As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Travelling for Personal Growth Part I

On the Ledge About to Jump

A scene in the movie Forest Gump finds the character Jenny on the ledge of skyscraper. She is high from trying to dull childhood pains and still bruised from a recent beating. Despite repeatedly starting anew in different cities the hurt of her childhood has never gone away. Worse still, new violence and new degradation seem always to follow just around the corner for her. More than just worn down, she literally teeters on the edge of hopelessness that her life can be different, or that she is worth any more than what she has seen of life so far. Meanwhile in the background soundtrack a gravelly voice lifts itself over the testimony of an electric guitar and adds to the tension with the words “Lord knows I can’t change”. The rising notes of the guitar leave the forcefulness of those words in naked isolation. She is a beautiful girl with a good soul and we empathize with her. Together the urgency of the words and music erase any pretension that any of us can offer anything but to share in the basic human condition that none of us is in complete control over our own nature. But the mood communicated by the music isn’t a submission. Something about it rings true and truth is always power in itself. As a consequence, in the music and words we don’t bear witness to a defeat, but to a celebration of the power that comes with acknowledging one’s powerlessness. In the movie, the character Jenny steps down from the ledge.

We All Want Change

Few of us wouldn’t change something about our lives if given a magic wand to do so. But too many of us are literally driven to that ledge from being unable to. You might have concluded by this point in your life that those things you would change are your fault or someone else’s fault, or that they are simply the hand of fate, depending in general on which part of the world you were raised in. Regardless of which of these you believe this article will tell you how to change ANYTHING about your life that you would have improve for the better.

This Series of Posts

This series of posts accompanies an article I wrote for eHow.com called “Ten Steps to Change Absolutely Anything about Your Life”. I was inspired to write that article and this series of posts by the challenge of changing some circumstances that initially seemed tantalizingly preventable but proved to be almost intractable. The specifics are less important, they are the seemingly preventable circumstances that surround all of our lives. Whether they are recurring illnesses in one’s family that we believe might be addressed with a simple lifestyle change, or whether they are all-too predictable patterns of interactions that we watch play themselves out over and over between family members without pause, these circumstances beg the question of whether any one of us knows the difference between what we can and cannot control even in our own behaviour. In the particularly philosophical posts to follow I’ll reflect on that question and eventually come round to showing how travel can be part of the answer.

