Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Music as Identity - Part 7 - Grunge

I remember distinctly my introduction to the grunge genre. It was during the musical vacuum of my year of studying abroad. A friend of my roommate and I sent over Smells like Teen Spirit by Nirvana saying it was all the rage. We listened to it and really liked it, so it joined the rotation with the other few tapes we brought over with us. It was not until I came back that I started to realize how popular these guys really got. Before coming back I had not lost taste for the music from overexposure because this tape was our only exposure.

When I got back, everyone was listening to it and there was a whole other group of bands and albums to discover. Now this goes back to the point of my musical taste being influenced by those around me. Coming back to the states, I came into a new circle of friends who I worked with in the cafeteria who listened to this type of music. So I jumped in and started buying CD's by Pearl Jamb, Temple of the Dog, Mother Love Bone, and Nirvana.

It's interesting because looking back because it was really one of the few times I listened to music that was not under the umbrella of New Wave or Electronica. I listened to rock and classic rock at different times in my life, but I was never passionate about the music enough to go out and buy bunches of albums. It was also odd because I am not a fan of heavy metal and bands like Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails tend to border on that style (hard and loud). Though the style is still quite different.

Only two more components left of this series. Miscellaneous and the summation.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Delirium & Corteo

Two new Cirque du Soleil shows have started making their way around North America. Corteo started last summer and looks to be making it to Chicago this summer or fall. Delirium started here in Montreal Thursday night and is scheduled to make a 120 city tour of North America. So it is bound to make it to Chicago this year. It will be in St.Louis in early May, Eric. So far all of the reviews of Delirium I have seen have been good.

I mention this because I have had the privilege of working on both of these productions. It was a minor role of verifying that the stage structure could support the weight of the show along with recommending modifications, but it still gives me pride. Others in our office verified the overhead elements and even the grandstands. It is really one of the perks of my place of employment to be able to work with a client of this creativity and visibility. I have also verified the new stage for Alegria (now in Europe) and parts of KA in Las Vegas.

As far as the shows themselves, I have only seen four of them, Corteo, Alegria, Quidam, and Dralion. I found Corteo to be the best show. The show has acts that are more traditional and it is a well-rounded show with more than just acrobatics. Alegria had been the best show before and is the height of Cirque du Soleil style. I really liked Quidam the two times I saw it, but Dralion was a disappointment.

The Cirque now has 12 shows currently playing, 5 permanent installations and 7 travelling shows. Plus there are other shows currently in the works. There are Corteo, Delirium, Quidam, and Varekai touring North America. Alegria and Dralion are touring Europe while Saltimbanco is touring South America. None are in Asia, though Alegria was there recently. The permanent installation in Disneyworld Florida is La Nouba and the four shows in Las Vegas are KA, Mystere, O, and Zumanity. One of these years we'll make it to Las Vegas.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Watercolor - Siena, Italy

So here is the last in the Watercolor series. This is the one I am the most proud of and the one we have actually framed. For reference here are the first, second, and third in the series so you can see the progression.

Siena was a day trip from Florence. The city was picturesque, but did not have many must-see sites. So it was perfect for doing watercolor. Meeting before in the Piazza del Campo, seeing the cathedral, settling down to create a watercolor, then meeting up again in the Piazza.

From here, I will return to posting photos every Friday unless I find a sketch of interest.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Save My Space in Chicago

This post is related to the previous post about how Montreal deals with snow. Since that post I have found two significant (though not surprising) differences between the two cities. First, the average snowfall in Chicago is 3 feet, while it is 7.5 feet in Montreal. Second, the average January high temperature in Chicago is 32F (0C). In Montreal it is 21F (-6C). So there is more snow here and less chance for it to melt away. This is probably a very good reason for the different methods of dealing with the snow. For comparison, in the past when they plowed snow to the side instead of carting it away here in Montreal, it piled up over 10 feet high. In Chicago, you would need an exceptional year of snow to make five feet high. Most years it only gets up to three.

