marble and staffed by uniformed baristas and chic waiters. I decided that pizza wasn't enough – I ordered two, yes two, desserts and a cafe latte. You only live once – might as well clog those arteries and show 'em who's boss! Jerks.

"Less is More." - Most reasonable people.
"More is more." - Violet Dear


The chocolate canolli was a bit disappointing for me – a little greasy tasting with the chocolate filling more closely resembled a really firm cup of pudding rather than a rich creamy mousse. The Granatine, however, was wonderful – just barely sweet, a tad yeasty and filled with the smoothest, lightest zabaglione cream imaginable – I could have eaten 2 more but decided to call it a day so that I can hoist up my jeggings for a little bit longer...

Normally espresso makes me feel like a meth addict, but this one was mild and lovely.

Sitting in Brunetti as I slurped up my hot latte and ate decadent treats, listening to the musical lilt of Italiano surrounding me I really did feel like I was back in Italy. Lygon Street is such a vibrant, tasty neighbourhood – I think every city needs one.

A Little Italy with as many great dining options as Melbourne's Lygon Street is hard to find outside of the old boot, but I will keep trying.... and eating. And eating. And drinking wine..... with zabaglione cream. Now that's amore.

 
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