Afterparty with TwitchFilm at the Toronto International Film Festival

TIFF Afterparties
The Toronto International Film Festival is the world’s largest public film fest and generates so many afterparties that the nightlife across the entire downtown Toronto core is livened up during its course. Some of these parties certainly are the tense sort of affairs where you will find huge surly bouncers separating ravenous paparazzi from A-list celebrities. But because of the public nature of the festival more often the parties are low-key and full of creative people in the industry with great stories to tell and who in typical Canadian fashion are always ready to enjoy a good conversation with a visitor and to hear a new point of view.
Anniversary Party for Twitch International Film Website
Today I was fortunate enough to attend the fifth anniversary of twitchfilm.net (http://www.twitchfilm.net/), a film review website founded by Toronto film industry insider Todd Brown. When Todd founded the company  he recognized that there were so many international independent films hollywood isn’t necessarily interested in but that have a lot to offer. He wanted to tell their stories.
Beginnings
A former jounalist for the website themovieblog.com, Todd parted ways with that website when he realized that where he wanted to put his focus was different from that website’s prevailing direction. In typical Canadian fashion they parted with a handshake rather than a civil war. “Not worth killing a friendship for”. Todd told me. “Lets do our own thing” he had agreed with his former employer and friend. It was a decision that he has profitted by greatly in terms of personal satisfaction and industry acceptance. ” A couple others do what we do now, but we’re easily the biggest”. Along with celebrating their fifth anniversary tonight’s party was in celebration of a new partnership with XYZ Films to branch out into doing film representation and development work. The company’s new website in support of the partnership was launched last Friday.
Niche of TwitchFilm.net
TwitchFilm.net provides film and television news, reviews, articles telling viewers what the shows are about, and articles giving readers a look behind the scenes during the making of some of the shows they review. They also provide other unique insight that they generate themselves. “When you look at film websites they’re all fed by the same PR companies. The world is a big place”. Through TwitchFilm.net Todd now works with a number of festivals around the world including Moscow, Locarno in Switzerland, Pusan in Korea, and Sitges in Spain. All of these are prominent international film festivals that generate notable works every year. The poignant artistry of some of those works is all the more striking for the fact that it is invisible to the North American market. “There’s a lot going on that nobody hears about” Todd revealed.
Andrew the Writer
Some of the unique insight with which TwitchFilm generates in its departure from the industry horde comes from writer Andrew Mack. Mack has been working for TwitchFilm.net since day one. “All of us were going to work for another company doing reviews for the (Toronto International Film) festival, but then Todd came to us and said ‘you have an author’s account with TwitchFilm.net’”. Todd and Andrew have been friends since college. Perhaps based on that friendship, Andrew made the move. He didn’t look back.
Others in Attendance
Also in attendance were a number of Directors such as Jonathan King. Jonathan is here at the festival for his second time. His film Under the Mountain is showing in the current festival, while his film Black Sheep was screen in the festival last year. He enjoys the Toronto Film festival especially because “the festival takes such great care of its guests” and “because of the audiences”.
Todd’s Picks
One of Todd’s favorite films up to this point in the festival is Deliver Us from Evil. “Men Who Stare at Goats is another great film” he added. “It’s a dark Danish drama. One of the most alarming things is that every decision the characters make is completely plausible, yet the situation spirals into disturbing violence driven by xenophobia”. I asked him for his prediction of which film would receive the most acclaim in the festival. “Likely the Coen Brothers film” he answered, speaking about the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. “It’s one of their better works in a little while”.

TIFF Afterparties

The Toronto International Film Festival is the world’s largest public film fest and generates so many after parties that the nightlife across the entire downtown Toronto core is livened up during its course. Some of these parties certainly are the tense sort of affairs where you will find huge surly bouncers separating ravenous paparazzi from A-list divas. But because of the public nature of the festival more often the parties are low-key and full of creative people in the industry with great stories to tell and who in typical Canadian fashion are always ready to enjoy a good conversation with a visitor and to hear a new point of view.

Anniversary Party for Twitch International Film Website

Today I was fortunate enough to attend the fifth anniversary of twitchfilm.net, a film review website founded by Toronto film industry insider Todd Brown. When Todd founded the company  he recognized that there were so many international independent films hollywood isn’t necessarily interested in but that have a lot to offer. He wanted to tell their stories.

Todd Brown of TwitchFilm.net celebrating the fifth anniverary of his launch and his companies new partnership with XYZ films.

Todd Brown of TwitchFilm.net celebrating the fifth anniverary of his launch and his companies new partnership with XYZ films.

Beginnings

A former jounalist for the website themovieblog.com, Todd parted ways with that website when he realized that where he wanted to put his focus was different from that website’s prevailing direction. In typical Canadian fashion they parted with a handshake rather than a civil war. “Not worth killing a friendship for”. Todd told me. “Lets do our own thing” he had agreed with his former employer and friend. It was a decision that he has profitted by greatly in terms of personal satisfaction and industry acceptance. ” A couple others do what we do now, but we’re easily the biggest”. Along with celebrating their fifth anniversary tonight’s party was in celebration of a new partnership with XYZ Films to branch out into doing film representation and development work. The company’s new website in support of the partnership was launched last Friday.

Niche of TwitchFilm.net

TwitchFilm.net provides film and television news, reviews, articles telling viewers what the shows are about, and articles giving readers a look behind the scenes during the making of some of the shows they review. They also provide other unique insight that they generate themselves. “When you look at film websites they’re all fed by the same PR companies. The world is a big place”. Through TwitchFilm.net Todd now works with a number of festivals around the world including Moscow, Locarno in Switzerland, Pusan in Korea, and Sitges in Spain. All of these are prominent international film festivals that generate notable works every year. The poignant artistry of some of those works is all the more striking for the fact that it is invisible to the North American market. “There’s a lot going on that nobody hears about” Todd revealed.

