Confessions of a Ballerunner

Essays on Sports, Arts, Culture, and Life

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

Historic street detail and vintage fashion: the marriage of sepia and conte

After a heavy 2 days of mind-numbing data-crunching and technical writing, I inevitably had to have an artistic release…

The photo below was taken at dusk in the Byward Market in Ottawa and transformed into a sepia monochrome in Photoshop while leaving the restaurant’s red door and sign intact. I’m hoping to use it in a larger drawing/mixed media project for a good friend’s upcoming wedding.

Along Sussex Drive, Ottawa

Since the aforementioned technical report had a tight deadline, I had to reluctantly forego my lifedrawing class this week. To make up for the loss of this focused evening of drawing, I thought I’d pick up my conté crayons (which we don’t use in this class; rather, just charcoal) and attempt a more loosely sketched interpretation of a vintage, early 20th century black & white fashion photo (I just loved the overall ethereal feel to this fairy-like photo) from my go-to drawing companion, Style Book. I applied various dilutions of an India ink wash for the background shadowing effects.

“Fantail feathers, a silk and lace strapless dress with a very large fan for effect, New York City, 1918.” [ref: Style Book by Elizabeth Walker]

 Now, on to the next technical report!..

Fashion sketches to pass the time during a thunderstorm

I hate thunderstorms. Especially the severe ones we seem to get all too often in the Ottawa Valley during the hot, humid summer months. As a year-round runner, thunderstorms are pretty much the only type of bad weather — other than the occasional, bad ice storm — that I will strictly avoid running in unless caught in a pop-up thunderstorm while a run is already in progress. It just isn’t safe to be outdoors.

When a severe thunderstorm portends, I don’t resort to hiding under the bed or whimpering like a Golden or Labrador Retriever (or even Goldendoodle, as I found last summer) is known to do, but I usually start pacing the room, going from window to window, repeatedly checking the status of the clouds in the sky like an amateur climatologist on a mission — searching for those ominous funnel clouds.

This past Friday night, a particularly intense thunderstorm rolled into the Ottawa-Gatineau region complete with tornado warnings. Sadly, an 18-year boy, out cycling through Vincent Massey Park when the storm hit, was struck by lightning and died.

I was supposed to head out by bike, myself, to Mooney’s Bay (next door to the park) that night for a dragon boat practice. I was initially torn between my desire to honor my commitment to the team and my desire to avoid danger or harm. In the end, my rational self prevailed and I opted to text our captain and recuse myself from the night’s practice citing concerns about the various severe weather warnings issued, including a tornado warning. (Practice ended up being cancelled anyway as boats are grounded or called to shore at the first sign of lightning.)

While sending the text, I could hear the distant rumbling of thunder in the heavy, sickly grey-yellow sky and see and hear the furious rustling of leaves through the swaying trees in my neighborhood as the wind picked up force. A prelude to a tympanic tempest. Within minutes, the rain began. It was torrential, rendering all observation indiscernible through my second-story observation deck. I had definitely made the right call in not venturing out to dragon boat practice.

Deciding it was probably equally unwise to continue monitoring the fury of Nature unleashed from behind glass, I turned to a drawing project as a means of distracting myself, while keeping the flashlights nearby (as well as my purse, keys, and bike helmet in case I had to make a dash for the basement!).

For me, drawing is an activity — much like photography, writing, and painting — that usually becomes all-engrossing. I knew this would be the perfect way to weather the storm. And so, I dug out my art supplies, pulled out my often-referred-to copy of the Style Book and selected two fashion photos to interpret as ink drawings.

[Below: Ink, colored conté, and watercolor crayons interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1941 featuring a woman in a tailored, wool, checked pantsuit feeding a majestic-looking swan by a pond. (Location not stated.) This image immediately reminded me of Coco Chanel and her ‘disruptive’ fashion line of ‘manly’ women’s clothing at a time when trousers were not de rigeur for ladies. (Katharine Hepburn is another woman who sported a pantsuit in an iconic photo shot in 1938, also featured in the Style Book.) BTW, for a couple of great Coco Chanel movies, check out Coco Avant Chanel and Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky.]

