High-flying Loonie a dangerous bird

It’s time to book your Daytona Beach vacation packages. The Canadian Loonie reached parity with the U.S. dollar two weeks ago for the first time since 1976, so now is your chance to travel on the cheap. And while you’re there, you might want to invest in some real estate. Hell, buy up the whole country for all I care.

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps I should explain.

I hail from south of the border and pay my international tuition with the good ol’ American greenback. When I started studying at U of T three years ago, my quality education was a bargain. Now, it’s safe to assume that my two younger brothers will not be following me to the proverbial greener pastures of the North to pursue their own higher education.

And guess what, my Canadian friends—the new dollar sucks for you guys, too.

Canadian industries like lumber, which rely on the exportation of goods to U.S. customers, are losing money to the weak Yankee coin. I’m guessing that people who live in already-struggling northern lumber towns, which are built around their local mills, are not too excited about this whole parity thing. It’s no secret that when mills shut down, ghost towns multiply.

An estimated 250,000 manufacturing jobs in Ontario and Quebec have been cut over the past five years, a loss the Canadian Labour Congress attributes to the decline of the U.S. dollar. This may or may not seem like a terrible thing now, but losing base manufacturing sectors will be catastrophic in the long run.

Even though Canucks seem to love hating on their southern neighbours, the fact remains that my flag-toting brethren were once loyal tourists whose dollars were happily spent bolstering the Canadian economy on jaunts through Toronto, Montreal and beyond. Canadian tourism is already a flagging industry; the loss of potential bargainseeking American tourists is going to hurt.

Then there are the seafood processors of P.E.I. who are unable to raise their prices within the competitive fish industry in order to compensate for falling exchange rates. Not to mention the small Canadian businesses that will collapse from the competition of U.S. border-town bargains. And, of course, there are the television and movie producers who will start bringing their big bucks somewhere other than the once-cheap “Hollywood North.”

Finally, there are those potential U of T students, like my little brothers, who won’t have the option of choosing this fabled institution over the state schools they can actually afford. I wonder how the university will compensate for all those lost international tuition fees? Surely not by raising your tuition.

On the bright side, there’s never been a better time to hit up those outlet malls in western New York. Nautica, anyone?

Persian delight

Welcome back everyone! We are pleased to return to The Varsity as your campus cuisine critics. Our goal is to explore restaurants convenient to the U of T campus, from the unknown to the oft-frequented, and find the best taste and best value without sacrificing quality. We have decided to start off the school year right, with healthy eating in mind, in reviewing a cozy Persian-inspired eatery located one block south of Bloor and east of Yonge Street.

Providing respite from the traffic and culinary congestion of Yonge Street, Camros is a unique cafeteria-style vegan spot featuring homemade organic dishes free of sugar, soy, wheat, and gluten. No hidden harmful ingredients here! What’s more, the Persian influence provides fabulous herb and spice medleys that preserve delicious flavours.

Equally impressive are the modest prices that won’t force you to defaut on your student loans. Offering combos of 2 to 4 items, with the most expensive dish at only $8.99, Camros has restored our faith in eating healthy on a student budget.

The changing menu features select dishes for each day of the week. We were fortunate to show up on “Mixed Vegetable Stew” day, sampling a wonderfully rich taste of apple and cinnamon that, simply put, tastes like fall. Each day also presents a different-coloured rice ball–ours, filled with lentils, was red. We disagreed over the flavour of the basmati —is it subtle or bland?— but concurred that the texture was absolutely satisfying, as only a dense combination of grain can be!

The kale salad also engendered mixed opinion. Kale is a bitter green that is certainly an acquired taste. Again, however, it was well-done, with the homemade dressing adding a lovely compliment if you are a tahinilover (who isn’t!). Quinoa, a nutritious grain that is gradually becoming more popular, is used here in an enticing and refreshing salad and provided a nice contrast to the stew.

