What’s the story, former glory?

Isn’t it a little early for an onrush of ’90s nostalgia? Six months ago it was an ill-fated Spice Girls reunion, currently it’s a revamped version of 90210, and it appears that Virgin Festival has hopped aboard the flannel express.

After 2007’s progressive and exciting lineup that included Bjork, Arctic Monkeys, and M.I.A., organizers seem to have looked back in time when planning this year’s festival, summoning old heroes like Oasis and the Foo Fighters to headline alongside more youthful bands like Bloc Party and MGMT.

The principal theme of the festival appears to be the new British invasion, with the Modfather Paul Weller leading the charge of NME-approved acts like the Kooks, The Fratellis, and The Pigeon Detectives.

Altogether, the festival lineup seems to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings in the present, but would have been an absolute blockbuster ten years ago.

DAY 1

As a large-scale music festival reliant on ferry service to transport over 30,000 people on and off the mainland in 48 hours, Toronto’s Virgin Festival could easily turn into a logistical nightmare. Thankfully, all major catastrophes (like those of 2006, when the rickety media and VIP boat began taking on water in the middle of Lake Ontario) were avoided, and Saturday was blessed with warm, sunny weather.

This year’s throwback vibe was in full swing upon my arrival, as the recently reunited DC punk veterans Shudder to Think got the festivities rolling on one of the three side stages. The band can be forgiven if their performance was a little tame—they are, after all, pushing 40. Elsewhere, local classic rockers Flash Lightnin’ looked slightly out of place on the Oh Henry stage, which is a far cry from the Dakota Tavern where they built their sizable reputation. In the midst of a barrage of their southern-fried, 70s-style tunes, singer Darren Glover made light of the shameless corporate sponsorship by demanding what he assumed would be free chocolate bars.

Over at the main stage, The Constantines came out strong with old favourite “Nighttime Anytime.” The rocking set by the Guelph five-piece injected some life into the subdued main stage crowd, as singer Bryan Webb described ferocious new single “Hard Feelings” as “a song about doing it with your wife, I’m sure some of you know what I’m talking about.”

The lengthy delay before the side stage appearance by British space rock outfit Spiritualized threw off the day’s schedule off track, but Jason Pierce finally emerged to lead his band through a triumphant rendition of classic 1992 single “Shine A Light,” ascending into a slow, echoey jam that edged past the 10-minute mark. Regrettably, there wasn’t time to enjoy much else, and my sprint across the festival grounds ended just as Brooklyn’s MGMT took to the stage.

As if on cue, the assembled crowd reached for their joints simultaneously, and the main stage vibe morphed from subdued anticipation into one giant contact high. With a set list designed as a rising action, folk-inflected gems like “The Youth” and “Pieces of What” gave way to “Time to Pretend” and “Electric Feel,” a double-shot of up-tempo highlights that succeeded in moving the feet of sluggish stoners.

Unlike last year, I actually managed to find food conveniently set up in back of the media tent. Those of us fortunate enough to have media passes were entitled to a meal ticket good for one buffet-style roast beef dinner. Surprisingly tasty for music festival fare.

Feeling refreshed and full, I was quickly driven from the main stage by the cock-rock annoyance of Florida’s Against Me!, who have got to be one of the few remaining bands punctuated by an exclamation mark, now that Panic at the Disco famously ditched theirs.

I was recently dumbfounded to learn that SPIN Magazine named Against Me!’s New Wave as the best album of 2007, ahead of such luminaries as Arcade Fire, Kanye West and Radiohead, though I’ll say that they definitely deserve earworm of the year for cringe-worthy singles “Stop” and “Thrash Unreal.”

If the prime demographic for this year’s Virgin Festival is a bizarre combination of hard-rocking stoners and Union Jack-toting Anglophiles, then The Fratellis were doing their best to hold up the Britpop end. I arrived just in time for their breakthrough single “Flathead,” or more specifically, the ‘ba-da-ba-da’ nonsense that made them iTunes commercial megastars. It may be a featherweight hook, but they’ve managed to make quite a career out of 30 transcendent seconds.