[Below: Ink drawing, wash, and colored conte interpretation of a black & white photo dated 1950 of a couple enjoying a care-free day out sailing on the bay. (Location unknown.) The couple is said to be wearing sailor-style trousers: hers – white & blue, his – crisp white. I would totally wear something like her outfit today. It’s so chic! Even her hair – kind of Greek goddess meets fräulein.]

A Vintage Victoria Day Long Weekend in Ottawa

What a beautiful long Victoria Day weekend it was here in Ottawa. Sunny and hot, the outdoors just beckoned. And so, I grabbed my borrowed Nikon digitial SLR camera and headed out on my bike, eager to see what sort of vignettes I might be able to capture.

Since I am a scientist-type, who is also mechanically-challenged, I ended up taking a ton of photos in a bid to experiment with various angles and distances thanks to my new friend, the 50-70mm range of my lens. 😉 That said, I neglected to notice that I hadn’t reset the ISO to 200 from the previous evening’s 800. Of course, by the time I was able to mentally connect my unusually pale blue-white sky (despite playing with the aperture and shutter speed settings) with the faulty ISO setting (i.e., ‘faulty’ for bright sunlight conditions), I had completed 3/4 of my bike route. With the hot, bright noon day sun beating down overhead, it was time to seek shade and hydration. So, no re-shooting of these scenes; rather, post-production editing in Photoshop would be the prescription for treating the problematic lighting.

In the process of playing around in Photoshop (which is so much fun, even though I have only the most rudimentary knowledge of this complex program at present), I decided that it would be cool to try creating a nostalgic or vintage feel — as some of the photos lent themselves well to this — and so transformed the images into a sepia monochrome. It kind of reminds me of those old family heirloom photos of simpler summertimes spent lounging at the cottage and/or by the seashore… (Sigh)

[Above: The storied Rideau Canoe Club overlooking Mooney’s Bay. This is THE place to be for all things paddling and especially recreational dragon-boating & the hugely popular Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival.]

[Above: Buoys dotting Mooney’s Bay like a pearl string necklace.]

[Above: Dock along the Rideau River in Old Ottawa South]

[Above: My photography teacher was right: If you wait long enough for something to happen, you’ll probably get an interesting shot. This kayaker appeared out of nowhere while I was engrossed in photographing the various angles of this dock. He was paddling quite fast so I only managed to grab three frames of him. There were a lot of paddlers out this day along the river, canal, and bay. I was envious.]

[Above: Again, another example of ‘good things coming to those who wait’ — or maybe it’s ‘patience is a virtue’. In any case, I was busily following the Canada geese around when this seagull swooped into the scene like a light plane coming in for a landing.]

[Above: One of my favourite little laneways by the Ottawa River in Old Ottawa South. The house on the corner with all the windows is charming. Exactly like what I’d picture a lake house to look like with its big veranda (not visible) in the front and stone pillars — and of course, lovely tree canopy and stunning views of, and access to, the river. Very Canadiana indeed!]

[Above: Playing with my friend, 50-70mm lens range, to shoot this row of verandas. Now this is really getting to know your neighbors!]

[Above: An interesting little Zen garden along a canal-facing laneway in the Glebe. I thought the juxtaposition of the large, imposing head sculpture and Buddha figure (slightly obscured in the opposite corner) with the birdbath was unusual. The garden is quite unique compared to the more traditional English ones lining the rest of the laneway.]

[Above and Below: Pretoria Bridge from the Colonel By side.]

[Above: Traveling under the busy Pretoria Bridge on the Colonel By side. Lots of runners, walkers, in-line skaters, and cyclists travel along the canal path through the short tunnel every day as part of their daily commute or exercise or leisure routine. Pretoria Bridge is also a busy thoroughfare above for vehicles crossing the canal between Coloney By and Queen Elizabeth Drive. When boating season opens, you can expect to see the occasional large boat stopping traffic on the bridge as it navigates through the narrow waterway below.]

