filmnight

Keeping it simple feels right – says a friend who has decided to take this stance for now. A pretty clear message, but tricky, come to think of it, when you get to the ‘feels right’ portion.

Knowing what feels right — moments of indomitable clarity that hit you in the gut —aren’t easy to come by.

Take our visit to San Jose del Cabo over the holidays. When we arrived Christmas Eve, I did what I had been waiting to do – I booked a table for Film Night at Casa Dahlia. I immediately became nervous and fidgety, worrying I had built it up too much, that it wouldn’t live up to what I had surmised 9 months ago. I invited friends along, then fretted that they may not like it.

This was supposed to be a night of no over-thinking. Surely the sum of its parts wouldn’t disappoint–organic ingredients, stone-oven baking, a quaint al-fresco venue suffused by foliage.

In the end it was the negligible stuff – the things you can’t harness into some formula or logic behind the magic that you had had an inkling of.

And you know this because while you’re sipping a Chilean cab, gasping and giggling at your first silent film nearly a century old, plucking roasted garlic from your fourth slice of pizza, a smile the size of the moon above has crept up and planted itself.

Let’s play more of that song in 2014. Again and again.

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Clinging to the sunny hits afforded us last week, Liliming‘s spring/summer ’14 show @ Vancouver Fashion Week – nearly did me in. I considered chucking everything that’s not some iteration of her designs. Followed by reconsidering the move to balmier temps so as to wear more iterations of her designs. I see a pattern (pun intended).

Dubbed China’s “Knitting Queen,” founder Liming Li’s intricate, featherweight knits are sophisticated yet boho, exotic and retro – a carefree, bare feet kind of dressing, and sexy as hell.

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Mrs. Li holds the Guinness record as the world’s most prolific pattern designer and in 2009, her work was named an Official Cultural Heritage Landmark of Shanghai.

Using traditional knitting craftsmanship, her pieces represent weeks of work by artisans of which Li became a master before founding her brand in 1994.

In collaboration with Japanese artist Mikuo Konoki, her work was shown at Shun Art Gallery in Shanghai and described as “..uncompromised…very rare….innate color sense of the old Shanghai. Imagine that your shoulders are unloaded, put Mrs. Li’s clothing on….and you will see yourself fly…”liliming

A full pass to VLAFF (Vancouver Latin Film Festival) – that’s a great week right there.

The stories of people and places I have not known of or been to – like the most rewarding kind of travel, they challenged my status quo and scope.

The films that stood out depicted the need to free one’s self — from the walls of a room, from an unresolved past, from familial tradition and duty, from poverty.

This a solid theme in my book.

My pick of unforgettable people/characters and movies:

Mary Smith of Guyana in The Bastard Sings the Sweetest Song (documentary by Canadian filmmaker Christy Garland). A charismatic poet and an alcoholic, Mary has survived unconscionable losses, and as a senior, fights to live life on her own terms –to be able walk down the street to town and buy her own smokes and hooch.

Celso Franco in 7 Boxes, plays a 17 year old pushcart porter named Victor. He is enchanted by movies and his quest to buy a cell phone to make videos unwittingly throws him in a roller-coaster chase with criminals. The movie’s popularity is described as the the Titanic of Paraguay.

Agustin Ortíz Pérez plays Juan in Polvo (Dust). The story of a society still grappling with the disappearance of men during the Guatamelan Civil War (’60-’96) is told through Juan, who is prone to suicidal attempts and is given to violence towards a neighbour who had turned his father over to the military.

Begê Muniz in Jonatha’s Forest, a beautiful and reverent film of a camping trip in the Amazon, its interminable fate paralleling that of a boy and his duty to his family.

My left ear canal is still plugged from a week of being submerged in saltwater – thought I’d push out a few travel tidbits while the Baja,  literally and figuratively, is still within me.

A cooler of beer on the beach, drinking in the open – priceless.

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The whole sailboating thing, I get it now – a jumping-off point for the funnest of days. Made possible by Gravol+Tequila™.

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A big fish is cause for excitement – at 320 lb level.

Art, in unexpected places, can elevate any experience.

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Celebrating a birthday during travel – matters.

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Five-star hotels designed to take your breath away will do just that…..

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………but there’s nothing quite like waking up in your own humble little casa.

Outdoor time exercising all the senses crystallize summer moments for me.

