Thursday, December 6, 2007

18 ans plus tard, je me souviens

Geneviève Bergeron, 21
Hélène Colgan, 23
Nathalie Croteau, 23
Barbara Daigneault, 22
Anne-Marie Edward, 21
Maud Haviernick, 29
Barbara Maria Klucznik, 31
Maryse Leclair, 23
Annie St-Arneault, 23
Michèle Richard, 21
Maryse Laganière, 25
Anne-Marie Lemay, 22
Sonia Pelletier, 28
Annie Turcotte, 21

Monday, December 3, 2007

Rebuild New Orleans for Christmas

I am infuriated.

I can't understand why there hasn't been rioting in the streets of America over the government's continuing disregard for the rebuilding of New Orleans, 27 months after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. There are two articles in today's New York Times that, taken together, paint a frustrating picture of the U.S. government's criminal ineptitude in responding to the needs of the mainly poor, mostly black, displaced residents of a spectacular cultural gem whose rebuilding ought to be a main priority of an adminstration that is instead obsessed with what is happening half a planet away, at the expense of its own citizens. (read them here and here . )

Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, began evicting displaced residents from the trailers FEMA provided to them last year as makeshift homes. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that FEMA took nearly a year after the hurricane to get these folks into those trailers in the first place, or that most of the displaced are residents of the 9th Ward, which was devastated not by the hurricane itself, but by the flooding that occured after the federally-built levees broke under pressure from the storm surge (the threat of which was ignored by FEMA until it was too late), and you have to wonder how often these people are going to be revictimized by their own government. FEMA's stated intention is to evict all residents of the five trailer camps by the end of May. Unfortunately for the residents of those trailers, estimated at 900 families, no one is building low-cost rental units, so there will be nowhere to go. FEMA's spokesperson has helpfully contributed this quote to the NY Times article: "It is the individual's responsibility to go out and find what's suitable for them".

Prior to the hurricane, more than half of New Orleans' residents rented their homes. Now, a shortage of rental units has resulted in rents virtually doubling, and while many can't afford these new rents, the vacancy rate still hovers near zero. As well, public housing units are being torn down due to the damage they suffered via the hurricane. Just last week, the New Orleans Housing Authority approved the demolition of 4,000 public housing units. The plan is to build mixed-income housing in their place. Most of the evicted will not be able to afford to return. Since Katrina, it is estimated that there are now twice as many homeless people in New Orleans as previously, approximately 12,000 people living under bridges, or in parks, or in abandoned buildings. Some have taken up residence in a park directly across from City Hall, a daily reminder, to local politicians at least, of the continuing struggle to survive amidst administrative callousness.

This Christmas will be the third since Katrina. For many of the displaced, they are no closer to getting their old lives back than they were in the days immediately following the tragedy. I have a hard time believing that if the Upper East Side of Manhattan, or a chunk of Miami Beach, or the waterfront of Seattle had been devastated by a natural disaster, that those folks would still be waiting for debris to be cleared and homes to be rebuilt three Christmases later. Of course, what separates those three communities from the 9th Ward is money. The middle-class and the wealthy are visible victims - the poor are not. A second, unspoken divider, is colour. You cannot convince me that a white middle-class suburb would remain in ruins to the same degree that a poor, black inner-city wardship has, for this long.

While the government of the wealthiest nation on the planet has failed its most vulnerable, individuals are stepping in to do what they can. The actor Brad Pitt has put five million of his own money into a pilot project, to design environmentally-friendly, low-cost housing. 13 architectural firms have accepted the challenge of designing these homes, and they expect 150 houses to be pretty much move-in ready by next summer.

A cynic might ask why a movie star has been able to achieve more than a government, but I expect the answer comes down to interest - he is interested in his project, and the government is not. Let's not forget that during the hurricane and the days that followed, FEMA was in total disarray and unable to even organize buses to move people to higher ground, while TV personality Oprah Winfrey had 50 commercial trailers loaded up with food, water, and basic necessities and on the road to New Orleans within 48 hours. If it wasn't for individuals, I'd have no hope at all.

And that's where you come in. Last week on a friend's blog, we were talking about ways to help the less fortunate during the holiday season. Pitt's project is currently accepting donations large and small towards those 150 houses. You can sponsor anything, from a water heater to the house itself. Check them out and see if giving to them is right for you: Make it Right .

