Monday, May 29, 2017

Spring Break

This evening, I'm packing up my family and leaving Ottawa.

Bright and early, Tuesday morning, we're leaving Canada.

It's been more than a year since we've taken a real vacation and, because of my impending foot surgery, we can't take the chance that I'll be mobile in July or August. If we are to get away, somewhere, this year, now is the time.

And so, we've booked a last-minute vacation and are gearing up to fly out tomorrow.

I need a break.

And not just from work: I'm taking a break from The Brown Knowser. This will be the last post until I return from vacation. Depending on how I feel when I return home, the next post will be next Wednesday, June 7, or Thursday, June 8.

This also means that for the month of June, there will be no Where In Ottawa photo challenge. This popular contest will return Monday, July 3.

Not only am I taking a break from my blog, I'm also going off the Internet grid. As a way to strengthen this resolve, I'm leaving my smartphone at home.

No Twitter.

No Facebook.

No Instagram.

No Flickr.

No Untappd.

No anything.

This means that I'll have to make a concession for my POTD project, in that I will still take a photo each day but I just won't share it on social media until I return.

I'll have my Android tablet but, where we're going, there is no Internet. Not easily accessible, that is. I'm bringing it solely to download and process my POTD, so that I can share them as soon as we return.

This vacation will not only be a break from work and home but also as a test to see how I fare being away from the social media that I haven't been able to separate myself from for more than six years.

Where are we going, you might ask? Ask away, but I'll have lots to say when I return.

And photos.

Wish me luck.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Photo Friday: 180

When I drive home from work, I often pass west of the Byward Market, taking Mackenzie Avenue on my way to Colonel By Drive. Sometimes, the exit from the Macdonald-Cartier Bridge to Boteler Street can be a little backed up—with drivers wanting to turn right, onto Sussex, to make their way, eastward, to the Sir George-Etienne Cartier Parkway—so I go straight, onto Dalhousie Street, where I cut across on George Street, to Sussex, and then on to Colonel By.

So, several times a week, I pass through the Byward Market, but seldom do I stop anymore, as I used to when I rode the bus, when I used to assume the role of Roland Axam.

At the time of day that I drive through this old area of Ottawa, the light is hard and is only broken by the stark shadows, created by the old, low-rise buildings and new, towering condos.

It's not particularly conducive to photography.

As Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary, the open parking space on York Street has been taken over with an exhibit that features large letters that spell OTTAWA. It's similar to the sign that was placed in front of Toronto's city hall. This exhibit is expected to draw large crowds, and when I finally visited it, on Tuesday, it was hard to capture the letters without visitors climbing on them or walking in front of my camera.

Eventually, I stopped waiting for a moment when the sign was vacant and just took photos of people posing for other cameras. I used a few of these photos for this week's Wordless Wednesday.

When a group of junior high-school students, who were evidently on a class trip (the corralling teachers were a dead giveaway), swarmed the letters, I turned around to make it clear to the adults in charge that I wouldn't capture these youngsters with my camera.

What I saw when I spun around held my attention.

Being in the Byward Market, during sunset, can bring exciting colours to the sky, mixed with the old architecture. The front of KINKI and its upstairs neighbour, The Lookout Bar, shaded, emanated a soft glow from interior lights and neon signs. The sky, mostly overcast, reflected the pink-orange glow of the setting sun.

This is your Photo of the Day, I told myself: not the tourist attraction. I can shoot those letters any time this summer. How often was I going to see a sunset like this, with the colours of the buildings?

No contest.

It pays, when you have one photo idea in your head, to take a 180-degree turn. You never know what you'll see.

Happy Friday!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Photo Friday: Spring Sunset

It was the glow before the coming storm. The wind had eased, only slightly, and there was a stillness that slowed all senses.

There was electricity in the air that moved through the humidity and set the fine hair on my arms to stand on end. The sun was setting somewhere on the horizon. It also set the clouds on fire.

The spring growth had begun. Buds on trees had already burst open, but the leaves would be some time before they expanded and obscured the branches from which they clung. The black silhouette against the orange sky created an intricate weave, like roadways on a map. Like blood vessels, seen across inner, closed eyelids that faced a bright light source.

