16 December 2011

OMG, Klezmer!!!

Some of you out there may just have been wondering, "Where's the Klezmer?" in this blog entitled Adventures in Klezmer. 

Well, here's a big ol' bunch o' klezmer coming at you.

I've had 2 klezmer infused nights in a row, actually.

The first came as a surprise. I had been looking for something to do on my second night in Paris, particularly considering that I would be staying up all night because of the very early flight I had to catch in the morning.  While I was in the Jewish quarter with my friend Melanie, she brought my attention to a poster advertising a klezmer concert that night!  And so, while she had other plans, I decided that it was as good a place as any to go!

It was at Les 3 Arts that the "International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra" were playing.  They are led by American expatriate Ronald Grun, a bassoonist and clarinetist who has been living in Paris for 20 years.  Grun, a Jewish musician, told me his story is no different to anyone else's.  He heard klezmer growing up, but wanted nothing to do with that "old-fashioned" music.  Now, however, he's playing klezmer and bringing it to Paris.

Clarinetist Ronald Grun and the International Odessa Klezmer Orchestra

As I later found out, it was the band's first concert (with 2 more coming up in the next few weeks).  It is definitely an enthusiastic group of musicians, playing on that night with tuba, accordion, 2 banjos, cajon (percussion) and flute.  However, while enthusiastic, it sounded as if the band was more at home playing Balkan music (which seeped into the arrangements of the songs as the night wore on) than klezmer.  When playing the Balkan rhythms, the band was very tight and rhythmically energetic, but never seemed to be able to get the accompaniment in the klezmer style quite right.

Other individual players also seemed to stumble stylistically in the klezmer tunes, but it made little difference to the audience who were most appreciative, with several members getting up and dancing towards the end of the set.

In the end, I'd say that Grun's band is certainly trying (with Grun's guidance) to play klezmer in an earnest and exciting fashion.  Grun really has had no contact with the overall klezmer international scene, and Paris seems to be a scene where most players are really striking out on their own.

I was able to find what I felt was lacking in the Paris concert the next night in Berlin at the Klezmer Stammtisch.*  I went with Franka Lampe (my accordionist friend from Yiddish Summer Weimar last year), and we found Stas Rayko, a Ukrainian violinist who now lives in Berlin there with a flute player friend of his.  They were playing together when we arrived, and others were listening, with full tables of people aside from the Stammtisch.  Franka and I joined in, as did Susanne (a violinist) and a guitarist on occasion.  Here, I found that klezmer feeling that was missing in Paris.

The musicians here understood the klezmer style at a very deep level (particularly Stas, who is a master klezmer musician, playing with The Other Europeans).  It's a feeling that I only get rarely as a performer and while I struggled to remember tunes (since I haven't been playing so much lately), and fumbled with other familiar tunes in weird keys (silly string players), the feeling of playing klezmer with real klezmer musicians kept me awake** until the end of the music, well after 1am.  It's hard to describe this feeling to non-musicians, but it's like putting on a comfortable old shoe as opposed to one that doesn't quite fit right.  You're always trying to make that strange shoe fit, and devoting that much more of your brain power to your feet and away from your other activities.  With that comfy old shoe, you slip it on and away you go!  That's pretty much how I feel when I play klezmer with musicians who really "get it."  And they got it.

So .... Klezmer!  Woohoo!


* A "Stammtisch" is a table reserved for regular guests.  Thus it's a "usual table."  In this case, there's a regular (monthly, I believe) table reserved at the restaurant (who's name I don't know), and according to Franka, the owner loves klezmer so much that if a guest doesn't want to sit and listen to it, they are asked to leave. 

** I hadn't slept the night before.  My flight out of Paris was at 6:45am, and in order to make sure that I was at the airport on time, I needed to take the 4:35am bus (to avoid paying 40 Euros for a taxi) to the airport.  That meant that I needed to leave at 4am from Jonathan's house.  I'm glad I left myself lots of time at Gare de Lyons (where the bus stopped), because finding the actual bus stop was very tricky!

2 Days in Paris, Part 2

For day 2, I had a 4-pronged plan to get the most out of my 2 days in Paris:

1) Eiffel Tower (yes, I went to the top.... super windy!), and walk to the Arc du Triomphe

2) Meet my friend (also from KlezKanada, and ethnomusicological conferences)  Melanie for lunch in the Jewish quarter for falafel.  Apparently this was the "best" falafel in Paris. Although it was good, I there are better in Toronto . . . but the place was packed, and the falafel was pretty good.  All in all a very cute neighbourhood.

A Jewish Bakery in Paris

3) Walk to Montmartre.  The walk up there really tired me out, but it was worth it.  The area is a little over-touristy, but I'm glad I'm here in December and not July.

4) The Louvre (for realz this time). 

2 Days in Paris, Part 1

Wow. 2 jam-packed days in Paris.  And I'm actually going to talk about klezmer (but that will come a little later)!

So the little getaway didn't really start off too promisingly. I awoke at 6am after only 3 hours of sleep to get to Schönefeld Airport in time for my 9am flight to Paris.  After discovering that the EasyJet terminal at the airport kept very poor hygiene (particular in the washroom), I embarked the plane.  This was the singlemost turbulent flight I've ever been on.  In the take off and landing phases, I felt like a bridge-crew member on Star Trek, getting shaken violently left and right in unison with my fellow travelers.  The winds were so bad that on the descent into Orly airport, the pilot had to abort the landing and circle around for another try.  We finally got on to the ground on the 2nd attempt, much to my stomach's relief....

The trip from the airport into Paris was as smooth as can be, but with the multiple trains, took well over an hour.  I arrived at Jonathan's apartment right within our arranged window of time.  Jonathan is a friend from KlezKanada a couple of years ago . . .he's a great Jazz saxophonist.  We went to lunch and then he went off to work (teaching clarinet... sound familiar?) while i returned to the apartment to plot my time in Paris while taking shelter from a freakish, sudden hail storm.  Fortunately, it passed quickly and left lovely weather behind while I set off into Paris, first to the nearby Bastille.

My first stop after the Bastille was Notre Dame.  And wow. not only was it breathtaking (inside and out), but with the sun coming out, and starting to set, the light was absolutely amazing while hitting this beautiful cathedral.

From there, it was on to the Louvre.  While it wasn't open (not on Tuesdays), the setting sun made for awesome photos.

