Rawlicious – almost enough to make a “raw foodist” of you

I had an interesting dining experience yesterday, at a place called Rawlicious. You might not expect much of a restaurant if the fare is only raw food, but I’d heard good things about Rawlicious, and to my great pleasure, they turned out to be true.

Yes, this enterprise comes laden with philosophy, but you can dine happily without considering it much. If you ask questions, the staff will answer, or you can peruse magazines with articles on nutrition and the national food supply. And on the restaurant’s “Food for Thought Friday,” patrons can participate in a communal table in the “Zen Den,” watching films on the politics of food, and discussing them afterward. According to the Rawlicious website, they will soon be offering “Wellness Services” too.

So the philosophy is there if you want it, but my friend and I came for the food. We wanted to discover what sort of restaurant-style meals could be created when all ingredients were raw. And Rawlicious provided a satisfying variety of selections.

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The Man Game – I still don’t know what it’s about

I was so looking forward to hearing about The Man Game by Lee Henderson, especially since the launch of this, his second book, was part of the first week of a new season of This is Not a Reading Series. I had such a great time last year at Pages Books’ not-readings that I positively bounced as I entered the Gladstone Hotel Ballroom.

The art of various kinds all over the walls really captured the attention, since the ballroom walls are usually bare for these events. But I’d heard two things about the upcoming evening, one being that art relating to the book would be featured. And the other…

Well, interviewer Nathan Whitlock (Books for Young People editor at Quill & Quire) put it best. He said that as a writer’s second book, the industry often looks for a “sprawling historical epic.” And perhaps they got it, in The Man Game, except “the sprawling has mainly to do with male nude wrestling.”

Yep. That was the other thing I’d heard: that the book was about a rough and tumble game dreamed up by a woman in late 1880s Vancouver, where men released their aggression by engaging in a strange naked dance/game in the streets. Naturally I wanted to learn more. Wouldn’t you?

The problem was…we didn’t, really.

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“The Sacred” – a Concrete or Abstract Matter?

What if someone asked you to put a pin on the map of your city or town, on the spot you consider your personal “sacred space”?

The different responses to such a suggestion might surprise you. For some, their “sacred space” could be the location of their first kiss. For others, perhaps a peaceful park nestled amongst downtown highrises. For me in Toronto, it’s probably the Distillery District – not the shops, galleries, restaurants, and theatres, but the ghost of the past distillery that lurks behind them all.

These places might not be traditionally “sacred,” but personal judgements may be all we can resort to, since Canada no longer has a single sacred tradition that encompasses the whole culture. That, at least, is the opinion of three authors – two architects and one philosopher – who presented their books last week at the Harbourfront Centre’s International Readings event entitled “Architecture and Sacred Space.”

The evening could almost have been two separate events: the presentation of the books themselves, and then a panel discussion. Because the actual books were not about sacred space, but about concrete. Yes, you heard right. And what does concrete have to do with sacred space? Good question.

The discussions of concrete architecture might have received more in-depth treatment if the books had been considered alone; it wasn’t always clear why they were presented in a meeting about sacred space. Yet as architects Michael McClelland and Graeme Stewart presented short readings and slides from their co-edited book, Concrete Toronto: A Guidebook to Concrete Architecture from the fifties to the seventies, it gradually became obvious that Toronto’s concrete construction during those years had a spirit to it, a thrust not just toward size, but also toward beauty. This suggested a first tenuous connection between concrete buildings and sacred space.

University of Toronto philosophy professor Mark Kingwell, presenting his book, Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City, inched a little closer to “the sacred” as he discussed how a city is an organic manifestation of the consciousness of the citizens who build and move through it. He demonstrated, with slides, photos, and maps, how cities exist in a tension between the “planned” (as in the strict grid the original planners tried to impose on Manhattan) and the “inhabited” (where the grid had give way, in places, to Manhattan’s inherent geography, because the island “insisted on itself”).

But it wasn’t until the three authors participated in the panel, moderated by Lisa Rapoport of PLANT Architect Inc, that sacred space was addressed directly.

McClelland envisions the sacred as an ability to pull out of everyday life, in order to dream. He believes one responsibility of an architect is to help create a city’s dreamscape. Yet he, unlike Rapoport, doesn’t believe there is something inherent in any architectural form that promotes this. Rather, any building, even a “sacred” one, is invested with meaning by the beliefs of the culture in which it is created.