A spring sunset, marking the coming storm.

Happy Friday!


Thursday, May 18, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Paris Poser

The first time that DW and I travelled overseas together, in 1991, we saw a lot in a two-week vacation: England, Wales, and Paris.

We spent a few days in London, travelling with friends, before DW (who was just GF at the time) rented a Ford Fiesta and headed up to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Birmingham, and then into Northern Wales—Valle Crucis Abbey, Conwy, Caernarfon, Beaumaris—through Snowdonia, down the western coastline, Cardiff, crossing back into England via Tintern, Bristol, Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury, and back to London.

That was just the first week.

In the second week, we flew to Paris and stayed with GF's sister, who had an apartment in the 5th arrondissement. Boat tour on the Seine, up the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. Museums and art galleries. Montmartre. Père Lachaise Cemetery. The list went on.

Every morning, we'd leave the apartment and visit the nearby bakery for a baguette, cheese shop for a small wheel of Brie or Camembert, and wine shop for a half-bottle of red, pack our goods in our backpacks, and head out for the day. Whenever we were hungry, we would sit on a bench and share our food.

It was great.

Looking through my photos, there are few photos of me, as I was the one who kept an SLR slung over his shoulder. But GF packed a compact Canon, and looking at one of her old albums, the other week, I came across a snapshot of me, posing in an open market.

Once more, seeing my hair makes me laugh. Here, my hair has hints of a Seinfeld episode.

Seeing old photos of our overseas travels makes me crave another trip. Soon, methinks. Soon.
Happy Thursday!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Drunk Roomba

Ever since DW and I renovated our kitchen and family room, we've tried hard to keep this most-used living space clean and clear of clutter. With our old vinyl flooring and carpet, maintaining a dirt-free floor with two young kids—now teens—was an uphill battle.

But with hardwood floor throughout the main floor, keeping crumbs and dust to a minimum isn't a daunting task, especially since we bought a little helper to do the work for us.

Enter the iRobot Roomba.

This little machine has been programmed to activate and suck up particles once a week in this area: on the weekends, we move it to the other half of the main floor to do the other side. Our only job is to ensure that all furniture and belongings are lifted off the floor so as not to impede the Roomba's journey.

There have been times where we've forgotten to do this, only to find the device stranded on the base of the Poang chair.

This is the only vacuum that the cat isn't afraid of. It's quieter, smaller, and less intimidating than our upright Hoover or Kenmore canister. He will sit at the edge of the room, watching it move around, moving out of its way should it head toward him.

I don't get the logic of this machine. Why does it move in such random patterns? I thought it learned the layout of a room over time. Surely, six months is enough time?

Why does it go over the same place, again and again, while neglecting other spots? Mind you, it doesn't completely neglect those spots: I've never watched the Roomba complete its task, and I've always seen the end results, where the floor has no obvious dust left behind.

Still, it wanders, seemingly aimless, like a drunken soul, lost in a dark room. And if you're there, with it, you can't help but be mesmerized as it explores the room, wondering where it will go next.

If only it hummed a tune, like R2-D2, as it moved around on its chore.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Life Imitating Art

I miss Roland Axam.

I mean, I miss being Roland Axam. He's not gone anywhere: you can read about him in my novel and I'm slowly working on bringing him back in my next novel.

But I miss being Roland, when I took on his persona and, for six years, pretended to be him in a downtown Ottawa bar.

As convincing as my portrayal was, it was a fraud, a fiction (pun intended). I deceived people for years, only to be revealed and sent packing.

Pierre Brault has portrayed many characters over his decades in theatre, but in his one-man show, Portrait of an Unidentified Man, Pierre portrays many characters at once, and does so in such a convincing way that the story of the infamous Elmyr de Hory, a Hungarian painter who could not be successful as an artist in his own right but who was flawless as a forger of paintings by Matisse and Picasso, among others, and the people who encourage, befriend, and intersect de Hory's life—including the Gabor sisters and Orson Welles—comes off as a convincing, richly woven tale.

As de Hory puts it, why be yourself when you can be someone more interesting?

