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The Grand Tour – On Tour with Arcade Fire in Europe (Published: enRoute)

By the time I’m at the foot of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, I haven’t slept in five days and I’m running on bocadillos and adrenalin. The circadian rhythms of touring like a musician are new to me; when you’re travelling on this kind of schedule, your experience of time and space becomes intensified, amplified, distorted. Travel at the speed of music is, for lack of a better word, trippy.

“It’s an interesting state to be in,” says Régine Chassagne, the front woman of Arcade Fire. “You have to embrace it, stop worrying about when you’re going to eat, when you’re going to go to bed and when you’re going to wake up because it’s all irrelevant. When you wake up, it doesn’t matter what time you think it’s going to be; it’s just whatever time it is. This is your life.” Read article here.

Sexual Healing in The Sessions: An interview with John Hawkes (Published: Georgia Straight)

the sessionsTORONTO—WHEN IT COMES to movies about sex, The Sessions comes closer than most to approximating the actual experience. It’s emotionally as well as physically explicit about what happens when coitus happens. So it’s sexy, yes, but be forewarned: you might also feel other, more complicated things.

The Sessions (opening Friday [November 2]) is neither a disease-of-the-month movie nor an artsy interpretation of disability nor a vehicle for actors with Oscar aspirations—though both the leads, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, are sure to be awards-season contenders.

Hawkes, who often specializes in frightening and often murderous characters, here plays real-life protagonist Mark O’Brien, a childhood polio sufferer who was mostly paralyzed and spent his life on a gurney and in an iron lung.

Of his many disadvantages, O’Brien, who had a degree from UC Berkeley and was a published essayist, considered his virginity to be the most egregious. So, at 38 years old, he hired Cheryl, a sex surrogate (played by Hunt), to correct the situation.

O’Brien, who died in 1999 at age 49, was the subject of a 1996 Oscar-winning documentary (Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien, by Jessica Yu). Ben Lewin, the Australian writer-director of The Sessions, is himself a polio survivor. His script is adapted, quite faithfully, from O’Brien’s autobiographical essay “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” as well as his book How I Became a Human Being: A Disabled Man’s Quest for Independence. Read article here.

Reality Bites: On the Road in Mexico with Chuck Hughes (in enRoute, August 2012)

chuckRunning my hands over the smooth and
 nubbly turrets of green nopales, the cactus pads that Chuck Hughes is trying to de-needle on camera like an habitué, I follow along as he picks up the items on his grocery list: yerba santa, an aromatic that tastes like nutmeg and mint, and huitlacoche, bulbous black mushrooms that cling to old corncobs like rotting teeth from a witch’s gums (but are particularly delicious).

Hughes is filming Chuck’s Week Off in Mexico City, and I’m along for the ride. When he invited me into the heart of Mexico – the location of the show’s first season – I didn’t hesitate. But now, after the crew’s late night of fresh-lime margaritas and ceviche in Condesa, the 3 a.m. wakeup call for a shoot in Central de Abasto (the Distrito Federal’s massive food market) is a reality check. Watching the market wake up like a giant slumbering anthill, I realize it’s almost too early even for the farmers, as the hardworking diableros are only starting to bring in their teetering loads. Read article here.

Market Share: In the night markets of Southern France, we discover the perfect square meal (in enRoute, May 2012)

I’m in the mood for goose and I’m in luck. Pride of place at themarché nocturne in Casseneuil, a stone-house settlement in Lot-et-Garonne, in Southern France, belongs to the goose guy, whose combo plates are scrawled on yellow poster board. I pick the deluxe option – foie-gras-stuffed goose neck with magret and salad with slices of air-dried magret (like goose jerky) – and carry it back to a table in the middle of the village square to share with my friends. The whole town is here. Some people have even brought Provençal-print tablecloths and earthenware dishes from home to mark their families’ spots among the long tables, set up in the centre of a horseshoe of food stalls. Read article

The Art of Living According to Joe Beef (Rover Arts, July 2012)

In September, I went to a friend’s farm in Aquitaine, France, and the first thing I saw when I entered the converted pigeonnier, on the big French farmhouse table, was an advance copy of The Art of Living According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts. Then, in October in San Francisco, a cookbook store in the Mission had an elaborate display in the window. I felt elated and a bit helplessly selfish – there’s this tiny only-child part of me that can’t help wanting to be the one to show my city off, probably a lot like fans of Arcade Fire felt when they won the Grammy. When your Montreal precedes you, it takes some getting used to.

I’m accustomed to being the one who espouses my adopted hometown’s singular gastronomic glory in far-flung places, but all of a sudden, everywhere I went, people were already excited about Montreal as an it food destination with new, or at least renewed, voraciousness.

