Thursday, April 20, 2017

Cider – Hard & Sweet

In all the years I have fiddled with this blog, I have written about music from time to time, but I don’t recall ever reviewing a CD. There’s a first time for everything…

Of late I have found I can listen to certain types of music when translating as long as it’s instrumental and I’m not super familiar with it. So my work-related playlists have gravitated toward obscure Baroque composers and jazz fusion. I also recently subscribed to Apple Music, which gives you a weekly “New Music Mix” based on your stated tastes. I find its accuracy in the 70-80 percent range (by which I mean, I skip or dislike 20–30 percent of the songs any given week). 

But for all the skips and the times I've muttered "WTF, Apple Music?" it's actually not a bad feature, and it has introduced me to more than a few new artists I've come to really enjoy. To wit, about two months ago, a song from the latest CD by Japanese drummer Senri Kawaguchi (iTunes Canada link: Cider – Hard & Sweet) came up in my New Music playlist. I immediately went to listen to the full album, and I've been playing it about once a week ever since.

Kawaguchi is a young female drummer and apparently somewhat of a phenom. Finding out anything about her is a struggle because she doesn’t have much of a presence outside of Japan, and her own website is not translated. But suffice it to say that at the tender age of 20, she’s already recorded 3 solo albums and a number of others with other artists. Clearly, the kid is talented. Her earlier solo recordings are good but definitely the product of a young musician. This new CD though, is mature in every way. 

Cider – Hard & Sweet  lured me into a broader exploration of Japanese jazz fusion, which I knew little about other than a longstanding love of Hiromi Uehara. And while I have enjoyed this little escapade, I can’t say I’ve been blown away. With a few notable exceptions (Casiopea, for example), I find much of it on the tacky side or leaning too far to the pop end of the spectrum for my taste.  

But back to Kawaguchi… It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a jazz fusion album so much; everything about this CD puts me in a good mood. That said, one of my pet peeves with digital music in general and streaming services in particular is that composition and performing credits are usually few and far between. So it took some digging to learn the names of the sidemen (Philippe Saisse: piano and keys, Armand Sabal-Lecco: bass, Gumbi Ortiz: percussion). It's even harder to determine the writing credits (according to wikipedia, Saisse composed 5 of the tracks). But one thing's for sure, every track on this CD is rock solid on both the playing and writing fronts. It’s well-produced, well-balanced, and the playing just oozes joy. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Here's a little sample. The video is over-edited, but the tune is wonderful. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A few poems in French


L’absence de couleur dans tes yeux
me gèle, comme une montagne de glace
qui flotte au large de ma propre vie
me fige, comme un iris emprisonné
entre deux pages d’un livre
m’arrête comme un homme sans souffle
si riche en sens soit cette teinte, cette échappée.

Bleu vert

Bleu vertueux, votre virtuose m’éblouit.
Avec cette encre, je bleuis ces vers
qui tendent vers le bleu vert
comme une ancre qui descend
dans les eaux de la mer.
Et par une ablution d’inspiration
mon esprit devient ouvert.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Left Hand

We flop raggedyandily through the chasm, 
unconcerned with style,
intent only on piercing the black,
achieving enlightenment in any direction,
sailing across the night sky
in a moon-laden schooner.
The wake of our days disappears
in the waves, and yet onward we sail
into the night.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Grokking humour

I'm not really into comedy and never have been. Growing up, my favourite TV shows were never sitcoms; I found (and find) the cheesy jokes and laugh tracks mind numbing. As I got older, the unstoppable steam engine of the comedy club/festival train left me standing cold and bewildered on the platform. My contemporaries would rave about hits like Seinfeld or The Simpsons, so I would watch occasionally but was never drawn into their orbit. The Tonight Show, David Letterman, John Stewart, et al.? Cute, but overall... meh.

Maybe I was overly influenced by Valentine Michael Smith in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, the human raised by Martians who learned that to be truly human is to laugh, but that laughter is inevitably a reaction to some kind of pain or wrongness. I was quite young and impressionable when I read the novel, and that notion has stayed with me my whole life, even if I'm not sure I really believe it.

Or maybe I'm just a Very Serious Person by nature.

So imagine my surprise when I recently found myself enjoying – on a very deep level – a comedy podcast called Judge John Hodgman. Like anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past decade, I'd encountered John Hodgman before; but I had never actively sought out his work. And I don't actually remember why it was that I sought out this particular podcast. I suppose it was recommended on some other podcast that I listen to.*

Suffice it to say that I'm hooked. And since I know this about myself – that I'm not a fan of comedy – I couldn't not try and tease out why, exactly, I enjoy it so much. This is what I've determined: John Hodgman is a different kind of comedian (or humorist, as he calls himself). He's kind, and self-effacing and, well, kind of serious.

The premise of Judge John Hodgman is that two "litigants" come before him with a "dispute" – usually some habit or viewpoint held by the "defendant" that the "complainant" disagrees with. They make their cases before the judge and once Hodgman has determined the facts, he makes a ruling in favour of one of the parties. On the face of it, it sounds kind of boring, but the "discovery" part of the show is peppered with funny interjections and observations by Hodgman and his "Bailiff," Jesse Thorn.

The serious side of me wants to say something like, "what makes Hodgman different is his deep understanding of the human psyche," but that sounds idiotic, even from me. Basically, he's just a sensitive guy who is able to really grok people (see what I just did there?), be funny in a gently teasing and sometimes very subtle way, and manage to not hurt anyone in the process. In fact, his judgements are usually just incredibly good advice for both parties. So not the usual comedic fare, and yet, to me, extremely funny, touching, and refreshing.

So I guess I like him because he's just like me... y'know, if I were funny, understood people, and gave good advice.

