The Snowy Owl

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I have seen few large wild birds in their natural habitat and my encounter with a snowy owl was an exception. It was late at night one winter when I was sitting in a car with a friend, chatting and enjoying the view of the frozen river and the white snow around us when a snowy owl landed, seemingly out of nowhere, on the boardwalk a few feet away from the car. It sat on snow, eying its surroundings, its magnificent head turning, its bright yellow eyes blinking occasionally.

For several minutes, it just sat in the cold snow, its wings not tucked in but trailing on the snow. When it finally moved, it was in a waddling walk, one wing tracing a shallow trail in the snow beside it. Clearly, the bird was not made for walking. After walking a bit, it flapped its wings and rose a few meters in air no higher than the top of a lamppost that cast its white glow into the cold air, then settled back on the ground as if exhausted and lost after a long journey from some snowy mountainous region in the Maritimes. Perhaps it had come across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, buffered by the recent snowfall and biting winds.

The owl was a splendid creature with its brown-and-black-tipped white feathers that made it look like it had silvery tufts tucked into its plumage. We assumed it might have hurt its wing and had sought respite on our island, finding shelter under the Hillsboro bridge. Before long, another owl, almost a pure white, landed a few feet farther than the first, but that one did not stay, launching over the frozen inlet and disappearing under the bridge before long. We surmised that the birds were mates and were seeking refuge because one of them had been hurt.

My companion, ever concerned, ever helpful, stepped out to see how badly hurt the bird on the ground might be, approaching it warily. He was concerned the bird might be attacked by a fox that had, only a short time earlier, prowled along the river’s edge on some nocturnal mission. I warned him to take care because owls, after all, are wild birds and predators, their small hooked beaks sharp, their long and threatening talons camouflaged under feathered feet. My friend stopped a little more than an arm’s length from the owl, thinking its wing broken, and for a split second, man and bird stood under the same circle of light, creating a frosty mist in the crisp night air. One second then the bird gathered its wings and lifted them, drawing ever so slightly closer to the man, hovering for but a moment, before it pulled away and lifted into the air, flying after its pair to find shelter under the bridge. Did the bird think it was being threatened? Would it have attacked the man? Perhaps the trailing wing was merely a ploy to attract prey. It could have spotted the fox and planned on abducting it, but encountering a creature larger than it could possibly lift across the icy inlet, it changed its mind and decided to retreat instead. We guessed it must have been that because it spread its majestic wings, longer across than my friend was tall–and he is not a small man–and swooped away, gliding like a white kite in the night without the slightest hint of an injury. It disappeared under the bridge, invisible in the shadows.

It was on the news, the next day, that a pair of snowy owls had taken up residence under the Hillsboro bridge, and after a few more days of being in the forefront of unusual events of interest only to the locals that long winter, the birds were found to have abandoned their temporary shelter. It was my first encounter with a bird that has long enthralled me because of its beauty and wildness and its symbolism as the wisest of creatures. It was more magnificent than any photograph could ever depict and, in making its choice to leave us, undoubtedly wise in choosing the wintry wilderness where it was born and, without human interference, will hopefully live out its life.

©Cindy Lapeña, 2015

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They Rock! Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue: A Review

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 2014-06-20 03.21.48

by Cindy Lapeña

It might have been a preview night, but the Company of Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue 2014 show delivered a performance that rocked the rafters of the newly-reopened Homburg Theatre in the Confederation Centre of the Arts. A 26-member cast, 14-member orchestra, and 4-man rock band regaled a full house with 74 songs spanning several decades of Canadian hits from the 60s all the way to Paper Lions, PEI’s rock band-winner of the 2014 Independent Music Award for Best EP – Pop (Pop/Adult Contemporary;See more at: http://awardsandwinners.com/ceremonies/12th-independent-music-awards/#sthash.Tvoi3GMH.dpuf).

Musical Director and Arranger Craig Fair led the orchestra and band in an almost non-stop score with only the intermission as a break, showing off not only great musical panache but the excellent new sound system as well. Renée Brode’s lighting design, sometimes intense and emotional, most of the time playful and spectacular, likewise exploited the extensive capabilities of the new lighting system—something I would want to play with myself. I only wish that the two spotlights set in the back of the stage were not so blinding when they were bare—a result of their being set so high on the raised stage they were pointing directly at the audience at the start. The production design by Charlotte Dean was enhanced by 23 screens, on which video images were projected—sometimes to create a single gigantic image, sometimes displaying 23 different images that were entertaining on their own; kudos to projection designer James Nesbitt.

