It is almost winter, well it is winter, I should stop pretending, even if the official date is December 21, which is next week. Before I tell you how we are spending our days here in Toronto, I will tell you about a wonderful trip we had to Stratford at the end of October. I am really savouring it now as we are in a lockdown and not supposed to travel, although that hasn’t stopped everyone from moving about.
We went to see the new theatre in Stratford, The Tom Patterson, which we were involved in helping support. It was slated to open June 30, with the inimitable Colm Feore starring as Richard III, but alas, well we all know the story. However, this beautiful, elegant, curvaceous theatre is finished, so we were invited for a private tour. One of our favourite hotels is located in Stratford, The Bruce, and we planned a night away to enjoy the fine food and lodging that the hotel has to offer. We arrived to go for the tour which lasted about 45 minutes and we were incredibly impressed. The old theatre that this replaces on the same plot of land, was a hockey rink . Now the Festival is brilliantly run and so many of the performances there were stupendous, but really the calibre of work produced cried out for a fine space, and now it has one. It is a curving 77,000 square foot facility of glass and bronze and several lobbies, state of the art washrooms, that were always in short supply, and a fabulous forum space and rehearsal halls all sitting on the banks of the Avon River, well almost, as the river across the street can be viewed from everywhere inside, through massive floor to ceiling windows. The artistic director, Antoni Cimolino has said that he purposefully walks by the TPT several times a day, and enters it several times a week. The materials used are for the most part natural and textural, and Canadian. The architects, Hariri Pontarini and the construction company, Ellis-Don made certain that the building was finished on time. No small feat.
The brilliant Tom Patterson Theatre
When we first entered the lobby I felt a big tear cascading down my cheek. How sad to have this theatre unused struck me at that moment. But as we walked around I just got excited at the possibilities. The actual theatre is gorgeous and the seat that will have my daughter Carrie’s name on it as a memorial, is in a terrific place. The landscaping is marked out and will be completed in the spring, a much better time. After walking around and imagining the area filled with people, we headed to The Bruce to check in and then to have lunch. As we walked into the lounge which was almost completely empty, we noticed one table of three very familiar looking people. Lo and behold our dear friends the Ouzounians. What a delightful surprise! Richard had come to town to rehearse for some cabaret concerts that he was directing for Stratford’s new streaming service, Stratfest. Because of all the Covid protocols in place he was organizing his work ahead of when the artists would be performing, I think the following week. Charles and I sat down on the other side of the restaurant and ordered what turned out to be a delicious lunch from the Lounge menu. We all chatted amiably until the food came, fabulous fresh oysters with unusual dips of sea buckhorn, apple, and cucumber. We also ordered the soup described as sweet corn bisque with prawn, rye and chocroute. The chef is new since we had last been there and as soon as we both took a taste of the soup, we exhaled with delight. It was incredibly yummy and distinctive. Nice, as we were booked for dinner in the large dining room.
A great hotel
Our room was lovely as expected and we had our usual nap, dressed up a bit, and headed for the gorgeous lobby and fireplace. Fresh logs were laid for us and we savoured the warmth as it was a rather chilly fall day. We also ordered drinks, champagne for me and red wine. What a surprize. We are certainly creatures of habit. The large lobby room was empty except for us, and we were the only guests in the hotel, good old Covid. And as it turned out the only diners in the elegant dining room. It was like sitting in our own Downton Abbey dining room, and being served marvellously well. The meal was extraordinary. Again we chose the same dishes, a piquant lobster, with apple, horseradish and cucumber, and then amazing duck with fois gras, blueberry and Quebec toast. The chef, Brandon Clemens, is special, and after much questioning we learned he had trained with the finest at Noma in Copenhagen, was senior sous chef and seafood specialist at The Savoy in London, won the best young chef British Restaurants award in London, but was from Stratford, and wanted to return, and is now Executive Chef. Our luck. The petits fours at the end of the meal were delightful and enough to satisfy our craving for something sweet. When we heard that the chef would be changing the menu in a few weeks, we booked to spend another night there and try the tasting menu. Unfortunately, our city’s Covid numbers were up and we were put in lockdown and told not to leave our area. So we cancelled. We also cancelled a two night visit to Langdon Hall for some Christmas atmosphere before the holidays, and possible snowshoeing for the same reason. Wish everyone else was as responsible as we. I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed my little swim in the warm pool, and as it turns out my swimming in Toronto was curtailed due to lockdown.
Lockdown and new pleasures
When we returned home we felt refreshed with that change of scenery and we settled into a new routine in our home in Toronto. I am sure I have mentioned that this was the first time in 18 years that we have not gone to Florida for the winter, so we were embarking on a new experience and we are managing nicely. The lockdown not only closed my pool, it also closed Charles’ gym, and of course restaurants and small businesses just in time for Christmas. There are two things that keep me going from day to day. One is music, and the other is fires in one of our three fireplaces, but I don’t count the one in the basement because we never spend time there except to do exercises, and laundry. There is always music playing in our home; whether it is CBC or CFMX classical, or Jazz on CJRT, on our radio in the kitchen and bedroom. We also have a wonderful stereo in the living room that we play sometime using the radio stations, but often using music I have recorded on an old ipod. We have added Alexa and her Echo to the bathroom and shout at her to play music from the 60’s or 70’s or blues or whatever interests. She also is in the dining room, as there was a sale on and Charles couldn’t resist. Our piano doubles as a Welte Mignon Reproducer, or player piano, check out this link, and it was fixed recently, so now we can listen to the player piano with artists like Paderewski playing Chopin, or Fauré playing Handel of all things, and of course Christmas carols. It is quite a treat and very amazing to watch the keys go up and down, and you can change the volume and the speed. Most of the rolls are from the 1920’s. The fires are fabulous. One of the fireplaces is shared between the living room and dining room, so we can eat dinner in front of it, then have an after dinner drink sitting on the living room sofa, also in front of it. The one in the bedroom is terrific because we have it on while we watch Netflix, and then it blazes gently as we fall to sleep. It is so soothing. There is nothing quite like watching the flames of a well lit fire, and enjoying the smell of burning wood, and we have a store of logs in the garage. So some things that we would never do have been featured in our new normal.
