Monday, August 30, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love in Edmonton

I just finished reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. To summarize, without giving too much away, the book is a memoir of one year in the life of a woman who steps outside of her life and travels to three global locations where she learns a new language while finding pleasure in food, develops her spirituality despite doubt, and finds true love while continuing her spiritual journey.

This plan certainly worked for her and while I don't agree with all of her choices, has caused me to take inventory of my life. Going on a world tour is not practical for many of us, yet taking stock of our lives and finding new ways to develop is part of having an active, healthy life. So here are ways in which we can eat, pray, and love - right here in Edmonton.

I have this habit of "discovering" a certain kind of food and then trying it out at as many different restaurants as possible. The most recent example of this is pho, Vietnamese noodle soup. I'm addicted and have even picked up a few words of the language in the process. Slowly, I am moving onto banh mi (Vietnamese submarine sandwiches) as well as other kinds of ethnic delicacies. I sometimes feel like I travel the world with my mouth. Edmonton certainly has many wonderful restaurants from just about every culture: Indian, African, Latin American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese ... the list goes on. Try something new and discover something about that culture and your own tastes. My site at Yelp offers reviews of hundreds of restaurants (and other local businesses) to give you just a sampling of what's out there.

Even if you have not darkened the door of a church/temple/mosque/fill in the blank for decades, it is never too late to get in touch with your spiritual side. Even though I come from a Jewish family, I always find it fascinating to visit a house of worship of another religion. It teaches me about that faith and sometimes helps answer questions I have about my own. Years ago, I helped to plant a church that combines elements of two of the major Abrahamic faiths - it still meets in west Edmonton. That is kind of extreme (and a lot of work) but getting together to pray, share, and worship with a few others in a home is another way to build fellowship. I also tend to view prayer and meditation as a personal practise and thus I often do that in private, or find spiritual elation in such solo activities as biking and long walks/hiking in the river valley. That whole social justice thing I am into? You got it - it is all part of how I practise my faith in a practical way in the real world. What do you believe? Live it.

While a torrid affair with a sexy Brazilian might be a pleasant fantasy, it is not realistic for most of us. Besides, that is only one kind of love. Expressions of kindness towards those closest to us (family, friends) and those who are the most vulnerable in society (children, seniors, the homeless, those at-risk of becoming homeless...). Volunteer with an organization like the Boys and Girls Club, Youth Emergency Shelter Society, The Mustard Seed, Hope Mission, and Edmonton's Food Bank - these are only a few of the worthwhile places that need volunteers. As far as love in the emotional/physical sense goes - when you are active and involved your passion shines through, and it makes for a very attractive package to those watching. Just get out there and be involved and the rest tends to fall into place.

As a side note, I began reading the book before the film came out - even before I knew there was going to be a film. I am honestly not sure if I want to see it. I find that movies are never as good as their books. But I probably will eventually. For now, I want to concentrate on living life and finding my direction.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Privilege and Protest

Protesters are often stereotyped as poor - after all, we're a bunch of semi-employed or unemployed hippies. How can we hold a job when we dress so slovenly? How can we find the time to organize if we work full-time?

This stereotype is, of course, false. Most activists I know work full-time in addition to organizing and attending events. Most make a comfortable living, though most are not what one would consider to be rich in the materialistic sense.

Here in Edmonton, there has been a lot of activism going on lately in a different sense than peace marches and pro-labour rallies. A group called Envision Edmonton has been working very hard getting a petition signed by enough people in the city to force a plebiscite on the the issue of whether or not to close the Edmonton City Centre Airport.

I am not going to get into the arguments about whether or not the airport should stay open, or whether or not there should have been a plebiscite in the first place. There has been enough debate in the social media world on both sides of the issue, most notable from Mack Male (pro-closure) and John Winslow (anti-closure).

Speaking on behalf of myself and a few others, there were those in the activist community who thought a plebiscite was the way to go. However, we were at a loss on how to get organized around taking on such a huge project. Getting tens of thousands of signatures on a petition is no small endeavour. So it does not surprise me in the least that several of the people behind Envision Edmonton are quite well-off individuals.