[Above: This was actually shot a couple of weekends ago. Each spring, an old school fair sets up shop across from Dow’s Lake to coincide with the Tulip Festival and the Victoria Day long weekend. It is definitely a throwback to simpler times. Didn’t spot any ‘carnies’ though.]

[Above: I knew I had to go and shoot this carousel after seeing the wonderful series of teaching photos my photography teacher had shot at night to illustrate the cool blur effects from varying the shutter speed. I went during the day, around noon, so it was very bright out. I can still hear that nostalgic, old school, tinny keyboard music playing that serves as the requisite, happy soundtrack for the young horseback riders on the merry-go-round. The magic of the carousel also makes me think of Adam Gopnik’s delightful, must-read book (Paris to the Moon) on living and raising a young family in Paris, in which he would take his young son to the Luxembourg Gardens — which has a much beloved carousel — to play.]

[Above: The Canal Ritz on a Saturday morning before its terrasse becomes packed to capacity with lunchtime diners or people looking to enjoy an ice-cold drink under a parasol. Definitely a popular summer spot during the day and at night with unbeatable views of the canal and all the pleasure boats, kayaks, and canoes plying the canal waters.]

[Above: Bit of a grainy image shot in the Courtyard of the Byward Market at dusk. The Market is another summer hot spot.]

[Below: What better way to end a long weekend than take in a fabulous fireworks display. The light show took place over Dow’s Lake and marked the official end to the Tulip Festival. It was about 15-20 minutes long, but worth it. So great to see so many people and families out enjoying a simple pleasure. Some people had even set up lawn chairs or blankets in the grass; others sat or leaned up against their bikes while some little kids took in the show from the comfort of their Fisher Price wagon. It was a bit challenging to shoot, however, as I haven’t quite figured out the technique and logic to shooting night shots. Hopefully, I’ll learn since I am particularly drawn to atmospheric night scenes and black & white photography.]

P.S. Good luck to all the runners in town this weekend for Ottawa Race Weekend! I hear the weather is supposed to be good. 🙂

Canadian Tulip Festival, Ottawa: A perfect opportunity for an aspiring photographer to hone her craft

Well, it’s the May long weekend – the start of planting, the beginning of summer, the opening up of one’s cottage (chalet, cabin, or camp), the return of Sunday morning cycling along the parkways, the weekend before Ottawa Race Weekend, and the last hurrah for this year’s edition of the Canadian Tulip Festival here in Ottawa.

A couple of weeks ago, I began an introductory class in digital SLR photography through the School of the Photographic Arts in Ottawa (SPAO). I’ve always been an avid point-and-shoot photographer since I was a kid, but I finally decided it was high time I learned to shoot in proper, manual mode with an SLR. I also have to say, the plethora of stunning photography I’ve seen on WordPress to-date has certainly been a motivating factor to finally jumping on the SLR bandwagon. The main draw, however, was the allure of eventually being able to create some really interesting, artistic shots and possibly venturing into the realm of mixed media.

For now, I’m borrowing a photographer-friend’s back-up SLR camera. I figured it was probably best to see if I actually liked SLR photography first (as much as I suspected I might) before going out and buying an expensive camera. Plus, I figured I would probably benefit from some good buying tips from the teacher — and avoid getting sucked into all kinds of pricey accessories I didn’t need from those opportunistic sharks on commission at the big box stores. Turns out my teacher, who reminds me of a cross between Red Green and MacGyver, is all about cost-effective photography. Sweet! 🙂

Since I love color, shooting landscapes, and being outdoors, the Tulip Festival afforded me a great opportunity to practise taking pictures, while gaining familiarity through experimenting with the essential technical aspects of the camera — specifically, the shutter speed, the aperture, the ISO. I’m not really conversant in these features yet, as I mainly adjust instinctively or by feel right now. (I do really enjoy fiddling with post-production in Photoshop though! :-)) Hopefully, over the next two months of this class, however, I will get to ‘know the numbers’ when asked about the technical characteristics of a given photo I take.

