Monday, April 30, 2018

Time for Another Photo Walk

It's been a few years since I've held a photo walk. The last one was in July, 2015, and was a late-night walk of the Byward Market, including Major's Hill Park and the National Gallery.

Five photogs came out for the four-hour walk, from 10pm until 2am, and we only lost one (actually, he had another engagement and left after almost two hours). We took a lot of great photos and had a great time. The weather was great and we learned a lot of photo tips from one another.

Late-night BKPW: (top) view of the National Gallery from Major's Hill Park; (bottom) photog James Peltzer
captures Maman.

I'd like to do that again.

I'm planning another Brown Knowser Photo Walk (BKPW) for Friday, June 8. Like my last BKPW, I plan to start in the Byward Market. This time, however, we won't start late. I'm proposing that we start about an hour or so before sunset (7:30) and that the walk be limited to about two hours. And this time, we'll cover more ground.

We'll meet in the small square on York Street, at Sussex Drive—it's actually called Memorial Park. That's just between the OTTAWA sign and Sussex. We can shoot photos in this area and then move on. 

Planned stops include the following:
  • Major's Hill Park
  • The Three Watchmen
  • National Gallery of Canada
  • Nepean Point
  • Alexandra Bridge
  • Museum of Civilization
  • Parc Jacques-Cartier (including the marina)
  • Macdonald-Cartier Bridge
  • Dalhousie Street

It's a large circuit, but it's not that far. And, let's face it: if I can do this with my feet, you can, too.

I've created an Eventbrite event: for now, I'm limiting the walk to 12 photogs but I can always increase that number if there is a demand. Although this is a free event, please go to the Eventbrite site to reserve your spot.

I'm hoping for good weather: preferably, clear skies for a stunning sunset. If it's overcast, however, we'll still go. The photo walk will be postponed only in the event of rain or the threat of showers. In this case, we'll postpone the walk for one week, for Friday, June 15.

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Beer O'Clock: Fortissimo

It's been about two-and-a-half years since I had last stepped into the Tooth and Nail Brewing Company, and that surprises me. I really liked the coziness of their tasting area, with a bar, tables, and window seating, looking out onto the corner of Irving and Wellington, in the upcoming neighbourhood of Hintonburg.

Then again, with that first visit, I did review six of the brews they had on offer, so they were well-represented at Beer O'Clock.

So, about two-and-a-half years later, I found myself sitting on one of the stools, at the long table at the front window, looking out onto Irving and Wellington, trying new beer. I sipped their strong, hoppy saison, Agraria, marvelling at the mix of fruit and bitterness. I was pleased to see that they had added a menu that offered light fare, and I enjoyed a pastrami sandwich on a pretzel bun with my brew, as I wrote a new passage for my upcoming novel.

Expect a character, named Irving Wellington, in the book.

My stay was short, but I told myself that I wouldn't wait as long to visit this brewery again. On my way out, I picked up a couple of bottles of another beer that I wanted to try, in the comfort of my home, where I could perform a proper review.

Which brings us here.
Fortissimo Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (10.5% ABV)
Tooth and Nail Brewing Company
Ottawa, ON
Appearance: dark-roasted, coffee-black. No light can pass through it. A creamed-coffee head pours to a half-centimetre-thick head, which quickly dissipates to a lace that covers the top of the stout.

Nose: coffee and licorice, with a hint of prunes.

Palate: black licorice leads the way, with a strong roasted coffee that follows close behind. The label indicates that this was made with chocolate, but I could not discern any. The bourbon from the barrel comes through in the finish and lingers longer with each subsequent sip. You can tell right away that this is a heavy hitter, as the alcohol can be felt on the tongue and at the back of the throat. As I settled into this Imperial stout, I also picked up tones of cedar and cigar.

Overall impression: when I first started appreciating beer, beyond the giant brewers that created less-than-stellar, middle-of-the-road swill, I developed a strong affinity for stouts. Guinness, in those days, was king. But as smaller, craft brewers came out, I left that Irish staple for greater stouts, like Scotch-Irish Brewing's Black Irish Porter (aka Perry's Porter, or Pee Pee, as the folks at the Arrow and Loon Pub affectionately knew it), McAulan's St.Ambroise Oatmeal Stout, and Mill Street's Cobblestone Stout.

