Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Shore Road Sessions

I wrote last year about The Shore Road Sessions, Shauna Walters’ summer series of mini-concerts in her Whitney Pier backyard.

The sessions returned this year with a whole new lineup of performers, and I was lucky enough to catch the final show on Tuesday night. I am writing about it, even though you cannot attend it, because I want to give a shout out to the performers  — Mary Beth Carty and Morgan Toney — who put on such a great show, I have to talk about it.

Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty

Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty, Shore Road Sessions, September 2021.

What struck me most about both these artists is their ability to learn — and master — new things.

In her introduction, Shauna noted that Toney, a fiddle player, had taken up the instrument only three years earlier, before squelching any or our misplaced hopes by adding that  that no one should expect to sound like Toney after three years of practice, he is exceptional.

Carty, who regularly performs in English and French, has added  Mi’kmaq and Gaelic songs to her repertoire — she said that rather than learning to bake sour dough bread during the lock down, she learned Gaelic mouth music or puirt à beul. In addition to playing accordion, guitar and piano, she has mastered the bones, a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands, apparently.  (She said they can fly out of unaccustomed fingers and hit people in the front row but that we were not to worry because she was in control. As someone who was sitting close to the front, I can confirm this to have been true.)

She  asked if anyone knew any bones players and while she meant extant bones players, I immediately thought of Wild Archie MacLellan, maestro of the bones and fixture of the many Scottish concerts of my childhood. (To be sure of my facts, I just ran up a hill in the rain to ask my father about Wild Archie, and in addition to ascertaining his last name, I discovered he was born in Inverness but at the time I would have been seeing him perform was living in industrial CB. In fact, his last place of residence was across the street from us at a seniors complex. He was one of a little band of regulars who timed their afternoon trips to town to coincide with my father’s return to work. He frequently had a full car heading back to the Post after lunch. But that is a story for another day…)

Here is one of the songs Toney performed on Tuesday night:


And here is one of the songs Carty performed:

I think it’s a testament to their musical abilities that the songs sounded just as good performed live by two people as they do in these videos.

What I’m saying, folks, is if you have a chance to see these performers, go for it.


Election coverage

Drawing of a ballot boxI am not good at election coverage, as you have probably noticed. All I usually do is ask candidates a series of questions and print their answers, which has some value but — let’s face it — not very much.  Without any push-back or follow-up questions, it’s no different than printing selections from their campaign materials, which, frankly, is often what I receive in terms of answers.

But I realized, mulling over this seemingly intractable problem, that you could argue the whole point of the Spectator is to help people make informed decisions come election time — not by questioning the candidates but by informing readers about the issues so they can do their own questioning. I think we’ve been particularly successful at this at the municipal level.

But we’ve tackled lots of federal issues too — see Sean Howard on Canada’s refusal to sign prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) or ‘Ban Treaty’ or Dolores Campbell on a guaranteed annual income or Michelle Smith’s thoughts on the Canadian dairy industry.

So next week, in the last regular edition before the federal election, instead of asking questions of candidates, I’m going to devote the space to exploring important issues — and let you ask the questions.

I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to me work that out.


The rich are…difficult

I watched the last two episodes of The White Lotus last night instead of watching the English-language leaders’ debate, further evidence of how bad I am at election coverage.

But The White Lotus had Connie Britton and the leaders’ debate did not, so what’s a viewer to do?

And actually, in keeping with my line about exploring issues, I could make the case that The White Lotus, written and directed by Mike White for HBO, explores what is arguably an important election issue: inequality. Or, in the words of the Guardian reviewer, “the monstrousness of affluence.”

Staff from The White Lotus, HBO series.

Staff from the White Lotus welcoming the boat carrying the latest guests.

The series is set at a luxury spa in Hawaii — an island even more dependent on tourism than Cape Breton — and focuses on on the guests and the staff and the fraught relations between the two. While no character (except perhaps the “real estate bro” Shane) is completely unlikable, I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that White’s sympathies lie with the staff.

Having been lectured this week on how Cabot Cliffs — the Cape Breton golf resort that caters to a similar demographic as the fictional White Lotus — “employs a community” and has turned the economy of Inverness around, I was fascinated by White’s depiction of what it’s like to work at such a place. I think the most devastating commentary comes early on, in the instructions given by White Lotus manager Armand (played brilliantly by the Australian actor Murray Bartlett), to a new staffer.

Armand tells her she is to “efface” herself, to be “more generic,” to avoid sharing any personal details with the guests who don’t want to know them as people but to have them “disappear behind [their] masks as pleasant, interchangeable helpers … The goal is to create for the guests an overall impression of vagueness that can be very satisfying.”

White also makes a point of referencing — repeatedly — how bad the pay is at the White Lotus. That, plus the general grimness with which work at the resort is portrayed makes me suspect the Hawaiian version of Mary Tulle (I’ll give you a moment to try and picture that person) has been tweeting up a storm in defense of the island’s tourism industry, which no doubt “employs communities” and has “turned the economy around.”