Sunday, 16 April 2017

Caroline vs. The Best Laid Plans & The High Road

The Best Laid Plans & The High Road
(sidenote: WOW this has been sitting in my drafts for a while.  I'm trying to get back into writing regularly...please bear with me while I work through the backlog!)

Like a lot of Ottawans and other Canadians interested in political satire, I tuned into the CBC miniseries The Best Laid Plans when it aired in early 2014.  Unfortunately the show wasn't very successful and was not renewed for a second season, but the novel upon which it was based continues to be popular among politicos.  I actually met Terry Fallis while the miniseries was airing, and had him sign a couple books for me and Clem, and corresponded with him throughout the spring after DHL lost the books en route to Clem in Berlin, but it took me until this autumn to actually read his first two novels.  Canada geared up for a pretty important election that happened in October 2015, and I figured the record-breaking campaign would be as good a time as any to read some political satire based in my own home town.

Both novels are really partisan in favour of the Liberal Party of Canada, which might annoy readers of other political stripes, but I was too excited to read a book actually based in Ottawa with landmarks I grew up seeing all the time for it to really bother me.  Fallis has a quick wit, which translates well into the characters in the novels, and often had me giggling to myself on my morning commutes.  I am also a big, big fan of the way he brought feminism into the stories, which is something I haven't really seen in a lot of mainstream novels.  Women's rights are a crucial election issue, and I'm glad that came out in the two fictional elections Fallis writes about.

Here are some quotations that made me laugh and made me think:
"In the minds of the dock-lounging committee members, I was more than qualified to teach undergraduate English. After all, I knew my ABCs and had never been to prison." (The Best Laid Plans, xvi) 
"'A broken promise in politics? Stop the presses!' she quipped." (The Best Laid Plans, 6) 
"'Muriel, we're not in public school. I'm not going to pass you a note to give to her.' I feigned disinterest for as long as I could, which was about nine seconds, before turning towards her again. 'Okay, you got me. What do you mean you think she'd say yes if I asked her out? Has she been talking about me? If so, I need all the details just so I don't put my foot in the wrong place, like in my mouth.'" (The Best Laid Plans, 101) 
"'Scout's honour,' I replied. She burst out laughing because I'd raised my hand in the traditional Vulcan split-fingered greeting when invoking Baden-Powell's promise. What a guy. What a wit. I figured I should strike when my stock was high." (The Best Laid Plans, 136) 
"I hit send and shut down (the computer, I mean; I'd shut down personally two days earlier)." (The Best Laid Plans, 147) 
"'Hey hey, you dinnae make jokes about drugged drinks when the availability of Rohypnol and the incidence of date rape are both on the rise,' he thundered, shaking his head and looking as if bodily harm was in my immediate future." (The Best Laid Plans, 216) 
"'Aye, but societal change hasn't often come through polite and courteous discourse. That approach would simply take too long.... the emergence of various factions within the feminist constellation reflects a social movement that is maturin' and is confident enough to nurture divergent viewpoints. This is the natural evolution of social change.'" (The Best Laid Plans, 217) 
"Nothing calms bellicose belligerents like free food." (The Best Laid Plans, 285)
"Ottawa is one of the world's coldest capitals, and we're used to it now. The snow falls early, often, and heavy, yet slows the city rarely and barely.... Few Canadians are more relieved to reach their offices in the morning than Ottawa walkers." (The Best Laid Plans, 296) 
"I knew from childhood birthday parties that in moments of shock, or even hilarity, milk can actually pass from one's mouth up through the sinuses and project out the nostrils. I'd seen it myself and even experienced it once or twice. But I confess I had no idea that a chunk of Swedish meatball could make that same perilous journey." (The High Road, 22) 
"Why does everyone always assume Marin turned me into a feminist? I was at that particular rally of my own volition.' .... 'Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I just have never met a male feminist who got there on his own, particularly an engineer.'" (The High Road, 71) 
"He actually waved a copy of Marin Lee's book Home Economics and Free Labour to justify his claim that Angus had some sort of secret feminist agenda ready to unleash on an unsuspecting nation." (The High Road, 147) 
"'To my way of thinking, a feminist is anyone who believes that men and women should be equal. That men and women should have equal rights. That men and women should have equal access to opportunity. That men and women should be paid equally for work of equal value and should be equally free from the threat of violence. Being a feminist simply means believing in equality. Mr. Fox has said, and repeated with some vehemence, that he is no feminist. I should think by this definition that he is part of a very small and declining minority. Equality is not a radical idea. And equality should not be a distant goal.'" (The High Road, 147-148)
Have you read these two novels?  What did you think?  I'm hoping to dive into his other novels soon...

xx, C.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Caroline vs. Dublin (Arrival)

After seeing our friends get married in North Yorkshire, Clem and I headed over to Dublin - the first time either of us had been to Ireland!  We had a long and complicated train-bus-ferry situation to get from Richmond to Dublin, which I wouldn't recommend - we should have spent a night in Manchester on the way, instead of camping out in train and bus stations for hours. A car would also be ideal to get from point A to point B, but you wouldn't need one to explore Dublin.