The congregation for Wintersleep was the largest I’ve seen for a side stage act in three years of V Fest, evidence that the quality of talent recruited for the side stages has narrowed the gap between stages considerably. A music lover could presumably spend their whole day avoiding the main stage and still leave fairly satisfied, and I heard that the 100 fans who stuck around for The Kooks were treated to a thrillingly intimate set.

Everyone else had taken off to see Bloc Party, for whom expectations were huge. A number of gear issues marred their sunset timeslot, and singer Kele Okereke couldn’t get a dependable sound out of his instrument despite the guitar techs scrambling around his feet. After several appearances by the drum tech, it was clear something was wrong, and Bloc Party weren’t pleased.

They met the adversity with the distinct air of indifference, phoning in a collection of tracks off their only well-received album to date, 2005’s Silent Alarm. Okereke made a quick reference to what seems destined to be his band’s next mediocre record, Intimacy, which is due for an October release, not that we were treated to any new songs. The band even opted to forgo their only memorable songs of the past two years, “I Still Remember” and the electro-charged one-off single “Flux.” When Bloc Party excused themselves after a scant 40 minutes, the crowd was left in a lull of appalled disbelief. Very disappointing.

I took refuge in the VIP area, which, thanks to a large, multi-level wooden deck to the left of the stage, finally offered decent sightlines. To my right I witnessed a few brave souls climb an adjacent tree in an effort to secure a better view for headliners The Foo Fighters, and my thoughts turned to a consideration of Dave Grohl’s legacy.

The man fronts one of the most consistently bankable acts in rock n’ roll, yet I often need reminding he was in Nirvana. Even at the ripe old age of 39, Grohl is as energetic a frontman as you’re likely to find among veterans, with a mane of long hair that was definitely grown out with head-banging solos in mind.

He castigated concert-goers who were seeing the band for the first time (“Where have you been for 14 years?”) and gave a shout out to a seven-year old kid hoisted on his parent’s shoulders.

The day’s highlights came in the form of two old favourites, each slowed down to tug properly on the heartstrings. An acoustic version of “My Hero,” with piano and string accompaniment, got the crowd singing, while Grohl’s pensive solo rendition of his masterpiece, “Everlong,” was exactly the kind of chilling moment large-scale festivals are destined to provide.

By the time Grohl cracked open a Coors Light, the party was in full swing. “Monkey Wrench,” “The Pretender,” and “Best of Me” ended VFest’s first day with a mammoth hit parade that was nothing short of triumphant.

DAY 2

The unthinkable almost happened. After lousy weather marred such anticipated events as Kanye West’s Glow in the Dark Tour, Warped Tour, and the Rogers Picnic, Virgin Festival almost fell victim to Toronto’s record-setting ‘Summer of Rain,’ escaping by a thread as storm clouds passed by on Sunday afternoon. The ground was damp, but we were spared a Glastonbury-esque mudfest and the show went on as planned.

Just as I stepped off the ferry, the dormant sun emerged just in time for Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains. I suppose ‘Les Montagnes’ simply wasn’t accessible enough for an American audience, and with a new record set to drop in October, Grainger is evidently pulling out all the stops for a second shot at fame. However, songs like “Kid Party” are a far cry from his Death From Above 1979 days, lacking the originality that made them one of Toronto’s most buzzed-about bands of the decade. The new material consists of rollicking, melodic rock n’ roll tunes of the mold that has been ubiquitous since the Rolling Stones. Not that Grainger and his mates aren’t tight—bassist Nick Sewell anchors a strong group of instrumentalists, but even seeing the former DFA drummer lying on floor shredding isn’t enough to make up for the lack of personality in his material.

The Weakerthans’ set opened slower than expected with the mournful “Bigfoot!,” but it wasn’t long before they were all smiles, busting out recent singles “Tournament of Hearts” and “Civil Twilight,” introduced respectively as “a song about curling” and “a song about bus drivers.” Old favourites like “The Reasons” off 2003’s Reconstruction Site got the crowd moving, and the band paused before exiting to take a picture of the crowd, which must be one of the biggest that the underrated indie rockers have ever played.

