Review From The Studio

I love the jewel names, amethyst, tourmaline, emerald and aquamarine, given to this group of riverboats. La Turmalina, the ship on which we traveled is part of a fleet of four, built in the ship yard in Iquitos in the style of 19th century river boats. La Amatista and La Turmalina can take 30 passengers and  La Esmeralda and La Aquamarina can take 17 and 24 passengers respectively. La Turmalina, our expedition riverboat is registered in Peru and operated by English speaking Peruvian Officers and crew.

From Lima airport a direct flight on LAN Airway  took us into Iquitos, Capital of the Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos, with a population of just under 500,00, is the largest city of the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and the sixth largest city in Peru. It has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road, other than the 100 km road between Iquitos and Nauta, on the Amazon River. The main way to reach Iquitos is by air or by boat.

As I was traveling with someone from California  we determined after much on-line searching that the most cost-effective way to get to Lima, the capital of Peru, was a LAN Peru Airways direct flight from Los Angeles Airport to  Lima International Airport - Jorge Chávez. The direct flight is about 9 hours. Our flight left at at 9:15 in the evening and got us into Lima at 8:50 the next morning. Peru is 2 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time.

The Amazon river is the second only to the Nile as the longest river in the world, stretching 6296 kilometers from its origins high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, Ecuador and Columbia. The Amazon runs through Peru and Brazil  to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean near Belém in Northern Brazil. Although second in length,  it carries more water than any other river including the Nile, and is responsible for 20% of the fresh water carried into the oceans, more than the next seven largest rivers combined.

One of the things that can ruin a great vacation is traveler's diarrhea. And when going to countries where enteric diseases such as typhoid and E. Coli are even more common causes of travelers' diarrhea than salmonella and campylobacter, it makes sense to do all you can to avoid getting sick.

The most perfectly planned travel can be ruined by an unanticipated illness or injury. Obsessive as I am I found it absolutely essential to check out all possible health precautions so I would not "check out" on my jungle trip.

Bet you are wondering about the dance shoes. Dance shoes - in the Amazon jungle? Well read on!

One of my sensible and pragmatic daughters-in-law, on hearing my plan to cruise the Amazon River through the Peruvian jungle,  looked at me bemused and said "why?"

My mature adult brain seems to have re-entered a period of accelerated learning as I try simultaneously to master the intricacies and nuances of several important social media platforms as fast as I can. As I figure out how to link and post efficiently to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube - just for a start - I can almost feel the impulses whizzing along neuronal pathways and embedding new concepts in my already crowded memory filing system. It's exhausting!

Dance shoes! Whether out for a night of social dancing or taking a class, a common topic of discussion among woman dancers is the difficulty of finding the perfect dance shoe.  Few people have feet that perfectly fit every shoe manufacturer's regular lasts, so it really is a lot of trial and error to find a shoe in which one can comfortably dance for a couple of hours.

Reversing aging - and bath-time luxury. How could these two concepts fail to capture my attention.

First the bath-time luxury. The Essence Naturals Cupcake Bath Bomb is a brilliant way of packaging bath and body products. Comprised of natural fragrances, essential oils and  flower essences, the Bath Bombs are designed to provide a moisturising bath and body spa experience.

Vancouver, BC:  I saw The Bacchae 2.1 on the closing night of the show, and this production is one I will remember as much for its striking visual effects as for the awesome performances. The costume designs by Kiara Lawson were stunning as the examples in the photos show.  Great animal mask too.

The best thing about touring the booths at farmers' markets and craft fairs, is meeting the entrepreneurial artisans who are so passionate about their products. Here are some of the sweet treat goodies I found at the December Got Craft? holiday fair. They will be selling their treats at other markets and fairs so check them out.

Eleven days till Christmas family get-together and stocking-stuffer gifts remain to be found. Luckily this weekend a two day holiday craft fair - Got Craft? - is open from 10 AM to 5 PM today and Sunday at the Maritime Labour Centre.

New York, NY:  In an interesting thematic confluence of New York productions, there are three shows concurrently running that focus biographically on the lives of three music legends. On my Spring New York stopover I saw Satchmo at the Waldorf, a drama about the late great jazz trumpeter and singer, Louis Armstrong set at the time of his final performances at the Waldorf Hotel in New York.

