Saturday, July 30, 2011

HRM Point of Interest #24: Waverly Inn

The Waverly Inn, on Barrington Street, started out in life as a private residence. Edward W. Chipman, a wealthy dry-goods merchant, and his wife Mahala Jane Northup built one of the most expensive and extravagant homes in Halifax in 1866 (this one).

Mahala really really loved her new home, and apparently she loved showing it off even more. Numerous accounts describe the lavish parties and dances she would host in her home that was described as "... in a style, both regards to size and decoration, more like a palace than a private residence."

By 1870 the party was over though, literally, for Mahala as well as her hoighty-toighty guests. Eddie's dry-goods business had all dried up and the house and all the furniture was seized by the city. The house was then sold to a couple of sisters, Sarah and Jane Romans, who turned the house into one of Halifax's finest residential hotels.

During its heyday, The Waverly Hotel was noted for having exceptional hospitality, and played hosts to regular guests such as Oscar Wilde, John Doull (president of the Bank of Nova Scotia, 1889-1899), P.T. Barnum (yup, that P.T. Barnum), George Vanderbilt (seriously, just search some of these names up for yourself), and William Henry (the son of the Father of Confederation with the same name). In fact, the hospitality was so remarkable at The Waverly, that the Premier of Nova Scotia, The Honourable George H. Murray, stayed in the hotel for six years while in office.

Every time I cycle or walk past this bright yellow mansion on south Barrington, on the way to the train station, I'm reminded of all the history of this city. I had wanted to take a picture earlier and make a post about it, but it's just not the same without that blue sky in the background and I could not seem to get all the way down to south Halifax early enough to capture an image with a clear sky and the sun behind me. Better late than never though, I suppose. This hotel is over 140 years old, after all, so one would think that a few more days won't hurt it too much.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

2011 Lebanese Festival: July 7-10, 2011

It's an interesting experience having to title all of my more recent posts a little differently, as these key festivals come around for the second time.

As I mentioned last year, the Lebanese Festival is the Lebanese equivalent of the Greek Festival in almost every way: both are run by orthodox churches, both involve ethnic food, ethnic deserts, ethnic dancing, music, and fun games for the children. Having had the opportunity now to enjoy both festivals now for a second time, I understand a little more closely though the subtle differences between the two celebrations.

One of the main difference between the two festivals is the length each has been running. Whereas the Greek Festival is firmly established (26 years old) and brings in national politicians (remember Michael Ignatieff was there last year), the Lebanese Festival is still relatively new (this is only its 10th year). Consequently, the Greek Festival is very polished and smooth, and usually runs without so much as a hitch. The Lebanese Festival, on the other hand, has a schedule, but I've yet to see any of the events run on time, or exactly as listed.

Case in point, I showed up at 11:00 AM on Friday, July 8, to see the advertised Lebanese music videos and "Cooking With Tony" session. However, none of the advertised events were held until 1:00 PM, when the Briek Competition (in which I competed) was held.

What the Lebanese Festival lacks in organization and punctuality, it makes up in fun in spades. Everything about the Lebanese Festival is designed to entertain its guests, and they put on a good show. Last year I think I missed the point. I couldn't get past the fact that it seemed like a less punctual version of the Greek Festival. After a second year though, I've come to appreciate what makes the Lebanese special: it's a big party, and everyone's invited.

(With a kitchen in the back of the hall, the Lebanese Festival has a pretty slick operation running with its food distribution. As usual, I ordered the massive mixed platter, with tabbouleh - a salad of finely chopped parsley, tomato and fine cracked wheat seasoned with mint and tossed with olive oil and lemon juice; hummus - a chick pea dip served with pita bread and olive oil; kafta - grilled swewers of ground beef seasoned with onion, parsley, and spices; and grape leaves stuffed with rice, tomato and onion, parsley cooked in olive oil and lemon juice.)

(For desert I had the mixed desert plate, with three different kinds of baklava, date-filled ma'amoul, and I traded one of my baklava pieces with a student I taught for a piece of his awamat.)

(Any ethnic festival must have a table for crafts. It's a requirement it seems.)

(The goal of the breeq competition is to drink the water from the breeq the quickest, with the catch that the jug can't touch your lips.)

(The breeq - pronounced "breek" - is a traditional Lebanese water jug.)

(Victor, in the middle, would eventually be crowned the winner. I think it was unfair, since I actually drank all of my water - as per the rules - while as you can see here that he left most of the water running down the front of his shirt.)

(Perhaps the aspect I appreciated the most about the Lebanese Festival, was the creativity in which the organizers presented the standard festival events. This children's dance exhibition was run as a parody of "So You Think You Can Dance?" The judges of So You Think You Can Dabke? each spoofed a different judge of the original show, and it was obvious the children were having a great time.)

(The two girls in the previous pictures each tied for first place, and so they competed in a "dance off!" Much excitement and cheering from the crowd was present.)