A lack of must-see talent on the side stages (read: the snooze-worthy Matt Costa and the positively dreadful Yoav) meant that more time could be reserved to stake out a good spot in anticipation of Oasis. Hanging back was the easier option, mainly because I wasn’t in the mood to fight through throngs of drunken jocks clad in a random assortment of soccer jerseys.

Silversun Pickups are a band who fit in with the throwback theme—they’re a young band with a strong imprint of mid-90s grunge all over them. They’ve got all the right elements – a dirty misfit of a frontman, a female bassist, and the kind of angsty, distorted guitar riffs that would probably have scored them a SPIN cover back in 1995. The subdued crowd seemed to wait and wait for “Lazy Eye,” which the band milked to the best of their ability, stretching both the intro and outro into a reverb-washed mass of self-indulgence.

I’ll pause here to mention that V Fest’s famed text message ticker was a massive disappointment this year, which I blame on its Motorola sponsor. The font was so big that only two words fit on the screen at once, testing my patience all weekend. It might be a tiny detail, but somehow it wears on you if it’s not perfect.

For a band that has not had a hit record in North America for at least seven years, the resurrected Stereophonics boasted a surprising number of dedicated British ex-pats belting out the words to “Have A Nice Day” and the media hate-on “Mr. Writer.” Why can’t Stereophonics break through? Maybe we’re just a superficial continent—after all, the bandmembers were famously judged by London’s XFM to be among the ugliest men in rock n’ roll. They closed with “Dakota,” a song that was a contender for single of the year across the pond, but failed to make much of an impact over here.

Paul Weller was next. If you have absolutely no idea who he is, don’t fret—I overheard a photographer in the media tent claim that “Paul Weller is older than my father.” The platinum-coiffed former frontman of British ‘70s rockers The Jam emerged clad in a black American Apparel henley top and promptly ripped through a series of tunes off his latest solo effort, ˆ. The undisputed highlight was The Jam’s classic “Town Called Malice,” revamping the ubiquitous Bo Diddley/Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life” guitar riff. By this point, Union Jacks, St. George’s crosses, and even a Brazilian flag were raised high, and the scene was set for the headliners.

The media tent was buzzing at 7 p.m. with the news that Oasis had barred nearly all photographers for their set. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised—their prima donna reputation precedes them. By now, Oasis’ schtick is familiar to everyone. Whether you love or hate them, they’ve successfully made the transition to legends, and Liam Gallagher’s trademark sunglasses and arrogant center stage pose (head tilted back, looking down his nose at his adoring public), is now world famous.

The recent rush of retroactive praise for Oasis’ debut album Definitely, Maybe seems to have reached the band, as their set consisted mainly of standards like “Rock N’ Roll Star” and “Cigarettes & Alcohol.”

They found time for the Liam-penned “Songbird” before disaster struck. A senseless fan rushed the stage and a scuffle ensued before he was taken down by security guards. When the band dropped their instruments and fled without a word, it appeared that V Fest had ended on a sudden and tragic note.

After a few minutes of stunned and confused silence, a stage handler approached the mic and begged the crowd for five minutes of patience, promising the show would go on. I may be of little faith, but I was convinced that it was all over, and the “infamous Toronto stage-charging debacle” would go down as the latest page in Oasis’ dramatic history.

But it was not to be. Led by songwriter and guitarist Noel Gallagher, who took over during Liam’s conspicuous absence, the band re-emerged and soldiered on. Liam appeared at the side stage unscathed, leading us through “Wonderwall” and a few select cuts. Noel took back the lead vocal for an emotional acoustic take on personal favourite “Don’t Look Back In Anger.”

I suppose we were lucky that Oasis didn’t simply mumble profanities and hop on their tour bus, yet regrettably, their post-scuffle effort seemed half-hearted. As they closed with a cover of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus,” the mood seemed to be one of relief rather than exuberance. Virgin Festival managed to avoid a riot, but the theme of reliving past glories had reared its ugly head. Without so much as a brawl when the drama went down, the tense atmosphere lacked a climax. Instead, we reached an apathetic compromise. It’s the type of maturity that only comes with age. While the years may have caught up with us, the song remains the same.