There is one aspect of winter in Chicago that it seems very few people elsewhere know about. The increase in street furniture after a snowfall. In the residential neighborhoods, people clean away the snow around their car. They may even pull the car out and clear up the remaining snow. This is done because unlike here in Montreal, the city does not cart away the snow. It is there to stay. The goal is to have a space that can be easily pulled into and out of. When the car is not there, the spot is saved by a piece of furniture or two usually with a string between them to define the space. It is usually an old kitchen chair or unused outdoor furniture. This is what I grew up doing with my family. Here is a picture courtesy of the Chicagoist.

And for the most part this is respected. Otherwise you may not have air in your tires when you return. It is quite bizarre to drive down the street at midday and see a street lined with furniture, but it works. You cleaned it out, it should be there when you return from work. It is different in the more congested areas like Lakeview or Lincoln Park (similar to the Plateau) because of the density, lack of parking spaces, and lack of expendable furniture. Here in Montreal, the city cleans the streets so you only have to tough it out two or three days until they come through.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Snow Removal in Montreal

This post and the next will regard the different ways that Montreal and Chicago deal with snow respectively. They are primarily to explain to those in the opposite city how things are done in each city.

One of the fascinating aspects about winters here in Montreal and many parts of Quebec is that the local governments actually cart away the snow instead of just plowing it to the side. It makes sense since the snow piles lining the streets would easily be ten feet high or more. Plus available parking would be greatly reduced along with the width of the streets. This is evident after each major snowfall. So here is a play by play of the snow removal process. Ed of Blork fame also wrote about it more eloquently for BootsnAll Travel a few years back. The difference is that I have pictures to show people back in Chitown. I've been wanting to do this since my first winter here. Anyhow, here's the drill.

Signs like the orange ones below are posted along the street to advise residents that they will be clearing the street during the specified 12 hour period and that parking is not allowed. They usually give 12 hours notice. At the beginning of the time period, tow trucks make their way down the street and blare a distinctive horn when they come upon a car. If no one comes out to move the car, it is towed away.

Once the street is cleared of cars, these mini-bulldozers push the snow from the sidewalks out to the street. These are the same mini-bulldozers that clear the sidewalks. Yes, those of you in Chicago, the city clears the sidewalks. No walking on shoe width icy snow packed footpaths.

Then construction graders and front-end loaders are used to pile the snow up into a nice ridge going down the street.

Then the queen mother of all snowblowers comes out. It is usually attached to the front of a truck or another piece of construction equipment. Following behind are an army of dump trucks all waiting to be filled with snow, dirt, pebbles, leaves, small deceased animals, or whatever else is buried in the snow.

So then the snowblower moves slowly down the street filling a dumptruck moving alongside until it is full and replaced. I've seen a few times now where 2 or 3 trucks are needed per block.

The snow is then carted away to dumping sites. I had seen them around town, but it took me a while to realize that these 3-story mountains were actually where the snow went. The one in our suburb is on average 20 feet deep and about the size of a football field by the end of the season. I would love to say that they don't melt until late July or that they become year-round resident glaciers. But in actuality, they melt away usually by the first of May.

So there you have it. That's the impressive (and expensive) method of snow removal here in Montreal. I'm really glad to have gotten this post written. It has been one that I really wanted to write from the beginning.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

And then there were four...

My wife gave birth to the newest addition to our family. Everyone is in good health, but in dire need of a good night's sleep.

I got tagged (kinda) with another meme from a fellow exile , Kirsten, here in Montreal. Though she hails from the southern hemisphere.