I attribute some of this enthusiasm to the big, beautiful coffee table “cookbook of sorts” full of recipes, rants and savoir-vivre by co-authors Fred Morin and Dave McMillan, chef-owners of Joe Beef, and former colleague and food writer Meredith Erickson. Read article

This is how they do it: Inside Moment Factory (in the Montreal Gazette, October 2011))

Photo: Moment Factory, LAX

Photo: Moment Factory, LAX

When you walk into Moment Factory, let the door slam behind you – the banging noise makes the giant circular projected LED clock in the entry way jump back two hours.If you keep your eye on it, though, it soon snaps back to the present. The purpose of this, apparently, is to show us that action and thought here are fast-paced, so we have to act and react quickly – to seize the Moment. Once you see the clock, you’re tempted to clap, stamp your feet, or other- wise play with it – which is exactly the point: Play. Have fun.

The idea of playfulness is a priority at this factory of moments, up here in the big, white, loft space on the train-track edge of Outremont, where the Montreal company has been playing at making public entertainment for exactly a decade. (Well, not exactly – they started off in a party loft on
lower St. Laurent Blvd. (see timeline below). Through play, they can provoke thought, create wonder, coax people to interact with their environments in new, sensorial ways. Read article at (archived)

The Cave Men: Montreal chefs’ basement secrets (in enRoute, November 2011)

The first time I went downstairs to find the facilities at Le Comptoir charcuteries et vins, chef Ségué Lepage’s wine bar in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, I opened the wrong door and ran straight into that week’s pig. He was hanging out (or rather hanging up) in a cold room. Across the hall – still not the loo – was Lepage’s cutting room and charcuterie lab, full of gleaming stainless-steel instruments, a fermenter, an oversize sausage stuffer and a water-circulating oven for cooking sous-vide. It all looked more like a surgery than a kitchen, nicely framed by a large museum vitrine. Clearly, at this address, the basement is where the action is.

From the olive oil amphorae stored in the Arcadian hills of ancient Greece to Arcadia, Iowa, where my grandmother stored bread-and-butter pickles in her farmhouse basement, a cook’s stockpile of the year’s yield has always belonged in a cool, dry place – in the cellar, among the roots. But since cook-to-order menus and open kitchens have become the norm, the preparation of dishes has transformed into a spectator sport. Chefs everywhere are turning to their subterranean quarters for a little privacy. Read article

Wim Wenders on Pina: work for work’s sake (in Rover Arts, October 2011)

wim wenders“Audiences want truth as opposed to reality” – Wim Wenders on life, work and the meaning of both.

Wim Wenders’ Pina is as simple, artful and perfect as a dance movie can be – and watching it with 3D glasses on the big screen, it’s tempting to think that this is exactly why Stereoscopic 3D was invented. Wenders himself now says that he won’t go back to 2D filmmaking, but the director and photographer, whose career-defining films such as Wings of Desire and Paris, Texas are decades behind him, seems now to have a new lease on his art. Read article here.

DNA Artisan: Hanadi Sleiman, Nanotech researcher (in Canadian Chemical News, May 2011)

Hanadi Sleiman’s tastefully decorated office at McGill University’s Department of Chemistry is dominated by a large picture window revealing the spires and rooftops of the 190-year-old Montreal insti- tution. Displayed on the windowsill are several DNA knick-knacks:

Francis Crick and James Watson bobble head dolls and a model of the iconic double helix. “This model of DNA is accurate down to the structure of nucleotides and bases,” Sleiman says, contemplating the intricate model.

DNA — its mystery, its still-untapped potential for scientific innovation — has long fascinated Sleiman who, as a post-doctoral student, studied under French chemist Jean-Marie Lehn, winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in supramolecular chemistry. Sleiman and her research team, which works out of a bright, airy new laboratory in McGill’s Otto Maass Chemistry Building, is expanding upon Lehn’s work, focusing on the supramolecular chemistry of DNA. Backed by a number of funding agencies, including NSERC, the Sleiman Research Group uses the unique chemistry of DNA to design new nanomaterials for drug delivery, diag- nostic tools and anti-tumour therapeutics. “It’s not just the molecule of life — now wecan do something with it. It’s the difference between studying what’s there and making your own versions of it,” Sleiman says. Read article

Montreal Fall Harvest Menus (for Tourisme Montreal, Sid Lee)

It’s almost like the farms and markets have been waiting all year to give us the meal we’ve been waiting for. There’s so much bounty in the harvest here, that a great meal can be made from fall in Montreal every day…

Us Montrealers are busy pickling the bejeezus out of the fall harvest—recipes for dills, pickled beets, picalilli, tomato sauce, and a local specialties, ketchup vert, are being traded around. Ketchup vert is especially close to our hearts—it’s the relish, made with green tomatoes and spices, that goes with our winter meat-pies that are called Tourtieres. Young chefs like Ségué Lepage of Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins was talking about making his own batch for service this fall.

But if you’re just visiting and you don’t have your own larder, don’t worry—it’s just as easy, and possibly more delightful, to get your harvest on at various restaurants around town. Below, I’ve made an ideal fall meal from my wanderings: Each one of these places is good for a whole meal, of course, but let’s pretend. Read article