No special effects here. The Great Orbax was a classic circus freak from the honored old tradition.

The Great Orbax performing at the afterparty. No special effects here. The Great Orbax was a classic circus freak from the honored old tradition.

The crowd looks on in fear, interest, and nervous anticipation as the Great Orbax performs.

The crowd looks on in fear, interest, and nervous anticipation as the Great Orbax performs.

Andrew the Writer

Some of the unique insight with which TwitchFilm generates in its departure from the industry horde comes from writer Andrew Mack. Mack has been working for TwitchFilm.net since day one. “All of us were going to work for another company doing reviews for the (Toronto International Film) festival, but then Todd came to us and said ‘you have an author’s account with TwitchFilm.net’”. Todd and Andrew have been friends since college. Perhaps based on that friendship, Andrew made the move. He didn’t look back.

Directors in Attendance

Also in attendance were a number of Directors such as Jonathan King. Jonathan is here at the festival for his second time. His film Under the Mountain is showing in the current festival, while his film Black Sheep was screen in the festival last year. He enjoys the Toronto Film festival especially because “the festival takes such great care of its guests” and “because of the audiences”.

Director Jonathan King is at TIFF for his film "Under the Mountain".

Director Jonathan King is at TIFF for his film "Under the Mountain".

Todd’s Picks

One of Todd’s favorite films up to this point in the festival is Deliver Us from Evil. “Men Who Stare at Goats is another great film” he added. “It’s a dark Danish drama. One of the most alarming things is that every decision the characters make is completely plausible, yet the situation spirals into disturbing violence driven by xenophobia”. I asked him for his prediction of which film would receive the most acclaim in the festival. “Likely the Coen Brothers film” he answered, speaking about the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. “It’s one of their better works in a little while”. I found Todd’s opinions to be very informative. I’ll definitely remember to go to TwitchFilm.net to look for more.

BizMedia Zooms in to the Toronto International Film Festival

DJ Champion was a pecular mix of DJ, bass guitar, and electric guitar. The crowd loved it.

DJ Champion held a TIFF opening night concert. It was a pecular mix of DJ, bass guitar, and electric guitar. The crowd loved it.

Tonight was the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). In front of the opening screening at Toronto’s Roy Thompson Hall and at after party events around the city where they could be seen entering the darkened interiors of chic gatherings, the entertainment world’s most luminous celebrities graciously paused to pose for photographers. Or perhaps the photographers being there was the act of grace that allowed celebrities to pose. I noticed how the well-lit white backgrounds that are inevitably installed at such events are tailor made for the red carpet’s particular brand of glamour photography. These backgrounds excert an almost irresitable pull on anyone who wants to be captured in a photograph. After the celebrities left I watched as one by one passers-by gave in to that irresistible draw and enjoyed having a celebrity style picture taken of them in front of that white background with the “Toronto International Film Festival” and “TIFF” featured very prominently on it.

The white background found near almost all film festival events makes for an irresistable photo opportunity.

The white background found near almost all film festival events makes for an irresistable photo opportunity.

Since the Toronto Film Festival is the largest public film festival in the world, interest in the festival is supported by a number of free public events. One of these was the concert by DJ Champion held in Dundas Square. I loved watching the electricity of the crowd as they responded to the various vocalists that came on stage to perform with the band. Every one of them was so different, one woman for example was a little soul. She asked the crowd if she could sing a little church soul and the Toronto crowd being a willing companion in most any adventure roared back its approval to her. The next performer also sang about heaven, but with his own particular post-grunge vibe sang instead about heaven being lost.

This vocalist electrified the crowd.

Gritty vocals electrified the crowd.

Dundas Square is just that, an open square. People move through at all hours of the day and night with no barriers to coming or going. For such a fluid gathering place DJ Champion held the audience for the entire duration of the concert like the crowd was rooted in place.

The crowd was as deep as the square was long.

The crowd was as deep as the square was long.