Of course, homelessness and poverty aren't just restricted to New Orleans, or the Christmas season, and there are any number of people right here at home who could use a hand all year round. Think about making the time to go through closets and purge warm clothing that can be dropped off at the Salvation Army or the Women's shelter; sign up to deliver Christmas hampers; shop for or write a check to the Food Bank. And don't stop just because a new page comes up on the calendar - the need runs year-round.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Life is like a...Tim Horton's coffee?

It's the end of the world as we know it.

The Globe and Mail says it's true, and as we all know, the Globe's writers never lie. So here it is. My life boiled down to a simple coffee order:

According to the inestimable Sarah Hampson, I am a single-single, and there's a lot I better get a move on doing, because apparently, single-single people share a lot of traits I don't seem to possess. I am letting down the single-single side.

All those decades I spent trying to develop some complexity, all the hobbies and quirky interests that just came naturally, all the work, the travel, the writing - all for naught. Apparently, if I could just be a single-single in Toronto, centre of the universe, cultural capital of the world, if I could just get my bloody act together, dammit, I too could be a single-single - properly conforming to the Globe's endless expectations of me.

Or more accurately, lack of expectations, since being single-single is, apparently, a fate worse than death. Thanks for rubbing that in. I'll be sure to get over my general satisfaction with life and be a total downer any day now.

A single-single, according to Ms. Hampson's article, is a person who lives alone and is not romantically involved with anyone. We may be divorced, widowed, or never married. We also: avoid cooking from scratch; buy frozen, not fresh, vegetables; live in dark, empty places; and lack interest in our own hygiene, paddling as we do about our homes all day in our PJs without brushing our teeth, because "no one cares". Apparently, in my newly-defined single-single universe, I no longer count for anything myself, and the simple fact that I like my teeth clean is abberant and noteworthy. Great. I'm sensing a chicken and egg dichotomy in the whole single-single analysis here, but perhaps that's a topic for another post, another time.

Oh. And another thing? We're "desperate to marry", which is certainly news to me.

BUT, and there's always a BUT, if I can embrace my inner single-single, I may paradoxically open myself up to becoming a double-double, since it isn't until I make the most of being single that I can attract the man of my dreams.

Which kind of goes against embracing the single-singlehood, but I digress.

Of course, the simple fact that people are slightly more complicated on the whole than a coffee order seems to be totally irrelevant to the Globe's central thesis, which is, wait for it, you're a sad, lonely, pathetic nothing without a mate.

I swear I heard my mother's voice in that last paragraph.

The fact that some of us genuinely like coming home to our own homes, and cooking for ourselves, and generally being the author of our own fortunes, whatever they may be, doesn't seem to count for much of anything in the Globe's Torontowalla universe. Which says more about it, I think, than it does about me.

And the teensy fact that, for most of my adult life, I have lived alone quite happily (not unlike the only childhood before it) would only confuse the issue. And we couldn't possibly confuse the issue, because then the little boxes wouldn't fit, and it would be all horribly inconvenient for the writer trying to build a neat little coffee-based theory of human relationships, instead of, you know, living their lives and letting the rest of us live ours. And what would the Globe run on the lifestyles page then?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Hey, let's send the kids to China!

The grocery store I frequent is a not-for-profit cooperative that does a lot for the community, unlike the big box stores that would be my alternative. In fact, barely a week goes by when I am attempting to stuff all of the week's purchases into my backpack that I am not approached by some earnest young teenager wearing an oversized jersey of some sort, asking if I'd like help bagging my groceries. The implicit request is really, and will you cough up a fiver for the sports team/social agency/other useful endeavour we are fundraising for this Saturday?

This is a stealth attack. The Co-op also lets groups wash cars in the parking lot as soon as the ice is off the road, but at least I have a choice of whether or not I line up to have my car washed. I don't have the same luxury when it comes to paying for my groceries. If I fail to line up, I expect I would be arrested for trying to steal my food. That would pose a bit of a problem, given my line of work.

And so I have to explain to the earnest young teenager that no, I don't need any help thanks, because everything I buy will fit in this one convenient bag I have brought along with me, and I don't need any more plastic in my life. I am then subjected to either the pouty, "but we need the money" look, or the "yeah, whatever" turn away. When this first started happening, I succumbed to the guilt and would usually slip at least a twoonie into the contributions jar even though the teens had done absolutely nothing to earn it. To this day, I will still, on occasion, slip a five or even a ten into the jar, particularly if the kids are fundraising for something I feel is relevant, like SADD. But I've gotten over the guilt of stiffing the kids for things they don't particularly need. Best they learn to deal with disappointment sometime, and there really is no time like the present.

