CoffeeCrew Blog

Eat, Drink and Love
Like there's no tomorrow.
Because, hey, you never know.

Philippine typhoon relief - help needed now · 14 November 2013 by colin newell

Typhoon Haiyan – locally known as Yolanda –is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2013 and arguably the most destructive storm to hit the region in anyone’s memory. The storm has caused widespread damage, including landslides and flooding. Tragically, among the people affected are those who were left homeless by an earthquake in mid-October.

So, I ask you… I beg of my readers:

Donate to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund

The Philippine Red Cross has been on the highest alert since the typhoon was sighted, pre-positioning supplies, helping with evacuation plans and warning communities. Today, they are working to meet the needs of individuals affected by the storm. It is a tough job – and how can we help? With money.

Canadians wishing to help individuals affected by this storm are encouraged to make a financial donation online, at their local Red Cross office or by calling 1-800-418-1111. Please earmark donations “Typhoon Haiyan”. Funds will be used to support Red Cross efforts in all countries affected by the storm.

Our American readers can pop over here to donate.

International readers click over here for the International office of the Red Cross.


UVic Congress 2013 Main Stage with Buffy Sainte-Marie · 6 June 2013 by colin newell

Buffy Saint-Marie at UVic Congress 2013

It has been a busy week at the University of Victoria with the Annual Congress of the Humanities – with some 7000 delegates and their families, the campus and the city as a whole has been hopping with big thinkers, the learned, the curious and the rest of us.

The reality for me, at UVic, is that every day of the year is an adventure in advanced education. Congress 2013 has been more of an amalgam of thought pressed into a tight 7 day event.

Humanities at UVic encompasses the study of English, French, Germanic and Slavonic studies, Hispanic and Italian studies, History, Latin studies, Greek and Roman studies, Linguistics, Medieval studies, Philosophy, and Women’s studies (hope I did not miss anyone!) –

Within the Faculty of Social Sciences is Economics, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Geography, Political Science, Psychology and Sociology.

Congress is kind of a conference within a conference… plenary sessions, discussions, summits, society meetings, AGM’s etc – and even executive events for the government group known as SSHRC (Social Sciences Humanities Research Council) – they hand out money and often lots of it.

During the event (and because it is a fairly inclusive event) there were lots of family friendly events, food kiosks, entertainment and attractions on campus and in the Capital regional district.

We actually had a main stage on campus on one of the green spaces that featured afternoon and evening entertainment – many of them local and regional musical groups.

The evening headliner on Wednesday was 60’s legend and Canadian-American singer/artist/activist/educator Dr. Buffy Sainte-Marie. She wrote hits like “The Universal Soldier”, “Up where we belong” from the movie Officer and a Gentlemen, “Until it’s time for you to go”, “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” and many others. Her significance and place in the history and evolution of the sixties is well documented – but that only barely scratches the surface of what she accomplished in the 70’s, the 80’s, the 90’s and so on. Her 60’s hits are merely an introduction to a life well lived – with clearly many more chapters to be written.

According to her bio, she has recorded over a dozen and 1/2 albums (with clearly more on the way) has charted 1/2 dozen singles and has sold in excess of 26 million albums. She lives a quiet live on the Hawaiian Islands when she is not on tour – and she is currently on year 3 of a 2 year tour!

At 72 years of age, Buffy looks more like a mid-fifties athlete. I had around 2 minutes of her time the day before the concert while assisting her team on her spoken word lecture at one of UVic’s recital halls. Her demeanor is one of peace, harmony openness and inclusion. She was, after all, an educator before she became a musician. She created the Cradleboard Teaching Project – a curriculum that aims to raise self-identity and self-esteem in present and future generations of Indian children by introducing them to enriching, accurate information about Native American people and cultures. (Wikipedia)

Seeing her in concert with her backing band of rocking all-stars was a far cry from my reminiscences of the late 60’s – however dim and youthful they may have been.
If this lady was a Woodstock era folk musician, there was little evidence of it in the 21st Century. Buffy has clearly been keeping with the times and the technology – apparently using Apple computers to compose new music since the 90’s. So, she is on top of things. And her stage shows reveals the energy of a rock star a fraction of her chronological age – kind of a lady version of Mick Jagger.

She launched right into the classics to an appreciative audience of around 3000 folks – many of them clearly a fan of the folk-World-Native genres. It was a spectacular mix of softer songs contrasted with harder edges pieces – all of them with a message. She did write “Universal Soldier” after all – the treatise on the root causes of conflict and who, ultimately, is responsible. (Us, by the way…)

Her 2 hour set included the body of her best work and (she is prolific!) an unveiling of one of her latest songs – so new that all of her band members had the musical chart in front of them!

