Thursday, August 28, 2008

Random Between the Weekends

Photo of Haida home and totem poles on Museum grounds, seen from inside the UBC Museum of Anthropology.

Since we're almost at the weekend again, and there are still a few things I'd like to record about last weekend, even just for my own memory, I'm going to do a bit of end-of-the-week (end-of the summer, for that matter!) randomness. The photos throughout this post are from our visit to the UBC Museum of Anthropology which closes after this weekend for some major renovation -- it won't be open again 'til March 2009. If you're thinking of visiting Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, you'll want to get out to this spot, not only for the artifacts themselves, but for the stunning Arthur Erickson building that houses them, blending them into the surrounding landscape that makes their enclosure tolerable, at least, in the name of education and some kind of cultural rapprochement. The UBC campus itself (where I did undergrad studies way back in the early 70s, then my MA in the mid-90s, and where my daughter now works), is a beautiful campus from which you can hike down to the beach (and a "clothing optional" beach at that, if you're so inclined).

So, random stuff. What first? Let's see . . . how about where we went for our 34th anniversary dinner: Le Marrakech , a Moroccan bistro I've been dying to try out in Gastown. This is just one block past the invisible border beyond which the buzz isn't yet quite moving, one block closer to the sadness that is the Downtown Eastside, and I applaud any effort to make this area more vibrant. Still, on dark winter nights, arriving here will raise a few doubts. Stepping inside will quickly dispel them: the room is warm, welcoming, and attractive, decorated with rich colour and Moroccan lighting, with all the good aromas of Moroccan cuisine. But as we were led upstairs to be seated, we faced our first disappointment of the evening: even though we'd phoned to make reservations, we were told that most of the better seats in the room were reserved (most were still empty when we left, oddly) and we had our choice of two in the middle of the room or one at the encircling edge. Since all the tables in the centre required both diners to sit on (very low backless) stool/cushions, and since my back was bothering me a bit, we chose the table at the banquette along the wall. This, though, yielded the awkward situation of my finding the table a very long distance below the mouth I'd have to get my food to and Paul couldn't get his knees under the table. When he discreetly swapped his seat for one of the low stools, he was more comfortable knee-wise, but found himself looking up at me rather comically from his low perch.

The menu was also something of a disappointment as we had expectations formed by many happy meals in Moroccan restaurants in Paris and most of those foods were missing (where were the preserved lemons I use in my own dishes? where were the lamb-with-prunes tagines?). But we put aside those expectations and resolved to enjoy what was here. We were rewarded: my starter, a beet salad, was wonderful with its chunks of golden beets complemented by goat cheese, slivers of dried apricot, and just enough pistachio bits soaked in rose water to puzzle and delight (the puzzle was in trying to identify the taste; the delight, obviously, in the taste itself). And Paul had a bowl of succulent chicken livers served in a light, tasty broth.

For our main courses, I ordered a tagine of braised lamb shank while Paul asked for braised short ribs. Both came with couscous and vegetables, very nicely cooked and presented, but I was disappointed to find that my tagine had been used only for presentation rather than for cooking. Generally, in our experience at least, the tagine will come to the table piping hot, having just been taken from the stove with the food still cooking inside it, and the couscous arrives separately. Here, my meal was prettily plated in the tagine with the lamb shank on top of the couscous and no sauce or juice or broth to speak of, but it had clearly been cooked in separate components in other dishes. Still good, but not the meal I'd been hoping to find, and the lamb shank had passed its falling-off-the-bone yumminess, having clearly been cooked early (a legitimate approach for braised lamb, but not my favourite). So we enjoyed the meal, and I was glad to have finally got around to checking it out, but I think I'll stick to the tagines I cook at home until we're in Paris again, where there's a wonderful Moroccan restaurant just across the street from our hotel.