Stouts were my favourite brew, but over the years, I'm discovering that Imperial stouts are not. I mean, there have been exceptions—Perry's Tsarina Katerina 2005 vintage Imperial stout comes quickly to mind—but I find that I can seldom sit down and drink one. I find that the flavour of licorice to be powerful; sometimes, off-putting. The higher alcohol content can influence when I want to sit down with one.

And yet, I still buy them, still drink them, as though when I'm at the cashier, I forget how I feel about them until I pull it out of my cellar, read the label (as though, for the first time), and say, "Geez, why did I buy this?"

While an Imperial stout is not my first choice of beer, I do have an immense respect for them. I like how you can lay them down for a couple of years, like a fine wine. An Imperial stout is bold, brash, and Tooth and Nail's Fortissimo is aptly named.

Fortissimo is a bold example of Imperial stout that retains all of the qualities: coffee, prunes, black licorice, and cedar. The bourbon barrels lend a touch of warmth, and though I couldn't detect the chocolate that Tooth and Nail claim it has, you can never go wrong with chocolate.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4.5

Fortissimo is a great Imperial stout. I bought two of the 500ml bottles, and I'm laying the second one down until December of 2020 (I promise that I'll be back to the brewery before then). I'll see how the cellar treats this brew and will share my findings.

And I'll try not to say, "Geez, why did I buy this?" as I lift it from the wine rack in my cellar, where it rests, next to a 2001 vintage port.

You can find Fortissimo at the brewery only. I suggest you pay them a visit and try out all of their brews.


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Another Time, Another Place

Less than 72 hours before the horror, and only 13 kilometres further south, on Yonge Street, my family and I were marvelling at the beautiful, sunny, spring day. At Young and College streets, I stood on the corner, watching the bustle of cars, bicycles, and pedestrians that negotiated the busy intersection, while DW and the girls went into the Shoppers Drug Mart.

It was a wonder that so much traffic could move so swiftly, avoiding one another, I thought.

As we continued up Yonge, towards Bloor, I would stop every once and a while to capture the life of the city with my camera. The warm climate that we had been denied for so long seemed to bring out the masses.

Only 13 kilometres away, along the same street, and fewer than 72 hours earlier.

Later that evening, we were back on Yonge Street, seeking out a dumpling restaurant. On a Friday evening, after a long week that started out with freezing rain and snow, the crowds seemed eager to be out on the town. Moments earlier, around the corner, as we made our way to the Asian restaurant, we bumped into our daughters' doctor, who also happened to be visiting this metropolitan centre.

In a city of nearly three-million inhabitants, what were the odds of encountering someone we knew from your own city? Staggering, and yet, it happened.

On Saturday, about 48 hours before that awful event, the four of us were once again on Yonge Street. This time, in the company of my sister, who lives near Yonge and Eglinton Avenue. We were further north, only about eight kilometres away. Walking along the busy street, with scores of other pedestrians, enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

No one could have predicted the carnage at Yonge and Finch, in Toronto's north end. Those poor people, who were mowed down on the sidewalk, as they enjoyed the sunshine and warmth, never expected yesterday to be their last. Like my family and me, a couple of days earlier and further south on that long stretch of road, they were most likely enjoying the good weather as they made their way from one place to another.

And yet, we cannot be afraid to walk down the street, to revel in the sunshine, to live. I would want the same, would that van been raging down Yonge Street at another time, in another place.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shouting at the Weather

I get it: it's Canada.

I get it: it's April.

In Canada, we get snow in April.

But in Ottawa, in the second half of April, after nearly a month of spring, the worst is usually over. The terms "snow storm" and "freezing rain" are almost never uttered.

By this time of the year, my summer tires are on my car, the winter tires safely stored until November. Most of the road salt has been washed off the roads and we don't fear ice.

Already, my winter coat and snow pants, and my big boots are packed in the basement. A spring jacket is all that I need.