To give you an idea of my baseline or more accurately, how mechanically-challenged I am (which makes mastering the technical aspects of SLR photography both challenging and a bit intimidating), I only learned a few days ago that I had to manually turn the lens in order to zoom in and out. What a whole new world that opened up for me! 🙂 Up to that point, I had only been shooting at 18mm and couldn’t figure out how I would ever bring a distant image into focus. (With point-and-shoot cameras, of course, that feature was simply a button you pressed.)

Anyway, the photos below represent some of the fruits of my self-directed photography tutorials, and were shot over several outings during the past two weeks. This year, the tulips were unfortunately not at their best. Some beds were bursting with blooms while others looked really wilted overall. By contrast, the beds were consistently beautiful last year (and the year before), though reached their peak well ahead of the Tulip Festival schedule. This year, the tulips weren’t especially early blooming, but they were missing that wow factor of last year. I should say that I am far from being a green thumb, but I do have to wonder if that week of pseudo-summer we had back in March, followed by the considerably cooler, often frosty April, was responsible for the outcome of lacklustre blooms in many of the beds. In any case, the show — or Festival — must go on. The pink tulips — I think they’re the ‘Pink Lady’ variety — along the canal were especially pretty and are my favourite, and so that is where I spent the bulk of my practising. I guess I must be expressing a little bit of my Dutch heritage by enjoying these beautiful flowers so.

[Above: There was a peleton of middle school kids seemingly out on a field trip, happily whizzing by as I shot this lovely bed of pink tulips near the canal.]

[Below: Taking time to reflect or ‘smell the tulips’ near the canal.]

[Below: This was one of the loveliest beds of pink tulips I came upon, somewhat removed from the ‘main stage’ downtown or at Dow’s Lake, being along the canal path. The ‘castle’ house in the background has always caught my eye, as well; from the path, I have noted what seems to be a sizable library visible through the windows in its turret.]

[Below: This was my first foray into shooting in manual mode with SLR last weekend at Commissioners Park. An idyllic location — especially in the early morning — where all those beautiful, gracious homes overlook the park and Dow’s Lake, and where the greatest concentration of tulip beds can be found.]

[Below: My pink tulips again after discovering what a 50-70 mm shot looks like this past weekend. :-)]

[Below: No tulips per se in this shot, but I love this house, particularly its windows and the stunning views of the Lake and sunset that they must provide the owners. I also liked the lilac bush, but the color is a bit dull in this photo.]

[Below: This Tudor-style home is another favourite. It wraps around the corner of Queen Elizabeth Drive facing the canal. In the winter, it is very tastefully decorated with carefully placed beautiful balsam wreaths with red ribbons.]

[Below: A practice shot: Giving the tulips their close-up.]

[Below: Another home I greatly admire for its interesting architecture and the multiple chimneys. It must be cozy during the winter! :-)]

[Below: Just around the bend from Commissioners Park in the Glebe on a quiet, leafy laneway lies this interesting little, ivy-covered, stucco English cottage with a wonderful red door.]

[Below: A little pond in the Glebe where fish and turtles can be found frolicking — much to the delight of the neighborhood children — along with this lovely bed of tulips.]

[Below: Interesting Spanish-style home overlooking Commissioners Park and Dow’s Lake. I love the red terra cotta roof tiles and the constrasting powder blue shutters.]

[Below: A spendid leafy, yellowish tree adorning a red-roofed house facing Commissioners Park and its pink tulips, and Dow’s Lake.]

[Below: Some sort of white, flowering tree, which I found beautiful in the sunset on the periphery of the pond in the Glebe.]