At the end of the event I noticed a film crew filming me photographing the band. Being naturally curious I talked to some of the film crews on site and was soon introduced to Justin Brennon Smith and Dan Demsky of The Biz Media (http://www.thebizmedia.com). The pair were there filming the event for the Toronto Film Festival. They shoot live internet broadcasts of the events at Dundas Square. Their video footage is also simultaneously broadcast across the city to be projected on huge billboards at other strategic locations in Toronto. The two bright eyed twenty somethings told me they had gotten their start after meeting in school and had never looked back.

Justin and Dan of The Biz Media were two great guys who were fun to talk to.

Justin and Dan of The Biz Media were two great guys with an inspiring story.

In this dismal economic climate their story of quiet success was an inspiring one that I hope to follow up on when I meet them again later in the festival.

E1 Entertainment put on this afterparty for the film Year of the Carnivore.

E1 Entertainment put on this afterparty for the film "Year of the Carnivore".

Outdoor Art Show at the Distillery

Sculpture of a woman in bronze. Paul Vodak.

Sculpture of a woman in bronze. Paul Vodak.

The Distillery

Toronto has throughly mastered the art of reclaiming old buildings and bringing them to life with new purposes. The buildings in the former Gooderham and Worts distillery which was said to at one time have made more liquor than any other distillery in the British empire, are without a doubt my favorite example of old buildings made new.

Unique Appearance

Built in the 1800s, the streets in the area are time capsules. Rather than having the glaringly bland smoothness of modern surfaces, those streets are  still cobbled with richly textured brick that makes the area very popular with photographers.  Looking closely one can often see of inscriptions in the brick itself. Overhead one can also see street signs that like the inscriptions in the brick could be over a century old.

The buildings have been sandblasted so that the visually pleasing variations of tone in the clay bricks has resurfaced. signs announcing the new businesses that operate there new accent the brick stylishly with modern works of steel or other metals. Strategically placed gardens and greenery add dramatic colour. It is a visual feast and with its eclectic cafes and charasmatic restaurants it is a compelling place to spend an afternoon.

Art at the Distillery

Because it is so visually rich the Distillery is a natural home for the many galleries and collectives of artists who offer their works there. Some even use the area as a studio as well. Today, in addition to the regular galleries the Distillery also hosted the “Artisans at the Distillery Outdoor Art Show”. The show takes place every year at the Distillery on Labour Day weekend.

The Artists

I met Donald Nausbaum who runs the exhibition, and who as a professional photographer also shows his own works. As a photographer myself I enjoyed hearing him describe how he crafted the works on exhibit using infrared film as well as on digital cameras fitted with infrared sensors. Like myself Donald is deeply familiar with aspects of the Caribbean, his experience coming after having extensively photographed islands in the Grenadines as can be read in the interview here: http://www.jahworks.org/travel/nausbaum.html. I also enjoyed hearing him talk of his work with Getty Images as well as talk about the books he has created such as Bermuda shown here: http://www.caribphoto.com/CaribphotoMainPage/Book_pages.html.

The photographer Donald Nausbaum.

The photographer Donald Nausbaum.

Maria Scaringi

I met Maria Scaringi a painter who spoke of perfecting “the illusion of porcelain” as she called it. Along with her work in the outdoor show she also had work displayed in the Kodiak gallery, one of the permanent galleries in the Distillery.

Maria remarked on the coloured balls on her sign that she called her "truffles".

Maria remarked on the coloured balls on her sign that she called her "truffles".

One of Marias paintings showing the vertical depth with which she applied her medium on the canvas with a gloss and smoothness that evoked "porcelain".

One of Marias paintings showing the vertical depth with which she applied her medium on the canvas with a gloss and smoothness that evoked "porcelain".

Paul Vodak

Maria introduced me to Paul, a bronze sculptor who travelled down to the show from Georgian Bay. Paul’s works were striking to me because of their simple honesty. I enjoyed talking to Paul as well about art in the city, about working in the stunning natural setting of the Georgian Bay area, and about my upcoming book Amongst Artists in Antigua profiling artists in the island of Antigua. Paul shared a space at the exhibit with his partner Lori, a painter. The relaxed simplicity of my conversation with Paul quickly made apparent why the same honesty came through his work.