Finally, I wandered up to the Opera house and got on the Metro to get to Cabaret Sauvage, the venue where I would see Gogol Bordello.  Now, if you don't know who Gogol Bordello is, head to www.gogolbordello.com right now.  The concert itself was amazing.  Basically, the band was closing their acoustic tour in Paris.  For them, acoustic meant leaving the electric bass player and electric guitar player at home, playing with a 5-piece band  consisting of acoustic guitar (and lead vocals), accordion, violin, percussion, and back-up singer.  The room at Cabaret Sauvage was fantastic, with amazingly clear sound.  The place was pretty full, complete with crowd surfing, at least one woman throwing her bra on stage, and a plethora of encores, probably due to the fact that it was the last show of the tour. 

Finally, I made it back and got a decent night's sleep at Jonathan's, which I was really going to need!

12 December 2011


Some graffiti I found around the block from my apartment.

Nuff said.

10 December 2011

A man's gotta do . . . his laundry

Today has been an exercise in patience.  I have been traveling now for a week and a half, and I needed to do laundry.  Looking around, it's been difficult to find a laundromat nearby, and I was going to take my laundry to a "full service" facility.  Upon arriving (after a much longer walk than I had anticipated), I was told that the clothes wouldn't be clean in time for me to have clean clothes for my quick jaunt to Paris next week.

Following directions from the lady who worked in the shop (that seemed pretty vague to me), I walked another 10 minutes in another direction, winding my way through the streets of the Kreuzberg neighbourhood (near Görlitzer station if that means anything to you), and finally found the laundromat. 

Once I figured out how to work the fully automated system of paying, I walked around a bit, bought a German newspaper and sat with my dictionary, slowly hacking my way through an article while drinking an Italian coffee at a cafe across the street.  I am very careful to note that it was "Italian" coffee because the purveyor of the fine establishment was Italian and insisted that the coffee came from Sicily and wasn't watered down like the other coffees one might get in the area. 

Anyways, once I finished my laundry (the whole process took about 3 hours, including the wandering around trying to find the place), I returned to my apartment for some saxophone practicing.  Then, I learned that the special offer that the German rail was having on a savings card (25% off for 4 months for 25 Euros) was ending today, so i went over to Ostbahnhof to purchase said card.

And I waited.  To "improve service" (so they said on their sign), you took a number and then waited for it to be called.  At the time I got there, my number I received from the machine was almost 20 above the number that was currently being served, and there were 3 people serving the customers, with one customer seemingly taking absolutely forever.  However, this annoyance made for some camaraderie (the spelling of that word doesn't look right to me) in line and people who had taken care of their business in another way, or had just given up waiting were giving their numbers to other people waiting. 

And so, after about 30 minutes, I finally got my Bahn Karte, and made my way home.  And here I am. 

9 December 2011


My apartment has a name, Isabelle, which is also, not coincidentally, the name of my landlord's dog.  It's a nice little place, a studio apartment with enough room for me.  I have a separate space to work (a decent desk, with an uncomfortable chair), a sofa, a table (that can actually be folded out of the way), a pretty roomy washroom, and a very basic kitchen.  However, there's no microwave, no toaster (or toaster over), and the utensils are just enough for what I might need (a few knives, 2 pots, 1 pan, wooden spoon, spatula, ladle, etc.).  There's plenty of cutlery and dishes as well. 

Now that I've been here for a few days, I've managed to stock the apartment with a few "extras" that I thought were necessities to get me through the next few months.

1. large plastic storage bin (on wheels to keep under the sofa).  This was really important, considering that the apartment has no closet.  This is currently being used as a drawer for my sweaters and pants.  I may get another one for my laundry.

2. A kettle.  Here's a picture of the one that came with the apartment. 

And no, I didn't just dismiss it out of hand as "old" or "obsolete."  I tried it.  And it took forever to make lukewarm noodle soup.  So I bought a modern, electric kettle.  Deal with it.

Ok, so there's just 2. But they're fairly big.  I'm currently resigning myself to not having any kind of oven (toaster or otherwise) to cook things in, as it was a big part of my cooking before.  I can deal with stove top cooking, but it is a little more difficult.

Outside the apartment, I'm still getting to know the neighbourhood, but there are lots of amenities not too far away. 

Here you can see my location Berlin.

Ok, it's smaller than I thought it would be, but I'm at the red marker
As you can see, I'm pretty close to the middle of the city, and I could walk to a number of important sites, like Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and other things.  I have seen some of these things.  Here's a picture of the Brandenburg Gate:

And since this post has become "all about the photos," here's another picture of the Fernsehturm (the CN Tower wannabe).

Fernsehturm (literally TV tower), from Alexanderplatz
Those pictures are from my phone, when i wasn't carrying my camera along with me.  Oh, random thought.  I managed to unlock my spiffy smartphone, and I can now text faster than the 2 minutes per word it was taking with the ancient phone I was using here.  I even think that I might be able to get a data plan here pretty cheap . . . but more on that later.

So as I was saying, my area is pretty cool.  i generally find myself between the transit stations of the S-bahn station at Ostbahnhof (the Eastern station, which is also used for regional and international trains), and the U-bahn (Subway) station at either Schlesisches Tor or Görlitzer Station, depending on where I'm going.

Berlin's transit network is pretty spectacular (although I hear it's not quite as efficient once it snows).  I've been able to get pretty much anywhere in the city via the network of U-bahns, S-bahns (kind of commuter rails, but they go right through the city), trams and buses (coming home from a jazz jam at 2am on a Wednesday night, all that was running were the buses).  While not the cheapest ticket in town, the transit isn't a bad investment.  I'll definitely look into buying the monthly pass in January.

As you can see from the following map, there are several grocery stores in the area.  The best one that I've found, however, is Rewe, which is located in the basement of the Ostbahnhof.  Some of their vegetables are not conducive to the single man (bulk packaging), so, unless I host more often, I'll probably start buying some produce at the stalls near the Market right near the Aldi (see map).

So, while the place looks like a dump from the outside, the neighbourhood is quite safe (and there's a night bus that runs right down the street), and the apartment is pretty cool on the inside (with both meanings of the word cool being operative).  While it's not unbearable, let's just say I'm glad I have a warm hoodie with me.

I'm still getting to know Berlin and the neighbourhood, but the great things about the couch surfing and ex-pat communities here is that they're very active in many parts of the city, so I'll be getting to know more of at as the days, weeks, and months go by.

5 December 2011

Berlin is windy.

That's about it for now.  Berlin is windy.  I was walking along Karl-Liebknecht-Strasse today, and the wind was strong enough to make me feel like it was pushing me backwards.

I'm gettin' too old for this shit

Now, please don't misconstrue the title of today's blog as being negative.  It's more a reflection on how I feel physically today after yesterday's adventures. 

One of the things that I promised myself before I came out here (to Berlin, if you're just joining us), was that I wouldn't disappear into my PhD hidey-hole, and I would force myself to be more social.  When given the choice to do something or not do something, the choice would have to be to do something. 

