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December 30, 2006

Straight outta Montparnasse

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 5:46 am

I’m breaking radio silence for a quick word from Paris, where it is raining and kinda cold. Outside my window, there is a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower from a small terrace, though for the first three days the top of the tower was shrouded in fog. At night, it’s lit up and on the hour sparkles like a firework. Very charming.

Traveling solo, as I am, I haven’t been indulging in too much restaurant culture, but I must make mention of the Grande Epicerie de Paris, the most indulgent – and expensive – gourmanderie I’ve visited in some time; think a French version of Dean and DeLuca, in other words tons of foie gras and magret de canard, truffles and other extravagances. I’ve spent far too much time and money in that place of late, but it is only one of many attractions in the 7eme arrondissement and particularly the charming Rue de Sevres, a plethora of gastronomic pleasures. Also notable is the Centaure, a spectacular Cesar sculpture located at the point where Rue de Sevres becomes Rue de Four.

After standing in line for an hour to enter the Centre Pompidou on Thursday (ok, it was worth it for the Yves Klein show), I was in no mood to brave the even bigger crowds in front of the newly-opened Musee de Quai Branly, but walking around the parkland which surrounds it, I can testify that the building (by Jean Nouvel) is utterly brilliant. A recent sanctimonious article in the Globe claiming that Paris suffered a shortage of contemporary architecture should be officially retracted – Nouvel’s achievements alone at the Institute du Monde Arabe, the Fondation Cartier, and now the Musee de Quai Branly put the lie to the Globe’s claims; oh well, typical rhetorical devices that collapse on closer examination.

The 7eme arrondissement is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in a city full of beautiful places. It would be very easy to picture a pleasant life here, albeit one that requires about a million euros to buy a two bedroom apartment. Better start saving those pennies…

Currently reading: Generation Ecstasy (Simon Reynolds)

Currently hearing: Saharan Lounge (Putumayo)

Currently watching: Cidade Baixa (dir. Sergio Machado)

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December 16, 2006

A day in the life

Filed under: Business Development, News and Comment, Service Providers — shippingpal @ 4:03 pm

Yesterday was one of those typical entrepreneur days, full of challenges and narrowly averted catastrophes which just end up making the team stronger.

It started out quietly enough, with a scheduled meeting with one of our service providers.  Only problem was, when we showed up at their headquarters, we got an urgent call from our contact saying that she was at our office.  Some wires had crossed somewhere, evidently.  So half-an-hour of Jay-Z and Nas and a cup of coffee later, we finally rolled into our meeting, which I’m happy to say went very well.  There’s nothing like some good hard hip-hop to put you in a negotiating frame of mind.

From there, we headed back to the office to work on a few things.  Form validation is a sticky issue around here, as there are many ways to do it but most of them involve messy alert boxes and can sometimes result in the filled-out data disappearing.  I finally found something that works nicely and doesn’t look like a dog’s breakfast, but for some reason it was causing the insert action on the action page to fail.  After staring at it for a cumulative several hours, I finally realised it was because one of the form fields was tagged as id= instead of name= – such are the blatantly obvious things that can cause MEGO.

We managed to arrange some coverage from City TV for our Daily Bread food drive campaign, and wanted to capitalize on it, so we decided to have some jackets made up with our logo on the back.  The only problem was, it was a totally last minute arrangement, so we ended up running to the mall and spending a good three quarters of an hour trying to find suitable jackets – they had to be white, and preferably made out of wool.  The ones we got ended up being really nice, and then we killed half an hour in the food court waiting for the transfers to be applied.  I’m happy to report that no food was consumed there – I’m pretty neurotic about what I eat, and it’s been a decade or so since I would venture into any kind of fast food establishment, but I digress…

We arrived at the Daily Bread HQ, where they were celebrating their annual volunteer Christmas dinner, and it was really the first time this year that I’ve felt anything remotely close to the holiday spirit.  It was really nice, and good to see all these volunteers, many of them recipients of Food Bank donations, enjoying the fruits of their labours.  A lot of nice, friendly people and their kids.  Hardin worked on his interview skills while we arranged the unloading of over 3000 lbs of food, generously shipped by our star partners, The Messengers International.  City caught it all on tape, and we managed to score a bit of a publicity coup, as well as contributing to a really worthwhile cause.

After that, there was reason to celebrate with a couple of gin and tonics before I blasted back into the city to check my friend and fellow genius Waleed Abdulhamid at the Trane Studio for a truly barnstorming concert. Those who were there, know exactly what I mean…

Currently reading:  Motto magazine

Currently hearing: Further Adventures in Techno Soul (Ferox Records)

Currently watching: English Premier League football

December 11, 2006

Best of the best 06

Filed under: Blogroll, music, News and Comment — shippingpal @ 12:00 pm

As the year wraps up, I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and fire off a few best-of-year lists.