I found Paul's work to be honest and engaging.

I found Paul's work to be honest and engaging.

Julie Desmarias

Julie is a contemplative woman whose appreciation of Canada’s natural gifts shows clearly in her paintings.

Julie and Paintings

Julie along with some of her paintings of more compact dimensions.

Inspired by her camping trips through the Laurentians, the Lac Champlain area, and Newfoundland which she calls “sightseeing”, the warm green tones in her large panoramas show her affinity for these areas.

Some of the forests in Julie's panoramas appear to consist of large mature deciduous trees that are increasingly rare and can only be captured in such warm tones in late spring.

Some of the forests in Julie's panoramas appear to consist of large mature deciduous trees that are increasingly rare and can only be captured in such warm tones in late spring.

Gilles Perrault

Gilles is a unique combination of musician, artist, and artisan who showed me the unique instrument that he appears to have invented, built, and found a way to make music with. Like the violin or cello the Tamboa is a hollow wooden enclosure with a hole of a size tuned for resonance. Unlike these other instruments it is percussive, meant to be struck rather than strummed. Drummers appear to have a natural knack for making music with these instruments. I watched as Gilles jammed with a young man passing by. Gilles listened with his eyes closed while the young man familiarized himself with the vaguely African sounds of the instrument. When the young man caught a grove Gilles joined in and made magic for a few brief moments before the young man counted his blessings and ended on a final good note before he might flub the beat. The young man who admitted he had “a love for all drums and percussion instruments” was obviously in love with this instrument. I was captured by the creativity that brought it forth.

Gilles connected musically with the patrons of his art.

Gilles connected musically with the patrons of his art.

This document captures the history of the Tamboa in Gilles own words.

This document captures the history of the Tamboa in Gilles own words.

Each Taboa had six notes. Gilles at times played one alone, and at other times played three of them side by side, each of which were tuned slighlty differently.

Each Taboa had six notes. Gilles at times played one alone, and at other times played three of them side by side, each of which were tuned slighlty differently.

This performing arts centre was a new discovery for me.

This performing arts centre was a new discovery for me.

The Toronto skyline rises dramatically behind the old brick buildings.

The Toronto skyline rises dramatically behind the old brick buildings.

The sign advertises tours through the Distillery on the strange but exciting moving personal footstools known as Segways.

The sign advertises tours through the Distillery on the strange but exciting moving personal footstools known as Segways.

Samba School Outside Guvernment Nightclub

The stage raised the stunningly vibrant spectacle so that it was visible from the road.

The stage raised the stunningly vibrant spectacle so that it was visible from the road.

Toronto’s Nightlife

Toronto’s nightclub scene is electric. On evenings all year round, but especially in the summer, the streets downtown are buzzing with activity; people laughing with old friends, or meeting new ones on the way to the hottest nightspot catering to their own particular musical and other tastes.
Diverse Cultures
With so many cultures in Toronto there are night spots to cater to everyone. And with so many in very close proximity to each other as well as in close proximity to a wealth of restaurants, one doesn’t have to restrict oneself to just one choice for the evening. Dinner with the spouse, an evening at the theatre or a musical; all these might be capped off with anything from a relaxed bite at a pub to a night of dancing to the newest beats spun by world class DJs and driven through sound systems so breathtaking they make that at the Opera seem like an old gramophone.
Samba School at the Guvernment
Passing the Guvernment nightclub on my way home from the Harbourfront I was stunned to see what looked like a miniature Brazilian carnival on display for the large group of mainly twenty and thirty somethings headed into the nightclub. Toronto’s nightclub promoters never cease to amaze me with their creativity and inventiveness in keeping the scene fresh for ongoing generations of partygoers. I couldn’t help but stop and take a couple of pictures before going home.

The stage raised the stunningly vibrant spectacle so that it was visible from the road.

The stage raised the stunningly vibrant spectacle so that it was visible from the road.

