Thursday, April 18, 2019

I Mourned Until I Stopped

Photo: Bloomberg, via Twitter
In the past few days, since news spread more quickly than the flames that took the roof and spire of Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, more words have been shared about the colossal loss and the reconstruction of this jewel—not only the centrepiece of France but a monument of the world—that adding my meagre thoughts to the sea of opinion seems inconsequential.

And yet, I need a bit of a rant because, in the fourth day after, I'm over it.

The images that came through social media and in the news on April 15—the same day in which the Titanic sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean—were shocking. Flames surrounding the base of the 300-foot spire spread until they climbed higher, consumed the structure, and brought it down.

When I saw the video of the collapsing spire, I thought, that's it, she's done for. I thought the vaulted ceilings inside the cathedral had collapsed and that the fire would rage, below. As the fire spread toward the two towers, I had visions of the beams, which support the many bells, would burn until the iron would come crashing down, the stone towers with them.

I went to bed, that night, relieved that fire fighters had worked feverishly to douse the towers and prevent the fire from spreading to them. News was travelling about France's fashion tycoons who were pledging hundreds of millions of euros toward "Our Lady's" reconstruction.

I fell asleep, saddened by what happened but hopeful for the church's restoration.

Like so many, especially those, like me, who had been to Notre Dame, had been through her nave and up and down her towers, there is a connection, not just with the structure but with history. Our lives are finite, but to know that we have touched this piece of history, where so many have come before us and, hopefully, so many more will come after, somehow grounds us in that history and makes us, if only a little, infinitely more.

The next day, news told us that the damage was not as bad as it could have been. Sacred, irreplaceable artifacts had been saved. French President Emmanuel Macron had publicly vowed to have Notre Dame rebuilt. Even though reports estimated that restoration could take decades, Macron insisted that he wanted it done in five years.

The Washington Post shared before and after photos of the cathedral, both inside and out. The damage was considerable, but not catastrophic. It's not so bad, I told myself.

On the third day, nearly a billion euro had been raised toward the cause, and that's when I stopped being sad. In less than 48 hours, hundreds of millions of dollars was waiting to be spent on a building. Granted, not just any building, but a building.

A building that belongs to one of the richest organizations in the world: the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, poverty still exists. Even in Paris.

Meanwhile, cancer hasn't been beaten. Hospitals are overcrowded and underfunded.

Meanwhile, education isn't available to everyone.

I looked further into the Notre Dame Cathedral. Over its history, it hasn't escaped pillaging and vandalism. During the French Revolution, for example, many of its valuables were either destroyed or stolen. Some 28 statues of biblical kings who were mistaken for statues of French kings were beheaded. Toward the end of the revolution, Notre Dame was no longer used as a place of worship but as a place in which to store food.

It was made into a warehouse.

None of these facts makes this jewel of Paris less spectacular. What it does say that in the building's 856-year history, it has endured. Even the spire that fell is not the original. The first flèche, built in the 13th century, became weakened over the centuries by wind and was removed in 1786. The spire that toppled in Monday's fire had only been there since the 19th century.

Notre Dame will survive. Her story will go on with or without the emotional reaction from the rich, from the politicians.

From 2014: my last visit to Paris.
I mourned her possible loss, but Our Lady will live on. I've stopped worrying.

It's time to get back to worrying about the poor, the sick, and the quality and availability of good education. You know, the things that really matter.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Blues on Sunday

It's hard to believe that these kids, for the most part, have never met. It's even harder to believe that they've never rehearsed together.

But on a rainy Sunday afternoon, 12 kids, aged 12 to 18, came together with Billboard Top 10 Blues Artist, IBC Winner and JUNO Nominee, Canadian singer/guitarist JW Jones and his band (bass, Jacob Clarke; drums, Will Laurin) for some outstanding music.

This is the third year that DD15 has participated in #613FUTUREBLUES (yes, she was only 13 the first time she played with JW). It's amazing to see her confidence grow, especially under the pressure of performing a new song in front of a live audience.

Last Tuesday evening, DD15 received two YouTube links to songs that she needed to listen to and practice for Sunday's show: "Boom Boom," by John Lee Hooker and "Snatch It Back and Hold It," by Junior Wells. In 2017, DD15 played the Junior Wells song at her first #613FUTUREBLUES event, so she was somewhat relieved: she liked the song and because she was familiar with it, practice wasn't going to be as stressful.

JW Jones and his band

DD15 takes her turn at the drums
You see, this weekend, her school band had a competition and she was busy rehearsing for it. She only had time on Saturday evening and Sunday morning to prepare for JW.

There were a couple of other familiar faces at the show. Another drummer who is younger than my daughter and a guitar player who oozes with talent.

This year, the event was held at Lone Star Texas Grill, across from the St. Laurent Shopping Centre (where the old IP Loony's used to be). The venue has a large opening for plenty of tables and a dance floor, but I have to say that the stage is a tad disappointing because a supporting beam stands front and centre. It was hard to see all players on the stage at one glance.