It's called the Four Meme and it's pretty darn tough to boil down some of these categories to just four. Here are my responses:

Four jobs you have had in your life:
Architect, Engineer, Salesperson, Teamster

Four movies you could watch over and over:
Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Amelie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Night on Earth

Four places you have lived:
Chicago; Montreal; Versailles, France; and Champaign, IL

Four TV shows you love to watch:
Amazing Race, Survivor, Law & Order, Seinfeld

Four places you have been on vacation:
Maui, Santorini, Prague, Yellowstone

Four websites you visit daily:
Before blogs: CNN, Chicago Tribune, ESPN, and Mt St Helens
After blogs: Daily Dose of Architorture, Metroblogging Montreal, Ni Vu Ni Connu, Immutably Me

Four of your favorite foods:
Chicago style pizza, fajitas, burritos as big as your head, Bar Louie sandwiches

Four places you'd rather be:
Other than here or Chicago, on a beach or snorkeling in Maui, Santorini at sunset, a cafe in Paris, travelling by train through Europe.

Four albums you can't live without:
Ultrachilled #1, Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me by the Cure, Front by Front by Front 242, The Mirror Conspiracy by Thievery Corporation

Four vehicles that I've owned:
1993 Nissan Sentra SE-R, 1979 Honda CB 400 motorcycle, a Volvo, a Trek bicycle.

I tag:
Paolo (Immutably Me)
Martine (Ni Vu Ni Connu)
Sadia (Random Acts by Design)
Vila (The Smoking Section)

Friday, January 20, 2006


This picture was taken in Parc National Forillon two summers ago. Parc Forillon is the end of the Appalachian mountain range before it plunges into the ocean. We took the trip there when some friends from France came to visit. It was my first trip to the Gaspe peninsula. Previously I had only gotten as far as Tadoussac.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Impressions of the Cold

Now that I have endured two winters and I am part way through my third, I'd like to share what my perceptions are of the cold up here compared to Chicago. Primarily, I have actually found it easier to deal with up here than back home. Let me explain.

The way I dress for the cold is different plus the time and duration of time I spend out in the cold is different. First I have learned from others here how to really dress for the cold. Starting from the bottom, Doc Martins suck on snow and ice. Proper snow boots are easy to find here and in a greater variety of styles. I got a nice pair from Aldo (client plug) that look better than my dress shoes. Next, long underwear that is made for everyday use is easier to find. It is constantly ripping the hairs off the backs of my legs, but I may have a solution for that this year. I spent a paycheck and bought a Kanuk. The thing is good for -35 degrees and I was OK in -50 last winter. Drawback is that you sweat profusely after a few seconds indoors. I learned the proper way to wear a scarf and was able to find scarves long enough to adequately insulate that space between your collar and hat. The hat has been the hard part. Not finding one that was warm enough, but one that also my wife and I can agree on. We are still looking. But winter fashion seems less of a concern, so wearing a stocking cap (toque) with your ears tucked is much more common.

And time spent outdoors. Back in Chitown my commute consisted of walking to the el, waiting for the train, cold bursts of air at every stop, and the walk from the train to the office. This totalled about 60-80 minutes a day spent outside, sometimes motionless. My commutes here result in at most 20 minutes outdoors since we drive. The other aspect is that in Chicago we would attend outdoor sporting events regularly. We would sit motionless for about three hours in 10F (-12C) usually with some sort of wind just for fun. Even Cubs opening day in April always seemed to be 32F (0C) and it always seemed colder.

So you see, although it is technically colder here, my perception has been that it is easier to take. Plus three weeks of my first winter here were shared between LA and Florida. So far this winter's temps have been above average.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet.

It's that time of year. No not Halloween. Here in Quebec, at least in the francophone circles that I run in, winter is the time when you wear two or three different types of footwear daily. It seems it is a tradition to have your outdoor winter boots or shoes and your indoor shoes. Basically you change shoes each time you exit or enter places where they want to keep out the dirt and the salt, like at home, your office, or other people's homes. It makes perfect sense even though it is a bit of a hassle some of the time.

But there is a disadvantage to this. Winter footwear is made to be waterproof. Water can't get in, but moisture also can't get out. So this can make everyone's feet pretty ripe especially considering you are usually using your feet when you are wearing the winter footwear. Usually the footwear is stored in a closet or an entry foyer. The problem is the confined space reeks of smelly feet. So when the time comes to get dressed up or dressed down from the outdoors, you try to abbreviate the process as much as possible.

