Jun. 20th, 2017 11:12 am
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I've been wanting to get to the animation festival at Annecy since 2012 when Paperman premiered there, but every year there's been some reason why I can't make it. This year, I made a pact with a friend to book accommodation early so we would have to go, and luckily that paid off. I just returned last night from a week's worth of animation nerdery, architectural beauty, and cheese (so much cheese), and while more will probably be written, here's a quick rundown of a few things I learned:
  • The French for 'screening' is séance, a fact I shall treasure forever
  • Just because it's in the mountains and by a lake doesn't mean it won't get really, swelteringly, paralyzingly hot
  • Annecy is not, as I had been led to believe, a small town. This impression came from people who live in LA, in comparison to which pretty much anything smaller than London is small town.
  • However hot Annecy gets, Lyon gets much hotter. I must never go to Lyon.
  • Buy your bread before noon
  • Unexpected vocabulary differences between French and Québecois: myrtille for bleuet, parking for stationnement
  • There are astonishingly few places that will sell you a coffee and a pastry and a place to sit down for an hour or so
  • On the other hand, the springwater standpipes everywhere are pretty great

All in all it was a fabulous experience – I don't think I've ever been to a film festival before, nevermind an animated film festival, so was expecting something more along the lines of a comics convention. Something about all coming together to share the experience of films, rather than buy and sell each other's products – and reconnecting with so many people I knew from so many different places – gave it a lovely sort of family reunion atmosphere. An assortment of 'in group' experiences helped that too: shared exasperation for the heat, queuing for screenings (séances!), and little Annecy rituals like throwing paper airplanes at the screen while waiting for the show to start and making fish-popping noises in the darkness between shorts in a programme, but a major one was that everyone had the same song stuck in their head, because this little film played before every event:

There you go, now you're part of the family.
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My childhood was peppered with road trips across the Canadian prairie visiting family – the smell of mosquito repellent was the smell of Canada to me until I went to college, and still evokes fond memories of whizzing past grain elevators, finding interesting bugs in the splatter of grasshoppers on the windshield, sitting around the fire pit after a 10pm sunset, etc. etc. The only time I'd visited in the winter was one rather miserable Christmas, in which Edmonton was basking in sweater weather while Victoria – balmy retirement capital of Canada – got three feet of snow. But prior to visiting I'd been filled with horror stories about the prairie winter, mainly of the barefoot-in-the-snow-uphill-both-ways variety, which was probably a big reason why we only visited in summer.

I had planned my big Turtle Island* trip for February because I knew I'd be visiting LA, and that's one of the least unpleasant months to be there (and one I don't mind missing in Cambridge). As it afforded me the chance to get a taste of RealWinterTM at last, I booked a few days with my aunt and uncle in Calgary. And ohh my gosh, did it get me – I only had a couple days to enjoy it as I was unfortunately bedbound for some time with a stomach bug, but for months afterwards I found myself fantasizing about the taste of the frosty wind and how everything just sparkled. In off moments, I still find myself trying to strategise when would be best to make a return trip.

*A name used by several First Nations for the landmass of North America. As it is a) their continent and b) a way cooler name than "North America", I have taken to using it, forgetting that most other people didn't grow up listening to the Turtle Island String Quartet on Prairie Home Companion and therefore are probably deeply confused by my doing so.
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As I'm sure I have stated with enthusiasm here before, one of the highlights of my teaching in Denmark is this particular type of bread they have at the local supermarket bakery. I found it by accident the first time, and ever since, the first thing I do when I get into town is go buy some bread and butter and stuff myself on it, and the last thing I do is get a loaf or two and freeze them so they'd survive the trip in my luggage, and I can have that wonderful pampasbrød for a couple weeks back in England.

The last time I went, they'd stopped making the loaf – it was available in baguette and bun form, but the texture of those is quite different and neither really captured the joy of the original. Luckily, I'd saved the ingredients list – one of the reasons I started learning how to make bread was to recreate this at home – and while it doesn't list proportions, I hope at some point my experience in baking (such as it is) and memory of the Real Thing might combine to get me at least most of the way there.

