December 26th, 2016 Posted 10:40 pm
As a new resident to Toronto in 2013 it was impossible to ignore the bright lights of Honest Ed’s the first time I passed by the corner of Bloor & Bathurst, in the north-west of the downtown core.
Opened in 1948 by entrepreneur Ed Mirvish, it rose to prominence as the destination in town for no-frills bargains. Met with some resistance in its founding years, it ultimately carved a place in Toronto culture thanks its huge storefront display featuring tens of thousands of flashing light bulbs and pun-laden slogans (Honest Ed’s a nut! But look at the ‘cashew’ save!). You might compare its notoriety with something like Harrods in London – on the complete other end of the price & elegance scale, mind you – but a one-of-a-kind store that locals flock to & tourists read about in all their guidebooks. It became pretty clear to me that this place was an institution.
Unfortunately in mid-2014 it was announced Honest Ed’s would close on December 31st, 2016 to make way for a new residential & commercial development. With less than a week to go, I decided to drop by one final time today with my camera to snap a few shots of this lovable Toronto landmark before it’s gone forever.
August 1st, 2016 Posted 8:35 pm
I love documentaries. Over the past couple of years I’ve become engrossed in the genre & developed a true passion for them, to the point where they’re basically all I watch these days.
Here in Toronto I’m very lucky to have access to outlets such as the Hot Docs Cinema, one of the only cinemas in the world to specialise in documentaries, and Queen Video, with a more-than-extensive selection of hard-to-find non-fiction DVD gems. Not only that, but it’s great to be part of online communities such as /r/Documentaries on Reddit who help spread the word about everything from obscure short films from the early 90’s on sex, drugs or rock & roll right through to the latest Louis Theroux blockbuster (and can’t we all wait to see it…!) Between all these and my Netflix subscription I’m pretty much set for life.
A few weeks ago I posted a Reddit comment where I mentioned a bunch of my favourite documentaries. It had a pretty good response so I spent some time compiling a list of my top 60 to share with the community. And I thought I’d post them here to my blog as well.
I tend to steer away from the nature/science/biographical-style docs and go more for the ones that tell a fascinating story about someone or something. You’ll find most on the list are along these lines; also they’re all fairly modern dating from around the 2000’s – 2010’s (if anyone has suggestions for some decent older docs to check out I’d love to hear).
Note there are no links to view the docs, this is simply a list with a brief description about the film along with my thoughts on it. I hope some of you are inspired to investigate further & check them out. The full IMDB list I keep of docs I watch, if you’re interested, is here. Enjoy!
May 15th, 2016 Posted 7:55 pm
Up until fairly recently I didn’t know all that much about Latin America. I’d made a few friends during my time living in Sydney, namely from Brazil & Venezuela, who recalled fond stories of their upbringing, but all I could really tell you about countries south of the US was that the mother tongue was either Spanish or Portuguese, political, social & economic struggles were common, they ate a lot of grilled meat, people danced and football was a way of life.
All that changed when I moved to Toronto and found myself hanging out with a whole bunch of interesting folk from all around South America. Friends from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil and Chile told me stories of their home, their food & their culture and it made me curious to one day witness these places for myself.
Finally in late April this year I was able to make it happen! My Ecuadorian friend Vanessa (who I lived with in the crazy Kensington Market apartment that was evicted without notice) had since returned to Quito and my Chilean friend Natalia had returned to Santiago, so I decided to spend a week in each city while I had the opportunity to be there with people I knew.
Let me tell you, I was blown away by the beauty of both countries, not only in aesthetic terms but by the warmth & friendliness of the people I was lucky enough to meet – you just can’t compare the South American attitude to that of the North, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. So here I’m gonna tell some stories and share some photos about my time spent in Ecuador & Chile 🙂
February 23rd, 2016 Posted 8:35 pm
Around 35km east of Montreal lies the peaceful village of Mont Saint-Hilaire, situated along the base of the mountain with the same name. With its multitude of hiking & skiing tracks and four summits ranging in height from 320m to 414m, it’s an accessible day trip for anyone in the Montreal region who fancies a moderately-graded trek or some cross country skiing during the snowy months.