I reached into the closet this evening and was almost overcome by the odor. Then my coat had that wonderful hint of feet the rest of the evening. But it didn't stop there. Our daycare has a policy of requiring the parents to remove their shoes before going to retrieve their child. So the alcove and the dress-up area quickly become the last place you want to struggle outfitting a young child. You yearn to exit into the bitter cold where you deeply inhale as your snot freezes solid.

That said, it is still better than that mildew smell in the locker room the morning after an afternoon of high school team sport practice in the rain.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Music as Identity - Part 6 - Dance Music

I have a confession to make. I like the boom-boom music. I'm not even going to suggest that the music has to have a melody. It could endlessly repeat sound bites in a fairly monotonous pattern, but for some reason I like it. Of course the prerequisite is that it sounds cool to my ears.
The types of dance music that I have listened to over the years probably breaks down into three categories, hip-hop, house, and techno. Much of the industrial, synth pop, or even electronica that I mentioned earlier could also fall into this category, but the former three are strictly considered for dancing. Though the interrelation between the six can be hard to distiguish at times. With all three of these, it was not that I was interested about any group in particular, but the music as a whole. There are some songs that I remember, but not by name and I never knew the artist.

When it comes to hip-hop, there was one album that I really enjoyed and recently bought on CD. It's not boom boom music, but represents one of the styles I liked. 3 Feet High And Rising by De La Soul was a favorite album in high school. The band members actually remind me of some of the guys I hung out with in the clubs. Though it is not music meant to be danced to, it's style really demostrates the type of hip-hop that I liked. It is more about life than about posturing, materialism, and violence. Similar to others like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Run DMC, or LL Cool J. It was much more tame than the gangsta rap that followed.

As for house, again, I remember songs, but not necessarily the name or artist. I did find this in Wikipedia and the names ring a bell:
Trax became the dominant House label, releasing many classics including No Way Back by Adonis, Larry Heard's Can You Feel It and the first so-called House anthem in 1986, Move Your Body by Marshall Jefferson. This latter tune gave a massive boost to House music, extending recognition of the genre out of Chicago. Steve 'Silk' Hurley became the first house artist to reach number one in the UK in 1987 with Jack Your Body.

My most recent interest in music that was distinctly meant for dance were two albums by Fat Boy Slim. On the Floor at The Boutique and Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars. Again, they are just a beat and pleasing sounds to my ears. I can't really explain it.

Next up, grunge.

Blonde Joke

I'm not a big fan of blonde jokes, but this one is pretty interesting.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Are you Ready?

For some Football!!! (Just imagine if Monday Night Football had Michael Jackson sing that line instead of Hank Williams Jr.)

This NFL season has almost passed me by. I think I only saw parts of two games all season. But today we are gearing up for the big Bears playoff game. Yesterday I cooked homemade chili. BTW, why are bean dishes more popular in winter when we are all stuck inside together? We will also be having Maison du Roti sausages, a beer or two, and maybe some nacho cheese dip. I missed turkey over the holidaze, so this may make-up for that. The Bears may advance and there may be a couple more games, but why chance it? This may be my only chance to watch a full game. No Cinderella or Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.... Today we're watching football.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Watercolor - Firenze, Italia

Here is a watercolor of the Ponte Vecchio in Firenze, Italia. One of my favorite cities in Europe including Vienna, Stockholm, and Paris. This one is a bit of a departure from the previous ones. I did a light pencil sketch to be sure of the proportions then used the color to define the edges. I also didn't close crop this image because I liked how the edges turned out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

My Soldier Field

It does not happen often that a project you have worked on is seen internationally. But on Sunday at 4:30 pm, Soldier Field will be the backdrop of the playoff game between the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers. It will be my first time seeing it on television here in Montreal. Here are a couple before and after photos of the project.

