Royal Engagement Spins Media Frenzy

The engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton was officially announced today, and the media is having a field day. This comes as no surprise considering the Royal Family’s celebrity status both in England and the Commonwealth.  Yet, for a Canadian citizen whose royal knowledge is almost non-existent, I was curious to know exactly what it is that makes this event so noteworthy.
So what do we know? We know they are engaged. We know they are to be married sometime next year. And we know that her engagement ring was Princess Diana’s. We are also well aware of the legacy left behind by Diana, and that her divorce may have been one of the factors leading to Prince William waiting so long to propose. He also said in an interview that he wanted to give Kate plenty of time to “back out”. Although it was said partly in jest, William is no stranger to the attention of the media, and is genuinely concerned for the well-being of his future wife. After all, the constant media attention was one of the things Diana found so difficult about being part of the royal family.
Canadian news sources seem to be focusing on the “Royal Romance” aspect of the engagement, noting that instead of the traditional courtship that precedes royal marriages, William and Kate met conventionally, having gone to university together. It is a modern relationship that took over eight years and a few bumps in the road to reach the engagement. For the first time, the royal couple feels within close reach of the public; they appear to have gone through what many couples go through before they tie the knot. Furthermore, Kate comes from a middle-class family who became self-made millionaires rather than being of royal descent. She is the girl next door and she is on her way to becoming not only a princess, but the Queen of England.
For many people, particularly the British, this wedding celebration will be an opportunity for national unity and a way of bringing people together. It is joyous occasion that will be shared in a very public fashion, unlike most celebrity weddings that are done more clandestinely. It is expected that more than 3 billion will watch the event worldwide. Although I never gave the royal family much thought, the media attention speaks to their popularity, and I look forward to learning more about William and Kate, who promise to be a power-couple like we’ve never seen before from the royal family tree.
Source for photo: http://www.mirror.co.uk
For more information on the royal family and the British monarchy, visit: http://www.royal.gov.uk

The Other Side of Nuit Blanche

Saturday night was the fifth year of Scotiabank’s Nuit Blanche in Toronto. The underlying concept is a great one: from sundown to sunrise, local artists present their talents in various spaces around the city. Major arteries like Yonge Street are closed to automobile traffic and open to pedestrians to roam at will.
One of the luxuries of Nuit Blanche is that you can have a great night at home without rushing out, because you have hours ahead of you to enjoy your Saturday night. However, if you’re going to one of the main events, you still have to wait in line, something I wasn’t expecting.
Our primary destination was a big installation at Bay St. Station we had heard about through the grapevine, so we hopped on the subway with myriads of other people in their 20s and 30s, many of whom had the same idea. When we arrived at the Bay platform, we immediately noticed a queue and jumped in. We were quickly informed that the line started outside the station and that people had been waiting there for two hours. The line stretched through the busy platform, up the stairs, through the turnstiles and up more stairs to the street; although the volunteers were monitoring progress, it was mostly chaotic and it wasn’t really clear how they determined the difference between those who had been waiting diligently and those who just snuck into the queue.
Discouraged, we made our way out to Yonge Street and started walking the festival-like atmosphere of Nuit Blanche. The energy was exciting and we were looking forward to seeing the creative minds of Toronto at work, but we walked for blocks and blocks (all the way to King Street) without seeing much, except for an excess of garbage overflowing from bins, and people being sick on the sidewalk from too many drinks. It looked like some people had interpreted Nuit Blanche as a carte blanche to act like complete idiots and have someone else clean up after them.
To a certain extent, this can be blamed on the public, but on the other hand, why wasn’t the city or Scotiabank prepared for the waste overflow from such a huge event? There should be more bins and workers hired to take care of the job throughout the night. If we were seeing piles of garbage at midnight, I can only imagine what it would have looked like at seven in the morning. All that waste took away from the enlightened atmosphere that Nuit Blanche attempts to create.
Getting home on the subway was quick if claustrophobic, but a friend who took the streetcar was not so lucky. She said it was “horribly busy and crowded” and it took her almost two hours to get home. On a regular night, it would take 40 minutes.
My advice if you plan to go next year is to start early, to map out your routes, and to hit up an area like Queen Street West. For this art fanatic however, the overall atmosphere and organization of Nuit Blanche has a long way to come.

The Drake Hotel, Not Just for Celebrities and Trend Setters

My first experiences with the Drake Hotel in Toronto consisted of waiting in line to pay cover, or waiting in line to get onto the rooftop patio and then paying $15 for a drink. One time we weasled our way onto the patio for a romantic, delicious dinner an hour and a half after we had arrived; another time I brushed elbows with Adrian Grenier of the hit show Entourage as he prepared for his band to play downstairs. I agree that this is a great spot to spend a summer evening, but it doesn’t always seem worth all of the fuss.
Then I was introduced to the Drake weekend brunch by a good friend, and haven’t turned back since. You have a few options as to where you want to dine: there is the Drake Café, located on the west side of the hotel, which has a casual, simple patio; the spacious and uniquely decorated bar area; or the darker atmosphere of the restaurant itself. All dining occurs on the main floor for breakfast, but dinner includes service on the rooftop patio or “Sky Yard”, on fashionable benches covered with pillows, giving it a Mata Hari harem sort of feel, but with lighter overtones.
The nice thing about breakfast is that it is a casual meal, and you usually don’t have to wait in line to get in. We did wait on one occasion, but they brought us melt-in-your-mouth mini croissants with jam, and all was quickly copacetic. They offer healthy options, such as granola and fresh fruit, but if you’re like me, when you go out for brunch on the weekends you want something hearty. I personally enjoy ordering eggs Benedict the morning after an evening of red wine, but they can be a risky choice. Some places will overcook your poached eggs, so that you miss out on that mingling of egg yolk, hollandaise, and ketchup. This is no good. But at the Drake, they always poach their eggs perfectly. And I will make this bold statement, but only because it’s true: the Drake Eggs Caleb is my favourite breakfast in Toronto. It comes with scrumptious smoked salmon, and hand cut French fries that marry exquisitely with the hollandaise sauce. The restaurant also offers unique choices like Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles, which comes with sweet Niagara cherry jam; this may sound like an odd combination, but it works. Especially for hangovers.
One of the most appealing things about the hotel space is the eccentric décor. It is artistic, trend setting, and has a gallery feel to it, which makes the experience one-of-a-kind. In the restaurant area, the walls are covered in life size pictures of a forest, illuminated in a way that reminds me of the Science Center in the 1980s. It works in modern decor because of our environmental consciousness and return to grass roots, especially in Toronto where the eco-friendly population is massive. There has also been a move towards nature in the decorating world, where we are seeing more and more natural wood, deer antlers, and other elements you’d expect to see at a cottage or a ranch.  Some of the decorating choices are really out there; I’m referring to the very realistic reproduction of the upper torso of a man, and his partially bald crown, replete with real hair on both his head and his back. It hits you as you come down the stairs from the patio and/or washrooms, and it is hard to avoid. I’m not completely sold on that piece, but overall, I’d like to get the name of their interior designer. The one recommendation I have for the Drake is to sort out the washrooms upstairs, because the smell was off-putting, and took away from the positive experience of the hotel.
If you don’t get a chance to try the fabulous blueberry scones during your meal, be sure to take some to go. They are a delectable way to reward yourself for being so forward thinking, and going to the Drake for breakfast.
The Drake Hotel is located at 1150 Queen St. W., Toronto. For more information, visit the Drake Hotel website at http://www.thedrakehotel.ca/dining/menu