This afternoon was a particularly sharp example of things I will not fund with my hard-earned dollars. The teenagers were raising money for a school trip to China. I am willing to entertain the idea that I am just jealous. It's quite possible, and I won't be ashamed to admit it. I've been a relatively hard-working and productive member of the work force for about 25 years, but I have never been to China. My luggage has been to China (thank you, Air Canada!) but I have not.

Growing up in Montreal in the 1970s, a school field trip was a VERY BIG DEAL. We would sell boxes of oranges, and chocolates, door to door, and after weeks of slogging around in the slush and cold (because field trip fundraising never happened in good weather), we would then resort to what kids usually do when they want something badly enough and haven't moved enough perishables to foot the bill - we hit our parents up for the money. And after all of this, where did we go?

We got our collective asses on a bus for a two-hour ride to Ottawa. For the day. And then we rode back in the dark.

Now, while we were in Ottawa we'd do interesting things, like visit Parliament Hill, or the National Gallery, or the Museum of Civilization. The content of our trip was usually directly tethered to something we were learning about in history class, and we could count on having to pay attention, because something from the trip would eventually wind up on a test.

Last year, the local high schoolers were everywhere for months, washing cars, bagging groceries, and my favorite, cleaning trash from the sides of the highway, to raise money for a trip to Vimy Ridge. In my curmudgeonly judgment, I was willing to help them along on this trip, because they had timed the trip to coincide with the 90th anniversary of what might be the most significant battle in the history of this nation. The fact I have been to France never entered into my calculus of the situation.

However, no one today was able to explain to me why 14-year-olds have to go to China, and as a result, my money stayed firmly in my pocket. I appreciate that China will be the dominant power of this century, and perhaps the next, and I recognize that I learned practically nothing about any part of Asia in school, and as a result, I remain woefully ignorant of a sizeable section of the globe. But, considering the cost of going to Edmonton from here, is it really realistic to think an entire class of kids will be able to raise enough money to go literally to the other side of the planet? And why are they going? Shouldn't you have to have an incredibly good, and totally articulable, reason to spend a semester fundraising (when you could be studying, or reading) only to then take a couple of weeks off of school to go on this radical field trip?

I don't think it is totally unreasonable of me to expect someone who wants my money to at least be able to tell me why they are going on this trip. It would be extra nice if they could also tell me what they hope to get out of it, but they should at least know why they are doing something. If only to part me from my money.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is violence entertainment?

This past week, my colleagues and I have been engaged in a running debate over the nature of North American filmmaking and whether or not violence is truly "entertainment".

OK - that sounds incredibly pretentious, when in reality, we're really just an office full of film geeks trying to figure out why the American film rating system is so screwed up that torture porn films like Hostel and Saw barely merit an "R", while the latest offering from Academy Award winner Ang Lee apparently merits an "NC-17" because of some graphic sex scenes.

As a film school grad, I am conflicted about all of this, but as a regular viewer of all sorts of movies, let me just say I would far rather watch a thoughtful, serious, and yes, adult film about governments in peril and subversive spies trying to overthrow them that happens to have a few scenes of seduction, than a gratuitously violent film with virtually no plot or other redeeming qualities where an abundance of characters (almost always female, or a visible minority, or both) are graphically tortured, flayed, or dismembered for our entertainment. Is this truly entertaining? Really? To whom? And why?

Each summer, the magazine Entertainment Weekly does a week-to-week running count of the number of people killed in popular summer movies. Between mid-May and Labour Day this year, a shade under 20,000 characters were killed in U.S. theatrically released movies. 20 thousand characters. In probably 150 or so movies. What in the hell is going on here?

"Torture porn" earned its nickname because of the structural similarities between those movies and regular porn films - there's little to no plot or story to be told, and what there is exists only to connect the "action" sequences, which are in turn frequent, excessive, and often filmed in extreme closeups to maximize their graphic content. Unlike sex porn films, there is usually an element of raw hatred in torture porn - of the character being tortured, of society as a whole, and of the particular audience who have plonked down $12 to be entertained by this twisted crap.