Along with probably thousands of others, I take pride in calling Soldier Field mine. I spent four years working on the project, three in the office and one on site during construction. From the wild initial designs to the inevitable problems that come up in the field. The project was special for me on many levels. I have been a Bears fan all my life having gone to games since I was a kid. My father and I went to a few January playoff games long ago where I spent half the game thawing out in the bathrooms. I am fiercely proud to be a Chicagoan and this project is at a prominent location on the lakefront. Lastly, I worked with friends who I had gone to school with or lived with. It is easier to work out difficult problems when you know the other people well.
At Thornton Tomasetti's Chicago office, we designed the structure for the project: foundations, steel structure (beams & columns), and the floor slabs. The building is a partially-assymetrical design with some very interesting aspects (at least structurally). Each of the scoreboards is cantilevered 150 feet over existing stands. The west grandstand cantilevers 60 feet over the existing colonnade. Due to the nature of people being present in the grandstand, special measures needed to be taken. Devices called tuned mass dampers were installed at the tips in order to counter act the destructive rhythm caused by people jumping in sync.

But another thing that is really cool about having worked on a project this large and this visible is all the paraphenalia. Magazine articles, t-shirts, baseball caps, scale models, postcards, and posters are just some of the items with it's likeness. Now I'm not obsessively hoarding every item I can get my hands on, but I do have enough to show my pride.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

The 2006 Bloggies

For those of you who don't know, nominations are now open for the 2006 Weblog Awards. Something similar to the Academy Awards of bloggin. You can nominate numerous blogs for a variety of categories. If you are so inclined, you could nominate me for any or all of the following: Best Canadian Weblog, Best Kept Secret Weblog, and Best New Weblog. To submit your nominations click here.

Don't forget that you can only vote once and that it must be sent by tomorrow (Tues) night at 10pm ET (9pm CT). The blogs with the most nominations make it to the second round.

Life in Hell - Working-Day Emotion Checklist


Well, my two week vacation is over. It is the first time in ten years that I had this much time off without travelling or visitors. Damn was it nice. Am I ready to go back to work? Umm... No. Just laid back, tended to the needs of those around me, and checked off items on the 'to do' list. Plus the place is a little more set up to our tastes and upcoming needs. Now I have an idea how my life would be if I won the lottery. Though we would probably get out of the house a lot more.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

...The Wrigley Building... Chicago is...

Here is a picture I took a couple summers ago. The Wrigley Building is on the left, the Tribune Tower is on the right, and the middle one is the Hotel Intercontinental. The second flag down is that of the State of Illinois. The third is the flag of Chicago. The two blue lines represent the north and south branches of the Chicago River. The three white lines represent the north, west, and south sides (Sorry, no east, G). The four red stars stand for: Fort Dearbourn massacre of 1812, The Chicago Fire of 1871, the Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the Century of Progress exposition of 1933.

Friday, January 06, 2006

On the Metroblog

I wrote a post for the Metroblog a couple days ago about a new building in downtown Montreal. Here's the link.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Behind the Barriers

For those of you who are not my friends from the industry. Here is a look at one aspect of my job through the lens of Annie Leibovitz. This is what our work looks like before it is hidden behind walls or under concrete. We did more work like this in Chicago, here more of our work is concrete. Similar, but different. Great images that really capture what it looks like on a typical hi-rise or large scale construction site. Thanks again to my friend John for the link.

One thing that is evident in the photos is the controlled chaos. Plus it seems so surprising that so much of the work is still done by hand. For instance, pouring a concrete floor slab still requires a bunch of guys sloshing through the wet concrete sculpting a nice flat or slightly sloped surface. Interior partitions and finishes are assembled by hand. Muscles is still employed to move things from here to there move often than you would think. Machines don't do the work, just human strength and precision. And since almost every building is unique, it may never change.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Chibougamau Trip

This time last year I took a business trip up to a mine 100 miles (150 km) north of Chibougamau. So a total of about 500 miles (800 km) north of Montreal. The trip up and back was itself an adventure. We flew Air Creebec up to Chibougamau in a small prop plane. On each flight, the plane was half Native Canadians and half others. The plane was an aisle with seats on each side. The aisle was narrow enough that a third person could not sit between the two seats.