The one-act, 80-minute show begins with de Hory entertaining the rich and famous at a party, only to be interrupted by the police, who arrest de Hory and explain that he will be extradited to France to face charges of fraud and forgery. De Hory pleads with the arresting officer to allow him a few hours alone, in his apartment, in exchange for a full confession of his crimes.

The rest of the story does just that in a vivid way, but without props, backdrops, or other actors. Pierre uses carefully timed lights that project squares to outline the space in which he moves.

The effect is total believability.

Pierre moves from character to character, voice to voice, with such ease that at some points, you would swear that you hear people speaking over each other.

The only problem—if you can call it so—that I found in the performance was the periodic introduction of music. Sometimes, it played so softly that its near inaudibility made it almost a distraction. The music was too subtle and rare that I felt it wasn't needed at all.

The story, however, is perfectly woven, from its beginning to end, and was a pleasure to watch.

(And I'm not just saying that because Pierre is my comedy teacher and that I have another class with him, starting in June.)

Portrait of an Unidentified Man plays at The Gladstone Theatre until May 20. Go see it.

Pierre Brault will also be performing his other one-man play, Blood on the Moon, at Arts Court, from May 25 to 27. I saw it about 17 years ago, at the NAC, and it was a brilliant performance. Here, Pierre tells the tale of James Patrick Whelan, the man accused and convicted of the murder of Thomas D'Arcy Mcgee.

See that one, too.

Years ago, I portrayed only one person who I created. He was more interesting than me.

Pierre portrays several people and makes every one of them spectacular.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Before She Was My Mom

I've always shown photographs of my mother, on and around Mother's Day, in scenes showing her with me as a young child. Holding me in a red snowsuit. Holding me on my first Christmas.

This year, I thought I'd show an image before she was my mother, before anyone called her "Mom."

Because I want to celebrate the special woman that she is, without children as a factor.

Here's to the great woman who would become a great mother, who was, and continues to be, great.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Beer O'Clock: Juice Joint

We walked down the narrow concrete steps that hid the rain-soaked street. Below, a thick, dark door led into a tight entranceway.

"This reminds me of a speakeasy," she said.

"That's because it was, back during prohibition," was my answer.

"Really? Cool! We studied these in school."

My daughters had never been to Waller Street Brewing. For myself, it had been more than a year since I had been here, myself. The dust-encrusted mini-growlers that I was returning were a testament to how long I had held onto them. Each of my daughters carried one empty: I held the other two.

The dimly lit bar area was busy, for a Saturday afternoon. People of all walks of life seemed to fill the seats and line the small bar. My daughters made for the youngest of the visitors: I was, by far, the oldest.

I had come for two specific ales, but I also had a taste of two cask-conditioned ales. The brett was the most memorable, with the notes of lychee and pineapple on the nose. But it was the Tiger Milk—a white stout—and the sour saison that I walked out with.

The owner and brewer, Marc-André Chainey, wasn't in, though I had run into him only a couple of weeks earlier, at a craft-beer event, when he first introduced me to the sour saison and had told me he was working on the white stout. This prompted my long-overdue return.

I'm not a fan of sour ales. I don't like how they make me suck in my cheeks, how they make me stick out my tongue. Last fall, I tried a pumpkin sour ale, which I liked, but it was more pumpkin ale than sour.

Marc-André's sour is a farm ale with more emphasis on sour, but it doesn't centre itself on a pucker-face sourness. Let's look at it more closely.
Juice Joint Sour Dry-Hopped Sour Saison (5.4% ABV)
Waller St. Brewing
Ottawa ON
Appearance: an unfiltered, dark apricot with a foamy, off-white head that settles to a solid cap. While you sip and the level of ale in you glass goes down, you may notice that as the head disappears, little clumps of foam thicken like curdled milk. These clumps don't affect the flavour, but when I asked, our brewer offered a possibility for these formations.

Perhaps they are the result of residual "souring lacto" that is churning the beer, making condensed foam. It could also be the effect of polyphenols from the hops, making more foam.

As I said, it didn't affect the flavour.

Nose: slightly candied, puréed pears.

Palate: the sourness is introduced right away but it's not lip-puckeringly strong. The fruit comes close on its heels and mixes with the sourness and comes out as tangerines and limes. The finish is sharp, clean, and refreshing.