[Below: This was one of my favourite pictures when I was out shooting that warm summer-like twilight. A little girl perfectly matching the tulips in her pink outfit reacts to a fish who suddenly surfaced and flapped its tail before diving back below the surface. (I wasn’t fast enough reacting to capture the fish on film though!) At the same time, the little girl found a tiny turtle lounging on the shore. I didn’t want to scare him and hadn’t figured out the zoom at this point, so unfortunately, I didn’t capture him either. So, you’ll just have to take my word on both of these sightings! :-)]

[Below: A practice shot: For ‘homework’, we were asked to ‘freeze’ a moving object and also catch it as a blur on a slow shutter speed. This is what I caught on a break from my lifedrawing class in the Byward Market. Lovely red tulips, too, but the pink ones remain my favourite. :-)]

Montréal, je t’adore: Why I love the neighborhood of Outremont

If I ever move back to Montreal, and had to choose a neighborhood to live in, my first choice would be Outremont. Bustling Bernard Avenue is probably my favourite street in Outremont. It’s also where I learned to run through the très sympathique Running Room formerly located on the corner of de l’Épée. In fact, signing up with the Learn to Run program back in 2004 at the Outremont Running Room was probably the means by which I came to develop such a fondness for Outremont. Up to that point, I didn’t have any particular reason to visit this neighborhood. A nice little spin-off on my road to becoming a runner! 🙂

I used to live in Montreal – in the Town of Mount Royal, just next door to Outremont. TMR was and is a beautiful neighborhood. I spent nearly 10 mostly happy years there. (In fact, I still go back and visit when I can, especially to dine at my favourite little converted railway station-resto, Pizzaiolle. Awesome wood-fired, thin-crust pizza and a peculiarly-named, sinfully delicious dark chocolate écureuil — or ‘squirrel’ — dessert with a dollop of crème anglaise.)

[This picture shows the Piazzaiolle location in Outremont.]

Despite, however, the convenience of the Deux Montagnes train de banlieue running right through the centre of TMR, whisking you into Gare centrale downtown in under 10 minutes, TMR felt, at times, a little too suburban for my lifestyle. Maybe I would’ve felt differently had I been raising a family.

On the other hand, there’s something inherently magical, if not a little bohemian, to me about living in a downtown enclave, perhaps in a stone walk-up with one of those famous Montreal staircases, complete with an urban garden, a big, leafy park nearby, and lots of shops and restos.

I used to occasionally run down the heavily tree-enshrouded section of Avenue de l’Esplanade bounded by Avenue Mont-Royale and Avenue Duluth in the Plateau, facing Parc Jeanne Mance and Mount Royal Park and imagine myself living in one of those early 20th century — and completely unaffordable — tony, stone triplexes. I also have a fond recollection of spending a particularly sweltering hot summer evening dining al fresco on the rooftop of a friend’s triplex in the very urban Plateau Mont-Royal district, where we enjoyed stunning views of the city and Mount Royal at sunset, before our gang of girls headed out to see Cirque du Soleil perform at the closing night of the Montreal Jazz Festival outside Place des Arts.

Outremont — only slightly further from the downtown core than the Plateau and a favourite, old running haunt of mine — has always appealed to me for its proximity to Mount Royal Park, its big, leafy trees overhanging its streets, its collection of long, steep hills (Avenue Pagnuelo was where I used to do some hard-core hill-training, the gradient of which compares well with some streets in notoriously hilly San Francisco or St. John’s, Newfoundland), and the stunning, stone mansions in upper Outremont. I also love the overall vibrancy of this eclectic neighborhood with its interesting mix of cultural diversity, where secular francophones and allophones live alongside Hasidic Jewish families.

What I remember most about Outremont was how the whole community seemed to come out on warm, summer nights and weekends. Sidewalk terrasses on Bernard and Laurier Avenue were always packed to capacity with adults, kids, and their dogs enjoying a café or leisure déjeuner, soaking in the sun and ambience of the scene, content to wile away a lazy afternoon or relaxing evening. I can still see all those well-dressed diners sitting out on the terrasse in the early evening hours enjoying their oyster delicacies at La Moulerie restaurant across the street from the venerable Théatre Outremont before going to see a play or film.