Most memorable meals (bear in mind, this list may be revised as a result of upcoming visits to London and Paris)

1. Le Lan, Chicago – a stunning, and completely unexpected meal back in September. The tapas place my brother and I planned to visit was packed, so we strolled around the corner and happened on this place, which I now know to be staffed by Roland Liccioni, ex of French Laundry. Inside, a tasteful room, attentive service and decent wine list whet the appetite for a truly incredible meal which made me re-assess everything I know about cooking. My main of lamb was so fresh I’m sure they must have slaughtered it in the back room moments before cooking, and it was plated with an eggplant and orange chutney that reminded me that truly great cooking has nothing to do with rare or fancy ingredients, but imagination. As Brillat Savarin once wrote, ‘the discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star.’ (links to interesting manifesto by Keller, Feria, Blumenthal)

2. Bouchon, Las Vegas – Thomas Keller’s other restaurant, but whereas his French Laundry and Per Se spots are booked up months in advance, in the permanent twilight of Las Vegas, I was able to secure a table at 3pm for that very evening. The chef billed as America’s greatest did not disappoint, with classic bistro dishes served with style, an excellent wine list (we had the Dame de Montrose 01) and superbly attentive service. The steak frites was quite simply the best I’d had all year, a giant hanger steak cooked perfectly medium-rare, dressed simply with shallot and herb butter, and accompanied by properly salty frites. The appetizer of raw seafood (clams, oysters, lobsters) was similarly thrilling.

3. Po, New York – Lured in by the promise of the chef’s Sunday night 8-course prix fixe, it soon became clear that it would simply be far too much food. Instead, choosing from an extensive, all-Italian wine list, we opted for simpler fare, and were not disappointed. Founded by Mario Batali, but long since its own West Village institution, Po delivered the goods with heaps of flavour and finesse, the best comfort food I’ve had in a long while. The squash ravioli in brown butter and balsamic vinegar was good enough to compel licking the plate, and my main of back ribs braised in beer and served with polenta sealed the deal, the rich meat falling off the bone and into a sumptuous tomato-and-beer ragu.

4. Fleur de Lys, Las Vegas – Located in Mandalay Bay resort, where we were attending the eBay conference, Fleur de Lys was a celebration meal to acknowledge how far we’d come in a short time (well, it was not that short I suppose). Opting for the four-course tasting menu with accompanying wine, we had all the usual suspects, served with a singular vision and expertly matched to some very interesting wine choices – foie gras done three ways with a sweet Loire wine, tuna tartare, and a mind-boggling venison dish, seared and served in its own juices, sided with a massive Californian zinfandel. The meal was polished off in grand style with an artisanal cheese plate accompanied by vintage port. Another fabulous evening.

5. Japango, Toronto – For my money, the best sushi restaurant in the city, and host to a holiday-end blowout for my brother, over from the UK where he studies law. We celebrated in grand style, with their signature dragon roll (soft-shelled crab) and lots of sake. Attentive service and a relaxed, almost bar-like atmosphere left us free to indulge in laughter, drinking and copious amounts of superbly fresh nigiri, sushi and sashimi.

Also notable:
Blowfish, Toronto
The Modern, NYC
Vong’s Thai Kitchen, Chicago

Best albums of 2006 (may not have been released this year)

1. Whatever People Say…, Arctic Monkeys – Of course. Soundtrack to Spring and Summer 2006. Can’t wait for the follow-up.
2. Snow Borne Sorrow, Nine Horses – David Sylvian partners with sometime K7 wunderkind Burnt Friedman to release the most lovely songs of loss and misery you’ll hear for quite a while.
3. Abattoir Blues/Lyre of Orpheus, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – A return to form after the rather sentimental Nocturama, the double-album format gives Nick the range to really explore his obsessions, and the accompaniment of backing vocals adds a gospel-style layer to the music which makes it instantly addictive. Lyrically and musically, it may be his best album since Murder Ballads.
4. Scales, Herbert – Perhaps my favourite artist these days, and continually inventive and melodic, Matthew Herbert releases another album of his instantly-recognizable glitch disco, and once again makes me wonder how it is possible to be so conceptual and so funky at the same time. Additional props for his superb August show at Harbourfront.
5. Dimanche a Bamako, Amadou & Mariam – The breakthrough album for this veteran Afropop duo, full of catchy, uplifting melodies and great musicianship. They are rightly becoming international superstars.