Overall impression: this sour saison makes me do something that no other sour has ever done—make me want to drink more. It also makes me rethink my distaste for sour ales. With its beautiful balance of acidic sourness and ripe fruit, I'm hoping to find a patio on which I could enjoy this ale on a sunny afternoon.

I haven't enjoyed such an inspiring ale in a while that I'm also going to do something I haven't done in a while...

Beer O'Clock rating: 5

Yup, I would seek out and enjoy this dry-hopped sour saison any time I'm able. Which means that you should get out and try some, too.

Marc-André's sister, Marie-Eve, told me that a new batch should be available at the brewery on Friday (May 12). Currently, Pure Kitchen has it on tap and more Ottawa pubs should pick it up soon.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017


I miss my bike and for that, I blame the weather.

Blaming something that cannot defend itself is easy, but in this case, one has only to look at how Mother Nature has treated us over the past couple of weeks to know that she has no defense. Cool weather, strong winds, incessant rain, flooding, and now snow.

Snow in May. I don't think I've ever seen it. Or, at the very least, the trauma of the experience has been blocked from memory.

But I miss my bike, miss riding on the open road, to Richmond, Manotick, Carlsbad Springs, Metcalfe, or Greely, either by myself, with DW, or in a group.

I've been a slug since the pain in my feet has spread to my knees, making walking unpleasant and standing still even worse. But on my bike, I find, there's a bit of relief mixed with exercise, and, of course, I get outdoors.

So, because of the weather, I decided to ride an indoor bike, take a spin class. I've been doing them for years, have been able to carry out whatever instruction the leader of the class chose to throw out to the participants. A slow climb. A sprint. Jumps. Rides that built endurance. Rides that strengthened the core.

Sunday's class started fine. I remembered the position of where I set the seat and handle bars. I wouldn't have to readjust anything. Slide the parts into place and tighten. Sit down, clip my cycle shoes into the pedals, and spin.

It had been a couple of months since I had joined a class, but I knew the teacher, had been in a few classes before. She could give you a good workout but wouldn't push you if you didn't want to be pushed. I had always followed her instruction, would find the level challenging, would leave at the end of the hour feeling that I had had a good workout.

After a couple of minutes warming up, we decided to do a long climb, for a couple of songs. Starting in a seated position, we gradually added tension to the wheel, until we felt we had to stand up.

My left foot protested immediately. It didn't use to do that. It was only last year, on day two of our ride from Perth to Kingston, and back, that my foot gave me trouble after more than 50 kilometres. But it only started to hurt after several real climbs, into headwind. I had only been on this spin bike for about five minutes.

Standing, pedaling, the pain in my foot subsided. It had only been the transition, from seated to standing, that caused the discomfort. I was okay again.

I wasn't okay.

By the time the second song came on, I was ready to sit down. The clips on my shoes are positioned where the balls of my feet meet the soles. Standing up while clipped into the pedals is like standing on my toes on a ladder.

I sat down, eased the tension, and increased my revolutions. I was just going to rest. Maybe, I would try to stand again later.

The second song ended and the instructor told the class to sit. To increase their pace. We were back in sync.

I tried to copy the pace of the class, but when everyone hovered over their seats, I stayed in mine. I wasn't ready to put any weight on my feet, especially on my bad, left foot.

My feet and knees had been sore for days before the spin class. All that rain and cool temperatures. On Friday, I had driven to Pointe Gatineau, to see the flooding first-hand. I had to park on a side street, off Boulevard Gréber, and walk, in the pouring rain, camera in hand, to Rue Jacques-Cartier. Walking along the river's edge, I could only get so far before the river came over the banks and filled the street. A police cruiser blocked any vehicles from trying to go further. City crews were working, in vain, to pump water off properties. Hydro trucks were more than a foot into water as crews were determining a plan for cutting power.

In the cold and wet, my feet told me when it was time to turn away, to return to my car and leave this neighbourhood. Once in the car, off my feet, the arthritis complained, took its revenge for making my feet walk in such lousy weather.

My bottom was getting numb in the bike seat. The class wanted to do another climb. I increased my tension and stood up.


I sat back down, eased the tension, and increased my revs.

My ass would have to stay numb.

