Sam Th e Record Man, Yonge St, June 3, 2007 June 30th will be a sad day for Toronto. Most of the Sam The Record Man chain stopped operating in 2001 but at the end of June Sam's flagship Yonge Street store will close its doors for good. This is the shop I have to thank for most of my tapes and 45's collection, not to mention the countless videos I purchased on their third floor at a time when the majority of videos I wanted didn't seem to exist anywhere outside a Movies Unlimited catalogue.

This is also the place that The Barenaked Ladies sang about in Brian Wilson:

Drove downtown in the rain nine-thirty on a Tuesday night,
just to check out the late-night record shop

Unfortunately CD sales in Canada have dropped drastically in recent years, 35% in the first quarter of 2007 alone. Somehow "downloaded tunes to my iPod on a rainy Tuesday night" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

If you want to stop by Sam's to say goodbye, there are only four more Tuesdays left.
Last spring before heading off to Ireland I read a glowing review of The Swell Season, a musical collaboration between Frames frontman Glen Hansard & Czech singer/pianist Marketa Irglova, which placed it at the top of my Dublin shopping list. Back in Toronto after giving it a listen I had to wonder how, in all my years spent living in Dublin, I'd committed the enormous oversight of not picking up a single Frames album. I've since remedied that by purchasing most of their back catalogue and catching them live but for the past month I've also been in high anticipation mode, awaiting the Toronto release of Once.

Shot for less than $150,000, Once (directed & written by John Carney) tells an exceedingly simple story with enormous charm and heart and without a hint of guile. Glen Hansard is an Irish busker, still suffering from a broken heart over a previous girlfriend. Marketa Irglova does various jobs, cleaning house and working as a street vendor. She's also a hauntingly beautiful piano player and when the two of them begin playing music together their growing connection is a pleasure to watch. There are no melodramatic Hollywood style plot points to hang the story on, just a natural evolution of the relationship between these characters.
Marketa Irglova (left) and Glen Hansard (lead singer of The Frames) in John Carney's "Once".
Marketa Irglova and Glen Hansard in Once

I have to admit that I suffered nostalgia pangs from the very opening scene on Grafton Street. The Dublin these two characters inhabit was the place I lived during the 90's - not just in location but in spirit. The film is, in fact, set in the present day but neither of these characters are roaring examples of the Celtic Tiger economy (nor do they appear to care) and as a result it feels like looking into the past, my past. In the early to mid 90's none of the friends I had in Dublin had any money to speak of. The unemployment rate was up around 20% and many others were underemployed. Most of my friends were either performers or foreigners waylaid by Dublin's charisma. We spent our time hanging out (in pubs, cheap restaurants and drafty, minimally decorated flats) all seemingly searching for something but not in any particular hurry to find it. There were few toys (cellphones, the Internet and Xbox had yet to work their way into popular culture) yet there never seemed to be any shortage of things to do. Everybody knew everyone else. Faces in the street were familiar, even if you didn't know the name to go with the face. Most people my age didn't have cars. We took the bus, walked or caught taxis. I shared one phone with countless other flat dwellers in the same building, as did so many other people I knew. For a long time I didn't even own a TV and didn't miss it.

I was often confused (about the usual things - as were my friends and as the characters are in Once) but most of my best times in Dublin were spent just trying to figure all that stuff out, in the exact time and place where everyone else was figuring them out. Once is that kind of movie, it's about two people who are miles truer than those you'll find in most multiplex movies. I didn't know these two particular people in Dublin in the 90's but I feel like I did. I feel like one - or both of them - sat down with me in some pub, cheap restaurant or drafty flat and told me the story of them.

• Read The Ain't It Cool interview with Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova and John Carney.

The world failed Dua Khalil as it fails so very many of our girls. We may like to think we're more enlightened in the West (where countless people later watched cell phone footage of 17 year old Dua's beating and stoning murder by a mob of men, where domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women (more than muggings, rape and car accidents combined), where more than 50% of disabled women have experienced physical abuse) but statistics show hatred of women is rampant worldwide.

Joss Whedon rails against the misogyny of Dua's brutal “honour” killing on the community weblog, Whedonesque. He also places it in a global context and discusses his objections to the billboard campaign for Captivity, a film which features the extended torture of Elisha Cuthbert.

“…every popular religion puts restrictions on women's behavior that are practically untenable…The act of being a free, attractive, self-assertive woman is punishable by torture and death… In the case of this upcoming torture-porn, fictional. In the case of Dua Khalil, mundanely, unthinkably real. And both available for your viewing pleasure.”

Women and girls deserve a better world than this.

Support Equality Now

Join Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women campaign

Condemn the murder of Dua by signing the International Campaign against killings and stoning of women in Kurdistan petition.

The driver of our hop on/off Vancouver trolley tour asked all the tourists where they were from. When I replied "Toronto" our driver good-naturedly quipped, "Ah, the centre of the universe." Yes, the rest of the country loves to rib Toronto but luckily nobody held our hometown address against us and we had a spectacular time in Vancouver.

The city has doubled in population (to over 2 million) from when I was last there for Expo in 1986. In fact, Vancouver has the fastest growing downtown population of any North American city but it's as breathtaking as ever with tons of greenery and waterfront spaces to explore. Not to mention the mountains which stare majestically down at you wherever you go. If shopping's your thing Burnaby (just a short SkyTrain ride away) is home to Metropolis, Canada's second biggest mall - or you can stroll down fashionable Robson Street.

I snapped so many photos while in Vancouver and its surrounds that I had to buy a new memory card. Here's a selection of pictures, including one of Vancouver's Central Public library building, which cost over 100 million.
On The Seabus

Lion's Gate Bridge from Prospect Point, Stanley Park


Vancouver Public Library

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Treats in English Bay

Gas Town

Sea Lion, Vancouver aquarium

The View from Granville island
Next Post Newer Posts Previous Post Older Posts Home