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Canadians assume you go to Cuba for all-inclusive beach vacations, a normal assumption since it’s cheaper to book that type of vacation than just a flight by itself.

Having opted out of the resort-style in order to to stay right in Havana (while still getting the airport transfers and hotel included- sweet deal!), I felt a little nervous- as I always do before a trip- that I’d forgotten to how to travel and that I would never figure it out again.

But the shock of the sight of the ocean and cars from the 1940s reminded us what it is like to discover and rediscover, my mother and I dusted off the frustrations of airports and broke out our rusty Spanish. Once settled, we slowly began to learn how to navigate the puzzling streets of Old Havana.

We also learned how and where to change money (flexible fact: to change money at a fancy hotel, you have to stay at a fancy hotel… which we weren’t. Exceptions occur on Sundays, sometimes).

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Our nearly-daily money-changing ritual at la cadeca (we aren’t very good at estimating how much we’ll need, apparently).

After being taken for a ride and charged $5 for two tiny bottles of water the first day, we also learned where to eat and to ask how much things cost before agreeing to them, no matter how thirsty we were.

When our feet got tired and hot, we’d duck into fancy hotel lobbies. This is where we realised that while our little hotel may be fine for us (the towel-folding art delighted us each evening when we got back), it was no fine hotel. For instance:

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Swans made out of towels in our hotel!

We did get a little sick of the dust and chaos and and noise and this was supposed to be a vacation! So I got a beautiful sunburn on the Playa del Este, the local beach (about 20km from Havana) and had the best shrimp I have ever had in my life at the canteen near the beach.

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We sat in the shade all day, and yet…

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

Every year, Ontario buildings open their doors so you get to explore places you’re usually not allowed to go. Or wouldn’t think to go. Or can only go under specific circumstances (like paying admission).

I started the morning with a walking tour led by the Theatre Museum of Canada where I learned a little bit more about downtown theatres (did you know YPT used to house horses that pulled streetcars?). Then I met my dad (and had a fancy lunch surrounded by fancy ladies wearing pearls and drinking martinis) and we joined the masses. We didn’t go into the Design Exchange because there was a line up.  But we went into Old City Hall, the Ontario Heritage Fund headquarters, the Bank of Commerce, and the Elgin and Wintergarden theatres.

Having been to both theatres before, I didn’t anticipate how magical it would be to wander around and take pictures (take pictures in a theatre! in a theatre!) It was magical indeed.

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Inside the Wintergarden Theatre in Toronto.

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Seats at the Wintergarden.

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A view of the stage from the balcony.

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The Eglin Theatre: where, in 1992, I realised I probably needed glasses during a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond.

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If this was truly “Doors Open,” we’d be allowed in the box seats. Non, mais!

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Theatre stairs. I got pretty excited taking pictures in a place you’re not supposed to take pictures, normally.

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The Elgin: a theatre of contrasts. Black brick stage surrounded by glitzy glam red and gold.

Peter Brook turned 90 yesterday and he’s still at it.

I feel very lucky to have seen a couple of his productions in my life. Once, when he brought Sizwe Banzi est mort to Montreal and then when we went to Paris and I finally had the chance to set foot in the Bouffes du Nord theatre.

As a once-aspiring theatre director myself (I am no longer aspiring in the sense that I have more or less given up), he inspired me with his writings and ideas and experiments. His 60-year-old production of Titus Andronicus became the backbone of my MA dissertation (for which I cherish and hate him. The reasons for these feelings will be obvious to anyone who has written a dissertation about anything). One of the most magical (nerdiest?) moments of my research was when I found my way to the theatre museum archives in London and, while leafing through Brook’s prompt book, worked on deciphering his penciled notes in the margins.

He is an important director with a career spanning 65 years. He is still working. And in January, I got to see his production of Beckett’s Fragments at the theatre he found in 1974 as the home for his company.

