Friday, 28 June 2013

Orlando and Epcot

Ric - my partner - was a delegate from his church in Berkeley, California to the National Conference of the Congregationalist Churches of America and it was held at the Hilton Hotel in Orlando. While Ric was there for the entire conference, I was present for the last three days.

I took a new camera - a gift from a friend - with me but, unfortunately, neither Ric nor I were able to operate it properly so - sadly - I missed a number of wonderful photographic opportunities. The donor of the camera is the person whom I depend upon when I have computer problems. I was in that situation before I left so he came over here on the evening that I returned. While he was here he carefully guided me through the operation of the device. It does work - and I will have it with me when I go on  the boat cruise on Monday (Canada Day) but too late for Orlando and Epcot!

As my computer was down before I left here I missed a number of email messages from Delta Airlines detailing changes in the routing of my flight.  Originally, I was to fly to Boston, then Atlanta and, finally, Orlando. While I was at Lester B. Pearson International Airport (here in Toronto) my itinerary was changed at least three times (but not the time for my departure). I flew from here to Laguardia Airport in New York where I had to change to an aircraft that was flying to Orlando.

This was my very first time in any part of New York City so that intrigued me. I looked on a detailed map of NYC trying to pinpoint Laguardia but - while I found where the John F Kennedy Airport is located (the south side of Long Island) - I could not locate the other at first but I  have since located it on the north side of Queens and facing Manhattan.

The airport is most certainly older and crowded. As I had more than an hour to wait before continuing on, I wandered around and purchased a sandwich and beverage.

The flights to New York and to Orlando  were not that remarkable except for two sightings in North Florida. Before the sun set completely I was looking out of the window and down upon the clouds. Off to my left was a small cumulonimbus cloud and, while I watched, I witnessed lightning flashing all around it. As we began the descent into Orlando Airport the clouds parted and I watched an orange moon rise up from the ocean and - seemingly - to grow in size the higher it rose.

I have mentioned that my computer was down so I missed a final email message from Ric to me which included a voucher for Meares Transport from the airport to the Hilton. As I had not been able to read that, I was lost as to what to do next. Fortunately, a young woman at a nearby counter volunteered to call Ric's number on her cellphone and he told me what to do. I was one of about 12 people in the van taking people into Orlando and I was one of the first to be dropped off. Ric was waiting for me at the door to the hotel and took me up to the room where some food from the hotel kitchen was waiting for me.

The time was after 11:00 PM so we went to bed and I was exhausted!

On the following morning Ric went off to Conference Meetings while I was left to myself. As I had lost my baseball cap (a souvenir from one of the Carnival ships) and, also, as the sun was quite warm, I went looking for a new cap. During the trip from the airport the van had passed a Walgreen Pharmacy so I decided to walk to there to find a replacement cap as well as a tube of denture adhesive. I went to the concierge desk and asked for directions to the drugstore and was handed a map with my walking route outlined.

It was warm and sunny but - still - a lovely morning for a walk and I enjoyed every step of the way. That part of Orlando is quite pretty (green boulevards, lovely trees and impressive hotels). On my way I passed a Disney 'Discount' store and I dropped in there on my return trip to buy the cap.

By the time that I returned to the Hilton Ric was on his lunch break so he showed me how to walk to the park on the other side of one of the streets. This was "Downtown Disney" and it is a magical place - I thought that I was on the back lot of many a Disney film. While walking I saw Mary Poppins as well as Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" and many other characters, items and scenes from children's movies.

The first building that one sees upon entering Downtown Disney is the Earl of Sandwich which sells sandwiches - what else? I had lunch there with Ric and breakfast (an egg sandwich) on the morning when I left to return to Toronto.  There is a lovely dining room in the Hilton Hotel but the menu items are very expensive - a basic breakfast costs more than $20.00!

On Tuesday Ric was able to finish his business at the convention early so we went to the Epcot Center.  Buses come by the hotels every half hour to take patrons to all of the Disney parks in the area so we rode one to Epcot and I was very impressed! Admission to any of the Disney theme parks is quite steep and well outside the limit of our budgets so we are grateful for the generosity of friends who purchased the tickets for us. Fortunately I brought the brochure from Epcot home with me  and Ric has circled the pavilions which we visited so I believe that my memory will be accurate.

There are 28 pavilions and 'places of interest' at Epcot but time allowed us to visit only four of them - and I do not in the least regret the four that we chose.