The other thing that I decided to do was to join the "Couch Surfing" community.  This is a web-based community of people who, as part of the web site's mandate, ask for and offer couches for people to crash on while traveling (thus enabling travelers to "surf" from couch to couch).  While having a couch to offer up is preferable, the community is also an excellent way that people (particularly those who are new to a particular city) can get to know each other.

Lo and behold, after registering, I see "events in my area" . . . and a long roster of things to do.  For yesterday (Sunday) there were as many as 4 different events organized by people on their own time, and mostly for their own amusement (as well as that of others).  I chose the one that looked to most interesting... the Berlin Walk, which was in the process of tracing the path of the Berlin Wall around the city. 

This "Mauerweg" is now a public park, walkway, cycling path, jogging trail and just a place for people to get out, mostly on the edges of the city.  I decided to join this event which started at the S-bahn station of Heiligensee, close to the Berlin border.*  I boldly ventured out to the Heiligensee S-bahn station, using my trusty transit map, as well as the BVG.de website (much like TTC's and the New York Subway's), and in about 45 minutes, arrived at the rendez-vous.  Eventually, 4 others gathered (with another catching up along the way), and we walked.  And walked... and yes, we even walked. 

One of the things that fascinated me the most seems to be the result of both the European urban amalgamations, and West Berlin's status as a walled in city.  On one side where the wall was, the "city" was a collection of villages that had been incorporated into Berlin at one point** and was then walled off in 1961.  On the other side was the former DDR (at the beginning of our walk, this was to the west.... yes, a bit weird).  where there was pretty much nothing.  Sometimes there cornfields, but other times it was forest, or just open fields.  This stark difference, was due to the fact that I think the Communists wanted to keep the space surrounding Berlin empty, and thus, the "urban" (although these villages barely count as urban in the current sense) development went on elsewhere in East Germany.

There are info markers along the route, with some memorializing people who were killed trying to cross the border, and others marked checkpoints between the west and east.  All in all, it was a lovely afternoon, where the weather generally held up (with only a little bit of rain), and we managed to cover about 12 km over the 3 1/2 hours.  We then adjourned back to the city to Oranienstrasse (right down the street from the synagogue, which I'll have to check out at a later date) for coffee/beer and something to eat.  Three of the other walkers were living in Berlin, but a couple (a Swiss guy, and Belgian girl) were in town for the weekend and had decided to do something off the touristy map.  These two had actually met while they were living in Vancouver, and seemed to be very pleased to meet a Canadian over here!  After the rest of the gang went their separate ways, Lukas, Alice and I went for dinner, followed by another bar for a drink, followed by another bar for another drink.***

I arrived back to the hostel (my last night in a hostel!) to discover that I had a roommate again (The first night, I had one, second night I didn't).  However, this dude was not nearly as respectful as the first guy.  In fact, i would probably classify New Roommate^ as possibly the worst you can have.  He a) snored, b) woke up at 5:30 am, and proceeded to pack and dress and prepare for a full hour, all the while keeping the light on.  Thus, I had slept fitfully between about 12 and 2 or so (using my ipod to drown out the snoring), and then was awakened for another hour before being able to get back to sleep after he had left.  He said something about a training program.

And so, dear readers (who I encourage to follow the blog, or comment on it so I don't feel like I'm just writing for the sake of my parents), you are now caught up.  I'm sitting in a cafe after having my "Schwartze Kaffee" (black coffee), and a sandwich (for breakfast), waiting to get into my new flat.  Since there was someone staying in it on the weekend, it needs to be cleaned, and the cleaner should be coming within the half-hour, after that, I'll know when I can go over and pick up the keys (and the rest of my stuff). 

And so, what is the "shit" that I'm too old for?  I'm too old to share rooms with snorers who don't know enough to pack a fucking flashlight so that they don't have to turn on the lights when they want to get dressed or packed.  I'm too old to get far too little sleep the day after walking 12 km (although the actual distance I walked yesterday is probably closer to 15 km, due to walking to and from subway stations and bars, etc).  I'm too old to wake up in the morning the day after the aforementioned walking, and not have a sore back.  Hopefully the next few months of German living will get me back into good enough shape to be able to take a beating like that and wake up feeling better.  But we all have to start somewhere!

Until next time, Tschuss!
* this "border" is important when buying subway cards, because you can pay one price for everything within it, but if you want to travel with the BVG (like the TTC in Toronto, or MBTA in Boston) beyond this boundary into zone C (inner zones are A and B, the furthest is zone C), the fare is slightly higher.

** Don't ask me when.

*** The last bar was the Chagall Cafe (or Cafe Chagall), near Senefelder Platz.  They serve Russian food, and were showing some weird German movie about Adventures in the Magic Forest on one of the walls when we arrived.

^don't know his name, don't wanna know.

3 December 2011

A short day's journey into a long night

Yesterday was a long day/night.  It began at the East Seven Hostel, when i woke up, and packed up again to drop off most of my stuff at my apartment to be, which I'll finally get into on Monday.  After the trip to Kreuzberg, I got back on the U-bahn and headed back to the Alexander Platz area to find my new hostel, the Pangea People Hostel.  from what i understand, this hostel is fairly new, and they're still working out the kinks.  The doors close extremely loudly, and the footsteps down the hall echo prominently.   They also wouldn't let me get into the room before 3pm, so I took a walk in the wind and rain and headed to the DDR museum for refuge.

The DDR Museum was interesting, giving the visitor a small taste of life in the former East Germany (Deutsche Demokratische Republik, although we all know the "Demokratische"part was hooey).  it was a small museum, but there was a lot to see and do and touch.  Particularly interesting was being able to look at workbooks or assignment books from East German school children, especially their units on Marx and Engels!

When I returned to the hostel, I met Pat, an American who has been spending the last month in Germany traveling while waiting for his girlfriend, a German professor in the US to arrive in the country on Monday.  He recommended the "alternative" pub crawl.  Alternative to the large crawls that take tourists to all the touristy bars.

It was after that that I had dinner with Dave, a Torontonian ex-pat musician who one of my musician friends in Toronto put me in touch with.  Dave recommended a nice italian restaurant and we talked about the music scene here, in Toronto, and life in Germany as an expat. 

Finally, since I was already in the area of the beginning of the pub crawl, I walked up to the starting bar.  It was definitely an interesting pub-crawl, hitting bars that I would never thing of going into (or even realize they were bars) had I seen it from the outside.  As the night progressed, the bars went from chill (Yesterdays), to a little weird (the ping pong bar), to loud (the bar with a really bad rock band of 15 year olds -- or so it seemed), to the final dance club that just rubbed me the wrong way . . .

