Monday, November 28, 2011

The Muse (s)‏

In Greek mythology . . . The Muses are a sisterhood of goddesses,
their number set at nine, who embody the arts and inspire the
creation with their graces through remembered and improvised song
and stage, writing, traditional music, and dance.
The daughters of Zeus, king of the gods, and Mnemosyne, Goddess
of memory, were denizens of Mount Parnassus, born in Pieria which
is described as 'watered by the springs flowing from Olympus'.

Truman Capote noted . . . The Muses are heard – every time a
poet writes, an artist draws, or, so we are told, a designer
drapes. Homer invoked this ethereal sorority at the opening of
'The Odyssey', and Dante summoned them before plunging into
his 'Inferno' . . . 'O Muses . . . aid me now!'

* Calliope (the 'beautiful of speech'): chief of the muses and
muse of epic or heroic poetry.
* Clio (the 'glorious one'): muse of history.
* Erato (the 'amorous one'): muse of love or erotic poetry,
lyrics, and marriage songs.
* Euterpe (the 'well-pleasing'): muse of music and lyric poetry.
* Melpomene (the 'chanting one'): muse of tragedy.
* Polyhymnia or Polymnia (the singer of many hymns): muse of
sacred song, oratory, lyric, singing and rhetoric.
* Terpsichore (the one who delights in dance): muse of choral
song and dance.
* Thalia (the 'blossoming one'): muse of comedy and bucolic poetry.
* Urania (the 'celestial one'): muse of astronomy.

Somewhere along the millennia the immortal Muses morphed into
flesh-and-blood females, capable of holding all manner of Great
Men in their thrall. Muses are explicitly used in modern English
to refer to an inspiration, as when one cites his/her own artistic
For a time Courbet and Whistler could barely load up their
brushes without the guiding presence of their auburn-tressed muse,
Jo Hifferman. The Viennese seductress Alma Mahler famously
impelled Gustav Mahler to compose, Walter Gropius to build, and
Oskar Kokoschka who went so far as to commission a life-size doll
of her-to paint.

Around the same moment that art became abstract, The Muses migrated
from artists' studios to couturiers' salons. Poiret's career did
not long outlast his marriage to his obliging muse Denise, whom
the fabled designer at one point literally locked up in a gilded
cage. Givenchy recalled that 'something magic happened' the instant
his symbiotic ideal, Audrey Hepburn, slipped on that first ensemble
in his showroom. Yves Saint Laurent, for his part, assembled around
him a formidable muse entourage (Loulou de la Falaise, Betty Catroux,
and Paloma Picasso), personifying a distinct facet of his taste.

* From Where I Sit!
November 15, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Restaurant Review - 'Au Petit Extra'‏

It has been said there are two truly authentic 'Parisian' bistros
that represent Montreal's unique spirit. The first, at the high-end
of the spectrum, is 'L'Express' on St.Denis, made up of local Quebec
celebrities and the French business hierarchy. The other, situated
on an unglamorous strip of Ontario Street, in the heart of the Gay
village, across from a gas station, is 'Au Petit Extra'. It has been
the haunt of the Plateau Mont Royal smart set for close to 20 years.
Considering the location is a little off the beaten track, and
parking is almost non-existant, the dining room is always crowded.
So much so that we sipped wine at the bar, the ideal spot for soaking
up the ambiance, while they prepped our table. Dinner here is like
a big party, packed to the rafters with jovial regulars. This expansive
neighborhood bistro has always been remarkably warm and friendly.

Though I had not dined at 'Au Petit Extra' before, once seated,
I'm transported to Paris. The claw-footed banquettes, black-lacquered
bistro chairs, blackboards and large ornate mirrors would have me
believing Carole Bouquet and Gérard Depardieu might be sharing
a bottle of Bordeaux at a corner table. Picture the movie 'Something's
Gotta Give' starring Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. Close to the
end of the film, while in Paris, Jack interrupts Keaton and Keanu
Reeves celebrating a birthday at a bistro . . . that's 'Au Petit
Extra'. You look outside and you think it's 'rue du Bois de Boulogne'.
Yet, if this was Paris, the waitress would be miffed at my request
for a larger wine glass, instead Frenchwoman Francine met my request
with a gracious, 'Bien sur . . . M. Franck'.
True to bistro form, 'Au Petit Extra', offers an impressive wine
list comprising of well-priced French bottles including some privately
imported goodies. With Francine's help we chose 'La Madera' St.Chinian,
a dynamic little red well-suited to the variety of dishes. St.Chinian
is a region or appellation, that produces very harsh wines, a little
coarse, according to one dinner companion. A good bottle of wine is
an excellent opportunity to elevate your meal a notch or two.

