Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Diverse diversions

This week, my random things will all be things that can distract, amuse or entertain you while you’re self-isolating. Many of these things are found on the internet, as is my publication, so will be of no use to people who do not have an internet connection — or who relied on the connection at a public institution, like a library, that is now closed.

On the one hand, reading physical books, playing board games, taking walks, listening to the radio, watching TV, baking cookies, having rousing philosophical discussions, shoveling snow, organizing your sock drawer, churning butter, making a quilt, dipping candles, cleaning your musket…sorry, I’ve started confusing self-isolating with working at the Fortress Louisbourg. My point is, there are many things you can do to entertain yourself without an internet connection.

BUT the internet is going to be important for weeks (if not months) to come for so much more than just entertainment:  we’ll use it for work, for socializing, for education, for medical consultations, for ordering food and groceries, for paying bills and much, much more.

How, then, can we not ensure everyone has access to the internet?

My cousin, Katie Campbell, was way ahead of the curve on this. This is what she wrote back in 2010:

The current approach of delivering internet connectivity to users at a high price, and a low quality, will never work, not even delivery of high price good quality service will work. What will give Canada the leap forward is the delivery of free, unregulated, high quality internet. Only this will lead to leadership in online service and markets.

Her argument was that if you gave people a place to “live” on the internet — meaning, ensured they had access to high-quality service — the economic benefits (and all the other benefits) would naturally follow. The United Nations began to catch up in June 2016, when it amended Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to add 15 internet-related recommendations including:

5. Affirms also the importance of applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach in providing and in expanding access to Internet and requests all States to make efforts to bridge the many forms of digital divides;

12. Calls upon all States to consider formulating, through transparent and inclusive processes with all stakeholders, and adopting national Internet-related public policies that have the objective of universal access and enjoyment of human rights at their core;

The UN seemed to focus more on countries that actively disrupt internet access or limit the sharing of information online or telecom conglomerates that block content or place stuff they don’t like in “slow lanes,” but that exhortation to “bridge the many forms of digital divides” has to include the financial divide that prevents some people in this province from accessing high-speed internet. (It would also apply to the geographic divide, which has the same effect and which has persisted despite the government’s efforts to expand broadband access. That its approach has been to fund private companies whose key interest is not universal access but their own bottom lines is surely part of the problem, but I digress.)

Everyone should have high-speed internet access. This only sounds radical if you think of high-speed internet access as a luxury in which case, you think what I’m saying is: everyone should have caviar.

If you think of the internet as a public utility — which I’m more and more convinced is the only way to think of it — then what I’m saying is more like: everyone should have electricity (which should obviously also be a public utility and is in most places in this country). Maybe it’s not free but it’s affordable (and subsidized where necessary). I haven’t worked out all the details, I’ve been too busy churning butter, but lots of much better informed people than I have been thinking about what this could look like.

Also, at least for the duration of this plague, everyone should have access to Netflix’s AMERICAN library.

(Okay, that’s caviar, but really.)

With that caveat, I now present, diversions available to those of us lucky enough to have high-speed internet.



New York’s Metropolitan Opera has launced “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a “free series of encore Live in HD presentations” you would previously have had to go to a move theater and pay to see.

Tonight’s performance will be Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment, conducted by Marco Armiliato, starring Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez. I write that like I know what I’m talking about but I do not, dear readers, I am mostly an Opera Ignoramous, although coincidentally, I’ve always had a soft spot for the first Opera the Met streamed in this series — Bizet’s Carmen. That’s because Gilligan and the castaways used the “Habernera” and the Toréador’s song from Carmen for their musical version of Hamlet. What I hadn’t realized until just now, is that I also have a soft spot for Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann because Gilligan et al also borrowed a song from that opera (“Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour”).


I also know something about the operas to be featured during the week of March 23 — Wagner’s Ring Cycle — thanks to…Bugs Bunny:


Whether you prefer the actual Ring Cycle or the Elmer Fudd version (“Kill the wabbit! Kill the wabbit!), you will find both in that magical place called the interwebs.



Sometimes referred to as “Opera’s country cousin” (by me, I totally just made that up) musicals are a genre I personally enjoy although I know many people — I am even related to a few — who would rather pull their own eyelashes out than watch one, so I’ll give those people a moment to head for the next item…

Okay, now that it’s just us musical lovers, there are some musical productions you can watch on YouTube gratis (although, I should say right now that artists who aren’t Arianna Grande or Drake or [insert name of popular artist mentioning whom makes the author seem cooler here] are going to struggle during this period, as theaters and concert venues close and could use our support — the CBC has compiled a list of ways to help them here).

David Levy, a “member education manager” at Actors’ Equity Association, freelance writer and owner of a cat named Rhoda Morgenstern has compiled a list of such musicals and you can find them via his Twitter account.

Some are better quality than others — like this 2015 production of Oklahoma! by the University of North Carolina School of Performing Arts.

Check out Levy’s Twitter feed (@itsdlevy) for the full list — and suggestions for musicals you can rent online at bargain prices.

In addition, the website Broadway World is presenting the Broadway Living Room Concerts series as a fundraiser for the Actor’s fund.


Docs & Movies

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam — the world’s largest documentary film event — is making over 300 of its collection available to stream online for free amid the coronavirus pandemic. Hot Docs, Toronto’s documentary film festival (which has been postponed due to the coronavirus) has yet to make a similar offer but I’m not giving up on them yet.

Canada’s National Film Board always offers lots of free content

Quartz compiled a list of streaming services offering discounts or extending their free trial periods or, in the case of VidAngel — a family-friendly streaming service boasting “the world’s largest library of clean comedy” and “a feature that allows users to skip ‘objectionable’ content on Netflix and Amazon” — free access to its catalog until March 30 in return for a promise:

I will wash my hands regularly and practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

And, I’ll give bigger hugs when this is all over.



Ken Burns has asked PBS to make “Our Game,” his baseball documentary series available for streaming free of charge (and regardless of your location, I tried the link and it worked for me.) I’m including this in my “sports” section rather than my “documentaries” section because otherwise, I would only have one item in sports.

If you are jonesing for basketball, you can watch the Toronto Raptors’ entire 24-game [SPOILER ALERT] championship run over 24 nights beginning this Friday, March 20:



I have only found one example of this but I hope it starts a trend: Radio Canada presented August Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie (Miss Julie), which my sister assures me is the hot ticket of the Montreal theater season, as a radio play last night!

I realize this is, obviously, too late for those of you who would have enjoyed listening to it, but I present it in the hope that the English-language CBC might attempt something similar.

Especially since you don’t need internet to listen to a radio play.



Ashley MacIsaac will host a virtual “Quarantine Ceilidh” on April 1 — details to follow.

Adam Baldwin will be broadcasting his “Cross-Country CHIN UP” live tonight (Friday):


The Berlin Philharmonie, home to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, has closed its doors until April to help combat COVID-19 but has made its Digital Concert Hall available free of charge.  To take advantage of the offer, log on to the Digital Concert Hall ticket page with the code “BerlinPhil.”

Berlin Philharmonie

Berlin Philharmonie (Pedelecs by Wikivoyage and Wikipedia / CC BY-SA (

Many artists are streaming performances via their Instagram accounts — CNN lists a few in its own article about ways to “enrich, entertain” yourself from home (that’s “enrich” in the cultural and intellectual sense, not the “stuff envelopes” sense.)



There are hundreds of titles in the public domain available for download from website like Authorama and Project Gutenberg.

I just looked up the top 100 e-books downloaded yesterday (Thursday).  Number one was:

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe.

Of course it was.