I’ve spent much of my time in Montreal over the past year exploring Mont-Royal, the peak in the centre of the island which the city surrounds, but I’d recently been eyeing off some of the hills a little further afield. Mont Saint-Hilaire was one of those that caught my attention, so with a warm Sunday forecast of -4º (well maybe not warm in the strict sense of the word, but still 35 degrees warmer than the previous weekend) I set off on the #200 bus and completed my journey with a taxi to the park’s entrance, the Gault Nature Reserve.
Here are some photos from my delightful 5 hour wander around Mont Saint-Hilaire 🙂
February 6th, 2016 Posted 11:37 pm
A few weeks ago as I was leaving the office I was stopped by a random guy who appeared to be waiting at the bottom of the stairs to our building. He asked me for directions to Thursday’s, a popular bar in downtown Montreal barely a minute’s walk away from where we were. The conversation that followed went like this:
“Yeah of course, I know Thursday’s. Just keep walking here along Crescent Street and it’s the second or third building on the other side of Maisonneuve, you can’t miss it”
“Merci beaucoup,” he exclaimed. “Hey I hear an accent there, are you from Britain?”
“No mate, I’m Australian.”
“Aaah Australian! Of course, I should have known. G’DAY MATE! How’s the kangaroos? Hey I love that sport you guys play in Australia, AFL?”
“Yep, Australian football, it’s pretty unique huh?”
“Yeah and I love how you guys do the Haka before each game!”
Before I had the chance to correct him on either the nationality or code of football, he bent over at the knees, punched his chest, grunted “Ka mate, ka mate!” and gave me his own personal interpretation of the famous Maori war cry right there on the Crescent Street sidewalk. I couldn’t believe how quickly our conversation had escalated!
He finished his Haka demonstration and went on to ask if I’d like to see a poem he wrote. He handed me a sheet of paper with a piece he’d penned called “The Ocean of Wolves”. And with that, he wished me a good night before heading off up the street – the total opposite direction to Thursday’s.
So, Alexandre B. A. Lebel of Montreal: if you ever happen to Google your own name and stumble upon this post, please know that I have your poem pinned up at my desk at work. It always makes me smile to glance over it and recall the brief but hilarious encounter we had on the street that evening. I hope you made it to Thursday’s eventually. Thanks for the laugh!
January 1st, 2016 Posted 10:00 pm
I had the chance in November to spend some time in Vancouver, the most populous city in Canada’s British Colombia. It’s well known for its beauty, from the snow-capped mountains merely a stones throw from the CBD to the greenery of Stanley Park; from the city’s modern architecture to the 22km long Seawall trail, snaking its way around the peaceful harbour. But you can go to Lonely Planet if you want to hear more about that. I came here to talk about Hastings Street.
October 18th, 2015 Posted 6:56 pm
As an Australian who grew up only ever experiencing two seasons (namely: hot & wet followed by not-quite-as-hot & dry), the north American continent hasn’t yet ceased to amaze me after experiencing its seasonal variances for the past two years. From the brutal -38ºC Toronto/Montreal winter to the sweaty, humid summer a good 70º warmer than its icy counterpart, it must be a meteorologist’s dream (or nightmare, depending on how you see it) to know the job varies so extremely throughout the year.
Only last Monday the high was 24ºC with most of the city’s population out & about in their shorts & t-shirts; this weekend we had our first snowfall of the season and it didn’t get above 6º. I think people would riot if a drastic change in weather like this ever took place in my home town!
I took the opportunity over the past two days to explore the gorgeous autumnal foliage of the city during its transitional period between summer & winter. I began Saturday morning on the north-western face of Mont-Royal, a small mountain in downtown Montreal bursting with greenery & hiking tracks, before detouring through Mont-Royal cemetery where the skies opened up with a short but intense flurry of snow. After the sun returned I ventured along a number of mountain trails, stopping by two lookouts as well as the famous cross that can be seen lit up from miles away at night. Sunday saw a visit to Parc Jean-Drapeau, situated on a small island east of downtown, well-known for its 1967 world expo attraction, the ‘Biosphere’.