*I just remembered: he appeared on The TED Radio Hour in their "In Search Of" episode.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Last day

Today, our last full day, was a "rest day," as in, no cycling. Tomorrow morning, we pack up everything, including our backpacks, which we had left at the B&B, and ride the bikes one last time, just a short jaunt of 20 km to the Brussels airport. 

Today, we took the train into Brussels and wandered around. It's another big city, so nothing super thrilling, but it is quite nice, and it was a nice surprise that most people seem to speak French there. Throughout Flanders, Belgians seemed far more comfortable in English than in French, which we thought a little strange, Belgian supposedly being a "bilingual country." That said, perhaps French-speakers coming to Canada might be somewhat dismayed at how little French is spoken outside of Quebec. 

Pretty much the first thing I did off the train was find a Belgian waffle place. We hadn't had a chance to try one yet, and it being our last day...

The one other thing on my to-do list was to visit the Cantillon brewery. This was worth the trip into town as far as I was concerned. The self-guided tour was very interesting and included two samples of beer, and then you could buy bottles of other offerings, many of which you can only buy at the brewery, and not to take away. You have to drink it there. And most are 750 ml. Luckily, Sonia and I befriended a young American guy backpacking around Europe, who was willing to share a few bottles with us. So I got to try a few interesting geuzes. The brewery itself is a little like stepping back in time. Very little modern stainless steel brewery gear here. For instance, here is the wooden mash tun. 

After Cantillon, we wandered around some more, and then Sonia and I went our separate ways for an hour or so, she to do some shopping, me to seek out one of the better beer bars in town (Moeder Lambic). Then it was off to find a bite to eat and hop on the train home to get packing. We'll be on the bikes tomorrow by 8 am. Next stop: home! 

Monday, June 01, 2015


I don't think we could have asked for a nicer day for our last day of bike touring on this trip. The weather was fairly mild, the winds were mostly light, and we got some nice sun and no rain. The morning part of the ride, the 30 km from Buggenhout up to the Schelde river and eastward, before we turned south down the Rupel toward Mechelen, was as beautiful as any part of our trip: lovely farm fields, gorgeous gardens, hilarious sheep, castles, and beautiful river vistas.

The whole 57 or so km, I was acutely aware that this was our last full day of cycling, and it made me wistful. Usually, when we get to the end of a vacation, I am more than ready to come home. But  this trip has been different. It took us a week to get in to the swing of things, but once we did, it seemed that more than on any other holiday we were able to leave our normal lives behind, "décrocher" as Quebecers say. I think I could have done another week like this. The morning rides, especially, have been wonderful. Getting on your bike and setting out to explore a new countryside is a wonderful way to start the day. 

As we turned onto the LF2, heading south on the same path we took north 2-and-a-half weeks ago, it was interesting to see the same country from the perspective of what had changed over that time. Poppies were blooming everywhere, for one thing; they hadn't yet started to come out by mid-May. But we had changed more than the countryside. Going north, it was all new and strange. Cominng south, it was familiar and beautiful. The deja-vu was even more acute as we rolled into Mechelen. Our first day here, we were jetlagged, stressed from our everyday lives, and wound up with anticipation; Mechelen seemed exotic and a little frightening. Today, the town seems like an old friend; I felt almost Belgian, cycling the streets confidently and navigating my way around. 

Tomorrow, we'll take the train into Brussels for one last day of sightseeing. The only essential thing on my agenda is the legendary Cantillon brewery.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


I suppose a nasty weather day was bound to happen eventually. Even so, I consider us lucky. 

We left Ghent at about 10 am (are you sensing a pattern here?) to cloudy skies and forecasts of rainy weather all day. So we put on all our rain gear and covers before even starting out. The first few hours of the ride, it was mostly just spitting rain. Just enough to make us glad we had rain gear on, but not enough to soak us. Things seemed to be easing off by lunchtime. 

Around noon, we came to the town of Berlare, where we encountered a little "eetcafe" that seemed quite popular with both locals and cyclists, so we stopped there to eat and warm up. Turned out to be a good choice, since the food was good and they had really excellent beer selection. I feel like I'm running out of time when as far as my Belgian beer education is concerned. There are so many interesting beers to try and only a finite amount of time (and liver). In any case, this afternoon seemed like as good a time as any to try Boon's Mariage Parfaite Geuse. 

What a fine beer this is. I think I'm  finally starting to "get" sour beers. Even so, I prefer it when the beer is well balanced, and this was a very well-rounded beer. But I didn't take the Belgian cyclist's advice of buying a Duvel tripel and putting it in my water bottle for the road!

After lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse, and we were getting rained on more than at any other time on our trip. Even so, it wasn't a soaking. And we realized that we didn't have all that far to go to get to our hotel in Buggenhout. But just as we arrived in town, we saw that there was a kreik and lambic beer tasting put on by the local beer club. Such serendipity is the stuff that great vacations are made of. After inquiring, we went inside and had some very nice samples of lambics and I chatted with the president of the club (whose name was also Peter... or Pieter, I assume). 

Since we still had a few kilometres to ride, I couldn't stay there all afternoon, so we left in search of our hotel, which turned out to be only 4 or 5 km away. We don't normally splurge for 4-star hotels, but this was basically the only place in between Ghent and Mechelen, and it looked nice, so what the heck. We are almost the only people here, it being a Sunday, so we had the bar and pool table to ourselves. 

So even though the riding weather wasn't quite as kind as it has been, we still managed to have quite a nice day. Certainly, arriving to a luxury hotel makes things a lot easier. Tomorrow is our last long ride. Kind of hard to believe this amazing trip is coming to an end.