This is bullshit.

I am NOT pulling my winter coat from storage.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Lost Manuscripts

I mean, we're going back more than 30 years, here.

Roland Axam was not the first fictional character that I created, but he is, by far, my most enduring. I wish I had the paperwork to prove it.

When I lived at my family home and was studying journalism, at Algonquin College, I was devouring fiction: mostly, science fiction and fantasy, but there were a great deal of spy novels, too. My favourite author was Len Deighton: I loved how his spies were average, fallible men who stood as much a chance of failing at a mission as succeeding.

When I started working on my own fiction, I wanted to write a spy trilogy. I had already written a short fiction about a nameless spy who had amnesia, was being chased by people he didn't know for reasons equally unknown. He pieced things together as he fled, finally recovering his memory in time to avoid his own demise and kill all of the bad guys (and gal).

This character would eventually become Roland Axam. I have explained the origin of Roland's "birth" in a previous post: shared how, for about six years, as an ill-conceived plan to make him totally believable, I became him.

I wrote three books that I entitled, under a series, The Spy's The Limit. My trilogy consisted of stories that were so short that all three could have comprised a single novel, and I toyed with the idea of combining them. The central story outlined a possible Russian spy within Britain's MI-5: in order to flush this person out, British intelligence turned to the new Canadian spy agency, which had an international division headed by a former MI-5 director.

The new agency, CSIS, decides to assign a young agent to act as an observer and sends him to Berlin to liaise with an MI-5 counterpart in bringing a British spy back. The young CSIS agent, of course, was Roland Axam.

Everything goes horribly wrong.

I don't remember all of the details: as I said, it was more than 30 years since I wrote the first draft. When I thought this draft was done, I read it, didn't like it very much, and knew I would have to do a major re-write.

And then, the Berlin Wall came down.

I knew that by the time I was finished my manuscript, a spy story set in a Berlin that very much had a functioning wall, in a Soviet cold war, wouldn't work. So I punched holes in my pages, put the manuscript in a binder, and shelved it.

Roland still showed up in some short stories, but I wrote those mostly for myself. I wrote them, read them, re-wote them, re-read them, and when I was happy, I punched three holes in the paper, and added them to the binder.

When I moved from my parents home to a place of my own, my writing went into a blue Rubbermaid bin and came with me. In my first two apartments, that box remained closed, packed with clippings from newspaper articles and reports that I wrote for The Algonquin Times, The Ottawa Citizen, The Nepean Times, and The Low Down To Hull And Back News. That Rubbermaid bin also held many scenarios for role-playing games that I played with friends: Dungeons and Dragons, Top Secret, Boot Hill, and a few others.

I wrote lots of Top Secret scenarios. This game was played almost as often as D&D, but I really liked creating complex missions for the other players—agents. Writing these scenarios, and having people play them out for me, helped me develop more short spy stories for Roland. When we were done playing, when the mission was over, the paperwork went into the bin.

For those of you who have read Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary (and if you haven't, I caution you that I'm about to reveal some information; so, SPOILER ALERT), we learn that a few years before Roland ends up in South Korea, he worked for CSIS. Not a lot of detail is given, and almost everything from The Spy's The Limit is left out. But, in my sequel, Gyeosunim, I plan to have more come out, through flashbacks.

Last week, I went to my basement and pulled out that old Rubbermaid bin. Inside, I found all of my Top Secret papers and the first-edition rule book. I found my news clippings from the newspapers, and other pieces of memorability from the past decades.

My binder is gone.

Thirty years have passed since I remember opening that bin, and I don't remember the last time that I did, if I even opened it in the 18 years that I've lived in my Barrhaven home.

I'm at a crossroads: I don't know if I should just continue, to rewrite the snippets of the story that I wanted to share in my Korea Diary sequel, or if I just want to drop the spy element and move in a different direction.

The Spy's The Limit didn't have a happy ending. None of my fiction does. Maybe I should just let go of the past and, as Roland said in Songsaengnim, move forward. After all, we're going back more than 30 years.