My favourite glacier artisinale place in all of Montreal — Bilboquet — is also located in the heart of Outremont on Bernard Avenue. I first discovered this whimsical place when I was learning to run and it was love at first sight — and conveniently located from the Running Room! 🙂 We would always go for an ice cream or sorbet reward after our Wednesday night group runs, thinking we’d earned it after ‘pounding out’ a 2 to 5k run!? (Yes, we were definitely running-newbies back in those days!) Of course, I kept with my running and those miles (and my fitness) increased exponenentially, easily providing a justification (if one was ever needed) for a Bilboquet ice cream after inducing a significant caloric deficit from the regular, early Sunday morning long run on the Mountain.

If you ever get a chance to taste Bilboquet’s ice cream or sorbet, I highly recommend the dark & delicious Choco Chic + Tire d’Érable (one scoop of each in a cup; and yes, I realize I am asking you to combine dark chocolate with maple, but trust me – it works!) for ice cream or if you’re looking for something a little lighter and fruity, the Poire sorbet. (If you’re in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, these are very rich and delicious, too. Almost cake-like, in fact.)

For an extra special Bilboquet experience, try and visit during a hot summer night. This is how you will really experience life in Outremont. Everyone — and I mean ‘everyone’ — seems to come out and queue for ice cream to cool off, often late into the evening. The line can sometimes extend out the door and stretch down the street, but it moves pretty efficiently; the ice cream scoopers are pros. 🙂 In this long queue, it’s likely you’ll see tons of parents with their very young children, many of whom are adorably dressed in their pyjamas; teenagers or 20-somethings out on dates; senior citizens; groups of friends; and of course, cute dogs on leashes. It’s a fascinating scene, and a classic Montreal memory for me.

If you like to cook at home, Les Cinq Saisons is a great little grocery store, also on Bernard. It is a very French épicerie and has the most wonderful produce and the best selection of imported chocolate (to support my addiction! :-)). As their name would imply, they always had the exterior of their storefront nicely decorated for the seasons; I especially enjoyed seeing their Hallowe’en displays with all the fresh pumpkins. Just down the street from Les Cinq Saisons is a Première Moisson boulangerie, where I would often go on weekends to buy a baguette, miche, or pâtisserie such as a piquant truffé (a very rich, mini dark chocolate mousse cake that looks a bit like a dragon fruit), or simply get lunch.

Aside from the wonderful running routes, beautiful scenery, and great food, there are many other reasons to visit Outremont. However, I will leave this for you to discover the next time you visit Montreal and want to check out this hidden gem of a neighborhood! À la prochaine! 🙂

‘Bad Idea Jeans’ commercial or just another night out running…

RULE # 1: DO NOT EAT A BIG MEAL BEFORE RUNNING… OR SWIMMING… OR CYCLING… OR JUST ABOUT ANY SPORT.

You know the quote. It goes something like this: “the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result” – Albert Einstein. So, why do I still insist on ‘breaking’ the cardinal rule of running and loading up with a lavish meal before heading out the door?! It’s the same drill every time. I get home from work. I’m famished. I head to the fridge and nosh down on some dark chocolate-covered almonds, grab a peanut butter sandwich, maybe a slice of cheese and a glass of milk, then out I go, thinking I’m going to Usain Bolt myself down the canal path. Yeah, all that acutely consumed protein and fat is definitely the rocket fuel of world record setters. (Not!). If my gi tract could talk, I’m sure it would be cursing me for my repeatedly ill-timed and ill-composed food. Especially after only allowing my stomach a half-hour to digest it all. And yet, I repeat this pre-run nutritional pattern over and over again, thinking I’ll be fine this time… Insanity!

RULE # 2: DRESS ON THE COOL SIDE FOR YOUR RUN. (DON’T WORRY: YOU WILL WARM UP.)