I can admit this now, that even though I am not from the 60’s (I was a teen in the 70’s) there was something so resonant about her concert, her stage presence, her voice and message that moved me to tear up several times. And I am pretty sure I was not alone.
She has been a messenger for peace (a pacifist if you would…) since the 60’s and has railed against the culture of war and aggression since the early 60’s – it is even generally accepted that she was “black-listed” by the Nixon and Johnson administration – it’s written that Johnson wrote letters to several radio networks thanking them for suppressing her message of peace. Peace (in the 60’s) was considered a threat to the establishment much as it is now. In reality, her messages are as important now as they were then – if not more so.

She sings about love, the environment, a plea for equity, fairness, justice and a livable World community for future generations – the stuff that is often labeled “terrorism” or “Eco-terrorism” by “The Man” here in the 21st Century. Yup, not like that much has changed.

Anyway – seeing and hearing Buffy Sainte-Marie at the University of Victoria was one of the best outdoor shows I have seen in a long time and easily the most meaningful!

Long life and more music to Buffy! She has an incredible schedule – interested in seeing the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie live? Head on over here to her Tour Schedule

Comment [1]

Puccini's Tosca - by the Pacific Opera Company - reviewed · 4 April 2013 by colin newell

Tosca by Puccini - Pacific Opera Company

In my life I have seen around a dozen opera’s – many of them classical – some of them I fit into the category of Pop Opera (Like Phantom of the Opera – a modern piece with its feet firmly grounded in the 21st Century…) Puccini’s Tosca fits into that classic tragic opera niche – standard elements, straightforward story line – 2 and 1/2 hours and a body count.

Puccini’s tale of tyranny and love has thrilled audiences since its first appearance in 1900. With all the ingredients for classic opera; – lust, jealousy, murder, suicide, love triangles, plot twists, and a memorable and somewhat by the book score.

Many hard nosed purists would rate Tosca as the “beginners opera” – a simple story line, all the basic elements that make up a classic tragedy – something that most people could follow – even if it is in Italian.

I had the good fortune (Saturday afternoon) in sitting in on a casual rehearsal as well as the Tuesday dress rehearsal – there is nothing more entertaining (for me anyway) of seeing (and hearing) the contextual displacement of a story set in 1900 being performed full voice in 501 Levi jeans and T-shirts (on the tenor and the soprano!) and getting to stand stage left a few feet away from one of the principal singers as they belt it out.

But what of the story?

Political repression, revolution, art and deception unfold, as Tosca – played by the very talented Joni Henson – racked with jealousy over an imagined lover from a canvas, she struggles for comfort and reassurance that is fleeting. Painter Mario Cavaradossi (played by tenor Luc Robert) goes head to head with the sadistic and lascivious police chief Scarpia (played with wicked aplomb by Luxembourg resident and singer David John Pike), who only has eyes of conquest for Tosca – who betrays her knowledge in exchange for Cavaradossi’s life… which turns out to be an additional twist and deception. And so on.

There are opportunities for a more complex narrative and story arc in Puccini’s Tosca – but that would defeat the purpose of keeping it simple. It is, after all, true to the formula of tragic opera with no additional decoration or even the bare smidgen of humor.
The cast is well matched and believable – no one voice rises much above another. If anything, Joni (as the soprano) had fire power to spare but held back just enough.

Impressions: Andrea and I did the dress rehearsal. Consequently, it is a lively evening with a large contingent of opera clubs (middle school students, aspiring musicians, University students) making upwards of 75% of the enthusiastic audience. Sold out in fact.

For ticket holders for the main event this week and weekend, I say – strap yourself in for some good old fashioned classic tragic opera that will please newcomers to this old entertainment genre and those veterans of this music form returning for some twists and surprises.


2012 - So you want to go to England - Part 2 - Before you go · 13 June 2012 by Brennan Storr

Before booking your flight (or boat – more on both of these in the coming weeks) you’ll want to know a little more about the people and what’s important to them. In this week’s instalment of “So You Want to Go to England” we help you get to know the people of the British Isles and give you some talking points should you trap one of them in a conversation:

Here in North America the popular vision of an Englishmen is a slender, foppish man with very bad teeth, dressed in tweed and seducing your wife with his ironed handkerchiefs. While in some parts of England that may still be true – Knightsbridge, Colin Firth’s house – the Englishman you’re more likely to encounter on your grand adventure is the one approaching you at the bus stop of a night, wearing a hooded sweatshirt and demanding your wallet.

tweed on wheels

Not everything has changed however – his teeth, if any remain, will still be bad and he is just as likely to be slender, although this will not be from wartime rationing but rather because running from the police is demanding work.