Toronto’s Nightlife

Toronto’s nightclub scene is electric. On evenings all year round, but especially in the summer, the streets downtown are buzzing with activity; people laughing with old friends, or meeting new ones on the way to the hottest nightspot catering to their own particular musical and other tastes.

Diverse Cultures

With so many cultures in Toronto there are night spots to cater to everyone. And with so many nightspots in very close proximity to each other as well as in close proximity to a wealth of restaurants, one doesn’t have to restrict oneself to just one choice for the evening. Dinner with the spouse, an evening at the theatre or a musical; all these might be capped off with anything from a relaxed bite at a pub to a night of dancing with the newest beats spun by world class DJs and driven through sound systems so breathtaking they make that at the Opera seem like an old gramophone.

Samba School at the Guvernment

Passing the Guvernment nightclub on my way home from the Harbourfront I was stunned to see what looked like a miniature Brazilian carnival on display for the large group of mainly twenty and thirty somethings headed into the nightclub. Toronto’s nightclub promoters never cease to amaze me with their creativity and inventiveness in keeping the scene fresh for ongoing generations of partygoers. I couldn’t help but stop and take a couple of pictures before going home.

At first I though the music was coming from a sound system. Then I saw there was a whole band behind the small stage.

At first I though the music was coming from a sound system. Then I saw there was a whole band behind the small stage.

The dancers radiated enjoyment of the music.

The dancers radiated enjoyment of the music.

A human statue in gilded paint contributed to the atmosphere. The eye could not escape seeing some part of the spectacle wherever one looked.

A human statue in gilded paint contributed to the atmosphere. The eye could not escape seeing some part of the spectacle wherever one looked.

I heard the band leader's whistle before I saw him. At first I thought it was another reveler joining in. But when I saw him there was no doubt that he was the one in control keeping the pounding electricity of the drums in such tight synchronicity

I heard the band leader's whistle before I saw him. At first I thought it was another reveler joining in. But when I saw him there was no doubt that he was the one in control keeping the pounding electricity of the drums in such tight synchronicity

Hot + Spicy Food Festival

The Harbourfront centre welcomes visitors with sights such as these lights.

The Harbourfront centre welcomes visitors with sights such as these lights.

Toronto’s Harbourfront centre

Toronto’s Harbourfront is one of my favorite places for festivals in the city. There are always a number of savoury food choices, combined with festive music, an eye catching architecture, and lots of seating to encourage one to take one’s time to enjoy it all.

The Food

Given my love of spicy food, the Hot + Spicy Food Festival taking place at the Harbourfront centre this weekend was a natural draw. Despite my love of cooking I missed the cooking demonstrations put on by various chefs during the day, but I did catch the great band near the end.

One of the spicy food selections at the festival.

One of the spicy food selections at the festival.

Spicy food from around the world all in one place.

Spicy food from around the world all in one place.

The Music

New Orleans is the home of a lot of very spicy cooking, so it was fitting that Irma Thomas the soul queen of New Orleans was invited to perform at the festival. I don’t know whether it was Irma alone or a combination of her and the spicy food, but whatever it was the Toronto crowd was getting LOOSE and moving with the drums and the ringing soul in her voice. Near the end Irma took a moment to remember Huricane Katrina and thanked Canadians for their generous support as well as thanking the crowd for their wonderful participation in the evening’s concert. With that I don’t think there was anyone there that didn’t feel the good vibes of The Big Easy as New Orleans is called. I hope Irma took back a little of Toronto’s friendliness too.

Irma gave a no holds barred, and from the guts rendition of pure soul.

Irma gave a no holds barred straight from the guts rendition of pure soul.

All of a sudden the congo drummer picked up a trumpet and blew some riffs to take the music to a whole other level. The band held nothing back.

All of a sudden the congo drummer picked up a trumpet and blew some riffs to take the music to a whole other level. The band held nothing back.

Irma and her band connected with the crowd who appreciated her and the band deeply.

Irma and her band connected with the crowd who appreciated her and the band deeply.

Standing Cheering and Dancing

Everybody felt the vibe of "The Big Easy" as New Orleans is called.

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