Here are a bunch of photos I snapped over this Montreal fall weekend:
May 18th, 2015 Posted 7:56 pm
An irrational fear of feet
I’ve been browsing through the personals section on Craigslist fairly regularly since I moved to Montreal. Contrary to popular belief, Craigslist has actually been really good to me over the years. I’ve made lifelong friends and had many enjoyable times that all began with a simple email to someone who posted in the w4m section.
Recently I’d seen a post on Casual Encounters (the section where you go for NSA hookups) from a girl who sounded unusually genuine, saying she’d like to meet someone with the intention of hanging out on a casual, FWB-type basis. I normally steer clear of this part of the website because 95% of the posts are either spam or creepy guys pretending to be girls, but this particular post was worded in such a normal, human-like way that I felt it truly was a girl looking to hook up with a guy for a bit of fun.
I took a chance and emailed her, telling her I was new to Montreal and also looking for a similarly beneficial agreement with someone. I mentioned that I enjoyed travelling, I offered a physical description of myself and I invited her to my favourite Montreal venue for first dates, Cafe des Chats (my local cat cafe).
Hallelujah! She replied back.
Hi Dan. Ok, you partly had me at Australian, the accent is awesome. 🙂 I have never been to Cafe des Chats before. I actually had to google it; I think I’d vaguely read about it online or something because there’s something vaguely familiar about it. Random choice, I like it!
She went on to say she’d lived in New Zealand for a year and spent some time in Australia (including my hometown of Townsville); it was clear I was pretty high up on her hit list. We emailed back & forth and texted a few times and ended up agreeing on a day to meet for coffee & cats. Interestingly, we never even shared photos or spoke on the phone through any of this. I had no idea what she looked like or even if she really was a woman.
We eventually met at Sherbrooke station at our set time and I confirmed: she was indeed a girl! She was in her early 30’s, quite tall, dyed dark red hair, with an athletic kinda build. She could have passed for a swimmer. We got along well over coffee and ended up getting some dinner at a nearby Korean restaurant. It turned out to be quite a successful date, so I asked her to come to the cinema with me the following weekend.
She agreed, and we saw a documentary called Seymour: An Introduction, which told the life story of a famous concert pianist from New York. It was a good doc (like, 10 out of 10 good – you should watch it). I picked well. We journeyed on over to a bar for dinner & drinks, and before we went home we hung out at the park and cuddled a bit. It was nice. I knew by this stage that I wasn’t interested in her in a romantic sense but I was definitely down for sticking one in.
So for our next date of course I invited her over to my place for dinner.
She arrived early on a Friday evening – somehow we had the house to ourself, which is rare for a Friday – and by all accounts the dinner went very well. She was super impressed with the food, which included a pie from Montreal’s very own Australian + NZ pie shop. We watched The Castle after dinner and made our way through a bottle of red. We got a little snuggly during the film which was nice, you know, an arm around each other and holding hands. The movie finished and I invited her to chill out in my room. She agreed.
We got to bed and chatted for a bit but I could tell she wasn’t entirely comfortable. I thought perhaps it was just some initial nerves and she’d come through in a while. We started to make out but again there was something about her that wasn’t quite right. She was laying in a really awkward position… she just couldn’t seem to bring herself to relax. I asked if she was ok and she assured me she was, so we kept at it but still it didn’t feel right cause she was kinda half on the bed and half off the bed. It was so weird & confusing. It was like she didn’t want to disappoint me by admitting that she wasn’t comfortable, you know?
I encouraged her to loosen up, to no avail. Finally, she came clear:
“I can’t relax! I have this psychological block where I’m not able to put my feet on anything I don’t own!”
That’s right, kids: she couldn’t put her feet on my bed because it wasn’t her bed.
Even with stockings on, she still couldn’t bring herself around to it. It was like my duvet was a forcefield, blocking her feet from ever residing on its soothing feathery warmth. She told me that in her previous house, her roommate kept a footrest in front of their sofa, but she could never use it because she didn’t own it – it was owned by her roommate.
Alarm bells rang in my head. Are you serious?
The romance was dying off big time but I tried once more to comfort her by assuring her I had no problem whatsoever with her feet on my bed. And she actually tried – oh how she tried – but the look on her face while she attempted to position her entire body down on my bed from head to toe was terrifying.