The first was the closest pavilion to the entry gate - "Spaceship Earth" - and the route through - on a boat in a canal - was past an illustrated history of human communication devices. It was interesting and the saga was told through droll scenes of 'cartoon figures' operating the various items.

Close by was Mission SPACE. As the journey through that pavilion involved movement and loud noises Ric asked me if I would be comfortable? I replied, "Yes" - but, frankly, I was not sure. Once inside we found ourselves beside a module and, when the door opened, we walked inside where there were 20 or more people already waiting in a queue. Eventually, it was our turn and - by luck - we were the first two who were allowed through the door. The 'audience' was split into groups who were expected to enact the various stages of blast off, orbiting in space, and landing on Mars. We sat in the seats in a row, were buckled in and - after some brief instructions - we experienced 'Blast Off'!

What a strange sensation to experience centrifugal force against one's body! However, that was short lived and then we were 'flying' through space and landing on the surface of Mars. This was not quite as simple as the previous sentence indicates - we had to watch for flying space debris and feel the jolts and bumps as our 'space capsule' settled on the surface of the planet. Then there was the 'fun' of the capsule teetering to the edge of a crevasse while all sorts of space debris flew past us. It was very realistic but logic told me that this really was 'make believe' and that no harm would come to any of us. 

Our next stop was to experience 'The Seas With Nemo and Friends' First, we walked through this pavilion going from window to window and looking into sea water and watched all sorts of underwater life swimming past us (one of the creatures that swam by did look a lot like the movie character). Soon we came to where there was a train affair looking much like a midway ride. We climbed into a car and rode through a wonder that - it seems - only Disney would create.

As we approached the end of our ride, a map was on the screen in the front of the vehicle in which we were traveling and we were asked to point out where we were from. Ric left that to me. It was a map of the southern Ontario area (how they came to know that that area is home for me I do not know!). The only name of a city that I noticed was Ottawa so I touched the screen in what I thought was southwest from there. 'Toronto' appeared so I touched that spot. This was just before the terminus of our ride and, as we exited from the car, a mechanical voice wished us "Goodbye" and with a southern Ontario accent! 

The final pavilion which we visited was "Living with the Land Presented by Chiquita" - I presume that this is a reference to bananas? This was another ride in a small 'train' which passed through - and by - all sorts of topography. I do not recall how we passed this bit of information but - at the end of the ride (and lesson) caricatures of our faces appeared on the screen and above our names! We had a good chuckle at that!

In the center of Epcot is a large pond (small lake) named 'World Showcase' and we walked all the way around it. Along the shore are sizable pavilions reflecting the architecture of a number of countries. We began that walk in the 'Americas' section and soon walked by a replica of the Chateau Laurier and the Peace Tower which represented Canada. We did not enter any of these showcases but simply noticed the architecture of each. All of these edifices sold food items associated with the representative country. We were getting hungry and looked at the menus but the prices asked for each were outside of the limitations of our pocketbooks! However, we did find a booth where tacos were sold so tacos was our dinner

A view of the evening fireworks was planned so - in order to kill time until dusk - we rode monorails to two of the other Disney sites. I do not recall specifically which sites they were although I know that neither was "The Magic Kingdom" - we could see the turrets of the Fairy Castle in the distance and over the trees.

Once one enters the grounds, one is able to hop on and off the monorails and/ or the shuttle ferries which cross the lagoons which were in all directions.

We watched the time so we could be back at Epcot before 9:00 PM and the evening fireworks display. We found a place to park ourselves close to the water (the fireworks were let off over the central lake) and I went to find the washroom. When I returned Ric was not in sight - everybody along the edge of the lake had been told to move. I knew that, if I stood still in the relatively open space Ric would spot me. Sure enough, he called to me. When I walked over to him there was an Asiatic woman with a small child beside him. He introduced me to this person telling me that she was from Pickering (a Toronto suburb) . The husband also had gone to use a washroom so, when he returned, I held out my hand  and said, "Hi Pickering! I'm from Toronto!" He laughed as he shook my hand.

The fireworks - accompanied by a piece of classical music - were magnificent.

When that ended we walked back across the grounds to the bus pickup area where we had quite a wait before the bus to the Orlando Hotels appeared. When it did we hopped on and returned to the Hilton.

We had to rise early the next morning in order to be on the airport bus. At the airport we visited a food court for a light breakfast and then walked to the boarding areas of our respective airlines. As I left the security clearance area there was a bulletproof glass wall on my right and I saw Ric. As he appeared to be having some difficulty with the security guard where he was, I did not try to catch his attention.