JW let me set my 360-degree camera on the stage, but because of the beam, it was impossible to find an angle where I could capture everyone clearly. My focus was to record DD15, so every time JW went up to his microphone, I didn't have a clear view of him.

Sorry, JW.

But with the benefit of the 360-degree camera, I could just run it and then walk around with my D-SLR to capture the show from other angles.

I recorded the first two songs of the set with just JW and his band, and then DD15's numbers. I have them below.

Thanks again to JW and his band for taking their time to host such talented young musicians and singers, to the Ottawa Blues Society for sponsoring the event, and to the Lone Star for supplying the venue.

I can't wait to see this show again, next year, and to see how the returning kids improve.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Beer O'Clock: Big Kahuna

Do you remember those commercials for Hawaiian Punch from the 1970s?

It always bothered me that the nasally voiced guy who carried a tray with a refreshing drink would offer it to that unsuspecting fella, who would only receive a punch in the face.

That ain't right.

Years ago, I tried Spearhead Brewing Company's Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, and I was duly impressed: made with pineapple, this hoppy ale had loads of citrus flavour and was easy-drinking. It was perfect for a hot afternoon.

A few weeks ago, the wonderful folks of this brewery, who celebrated their one-year anniversary in its new Kingston home only this past weekend, reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in sampling a new release.

Who was I to say no?

As a full disclaimer, I agreed to accept their brew and to review it on the condition that my findings wouldn't hinge on the fact that I wasn't paying for it.

Just the other day, a package came to my door, and I was excited to see the brewery's name on the return address. I opened the box right away.

In the box were three black cans with a gold illustration that reminded me of their Hawaiian Style Pale Ale, and I got excited. The box also contained a Spearhead bottle opener (a bottle opener... for cans?) and a card that explained this new ale to me, as follows:

It's been several years since we brewed the Big Kahuna, but it was worth the wait. I was a little worried at first because this was the first time we scaled up to full production as opposed to using our mini system to have kegs for festivals.

I was blown away by the awesome job Tom, Jacob and their team did. I hope you enjoy this beer as much as I do...
—Josh Hayter (President and CEO)
Josh also gave me contact details, should I have questions.

On the other side of the card, there was a description about this double-dry-hopped Imperial IPA, but I only glanced over it, not wanting to be influenced by any tasting notes until after I had tasted the beer, myself. What my eyes did see, right away, were numbers: 10 percent ABV; 100 IBUs.

My jaw dropped. This was going to be a serious brew. About a month ago, I reviewed an IPA with zero IBUs and said that high IBUs didn't necessarily impress me. I had remarked on a 129-IBU ale that I had, and I hated it because it reminded me of sucking on a dry teabag.

All bitterness: no flavour.

But I reminded myself that I haven't had a Spearhead brew that I didn't like. And if Big Kahuna was anything like its little brother, Hawaiian Style, I was in for a treat.

So, using the provided bottle opener, I cracked one open.

Big Kahuna Imperial IPA

Appearance: amber-red with a creamy, beige head that pours to a solid half-centimetre cap and shows minimal effervescence.

Nose: oranges and pineapple with a hint of caramel and Earl Grey tea. The aroma is beautiful.

Palate: remember that Hawaiian Punch commercial? Wham! Taking my first sip of Big Kahuna, there was a punch to my head from the high alcohol that came out fighting right from the beginning. There's a distinct bitterness in the mouth, but it's tempered by the Warrior, Cascade, Cashmere, and Halertau Blanc hops. The pineapple is definitely there, but it's overpowered by the strong, boozy finish.

Overall impression: I find it hard to reconcile the alcohol flavour, overall. This IIPA is certainly not for the feint of heart. While the 100 IBUs are tempered, the ABV is not.

The Hawaiian word kahuna refers to a wise man or shaman. While I enjoyed the flavour of the hops and what pineapple I could discern, I do question the wisdom of the alcohol content.

After my first pint, I felt this ale. I would highly recommend that you enjoy this IPA when you're at home and have nowhere to go.

If you like big flavour that carries a (Hawaiian) punch, this is the brew for you. It is a true warrior drink.

Beer O'Clock rating: 🍺🍺 — this is a good example of an Imperial IPA and the selection of hops balances out its bitterness rating. This ale could have merited an extra 🍺 if the alcohol hadn't overpowered the pineapple. I'd drink it again (heck, I still have two cans!) but like my sample pint, I'd only have one at a sitting.

Big Kahuna is available at Spearhead's Kingston location (675 Development Drive, off Gardiners Road) and for online purchase through the company's Web site. The beer, which was released on March 30, will be available only while supplies last.

Tomorrow is also the Kingston Beer Festival and Spearhead will definitely be there. It's a great festival, so now you have two reasons to go to Kingston this weekend. (Click here for my Beer O'Clock review of the festival from a couple of years ago.)

My thanks to Amanda at Spearhead for the opportunity to try this ale.