The show was directed and choreographed by none other than long-time Charlottetown Festival Artistic Director Anne Allan, who, along with Doug Gallant, Terry Hatty, Wade Lynch, and Hank Stinson, wrote and conceived the whole musical revue, which took the audience on an East-bound journey from BC to PEI. Overheard from the audience was a desire to see a more consistent story line, with the train-trip theme more evident. That might have made the performance more theatrical than revue-ish, but it could not matter less to me. In fact, I had to look away from certain video footage because they induced a touch of motion sickness. Nonetheless, the projections enhanced the story of Canada’s music industry, creating a more synaesthetic and memorable experience in a way that the songs and narration alone cannot.

While I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres and avoid really loud music and wild concerts, I have to say that the loudness of the sound system was within tolerable levels and not deafening—something I really appreciated. Much more than that, however, is the way Canada Rocks! The Hits Musical Revue is my first real lesson in Canadian music. Not having been born here, I was quite unaware of the who’s who of Canadian music, thinking all the music I heard growing up on the late Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was American—such was our exposure to the Western world. I was pleasantly surprised to discover, in the few years I have lived on this Island but mostly through this Musical Revue, that so many songs I was familiar with and learned to love are actually Canadian; and so many musicians I liked—both singers and songwriters alike—are Canadian. This knowledge made the show not only enjoyable and educational—it made the show more personal: Canada Rocks! made me feel that I have truly come home.

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The Recipe for Soup’Art: A Review

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The Recipe for Soup’Art

by Cindy Lapeña

What do you get when you serve nine different kinds of soup and a variety of visual art pieces at The Mack? You get Soup’Art!

No, it’s not a joke. The Societe Saint-Thomas-D’Aquin and Confederation Centre of the Arts were completely serious when they sent out invitations to a novel art exhibit where, instead of picking at trays of traditional cocktail fare, viewers were presented with nine varieties of soup, from the traditional vegetable soup to the exotic Kenyan soup and the innovative sweet potato and coconut milk soup. It was an adventure and in itself, with the soup ladled into coffee cups that were just the right size to get a good taste of the soup without being filled so that you had no room to try the other varieties. It was soup sampling extraordinaire created by innovative and skilled soup artists.

That was not the only part of this twin-event. Along with the soup buffet was an exhibit of works by francophone artists. On display were works by Norah Pendergast, Faysal Boukari, Noella Richard, and Alma MacDougall, including paintings, photographs, graphic art, and animation. Also part of the exhibit was a traditional animal-hide shirt by self-taught Mi’kmaq artist Alma MacDougall, whose vibrant photographs of Mi’kmaq dancing in their brilliantly coloured ceremonial costumes were captivating. She photographed dancers’ heads so that they resembled colourful birds with extravagant plumage. Similarly, she captured costumed dancers in motion so that they resembled birds in some sort of ritual dance, flaunting their feathers as they twirled around.

Throughout the whole event, short films created by Faysal Boukari with students from L’École François-Buote under the ArtSmarts Program were projected onstage. Faysal is a Parisian graphic and animation artist who has chosen to stay in PEI.
He brings with him a unique and contemporary style with a certain whimsy that contributes to the mélange of artistic styles in PEI. When not working with film, Faysal’s preferred medium seems to be pen and ink.

Norah Pendergast displayed a few works that reflected island life. A French teacher in rural PEI, she is also a writer. Her paintings are reminiscent of illustrations for storybooks, likely a reflection of her background as a school teacher. Her use of primary colours in focal images in her painting draw the eye to them immediately. Her human figures are disproportionate, with the legs elongated and the heads and torsos much smaller in relation to the legs, a lengthening of proportions that is similar to Modigliani’s methods.

Noella Richard’s portrait of a man called the most attention to it, with the man’s face spilling out of the canvas, pursing his lips over likely toothless gums. Unlike her smooth portraiture were paintings of a squeeze-box and a keyboard that were done in similar style with strong red tones, rough textures, and the paint applied with a palette knife.