At just over 50 minutes, we slowed our bikes and stretched. I had cycled the equivalent of nearly 20 kilometres. My knees were sore. My feet, worse. I was going to feel this the next day.

I miss my road bike. The seat is just right. Cycling in our area, I never have to stand. I'm sure that if the weather had cooperated, I wouldn't have suffered. My feet wouldn't be screaming at me to take Codeine. I would have had a better Monday.

I blame the weather.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Holy Ghost Chapel

Sometimes, it takes a lot of perseverance to solve a Where In Ottawa challenge. My friend, Becca, has that.

I admit that the clues for the photo contest were cryptic, and that was no accident. I had to dig deep to come up with hints that would lead you to the Holy Ghost Chapel, along the Rideau Canal, and I actually ran out of ideas.

I had to give a street name. Becca, ever-determined, went on Google Street View and took a virtual stroll down a road to find this building.

Congratulations, my friend!

Here are the clues, explained:
  1. No class—the bell in the photo looked more like it belonged in an old school, but it wasn't a school. It's an old church.
  2. No father, nor son—but there is a holy ghost in the name.
  3. Comunidade—this is the Portuguese word for community, and this church is the home of the Portuguese Community Centre.
  4. Main and... Main and...—did you hear an echo? That's because the Holy Ghost Chapel is located at Main Street and Echo Drive.
I think that when I search for next month's Where In Ottawa location, I'm going to make sure I have plenty of clues prepared before I settle on it.

And not mention the street.

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, June 5.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Photo Friday: How My Garden Grows

It's a lens that I've neglected more than any of my other lenses. And yet, it's one of my best.

I only own two prime lenses. They're nothing fancy: a 40mm micro f/2.8 lens, which I use for close-up shots and have used several times for my Photo of the Day (POTD) project, and a lens that I've had for many years, had used a lot more when I had my D80 body.

My 50mm f/1.8 lens.

A couple of days ago, as I was thinking of a subject for my POTD, I noticed that this tiny piece of glass was being neglected in my camera bag. I thought that I would try to use it in my next photo, but the magnification was too much for when I sat in my car, in the Byward Market, on a rainy afternoon. It wasn't wide enough to capture a neon sign and the glow that sign left on a wet road.

On Wednesday night, as I prepared for my stand-up comedy bit at Absolute Comedy, I used my phone to capture a closeup of the microphone.

Finally, last night, as I was letting my cat back into the house from the back yard, I noticed that the tulips that grow along the back of our house were just about to bloom. Looking closer, I saw that only one was about to open.

Time to snap on the 50mm lens.

The wind was strong, last night, as the rain clouds started blowing into my Barrhaven neighbourhood. The heads of the unopened tulips were bobbing in the breeze, making it hard to focus on the lone, yellow flower.

I opened the aperture all the way, cranked up the ISO to 4000. It was going to be a grainy shot, but I would stop all motion.

I took five shots, but when I saw the results, only one was a clear candidate for my POTD.

Spring hasn't come as expected, hasn't made gardening possible. But when it comes to our tulips, they seem to take care of themselves.

Happy Friday!


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Gaspé Cruise

For as long as DW and I have been together (more than 28 years!), we have loved to travel.

Only a few weeks into dating, we saw a movie that was set in New York City and as the film ended, the camera sweeping away from the performers and scanning the Manhattan skyline from above, I turned to her and said, "let's go to New York!"

A couple of weeks later, we were there.

In our second year together, in 1990, we bought open-ended Greyhound tickets, packed up our backpacks and camping gear, and headed out east. We stopped in Montreal, Québec City, and then followed along the southern shore of the St.Lawrence River, toward the Gaspé Peninsula. We camped, found bed and breakfasts, and even slept on a bus.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to Percé but, even back then, my feet were giving me problems and I was unable to walk across the sandbar to reach the great rock itself.

We also joined a boat cruise in the Gulf of St.Lawrence, following the high cliffs of Forillon National Park. It was on that cruise that someone offered to take a photo of DW and me, wearing our K-Way-like windbreakers to keep the gulf spray from soaking us. Wanting to hang on to my SLR, I gave the fellow traveller my Nikon One Touch to capture us.

One camera for people: the other, for scenery.

Happy Thursday!