I took the Westjet direct flight from Vancouver that leaves at 1 PM  and arrives in Palm Springs shortly before 4 PM.  The taxi ride from the airport to the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort Indian Wells  is about half an hour. Check in was quick and key in hand, I was soon on my way to my room. I have a rule that "if I can't carry it myself it can't come with me" so instead of enlisting help I lugged my own luggage down seemingly endless corridors to the room. But it was worth the effort for the room location.

The IAEA Ball at the Hofburg Palace was a larger and seemingly more formal affair than the Johann Strauss Ball of the previous Saturday. Because of the International nature of the sponsoring committee there was an amazing array of different national dress to be seen, as well as exquisite gowns worn by so many of the guests.The men all looked so elegant and handsome in their dark suits and tuxedoes. This time there were no ticket mishaps or funny stories so this post will mainly feature pictures from the ball.

Vienna is known as the city of grand  balls, with more than 450 balls taking place annually,  providing more than 2000 hours of dancing. The Carnival season in Vienna is filled with more than 150 large formal balls and hundreds of smaller dances that are held from before New Year till Lent. The 2013/14 ball season opened with the Vienna Red Cross Ball held at the City Hall in November.  On New Year’s Eve, Le Grand Bal at the Hofburg Palace brought in the New Year.

This visit to Vienna for Waltz Week is my first - in fact it will be my first time ever in Austria, and I realized early on in the planning stage that I knew very little about the city, or in fact the country. With my recent travel adventures to other foreign areas as diverse as the Amazon Jungle and the Black Sea, I have developed  a short word-association brainstorming tool to see what I associate with a place, before I actually begin my pre-trip research. I mentally list the first things that immediately spring to mind when I think of a place name. Then after my travels it is always interesting to me to see  which aspects I actually encounter and how my associations with a place have changed.

After a couple of weeks of working out to dance music in my gym, and a planned dance lesson that had to be canceled because of the downtown crowds for Game 7, I finally walked back into the ballroom for a dance lesson. This is the first time I have been back since October 3rd, two days before my stenosed spine decided to finally compress my sciatic nerve so severely that I felt like I was one of the baddies in an episode of 24 with high voltage shocks going down my right leg. So its been 8 and a half months with no dancing - almost as bad as physical torture for an addict like me.

So when you have had spine surgery, when do you stop thinking of your workouts and training as rehabilitation from a major trauma and start thinking of just getting fitter, stronger, faster and more flexible?  It may sound like splitting hairs but I think there is a philosophical difference in approach and mental attitude.

As week thirteen post surgery approached I was feeling 90% back to normal. Still working on rebuilding some endurance, tackling posture and really increasing my flexibility. Neglecting stretching and flexibility for the more fun endorphin-producing activities  was one of the key things that got me into difficulty in the first place so I am determined not to make that mistake again as I build up my strength for dancing.

Week 10 and I am feeling great. My energy level is high,  I am back in the gym, my low carb weight loss plan seems to be working and I am going to social events, plays, movies and restaurants. In fact the one thing everyone keeps reminding me about is that "you have had major surgery, don't overdo it."

It is 7 am and the sun is streaming in through the window of my office and glinting off the waters of False Creek. I see three kayaks out on the water but I don't yet hear the strident voices of the dragon boat "dragons" exhorting the rowers to move it. My coffee, fresh ground, and mellowed with a touch of cream, is steaming on the desk. My back feels great and I am going to finish my coffee and head out for a walk on the sea wall.

It is now the end of week 6 after spine surgery. I have achieved some major milestones - for me-  and my walking program is going well. The weather has been such that I have been able to get out for a sea wall walk almost every day and how can one not be happy and get better in such glorious surroundings. I thought I would share some of this beauty of Vancouver with you in this post.

Perhaps its because I come from a scientific background , or perhaps its just my naturally obsessive nature but I have this compulsive need to document my progress. Way back when, my friend Michael, then Executive Director at the Fraser Institute, made a point during one of our heated debates  - 'If it matters, measure it". The sentiment struck a chord with both the scientific and obsessive parts of me. Since my progression back to being strong and fit enough for serious dancing matters a lot to me - I am trying like mad to "measure it." 