My bestie hung her hat in Salt Spring Island a few years ago. When I visit, we go for long seaside walks. There’s always a cat hanging about in the garden. Everything we eat is farm-fresh. I can’t stop yawning, I’m so unplugged and present. gardenThis weekend was lavender soused.

Sacred Mountain Lavender Farm gives good festival: Sunyata played their smooth gypsy hybrid, genius folks at The Gathering tossed lavender-infused salads, and lady friends of the farm served up lavender imbued gelato and cupcakes.

I had random chats with local islanders, so affable and proud of their haven, eager to tout all its secrets.

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A sister duo squeezed in on the wooden swing where I sat, telling me conspiratorially that the guitarist was Bill Henderson of Chilliwack.
THE Bill Henderson, I said, the tune of My Girl riffing in my head. Gelato soon beckoned and the sisters were off, replaced by a retiree duo, kitted out in outdoor wear.

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I hear that’s Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, I threw out to the couple.

Oh, no, no, no that’s not Bill. Bill lives on the island, but that’s not him, he said emphatically. Ice broken, we swung peacefully, listening to music. Then, they, too, succumbed to the call of gelato, leaving me with a bag of tricks – their best eat, best cultural festival and best live music venues, filed away for future visits.

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I wandered over to the meadow where a girl was blowing purple bubbles to the sky, and a chest sat under a tree, spilling lavender-hued garments for dress-up. Caftans on a rack danced softly in the breeze, and a man napped unapologetically by his wares. In the shade, an outcrop of stumps were scattered about, ready for a chat on zero-mile farming.

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I stayed for the flamenco act, then gave my best girl a hug and left for the ferry home. A freshly cut sprig (her parting gift) swayed side to side on the rear view mirror, the sweet smell permeating the car. Jars of island-made stuff rattled in the trunk and on the window sill where my arm lay, the sleeve of my new caftan fluttered as I drove.

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My bullie Milton hails from Salt Spring Island. The quaky bundle I took home three years ago is pretty street these days, but I’m not fooled. Under the city swagger lies a dyed-in-the-wool islander.

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Rust and Bone’s grittiest bits, served up French-style, resonate best in this romantic drama that’s nearly untouched by quick and dirty, revelatory moments. There is a Norman Rockwell ending – surprising, since the realism of the first half morphs into a tale of triumph that doesn’t need the assurance of happily ever after.

A nightclub bouncer/mixed martial arts fighter (Ali) and a stunning, killer whale trainer (Stephanie) meet when he rescues her from a nightclub brawl and she is defiantly ungrateful. Stephanie surfaces from the scuffle bleeding to the sound of expletives being shouted at her and Ali insists on driving her home.

During the drive we learn that cruising the club circuit solo is habit for Stephanie and Ali’s blunt assessment of that ignites a visceral response. This drive scene packs a lot in detail and relevance —the expanse of Stephanie’s leg seen from Ali’s gaze, how they talk to one another, the lack of artifice and disregard for feelings.

Opportunities are limited in the French Riviera beach town where Ali and his son roll in to live with his sister and her partner, but Ali quickly lands a couple of security gigs thanks to his sister’s connections and his undisputed physicality. Stephanie thrives in her job performing for crowds of tourists that flock to see whales dance to the blare of American pop music and high-production choreography.

When a horrific accident befalls Stephanie, she reaches out to Ali despite their brief connection and his unpitying regard for her situation is like a healing balm. Watching Stephanie pull out of her misery when she is with Ali, impassive and unknown as he is to her, is an astute depiction of what some people need when they have been broken, physically and mentally. The scenes when Stephanie reacquaints herself with what makes her feel alive are deliciously tactile – an ocean swim, the sun on her face, moving wildly to loud music, unadulterated sex. When she is prodded to manage a different kind of animal, the violence and adrenalin of her surroundings unleash a primal response and she is hooked.

Marion Cottilard and Matthias Schoenaerts balance resilience and vulnerability and are beautifully in sync like a myriad of pairings in this film. Rust and Bone (or De Rouille et D’os) – a symbolic and encompassing title. A whale trainer and an MMA fighter – one trains animals to perform, the other trains to perform like an animal.

It becomes a little Mr. and Mrs. Smith in the latter juncture but you can’t help but be invested – you want this fearless duo to get a full shot at claiming personal victory. When a movie delivers at this level, you’re willing to surrender, sentimentality and all.

