Thursday, April 19

The Exchange in flames

This morning, I watched out my bedroom window as my neighbourhood was engulfed in thick grey smoke.

My boyfriend left for work at around 9:30.  As I was getting ready to leave for school, I read a text message from him telling me to take a look outside.  From the top floor of the Lindsay Building, I watched as a grey cloud hovered beside the Royal Albert Hotel.

One fire truck was on the scene.  It looked to me like the fire was sustained, but I realized shortly afterward this was not the case.  Sirens were soon blaring in all directions, and within the hour, over a dozen service vehicles arrived and yellow tape lined the streets.

At some points, the smoke got so thick I could barely see anything from my 10th floor window.  The smell of burning was slowly seeping into my building - even more so as I entered the hallway.

A few bystanders lined Notre Dame with their phones out, snapping away.  The media was beginning to arrive, and Twitter was blowing up with photos of the incident.

The smoke was dense and I could hardly make out which building was on fire.  I later found out War on Music and Ken Hong's took the majority of the damage.  Needless to say, it was a sad day for two notable businesses in the Exchange District community.

Revisiting the scene after a few hours, the fire was almost completely doused and local businesses around the area were reopening their doors.  The streets are flooded, and it will take some effort to finish cleaning up the area.

 Let's hope this is the last time the Exchange will face a fiery fate.

Monday, April 9

Dionysus in Stony Mountain

I must admit my limited experience and knowledge of prison standards has been tainted by Hollywood’s glamour – feature films in general, but The Shawshank Redemption in particular.

Photo courtesy of

That being said, I do realize the dramatization on camera and the real life practices of criminal institutions are like night and day.  Although I’ll probably never get to witness it firsthand, I’d be curious to explore the relationships between inmates and prison staff.

Dionysus in Stony Mountain is a play that examines one version of this relationship.  The play was written by Steven Ratzlaff, directed by Bill Kerr and presented by Theatre Projects Manitoba.  It played from March 29 to April 8 at the Rachel Browne Theatre in Winnipeg’s Exchange District.

As Ratzlaff’s first full-length play, Dionysus in Stony Mountain began as a one-act production in Winnipeg’s 2009 Fringe Festival.  The second act now completes the two-hour play, focusing on the characters James (a Stony Mountain inmate, played by Ross McMillan), Heidi (a psychiatrist, played by Sarah Constible) and Eric (Heidi’s uncle, also played by Ross McMillan).

Dionysus in Stony Mountain is presented simply as a ping-pong conversation between James and Heidi in the first act, and Heidi and Eric in the second.  The simplicity of its set up allows the intelligent and sometimes witty dialogue to shine through.  And trust me, there is plenty of it.

Photo by Leif Norman

The play begins with James paying a regular visits to his prison psychiatrist.  His parole hearing is quickly approaching, and Heidi expresses she’s concerned he has become unstable after refusing to resume his lithium treatments.  James explains he’s gone off his meds in favour of absorbing Friedrich Nietzsche’s work, a 19th-century German philosopher.

Friedrich Nietzsche, courtesy of

Heidi begins to realize that James is probably on to something.  A psychiatrist who feels imprisoned by her work taking advice from someone who’s imprisoned by walls, but completely free in the mind?  The irony behind this concept pushes Heidi to question where her place is in the world, which is further explored in the second act.

Photo by Leif Norman

The over-arching themes on religion, politics and society are fleshed out through carefully written dialogue.  McMillan delivers a riveting performance, although those unfamiliar with Nietzsche may lose some context of the story.  Thankfully, Ratzlaff has made the dialogue easy enough to digest without too much philosophical background.  McMillan carries many interesting points on our justice system, political system and the foundation of religion.  The most impressive feat, however, was his ability to perfectly execute all of his dialogue.

I found the most interesting theme of this play to be the psychiatrist/patient relationship.  Normally, this type of relationship would focus on a one-way stream of dialogue.  As opposed to a question and answer period, their exchanges became more of a discussion, which allowed James to tear down Heidi’s walls of professionalism and get into the mind of the individual behind the nametag.  The turning of the tables is unordinary, but not completely out of left field.  It opens up the discussion of a criminal’s mindset, of sound mind or otherwise.

Artist drawing of Vince Li, courtesy of

James’ mental condition makes me curious about the preconceived notions our society has about prisoners. There’s often the question of mental health, and whether or not criminals were of sound minds when committing the act.  Take the Vinci Li case, where on March 3, 2009, Li pleaded not criminally responsible for his crime of stabbing, decapitating and cannibalizing Tim McLean. Diagnosed with schizophrenia by a testifying psychiatrist, Li claimed it was God’s voice who told him that McLean was a force of evil and had to be executed.  Certainly, this is not the first of its kind.