(In between the events, the boys and I took turns rocking out on Rock Band.)

(Victor and Nick, power through Baba O'Riley. Victor wanted to make sure everyone noticed his Hendrix-like skills. I was told to inform you that he didn't miss a note on his solo.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

2011 Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo: July 1-8, 2011

I find it very odd, actually. I hear on a weekly basis that "there's nothing exciting to do in Halifax," or that someone wished they lived in Montreal where things were more exciting. Nothing exciting to do? Once a year the largest indoor show in the world, consisting of a cast and crew of over 17 000 people, comes to Halifax for an entire week.

Despite this, I have met numerous people who have lived in Halifax for years but have never managed to travel downtown to see this world-class exhibition - the second largest military Tattoo festival in the world. Not EP Dave though, I said last year that I would come back every single year, and today I'm happy to say I have still kept that promise.

This year, the organizers made a fair number of changes. The theme seemed to be a musical one, instead of a Navy centred show (last year was the 100th Anniversary of the Canada Navy), and the show was shortened half an hour to be more accommodating to any children in the audience (it was still over 2 and a half hours).

One of my favourite events - the military obstacle race - was back again though, thankfully. This year teams from the air force, army, and navy took turns competing against each other for bragging rights, and a trophy of some kind the name of which I've long since forgotten.

(Remember to plug your ears during the explosion parts. Oh, what's that? You watched the video before you read this warning? Oh well, look on the bright side: next time it won't matter because you'll be deaf.)

In the interest of saving upload room, I made a few highlight videos this year to give you a taste of what you missed. They are by no means to be considered a comprehensive collection of all the performances, nor should you read too much into my inclusion or exclusion of any performances or performers. I basically only took a few videos, because my arm would have dropped off otherwise and I would have run out of room on my tiny camera, and then I edited them together crudely. Please don't feel slighted if I didn't mention you or your favourite group.

This first video features some of the more artistic components of the Tattoo. You'll see the Acadien dance troupe, La Baie en Joie, with Maggie and Cassie Macdonald from Halifax, Gym Wheel from Germany, Rullest Precision Roller Skating Team from Estonia (sorry about the quick title on this one), and Garde Rupublicaine Motorcycle Team from France.

The Macdonald sisters are actually world renowned musicians and dancers in their own right, and I'm pleased to say Maggie Macdonald personally taught me how to Cape Breton step dance back in January.

Also, one of the members of the Estonian roller skate team told me after the show that this was their first ever exhibition performance. Before this year's Tattoo they had only performed in competitions.

This second highlight video features highlights from some of the more acrobatic and gymnastic performances at the Tattoo. There were many great teams in attendance, but I chose two of my favourite: Talentholdet from Denmark, and Henriette and Carla Hochdorfer with guest, Dominik Lange, from Germany.

And of course, for those of you who just can't get enough bagpipes, there was the fantastic as always, finale march.

(Talentholdet messes around after the show and I sneak some photos in with the stars. The girl on my right is 15 years old. She's been training since she was 1. The next time you say, "I wish I could do back flips like her," be prepared to dedicate 14 years of your life to the cause. There's no such thing as an overnight success.)

(The Hochdorfer sisters and Dominik looked lonely so I came over to raise their spirits. See how awed and honoured they are to have me on their bicycle? That's how generous I am. I'm always willing to rub my butt on other people's things.)

(Unfortunately the girl being lifted up fell down and broke her leg after that picture was taken, so I had to fill in as the newest member of Rullest. It's a good thing I look good in a skirt.)

(I wish we had these things in school growing up... I can't see any reason why I shouldn't have been allowed to roll around on this. I bet my mother could, though. Then again she also didn't want me playing with sharp knives either.)

(Nobody gets away from the long arm of the Dave.)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Random Halifax Picture #16

Unfortunately, I missed the now annual Commons Powwow - Mawio'mi - but I was able to catch the very very last song of the entire weekend event. This is a bunch of, soon to be voiceless, boys singing "Victory Song." I can attest that the sound is as intense as it sounds from this close.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Multicultural Festival 2011: June 30 - July 3, 2011

The largest multicultural festival of its kind in Atlantic Canada, the annual RBC Multicultural Festival aims to give Nova Scotians an opportunity to explore the cultures of the world in Halifax, through music, dance, exhibits, crafts and food.

At its new location at the Halifax Seaport for the second year, the organizers were expecting such a large turnout, that they opened the festival one evening earlier than usual this time.

As anyone who's known me longer than a week will attest, I love food. And more than food, I love exotic food from around the world. The more eyeballs, testicles, and spices, the better!

Now, there weren't any balls of any kind this year (except for falafel), but there was enough chickpea and chicken to feed an army. I have a theory on this. It seems to me that it takes a special type of Western mentality to waste valuable land raising beef, when you could raise about a hundred chickens for the same price, in the same space.