Actually the post title is misleading because I have just completed week three post-surgery and  in reality I am still more in the recuperation phase than rehabilitation. Maybe this would be better titled "from Munchkin to Dancing Queen."

The picture of the left shows me all lopsided and scrunched up but still trying hard to stand with good posture 6 days after surgery. The picture on the right is to remind me that if I am patient, I will be back enjoying my dance cruises ... and even last out another 7 minute samba.

Today I achieved yet another small step on my way to recovery from my recent back surgery. I managed to get my sock onto my  right foot.  It may not sound like much  but it was the absolutely last thing I needed to be able to do, in order to say that I could completely take care of myself, at last as far as getting dressed is concerned.

It sounds trite and a bit Pollyanna-ish to say that there are some positive aspects to this whole back pain nightmare - but in truth there are.

Ok probably not a good joke to make right now when I am 5 days post spine surgery - but I am a little sad at having missed Blackbird Theatre's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: My guest reviewer saw it in my place. And I can never resist a little word play.

When is sympathy the wrong approach? When you are talking to a perfectionistic procrastinator with ongoing leg pain in winter. When it hurts to sit and stand, and its cold and wet outside, it's so comforting to curl up under a cosy blanket and escape into a well-told tale, whether a novel or a television series. And when your own words emerge in jerky clumps, as if your thoughts are crashing against successive barriers erected by electric flashes of pain - well it's too easy to say "I'll write better when I feel better", and open a new novel on my E-Reader.

For those of you who been asking whether I have stopped "Sipping and Supping" or enthusiastically checking out the Vancouver "Theatre Seen", and those others who have asked why my saga of the Autumn East Coast Dance Cruise  seemed to drop anchor temporarily in Bar Harbor, Maine - here is the explanation and a cautionary tale.

Vancouver, BC: I was having a blast at the Dance Marathon until I got eliminated in The Derby - how lame, so to speak! That was when I  realized that my competitive streak is as strong as it ever was - because I was not ready to  go and I was MAD.

Last night I saw Yasmin Reza's play, God of Carnage, with Jeff  Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfino and Marcia Gay Harden.

Tomorrow I am seeing the Keith Huff' play, with Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, called A Steady Rain. And how appropriate. This morning I woke to see a heavy rain pelting against the window. Up till now the weather has been wonderful but I guess New York has finally realized that it's not summer any  more.

Back in Manhattan after an awesome dance-filled Labour Day Getaway Cruise, feeling great except for my tired feet. I am ready for another 5 days of dance, theatre and fine food. First thing on the agenda will be to pick up a pair of practice shoes for the next couple of lessons. Somehow on board ship my feet must have grown  from a  dainty size 4½  to something huge. By the end of the voyage I felt like one of Cinderella's sisters,  trying to squeeze my foot into a shoe that was suddenly far too small. Oh well, no prince for me I guess.

New York is one of my favorite cities – it has a unique buzz, an electric feel, that is unlike anywhere else I have visited. Each time I visit New York I feel like a humming bird, hovering just above the surface of culture and cuisine, dipping down for a taste, but never able to perch long enough to experience more than that brief and tantalizing taste.

One of my "to-dos" on retirement was to learn a new language. I have managed to acquire a smattering of Italian and a little more Spanish - though it will take a lot more than a beginner course at UBC Robson Square, visits to Mexico and my "Spanish in Ten Minutes A Day" to get me over my reluctance to try out my new vocabulary. But even more than being able to count to hundred in Spanish, new words that have entered the vocabulary of my mother tongue - computer-speak - have begun to assume a major importance in my life.

It is hard for me to believe that it is three and a half  years since I wrote my first Rants, Raves and Reviews post for Immediate Theatre. Somewhat ironically, it was titled Our Town, as it was partly about seeing the Thornton Wilder play but in Toronto, not Vancouver - my town! My first posted travelblogue (I really should copyright that word!) London and Languedoc about studying travel writing with Angela Murrills in France, was written in the fall of 2006.  And the first theatre review officially posted to ReviewFromTheHouse.com  was The View from Above in April 2008, just over a year ago.