My favourite bar was probably the goth bar, where the music wasn't so goth.  I'm pretty sure I heard the Dropkick Murphys, Queen, Blink 182, AC DC, and some German pop that wasn't very Goth.  The people were mostly goth, but there was just a vibe there that people could be themselves and have a good time!

The adventures didn't stop there.  At about 2:30am, I had had enough of the crappy dance club (in a sketchy industrial area near the Warschauer strasse S-bahn station), so i decided to leave, and stood in line for at least 15 minutes to get my coat from the coat check.  Once I got my coat, i made my way back to the S-bahn station, and found out that the next train in my direction would be at 3:04 am.  So I waited the 10 minutes, only to find that once the train left the station, it went very slowly, and stopped for long periods of time.  I was sharing the car with a few Spaniards, some germans and couple of english blokes.  One of the english blokes had 3 little bottles of Jagermeister in his hand and was wondering if drinking them would kill him. 

Slowly, and not so surely, the train proceeded, and by about 3:30, we pulled into the Ostbahnhof (East train station).  For those of you familiar with the Berlin train system, that's one stop.  I had actually ridden the same line earlier in the day.  It should have taken no longer than 4 minutes or so.  When we were just short of the station, we could see police running up to the train and boarding the car in front of us.  Finally the train arrived at Ostbahnhof and the police left the car in front of our.  Usually when the train arrives in a station, a button can be pushed on the inside of the door which will open them.  This time, however, our car was locked.  Until the cops came in to the middle of the car (i was towards the forward end).  They got one person off (he went pretty docile-ly), and we finally moved on.

I ended up getting back to the hostel around four am, and was very glad that Pat and I didn't have any other roommates!  However, due to the loud doors and footsteps, I didn't sleep well, and I'm currently writing this while hanging out at the hostel, taking refuge from the rain!

1 December 2011

Day 2/3: Arrival in Berlin, Taking Care of Business

My arrival in Berlin was quite smooth.  The flight (on Brussels Airlines) was quite empty, allowing me to get all my carry on luggage on board the plane again.  From there, I hit the ground in Berlin and put my German to good use, finding the proper bus downtown, and from the station in Alexander Platz, taking the U-bahn (Subway) up to where my hostel is.  It was actually quite easy to find, a much smoother process than finding my place of lodging in London when I was there in 2009. 
After finding a Deutsche Bank machine, I walked around Alexanderplatz, enjoying the Christmas festival (photos to come).  After taking a nap, I forced myself to wake up (or be cursed with being unable to sleep any time after 2am), and walked around the hostel's neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, finding some dinner, then having a (remarkably cheap) beer with some of the hostel guests and staff.

I went to sleep (again) and woke up at a decent hour (8am).  Yay for beginning the trip with some semblance of a normal sleep schedule!  

Yesterday (Wed., November 30) was "business day."  I spent the morning checking out my new apartment (although I don't move in until Monday), and lining up a phone.  Eric Frank, the owner of Berlin Cribs, the company which handles rental of vacation (and longer-stay) apartments, was most helpful in getting me started with the phone and the SIM card.  This running around was also good in that it helped me get to know my new neighbourhood a little bit, finding grocery shopping, drug stores, restaurants, shops, U-bahn station, etc.  

I spent most of the afternoon working on job applications, and then later in the evening, I ended up going to a free-improvisation concert in Kreuzberg.  This was a great concert and allowed me meet a couple of new musicians to talk and hopefully play with in the future!

Day 1: Airports and Airplanes

My first day of traveling begins with my trip to the Pearson International Airport in Toronto.  The busiest airport in Canada, the Terminal 1 gate that Jet Airways uses was pretty quiet except for people boarding that particular flight.  At check-in (after standing in line for at least 15 minutes), I got one piece of good news, and one piece of bad news, which ended up cancelling each other and living up to my expectations.  

I had done quite a bit of investigating of Jet Airways before booking my ticket.  Jet Airways is an Indian airline, and I was somewhat wary of India's reputation for chaos (more on how the airline actually measured up later).  However, their information about baggage on their website said that only one piece of carry-on baggage was allowed.  Because of this stipulation (and the assurance on a long phone call, that I would, indeed, only be allowed to carry on one piece of baggage), I was working on the assumption that I would have to check my saxophone at a $50 cost for checking a second bag.  Mentally preparing for this, I double checked the insurance on my horn, bought what is universally regarded as the best travel case, and hoped for the best.  Lo and behold, when I arrived at the check in, after asking if I could carry my saxophone on, a supervisor came over and said, "no problem!" (I'm paraphrasing).  However, my main piece of checked luggage came in about 4 kilos over the limit, so I had to pay the extra $50 for that (a process that Jet Airways seems very ill equipped to deal with).  In the end, I was pretty much where I started, paying an extra $50, but with the piece of mind that comes with having my instruments with me, inside the pressurized cabin.  I think, in the end, I came out on top in the deal.

As for Jet Airways itself, I would give them the highest marks for comfortable (relatively) seating, plenty of legroom, and yummy Indian food for dinner.  Their service was actually quite good, and the boarding was quite organized and efficient.  Lower marks go to the (seemingly) abnormally high number of very young children who cried, screamed, and made various other loud noises throughout the entire flight.  But I guess I can't blame the airline for not coming up with a program to anaesthetize young children for the duration of the flight.  The in-flight entertainment was actually quite good, with a wide range of movies (both Hollywood and Bollywood) to choose from.  I watched most of Harry Potter 8, and then watched "Everything is Illuminated" in its entirety, which is rather appropriate, considering the book I bought in the Toronto airport was another one by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I'd seen the movie before, and really enjoyed the music (excellent work by the music supervisor for this one), and really appreciated Liev Schreiber's direction.  He really understood the Foer's humour, as well as the real emotional heart of the movie without making it over-the-top sentimental (which Foer's writing is most certainly not).  Considering the subject of the film, and the recent passing of my grandfather, I have to say that it really hit me hard, this time around.  

Finally, Jet Airways gets a big, giant FAIL for their use of Kenny G-like Muzak to pacify their passengers on embarkation and disembarkation.  I mean, I confess to grooving a little to the instrumental version of "Just the Way You Are," but when you get cheesy saxophone (wait, I'm in Belgium as I write this -- saxophone du fromage) playing "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," that's when the contents of my stomach become unsettled.  

I'm writing this right now to kill part of the 4 hour layover I have here in Brussels.  They sure know how to bilk their customers.  As you can see from the picture that I'll probably attach eventually, my breakfast of 1 500 ml bottle of water, 1 brown bun, 1 hard-boiled egg, and 1 30 g circle of Brie cost 7.80 EU. 