All right, that may not be every Englishman but it does represent a good portion of young men aged 15-35 and if you don’t believe me I suggest a weekend trip down to the local pub nearest to your hotel. Make sure you have good travel insurance and a blood donor card.

Most Brits are helpful, considerate types who will give you a good steer should you get lost – this is because the sooner you get where you’re going the sooner you leave their country.
They are a reserved people so don’t be surprised when your hearty “Howya doin’?” gets you a cold stare but they open up once you get to know them which, as a tourist, you probably won’t. You can count on them being polite though – unless you’re in that pub I mentioned earlier.

As in North America the people are friendlier in the countryside than they are in the city and if you’re going to make friends it’ll be in the north rather than the south. If you do get to chat up locals you’ll want to know at least something about the local culture so you don’t make an ass of yourself. Here’s a quick primer:

1. Soccer: The English call it “football” and you should too unless you want a pint glass upside your head. Also, don’t tell them you’re a Manchester United fan – this will mark you out as a tourist faster than asking if anyone has met the queen.

2. Politics: In 2010 the English voted out the Labour party headed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a man described by columnist and TV personality Jeremy Clarkson as a “One-eyed Scottish c***”. He was replaced with the Conservative party as led by David Cameron, who has two eyes. Under Cameron the government has introduced heavy austerity measures, sharply dividing the country.

Note that while you can pick on Cherie Blair all you want it is still not acceptable to make fun of Margaret Thatcher.

3. ASBOs: Stands for “Anti Social Behavior Order”, a kind of scarlet letter handed out by the courts to society’s rejects.

4.Hoodies: The people who get ASBOs. Not everyone who wears a hoodie is a thug but all thugs wear hoodies. With names like Keith & Trev they’re about as threatening as woodlice when you get them alone but in a group they’re like piranhas with acne. For reference watch the 2009 film Harry Brown in which Michael Caine goes all Paul Kersey on the hooligans terrorizing the council estate he calls home.

5. Council Estates: For the record, “council estates” or “council flats” is what the English call their housing projects. While “Winstanley Estate, Battersea” sounds like a lovely place to take your wife Merridale on a carriage tour it’s actually the English equivalent of Jordan Downs in Watts or Iberville in New Orleans. Most of the folks living here are good, decent people who would rather be living anywhere else, including the surface of the moon, but you still wouldn’t want to be walking around the place at night.

6. NHS or National Health Service: The British system of healthcare has flaws and under Darth Cameron is soon likely to suffer significant cuts but it’s still better you’re going to find in, say, America, where having cancer turns your life into Breaking Bad.

This is irrelevant to the British, who take great delight in picking on the NHS like it was the kid in school who wears sweatpants. It is considered rude to interrupt tirades about the NHS with stories from your home country, like the time an HMO-run hospital refused to treat your daughter’s asthma attack until you could prove you had the means to pay them.

7. Coronation Street: Also known as “Corrie”. This soap opera set in a fictional town in Greater Manchester has been running since 1960 and is practically a religion for English women.

While the cast of most American soaps are so smoothed over they could be mannequins, Coronation Street actually casts ordinary-looking and sometimes even fat people. And I don’t mean Kevin James-fat but “long chat with your doctor about getting a motorized scooter”-fat. Not all the cast are plain of course but it’s nice to know there’s a place for actors who wouldn’t get near an American television unless they were standing on it to fix someone’s ceiling fan.

Temptation will be great but do not – I repeat – do not – mock or in any other way disrupt the watching of Coronation Street. I’m telling you this because I’m your friend and I care about you.

8. Rhyming slang: So you’ve seen a few Guy Ritchie movies and know that being “in barney” means you’re in trouble and that when things go “Pete Tong” it’s time to start looking for the door. As a tourist you should avoid using these and other rhyming slang – rather than making you sound tough or street smart it will signal to everyone within earshot that you are in dire need of what the English endearingly call “a kicking.”
This same wisdom applies to the words “mate”, “blimey”, “guvnor” and “toodle-pip”. In fact if you say “toodle-pip” I will come to your house and kick you straight in the business myself.

9. The Only Way is Essex: The people of England treat Essex county much the same way America does New Jersey – like a redheaded stepchild. Maybe, then, we shouldn’t be surprised that Essex has produced the budget equivalent of Jersey Shore in The Only Way is Essex. It’s not worth my time or yours to name the characters, so just picture a group of twentysomethings who all sound like they’re talking through a mouthful of marbles drinking too much and firing DNA at one another.

After an episode or two of this you won’t have a hard time imagining why the English sometimes debate jack-hammering Essex free from the rest of the country and pushing it gently towards mainland Europe.
I challenge you to watch the clip below and try not to hear the sound of seven trumpets heralding the End of Days.