The first time I stepped into Casa Dahlia Gallery in San Jose del Cabo, I had only two minutes, but I knew I would be back. Soft, incandescent abstracts flanked the adobe walls and a woman flashed me a smile as she walked by, flipping on lights to beam on the canvasses. Chatting with a gentleman, she moved about with ease, in jeans and sexy wedge sandals. I thought, California, she had to be from California.

A few months later, I returned, taking in the serenity of the gallery and the luxuriant greenery of the courtyard café. I talked with co-owner, Julio Montero of Acapulco, and asked him if he was also an artist. No, no, he said, my wife and business partner, Leah Porter is the artist. He told me about high season (Nov-May), when expats and visitors return to the Baja along with the Saturday farmer’s market where the casa sells organic coffee, coconut oil and cacao.

Casa Dahlia courtyard

I lingered outside taking shots of the casa and noticed a woman in a straw hat and dark glasses. She turned to smile at me before going in. I didn’t realize then it was the second time Ms. Porter and I had an exchange, albeit wordless and from a distance. She would assuage my curiosities when I reached out to her via email, peppering her with questions about the casa, in particular the titillating and popular, Film Night.

Casa Dahlia sign

When Porter visited her father (renowned painter Dennis Wentworth Porter) in Los Cabos in 1994, she fell in love with the Baja area and lifestyle. Twelve years later, in 2006, she rented a studio to paint for a show in Pez Gordo Gallery and discovered the historic building where Casa Dahlia now resides. She decided it was the perfect venue for her work and of other contemporary artists.

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A few years in, Film Night became part of the casa when Julio and Leah realized the need for a venue to view international and artistic films and documentaries. They included dinner service during screenings and once a wood-fired oven was completed, the courtyard officially became a pizza garden café.

Casa Dahlia film night

Sunsets dictate the evening’s rhythm. Early birds may abdicate as summer solstice nears but the regulars know the drill. At sundown, the movie begins, local organic salad is served, then pizzas start to come out of the wood-fired oven and for dessert there’s flan from Julio’s grandmother’s recipe.

They preview all films, looking for family-friendly but not mainstream, not too graphic, and has a “flow” that guests can enjoy dinner to. The result is a top-notch repertoire with classics like The Bicycle Thief and An Affair To Remember, acclaimed releases Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Life of Pi, a few Wooden Allens, foreign favourites In the Mood for Love and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and romantic foodies Julie&Julia and Like Water for Chocolate.

A blanket of stars, the glow of a movie screen, the smell of pizza dough wafting from an outdoor oven. There’ll be no over-thinking here. This is a great evening waiting to happen.

I’m in my happy place just thinking about it.

Riley Inge, Sibel Thrasher, Kentish Steele, William Taylor, Doug Louie – names of local musical talent peppered over the years by a devoted friend. No groupie, this gal – she has lugged many a band gear and member to gigs in her diminutive ride, always rocking it in her inimitable style. Are you with the band? Yes, I am. I am with the band.

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October 1966: Frank Hook and Danny Baceda at Oil Can Harry’s with musicians. Photograph by: Ralph Bower, PNG

Perhaps the best known of the bunch, Riley Inge has cropped up in unexpected places. Fifteen years ago, he sang My Girl at a store I worked at. As one of the original members of The Temptations, that’s how he liked to introduce himself. Keep the light on, he would say, keep the light on.

This past Christmas, on a clear night, I decided to walk home after several hot toddies at The Sylvia. I took the seawall route, and it was very dark. To my right, a lit cigarette moved steadily in a horizontal line. It was a man smoking in his wheelchair. He began to recite a poem, something about not giving up. Do you know who wrote that? – he told me who, then introduced himself. Riley Inge, he said, and continued to talk, mostly about the accident, how he was told a few years ago he wouldn’t walk again. He said he was performing in the next few weeks and where….but holiday season got in the way.

Four months later, my friend called, breathless with an invitation. There was to be an homage to Oil Can Harry’s, an R&B club in the ’60s and ’70s on Thurlow Street.

Google brought up this article written by my old boss when the club closed in ’77 – oh, to jump in a time machine and soak in some of that: a culmination of smoky rooms, go-go boots, Ike & Tina stopping by. It was….the place to be. Worlds colliding, stars were aligned. There was nothing more to say. It was time to get down.