Film festival rolls on

Now that the stars have touched down in our fair city, the annual celeb stalking season can begin in earnest. But it’s not all glitz and glamour—there are some genuinely surprising films making waves, from faded action star documentaries to Bollywood musicals. There’s only a week left until the action dies down, so check out The Varsity’s second installment of TIFF reviews and get your tickets while you can!

ASHES OF TIME REDUX – (Wong Kar Wai)

Available for years only as a blurry bootleg, Wong Kar Wai has retooled his 1994 martial arts saga Ashes of Time for its premiere North American theatrical release. Yet “martial arts saga” is a misleading description of the film, whose Sammo Hung-choreographed battles are choppy and impressionistic. Ashes of Time is a meditation on loss, loneliness, and memory more in line with the dreamy sensibility of Wong’s other films than with the Crouching Tiger and Hero comparisons its marketing campaign would like to make. Structurally challenging and narratively dense, even by Wong’s standards, the film reveals many layers on repeat viewings. Wong’s extraordinary visual sense and his evocative creation of mood should win over first-timers as well. The redux version is seven minutes shorter than the original, featuring enhanced sound and a spiffy opening credits sequence. These changes are hardly essential, but it sure is nice to see Christopher Doyle’s sumptuous cinematography on the big screen in full, restored splendor.

Rating: VVVVV

THE BROTHERS BLOOM – (Rian Johnson)

Rian Johnson, writer-director of Brick, goes in a completely different direction for his anticipated sophomore follow-up: a breezy and colourful comedy that’s one of the most crowd-pleasing of this year’s hot-tickets. Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody are orphaned brothers who become the best con men in the business, but when a reluctant Brody is convinced to take on one last job, he falls in love with their target, an heiress shut-in played with warmth by Rachel Weisz. The first half of The Brothers Bloom is quirky, deadpan comedy in the vein of Wes Anderson, while the second grows increasingly emotional. Despite this serious turn, The Brothers Bloom is a lot of fun thanks to Johnson’s bright visual style and the likeability of the cast (which also includes Rinko Kikuchi, Robbie Coltrane, and Maximilian Schell).

Rating: VVVv

JCVD – (Mabrouk El Mechri)

With every film festival comes a few curveballs, and here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: Jean-Claude Van Damme gives a great performance. In JCVD, the most buzzed-about entry in Colin Geddes’ Midnight Madness line-up, he plays himself, a washed-up action star that unwittingly stumbles into a post office robbery. While JCVD holds big laughs, it transcends its ironic premise by becoming a comedy that actually works as drama. Director El Mechri doesn’t look down on Van Damme; instead, he creates a film that is sympathetic to “the Muscles from Brussels” through his personal and professional ups-and-downs. In one extraordinary scene, Van Damme delivers an improvised monologue straight into the camera about the pitfalls of fame. Who knew that the guy from Bloodsport could be so nakedly self-confessional?

Rating: VVVVv

SINGH IS KINNG – (Anees Bazmee)

Whenever I admit that I indulge in Bollywood cinema, I’m usually met with strange looks and questioning of my filmic credentials. So from now on, I’m going to direct all uninitiated cinephiles to Singh is Kinng, an utterly insane piece of Indian populist filmmaking that crams oodles of senseless fun into its twoa-and-a-half-hour running time. Singh is Kinng (arguably the best title of all time—I rate it ahead of Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla) follows the adventures of Happy Singh (Akshay Kumar), a goofy hick who implausibly becomes the king of an Australian gang. Hard-boiled action, unspeakably broad comedy, sloppy sentimentality, and lavish musical numbers co-exist in a distinctly Bollywood fashion. Singh is Kinng is both ridiculous and utterly irresistible.