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Théâtre Bouffes du Nord, before the show

I was happy to be able to smugly say that I would be seeing Beckett in Paris, darling. But I was mostly happy to see the insides of this theatre. I was relieved and thrilled, really, that the building had the same magical feeling that BAM’s Harvey Theater had (also renovated for a Peter Brook production).

You can feel the history, the age, the ghosts in this theatre. The wooden seats, the unpolished clockwork-like ceiling, the distressed paint on the walls… It was great that the performance was funny and moving and that the chosen pieces exposed Beckett’s silly, human side (he can be a bit bleak, can’t he?), but I wouldn’t have cared because the space was so rich in its simplicity (much like Brook’s direction). A bit of history and lots more pictures can be found here.

People of all ages in fancy and/or bohemian Parisian garb sat on the floor in the front rows. We sat on the shallow balcony next to a couple of theatre students with hearty laughs. The place was full.

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This is the inside of the theatre (stolen from Wikipedia).

I was on a high after the show- the theatre, the play, Katherine Hunter’s amazing voice, being in Paris, taking the metro to a neighbourhood I’d never seen, having a boyfriend who will enthusiastically go see Beckett- but the night was still young. There was still steak frites and wine and beer to have and an old friend to see.

My lovely friend and co-worker just posted a profile on her awesome blog that is making me blush. And yet here I am re-blogging it. Thanks, Ashley!

Ottawa, Canada’s sleepy capital, seems to get nicer each time I visit.

The canal.

It might even get a little more interesting.

Photo from the Extremely Short Play Festival at the Arts Court Library taken from CBC Website. As in all festivals, a couple of pieces were fantastic, some were very good, and some were not. The transitions between plays were pretty cool, with bits of script projected on the stage (see image for example of effect).

This time, I was there on a lightning-speed visit to give a photography workshop to a classroom full of brilliant teenagers for Brila [check out the work of last year’s group here].

While the class was out and about around Ottawa making their own snapshot narratives, I took a couple of pictures of the eeriness that is an empty classroom.

And all was suddenly quiet.

Light on seats.

Works in progress.

…and then we jumped in a car and drove to Montreal (stopping in a parking lot to eat sundaes and salty fries).

Just your typical road-trippers.

I don’t know if you remember, but one of the highlights of 2011 (most likely just for me, though) was a mysterious and mysteriously well-drawn image of a mysterious animal in my coffee cup.

The magical apparition

At the time of the discovery, my coworkers and I did all we could to identify this animal.  What we came up with was that it would be a mixture of a red panda, racoon, and okapi.  But we weren’t quite satisfied.

Enhanced image of the animal in question

And then… on Friday, while we were looking for images of kangaroo rats (I have an awesome job), this image popped up (warning: it is not a kangaroo rat):

Turns out the animal that appeared before me in my coffee mug was none other than the Tasmanian Tiger (wearing a Zorro mask).

Mystery solved!

Except not really.  Because the Tasmanian Tiger is  a very mysterious and amazing animal.

FACTS

  • Its name is thylacine or Thylacinus cyanocephaplus, meaning “wolf-headed pouched-dog”
  • The last confirmed sighting of one in the wild was in 1932.
  • They lived in Australia, New Guinea, and most recently in Tasmania.
  • Its fur was soft.
  • Its temperament was shy and secretive and gave up easily when captured by humans, some dying suddenly of shock.
  • It was a marsupial and both male and female had pouches (the boys to protect their bits, the ladies to hold their babies).
  • The last one in captivity died in 1936. This is Benjamin:

Coincidently, the day I found the picture of the tasmanian tiger and realised that’s what was in my mug, I went onto trailers.apple.com (as I do), and watched the trailer for The Hunter.  The hunter of what?  Of the last tasmanian tiger!

So what does this all mean?

POTENTIAL MEANING OF ALL THIS

1-  I should go to Tasmania now (and mainland Australia. And while I’m there, might as well go to New Zealand and Indonesia and Malaysia and Vietnam and India…)
2-  It’s time I finally pursue a project with Willem Dafoe.
3- Coffee is magical. Never, ever give it up.