Also notable:
Another Late Night, Kid Loco
Faking the Books, Lali Puna
Is This Desire, PJ Harvey

Best films of 2006 (again, may not have been released this year)

1. The Edukators – Daniel Bruhl continues his rise to stardom with a fabulous performance in this ensemble piece about youthful convictions colliding with adult responsibility. It starts out a bit slow, but draws you into the confused and conflicted world of young people, struggling to acquire their own identities in stifling conformist settings. The ending will have you pumping your fist in the air, cheering. I think this premiered at the 05 Toronto film festival and was released on DVD earlier this year.
2. Infernal Affairs – Not having seen Scorcese’s The Departed, I can gladly endorse this film purely on the basis of its own excellence. Tony Leung exudes the kind of charisma actors like Colin Farrell would kill for, and Andy Lau keeps it buttoned down before revealing his murderous streak when it comes to self-preservation. The supporting cast, particularly Eric Tsang as crime boss Sam and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as Inspector Wong, give superb performances as well, and the plotting and dialogue are utterly compelling. The sequel (actually a prequel) is worth seeing too.
3. Yes – One of the most unconventional films I’ve seen in a while, an interracial love story told entirely in iambic pentameter. Joan Allen is superb in her role, and Simon Abkadian breaks out in a role that in lesser hands could have fallen victim to the exotic-lothario cliche. Superb and unforgettable.
4. Cronicas – John Leguizamo grabs you by the throat in this incredibly compelling mystery/horror movie/ indictment of media hypocrisy. A superb supporting cast, multi-lingual screenplay and deft storytelling touch result in a movie that will make you want to stay up a while before going to bed after watching it. Damián Alcázar’s stunning performance gets way under your skin.
5. Murderball – An amazing documentary about a bunch of mean SOBs who just happen to be quadraplegics. As compelling as a feature film, with equally memorable characters, and a satisfying narrative arc, these guys don’t want your sympathy – in fact, they’ll kick your ass.

Also notable:
Carandiru
Grizzly Man
The Ballad of Jack and Rose

Best websites of 2006

1. Guardian Unlimited – Whether it’s George Monbiot‘s commentary, Ricky Gervais‘s equal-parts hilarious and annoying podcasts, or Steve Bell‘s wickedly funny cartoons, it’s become my homepage for a lot of reasons. Plus, good football and cricket coverage, and Media Guardian too. Irresistible to expats the world over.
2. Epicurious – It really is the world’s best recipe collection. Too many favourites to count, but try the monkfish with leeks, chantarelles and ginger.
3. Metafilter – still going strong, one of the web’s most interesting community weblogs. Can be counted on to consistently deliver a wide range of interesting, funny postings ranging from the political to artistic to just plain weird. Just don’t call it best-of-the-web (or should that be teh internets?)
4. Der Spiegel – Their english-language site, along with sister Sign and Sight, provide an invaluable insight into european perspectives for a pathetic monolinguist such as myself.
5. eBay – still addicted.

Also notable:
php.net

imdb
Foreign Policy blog

December 8, 2006

Cool

Filed under: Blogroll — shippingpal @ 4:32 pm

One of my favourite sites to periodically check in one, The Cool Hunter, features a piece on an interesting audio/interactive installation now on at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  In addition to looking really cool, it features music from Robert Del Naja, AKA 3D from Massive Attack, all time greatest band in the world.  I’ll be in London later this month and am planning to check it out, along with the promises-to-be-incredible Velasquez show at the National Gallery.

Back in Toronto, the Daily Bread campaign is heating up – we’ve already transported around 2200 lbs of food, and it should get busier next week as the food drives wrap up.  It’s very rewarding to be able to work with a worthwhile charity to make a real difference in the community.

Our billboard is up on the DVP — will post a picture of it as soon as I locate a digital camera…

Currently reading: A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson)

Currently hearing: The Rough Guide to Ethiopia

Currently watching: Flowers of Shanghai (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)

December 4, 2006

Some different news for a change

Filed under: News and Comment — shippingpal @ 11:38 pm

Logging on to WordPress today, I see that three of the top 10 posts feature the words ‘Britney’ and ‘Spears.’  Not sure what I missed over the weekend or today while I was working… But one of the NY Times blogs has an interesting article about a new French news channel – in English – scheduled to debut in the next couple of days.  France 24, whose goal is to provide a French perspective on world news, looks to be a nice complement to Al-Jazeera in terms of getting away from the dominant Anglo-American worldview expressed on BBC, CNN and so on.  The fact that they are also broadcasting live on the Web is a nice touch too – very 21st century.

The other big news is that our radio commercials are now broadcasting on 680 News and CHFI, so readers in Toronto should keep an ear out. Everyone else can listen to it here.

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