Rating: VVV

Fear factor

Fear is a hard-wired human emotion that, when functioning efficiently, produces a lifesaving reaction to life’s mishaps. While fear is helpful in dealing with catastrophy, it often induces debilitating inaction, ranging from “exam blank” to psychiatric disorders such as generalized and social anxiety.

Anxiety disorders affect over two million Canadians each year, inhibiting their ability to function in the world. In the eyes of a person suffering from social anxiety, a routine trip to the grocery store can seem threatening due to an irrational fear of being ridiculed by others. Treatments, such as systematic desensitization behavioral therapy, exist for treating anxiety disorders such as this. In this form of therapy, patients work with a psychiatrist to become exposed little by little to their anxiety triggers. The hope is that eventually they will be able to manage their fear while completely exposed. However, fear-renewal can prevent patients from transferring their therapeutic improvements from the context of their therapist’s office. Fear-renewal occurs when a patient who initially learns to overcome their anxiety in one context suddenly encounters their past fear in a different context, reviving the old fear response once again.

Improving the understanding of fear-renewal is critical to strengthening therapies aimed at anxiety disorders. Fortunately, an article recently published in the journal Nature provides a new biological perspective.

Lead researcher Dr. Cyril Herry and his team from the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research in Switzerland set out to determine which, if any, neuronal circuits in the brain instigate fear-renewal. To investigate this question, the team employed an army of mice, each one fitted with electrodes in their basal amygdala. This almond-shaped portion of the brain was chosen because previous research suggested it was important in the mediation of both fear and fear-renewal.

The team conditioned fear into the mice via both loud noises and mild shocks, and then desensitized them to such treatments. The researchers were able to produce fear-renewal responses by placing the mice in new contexts and reintroducing the old fear-inducing noises and shocks. With help from the implanted electrodes and subsequent behavioral and brain analyses, the researchers pinpointed two groups of nuclei in the amygdala responsible for modulating fear-renewal responses. When these nuclei fire, their neuronal circuits connected to other parts of the brain instigate renewal of fear.

“Our data show that the [basal amygdala] contains distinct populations of neurons for which activity is oppositely correlated with high and low fear behaviour,” the researchers wrote. “Our findings are consistent with the idea that in mammals, as in invertebrates, switches between appropriate behavioural states can be driven by discrete neuronal circuits. It may be a general principle of the functional micro-architecture of the nervous system in diverse species, that circuits mediating switches between distinct behavioural states are located in close anatomical proximity thereby allowing for local interactions.”

With the mapping of the neuronal circuits responsible for fear-renewal complete, the researchers can determine how to best modulate them in order to prevent context-dependent fears from reoccurring. In the future, a drug may be able to tip the balance of activity between the neuronal circuits in order to help prevent fear-renewal and treat anxiety disorders.

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG, is used as a taste enhancer. It was isolated in 1907, used primarily by Japanese corporations. Pure MSG has an appearance of white crystalline powder and dissociates into positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged glutamate ions in water. MSG is the sodium salt of glutamate and has a similar flavouring function as glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid. MSG is low in sodium and contains a third of the sodium found in regular table salt. In fact, incorporating MSG into cooking can reduce the amount of table salt added by 20 to 40 per cent.

MSG is said to have a “fifth taste,” independent of bitter, sweet, salty, and sour. It is called “umami” in Japan and is described by North Americans as savoury. It is sold under several names, such as Ajinomoto, Vetsin, and Accent. Commercial MSG is generated by the fermentation of sugar cane, starch, sugar beets, or molasses, much like the processes used to produce beer or vinegar. MSG is found in canned products, frozen dinners, fast food, instant noodles, and many condiments.

The body treats MSG similarily to natural glutamate. The average American consumes about 11 grams of glutamate per day from natural protein sources and less than one gram of glutamate per day from MSG. In contrast, the body creates about 50 grams of glutamate daily as a vital component of its metabolism.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology has stated that MSG is not an allergen. In addition, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have classified MSG as “generally recognized as safe.” A review of glutamate safety sponsored by the FDA in 1995 reaffirmed the safety of MSG when consumed at levels used in cooking and food manufacturing. There is no evidence to suggest that MSG contributes to long-term health problems. Nevertheless, the FDA did acknowledge that some people may have short-term reactions to MSG, known as MSG symptom complex. Symptoms may include headache, flushing, sweating, and heart palpitations.