Anything can happen.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Turning Off the Tap

With all the crap that came out, over the past month, about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it made me re-examine my footprint on social media and how much of myself I have given away over the years.

Not that I think I'm a target (although, I guess we all are), nor do I fear that my identity will be stolen (although, that's happened before), but I do feel that, like millions of other people, I give my information away so freely through all of the social-media apps that I use.

Over the years, I've only used Facebook to keep in touch with family and those friends who I feel are as close as family. I've tried to refrain from clicking links that are unrelated to those family members and friends, and I don't get sucked into those quizzes that try to determine what kind of dipping sauce I am or which celebrity I look like the most.

I don't need to do the latter: when I lived in Korea, some of my students told me I look like Tom Cruise. Or Brad Pitt. Or Clint Eastwood. They had as much accuracy as these quizzes.

But over the weeks that followed the Facebook fiasco, I looked deeper into my account, severed connections with people who, because they never post on the app, I had forgotten were connected to me.

I tightened some of the permissions to the account. For a few days, I wouldn't even allow Facebook to access the camera or photos on my smartphone. Though, in doing so, I wouldn't be able to share pictures of my kids with family, or snapshots of the cats.

I may turn my camera off again.

I went through my Twitter account, took a look at the hundreds of people I followed. If I couldn't remember the person or recall why I started following them in the first place, I clicked the Following button, and would follow them no more. I clicked people or organizations that I remembered following but couldn't remember the last time I saw a tweet from them. With those people, I clicked on their profiles to see their activity, looking to see whether I should continue following them or whether I should cut them loose.

I recommend that you try this, yourself.

If these folks hadn't tweeted in more than a year, or hadn't tweeted something original (that is, not a re-tweet) in more than six months, I stopped following them. Last week, I stopped following more than 100 people and organizations and I'm still culling the herd.

I've done the same with LinkedIn. And, with this social-media tool, I no longer connect with people I don't know, with only one exception: if that person works for an Ottawa human-resources firm that I've heard of, I'll consider connecting. (Hey, you never know what the future holds, and it's good to have a safety net.)

This past week, I've gone the furthest in protecting my privacy with one of the social-media apps that I use at least once a week: my Untappd account.

At first, I removed the app altogether from my phone and tablet, but soon realized that I do like to use it as a database for the beer that I consume. I never logged every beer I cracked open, but I did make sure to catalog each new beer. It's a great tool to have when someone asks me if I've tried a beer, and I don't remember. I can type in that beer and instantly see if I've had it, where I consumed it, and when.

But apart from the database, I no longer want a program to share what I happen to be drinking. If I feel like I want to share information about a great ale, I'll write a Beer O'Clock review.

So, I put the app back onto my phone, but not my tablet (I almost never seem to use a tablet anymore, anyway). I turned off permissions to my files and storage spaces, and to my camera. I'll no longer need to keep a picture of what I'm drinking (again, unless I'm reviewing it, in which case I'll take a planned photo with my D-SLR). I turned off location settings and I removed all connections.

Untappd keeps track of the new beer that I discover, but no longer keeps a photo of it, no longer tracks where I drink the beer, and shares no information with other users of the app.

I've turned off the taps, so to speak.

Social media, I feel, is still important. But we must be the ones who control it. It's our lives, after all. I know that in the Internet age, we can't be totally private if we're going to own the technology. But we need to send a message that we have a right to share only when we want to do so.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Beer O'Clock: Ultra Mosaika

A few weeks ago, when I was in Montreal with the family, I did something that I've been meaning to do, for years, but never seemed to get around to: I went to a brew pub.

I know, I know... that's no surprise. Neither is it a first for me. I've been to a few brew pubs in my home city, including a couple of visits to my favourite Quebec brewery, McAuslan.

But my second-favourite brewery also has a location in Montreal. It's location has typically been a bit too far of the downtown core or the old port, where I usually hang out, but because DW and I had taken the kids to a cat café for coffee, tea, and a light snack, and weren't that far away, we made one final stop before heading back home.

