Wednesday, August 09, 2006

CBC - The Frosted Side: The Nature of Things

Named after Lucretius' Epicurean epic Dē rērum nātūrā, The Nature of Things continues to teach the willing and infuriate the ignorant. going strong at 46 years, it is CBC's longest-running television program, and continues to be an important contribution to our nation's cultural life.

For instance, a recent episode featured Dr. Mark Winston of Simon Fraser University talking about bees, and the intersection of his scientific work with that of an artist, Aganetha Dyck, who used bees in her practice.

It was a busy show. There was plenty of scientific discussion, like how half the honey bees in Canada died last year. (Funny this doesn't make the news, given just how important bees are in pollinating crops and supporting our ecosystem.) However, the spotlight was on Dr. Winston, also known as the Bee Man, and his tremendous work as an apiary advocate.

It was the character study of a man of science exploring how the artistic practice could contribute to scientific inquiry and vice versa. And, at the height of his powers, it turns out he's leaving the lab and pursuing other personal interests. In short, it was positively gripping television.

It sounds strange, perhaps, that a biologist who works with bees would be such powerful stuff, but it was. The Nature of Things is documentary filmaking at its finest, and we are lucky to have it.

The Nature of Things broadcasts during the summer on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Princes' Gates - Thoughts and Pictures

I had wanted to speak a bit about what I think needs to change in the civic debate for Toronto to stop fretting about its greatness and begin to recognize and enjoy that, for the most part, we are already in the promised land.

So I was going show you how a slightly different approach to reviatlizing the city points the way towards beautifying the city. I originally had quite a bit to say on this.

However, it turns out that both Christoper Hume, the architecture columnist for the Toronto Star and the Mayor, David Miller, had already said most of it here. So I'm just going to show you some of what they were taling about. Think of this as a photoblog on the simple and elegant transformation of a well-known Toronto space - here are the new Princes' Gates.

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Hmmm....anyone who lives here will wonder what I'm talking about. They look as they always have, since their Royal Highnesses opened them in 1927.

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All I can say in response is, look down.

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The asphalt is gone, and has been replaced by tiles. There are also these very attractive light sculptures, entwining their way upwards as their halogen bulbs shine downward.

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And then there are these blocks, each for each province and territory. This is the Canadian National Exhibition, after all.
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The provincial mottos are inscribed in the pavement next to the granite towards the gate. The photos I took didn't come out very well, so you'll just have to come and see them for yourself.

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What about the gates themselves? They haven't been changed, and remain their old neo-classical selves:

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A modest homage to Giornale Nuovo (I would have never bothered to look at these if it weren't for the amazing work there!)

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So despite the strange landscaping in the picture below, I don't think it's quite time to put this piece of Toronto's architectural history to rest.

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A Goildbergian final shot, nearly the same as the first, but transformed by one's knowledge of the new space.

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***

The downside of this transformation is that despite the city's attempts to brand it as a piazza, it will never be much more than pavement for people on their way to the Ex or the Home Show. There will be people like me who live close enough to enjoy the new space, but we will always be few and far between, so Piazza San Marco will it never be.

That's too bad, but I'm hopeful that the quiet elegance of the space will be an inspriation to citizens and city planners. This is a subtle yet dramatic transformation of a beloved public space, and a grander solution to the problems of an unattractive city than building or rebuilding galleries and roadways. This kind of solution signifies a change in mindset here, where open spaces needn't be filled with trees or nature, but can instead be home people and commerce. We've begun to realise this kind of approach with Yonge-Dundas Square, but all I can say is, we need more piazzas!

Creating piazzas (or squares if you disdain the pretension) is a way to improve local neighbourhoods cheaply and effectively. More piazzas, encircled by shops and restaurants, with people seeing each other watch each other eating ice cream on a warm summer's eve would go some way toward undermining the constant sense here in Toronto that we've really botched something.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

CBC - The Frosted Side

It occured to me, that when criticizing the CBC, one has to tread carefully, because those of us who love the CBC, or the idea of public media, are in danger of producing enough bile out of frustration (or is it misplaced idealism?) for it to look as though Professor Watson and I are on the same side.

That's a horrifying thought. So, in the interests of distinguishing myself from the CBC Watchers and WASP Financial Post columnists, I'm beginning a regular Tuesday series in this space on great CBC programming. My inaugural selection is And Sometimes Y.

Hosted by Russell Smith, And Sometimes Y is a 10-part summer radio series on language, its uses and its abuses. This week, they discuss translation. From the site:

"Exactly what does get lost in translation? We find out how different languages do the same job -- i.e. allow people to communicate -- and talk about the cultural quirks implied by these differences."

This is good stuff. Funny, smart, unafraid to assume its listeners are either smart or curious about more than what the behind the scenes of a reality starmaker show (sorry, I couldn't help it!).

It's on tonight, and repeats on Saturday (repeats - the upside of being cash-strapped!). Enjoy!