Scientia

The word “science” originates from the Latin word scientia, meaning “knowledge.” And yet, there is much more to understand than just the practice. So what is it that makes science more than just facts and data?

In order to answer this question, we must define science itself. By dissecting the key elements of its process through examination of historical evidence, as well as current news and research, we can gain a better understanding of the present and potential pathways science has to made available.

Many underestimate the importance of the scientific process. We have built a society based on science and technology to the point where our survival depends on how well we can apply science to solve our problems. We have disturbed our planet and the environment, and are making destructive impacts like no other species. Despite this, we still have the option to understand and appreciate science. In this critical moment, we must choose knowledge first.

Fortunately, our species is a curious one. We have always wanted to know more about the world we live in, and how everything around us works. It was our ancestors who determined that the Earth orbits around the sun, not the other way around. They accomplished this counter-intuitive conclusion based solely on evidence from experiments and data recorded over many years. This discovery proves that keeping an open mind when faced with new ideas is one of the most valuable exercises one can achieve.

Science is arguably the most powerful tool in the hands of humanity, ultimately guiding us toward a more complete comprehension of the human race, our universe, and our place within it. This column, inspired by the work of astronomer Carl Sagan, is an endeavor to reveal the extraordinary power of the self-correcting process of science that remains hidden to many of us, science and non-science students alike.

U of T athlete walks for Africa

During the month of July, Mila Miguel, a three-time first-team OUA volleyball all-star for the Varsity Blues, walked from St. Jean Pied de Port, a small town of less than 1,500 people in the south of France, across the entire northern coast of Spain, ending her journey in Cape Finisterre. The distance covered 870 kilometres and took Miguel 34 days to complete.

For the first 780 km, her trip followed a historic pilgrim route, the El Camino de Santiago (the way of St. James). She then continued for another 90 km to the aforementioned Cape Finisterre, which in ancient times was considered to be the end of the flat world.

Miguel’s pilgrimage aimed to raise money and awareness for Athletes For Africa, a campaign committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. The organization works to provide education and opportunities to empower youth in Africa. Two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and WNBA all-star Tammy Sutton-Brown are among those already on board besides Miguel.

Only a few days after returning from her trip, which included stops in London, England and her home town of Victoria, B.C., I had a chance to speak with her about her experience.

THE VARSITY: You left for London, England only a few days after finishing up your first year nursing exams. Why did you start in your trip there?

MILA MIGUEL: London was a place between the old, comfortable surroundings of home and the new, exciting adventures of my upcoming pilgrimage. It was a great buffer zone. I had a good friend and old teammate at my side and we saw everything there is to see in London.

TV: Why did you want to be an Athlete for Africa?

MM: Volleyball was a huge part of everything in university for me. But after five years I had a volleyball void to fill. The values instilled in me from sports are the same ones Athletes For Africa look for, which makes it a wonderful fit.

TV: How bad were the blisters on your trip?

MM: Everyone had blisters. The climb up the first day was 1200 meters, followed by an 800 m drop the second day. Your feet swell up in your shoes and by the end of the first week I had blisters on four toes and my heels burned with the heat. The people were so helpful. Everyone kind of had their own home remedies to help cure the blisters. One of them was to have a thread running in and out of the blister so that it would absorb everything and you wouldn’t have to remove the skin.

TV: What about snoring? Some of hostels you stayed in must have had quite a few snorers.

MM: The hostels had anywhere from five or six beds to a couple hundred. I didn’t have earplugs at first, but quickly got them. The snoring was like a symphony: there would be like three people snoring, four people laughing. One German man named Paul told me about his desperate attempt to make earplugs in the dark with toilet paper and Vaseline. [The snoring] ended up being really funny.

TV: You mentioned how hard the walk was on your feet several times in your blog (http://asmallwalkforabigcause.blogspot.com/). Did you ever consider biking the route at all?