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1966: Dancers at Oil Can Harry’s Down Under Club. Photograph by Dan Scott, PNG

At the Maritime Harbour Centre, a white limo pulled up and spilled forth a three-piece suited, fedorad, sequined cohort. Kentish Steele and the Shantelles, the main act and producer of the event, among the veteran William Taylor and Sibel Thrasher, made room on stage for a dazzling young D’arcy Zi Han, who belted her repertoire like Queen Bey, minus contrivance and a lotta soul. It was a treasure trove of glimpses to a different time and kick-ass tunes, worthy of the best moves one can deliver. The audience, surprisingly, was well represented by alum and current devotees of Motown.

Almost midnight and nearly four hours of straight music, the stage went silent. Nearly ten minutes up a ten-second flight of stairs to the stage, canes shuddering on either side, Riley Inge hoisted himself onto a barstool to croon to the crowd gathered before him. Impeccable in a white suit, sweat trickling down his cheeks, he sang song after song, shaking with exertion, and smiling.

riley ingeNotable eavesdrop (in the ladies room, where else?): I was a 17 year old go-go dancer at Oil Can Harry’s, you? Oh, I was a 16 year old go-go dancer. Let me tell you, these ladies still look mighty-fine.

gogo dancers1966: Dancers and GoGo girls at Oil Can Harry’s Down Under Club. Photograph by: Dan Scott, PNG

There’s sustenance, then there’s soul quenching foods that smooth you out.

Street vendor cones of Magnolia mango indulged by grandpa soothed any kindergarten angst on walks home from school.

Lucerne buckets in the deep freeze, Neapolitan style – an after-treat in my tweens to teens, gobbled after meals, after homework, after practice, after chores.

My first summer of college, I upped the ante through a Haagen Daaz stand, a stone’s throw from my West End digs – the expediency of which broke new ground in terms of frequency, hours and state of dress in which I would fetch a 500ml cup.

On a first visit to Europe, a gelataria in Noale just outside Venice served heaping mounds in glass footed bowls while locals strolled by in mind-bending footwear. La bella figura. A moment worth conjuring up during day to day busy-ness.

Fast forward to Vancouver Club for jazz night on Wednesdays. A couple of hours in, we like to order ice cream. They wheel a cart to your table. On it sits a metal tub, a thermos of nitrogen-liquid and amber coloured bottles jostling about.

After alternating pours of nitrogen and cream, some vigorous stirring, lots of spooky smoke and a healthy douse of liqueur…..

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…...et voilà.

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Perfect creaminess in honey-sugar or maccha-tea flavours that kicked my vanilla swiss almond on the hiney.

There will always be moments that call for this: climbing out of pj’s, skulking over to the corner store and slapping down a bill for a tub of whatever they’ve got.

Then and now, not much has changed.

I don’t care for trendy, I just want good. This stance runs rampant in our household where resistance to the unproven has a strong foothold.

Just ask our ward Milton.

Milton

Still, there’s no point downplaying anything about our first visit to the lauded and swamped farm-to-table Fable Kitchen.

Fable’s success – you feel it once you step across their threshold and a wave of bellowing hilarity hits you. This is 10:30 on a Sunday morning.

The first sign was the lineup trickling down a rain-soaked sidewalk on 4th.

Then you overhear a hostess telling a throng at the door how truly crazy it has been, and panic officially settles.

Suddenly, a towering man in a sea of mimosa-imbibed faces swooped in with a knowing smile, whisked us to a table in the back, and poured cups of delicious, strong coffee. Followed by mimosas.

Resistance began its steady decline.

What I got from their “boozey brunch” is that Fable Kitchen gets it. They know what it takes, how hard they have to work, to be as good as they are. They are indelibly good in all the things that matter: food, drink, staff, service.

The story behind the success, how it began, how it evolved, is best told here.

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Farmer’s Muffin: better than what your mama used to make, dressed to the nines with black pepper jam, tomato jam – any jamming by Trevor Bird wins…best jam ever. Sausage patty and rosti are bananas.

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Behind preserving shelves and chicken wire, wine bottles sleep, farm and kitchen tools rustify, jamming jars wait…

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…to be stuffed with scrambled eggs, creme fraiche and greens.

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A lighting fixture out of three pitchforks on a wire – dial me a tradesman, this is captain fantastic.

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More superlatives:

Best host: tall dude in a cowboy shirt with expert lineup handling. High-five for taking resos.

Best swag: everyone gets a cookie at the end of the meal and they are outrageous.

Best costume: the Portlandia plaid-shirts were truly coincidental, our server insisted, but what a perfect accent to their farm-fed mantra.

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