And, as someone who tends to rally for the poor and underprivileged, this does not bother me in the least. Wealthy people have a right to protest also. In fact, I find it rather heartening to see people putting their money behind a cause they believe in. However, there is another rub: many of the people involved in Envision Edmonton are of a Conservative political viewpoint.

While this is yet another point that can lose people in my activist cohort group, again, I counter: Conservative people have a right to protest also. Even when it is a cause that I don't agree with. That is part of living in a democracy. Except in this case, I do agree. So do other left-of-centre folks.

At first I thought this was cause for the Rapture to come. On second thought, it made me realize that people from opposite ends of the political spectrum to come together for a common cause. I am not sure those causes will come around often, but when they do, privilege and protest can go hand in hand.

Current Photo Exhibits

On August 12, I attended the opening reception for the 2010 Open Photo Show from the Visual Arts Alberta Association. Out of over 300 submissions, 62 made the cut, and two of my pieces made it into the show. It runs until September 23 and is located in the Kaasa Gallery in the Jubilee Auditorium (downstairs) open from 10-4 daily.

I also have a solo exhibit at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. Called "Think Again," it features a variety of colourful, quirky, and sometimes unusual subject matter. The show is free and located in the Blue Curve Gallery (turn to your left after entering the main entrance and you'll walk right by it). It also runs until September 23.

This afternoon, I dropped off some photos that will be a part of the Kaleido Family Arts Festival September 10-12. The festival takes place on Alberta Avenue and the gallery is located in the old Alberta Cycle building on 92 Street and 118 Avenue.

Summer Festival Checklist

Edmonton is known as a festival city, especially because of the concentration of major summer festivals that take place starting in late June through August. I try to make it to as many as I can, as they are fun, involve a lot of things I enjoy such as art and music, and are a great way to enjoy the city in the summer. Here is a rundown of what I did on my summer vacation (so to speak):

The Works Art and Design Festival: This year's festival was special for me, because my photographs (and one poem) were included in two exhibits (Expressions of Hunger at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts and Diversity 2010, the annual members' show for the Visual Arts Alberta Association). The tribute to Gilbert Bouchard was especially moving. Photos

Edmonton International Street Performers Festival: I spent more time here than I have for several years. Most of the acts I saw were jugglers and clowns and geared towards a younger audience, but fun nonetheless. Photos

Taste of Edmonton: Although most of the restaurants are the same year after year, I always find something new to try. I found the portions to be bigger than in the past and the festival has gone environmentally friendly. Photos and more photos

Heritage Festival: Probably my favourite of all of the festivals, I try to go at least twice during the weekend. I love ethnic food, music, and dance, so I am literally in my element. This year, some of the highlights for me was delicious food from Afghanistan and Ethiopia and spending quality time at the Latin American pavilions. Photos

Edmonton Folk Music Festival: I grew up on folk music and having our own folk festival is something that makes Edmonton world-class. Not every city has one, and certainly not at the high level of ours. This year, I was excited to see Zachary Richard in concert, who is one of my favourite musicians from the Francophone world. I also had a religious experience seeing Melanie, one of the Woodstock performers, sing her classic "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)". To read reviews of these and other specific performances, check out Inside World Music, my World Music blog. Photos

Fringe International Theatre Festival: More street performers and food - I used to just go to wander the grounds around Gazebo Park. This year, I went to three plays. "The Big Oops" was about a children's entertainer who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant and explores how she and her partner make decision on what to do. The play was presented like a children's television program, complete with catch phrases and musical cues. "War and Therapy" was written by Paula Caplan, who got in touch with me personally prior to her arrival in Edmonton. She was looking to get the word out about her play to Edmonton's peace community. Based on her own experiences as a therapist, the play explores the enduring trauma of soldiers returning from war. It was short, but powerful, and included a short discussion period at the end. Finally, "Hair" was at the New City Suburbs, a BYOV venue, and was incredible. The cast, many of whom are local theatre students, really nailed the music - which was performed by a live band. It was two hours of antiwar, hippy goodness. Photos

The city also has a number of community festivals that often feature art, music, food, and cultural displays. They are often worth visiting just as much as Churchill Square or Whyte Avenue. I am talking about Heart of the City, Eastwood Festival, East Meets West, and the Kaleido Family Arts Festival.