The variety in the artists’ styles was a great complement to the variety of soups and viewers left sated, both aesthetically and gastronomically.

2014-03-20 18.57.17

Soup’Art visual artists and soup artists

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A Celebration of Women’s Art

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Viewers joined artists to fill The Gallery@The Guild on the evening of March 7 to celebrate the launch of the second International Women’s Day Art Exhibit in PEI. Curated by Sandy Kowalik, the exhibit showcased the works of 53 women artists, the majority of which were paintings. Styles ranged from minimalist to modern, covering a gamut of subjects, including a bronze-cast peanut butter sandwich.

You can’t just go there and make one round of the exhibit, since there is so much to take in. I must have gone around three times, taking the works in first, from a distance, then up close to see the titles and names of artists, as well as details of each work, then from a distance again, to experience the effect each piece has on you. The pieces were grouped more or less according to style, subject, or medium, creating a kaleidoscope of colours that jumped out at you from the walls. In between the groups were sculptures in bronze, paverpol, and cornhusk, as well as a cushion, jewelry, a woven table runner, and a photo slideshow in a digital frame.

The variety of subjects, materials, styles, and colours are a testament to the diversity of the women artists who participated, indeed, a microcosm of PEI. Much more than just the artwork on exhibit, was the opportunity to meet several artists, make new friends, and participate in several interesting and stimulating discussions.

As ever, art is an expression of the artist’s being–thoughts, feelings, beliefs–past and present; it is an interpretation of life and the world as the artist sees it; it is the stimulus to creation, inasmuch as it is the creation resulting from inspiration. This exhibit is a testament to women’s art that is both inspired and inspiring. I sincerely hope that it will be something that can be done more than just once every 3 years.

*All works are on sale at $150 or less and will be on exhibit until March 15.

What’s so important about TIMBER? (an art review)

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What’s so important about TIMBER?

An Art Installation by Alexis Bulman @ this town is small’s market gallery

Reviewed by Cindy Lapeña

Like many communities in Canada, several homes on PEI still rely on wood for fuel during the winter. Besides being more economical than fossil fuels or electricity, wood burning stoves and fireplaces carry with them a certain charm and coziness you just can’t get from turning on a switch.

I never experienced using firewood and marvel at the stories Alexis Bulman shared about how her grandparents, then her parents, turned the collection of firewood for home heating into what could be called tradition. It speaks of how closely tied families still are to the land, to the trees, the wood that fuels the fires of homes.

In her installation TIMBER at the new Market Gallery at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, Ms. Bulman filled two spaces with two different kinds of timber. The first frame is comprised of evenly cut blocks of six-inch-length by four inches wide and approximately an inch thick. The blocks are arranged methodically like bricks laid in a neat self-contained pile within a frame that stands between the upper and lower dining areas at the Market. You can stare at this part of the two-part installation and notice the light wood colouring, occasional wood burns from a mitre saw, and occasional rough hewing of the rectangular ends. There is a certain blandness that makes you overlook this part of the installation, much like ordinary brick walls you might see everyday in a building frequently visited. You might see this solid section as a wall, or even the ends of wood planks piled up in a lumberyard.

The second part of the installation is a completely different presentation. Ms. Bulman used roughly cut chunks of wood—and I use the term literally, because the wood used is raw wood, cut from gathered firewood in various stages of aging and dryness. The pieces of wood were cut into roughly six-inch lengths to fit the depth of the frame, as with the first part. That would be where the similarity ends between the two frames. The pieces of wood in the second frame are cut from logs that have been chopped, mostly in quarters, but many times, into smaller than 45 degree sections. The raw wood is meticulously fitted within the frame, but reminds you of piles of firewood adorning backyards and side yards throughout the island, especially during winter. The marks of a mitre saw decorate the occasional piece as well, revealing which pieces were harder to cut. Triangular streams of light seep through gaps between the pieces, highlighting the individuality of each wedge. If you are like me and sit long enough in front of the piece, you might eventually see the arced patterns formed by contiguous pieces of wood, and even shapes and figures. In many ways, it reminds me of those mosaic-like outlines that we had to fill with colours depending on which ones were dotted, until a picture revealed itself. It is a veritable mosaic of wedges with various textures and shades—individual pieces as unique as each tree they were taken from.