Watching this play has heightened my sensitivity to the clockwork of society.  I believe Ratzlaff is an excellent playwright, and has done amazing work in his premiere piece.  Dionysus in Stony Mountain is a thoughtful product and makes the audience critically think about the confusion behind what makes humans tick.

More information on the play can be viewed here.

Did someone say chocolate?

The month of April isn't solely dedicated to chocolate moulds in the form of Easter bunnies. Our city's love for chocolate goes beyond just that, celebrating a monthlong festivity known as the Ciao! ChocolateFest.

Image courtesy of

From April 1 to 30, a melting pot of venues will offer their chocolatey creations for the special price of $7. This experience of worldly flavours is a must-do for all you "chocophiles" out there.

The Forks will also host a Tour du Chocolat on April 14 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in centre court, where visitors will be able to flavour a range of different traditional and innovative chocolate creations.  All proceeds of the event go toward the Canadian Cancer Society.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

Throughout the month, Sydney's at The Forks will be offering trios of chocolate cherry morsels, made of chocolate and cookie coated with house made cherry infused marshmallow, white chocolate and cherry ice cream, and milk chocolate panna cotta sprinkled with cherry gelee.  Chop Steakhouse & Bar will be featuring dark chocolate pecan banana cake, a dark chocolate pecan banana cake with house made bourbon caramel served with vanilla ice cream, and a fallen chocolate soufflé cake, a chocolate cake with mascarpone mousse and rest vanilla anglaise.

Image courtesy of

There are only some of the delectable indulgences you'll find around town.  Here's a list of all the featured restaurants in this year's ChocolateFest:

The Beachcomber
Brooklynn’s Bistro
Caramel Crêpe
Chop Steakhouse and Bar
The Current
Danny’s All-Day Breakfast
Dessert Sinsations Cafe
Fergie’s Fish n’ Chips
Human Bean Coffee & Tea
Kristina’s on Corydon
Lilac Bakery
Maxime’s Restaurant
The Melting Pot
Neon Cone
Promenade Bistro
Rudy’s Eat and Drink
Smoothie Bar
Steve’s Bistro
Sweet Impressions
Sydney’s at The Forks

More information on ChocolateFest can be viewed at Ciao! Magazine's website.

Are you "pho"ll yet?

If you’re a fan of Vietnamese cuisine, Winnipeg offers no shortage of fine pho all over town.  With our city’s pockets brimming with delicious Asian dining options, the appropriate question to ask is not where these places are, but which one to go to.  If you’re close to downtown, there’s a place not too far away that might meet your Vietnamese dining desires.

Courtesy of

It’s hard to miss Pho No. 1’s bright yellow sign as you pass it on the corner of Isabel Street.  Just a brief detour outside of Winnipeg’s city centre, this restaurant offers a decent selection of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes, including noodle soups, meat entrees and combination platters.  They also feature an impressive vegetarian menu.

The restaurant is average in size, and comfortably sits between 30-40 people in cushioned booths and tables.  There’s nothing flashy about their décor, which is a running theme similar to a few other venues of its kind in the city.

After entering the narrow entryway, you’re quickly seated and served a tall glass of water.  I appreciate something as simple as an oversized serving of H2O, considering the restaurant is often busy and glasses are not always actively attended to.  The service isn’t exceptional, but they do try their best to accommodate to your individual needs.

The food usually comes out shortly you order, and rarely ever disappoints.  For lunch, we ordered salad rolls ($5.99), vegetarian spring rolls ($5.99), deluxe wonton soup with BBQ pork, shrimp, chickens and vegetables ($7.99), lemon chicken ($8.99), and vegetarian spring rolls with vermicelli ($6.00).

Their appetizer rolls are always fresh on the inside and out.  Namely, the vegetarian spring rolls were warm, crunchy and filled with a mix of tasty vegetables.  The salad rolls were served with a side of peanut sauce, which tasted fairly similar to other recipes I’ve had in the past.

The deluxe wonton soup was filled with a generous serving of meats and vegetables.  The broth was nicely flavoured from the medley of ingredients.  The lemon chicken was covered in a fluffy batter, and the chicken inside was juicy and tender.  The consistency of the batter was different than most other lemon chicken dishes, with a panko-like shell of crumbs covering its exterior.  The vegetarian vermicelli dish featured the same delicious spring rolls we had as appetizers, however the lettuce in the dish was slightly browned and wilted.

The overall restaurant experience was well above average, with short wait times and fresh, tasty meals.  The only downfalls were the not-so-fresh lettuce and the long absences of our server.  Understandably so, because Pho No. 1 does get quite busy, especially around lunch and dinnertime.  If you plan on paying this restaurant a visit, make sure to spare a few minutes before your meal to beat the afternoon or evening rush.

Pho No. 1 on Urbanspoon