On Mother's Day two years ago, my daughter and I shared something special; the privilege of hearing twenty brave and talented actors share with us the facts of their mothers' lives -  My Mother's Story: A Mother's Perspective . Together we laughed, we cried, and we thought of my mother, Amanda's grandmother, and the part she played in our lives. As we drove home we discussed the empowering effect that relating the arcs of their mothers' lives seemed to have on these women, and that we both felt enriched by the experience of seeing this work.

On Sunday we headed down to the Farmers' Market in search of a particular type of bread that is a household favorite. The market  turned out to be located in the parking lot just in front of the dance studio where I have been taking a couple of classes, mainly Latin dance- samba, rumba, jive, chachacha.

Even for a directionally challenged individual like me, driving in South Orange County is a pleasure. Each time I come here I appreciate the ease with which one can get around - by car.   Streets are clearly identified, the traffic lanes are wide (and so generally are parking spaces and parking is usually free) - and best of all, almost all major intersections have left turn signals. Sure one waits a little longer at a light but the traffic flows smoothly and you don't have idiots shooting through on the yellow and red and potentially causing a lethal accident. Compared to the speeding, tailgating, lane swerving Vancouver drivers who drive faster the harder it rains, people seem to drive more calmly here.

Today on a poster at my grand-daughter's preschool, I read that insects make up 75% of the world's species. Together with termite colonies, wasp nests and protective mimicry, the poster illustrated the process of metamorphosis. Aha I thought, I too must be part insect (evolution and all that) because I step on the plane in Vancouver as an energetic, literary, fit, ballroom dancing gourmet and oenophile, and emerge at John Wayne Airport as ... Granny - good for cuddles, stories and snacks.

I have come to my ballroom dancing addiction relatively late in life.  When I made a "mid-life" decision to change careers and redeploy myself from left brain physician/scientist to right brain entertainment /travel writer, one of my residual left brain activities was to make a list of the ten things I wanted to accomplish in the next ten years. Top of the  list was to get back to dance, especially the Latin dances, which I had loved in my late teens when my knees were still elastic and my hips could actually swivel. So having tried out a couple of dance styles and studios, I found myself at the Vancouver  Ballroom for a beginner bronze samba class - and after the first lesson I was hooked! Two years later, thanks to the endless patience of Bernice and Aegide, though neither my brain nor my body learns as easily  as a sixteen year old, I am working my way through the medal tests in Standard and Ballroom and rejuvenating myself in the process. Sort of like Benjamin Button.

Being away for nearly a month, I was concerned about keeping up my level of fitness and not putting on weight – what with no gym, no dance classes, and having to try all the new and exciting restaurants in Cape Town . I was also concerned about withdrawal symptoms from my growing dance addiction. So being a trained researcher and all that, I used the Internet back in Vancouver , to find a dance instructor in Cape Town who taught international dancing. I found someone that sounded promising and gave Brin his cell phone number.

Time: early afternoon on Mother's Day: Place: Granville Island Revue Theatre. I am here with my daughter to see "My Mother's Story", a piece derived from essays written by twenty Vancouver women actors in response to a challenge posed by Marilyn Norry, affectionately introduced by Patti Allen, as the "mother", of this project. From these twenty stories, Jenn Griffin skillfully wove a verbal collage to be read by the actors at this one-time Mother's Day performance.

They say that daughters become their mothers and I am starting to see that phenomenon in my own life: I fret about where I'm going to park hours before I leave the house for an event, I love music and dancing, and I have a strong belief that things work out for the best. However, while my mother dutifully came straight home and started working on her Rants, Raves and Reviews article, it took me three or four days to get to write. I like to think it's because my brain needs to stew for days before the writing comes out relatively smoothly.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Lofty heights and creepy crawlies don’t bother me at all yet the mere thought of being enclosed in a small dark space sends me off in urgent need of a glass of Gewurztraminer, with creamy Cambozola, almonds and grapes. That’s comfort food for a Yaletown MUPPY.