The little ingredients tag has been floating around my room for long enough, so in my lifelong fight with little bits of paper, I'm copying out the ingredients list here for future reference. If you like baking and want to give it a go, by all means feel free to do so! If pampasbrød could spread around the world, that might be one small counter to all the awfulness these days.

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Completely unscientifically produced, from the data sets Confirmation Bias and Previous Experience.

United Kingdom, eastern portions
Chilly, then frigid, snow beginning around the 11th and lasting about a week, then clear and windy. Gradual warming with occasional snow turning to rain, until spring-like temperatures return around the 26/27th.

Vancouver and the South Coast of BC
Cold and snowy to start, then an unseasonably dry warm spell beginning around the 10th, with the return of an arctic high pressure system around the 18th and heavy snow the weekend of 25/26th.

Southern Alberta, western portions
Typical winter weather until the end of the month when a Chinook should see temperatures rise by 30°C

Los Angeles, California
A return to expected winter patterns early, with a building high pressure system that should bring in hot sunshine for the second half of the month. Possible storms late.

(In other words, I've booked my plane tickets.)

(And I'm genuinely curious to see to what extent this holds true. The Southern Alberta forecast directly contradicts the Farmer's Almanac.)


Apr. 16th, 2016 04:13 pm
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Last week I went on a short walking holiday up to the Norfolk coast with my friend and fabulously talented animator/teacher/graphic novelist Sydney Padua, who had declared it a sketching holiday. I've been hearing from people for years that the Norfolk coast is a lovely place but had never managed to get there myself, so this was a good excuse to make the trip at last.

Sketches and photos together in the photo album below:


As I say, the Norfolk coast had come highly recommended, but what people mentioned was the wide sweeping seascapes, the dramatic weather, the bird life, the light and air ... what they completely failed to mention, and what might have got me there a lot sooner, is that's where Britain is hiding all its seafood – omigosh, so much amazing seafood, so many tasty pink sea bugs; I got so full on that trip I hardly ate for days afterwards.
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One of the unexpected side-effects of moving to Europe is the opportunity to guest-teach at animation schools in interesting places. I've developed a cozy if slightly standoffish relationship with the lovely town of Viborg, but this past week I was welcomed to the Hochschule Luzern Design & Kunst (Lucerne College, art and design division). Most of the days I was there I was occupied with teaching and getting to know the students and staff, but I did manage to do a little bit of exploring, so for the first time in a long time, here is a photo album for you to peruse:

Luzern, Switzerland

I learned many interesting things on the trip, scratched together a meagre German vocabulary, just missed a very punctual train, bought a lot of cheese, was immersed briefly in an evocation of the Franco-Prussian war, hardly used any French at all (so much for my efforts), and was reacquainted with all the things altitude and low humidity do to my body. It feels like I've been gone about three weeks, and it's encouraged me to make other small educational trips, but for now it's good to be home. It's still a novelty to like the return as much as the trip itself, so to celebrate before it wears off I'm heading out for a REAL ENGLISH ALE – because one of the other things I learned is that I'm still not a fan of lager.
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A random sampling of promotional cards from the lobby of the central Cambridge cinema:

Le Beaujolais Nouveau Arrive!
Celebrate with us Le Beaujolais Nouveau!
With the "International Jazz Septet"
Price includes: 2 glasses of wine & French nibbles

Philip Glass and the Philip Glass Ensemble
Performing music by Philip Glass at the Corn Exchange

The Late Propaganda State
And Why Real Meditation Ain't For Pussies
Steve takes us on an existential journey where he explores growing up in the American 'dream,' his entrance into 'spiritual life,' the ups and downs of enlightenment, and why real meditation isn't for pussies!

Fitz and Will - The Cambridge Cats
Join Fitz and Will on an adventure through the historic streets and colleges of Cambridge to Trinity May Ball, where their curiosity leads them into mischief.

Giamo & I. Pagano: Abstract Revelations
Giamo, a graduate of the Academia di Belle Article di Roma, makes works considered to be 'natural abstract'. I. Pagano trained as a chemist and his work is described as 'gestural abstract'.
Pictured, the latter's piece Covalent Bond

The Imitation Game Giveaway
Solve our crypto challenge for a chance to WIN a pair of cinema tickets to The Imitation Game
(Contest sponsored by a data protection firm)

I think I'll stay.
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I've traded the glittering lights and convenient transit links of the Capital of the Empire for the quiet alleyways of Cambridge, Capital of Nerdom. My people! Perhaps I will blend in enough they will not notice I am a poser...