Okay, with winter looming or arrived, I set out to outfit myself in winter clothes. As they say, there is no bad weather only bad clothing. Of course, we all know there is bad weather. However, I ordered snow boots, thermal underwear, tights, a parka, after I saw Charles in his, extra warm socks and yesterday I ordered another pair of boots because they are made for walking on ice that have soles that are called ice grippers. The way that Canada Post is taking so very long to deliver parcels, I will probably get them by the spring, but I was struggling down the sidewalk with Oscar on our morning walk today, and I sure hope I see them soon. The ice is barely visible but sure is very slippery. What a concept. In fact a week ago, I wasn’t paying attention and I fell just about three houses from home. I landed on my right haunch, but I think I also twisted my knee. I have had to shorten my walks which have become one of my daily pleasures. Damn.
Walking and exploring
I discovered a new circle route that takes me by very beautiful houses, and a ravine that looks over the Home Smith Park below, where in the fall I wandered by the waterfalls. One sunny morning, Oscar and I were stopped in our tracks by a noise and it was a deer running down the road beside us with its fluffy white tail in the air. I was so excited, he was stunned. I miss that walk, but to really heal my knee I need to take shorter routes, for now. Swimming has stopped, another of my great morning pleasures because the pools are closed during lockdown. So after the walk I head to the basement where I found an old exercise bike and I do some cycling. My honey thoughtfully bought a small flatscreen and a fire stick so I can watch Netflix. I have chosen to only watch documentaries. Figure I should get some education. The first was RBG, about the phenom, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and it was totally compelling, and a good reason to head to the basement every day. Now I am viewing Becoming, the story of Michele Obama’s book tour, and it is another super watch.
Zoom to the rescue
So my routine has changed with this latest lockdown. We are back to doing Zoom dinners with our friends where one of us will cook and transport the meal to the others, and then we share a meal together. It is almost satisfying, and works if your dearest friends are down the street. We also had a great Zoom dinner with our pals, Richard and Pam, who we saw in Stratford. For this dinner, I picked up Sunday roast from my golf club, curb side of course, with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, gravy, beans, and it was simply wonderful. Nothing like a club roast. In this instance we didn’t share the meal as the Ouzounians live on the other side of the city. Actually it was they who told me about the boots with the no-slip option. They are big walkers.
Speaking of snow, this is Oscar’s introduction to the white stuff and his first encounter was pretty funny. He kind of backed into it, and out of it, and he certainly was having nothing to do with the cute purple boots I bought him. He didn’t make it to the front door before they came off. I now just slather his paws in Vaseline and that keeps the clumping down and saves his feet from the salt. He has a little blue jacket with a felt lining, but I have ordered a parka for him for the really cold days. This one, if it ever gets here, Canada Post again, is red. At least it is not very cold outside. And my personal outdoor thermometer has changed. Now 0 C which is 32 F is doable. It was 45 F last week and very balmy, but it was also about 18F as well. The weather keeps changing. I bounce back and forth between Celsius and Fahrenheit just to keep remembering Florida. By the time I get myself ready for the walk with long underwear and over pants, neck warmer, head band, parka, mittens, boots, and Oscar with Vaseline paws, his jacket and lead attached, I am ready to be finished, well not quite.
I am still singing every week with Neil. Learned one new very beautiful and challenging Italian song. and will probably add some in the New Year, which is good for the old brain. And speaking of old, I discovered that my old ipad didn’t do well with long Facetime songfests, as it kept dropping the call, which was exceedingly frustrating. New ipad went right on my Christmas list, as did a new desk chair because I am definitely spending more time in my office at my computer. Charles and I are enrolled in French conversation class every Tuesday evening on Zoom. There are about 12 of us and a leader. People are mostly in Toronto, but there is one in South America, and other overseas somewhere. I find after about an hour and a half I have had it. I pre-order dinner from our fave restaurant, Azarias and they deliver it. It always includes a dozen oysters and some other yummy food, like Kung Pao chicken, or lamb shanks or fondue. They post their specials everyday online and Mark Asaria is so affable when you call. He tries to please. We have ordered our New Years Eve meal from him that we will share in person with Liz and Wouter. They are going to get Covid tests this week so they can comfortably spend time with us and then their parents. We don’t go anywhere, sigh, so we are safe. We also will eat in our dining room each couple sitting at opposite ends of our 10 ft. table, with the fire blazing and Hepa filter going and the back door cracked to let any aerosols out. We have decided that it should be black tie. Liz and I will wear gowns and we will have Alexa ready on my Echo to play tunes from different eras. We also have two dance floors, one in our little room off the dining room and the other beside the piano. I have ordered all seafood: oysters, enormous poached shrimps, lobster tails and seared scallops. For dessert Christmas pudding with brandy caramel sauce. They will bring a magnum of good champagne. Oscar will wear a red bowtie.
I have lots to tell you about our Hunukah dinner, the upcoming Christmas meal that I am preparing, a wonderful awards show on Zoom called The Rubies, other incredible concerts, in particular the Messiah /Complex which blew my mind. So please join me again and please tell your friends if you like reading and listening to this blog. I love your comments by the way.
Stay safe, be healthy, Seasons Greetings, and bah humbug to Covid.