Don't get me wrong - I don't object to violence that is situational. I take no issue with war movies like Glory or Saving Private Ryan, despite their often explicit violence. I usually don't even take issue with movies by folks like Martin Scorsese ( although The Departed really tested my patience on this front - once you kill a guy, do you really have to throw him off a roof, and then have him run over by a car? Really? Isn't killing him once horrifying enough? But - I digress). Violence in context can make a powerful statement that is central to the theme of any particular movie. My problem is with the gratuitous, sadistic violence inherent to torture porn films.

What does it say about us as a society that those people who rate films for a living are more willing to accept graphic depictions of sadistic, explicit torture in movies than they are graphic depictions of sexuality, making the former more accessible to children than the latter by virtue of the more lenient ratings they assign to each project? This is how the Motion Picture Association of America, creator of the ratings system, defines each of these two ratings:

"An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.

An NC-17 rated motion picture is one that, in the view of the Rating Board, most parents would consider patently too adult for their children 17 and under. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not mean “obscene” or “pornographic” in the common or legal meaning of those words, and should not be construed as a negative judgment in any sense. The rating simply signals that the content is appropriate only for an adult audience. An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children."

In practice, getting an NC-17 rating is a commercial kiss of death for a movie. Studios would rather re-edit a film to try and get a softer rating, than release an NC-17 film. Wikipedia has a list of about 100 films, including such diverse fare as Eyes Wide Shut, Clerks, Boys Don't Cry, and Brokeback Mountain, as films originally rated NC-17 that were then re-edited and re-rated R. While the MPAA says an NC-17 rating is not a negative judgment, in the marketplace it certainly is. Large media conglomerates refuse to accept advertising for NC-17 movies; you will not see ads for them in magazines or newspapers on either side of the border. You won't see TV advertisements either. Some theatre chains won't book an NC-17 film. And websites like Apple and iTunes won't carry the film's trailers. So it's a little hard to build a blockbuster when no one knows your film exists, and anyone who does know it is out there can't expect to just amble down to the local megaplex to see it Friday night.

As an adult of a certain age, I'd like to think sex and all its complications is a lot more in keeping with the human experience than violence is, especially sadistic violence. Maybe I'm wrong and I lead a sheltered life. But I'd certainly rather see a film that has an honest depiction of sex in it than one where the primary goal is to kill, maim and humiliate others. If the goal of entertainment is to reflect us to ourselves, then which image should we prefer to see in our cultural mirror?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Weekend in the Country

This past weekend, I was invited to spend the weekend at a friend's cabin on a small lake about an hour out of town. I am not really an outdoorsy person, especially if the weather promises to be hideous. Sunny, hot weather, or sunny, snowy weather, I'm all for being outdoors. Cold, wet fall weather, not so much. Despite all of this, I allowed myself to be lured into nature for the better part of two whole days, and of course had a lovely time, despite the odd snowflake blowing around on the drive out.

Unlike some cabins, where you basically drive up to the door, this requires a bit more work. First, one drives down a two-lane packed dirt highway for about an hour. Then, you unload all your gear in the parking lot at the top of the hill, with the able assistance of two keen, but elderly and arthritic, large dogs. Said gear must then be packed down a trail and rather steep staircase to a long dock, at which point your host putters over in an aluminum fishing boat to pick up guest, gear, and dogs. There ensues a complex calculation about who should sit where and what gear goes where to ensure the boat is stable for the ride over to the cabin, which is at the far end of the lake.

Here, Jake waits for her ride. Note the brilliant weather. It is about one in the afternoon, approximately two degrees above zero, and threatening to rain or snow. Neither the dog nor I am impressed. That is our host in the distance.

Given the weather, it perhaps comes as no surprise that most of Saturday is spent puttering around doing winterizing type things - stacking cordwood, covering up equipment, taking down screens and putting up windows, etc. There is a moment when I see a fairly round hole dead center in the pan of a winter shovel, and jokingly ask if it got shot during hunting season, but that moment passes when I am informed that the hole comes not from a bullet, but a bear claw. We are not in the Laurentians or Muskoka anymore.

At the end of the day, though, safely ensconced inside the cabin, you stoke a nice warm fire in the woodstove, pour some wine, and a great evening of chat ensues.