Anyway before I left I made sure to capture a good many Londoners, so here is the rest of my time there, in one place:

Goodbye Piccadilly, Farewell Leicester Square )

Doubtless there will be more, as I'll be going back fairly regularly. I still have a hundred thousand London photos to post. But in the meantime I have to pick up a bicycle and sew elbow patches on my tweed jackets – luckily I've got a head start on the crazy hair, awkwardness, and all-consuming interest in esoteric subjects, so the disguise should be pretty easy to maintain...

City Lunch

Nov. 13th, 2014 12:05 pm
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'The City' is now the collective term for the financial district of London – roughly equivalent to 'Wall Street' in New York. It is called such because it's the original centre of the City of London, back when it had a wall and everything; the centre of gravity has shifted westwards over the centuries, and the City now is almost on the eastern end of 'Central' London. I haven't explored it much, in part because there just aren't any particular attractions there for me the way there are elsewhere, but a good friend who knows a lot more about London invited me for an audio tour of the original coffee shops of the City and I don't turn down an invitation like that.

We started our tour with half-pints at a pub quite near the first coffee shop, in a warren of little alleyways with many other pubs, crawling with financiers (not the pastry kind). The 'City Boy' is the prototypical privileged bourgeois who went to a good school, graduated into a high-paying job, makes more money than he knows what to do with, and all that that implies. There were a couple of them eating lunch on a barrel outside the pub opposite, and I tried to sketch the one wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, because the setting and action contrasted with the sharp suit he was wearing, but it came out looking like he's just done a line of coke. Given the City's reputation it's not entirely implausible, but that's not the situation, I promise ...

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I was mostly doing stuff during my brief visit to the City of Light, but did manage to squeeze in a little sketching of the famous Parisian street life ... except I think these were mainly tourists.

Tourists and Trees )
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There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room. It's like watching Paris from an express caboose heading in the opposite direction—every second the city gets smaller and smaller, only you feel it's really you getting smaller and smaller and lonelier and lonelier, rushing away from all those lights and excitement at about a million miles an hour.

– Sylvia Plath

As I recently visited Paris, I had the opportunity to test this in the interest of SCIENCE. While I had to compromise experimental integrity by watching from a side window rather than a caboose, as the train didn't have a caboose, preliminary results indicate that watching Paris recede from a high-speed train is nowhere near as devastating as watching friends fall in love.

On the other hand, I got some good photos while I was there!

Bienvenue à Paris )

My first visit to London was about the same length of time as this one to Paris, and I hardly count it as a visit now I've got to know the city better, because what can you see of London in two and a half days, especially when one of them is spent entirely within the British Museum? But I felt like I got a lot more out of this trip, in large part because I was visiting an artist who'd lived there for a while and so had the sort of perspective on the city that resonated with mine.

It was unrelentingly beautiful, and unrelentingly Paris, and that I definitely appreciated, but there was something about it that seemed wanting, somehow. It's entirely possible it's just a permutation of my inherent suspicion of beauty as artifice, something ground into me as a goose amongst swans in high school – being immersed in such perfection made me feel a bit of a troll. It's also possible that a lifetime's exposure to British history, literature, and culture makes London's charms easier to unlock and more thick on the ground, and Paris has just as much to offer those who come prepared. But for me, myself, I couldn't help feeling there was something hollow about it, in the same undefinable way as San Francisco – gorgeous, and intellectual, but ... superficial somehow. It made me wonder about the sort of people who fall in love with Paris. Is it just the beauty? There is an awful lot of that to go around, and to Americans especially it's like living in the ideal which some American cities tried for a while to emulate – I got a lot of 'Oh, so this is what they were trying to go for,' walking around. But in the end, while I enjoyed it a lot, I was so happy to get back to London, where the eccentric Victorian façdes and ugly 60s buildings jostle together and make room for people who don't fit the plan. I hadn't realised how affectionate I'd grown towards the muddy mean proletarian Thames, but it's a working river and not Disneyland green, and when I saw it again I wanted to pat it fondly.