Located in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood (home of the famous St-Viateur Bagel Shop), this small, satellite brewery to Dieu du Ciel!'s main St.Jérôme site is cosy and has the feel as though it's been a part of the city for decades, with its simple decor, worn wooden floors in an old building. There is capacity for brewing on site, but not enough for the long list of suds that they have listed on their various blackboards.

Being the day before St.Paddy's Day, DW ordered a rich, super-creamy cream ale, Gaélique. She offered me a sip and my taste buds melded with the warm malts. It was heavenly. I, on the other hand, decided to go dark, and enjoyed their Résurrection Porter. The chocolatey, coffee tones were a perfect blend.

The kids had cola and ginger ale, and munched on a mini pizza. DD17 said the pizza was "okay, but there was something weird to it." But when I asked her if she'd eat it again, she said, "I probably would."

Ringing endorsement.

I was surprised to learn that while you could order a wide range of ales, lagers, and stouts, you couldn't bring any of them home. This brew pub has no space to stock bottles, and so you have to leave empty-handed.

Well, not completely empty-handed. My server gave me the business card for a dépanneur that was around the corner, on St.Laurent Boulevard, and they carried plenty of Dieu du Ciel! four-packs.

Unfortunately, we found neither the cream ale nor the stout at this shop, but I did come away with an Imperial stout and a pale ale, which brings us to my review.

Ultra Mosaika Ultra Pale Ale (5.4% ABV)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme QC
Appearance: it was the packaging that caught my eye in the dépanneur—a superhero wearing a red body suit over green tights that were laced with a hop design, cape waving in the breeze, a searchlight like the Bat signal, only, instead of a winged creature, a giant hop. He's on a building, overlooking the city. I was excited that this would be one hoppy pale ale.

Pouring it in my glass, I discovered an unfiltered, golden yellow ale that almost glows. Its foamy, white head pours thick and slowly settles to a solid, dense cap. The head clings to the inside of the glass as the beer goes down.

Nose: strong aromas of pine resin and pineapple. The Mosaic hops really come through, warning you that this is one bitter, ultra-pale ale. The fruit is sweet and lush.

Palate: a grassy herbaceous mouth feel gives way to a bitter pine (the bottle says spruce). It's full-bodied and clings to the tongue in a long, full finish. Though this ale comes across as a full-bodied one (it reminds me of a session IPA), it's fresh and not filling.

Overall impression: this pale ale is a real superhero. Strong, but unassuming. Willing to do what's right—please my senses but not overpower them. And it conquers my thirst without a high alcohol content.

Beer O'Clock rating: 4

Ultra Mosaika is available at Broue HA HA, in Gatineau, as well as other dépanneurs and grocery stores in that city. After picking it up at Dépanneur AS, in Montreal, I saw it in IGA extra Famille Plante, on St.Joseph Blvd, at Chemin Freeman (where I can also find the best store-made egg salad sandwiches). 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Back At It

Towards the end of March, I stepped back from writing on The Brown Knowser. It wasn't because I was feeling lazy—though a flu, last week, didn't help. It wasn't because my family and I were sad at the passing of our 13-year-old cat, though again, it didn't help.

There are two other activities that occupied my time. These things I love to do but for the past couple of years, I haven't spent any time doing.

These things are reading and writing fiction.

For decades, as part of my own year-end tradition, I would make a list of books that I planned to read over the following year. My list would start at about a dozen or so novels, but as the year went on I would find that the list would grow—sometimes, double by the end of that year, in time for me to create a new list for the next year.

I find that in reading fiction, my own creative juices begin to flow. And if you've read some of my blog posts over the past few months, you can see that those juices have congealed into a slimy mess.

When my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, was finally published in March of 2012, I was ready to start work, right away, on the sequel. Originally, my story wasn't going to be told in two parts: it was going to be one tale that spanned two years in South Korea. But when I found that the novel was getting to be very long, I made the decision to break it up into two books, each covering one year.

In retrospect, that was, perhaps, a bad idea. Had I stuck to one novel, it might have been published later than 2012 but it would have been finished by now.

Could'a, should'a, would'a: that'll be on my tombstone.