We'd booked two beds at the Dublin Generator Hostel, and we arrived early enough in the day to chow down on a fresh breakfast in their café. We napped on the couches in the common area for a bit, and the staff amazingly arranged for our room to be the first one cleaned that day, so we were allowed in well before the normal check-in time.

We napped for most of that first afternoon, then emerged for a walk around the area north of the River Liffey in search of some dinner.  We checked out lots of restaurants, but none really struck our fancy until Clem found The Winding Stair, a modern Irish restaurant above a bookstore, with windows facing the Liffey.  We were early enough to catch the "Pre-Theatre Menu," which is essentially a prix-fixe menu.  It was expensive, but that had more to do with the exchange rate and Irish cost of living than it did with the restaurant itself. Plus, the food, atmosphere, and service were all incredible.  I would definitely recommend reservations if you're planning on eating after 6ish, as the restaurant fills up fast!

We meandered back to the hostel through quiet side streets, and walked though the old Jameson distillery, right behind the hostel, and put our full bellies and tired heads to sleep.

We had a much more exciting time in Dublin over the following four days...stay tuned!

xx, C.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Caroline vs. Paper Towns

I bought John Green's popular novel Paper Towns last year, when it was announced that the movie version would premiere in summer 2015 (I did the same thing in winter 2014 with The Fault In Our Stars).  I didn't end up taking it with me to Tokyo, so it stayed on my bookshelf in Ottawa until I got back at the end of August.  I read it in one day on the Greyhound between Toronto and Ottawa, and now I understand they hype among Green's young adult audience; the characters are great for portraying teenage angst, overwhelming love, and adventure.  I liked it a lot at the beginning and thought the action up to the climax was really exciting, but I felt let down by the ending.  I'm hoping to watch the movie sometime soon though, so maybe that will massage my feelings of the book a little bit.

I see John Green quotations on Tumblr all the time so no phrases in Paper Towns really really jumped out at me, but the story had some profound moments and lessons.  Don't discount this novel (or any of Green's other works) simply because it is in the Young Adult genre; it's easy to read but intelligent and moving at the same time, and I'll be keeping it on my shelf for those times I need a break from heavier reading materials.

xx, C.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Caroline vs. Yorkshire

From London we took a train up to Sheffield to spend a few days with friends in Rotherham and Wickersley before our friends' wedding. The bride's family has known my family for three (going on four) generations now, and it's always a treat to hang out with them. I've been to Rotherham a zillion times, but have never really gone into town; this visit we stuck around Bawtry Road, where we had drinks at the Masons Arms and burgers at Maizies, and I had my first ever gel manicure and a lovely pedicure at Valentino's in The Courtyard.
Baby duty at Wedding HQ! 
After a few days hanging out and helping with last-minute wedding prep, we joined the convoy and headed up to Richmond, North Yorkshire, where the wedding was taking place.  Clem and I stayed with my parents and brother at the stunning Mount Pleasant Farm B&B, a few miles outside of Richmond, and while B&Bs in England don't tend to be cheap, boy are they a wonderful way to travel the countryside.  Our rooms were spotless, incredibly comfortable, and had windows facing the garden, through which we saw a poor sheep get stuck in the fence one morning.  Add that to a full English breakfast every morning, and you've got yourself a typical English country holiday.
Stunning sunset on the eve of the wedding.
Taking a break from the night-before games and shenanigans. (credit Bonbon Photography)
Mount Pleasant Farm House
The morning of the wedding we had a couple hours to kill, so we drove into Richmond for a little look around.  It's a charming market town with loads of small businesses, architectural landmarks, and the requisite medieval castle nearby, and we were lucky enough to be there during the Saturday Market, so we snapped up some fruits and ice cream for a pre-wedding snack.
Richmond Castle
And then...the wedding.  It was held at the spectacular Natural Retreats in the Yorkshire Dales, with the wedding venue overlooking the rolling hills and farmers' fields.  It had sprinkled rain a little bit the night before the wedding, but the day of was truly a miracle of English weather: sunny and warm, with blue skies as far as the eye could see!  The decorations were minimal and mostly DIY, which added to the really personal feeling of the whole weekend, and the fabulous Kim and Chantelle from Bonbon Photography were on hand to capture every delightful moment. This was the first wedding I've been to for one of my friends (as opposed to relatives or friends of my parents), and it was so special to be there and to celebrate with the bride and groom.
That glass wall looks right out into the Yorkshire Dales! (credit Bonbon Photography)
I couldn't hold my shit together during my reading, and I took everyone else down with me. (credit Bonbon Photography)
The view from the venue.
Family of the bride.
(credit Bonbon Photography)
My dress was an emergency buy from H&M in Tokyo (after my parents left Canada without the Darling dress I'd bought specifically for the wedding...), I got the necklace from a teeny antique shop in the Poconos (but I'm pretty certain it's originally from BaubleBar), sunglasses are vintage Missoni from Designer Pop Up Store in London, my watch is Burberry, and you can't really make out my earrings, but they are by Tokyo designer Kimiko Suzuki and I got them from UGUiSU the little shoppe in Roppongi (credit Bonbon Photography)
The bridesmaids wore these fabulous convertible dresses, which gave them that great same-but-different look. And holy moly, can we talk about the back of that wedding dress?! The dress was kept a secret from everyone except the mother and sister of the bride, and oh man did she cause a stir when the rest of us saw her at the end of the aisle. My friend would have looked gorgeous in a paper bag, but in this dress the was absolutely glowing.
(credit Bonbon Photography)
Ceiling decorations of fairy lights strung up between salvaged branches.
(credit Bonbon Photography)
Party favours!  Berry-infused gin and vodka.
The best table! (credit Bonbon Photography)
Starter: Salad of Pickled Yorkshire Beetroot, Goats Cheese Panna Cotta, Preserved Walnuts & Savoury Granola
Main: Risotto of Marrow, Milestone Courgettes, Lemon & Smoked Ricotta, Salad of Milestone Radish, Oregano
Dessert: Chocolate Brownie with Salted Caramel
(credit Bonbon Photography)
How cute is the cake and its toppers!
With the bride and my brother.  We were having too much fun and didn't end up taking a photo with the five siblings from our two families - oops!