MM: Well, the bikers could do the route in eight to 12 days. But I realized how happy I was to do the Camino by foot instead of bike. These two Americans [who biked] had been on the road for eight days, traveled the same distance, and had not met nearly the same number of people nor did they have as many stories to share.

TV: What were your favourite moments?

MM: The people made it worthwhile; the camaraderie and support from strangers. There were so many stories of people wanting to give up, but it wasn’t like you were seen as a big failure. We would support people as far as they could make it and if they felt they couldn’t go any further there would be no pressure on them to continue on.

Everyone had their own reasons for the pilgrimage: [to give] thanks for life, or they once were ill, badly injured, or for soul-searching, religious reasons, etc. We always were of the attitude of whatever you decide to do on the journey, don’t stress over it. You’ve come as far as you can. You should be proud of the journey you’ve completed.

[One woman who contemplated quitting] went with me and some other friends I had made for a bit, but we lost her and thought she was done. One day I was making CDs so I could exchange photos with someone else and she walked through the doors! I wanted her to make it so badly. That showed me how useful friendship is to people. Sometimes you need a reminder of how important friendship is.

TV: So how do plan on filling the volleyball void now?

MM: After I complete my Nursing degree I’d love to go to Africa and help out. I also want to complete my Master’s in International Global Health.

That’s the ticket

Say what you will about “tradition” and “academic excellence”—one of the greatest reasons to attend the University of Toronto is the location. Toronto is the only city in Canada (and one of only fourteen in North America) to feature a team from all of the big four sports: baseball, hockey, basketball, and football. Perhaps that last statement was exaggerated; Toronto technically has three teams from the four major professional sports: the Blue Jays, Raptors, and Bills, plus the Maple Leafs. The St. George campus is located close to all of the major stadiums. University of Toronto sports fans, especially those that hail from a city outside of Toronto, have the opportunity to see a game live and up close. The problem is that major league teams do not offer discounts to students on a minor league budget. But just because tickets are not priced appropriately does not mean that students should give up trying to see a game this year. Here are some tips for students trying to obtain cheap tickets. U of T students should be able to take themselves out to a ballgame without being taken for all of their money.

Toronto Blue Jays

It looks like the Blue Jays are going to miss the playoffs for the fifteenth consecutive season. Yet this does not mean that tickets are discounted at the end of the season. In fact, September visits by the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are classified as super premium games, (as opposed to regular premium games), and each ticket costs more than a game against any other opponent. This is understandable, as Red Sox and Yankees fans usually make the trek to the Rogers Centre and fill the seats. But if you’re looking for value in September, you should try the series against the Orioles on September 16th to 18th. These tickets are classified as regular games and are significantly cheaper and easier to obtain than their premium counterparts. Also, students should not underestimate the appeal of seeing two teams that are out of the playoffs. In these cases, the Jays offer more specials, and batting practice is sparsely attended. Plus, the possibility of scoring a ball or an autograph is greater, and there is plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the game. Games against lower ranked teams are always great opportunities to bring a large group of friends and be able to sit together.

If you still want to see the Red Sox and Yankees on the cheap, there are a number of possible strategies. Even during sold-out games, you can get tickets simply by showing up to the stadium. Ticket holders who cannot attend the game will stand outside the Rogers Centre offering their unused tickets to fans in need. Another strategy is to search craigslist. Corporate sponsors, who get free or cheap tickets, use the site to sell their seats way below face value. Plus, someone may have bought tickets to the game and then realized that they cannot make it. Happy hunting, but watch out for the scams.

When the Jays return next April, they’ll offer a promotion called “Toonie Tuesdays” where tickets cost a mere $2. This promotion could be discontinued because of rowdy fans and drunkenness, so if you managed to score cheap tickets, celebrate by quietly rejoicing.