For dessert: melt-in-your-mouth homemade cookies. The only difference between these and your mom’s is that they don’t rise. We recommend you stick with the ginger-spice and lemon-poppy—avoid the unsatisfying chocolate, which lacks the richness that most of us love.

The verdict: you get a taste of food that’s healthy—and exotic. The rotating menu and high turnover ensures consistent freshness. Our only complaints were the slightly cramped space and uncomfortably low window seats—minor details , as the atmosphere, friendly service, and good wholesome food more than made up for it. If you’re interested in trying Persian cuisine, this is a wonderful place to start, and you can rest assured that your body is getting exactly what it needs. Camros is definitely an option that deserves more attention from the U of T population.

Pere Ubu goes avant-garage

The vast majority of you 17 to 24- year-old university students have likely never heard of Pere Ubu, the avant-garde/proto-punk rock band who shook Lee’s Palace Tuesday night. But it’s not your fault.

Somehow, this highly influential band has managed to stay under the radar of the masses since its inception way back in 1975—save for some nostalgic name-dropping by its devoted fan base of mostly male “50-year-old ex-punks,” to quote lead singer David Thomas.

True to form, there were more than a few men in the crowd who looked like they had shown up straight from their Bay Street jobs, excited to have a night away from the kids. These particular showgoers, sweating out the sharply-pressed creases of their slacks, were fun to watch as the night progressed.

The band gave a performance that nobody of our musical generation could dream of matching. Thomas, the only remaining member of the band’s original lineup, has settled gracefully—or, maybe more appropriately, obnoxiously—into the grumpy on-stage persona he’s been honing for the past 32 years. Bald, tall, and incredibly large, he’s what an older Orson Welles would look like if he’d spent a lifetime reading Bukowski and being sarcastic.

Either the flask he was constantly swilling from was empty, or it just takes a whole lot to get a 400-pound man wasted, because Thomas delivered his dose of surly theatricality with a sharpness that would put any fine stage actor in their place. His once-tinny vocals have thickened over the years and his manner has grown gruffer, but the man has got an onstage presence to be envied.

Presentation aside, the musicianship was clean and each song immaculately delivered. The rhythm section, composed of bassist Michele Temple and drummer Steve Mehlman, maintained unwavering structure against guitarist Keith Moliné’s howls and synthesist Robert Wheeler’s theremin-noise parade. Pere Ubu isn’t a bunch of girlie-pants-wearing hipsters playing New Order knockoffs; they are the real thing.

Additional kudos go to fantastic openers, Arrows, a Guelph-based husband-and-wife duo whose delightful set echoed the golden age of indie rock.

Campus polling stations aim to make amends

By any account, the 2006 federal election was a fiasco for St. George residence students. Polling stations were planned, then cancelled, then reinstated at the last minute. Elections Canada never clarified what on-campus students, who may not have a bank statement, utility bill or lease to prove their address, could use to vote. Students were turned away from advance polls because they did not have documents that no one had told them they would need.

Not this time around, according to Dave Scrivener, VP External at UTSU.

“After the last federal election, Elections Ontario had no desire to go down the same path as Elections Canada, and they were relatively easy to work with,” he said. Instead, Elections Ontario has been cooperating with UTSU and its parent, the Canadian Federation of Students.

“UTSU worked as a conduit between the administrations of the various colleges and Elections Ontario. We worked to expand the list of acceptable voting identification to make it easier to for students to register,” said Scrivener. “We were able to expand the list to include letters from the dean as proof of residence and the T-Card as acceptable photo ID”

Some colleges have already distributed letters that students can use to get on the voting list on or ahead of election day. If you live in residence and have not received a letter, drop by your residence or dean of student’s office get one.

UTSU also recommended polling locations on campus and helped to secure an additional poll on the east side of campus.

“Overall we tried to make the voting process as simple as possible, especially for residence students who find themselves in residential limbo,” said Scrivener. Fingers crossed.