This seems to be why many of the exciting cultures - where there have been enough people in a close enough space for a long enough time to actually have a unique culture - eat chicken. I'm sure you'll see my theory in textbooks within the next few years.

As a special treat, this year the African Diaspora Association of the Maritimes was serving up Ethiopian food (or a version of it). I was pretty excited about this because I've been trying to get my hands on some injera (moist, spongy, yeast-risen flat bread) again for more than five years now. Also, since I know you're wondering, "diaspora" is the African equivalent of "ex-pat."

With my belly happy, I went off to enrich my mind at the various cultural exhibits. Above, you can see me proudly displaying my recently acquired Taiwanese heritage.

At the Chinese Association of Nova Scotia's booth, I started a small trend (among those around me) by having the woman in yellow write out my name in Chinese. I also drank some Chinese oolong tea prepared traditionally (it involves a lot of theatrics, but still tastes like tea in the end.)

If I wasn't drinking tea, I was making friends. Here you can see Alexandra, from Russia, who was actually visiting Canada for about ten days and came to help out at the Russian Association booth. Additionally, I found the only set of straw woven, Russian-style sandals in Halifax here.

While I didn't get to see much of the cultural performances (technical difficulties), I did manage to sneak myself into an African dance workshop. A few eager young volunteers decided to give it a go on stage as well (future EPs, for sure.)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Canada Day 2011: July 1, 2011

After a very rainy May and June, the weather couldn't have been more beautiful for July 1st. The sun was out, and of course so was EP Dave for the annual Canada Day Parade.

Halifax loves having parades. Unfortunately it seems as though every parade features the same floats. What I love about the Canada Day Parade, is that it doubles as the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo Parade as well, and that means new acts every time.

The Tattoo is a half-circus, half-military marching band/drill team exhibition that runs annually. Every year the performers walk the parade route before winding up inside the Metro Centre for the start of the first show.

Representing the Acadiens, Le Baie en Joie are present at nearly every big event in Halifax. Rightfully so though, since they're a world-class dance troupe in their own right, as well as being home grown Nova Scotians (perhaps begrudgingly for them?). And yes, you are right astute reader. I am in exactly the same spot on Spring Garden Road I always stand for parades.

From New Zealand, the incredible all-female Lochiel Drill Team. They are 30-time New Zealand Champions, and you can see from this picture that they even walk down the street in unison.

At about this time I switched over to the other side of the street so that the sun was behind me. There's actually a BellAliant store behind this mega-jeep, and I originally had my hopes up that the military had finally received all my angry e-mails and was coming to destroy Bell. Alas, that was not the case...

Some English traditions die hard...

Champion German stunt cyclist, Domink Lange, has been doing tricks on his bicycle for so long now he's forgotten how to ride it normally. He was joined in the parade/Tattoo by two other German stunt cyclists - Carla and Henriette Hochdorfer. Needless to say their combination of acrobatics AND bicycles was a winning one in my eyes.

Germany has by far the largest non-Canadian contingent every year it seems. If they aren't sending over cyclists or trampoline acts, they can always be counted on to have top-calibre step-drill teams or marching bands in attendance.

Showing us a new way to get around town, the Gym Wheel team from Germany brought their incredible collection of hoops and human wheels. I shudder to think about how they got those through airport security. I have trouble getting a roll of toothpaste on the plane.

When the "horse play" was all over, a more serious float came along. This newly wed couple rented a wagon to pull them through the streets. What a special day for them, but I'm not so sure about the bride's face. The poor girl has a face like a cow.

Of course, what would Canada Day be without fireworks? Halifax loves its fireworks and will think up any excuse to fire them off.

There were whizzy ones...

And fizzy ones...

And smoking ones...

And great big finale ones.

It's interesting too, because it seems easy to take fireworks for granted when your city shoots them off about five times a year. I was talking with one of the young performers from the Tattoo a few days later, and she told me that she was amazed at how big and long the fireworks show was. She came from a small town in Denmark that only let off a few firecrackers once a year on New Years Day.

If I learned anything, I learned today that it's important to get out and talk to people because it helps put everything in a better perspective when you can see things from a different point of view. Stay tuned for more EP Dave-style cultural enlightenment.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

HRM Interesting Person #9: Megan Leslie, MP

One of the keys to meeting people is to be where people are. While volunteering for the Blue Nose Marathon back in May, I ran into Megan Leslie, the newly re-elected MP for Halifax. Elected in 2008, Leslie was voted Rookie MP of the Year by Maclean's Magazine in 2009, Best MP by The Coast in 2009 and 2010, "Top Up and Comer" by The Hill Times in 2010, and was named one of "the five best MPs" by The Mark News.

On this day she was running to raise awareness for a charity cause dear to her (I can't remember now, but I think it had something to do with getting fresh water out to rural villages in Africa). She agreed to take a photo with me so long as I agreed to stop calling her Ms. Leslie, and start calling her Megan.