'And wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic,
and the serious smile.' ~ Alexander Pope

With the wine she brings baskets of bread, which they bake in the
kitchen. Sinful! The meal kicks off with a choice of soup or salad.
In my opinion, the better choice is salad which is topped with grilled
vegetables. The appetizer lineup counts a half-dozen dishes, including
a pleasant snail sauté enhanced with a tomato compote. The most
successful dishes are the house classics, a creamy and perfectly
seasoned 'torchon de foie gras volaille', and a 'salade de chévre'
consisting of a generous round of grilled goat's cheese paired with
a green salad laced with mustard vinaigrette.
Main courses are also simple and classic bistro favorites, along
with some newer additions. 'Pavé de thon rouge au sesame', every bite
offers fresh and vibrant flavors complemented by the various textures
of the fish.

'Even more importantly, it's wine, food and the arts. Incorporating
those three enhances the quality of life.' ~ Robert Mondavi

A meal at 'Au Petit Extra' is about much more than the food. Dinner
here is about ambiance, unwinding, and soaking up that cool Gallic
dynamic Montreal has over any city in North America. It's about
French waiters speaking to you in French, comely waitresses sporting
a long no-shape black dress with chunky shoes. Diners ranging from
families to couples meeting for dinner after work who look as though
they haven't a care in the world other than which wine goes best
with their 'gigot d'agneau'. Given 'Au Petit Extra's genuine
joie-de-vivre, I plan to re-examine as frequent as possible.

* From Where I Sit!
October 30, 2006

* Bistro Au Petit Extra
1690 Ontario St. E.
Montréal, H2L 1S7
(514) 527-5552

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Movie Review - 'The Rum Diary'‏

Hunter S. Thompson was famous for consuming copious amounts of drugs and
alcohol while still, somehow, churning out wildly colorful, raging dispatches from
the road. 'The Rum Diary' is based on his only published, heavily autobiographical
novel by the same name, which he wrote as a 22-year-old in the late 1950s and
early 1960s after a stint as a newspaper reporter in San Juan, Puerto Rico, but
was not published until 1998.

It likely never would have seen the light of day if Thompson's friend,
Johnny Depp, hadn't discovered it rummaging through some old boxes of
Hunter's works and notes, in his basement while staying with him 15
years ago, preparing to make 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', into
a movie with the director Terry Gilliam. Hunter himself had forgotten
about the manuscript. Soon after Johnny found the novel, it was finally
published, the year the movie of 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' came
out. Depp has been trying to get it adapted to the screen ever since.
That is why it's Depp's 'The Rum Diary' as much as it is the late

“These perfect boxes,” Johnny says. “I pulled it out. I was like,
'What is this?' Hunter was like, 'Oh, shit. The Rum Diary. Oh, yeah.'
It was hidden. Hunter didn't know it was there.”

The film, which is dedicated to Thompson, who died in 2005 -- is
essentially a portrait of the Duke as a young journalist. It's an
enhancement and a furthering of the novel, and brings to it the rich
maturity that the voice of the young aspiring writer had not yet
achieved. It is 'The Rum Diary' seen as Hunter might have written
it in his later prime. The stand-in for Thompson, the young
novelist-reporter Paul Kemp, is trying to find his way and his writing
voice . . . It's the birth of Gonzo.