 In addition, the reason I'm not posting this at the time of writing, is that the internet in the Brussels airport costs 10 Euros for 1 HOUR!  That said, the bread is as good as I remember (maybe better), and the little round 30g serving of Brie cheese was delicious.  God, it's good to be back in Europe, where the standard of food quality is so much higher than back home in North America (no, I didn't indulge in a Philly Cheese Steak when I was down in Philadelphia).  To be able to get REAL Brie cheese, and a perfectly baked roll (crispy on the outside, soft on the inside) at 8AM, in an airport where they've probably been sitting out all night is outstanding.  I will also avail myself of some REAL Belgian chocolate before I board my plane to Berlin (where things will be cheaper, thank god). 
Unfortunately, I can't indulge too much, as I seem to have left my stomach somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.  This isn't the first time the lack of sleep on a redeye flight has left my normally rock-steady digestive system uneasy.  Or maybe it's just Brussels.

And so, i bid you all adieu, as i sit here, watching the sun rise over some chunky airport building.  It's actually kind of blinding me, so I'm going to move and practice my German, or something.

24 November 2011

Saxophone! Muppets! (or, Will the Real Miss Piggy Please Stand Up)

Ok, Wednesday happened to be a day where I didn't accomplish many of my assigned "Git 'er done before you leave" tasks, but it was worth it.

I always knew that I'd go to see The Muppets on its opening day (since I was out of town when my dad had an invite to a free screening on Saturday).  I have always been a Muppets fan.  The Muppet Show, the Muppet movies, Muppets Tonight (highly underrated), and more recently their cheeky youtube videos* (I'm repressing the Muppet Wizard of Oz, as my brother has blogged recently here) are all some of my all time favourites. 

In fact, as my parents tell me, The Muppet Movie was the first movie I ever saw.  According to their version of the story, they arrived at the movie theatre (with little 2-year-old me) only to discover that we had missed the intended showing (before the days of online movie listings ... it was 1979, people).  The parental units asked me if I wanted to go home, or wait for the next show.  Apparently, I chose to wait, and thus made my first movie going experience a Muppet one.  I still get teased about being afraid of Animal when he takes the giganto-pills invented by Dr. Bunson Honeydew, but i mean seriously.  A 60 foot Animal would freak out any 2 year old.  And I had never seen a screen that large.

So how was the new film?  Well, since I was going to be downtown (keep reading), I decided to go the AMC at Yonge and Dundas.  The big advantage to these theatres is that they use digital projection.  Mmmmm digital.  Crystal-clear picture.  But anyways, I did love the movie.  I've been a Jason Segal fan ever since I started watching How I Met Your Mother, and while many critics associate him with such raunch-fests as Forgetting Sarah Marshall (only raunchy because he shows the full monty), and Knocked Up, fans of his TV show can see how he's just a gigantic muppet at heart anyways (watch the movie to see just how muppety he is).  I also quite enjoy Amy Adams.  Nuff Said.

Things I loved about the movie: 
- Quirky songs
- Muppets on the Big Screen!
- Chris Cooper's absolutely weird character (maniacal laugh!), and truly bizarre rap number complete with lyrics and bouncing ball
- Cameos (some expected, some unexpected)
- "Say Hello to My Little Friend" (in Swedish)
- Animal gets a character arc
- Stadler and Waldorf get to participate in the story instead of just heckle it

Things I didn't love as much:
- No Frank Oz.  Fozzie and Miss Piggy just didn't sound quite like themselves.....

Here's a big thing I think the movie missed.  I rewatched the Muppet Movie, and, while the new movie nails the overall tone of the Muppets - the innocence, irreverance and hopefulness that the characters inspire - it didn't have the overall zaniness, wackiness and mayhem that the original has (they're not called Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem for nothing).  In a sense, the human characters in Muppet movies have always been just barely keeping up with the craziness that ensues... Segal's character (Gary) is almost more of a leader than someone who's hanging on for the ride.  Additionally, the several scenes where Kermit addresses the Muppets and makes a speech were far too docile for my taste.  Kermit should have to wrangle the Muppets' attention.

Overall, the film was very well done and very enjoyable.

I then chose to walk to Roy Thompson Hall enjoying the lights of the city, feeling its energy around me before I leave.  I did snap a few pictures on my cell phone and when I get to uploading them, I'll post them here.  Highlights were old City Hall lit up at night, and the skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square.

I was downtown in the first place because my friend Christy, who works in the arts scene in Toronto, offered me her extra ticket to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra last night.  What was the program?  Well, none other than jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis performing the Glazunov Concerto, and an arrangement of Schulhoff's Hot Sonate, with the second half being taken up by one of my other favourites, Dvorak's 9th Symphony.

Dvorak's tomb.  Photo from my visit to Prague in 2009

These were interesting selections for Marsalis.  His sound control was wonderful, and his conception of classical saxophone vibrato and tone was actually far better than I had expected. 

The Glazunov Concerto is what I consider to be a gateway on the classical saxophone.  One of the technically easiest concerti, it does require good sound control and an understanding of the musical line to play effectively.  Playing from memory, Marsalis only made a few small and forgivable slips.  However, the orchestra really made a mess of things.  It seemed that the conductor and orchestra wanted to play everything slower than Branford did, and the imprecision made for a muddled mess in the string accompaniment. 

The Toronto Star reviewer Peter Goddard liked the performance, writing that "Marsalis’s controlled but swinging lyricism throughout the concerto would have likely been unimaginable to Glazunov, who might have been surprised by some of the liberties . . . the soloist took with the score."  Perhaps Mr. Goddard should actually look at the score.  The only "liberties" Marsalis took was the dramatically extended cadenza, which I quite enjoyed and found stylistically appropriate.  In addition, Marsalis did play in an idiomatic style.  There was no "swinging."  Goddard should go back to reviewing movies.

As far as the Schullhof went, while I truly enjoyed the orchestration by Richard Rodney Bennett (the piece was originally composed for saxophone and piano), the limited (and, for me, boring) melodic material reminded me of why I've never actually performed this piece, despite a copy sitting somewhere in my (now fully alphabetized and packed away) saxophone music library. 

The Dvorak is one of my favourite pieces.  And there were some nice moments in the orchestra, particularly the english horn solo (and the duet with clarinet) in the second movement. 

All in all, Wednesday was a great day to be in Toronto.  Muppets, Saxophone with orchestra.... what more can a muppet loving saxophone player ask for?


* Beeker, Animal and Swedish Chef singing the "Habanera" from Carmen has joined the Bugs Bunny cartoons in my tutorials on Romantic Opera.