So maybe the reason my heart didn't break while watching Paris diminish from the retreating train was because I was heading back to the one I loved, flawed and ugly and falling apart but whose character and soul shone through. There's a comfort for all us trolls.

Epilogue )
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Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, I visited some friends in Wales who had been kind enough to invite me. It was the wettest and chilliest weekend of the summer, and I was overcome by a stealth cold in the time it took the train to go from Cardiff to Swansea, but the holiday glows so brightly I hardly remember any of that.

Come with me, to Deepest Darkest Pembrokeshire / Yn dod gyda mi i dyfnaf Sir Benfro tywyllaf ... )


1. Ginger-lemon-honey tea is probably magic
2. Beets grow poorly in acidic soil
3. Bluestones are aptly named
4. Spring honey is definitely magic
5. Ash wood will burn very shortly after being cut down
6. Cwm Gwaum
7. If you want to bust a cold, go on a rigorous walk in fresh sea air with good friends who also happen to be amazing cooks
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Wa-hey internet, it's time for more photos!

Whilst an unemployed bum, I figured it was best to make the most of my lack of contribution to society, and so took to the rural byways of England with another no-good layabout who happened to be a friend of mine. And though those feet in ancient time walked not on England's mountain green, had there been a reasonable travel package from Jerusalem at the time, they might have enjoyed a ramble in this green and pleasant land.

First up was a leisurely stroll over the South Downs from Lewes to Brighton, Inclusive )

Next was a trip through Wind in the Willows country, with a brief side trip to Sleepy Hollow.

Ignore the digger.

Henley-on-Thames to Hambleden circular )

Next time: anturiaethau yng nghymru! (... which the internet assures me is 'adventures in Wales', in Welsh. Welsh-speakers, please feel free to point and laugh.)
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I have been granted an uncommon boon: reasonable working hours and temporary lodgings near enough that I'm not spending two hours on the train every day. I will probably end up frittering away my time when I get used to the arrangement, but for my first day I thought I'd better catch up on all those darn photos.

I've not caught up all the way, but have got enough scraped together to start posting. And so, I present, Random Sights in London, Part 1 )

And now, with thirst for photoimage sated
The 'net, I trust, shall skulk away replete
And I, its teeth and claws no longer fearing
(If it be they, and not mine own guilt's howls)
Can happily procrastinate again.
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Sketch dump, sketch dump, roly poly sketch dump )
Sketch dump, sketch dump, eat it up, yum. )

In the morning, laughing happy sketch dump )
In the evening, floating in your soup )

Sketch dump, sketch dump, roly poly sketch dump
Sketch dump, sketch dump, eat it up, yum.

I promise I will draw more things out of my head at some point, I just need to sneak up on them so I don't scare them off.
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I spent a couple weeks pinging about the Home Counties before settling into London ...

Photos! )
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My final destination was London, but when looking up YVR-LHR flights I found there was one that connected through Reykjavik.

REYKJAVIK. How could I not? I mean, Reykjavik. Iceland is one of those places that, even though I know they are real, I can't believe are really real. The one time I saw it from a plane crossing the North Atlantic was a thrill, so putting my feet on actual Iceland? Yes!

All the Other Pictures )
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What did I tell you about being gorgeous, BC ...?

Wow have I ever got a lot of photos to post. Grab a snack and dive in, now my last Island picture has been posted we're going on a tour of the G.V.R.D.!

This Post is Not Brought To You by Tourism BC, but You Would be Forgiven for Thinking Otherwise )

Last direct contact with Turtle Island for a while, because ... ADVENTURE!

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We're having adventures, here, people, no time to slow down.

Miracle Beach, Funny Birds, and a Burger )


Jun. 14th, 2014 04:30 pm
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Victoria ...

Victoria ...


I didn't have much time to make the most of the city because I was spending most of it with this guy:

But if it weren't for him I may not have stopped there at all, so that's fair. I did do a little wandering, and took some photos to prove it.



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