Tiring of the noise and madness of New York and the crushing
conventions of late Eisenhower-era America, Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp
'The Tourist'), criminally exaggerated resume in hand, travels to the
pristine island of Puerto Rico to try his hand as a reporter for
a local newspaper. He lands a job at the San Juan Star, run by
downtrodden editor-in-chief Edward J. Lotterman (the excellent Richard
Jenkins 'Friends With Benefits'), whose at his wit's end running
a failing, diminishing daily.
As he interviews a hung-over Kemp, Lotterman quizzes him on what
kind of drinker he is, to which Kemp deadpans that he's at 'the
upper-end of social'. Kemp is befriended by staff photographer Bob
Sala (Michael Rispoli 'Blue Bloods', in a deservedly big part for
him coming from television), a burly, genial newsman who is nevertheless
not once seen with a camera in hand.
Kemp moves into Sala's dilapidated dump of an apartment, which
he shares with religious and crime reporter Moberg (Giovanni Ribisi
'Memphis Beat'), a horse-voiced, over-drugged oddity who listens to
Hitler broadcasts and sets some kind of record for caustic reporter-editor
Adopting the rum-soaked life of the island, Paul soon becomes
obsessed with Chenault (Amber Heard 'The Playboy Club'), the wildly
attractive Connecticut-born fiancée of Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart 'Battle
Los Angeles'). Kemp immediately falls for her, 'Oh God, why did she
have to happen?' he mutters after she swims to his paddle boat.
It's no wonder . . . Heard is stunning!

In a scene inside an afterhours club . . . the sound of calypso
playing and Heard intoxicated and in a haze of ecstacy, and dancing
very provocatively ... transported me back in time when I was working
in Puerto Vallarta. One night, out of many, at one of the hotspots that
catered to the well-to-do, tourists and locals, alike . . . . . . Sundance,
was this breathtaking blonde beauty, very similar to Chenault, who
exudes a level of sexuality that was driving even the women crazy with
Dominique was her name and she hailed from Mexico City, daughter
of the wealthy, light skinned Mexican Ambassador who married a
French-Canadian, he met while stationed in Ottawa. She came to spend
the summer in Puerto Vallarta.
The odour of deliberately enticing scents placed strategically on
heated bodies, the compelling darkness seducing me into pleasure's
secret promise, the sight of her scantily clad dusky jewelled body
dancing and gyrating.
Alone in close proximity, her hungry eyes locked onto my own thirsty
green eyes as she not so discreetly surveyed my tanned taut body that
radiated a manly heat she extracted from me and absorbed into her own,
as the connection was electrifying. I held her gaze and absorbed her
palpable sexiness and desire for me through the haze of our heat for
one another, and her leg lift like photons in love. . . Back to this
century . . .

Sanderson is a smooth manipulator, one of a growing number of American
businessmen who are determined to push through an enormous development
of a nearby, pristine island to convert Puerto Rico into a capitalist
paradise in service of the wealthy . . . that's pushing locals out.
When Kemp catches his attention and is recruited to spin the development
favorably in the Star, the journalist is presented with a choice: to
use his words for the corrupt businessmen's financial benefit, or use
them to take the bastards down.

The picture of American corruption of Puerto Rico is one of the more
compelling aspects of 'The Rum Diary'. A combative atmosphere between
poor locals and rich Americans hangs in the air, as do the Navy bombing
tests on Vieques. Depp is again in the Caribbean among pirates. Sanderson's
slick, wealthy appeal is tempting to Kemp, who isn't finding the
constricting Star to be an especially noble pursuit, either. Combined
with the allure of Sanderson's beautiful fiancée slowly builds for Kemp
into a moral crisis and, finally, an artistic tipping-point.

'I don't know how to write like me,' he says, but by the end of the
film, it's clear that Kemp/Thompson has found his legs. The guiding
principle is a furious distrust of authority (we glimpse him cursing
Nixon), and a key ingredient is hallucinogens (we also get an early
encounter with LSD).

You might expect a tribute such as this to be sycophantic, but director
Bruce Robinson (famous for the brilliant cult film 'Withnail & I') keeps
a realistic tone. Robinson, who also wrote the screenplay adaptation,
has not directed a feature lenght film since 'Jennifer 8' (1992). He
doesn't present the cartoonish Thompson we've come to expect. It's a
refreshing, grounded view of the writer.
Depp, at this point, would seem to not be aging. This more low-key
performance as a Thompson alter-ego feels truer than the manic derangement
of 'Fear and Loathing. . .', Hunter S. Thompson went on to find his voice.

* From Where I Sit!
November 5, 2011

* Johnny Depp - 'The Rum Diary' (2011)