Alas, Rule # 1 was not the only running rule I broke tonight. Because of being chilled by the ‘arctic cold’ air-conditioning blowing at me all day long at my workplace, I made a rookie error in judgment (oh the shame!) and overdressed for my run. Being overheated on a run due to excessive clothing is the worst. It’s no fun being cold either, but being hot on a warm, muggy night is just so unpleasant. (Especially when you add in the black flies that collide with your face, arms, legs and become fixed in place by your sweat.) Admittedly, tonight’s weather was a bit of a crapshoot for planning. When I biked home from work, the northeastern part of the city was filled with foreboding, dark, storm clouds with light winds out of the SSW while the south end was overcast, but bright and non-threatening. I originally was going to head out in shorts, a t-shirt, and (somewhat reluctantly) a ballcap, but then the heavens opened up and there was a torrential downpour starting just as I was about to go out the door. So, the last-minute plan B decision was to don a light jacket — my shelter against the elements. (Like a cat, I hate getting wet on a run unless it’s super-hot and humid and then the rain is soooo refreshing.) Bad idea. I have yet to find a running jacket for rainy runs that actually keeps me dry AND breathes. (Same conundrum with bicycle helmets.) So, I headed out, my black Nike cap’s long rim shielding my face from the rain, but the jacket acting like the predictable sauna I knew it would be, compelling me to unzip it most of the way and roll up the sleeves to my elbows to try and dissipate the extra heat. (I shudder to think how I must’ve looked like an older version of my 1985 tomboy self or an old school hip-hop dancer.) Of course, by now, I’m also having to contend with increasing indigestion… (So much for a fast time tonight.)

RULE #3: AVOID RUNNING DURING THUNDERSTORMS

OK, normally this is a rule I follow to the letter. (Like a Golden Retriever, I hate thunderstorms and would probably dive under my bed to hide when they rolled in, if I could actually fit under there.) I know what the stats say about it being highly improbable being struck by lightning, but why do we seem to hear more and more reports of this happening to people? Plus, Ottawa’s summer thunderstorm season seems to be getting a lot more violent over the past few years. (Hello, Bluesfest stage collapse last summer?) Anyway, this rule was broken tonight as my path was illuminated by a sudden, familiar flash of light and the distant rumbling of thunder. I contemplated turning around, but I was already more than 1/3 into my distance, and I wasn’t willing to scrub this run since my schedule was not free tomorrow night. I comforted myself with the fact that there were still a number of people out walking, running, and biking. So, it can’t be that perilous, right?.. I was running among trees however. What was that they say about thunderstorms? Seek low-lying areas? Stay away from trees?.. (Probably diving into the canal wouldn’t be a wise choice either — possibility of electrocution, picking up a skin infection from the pollution…) I began to take mental notes of where I could seek shelter quickly if the storm intensified. Being a regular runner for the past 7-8 years does confer a certain empirically-acquired expertise in weather-watching (translation: being a runner turns you into an amateur climatology geek), however, so I hypothesized from the drop in temperature, the appearance of the sky and the relatively wide intervals between the lightning flashes and responsory thunderclaps that this was a series of mild, fast-moving storm cells. In short, I wasn’t overly worried about funnel clouds and tornadoes. So, I continued on. Stomach still queasy, but on the mend.

During the last 1/3 of my run, it really started to pour. I’m sure I could’ve been mistaken for someone in a wetsuit by this point; my soaking clothes were just plastered to me. My stomach felt better though, so I was heartened. I was pretty much the only (crazy) one left on the canal path at this point, but had to dodge a new hazard: speeding cars sending tidal waves of water onto the path. Forget the running jacket — I now needed hip waders and a sou’wester!?..