Fair Fort York

Site-specific theatre is a unique opportunity, particularly when it features as distinctive a locale as Toronto’s historical garrison, Old Fort York. Crate Productions, whose two previous site-specific plays include Stephen Belber’s Tape—a snappy psychodrama that maximized the claustrophobic, semi-rundown Gladstone Hotel to great effect—and Adam Rapp’s disturbing Blackbird, staged in an abandoned Yonge St. apartment.

Their latest offering, The Fort at York plays with the same premise of location integration, but while it seems fascinating in concept, the production itself flounders on occasion due to a lack of objective and economy. Written by Dora awardwinning playwright Tara Beagan, Fort is a grandly ambitious project that fails to fully resonate because of its sprawling subject matter. Clocking in at nearly three hours, the production is far too long and meandering in its pace.

At the outset, the audience was divided into four groups and escorted around the fort by uniformed conductors. Obviously, a show of this magnitude requires extreme planning and timeliness (which the company carried off commendably), but there was a definite sensation of “school field trip,” which may or may not have been the intention. As we moved from site to site, guide and co-director Chris Reynolds offered historical details surrounding the 1813 attack by American soldiers on Fort York, even illuminating us on the nature of the smell (friendly neighbourhood abattoir) that occurred partway through one of the earlier scenes beside a campfire. It was certainly fun travelling like this, but it caused the pacing to so pointedly drop that it diminished the actual drama of the story—where The Fort at York needed the most clarification.

Comprised of a series of diversely located vignettes, scenes, and monologues, the story revolves around a risky plan to remove an officer’s wife from the garrison prior to the morning battle. Seen from the eyes of several different men (and one woman), we’re able to exist as ghosts within this past world—ghosts that Beagan incorporates in a slightly convoluted way. In several instances, a troubled soldier speaks directly to the audience as a means of connecting the past to the future. Few of the scenes really crackled with urgency, and I couldn’t help but wonder why so many of the characters seemed to be suffering from delusional breakdowns. Nevertheless, Beagan’s text was lyrical and the characters appealing, but it needed editing to really give the characters and storyline more vitality. Highlights included some fine performances from Cole J. Alvis as an earnest young private, Scott Clarkson as a passionate soldier whose love for an officer’s wife inspires him to bravery, and Jeff Legacy as the sole Native resident William Sawyer, whose resolve and daring help carry out the rescue plan. Co-directors Chris Reynolds and Tara Beagan must also be mentioned for their inventive staging and composition within the challenging conditions—the scenes never failed to look fabulous.

The best thing about The Fort at York was the solidarity of the company, and the obvious work, attention, and innovation that went into producing it. The sheer spectacle was also appreciable, with most of the scenes lit either by firelight, flickering lanterns, or the distant ambience of the Toronto skyline. What it lacked in tightness, it made up for in tenderness, and allowed much room for reflection—even if the temptation was to indulge in contemplation during the slower moments of the show itself.

Vic cuts off sticky fingers

Over the past month, students at Victoria College on the northeast part of campus have been subject to numerous break-ins and thefts. The thefts have occurred at Rowell Jackman Hall, a Vic residence with suites that consist of a common living room and kitchen area, and one or two-person bedrooms.

The thief, who is still loose, seemed to operate in the same way each time, gaining access to the common area of the suites by knocking on the door and claiming to be a friend of one of the suite members. He knew who lived in each suite because students’ names are taped onto each door at the beginning of the year and many students do not remove the tags. Once admitted by the unsuspecting suitemate, the thief waited around until left alone and broke into the individual rooms by using a credit card to pop open the lock.

After two students had their laptops stolen, the matter was brought before the dean’s office, who has announced upgrades to the safety of the building. Members of the physical plant services will be checking the suite doors to make sure that the extra safety latch is in working condition. In addition, stricker plates of each door, which attach to the door frame, will be replaced. In the meantime, students are advised to not leave anyone who is not personally known to them alone in their suite.

Mountain Goat gruff

Emoting on stage has always been risky business. Sad sacks with acoustic guitars have been strumming their misery for so long that watching a full-grown man who isn’t ashamed to cry doesn’t even cause us to bat an eye.