More than just being a contrast between two types of timber for firewood, I see a dichotomy of lifestyles: traditional vs. modern, old vs. new, rural vs. urban. In the wedges, I see people taking the time to collect the wood and chop it into manageable pieces. I see families sharing this chore and turning it into a tradition and a craft, seen in the meticulous attention given to the chopping and stacking of firewood. I see the celebration the completion of the task by families enjoying the warmth generated by the painstakingly-cut wedges, sitting close together in front of the wood stove or fireplace. In the blocks, I see machines and engines and sawmills churning out utilitarian pieces with the same purpose. It speaks to the dichotomy of PEI as well, which is both traditional and modern, old and new, rural and urban. Unlike the framed installations, the island dichotomies are not as pronounced or contained as Ms. Bulman’s Timber.

More than anything else, the knowledge that the installation will revert to its intended role as firewood makes me reflect on the functionality of art and nature as well as of its impermanence. It is something the Japanese have known and reflected in their culture for centuries—in their traditional architecture, paper art, flower arrangements, and especially their haiku. Ms. Bulman’s Timber is a celebration of that impermanence, calling to us to notice a living entity that we have depended on for so long, and that will continue to be a part of Island lives for a long time to come.

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So Glad for the Plaids

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by Cindy Lapeña

                  Once again, director Catherine O’Brien delivers an outstanding production of a show that can only be one of the most entertaining trips down memory lane in Forever Plaid. In tandem with musical director Patrick Burwell, who cameo-ed as the “pianist that came with the room” and requires a union “smoke” break every hour or so, O’Brien has brought together an astounding quartet of male actors to deliver standards from the 50s with the same hip, hurray, and huzzah of the “guy groups” of the 50s, reminding us of the clean cut and harmless ivy league look that our parents or grandparents preferred.

Rather than being a play, however, this performance is really a musical revue with a bit of talking between the 29 songs, during which the audience learns bits and pieces of the quartet’s lives before their fatal accident. The humour sometimes borders on the hilarious, picking up more as the show goes on, while the reminiscing and sentimentality are very well handled and never quite become maudlin.

The four cast members, while very youthful, bring an impressive wealth of stage experience to the Harbourfront Theatre. More than that, they bring amazing voices that blend in perfect harmony punctuated by originally funny choreography that highlights the comicality of missteps and forgotten steps that were most certainly practiced but were delivered with natural spontaneity.

Mark Allan, performing in PEI for the first time, plays Frankie, who seems to be the leader and the main motivator of the quartet, and sings in a beautifully clear tenor. Since I first came to PEI and began watching performances, I have watched Ian Cheverie mature as an actor and a singer and as Jinx, his baritone/tenor voice can be soft and sweet or powerful and belting. Nathan Carroll is another borrowed talent, whose energy and expressiveness stand out in the character of Sparky. I must say his stage antics and tenor remind me of another excellent actor who is a friend of mine, and it almost felt like I was watching my friend when I was watching Nathan. Last, but not the least, Sam Plett is also a visitor to the PEI stage who will always be welcome with his amazing baritone/bass voice, in the role of Smudge, who could very well be dyslexic. Besides being a magnificent singing quartet, each of the players brought other curious talents to the stage—from juggling balls to playing a mouth organ, to playing the piano. Needless to say, each song is an act in itself and extremely entertaining. Too bad that some of the wit and humour in the dialogue and stage business was lost on the audience. My favourite number? The Ed Sullivan show in 3 ½ minutes, because of the skill, perfect timing, energy, and enthusiasm it was performed with.

The only thing that might have helped create better focus was, perhaps, to reduce the size of the stage a tad bit—possibly drawing the curtains in up to where the legs ended so that it would seem like a more intimate set, especially when the quartet separated into different corners of the stage, preventing the viewer from seeing all the actors at the same time. Nonetheless, the majority of numbers did make the use of most of the stage, and the lighting helped concentrate the audience’s focus on the actors.

It’s too bad that the show doesn’t draw a full house every performance, because it is the type of show that would be great fun with a larger audience. Still, I would definitely see this show with this particular cast again and again because their music will never get tiring!