22 November 2011

Counting Down

No, you're not going to get a blog a day as my departure date approaches.  There are WAY too many things to do before I shuffle off to Deutschland and way too many drains on my time to spend the hours crafting beautiful little blog entries each day for your entertainment pleasure.

I'm just going to reconnect with all my loyal blogosphere peoples to give you an update on what's been going on.

I just returned from the Society for Ethnomusicology annual conference in Philadelphia.  The conference is a great way to see what's going on in the wonderful world of ethnomusicology.  I have to say that it's an exciting time for us ethnoids.  With the expansion of the availability and accessibility of the all of the world's music, there's so much to study and so many ways of examining and analyzing the music of the world!

It's always great to see the faces and meet the people behind the names that you read in articles and books along the educational trail.  What astounds me is how NICE all of these people are!  Special shout out goes to Judah M. Cohen from Indiana University.  Brilliant scholar and super nice dude.

As far as the klezzical content of the conference, my paper ("Interculturalism and Musical Hybridity in Early Klezmer" -- sounds brainier than it really is) was on a fascinating panel with papers on Andy Statman (by Benjamin Krakauer), and Swedish Klezmer as played by non-Jews (by David Kaminsky).  It was a fascinating session, and a priveledge to be associated with some great scholarship!

Now on to the rest.  Things have been up and down here.  My grandfather passed away a few days before I left for Philadelphia.  I'm not quite ready to do an "in memoriam" blog yet.  I'll save it for another time, but I will say that he was surrounded by his family, especially at the end, which is the way that we should all go.

My time these days is spent cleaning, packing (well mostly packing, which will then lead to cleaning), writing job and post-doc applications, and soon, writing proposals for other conferences coming up in the new year.  Writing job application cover letters and "statements of research" and "statements of teaching" and other such miscellanea is quite time consuming, but must be done, particularly if i want to find a job!

So thus is my life.  In 6 days (and about 6 hours), I get on a plane for Europe.  December appears as if it's going to be full of travel.  I have 2 chunks of 3 or 4 days that I'll have to be out of the apartment I'm renting in Berlin (due to previous bookings for the 'vacation rental' apartment), and I've already got a trip scheduled to Paris to see my favourite band, Gogol Bordello.  I'll blog more about that in a couple of weeks.

As for the other time that I need to be out of the apartment, I'm investigating some travel possibilities, looking for affordable getaways.  A possibility is to stay in Germany and either visit other friends around the country, or see more of Europe.  Some possibilities include Brussels, Stockholm,and Oslo.  I know.. Why do the cheapest flights have to be to cold places? 

And so, dear readers, this is my final week.  Packing up my life in the place that I've called home since 2003, working to try to find some work beyond the Berlin adventure, and seeing friends before I leave.  I'll try to blog once more before I leave, but the "Adventures in Klezmer" are close to beginning (although any klezmer is an adventure).

31 October 2011

Alex Anthopoulos, Ninja*

Well, in 4 weeks today, I get on a plane for Berlin.  Amazing to think how close it is, and how much I need to get done in the interim.  So I decided to blog about some of the things I've learned from baseball, seeing as the World Series (and the baseball season) is now over -- Congrats to the St. Louis Cardinals and the former Blue Jays who play for them!

I play this baseball simulation game called Out of the Park Baseball (2012 edition).  This game allows you to simulate every aspect of being a general manager, from trading players, to signing them to contracts, to managing a complete minor league system, to setting lineups, etc.  Everything.  The game is really deep.  I play mostly in an online league, where there are 30 players, each one acts as the GM for a major league team.  The game starts in 2011, and proceeds forward until we finish playing.

In the ASBA (the American Simulation Baseball Association), I manage the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and we have gotten to the 2011 All-Star break (mid-July).  Normally, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the game sims ahead one week, and this weekend was a very eventful one, due to it's being the last "real time" weekend before we hit the trade deadline in this Friday's sim. 

This is kind of a long way of getting to the title of this blog entry.  In my general managing, I try to apply some of the principles that Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos uses.**  The one that was most at play in trade talks was to never dismiss an idea outright.  When another GM proposed a trade, I would think about it, no matter how preposterous it sounded.  I would find ways to make it work for both parties, and if we eventually decided not to make the trade, I gave my reasons for it, rather than just reject it out of hand.

This, is also the way of the ninja.  The ninja were paid assassins, saboteurs, and general stealth operators.  When they were hired for a contract, they would never reject it out of hand, and frequently (as legends have it), they would make what appeared to be impossible possible.  They examined a problem from as many different angles as they could in order to find a way to make things happen. 

This is what makes Alex Antholpoulos a ninja.  This idea - of being able to make the impossible possible - is a result of his ability to examine a problem from many different angles, to assemble information from every possible source, and to seize opportunity when it is presented.  This, combined with the stealth with which he operates, makes the Ninja. 

I present exhibit A:  The Vernon Wells Trade.

The biggest result of this trade was that it rid the Jays of Wells's $20+ million of payroll for 4 years, freeing up the Jays to sign Jose Bautista to a very reasonable $14 million a year contract extension.  From what I've read of the blogs and newspaper articles, the Angels were looking for a big bat, and had lost out on some of their free agent choices.  The desperate GM was under pressure to improve the team, and in sweeps A.A. with Vernon Wells.  The Jays took on the dead weight salary of Juan Rivera (released in June or July), and catcher Mike Napoli, who they traded to Texas for up-and-down relief pitcher Frank Francisco.

Why is this trade "ninja-like"?  Because everyone and their brother thought Vernon Wells's contract was un-moveable, and when news of the trade came, it was unbelievable at first.

Exhibit B: The Colby Rasmus trade.

From what I've read, A.A. has coveted CF Colby Rasmus for a few years.  He just had to wait for him to wear out his welcome with Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa to become available.  Then, rather than give up prospects that he considered key to the future, gave up reliever Jason Frasor and minor league starting pitcher Zach Stewart to the White Sox in order to get the key cog that St. Louis was asking for - Edwin Jackson.  Jackson was then flipped to St. Louis, along with Jays relievers Octavio Dotel, Mark Rzepczynski (I think I spelled that right... thanks, Polish ancestry!) and useless spare outfielder Cory Patterson.  The Jays got back Rasmus, and 3 bullpen arms that may or may not be useful down the road (one has already been released). 