For some unknown reason, the gate number for my flight was not on my boarding pass! I thought that it was Gate 79 so I went to that distant area in Orlando Airport. It was not 79 but Gate 59 in the opposite direction! Time seemed to be tight but I was able to reach my flight before it was scheduled to depart.

The flight home was via Detroit (which is one of the hubs of Delta Airlines). I was in the airport for about an hour and then boarded a small regional aircraft for the relatively short hop to Toronto.

Was Toby delighted to see me? You bet he was!



Monday, 17 June 2013

"I Love a Parade!"

Instead of attending the Memoir Writing Group this afternoon, I accepted an invitation to attend the LGBT Seniors' Pride Party at the 519 Community Center. As we partook of the delicious sandwiches and nibblies that were provided, films were being shown on the big screen at the back of the stage in the auditorium. At first I was not paying too much attention but I did towards the end of the program and was pleased to see that the subject matter was about a Pride Parade in Vancouver.
This brought to mind some of the early parades in the 1970s and '80s. One of the earliest of those celebrations was not held in Vancouver but  out on a farm in Langley - well to the east of the city. If my memory serves me correctly, the earlier Toronto celebrations were also held away from the city. The organizers in both cities were nervous about negative reaction so the celebrations were held away from the public eye. My - how times have changed - and much for the better!

One of my younger friends met a man to his liking at a later festival in Vancouver and the two of them began kissing quite passionately. Neither of them particularly noticed the cameraman standing nearby but soon found out that their families elsewhere did see the clip as it was shown on the CBC News (The National) and thus they were outed! 

When I became the Pastor of MCC-Vancouver the church board rented a convertible and I was requested to ride up on the rear with my feet planted on the back seat. At that time the parade was granted only half of the street to travel along and the only negative encounter happened when we turned from Denman Street onto Beach Avenue and became caught in a traffic jam.

On the other side of the street was a highrise apartment building and some Yahoo threw a raw egg from away up near the top of the building only he missed me - the egg landed upon the hood of a Camaro bearing Washington State license plates that was stopped in the other lane and unable to move. The driver of that car was also caught in the traffic jamb and, needless to say, he was not amused!

This was the morning after our nuptials and - although you cannot see it - the pole in my hand had the Canadian flag attached while Ric was carrying the American flag. All the people crowded into the background will give you an idea of the tremendous throngs that the Gay Pride Parade attracts.

Now Gay Pride Parades are a part of the life of the city and - here in Toronto - are watched by more than 1,000,000 people lining the route and thousands  more who are glued to their TV sets in their homes. For me, Gay Pride is the most energizing day of the year. My partner, Ric Reed, is not all that enamored with them but - being the 'good sport' that he is - he joins in with me when he is here.

I have marched with various organizations and, most often, that is with Toronto PFLAG. The other organizations are MCCToronto,  the LGBT/Police Liaison Committee, and the Leather/Levi Community. The last time that I marched with the Police Liaison Committee, we were given pamphlets  and small gifts to hand out along the way. In the photo posted above you can see the density of the crowd. We approached the throng with the small items to hand out to the watchers. Mostly that did not work as many of the folk in the front row were Asians and could not understand English. We would ask them to pass the items to others who were behind them but most - and especially the elderly - did not understand so they simply pocketed the items and did not share. Frustrating!

Before my time of involvement with PFLAG some enterprising folk created placards printed in languages other than in English to be carried in the parade. Usually I chose which placard that I wanted to carry but Ric - the first time that he marched with PFLAG - just grabbed the first one that he came to and with startling results. It so happened that it was in Farsi - one of the languages spoken in Iran. While we were walking down Yonge Street Ric noticed a beautiful young woman standing in the crowd. She noticed the sign that he was carrying, her eyes lit up, and she elbowed her young male companion while pointing towards Ric. We presume that they were Iranians and Gay people are persecuted there.

This photo was taken at the marshaling area. The placard which Ric is holding is written in Farsi. I have one written in English.

I was moved by this so, the following year, I grabbed the same sign to carry in the parade (Ric was not here) and, like he, I received a startling reaction from two bystanders.The parade begins at the corner of Bloor Street East and Church Street (the marching units are lined up along Bloor while the motorized units are down along Church Street North, Park Road and the Rosedale Valley Road). The two groups are melded together at the corner of Church and Bloor. From there the route is along Bloor East to Yonge Street, down Yonge to Gerrard Street East and then one block east to Church Street where the marching units turn north while the vehicles continue on to Jarvis Street.