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It’s been so long since I’d been on a live-in writing retreat, I’d forgotten how refreshing, uplifting, encouraging, and productive it can be. I’m just so used to retreating into my little world to write, but having so many new writer-friends who share the same passion and are so welcoming and accepting has assured me that PEI is, indeed, the place for me! I have returned home with a renewed energy for writing and a stronger determination to move towards becoming a completely independent artist and writer! Just need to keep away from relishing the good food too often or I’ll just be eating instead of writing! Thanks to everyone for the amazing weekend! –Thanks Patti Larsen, Kirstin Lund, Kelly Sampson, Charity Becker, Catherine Ann, Stacy Dunn, and Ashley McCormack!
Our first supper was at Eden’s Gate and I got to sample this awesome burger that was more than enough for a single meal! It’s called the ‘Gatekeeper’ Burger — so if you all want to try it out, go to Georgetown! It was definitely a burger to remember!
The Gatekeeper Burger at Eden's Gate, Georgetown, PEI

The Gatekeeper Burger at Eden’s Gate, Georgetown, PEI

 
 

365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 41: Orwell Corner

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(Orwell Corner Historic Village, PE. 17 September 2011). It was with great excitement that approximately 100 newcomers to PEI, along with about 4 or 5 staff members from the PEI Newcomers’ Association and a few EAL tutors gathered at the Kent St. entrance to the Confederation Court Mall on a sunny but very chilly windy Saturday. The group was unfazed by the cold, although several, who had expected a warm day, were starting to shiver as they waited for the buses that would ferry them to Orwell Corner Historic Village. Finally, the buses arrived–huge red and white behemoths that swallowed the people one by one. Sadly, a few newcomers have not yet learned common courtesy and etiquette. They have yet to learn that here, in Canada, we LINE UP and not rush for the door and cut into the line out of turn. Unfortunately, as well, they could barely understand English, so it was not something that could be easily explained. There was some head-shaking there, but that didn’t ruin the mood of the day.

The trip was a short one…not more than 40 minutes out of town taking the route through Stratford and somehow arriving at Orwell Corner after a series of pretty farmland scenes with corn fields and other fields, cows taking a noon nap, bales of hay rolled in white plastic wraps like gigantic white worms stretched across the fields, and gently rolling hills.

Once into the Orwell Corner turnoff, the road was slightly bumpy, as it was unpaved, unlike the highway. A bit of dust rose from the rear end of the red bus ahead of ours, but the buses were air conditioned, so that didn’t bother us at all. We pulled into a sharp turn that led into a parking lot, where our only view of the village was a dirt path bordered with log fences. Upon disembarking, we proceeded to follow the red dirt road to the museum and, of course, gift shop.

A view of the distant hills from the parking lot

 

Welcome to Orwell Corner!

 

following the red dirt road to the museum

Inside the museum, we were greeted by shelves of souvenirs, curios and other PEI products (like lobster chips, which I have yet to try), hand-made soap and goat milk soap. Unfortunately, this was a cash-less field trip, so I could only appreciate what I saw. Besides, everything was priced for tourists! Well, pretty much.

Once past the gift shop counters, we encountered huge and varied farm equipment, transportation modes, mostly for winter, and all sorts of alien machines. There was also a miniature log cabin and a miniature setting of a house–pretty much like a playhouse, with child-sized furniture.

Log cabin

There was even a little potty chair!

a little potty chair!

Outside the museum, we strolled down the road to the village proper, where the first thing you see is the cemetery in front of the Presbyterian church.

Orwell Corner cemetery

It was a nice peaceful quiet spot, God’s little acre where the old denizens of Orwell sleep for eternity. If I’d had more time, I’d have looked at the gravestones to see what years they were put up. Not that I’d find any relatives there! The sleepers would be from England and Ireland and Scotland.

The church was a simple building, a bright shiny white in the September sun. It looked pretty much like most of the rural churches around PEI. Simple, unassuming. I wonder if that is a characteristic of non-Catholic churches, or of churches built by the English, Irish, and Scots. Back in the Philippines, hardly any two Catholic churches look alike!

Orwell Corner Presbyterian Church

As soon as you stepped into the door, you could smell the old pine and cedar and the very strong smell of must in the air. The archway in the foyer above the door to the interior of the church bears the year the church was built: 1861.

built in 1861

The pews were sitting there, facing the pulpit. Old, solid, shiny from wear and some polish, I suppose.

The pulpit stood dead center of the altar area, dark and imposing, as it probably meant to be.

 

To be continued.