This photo, and the next, are of Bill Reid's statue, Raven and the First Men, from various perspectives. The statue depicts Raven bringing forth the first men, naked, weak, frightened, and rather foolish-looking, from a clamshell -- Reid and Robert Bringhurst's book Raven Steals the Light offers a written version of this foundation story, one of many that showcase the lascivious, mischievous, comic Raven.
Also, last weekend, we watched the DVD Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge or Flight of the Red Balloon, a beautiful, if very slow, film by Hsiao-hsien Hou, set in Paris, starring Juliette Binoche, a tribute to Albert Lamorisse's 1957 Le Ballon Rouge. Very slow, don't watch it if you're drowsy, but nonetheless engaging and quite beautiful.

And since you're already putting up with random, I'll slip some knitting catch-up in here. I've finished the red mohair sweater I was making for my friend Alison (who leaves next week for a year of sailing adventures). I hope I'll be able to fit in a visit with her over the next few days and get a snap or two of her modeling it.


  1. I agree with you about the delicious Moroccan restaurants in Paris. The lamb and prune is/was scrummy. It sounds a bit like your restaurant was trying too hard, authentically uncomfortable whilst butchering the authentic cuisine!
    If you think their seats were uncomfortable go to some back street parlours in South Korea, you only get a choice of floor or yep floor! At 5'7+ I found this a very uncomfortable way to eat. Luckily the food was worth the pain.. just.

  2. Alison: Yes, I would have given up the authentic decor in favour of more authentic food although in Paris we were able to manage both in comfort.
    Don't know that I'd do very well at the floor-sitting and I'm shorter than you. Still, if the food's really scrumptious, I can put up with quite a bit . . .

  3. The MOA is the only building in Vancouver that I feel justifies Erickson's standing as an architect in our community. He had a golden chance with Robson Square to design a real gathering place for the city...and instead he designed an underground...square.

  4. Thomas: We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Perhaps because I've lived in the city all my life, I'm partial to Erickson's response to it. His Simon Fraser University, which can certainly be dreary in the grey rain, is nevertheless a strong, inspired answer to the mountains and forests it's built atop, and the architectural integrity of the place, I think, let us conceptualize ourselves differently at that time before we were the "world-class city" that Expo '86 supposedly put us on the road to becoming. And while I admit that I don't often pierce the interior of the Law Courts, I love the breathing space this "skyscraper laid on its side" gives to the downtown (and shudder to think if the WACky Bennett govt had gone ahead with the BC building originally planned for the location. Maybe I'm fond of it 'cause I think of the many times my mom and dad, in my dad's early retirement years, would head downtown to lace up their skates. But I think it's also because of the pockets of green striating the concrete. Plus I think that the natural gathering happens around the old courthouse, now the art gallery, and that's so organic, so long-established, that the drift across the street's not likely to happen (nor even necessary, at least in my view).

  5. I love Juliette Binoche, I secretly (not so much now) want to be her!
    I'm sorry the restaurant wasn't that great but at least you got to try it. It sounds like the interior decorator needs a bit more training too.
    The university campus sounds divine! a walk to the beach I'm surprised they can get any students to class.

  6. Wow, you make tagines! Is there anything you can't do? Agree it should be cooked in its vessel and served sizzling.

  7. Cybill: It probably helps that there are 600 stairs down to the beach (my daughter "does" them for exercise several lunch hours a week!). Still, I blame that proximity for my dropping out when I first when to UBC, way back when.
    Duchesse: Tagines are one of those fabulous entertaining dishes that are much easier than they look. Once the prep's done, you have time to clean up and then have a glass of wine while the food cooks, and on top of that, a dramatic presentation at table! I love that kind of one-pot wonder (rounded off by a salad first, good bread, and dessert, of course)

  8. Those sculptures are amazing! I'll add this to my list of things to see in BC. (I've started making noises to DH that we should plan our next trip there, so maybe in a year or two...)

  9. Pseu: I look forward to you making your way up here. The Anthropology Museum is top of the list for many visitors here -- much more here than my few photos indicate. And on the way, there's Gravity Pope, which has a pretty decent collection of shoes . . .


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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