What does this tell us about AA's ninja skills?  Well, by going to the White Sox to get a starting pitcher in Jackson, he was thinking outside the box, examining the problem from a different angle.  He asked himself, "If I don't have the players necessary to get Rasmus in my organization, who does?"  He identified Chicago, got what he needed to make it happen.  Ninja'ed.***

These aren't the only situations where AA picked opponents pockets (Yunel Escobar, anyone?), and I, for one, admire having someone running my favourite team who doesn't just want to be the smartest guy in the room, but could possibly be the smartest guy in the room.  And it's not just that he's smarter than everyone else.  He listens to people, he takes their opinions into consideration, he gathers as much information as possible, and when he strikes, it comes from out of the blue, leaving us all to wonder how the hell he did it.

As a life-long Blue Jay fan (after all, I was born the same year the Jays started playing), even though the team may be a ways from contending, it's nice to know that the Jays have a GM who has a plan, is sticking to it, and knows how to get things done without alienating people.^ 

We can all learn a little bit from Alex Anthopoulos, Ninja.

* I'm not the first to call him a ninja.  I'm just explaining the metaphor.

** This is my interpretation of his actions.  Obviously I have no idea if he actually uses this principle consciously.

*** For the record, I'm not sold on Rasmus yet.  I love the way he plays center field, but in interviews he seems like big, dumb ol' country boy, who may never figure out the hitting side of things, leaving fans, teammates, and team management exasperated about not using the massive talent he has.  Contrast him with Jose Bautista who figured it out (later than most) to become the most feared hitter in the AL, as well as a smart baserunner and fielder. 

^ Do you think the Cardinals will hesitate to deal with Anthopolous again?  They won the World Series with contributions from the players that they got in the trade.  Win/Win trades make everyone happy, and make other teams likely to deal with you again.

24 October 2011

The Academic Sidetrack

Being a PhD student who hopes to someday get a university teaching job, I find myself being pulled in two directions at once. 

Of course, my main concern is to actually finish my PhD dissertation.  This is, of course, important, because these days, with so many freshly minted PhDs out on the job market, prospective employers have an easy time eliminating much of a large applicant pool by saying, "Let's look at the people with PhDs first."  So, in general, just finishing will have the potential to bump up your attractiveness as a candidate for a job.

There is, however, the saying in academia, "Publish or Perish."  Meaning that one must publish to make one's self attractive both in the job market, and on the Tenure Track.  Getting something published (in a refereed publication, of course) is a very time consuming task.

So I'm always somewhat torn as to whether I should be writing the dissertation, or trying to submit proposals to get stuff published, or to present stuff at conferences. 

Right now, I'm even more torn.  After just finishing and submitting a proposal to publish some of my work, I'm now turning to the always fun process of applying for post-doctoral fellowships and teaching jobs.  Those other PhD people out there know just what this is like, and with the prospect of double-digit applications due within the next 6 weeks, it's somewhat intimidating and taxing of my organizational skills.

This is what I call "The Academic Sidetrack."  The non-dissertational work that I'm doing over the next few weeks is very necessary, and (potentially) ultimately beneficial to my career, but unfortunately distracting me from what should be my number one priority. 

So, I take a deep breath, examine the (hypothetical) mountain of deadlines and teaching statements and cover letters and personal philosophies of study and ......

.... and away I go.

18 October 2011

To have your mind blown

Years ago, I worked in the music section of an Indigo bookstore (if you're American, think Barnes and Noble).  While the corporate structure was somewhat annoying, it was an amazing place to discover new music and new artists.

There were 3 or 4 of us who generally staffed the section and one of the biggest perks was that we could choose the music that was heard in the store.  Frequently, this had commercial implications, as we were only allowed to play CDs that we had multiple copies of.  However, what it did was make us scour the shelves for interesting things that either a) we had multiple copies of, or b) that we really dug and would order multiple copies of.

Back in those days, a music store actually had music in the store (rather than DVDs and video games) and Indigo had a pretty good selection of stuff that was pretty obscure.  This was my first introduction to the mind-blowing Susheela Raman.

A British singer of Indian descent, she combines south Indian music with popular styles.  Her first two albums (which we had in the store at that time) just blew my mind with the fusion of styles and her powerful voice singing in the microtonal ornamentation style.  Using tabla drums instead of drum set for the most part, some of what she did stuck with me as I began down the road of the creation of own musical fusion.

This blog entry comes from "rediscovering" her, through suggesting her music to a friend, and then learning of her latest album, Vel.  (Click the link to go to the site for the album.)

I felt that Raman had gotten away from the things that really interested me in her first two albums (Salt Rain and Love Trap) on her third offering, Music for Crocodiles.  My feeling was that her sound had become more mainstream, as if she was trying too hard to find a larger audience.  The fact that she recorded a song in French (she appears to perform a lot in France, and has released albums on French record labels), as well as more songs in English than in Tamil.  The melody lines on Music for Crocodiles seemed to be very typical of contemporary popular music, and lacked the original and unique sound of her previous work, and served as an uninspired vehicle for her unique voice and singing skills.

However it appears that she has since shed her record label, and become more adventurous again with her newest album.

On a quick listen, the more funky South Indian rhythms (including tabla) and more interesting microtonal ornamentation are more present on Vel than on Music for Crocodiles.  There is also much more heavy electric guitar as well as electronics, and more of a throbbing, driving rhythmic bent to a lot of the songs on the album from Music for Crocodiles, which seemed (to me at least) to be an attempt to remake herself as more of a coffee-house type singer/songwriter.

Vel, to me, sounds like a place where Raman is more comfortable, using her powerful voice to punctuate and float on top of a darker, heavier, thicker ambient atmosphere. 

If it is true that she is now self-producing and self-releasing (like so many artists are doing today), I highly recommend that you click the link, and buy her music (available on iTunes).

17 October 2011

On Occasion, Fortune Smiles

So much in this world is random.  Take fame for instance.  For every famous actor, musician, artist, author, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of equally talented individuals who toil in obscurity. 

What makes those who become famous rise to the top?  Are they any more talented than those who are not famous?  I believe that it is a number of factors that all coincide in the right person at the right time in the right place that lead to fame and success in the entertainment industry. 

Some might call it fate, others happenstance, but nonetheless, a series of seemingly random events need to occur for someone to be discovered, packaged, and promoted in order to "hit it big."

For most musicians who work in non-popular genres (classical music, jazz, world music, etc.), "hitting it big" occurs on a much smaller scale.

What I'm trying to say, is that as a klezmer/world-music-fusion artist, success is relative. 

So . . . what brought on this line of thinking? 

Back in August, I got an email through my band's website (www.klezfactor.com) from the TV production company (Insight Productions) that was putting together the biographical segments for Canada's Walk of Fame induction ceremony.  Veronica Tennant,* the producer of the bio segment to honour author Mordecai Richler's** induction, had heard some of KlezFactor's music on the CBC Radio 3 website and decided that it fit what she was looking for.  The TV producers wanted to know if I would give them the rights to use chunks of a bunch of songs from both of our albums to accompany the video segment. 