I already had nine chapters under way for the sequel, Gyeosunim and had posted them, as I had done with Songsaengnim, on their own blog site. However, I was never fully satisfied with the first draft of the book, and so I walked away, took a break, and then started again. And the second draft, which I didn't share as a blog, also didn't turn my crank, and so I walked away, again.

I told myself that I was being lazy, but uninspired was closer to the truth.

But I shouldn't have been surprised: Songsaengnim took me three drafts before I was happy with the flow, and even after I finished it, I went back and made a few more changes—adding different endings, changing some characters, deleting others.

I was never 100-percent satisfied with the novel, but I suppose no writer is completely happy with their work.

So, I've started draft number three of Gyeosunim. And I'm driven to get it done. With any luck, I'll have it ready for the publisher by the end of this summer.

So, if a weekday goes by and there's no Brown Knowser blog post, it'll most likely be because I decided to work on my novel, instead. When I'm happy with the new chapters, I'll post them on my Gyeosunim blog. I'll replace the nine posted chapters as they become ready, too. So you can read the existing ones now, if you wish, and read the updated ones when I've cleaned them up or written anew.

I'm not lazy: I'm writing.

Stay tuned.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Making Blues

You like Blues music, right?


Hmm... I don't know if we can be friends.

My first introduction to Blues came, inadvertently, when I was maybe nine years old, through a Rock band. I've told this story before: when I was eight, in 1973, my father took me to Sam the Record Man. He was looking for Cat Stevens' latest album, and he let me roam the store to look for a record of my own. He thought I would head to the children's music section but instead, I stayed with him at the front of the store, at the stack of new releases.

I was mesmerized by an orange cover that appeared to have naked girls climbing over strange rocks. There was no writing on the cover, so I couldn't immediately determine who the band was or the name of the album (it was written on the spine, but at the time I didn't think to look there). I chose that album—my father asked me if I was sure, and I was—and the purchase was made.

The album was Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy.

A year or so later, I had the band's previous four albums and played them incessantly, much to my mother's chagrin.

At that age, I didn't know the difference between Rock and Blues, but I did know that I loved "Since I Been Loving You, " "I Can’t Quit You Baby," and "You Shook Me" as much as I loved "Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)," "The Immigrant Song," and "The Song Remains the Same." So, when I finally became formally introduced to Blues, I was already a fan.

Over the years, I've seen some Blues giants: Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy (and his late brother, Phil), Koko Taylor, and the late, great B.B. King. Of course, we have some outstanding Blues artists in Ottawa, too: Terry Gillespie (I know, he's more Ottawa Valley than Ottawa, but close enough), The Jivewires, and Monkey Junk, to name a few, but one local Blues artist that my family and I have become hooked on, of late, is Juno-nominated, electrifying JW Jones.

I've written about this Blues-man and his band—which includes drummer, Will Laurin, and 2017 Maple Blues Bassist of the Year, Laura Greenberg—before. They are the organizers of the Ottawa Youth-in-Blues series (#FutureBlues), in which they invite Ottawa's budding talent to experience the thrill of performing, live, with JW and his band. It's an awesome show.

This week, JW Jones is performing for two evenings, in Aylmer, QC, and recording the band's upcoming live album. If you love Blues and want to support this local group, and if you want to say that you're on a live album, come on out. Here are the details:
JW-Jones Live Album Recording
Cabaret La Basoche—Centre Culturel Vieux-Aylmer, 120 Rue Principal, Gatineau
April 4 and 5, 2018—doors open at 6:45; show starts at 7:45
Tickets (General Admission): $33.90 [$30 + 13% HST]
The venue is limited to approximately 40 seats at 10 tables, which are intended for people that are pregnant, have disabilities, or may have difficulty standing for the duration of the show (such as me). All other tickets are for standing room only.

To purchase your tickets, go to JW Jones' Web site, where you will get more information about how to do so.

DD14, who has played with JW and Laura a couple of times, will be with me to support the band and sway to the Blues on their first night. My father, who bought me my first Led Zeppelin album and inadvertently got me hooked on Blues as a kid, will be joining us.

We hope to see you there!