I was so thrilled to be a part of this wedding weekend, and to visit a new part of Yorkshire - I can't recommend this part of the country highly enough, and am eager to go back and do some more exploring.

xx, C.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Caroline vs. London (a quick visit!)

After leaving Tokyo, Clem and I headed to England for a friend's wedding.  Before going up to Yorkshire for the festivities, the two of us had a few days in London, so we did a few pre-wedding errands and just relaxed.

We stayed at Generator Hostel in St. Pancras, a great part of town.  Generator is really "cool" with awesomely decorated common spaces, and we actually stayed at their Dublin outpost as well (a couple Ireland posts are coming soon!), but I found the London staff to be kind of standoffish and unwelcoming, which didn't feel great after a long, looooong travel day. I wouldn't stay there again, though to be fair it is mostly because Clem and I feel like we've outgrown the hostel phase of our lives. The location is fab, and rates are really good compared to what you'd pay for a private room in London hotels - just don't expect staff to be tremendously involved or helpful.

Breakfast at Karpo on our first morning in town.
I love love love this style of bike parking! Spotted on our way (by hire bike!) to Shoreditch.
Shoreditch. My first time really in the East End, which was a nice change of pace from my typical touristy activities in the centre of town.
Patio drinks with an old friend at the Earl of Essex in Islington.
A good ol' English Breakfast at Bloomsbury Coffee House, one of my favourite spots in St. Pancras.
My first visit to the British Museum! A very overcast day gave the main hall a kind of underwater-looking tinge and didn't make for great photos, but I love the architecture too much not to post this one. A lot of museums in London are free, which is great for the wallet, especially with the weak Canadian dollar right now.

We were back in London at the end of our trip as well, and chose to stay across town, in Bayswater.  This is another fun area of town, and it's right next to the hip Notting Hill area, where I met some uni friends for brunch one day.  Unfortunately Clem and I were both sick, so we didn't do much more than stay in bed and venture out for food.  We stayed at the Bayswater Inn Hotel, which was BAD.  Please, friends, do not stay there.  We chose it because it was a decent price in a convenient location and the photos looked really good, but it was one of the worst hotel experiences of my life. Luckily our room had been recently renovated and was actually pretty nice, but everything else was suuuuuper rough, and the staff were horrendously rude.  By our last day we were well enough to actually do things in town, so we stayed out of the hotel for as long as possible. We headed to Westminster for a walk-by, then meandered up to Trafalgar Square before grabbing some fish and chips in Fitzrovia for our last meal in London.

Notting Hill townhouses.
6ix God in SW1
Monument to the Women of World War II on Whitehall.
Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square.
Picked up some fresh fish & chips with beers and mashed peas from Golden Union
Clever signage at the London Gin Club!
Digging into our fish and chips on the grass at Soho Square
Tudor-style gardener's hut in the middle of Soho Square.
Oxford Street is a treat for the eyes (not so much for the wallet).

I like visiting London, but I don't love it as much as I used to.  There are always a few things I want to do, like see friends and visit certain museums, but from now on I think London will be a via point for other UK trips, as opposed to a destination in itself.  Regardless, Clem and I had a fun few days and liked having London as a final pit stop before I flew home to Ottawa and he went back to Berlin to finish out his work contract with GPPi.

xx, C.