As a big fan Richler's writing, my only answer was yes.  Later, I found out that the esteemed Canadian actor Christopher Plummer*** was narrating the segment.  All this will be televised next Sunday (October 23) at 8PM on the Global Television Network in Canada (no, it's not all around the world... that's just the name of the network). 

The result of this is that my music is going to be heard on a national television broadcast (with probable re-broadcasts at some point), reaching infinitely more people that it ever has before. 

It is a huge honour and validation to be associated with this project.  First, to be associated with an author like Richler, whose work I have enjoyed for years, is extremely flattering (although, thinking about it, I can see some similar themes in the approach to Jewish identity between his writing and my music, but that's for another blog).  Second, to have Christopher Plummer's voice over my music is goosebump inducing (although I have yet to see/hear the segment).  And third, it's pretty fucking awesome to have my songs heard on national television.

So far, the widest television exposure I've had was an episode of Kenny vs. Spenny^ where they didn't want to have to pay for rights, so we just played some "traditional" klezmer music.  In the case of Canada's Walk of Fame, it was all above board, with a nice, mainstream cheque to go along with it. 

It's funny.  When people want to you to do something for free, they tell you that it will be great exposure. When it's actually something that IS great exposure, they pay you for it. 

However, I have no illusions that this "exposure" will lead to anything, besides a nice entry on my CV.  The nature of reality is that our music will be heard and absorbed as part of the presentation, and then relegated to a memory.  Perhaps it will influence and become part of the sense memory that people have about Richler and take that away from their watching of show, but at most, we'll have a credit at the end of the show (which will roll by too fast for anyone to actually see).

Don't get me wrong, I'm very proud of the work that I have done with KlezFactor (and plan to do more . . . keep reading over the coming months).  And I'm also very proud that our music was discovered randomly.  I'm very proud that Veronica Tennant, when scouting for music, reacted so strongly to what she heard of KlezFactor on CBC Radio 3. 

After all, that's why we do it.  All of us non-mainstream musicians toiling in obscurity make our music hoping to elicit as strong reactions in others as we get from ourselves.  For us, that's success.  The knowledge that others "get" our music. 

I'm about to experience the biggest "success" of my professional career, and almost no one except for my family, friends and you, dear readers, will know about it.  So while, on occasion, fortune smiles, it's more of a private, only-for-yourself kind of smile.  Like Mona Lisa's.  And that's not so bad, is it?


* for more on her, click here.
** for more on him, click here.
*** for more on him, click here.
^ Kenny vs. Spenny ran for about 5 years on a variety of networks and was syndicated internationally.  It was very much a niche tv show about two guys who had a (usually gross) contest each week.  Our episode was "Who is the better Jew?"  The show was made in what could be considered a guerilla style - very cheap, very fast and very off the cuff. 

9 October 2011

Happy Birthday, Multiculturalism!

As columnist Haroon Siddiqui points out in today's Toronto Star, yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's announcement of the policy of multiculturalism.

Siddiqui notes that the "failures" of multiculturalism in Europe stem from the European policies being dependent on political whim.  Here, multiculturalism is firmly ingrained into Canada's constitution, both in the 1982 Charter of Rights and the 1988 Multiculturalism Act, which reads that "multiculturalism is a fundamental characteristic of the Canadian heritage and identity and that it provides an invaluable resource in the shaping of Canada’s future." 

Canada's legislative commitment to encouraging a place for a multiplicity of cultures to live together is profound in a world where people's commitment to the proliferation and security of "their own kind" resonates strongly.*  Siddiqui traces this multicultural bent to the 1867 British North America Act which recognized the rights of "aboriginal peoples, English-speaking Protestants and French-speaking Catholics on the basis of race, language and religion."  These historically protected rights of minorities** have made Canada one of the most culturally rich places to live.***

As someone who is moving to Germany (one of the countries whose leader pronounced multiculturalism "dead"), I feel that the multicultural nature of Canada, and particularly, Toronto is something that I'm going to miss.  Even now, sitting in a Starbucks in a strongly Jewish neighbourhood in the northern suburbs of Toronto, I have seen and sat amongst Jewish people, black people, brown (south Asian) people, East Asian people (the neighbourhood also has a large Filipino population), and non-Jewish white people.  Riding the subway is another experience altogether, where one can hear upwards of 5 languages in a single subway car. 

Last summer, travelling through Europe, I felt uncomfortable in many of the homogenous European countries, particularly in Poland, Slovenia, and Croatia.  In Slovenia, I actually witnessed people giving a couple of African men dirty looks just for walking down the street.  In parts of Italy, the only black people you would see were Africans selling knock-off handbags on street corners.  It was only when I was in London that I felt more at home and comfortable with the vast array of humanity present. 

So what does all of this mean?  Genetically, the concept of ethnicity has already been disproven.  There is no such thing as "race," as all physical differences between people are merely adaptations to various living conditions around the world.  Therefore, since there is no such thing as race, one should feel just as at home in an ethnically diverse city like Toronto, or New York, or London, as in a much more homogenous one like Cracow, or Ljubljana. 

However similar our DNA is, sociologically, there are differences, with like gravitating to like.  As I've told young umpires as an instructor and evaluator, "Perception is Reality."  If we perceive differences between ethnicities, and thus act upon them, the reality is that there are differences.

That said, one of the things in moving to a new place is to experience a different culture.  Having lived in the United States for a couple of years (at a particularly volatile point in recent history, right around 9/11), I've experienced how two cultures (even as similar as Canada's and the US's) can be subtly different.^ Thus, I'm looking forward to experiencing the differences in German approaches to multiculturalism.

Anyways, to sum up this somewhat rambling blog, I'll just say, Happy Birthday, Canadian Multiculturalism!  Makes me proud to call Canada home.


* I just finished reading Niall Ferguson's compelling The War of the World, which is a fascinating look at the factors leading to World War II, and the decline of the world empires active at the beginning of the twentieth century.  Ferguson cites ethnic nationalism, specifically the desire to "liberate" a country's ethnic peoples living as minorities in neighbouring nation-states, and to homogenize the country's population, as one of the leading causes to much of the armed conflict around the world since the end of WWI.

** I won't get into the opression and indignities that Canadian governments have inflicted on Canada's First Nations peoples ("native americans").

*** Although this is more true for the big cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver than rural Canada.

^ Even Americans are surprised that things are subtly, yet significantly different in Canada.... as Homer Simpson once called Canada "America Junior."