When I finally sloshed my way up the walk to my house, I felt vindicated. I had done it. I had not quit. I had won the battle. It wasn’t the fastest run for me, but it was the second wettest. One of those ‘character-building’ runs. (The wettest run I ever had was in Montreal running a 21-k training run through Mount Royal Park and Outremont on an oppressively hot, humid summer day. When the rain finally came, it was a total monsoon — but a refreshing one! I remember wringing water out of my clothes like a sponge when I got home. It was reminiscent of that old Sprite commercial Zulu song, ‘Rain, rain, rain, rain… Beautiful rain…’)

Stoked and totally soaked from my run, I decided to head to the pool for an hour-long work-out. I had done the hard part — completed the run — so the pool work-out was gravy. Happily, the pool ended up being a great work-out and I felt so relaxed and energized afterward… 🙂

Montréal, je t’adore: Jean Talon Market

Bonjour! It’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning, so what does this usually signal? Why grocery shopping or going to the farmers market, of course! 🙂

When I was living in Montreal, one of the most bustling spots to be on weekend mornings was at le marché. There are several good ones in the city, but the one I used to frequent the most was the famous Jean Talon Market. Even though it was crazy on Saturday mornings, it was a real spectacle, like going to the fair or attending the circus. You’d hear the vendors calling out to you in French ‘to step right up’ and try their deliciously fresh produce. (Needless to say, no one needed much coaxing!)

One such produce kiosk I remember very well was the Tomato Man’s. Everyone knew he had the best tomatoes, and he was always first on the list of stops whenever I would accompany my aunt on those busy Saturday mornings. You couldn’t just buy the tomatoes either. Oh non, that would be très impoli indeed! You had to stop and sample the perfectly cut up slices he would display so beautifully on a plate, and of course, compliment him on how good they tasted (which they always did).

Although I am not a vegetarian per se, I do tend to eat very little meat. I like it (though mostly avoid red meat), but I find I can’t eat it as often as I once did; it’s just too filling. I do enjoy fish, however, (halibut is probably my favourite, but it’s expensive so remains a treat) at least weekly and used to buy my fish at a great Lebanese fish market in Montreal (Sirène de la mer); thankfully, I have found another great fishmonger in Ottawa (The Pelican).

But getting back to the vegetable scene at the Jean Talon Market, my favourite items to pick up were haricots (green or yellow), peppers (all variety of colors), corn on the cob (the peaches & cream variety), baby carrots, green asparagus, beets (golden beets are especially delicious!), and fresh (unshelled) peas. A word about peas: you can’t beat the taste of fresh peas. As a bonus, if you like popping bubble wrap, you will love popping peas out of their pods. It’s so much fun! I can still remember those summers spent at our seaside family cottage as a little girl and how much fun I used to have helping my mom and nanna shell all those peas for a big, extended family supper that evening. To this day, I gladly volunteer to shuck/shell peas. 🙂

When it came to fruit at the Jean Talon Market, my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. (You’d think I was feeding a family of twelve — not an uncommon size, however, for a francophone family ‘back in the day’ in Quebec.) I particularly loved picking up melons (cantaloupe or watermelon), fresh quarts of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, Bing cherries, peaches, wild blueberries (if you’ve never tried the wild variety, you are in for a treat: they may be small, but they are mighty in flavor; unmatched by other varieties, in my opinion), pineapple, Ataulfo (yellow) mangos, and seedless grapes (red or green).

When I was living in Montreal, my uncle got me into fresh pineapple (and showed me how to spot the juiciest, sweetest ones). He also introduced me to those sweet yellow mangos (once you go yellow, you’ll never go back). My brother-in-law agrees. He spent part of his childhood in Jamaica, where mangoes are plentiful. He fondly remembers picking mangoes right off the trees as a treat upon his return home from school.

After spending all my money at this carnival-esque visual feast — along with sampling a few amuse-bouches here and there — I would inevitably return home, arms loaded with bags full of bounty, having been completely seduced by the freshness and colors of all the fruits and vegetables — not to mention, herbs (Mmmm… Smell that fresh basil!..), dark chocolate, gelato, crème glacée artisanale (Havre aux Glaces is a must-stop), and those wonderful miches campagnards from my favourite Montreal boulangerie (Première Moisson). It’s a good thing I was (and still am) a runner! Now if you’ll excuse me, all this food talk has made me hungry. Bon appétit! 🙂

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