10. The Royal Family: The surest way to end a conversation with your average British citizen is to start talking about how amazing it must be to have a royal family. The royals are to the English what the Kennedys are to Americans – the good ones are dead and the rest are floating on an ever-thinning cloud of good will.

Now that you’re up to speed on the finer points of British culture it’s time to get serious about making arrangements. Next Wednesday I tell you why you shouldn’t fly with Canada’s flagship airline in “So You Want to Go to England: Getting There – Air Canada”

Comic, humorist, bon vivant and ranconteur, Brennan Storr is a Victoria resident and aspiring writer – from time to time we post some of his incredibly amusing words from

Comment [1]

2012 So you want to go to England - part 1 - Getting started · 12 June 2012 by Brennan Storr

In my life I have met people who are natural travelers – the sort who can live for 6 months on whatever they pack into a rucksack the size of a grasshopper’s scrotum – but I am not one of them. While most people come back from a vacation talking about their amazing adventure, the kindness of the locals and how their journey expanded their horizons, making them better people on a spiritual level, I complain about intestinal parasites, sunburn and being mugged by whatever passes for highwaymen in the place I have just visited.

This travel guide is for people like me.

Like many people the first country I visited was England, my first port of call was London and like many people I got my ass kicked; traffic was going in the wrong direction, my cousin and I were nearly hit by a bus and spent 6 hours looking for a hostel that did not exist. In fact, having my ass kicked may be too mild a description of my first day in London – it was a full 24-hour, size-12 colonoscopy.

Eventually I got the hang of the place and though over the years I’ve had many bungled trips to places the world over, I have finally achieved a kind of equilibrium with England. Since my first visit I have eaten blood pudding, married an Englishwoman and even stayed awake through almost an entire episode of Downton Abbey, all of which practically makes me an honorary citizen. I’ve also learned which seats on British Airways flights offer more leg and elbow room at no extra cost and how to avoid getting stabbed while out for a pint at your neighborhood pub. Now I’ve decided to share my hard-won knowledge with all other hapless travelers thinking of making their first trip abroad.

While travel guides like Lonely Planet feed you a line of crap, describing experiences you’ll have only if you look like the teenagers in a soda commercial, “So You Want to Go to England” will be the straight dope – unadorned advice for the ugly globetrotter. In coming weeks you’ll learn that the food served by Air Canada is “…uniformly awful and tastes almost exclusively of salt”, that you have about as much chance of having sex in a Hosteling International as you do in St. Peter’s Basilica and that in the Royal Family “the notable ones are all dead and the rest are floating on an ever-thinning cloud of good will.”

When to Visit:

Let’s get this out of the way now – whenever you visit England it’s probably going to rain. Not all day every day, but enough that the countryside will start to look the way a Dostoyevsky novel feels. This means that choosing a time to visit England will come down to what you want to do and how much you want to sweat under that rain jacket.

If it’s the tourist experience you’re after then April to September is your best time to visit – all the popular sites are going to be open and you have the best chance of catching good weather. The downside is, of course, that hotels are going to cost more and every hostel will be full of Australian backpackers trying to have sex with whatever they can’t drink.

Having visited England a few times in the fall and winter I can say that there are definite advantages to the cooler months: Bogan & Bru have gone home to uni, prices for accommodation are lower and while some attractions are closed (Buckingham Palace, for example, only runs tours in the summer) the ones that are open have virtually no lineup. Oh sure it rains like hell but you can hunker down in one of the many empty cafés and pubs that, in the summer, would be full of screaming American teenagers.

How Long to Visit:

Unless you’re traveling from mainland Europe, visiting England for less than two weeks will be a savage hell of jetlag and unintelligible accents. Two weeks will be bearable for families or couples who plan on exploring one or two regions or for backpackers with a pocketful of Benzedrine and a rail pass; three weeks or longer will give you freedom to explore more of the island without getting worn down by constant travel.

You’ll know you’re jet-lagged when one word makes
just as much sense as the other.

If this is your first trip abroad do not underestimate the power of jetlag, which is the profound confusion your body feels at being unceremoniously dumped into a new time zone. It will screw with your sleep schedule, put you in a fog at inopportune times and leave just as you’re getting ready to go back home.

Once you’ve nailed down your dates you’ll want to choose an airline and learn a little bit about what to expect from the English themselves. Luckily for you, next week we’ll have a primer on getting to know the people of England and the week after that we’ll start looking into which airline will make your trip the least miserable.

Comic, humorist, bon vivant and ranconteur, Brennan Storr is a Victoria resident and aspiring writer – from time to time we post some of his incredibly amusing words from