The flight attendant handed out our meals and gave us the pre-flight instructions. Then she asked if we needed anything, put on a headset, and climbed into the co-pilot seat. There was no cockpit door, so on the return to Montreal in a snowstorm, I was able to lean my head into the aisle and watch as they aimed between the two parallel lines of blue lights during landing.

From Chibougamau, we rented a pickup truck and drove 100 miles on a road of grooved ice. Special machines pass regularly on the Route du Nord (Road of the North) to make the grooves. The landscape was stunning. The pine trees were shorter than usual and the tops all looked like clumps of pine on sticks. There were also quite a few spots where there were only the trunks still standing. At first we thought it was clear-cut forestry, but it must have been forest fires since the trunks were still there. Though we did see quite a bit of clear-cut forestry from the air.

We saw quite a few caribou. There was also quite a few traces of blood where caribou had been killed on the roadside. Not sure whether they were killed in the forest then dragged to the road or just killed on the road. The rumor was that the Native Canadians had killed them illegally in order to resell the meat. Anyhow, there were easily two dozen traces along the journey. The drive there was hazy and cloudy, while the ride back was bright and sunny.

Once there, it was quite an interesting place. Though not somewhere you would like to be caught alone with Jack Nicholson. You are really out in the middle of nowhere and you are highly dependant on that electrical wire to the outside world. If there had been a snowstorm and the power went out, you'd be SOL. The wind chill the next morning was -60F (-50C) and the actual temp was -40F (-40C). Luckily most of the places we needed to go to were protected but unheated and we were required to wear so much equipment, we didn't feel the difference from harsh Montreal cold.

Although it was the coldest place I had ever been, I was surprised that it was not the furthest north I had been. It is as far north as London and Stockholm is much farther north.

The second trip in March was quite a drag compared to the first visit. With the exception of a $250 cab ride between Chibougamau and the mine, it was uneventful. May have been because I did this trip alone. But damn, that first trip was really something else.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Watercolor - Villefranche sur Mer, France

I'd be amiss if I continued with the Watercolor series without mentioning the person who taught it to me. Carl Johnson (the artist, not the Olympic athlete) was our guide on the watercolor sketch trip through the French Riviera and Tuscany. You may notice that much of my style mimics his. My better attempts were those of a permanent ink hand sketch with accented color filling in between.

Each day we would find ourselves in a different locale and he would give us tips on the environment. We would all disperse and proceed with searching out our subject and completing the painting. Afterward we would rendez-vous and he would critique our work. At night we would meet up for a good supper and numerous beverages. The thing that made the trip so special was not only learning watercolor, but the interesting conversations and the adventure of traveling together. He was one of us discovering the place and enjoying the moment.

We have kept in touch after all these years. He sends us a Christmas card every year and we visited him a few times in Galena, IL while we lived in Chicago. We happened to be in his studio on our first wedding anniversary and he gave us a print of his painting of the Versailles Chateau. Very appropriate on a few levels and it proudly hangs in our dining room.

Here is another watercolor from the 1992 sketch trip. This was done during another day trip from Nice along the French Riviera. Villefranche sur Mer and the surrounding area is where they filmed Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

You have got to love Google Maps (with the help of maporama). Using the two, I was able to locate the set up for this watercolor. The subject is to the right of the map and I was sitting at the left end of the beach that crosses the page. And here is a shot of the actual subject. It is on the left of the photo.

Hopefully, you can see a bit of progress from the previous one. The greenery is decent, but it keeps it from being framed and hung. Kudos to anyone who can figure out what was added at a later date and was still done incorrectly.