I called it off. She was clearly upset at herself because she knew her actions were unreasonable. I was nice about it and laughed it off: ‘forget about it, it’s ok! We can just chill and chat instead’. When really in my mind all I was thinking ‘WHAT THE FUUUUCKKKK JUST HAPPENED?’ She went on to say that she struggles at being affectionate and she has some trust issues, but come on man, why would you post an ad on Craigslist Casual Encounters wanting to meet boys for a causal shag if you can’t even physically handle being on their beds?
God knows what happened to the poor girl in the past that led to her having a phobia of her own feet.
She left half an hour later and we never heard from each other again.
March 22nd, 2015 Posted 12:48 am
Burgers are awesome! I’m living on the perfect continent to satisfy any burger craving. There are diners, bars and restaurants on almost every corner serving a myriad of recipes ranging from the traditional favourites to the highly experimental. I’ve had a few burgers I would class as ‘phenomenal’ throughout my time in North America so far: notably at the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, Vermont, and at Burger Royal right here in Montreal.
A few months ago my Toronto friends Juilie & Cory told me about a burger restaurant they dined at in the small Ontario city of Cornwall called Truffles Burger Bar. They spoke extremely highly of it and suggested I check it out with them next time they were in town. Such a recommendation naturally piqued my curiosity, and it just so happened that they made the drive back to Cornwall this weekend. I took the hour-long train ride west of Montreal and joined them both in town for lunch today.
To get an idea of what to expect at Truffles, I had a browse through their online menu a couple of days beforehand. The burgers sure sounded impressive – they were definitely on the gourmet side of the scale, ranging from the Surf & Turf (beef, lobster & garlic butter) to the Apple Burger (pulled pork, baked apples & goat cheese). They even had a selection of exotic meats to choose from, such as llama, venison, kangaroo & bison.
However there was one burger in particular that really caught my attention:
Solid Gold Burger
Beef + foie gras + black truffle shavings + 23 kt gold dust + glass of champagne
Are you serious?! I thought to myself. A hundred dollar burger? That’s ludicrous! Who in their right mind would want to buy a gold-dusted burger with black truffles for $100?
It didn’t take long to come to the realisation that, in fact, I was precisely one of those people who would buy a gold-dusted burger with black truffles for $100.
March 6th, 2015 Posted 8:55 pm
Of all the online dating platforms I’ve come across, Tinder (in my opinion) has proven by far to be the most difficult to meet girls on.
For those who may not know what Tinder is, it’s a matchmaking app based almost entirely on the premise of appearance and attractiveness. After you’ve created a profile (photos + a brief description), set a radius (the geographical distance surrounding you where you’d like your matches to be located), and your age/orientation, you’re offered photos of potential suitors who fit your specifications. It is up to you to either swipe their photos to the right if you like the look of them, or swipe to the left if you don’t.
Meanwhile, your own photo is offered to scores of fellow Tinder users and the same logic applies to them: if they like the look of you, they swipe right; if they don’t, they swipe left.
Whenever two people swipe right on each other, they become a ‘match’ and they gain the ability to chat to each other via text. The future of the relationship is entirely down to the conversation that follows. Ultimately, a mutually enjoyable conversation will lead to a real-life meetup, and from there, who knows? Tinder’s penchant for superficiality leads it towards a reputation of being more suited to casual sex & hookups as opposed to meaningful partnerships, although some matches have been known to lead to marriage.
Anyway, I’ve been using Tinder half-heartedly for probably 18 months now. I’ve always maintained a fairly standard profile similar to this one:
Trouble is, aside from the occasional evil spambot, I hardly ever received any matches. It would often take me a couple of hundred swipes right to finally be paired up with someone willing to chat, and even then the chances of them replying or sustaining any kind of interesting conversation was minimal-to-none. I guessed that a selfie like this ranked as ‘BORING… NEXT!’ on the Tinder factor. If chatting wasn’t difficult enough, the prospect of ever meeting someone though Tinder seemed virtually impossible.
So I had an idea. Why don’t I periodically change my Tinder profile picture to something totally ridiculous to see if I can gain a better reaction and actually chat with some girls?