For Stewart, people can recast any space as sacred, on a personal or community level. He described an interesting life cycle of how we often view buildings: those of the recent past become “rejected” (e.g. our current view of concrete architecture from the 50’s and 60’s); buildings of the distant past become “canonical” (e.g. Toronto’s Old City Hall, which was once viewed with disdain); and architecture of the future becomes “exciting,” because anything is possible.

Kingwell, too, thinks of “profound possibilities” as being part of how we create sacred space; we cross a threshold into a space that allows us to perceive another mode of being. This can be a large community square, or even an intersection of streets.

The discussion ranged animatedly as the speakers tried to define the sacred and imagine how architecture can help foster this sensibility. But the odd bifurcation of the evening was never entirely overcome, and the relation of “concrete” to “sacred space” was never entirely established.

Do I want to read these books, following the evening’s activities? I don’t actually know. If the evening had only considered concrete buildings and their significance, perhaps yes. But we were left with only tantalizing glimpses of some quite beautiful concrete architecture as it sailed by in the slide presentations. Unable to decide, I remain suspended between the two: the concrete of the buildings and the abstract of “the sacred.”


Prince Caspian: a prince worth waiting for

I warn you: I can’t be objective about this movie. I grew up reading and rereading the Chronicles of Narnia, so seeing my well-loved stories made real before my very eyes is a thrill. Here is the word made living, beautiful flesh. The thought gives me goosebumps.

But maybe I can manage some objectivity. After seeing earlier attempts to bring The Lord of the Rings to life – one odious cartoon version springs to mind – I said for years that I’d rather nobody ever tried it, than to have someone ruin it so badly. Yet I can say, about watching Prince Caspian, that I never felt the way I did when I watched that cartoon Lord of the Rings. There was no sensation that this story was ruined and should never have been attempted. So it was probably done right, or very close to right.

I still love the casting of the Pevensie children. All four actors are capable of expressing at one moment the youthful enthusiasms, naivete, or even peevishness of kids and teenagers, and a minute later, the nobility of young kings and queens of Narnia. William Moseley in particular carries off the complex emotions of Peter – the boy who was once High King, but now must pass the torch of leadership to another and attempt a new, harder task: becoming an adult in his own unmagical world.

The person to whom he passes that torch – Ben Barnes as Caspian – believably portrays a dashing, almost fairy tale prince, yet with enough vulnerabilities and flaws that he isn’t cloying. It was an interesting choice, giving him and other Telmarines a loosely Spanish accent and culture, but it made sense, given their ancestors’ origin in our world. For the most part, Barnes pulls it off, adding an exotic edge to his character. In a way, it even augments the tension between Peter and Caspian; the Telmarine prince must seem terribly “foreign” to this very British boy, making it harder to surrender control.

The surrounding characters are also portrayed with convincing, dramatic realism, from the sly, dangerous Miraz (Sergio Castellitto), to the grumpy dwarf Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage), to the deliciously over-chivalrous mouse Reepicheep, voiced by Eddie Izzard.

And speaking of Reepicheep…the special effects clearly are not included just for the “coolness” factor. You never feel that the CGI creatures – centaurs, talking mice, minotaurs etc. – are there to make you look at them; rather, they’re there because the plot demands it. Though I confess…when the trees finally wake up, and the river spirit makes an appearance…it really is spectacularly cool. (Told you I couldn’t be objective.)

One thing people wonder, given Narnia author C.S. Lewis’s evangelistic leanings, is whether his allegorical elements might become overpowering. They’re still there, in Prince Caspian, but more subtly than in the first film. In this movie, we deal with losing faith when apparently abandoned by one’s ideal, yet finding courage to fight through doubt. The faith remains directed toward Lewis’s Christ-figure, but Aslan doesn’t even appear until the end. He stands more as a symbol of hope than as a specific religious figure.

The film is definitely darker and more action-packed than the first movie, but the original story was also darker. The battle scenes demonstrate that the Narnian folk seek something very much worth fighting for.

I can think of only two things I would change in this movie. I would add more wonder and mystery to the discovery that the ancient tales of magic in Narnia were true, and to the reawakening of the powers. Lucy’s dream about the tree spirits comes close, but otherwise there is little of the loss and yearning for those ancient wonders that was there in the book.

My other change is prosaic: we hardly hear the names of the “old Narnians.” They are rarely officially introduced, so we have to rely on someone addressing them in conversation so we know their names. I had to read the closing credits to be reminded that the head centaur was Glenstorm, and the squirrel was Patterwig. But that’s a minor complaint.

On the whole, I’m as delighted as I hoped to be by this film. It was wonderful to see the story that enchanted me when I was growing up become a living, breathing thing before my eyes.