I had an odd circumstance this afternoon when I received a message from a friend via Facebook. When I opened the message I discovered that the left sidebar contained dozens of photos of myself.
Now this photo has appeared suddenly. Yes - I am carrying the sign written in Farsi and that is Pei who is walking beside me (the photo following this paragraph).

In the parade following the one that Ric had marched in carrying the sign in Farsi I made sure that I had the Iranian sign myself. When the parade reached the corner of Yonge and Gerrard East two middle aged men left the crowd and approached me. They were two more Iranians and they were deeply moved that I was carrying a sign printed in their language!

The following year saw the publisher of one of the leading Gay magazines creating a contest. He encouraged a half dozen Gay and Lesbian couples who were contemplating marriage to enter the contest, have their bios and photographs published, and see which couple would garner the most votes. The winners were a woman whom I have known for a long time (Brenda) and her new partner (Georgie). They were married on the float as it progressed along the parade route  and Brenda invited me to attend the reception at the Sheraton Hotel in the early evening.

The Sheraton is on Queen Street a short block east of University Avenue so I walked down there. As I arrived at the intersection of University Avenue and Armoury Road (just north of the Court House) I encountered two men who looked to have been in their 30s or early 40s who were having their photograph taken. If I had continued in the direction in which I was walking I would have been in the middle of the photo so I stopped. After the photo was taken these men approached me and introduced themselves. They were from one of the Emirates that are along the southern shore of Arabia. Yes - they were Gay and they spoke English. Both were overwhelmed by the scope of Gay Pride - there was nothing anywhere like that where they came from!

For the parade (the year following my encounter with the Arabian men) I walked up to the marshaling area with a Chinese acquaintance. I saw somebody whom I knew standing in the middle of the street so I walked over to him while Pei remained on the sidewalk and began chatting with a stranger. When the chat - in which I was engaged - ended I returned to the curb and Pei introduced me to the tall stranger. Pei attended a group for new Canadians which met at the 519 Community Center once a week and that was where he had met the other person.

The stranger was a newcomer from Morocco so I asked him if he would like to walk in the Parade? His response was a quick and emphatic "YES!!!" so I took him to the PFLAG booth, handed him a t-shirt and showed him the pile of signs. There were none in Arabic so he chose one that was in French (the second language spoken in Morocco).

The parade always begins in fits and starts as the marshals blend the walking units with the motorized ones. Each time that we recommence our move forward there is a cheer from the marchers but this ends once we have crossed Church Street and move forward fairly steadily. However, about once in each block, our Moroccan guest would jump up (he was quite a tall young man to begin with) and yell, "YAHOO!!" It took a few blocks before the penny dropped in my head - he was celebrating who he was without any fear of consequences and, probably, this was the first time in his life that he could do so!

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Steak and Eggs

Already I have written about various types of food but I have not specifically mentioned restaurants. I imagine that many of us - if not all - have dined out and enjoyed - or not! - what has been placed before us.

I am not a gourmand (nor do I enjoy cooking) so this is a reminiscence of noteworthy meals eaten elsewhere. 

The fifth anniversary of Ric and my nuptials was June 28, 2008 and, as Ric was here for Gay Pride, he suggested a '5-STAR' restaurant for our dinner. He looked into a Toronto restaurant guide, found three places thus designated, read the menus and we opted for Scaramouch at 5 Benvenuto Place.

Having not heard of that restaurant before I dug out a Toronto street map and found the address. Benvenuto Place is a small street that goes west from Avenue Road between Davenport and St Clair Avenue West. The dining room occupies the main floor of a condominium building and the south wall of the facility is a plate glass window which affords a magnificent view downhill to the core of the city. Ric sat facing in that direction so admired the skyline outlined by the setting sun and then watched all the lights come on.

I do not remember specifically what we ate but do remember that the food was exceptional. At the price that Ric paid it had to be!  We enjoyed a fine wine with the meal and a rich dessert afterwards.

Now on to other dining experiences.

A Swiss chef lost his sight and then (in Paris, France) he dreamed up a unique dining experience - a restaurant where the waiters are all sightless and the patrons eat in total darkness. Now there are restaurants  following that pattern in a number of cities including Toronto. The dining room is named 'Noir' and it is located in the basement of an apartment hotel two blocks from where I am living.