But no lonely-eyed troubadour could hold a candle to John Darnielle at Lee’s Palace Tuesday night. Frontman for low-fi indie-rock pioneers The Mountain Goats, Darnielle has always been prone to putting on an emotionally ravaged show. With only a guitar and bass to anchor his desperate voice, Darnielle eschews average sad-love-song material for tracks about meth addicts, Danish human fossils, and the multitude of reasons why game shows touch our lives.

The Mountain Goats walk the lines of classification; while their past two albums were generalized as a break up album and record on child abuse, the hidden depths of Darnielle’s characterization are far more complex. The set began with the manic strumming of a vengeful 15-year-old on “Up The Wolves,” soon transferred to a runaway anthem about a couple strung out on desire on a motorcycle headed west, and concluded with a song about a man who has, in Darnielle’s words, “fallen off the edge of the earth.”

As a performer, Darnielle uses every onstage moment as if testifying at his own judgment day. No current artist understands the power of the emotional meltdown quite like Darnielle, whose years as a psychiatric nurse gave him ample material. Eyes shut tight, he stuttered and jumped and yelped his way through the set, reinforcing the importance of the range of emotions one person can experience in a three-minute rock song. We also got a glimpse of Darnielle’s personal penchant for metal with some pretty rad solos (who says you can’t bring the heat on an acoustic?).

If Darnielle was the showstopper, bassist (and only other concrete member) Peter Hughes played the infallible straight man. The duo’s almost vaudevillian joint presence lightened up some of the weighty moments, refusing to hold back, even halting a song in the middle when Darnielle forgot the lyrics.

Perhaps that honesty is what makes The Mountain Goats such an irresistible live act. Unlike the majority of indie rock outfits, they wave no flag of superiority over their audiences. When requests were shouted out, Darnielle responded with reasons why he would or wouldn’t play each song, and he threw older fans a bone with several more rarities. For a band that defines their songs as so intense they could “split the atom if [their] power was harnessed,” the tension was palpable. Darnielle pulled no punches in his banter; when numerous requests for the infamous track “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton” were denied, he courted the crowd in a discussion of why he preferred playing newer material. By including the audience in its struggle, the band made sure they didn’t go down alone.

After inviting everyone to sing along to “No Children,” an ode to a couple who have fallen so out of love that they are steeped in hate, Darnielle and Hughes walked off the stage sweaty and stumbling. Yet the demons had been sent back to hell, the air was clear, and the whole crowd tumbled onto Bloor St. bleary-eyed but victorious.

David Suzuki is the word on the street

At the end of a long sunny day filled with families, world-famous authors and millions of words, it was really an excited fisherman from British Columbia who stole the show.

On Sunday, acclaimed environmentalist David Suzuki made an appearance at the city’s annual Word on the Street festival to promote his newly published autobiography.

The well-attended talk at the Scotiabank Bestsellers Stage saw Suzuki give a short visual presentation on some of the highlights of his life, showing the audience private pictures of his family, experiences of his childhood, the early days of his academic career and his later life working on the popular CBC show The Nature of Things.

But throughout the talk, Suzuki always returned to the urgent issue of the environment and its impact on the future. This personal message emphasized as crucial to everyone came full circle with a final film clip of Suzuki’s daughter Severn speaking at the Rio Earth Summit at the age of 12. Her speech highlighted how the adults of the world were ignoring the effects of their actions on their own children and how everyone’s future would be threatened as a result.

More than just a publicity plug for his new book, Suzuki used this appearance to show the kinds of experiences and people that shaped his desire to affect change, while also paying tribute to those who have inspired him along the way. He urged much of his audience to continue fighting for environmental causes, emphasizing that it is an issue that affects all Canadians on an everyday basis.

But for one more example of how Suzuki has already inspired a generation of activists, you need to look no further than his daughter Severn as a great example. One politician in particular approached her after the speech at the Rio Earth Summit and highly complimented the younger Suzuki for her message. It was none other than American senator Al Gore.