Toronto Raptors

For a team that has not found much post-season success, Raptors seats are surprisingly difficult to come by. Single game tickets can easily run into the three digits for unspectacular views. For this reason, try to take advantage of team-run promotions. Most seats in the Air Canada Centre offer decent views of the action. The worst place to see a game is in the box seats, which are located somewhere in the sky. For Raptors fans on a budget, I offer three possibly unknown bits of wisdom:

  1. For whatever reason, the Raptors tend to attract a lot of fans on the outskirts of Toronto, in places like Maple and Woodbridge. Perhaps you can find someone with an extra ticket from these places and you can offer them access to a bed or parking space downtown.

  2. Basketball, as opposed to other sports, has every team play against every other team each year. As such, the Raptors play relatively few games against the Celtics and Knicks. Teams from the West often have less of a local fan base than teams from the East. Forget the highly overrated Lakers and Suns, and focus on acquiring seats to see the Portland Trailblazers, the L.A. Clippers, or the brand new Oklahoma City Thunder. One of those teams could surprise, and you’ll have paid a lot less than it cost to see the 76ers or Nets.

  3. The Raptors are the only team in the NBA to play (almost) every Sunday, and mainly at 1 p.m. This can work to a cheap fan’s advantage. I imagine that some ticket holders like to stay up late on Saturdays and the early bird catches the worm.

Check out next Thursday’s paper to find out how to score tickets to Toronto hockey, football, and soccer games.

Editorial: Welcome back new and returning students

We were smoking cigarettes outside The Varsity tent at Clubs Day, observing fresh-faced frosh flock to the annual parade, their faces glowing with school spirit (amplified by Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway”) when it hit me: at 21, I’ve become the old guy. Entering my victory lap during what my parents pray is my last leg at the University of Toronto, I no longer feel that warm and fuzzy back-to-school feeling that makes one dream of cable neck sweaters and unlined Hilroy notebooks. While the idea of a Whole New Year of pseudo post-modernist lectures, student council hypocrisy and crushworthy Diablos baristas should fill me with glee, I mostly feel nonplussed. For all those students edging their way onto senior year and beyond, I have one question: if it’s a victory lap, what exactly are we celebrating?

The university experience contains multitudes, and carries no guarantees. As much as I would love to, I can’t promise you, dear reader, that the co-ed of your dreams will ask to borrow your pen in Art History class, or that your kooky roommate won’t have sex on your bed without asking permission first. There’s no assurance that you will graduate from this fabled institution with a 4.0 GPA and several offers to American graduate schools, or even that your ANT 100 professor will know your name by the end of first semester. Truth be told, you probably won’t graduate without a debt of several thousand dollars, and even if you occupy the President’s office you might end up in jail. This university has many deeply rooted systemic problems on top of a boatload of bureaucracy, and even for those who stay behind, it’s hard to feel that the real world is any kinder.

But don’t jump off the top of Robarts just yet, for I have a novel solution—write for The Varsity. Sure, multitudes of inferior publications across campus are offering you the same dazzling opportunity, but what they don’t know is that we matter. In attendance at a Governing Council meeting (mostly for the oatmeal cookies), I ran into President Naylor, who assured me that he makes his way through the paper every Monday and Thursday. “While I found it really hard to get through before, now I make a point to read it,” he boasted. While I’m fairly certain our content is on par with a Grade 9 reading level, I did appreciate the vote of confidence.

Think your $5,000 tuition fee is bullshit? Write an editorial. Hate the fact that your residence makes you attend Hawaiian-themed suite events just to get back in? We want to know. Ever feel prejudice because of your skin colour, sexual orientation, class background, or the way you look? We’re here for you. At The Varsity, we’re bored as hell and we just can’t take it anymore. Complacency might be rampant at U of T, but it sure as hell isn’t here. With the same student politicians running the show for years now, this publication might provide the only opportunity for an honest dialogue on how things really work around here. And if something in this paper makes you feel impassioned, for better or for worse, write me a letter at editor@thevarsity.ca

You’re paying $1.25 of your tuition fees to fund this historic, and, let’s face it, ego-inflated publication, so it might as well be yours. State your views in The Varsity and state them often. And quit smoking while you’re at it.

Yours truly,

Chandler Levack

Editor In Chief

The Varsity Newspaper

2007-2009