The entryway is reached by descending a flight of stairs off of Charles Street East at Church Street. Going through the door one enters a dimly lit foyer at the far side of which is a counter with menus. There are only two entrees listed each evening so the choice is simple and the woman behind the counter notes the choice. A little further along is a bar where alcoholic beverages can be ordered and the drinks will be brought to the table after one is seated.

Shortly a waiter will appear in the foyer and announce the name of the party. Once identified he will approach and ask the members of the party to follow him across to a closed door. Upon the door being opened he will ask the diners to enter into the dimly lit room behind him, place the right hand upon the right shoulder of  the person in front (i.e. waiter, guest, guest and so on).

Proceeding on, the party passes through yet another door into total darkness. Remember - the waiter is totally blind but he has memorized the layout of the room and he winds his way through the tables until he reaches the designated one. As I was walking behind Ric the waiter told me to reach to my right and find the back of my chair and then to sit. Once I was comfortable he led Ric around the table to the opposite chair and asked him to be seated.

Once settled he asked each of us to explore the table with our hands to find our place mat, napkin, cutlery, bread and butter plate and water glass. Once that was accomplished he left us to chat and to listen to the voices of other diners whom - of course - we could not see. The drinks that were ordered at the bar were delivered shortly after we were seated. During our first visit we were amused by hearing the strident voice of a woman who loudly complained that, while she had ordered the beef dish, she had received something else. Our experience told us that the reason the menu was simple was so a mix-up was not likely to happen!

It was not long before our food was delivered. How does one determine what is on the plate? By touch! The second time we were there both of us ordered the steak. I ordered 'medium rare' and it was 'medium rare' but already cut up into bite-sized pieces. The interesting task was to discern by touch what was the vegetable (the potato was obvious).

We enjoyed our meals while quietly talking. No - I did not knock over the water glass but carefully searched for it to my right.

While we knew what the entree was to be, we had no idea about the dessert. I remember that - on our first visit - it was a deliciously moist piece of chocolate cake with icing.   How was I to eat it? With my fingers - including the wonderfully gooey icing! I cannot recall what was the dessert placed before me on our second visit.

I was so impressed by our experience that I told a number of friends about the restaurant and a birthday celebration was in the offing for one of them. As he was intrigued by my description of our meal, he suggested to the lady who was to treat him that they dine at Noir. When I saw him again I asked how the celebration went. He told me with a chuckle that his hostess had quite a sense of humor and, while they were eating, she exclaimed, "It is so dark in here I could go topless!" Immediately the waiter appeared by her side and said, "Madam, my loss of sight is made up for by an extremely sensitive ability to hear!"

If you live in or near Toronto - and you are adventurous - give Noir a try. If you don't live near here, perhaps your nearest large city has a "Noir" too. If so - try it!

With traveling to San Francisco to visit Ric, we have eaten in many different restaurants  In previous blogs (see "Food") I have mentioned the restaurant a few blocks away from where Ric lives that was owned by a black gentleman who was originally from Louisiana. The cuisine proffered reflected that culture and it was extremely good. 

Also I  have mentioned Pasta  Pelican - a restaurant near where Ric used to work. The menu offered various pasta dishes and the sauces which went with each dish were exceptional!

At the foot of Market Street in San Francisco is a seafood restaurant where we have dined on more than one occasion. Very expensive but very delicious.

Ric's best friend discovered another restaurant which was on Market Street west of Van Ness Boulevard and about half way between there and Church Street. The restaurant was Brazilian owned and operated and was fashioned upon a type of eatery that is very popular in Brazil. The food - which consisted more of meat than anything else - kept coming and coming and coming. I do not remember what the signal was for us to stop the interminable string of meat dishes from coming. Aptly the word 'Carne' was in the name of that eatery. It is suggested that Vegetarians NOT eat there!

I felt bloated when we left but the food was most certainly good!   

Perhaps you have been wondering why I chose "Steak and Eggs" as the title for this blog? Well - in Brisbane there  was a restaurant on Queen Street which specialized in steaks. One evening I decided to eat there before going to a theater. I had eaten there before and thoroughly enjoyed how my steak was cooked (the restaurant specialized in the best steaks cooked as chefs in the fine restaurants of the world cooked them).

After I was seated another fellow was seated at the table behind me. When the waiter came to take his order the man said "Steak and Eggs!" This is/was standard fare in many eateries in small outback towns but this restaurant specialized in Filet Mignon, Steak Tartar and other fancier steak dishes. The waiter suggested that the gentleman choose one of those dishes but No! He wanted "Stike and Aigs" and nothing else.

I enjoyed my Filet Mignon!