OK, there was the wee incident around 4 a.m., when Jake and I got really very interested in the sound of little footfalls on the back stoop, but no bears crashed through the door, so all was well, and we soon went back to sleep. Perhaps it was a wolf, or a lynx - definitely smaller than a bear, but bigger than a wolverine or badger. All I can say is, it is very friggin' dark when you are on a lake an hour out of town and there are only 4 other neighbours, and it is the middle of a cloudy, rainy night. Very, very dark.

Hallelujah! By the following morning, the sun has come out! OK, the wind has picked up, so it remains rather closer to zero than I might like for September, but at least the fall colors are popping. This is the view off the dock:

THIS is a reason to trek out into the country. Unfortunately, shortly after breakfast, my host has to go visit a neighbour in order to obtain some assistance with an uncooperative piece of equipment we can't get started. I get to stay back with the dogs. Normally, this would be great, except for the part about Sam not liking to be left by his person. Make no mistake, I am but a pale imitation of his person. Despite a short trek up the hill behind the cabin so we can both see where she and the boat are going, Sam gets upset. So upset in fact, that he proceeds to howl like a wolf. For an hour. He howls until he practically loses his voice, and all that comes out are rough little bleatings where a vigorous growl used to be. He even poses like a wolf to do his howling.

Jake on the other hand, wants nothing to do with her embarassing brother at this point. She has found herself a comfy spot by the lake, and is happy to keep as much distance between us as possible.

Far too soon, it is time to repack the boat and head back to the parking lot, and the realities & responsibilities of the city. We never do see any bears, or the family of eagles that nest on the lake. Maybe next trip.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Captain Canada? I think not

So the guy who brought us the GST and Free Trade with the U.S. is still miffed, 20 years later, with the actions of the guy who brought us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the War Measures Act. The former, we'll call him "Mulroney", is promoting his "memoirs", which are apparently the big lump of dark something or other under the massive pile of steel filings from all the axe-grinding he's been doing in our lapdog national media this week.

"Mulroney" has had the audacity to pontificate on the suitability of "Trudeau" to claim the mantel of "moral leadership" for the nation, which is amusing, since "Trudeau" hasn't been claiming much of anything for the past 7 years, as he's been dead all that time. In asserting his apparent own suitability for the job, "Mulroney" has pointed to "Trudeau"'s well-documented disdain for conscription during World War II, only he's helpfully re-cast it as a failure to support the war on the Nazis.

Whoa, sugar. There's a big difference between supporting those evil Nazis, and asking a few good questions about Canada's version of the draft.

"Trudeau" was barely 20 at the outset of WWII, and he had spent his entire life up to that point nestled in the bosom of Jesuit intellectuals, who were widely regarded at the time as being rather fascististic and anti-semetic. (Sadly, this was hardly a unique perspective in the era, as Canada's own government closed our borders to boatloads of itinerant Jews fleeing Nazi Europe in the late 1930s, desperate for a safe haven. This, just before we rounded up Canadians of Japanese and Ukrainian heritage and placed them in internment camps across the country for the duration of the war, but that's an outrage for another blog).

"Trudeau" - far from perfect. Ironically, "Mulroney", also far from perfect.

"Trudeau" - actually conscripted during WWII. "Mulroney", not so much.

"Trudeau" - served in the Army, "Mulroney", not.

"Trudeau" - blacklisted during the 1950s "Red Scare" in the U.S., because he was an avowed socialist, had attended a conference in Moscow (and thrown a snowball at a statue of Stalin), and subscribed to lefty publications; "Mulroney" - a young Conservative who cultivated political alliances with Diefenbacker, among others, and later forming the international embarassment/spectacle of those Irish singing dudes with Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Mulroney, if the best weapon you can draw again a political enemy dead seven years is what he did in his early 20s, I guess there really isn't as much dirt there as you'd like, is there? This guy "Trudeau" was a prominent politician and Prime Minister for two decades, and THIS is what you come up with?


I won't even deign to discuss how this muckraking pretty much guarantees no one is ever going to press the title of "moral leader" upon you, Mr. Mulroney. Class Act? Elder Statesman? Captain Canada? I think not.

Attacking long dead enemies in public? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

A Foggy Day, Not Quite London-Town

We don't often have fog up here. Not like the West Coast, or London, or even November in Montreal. Something about the weather conditions just don't line up properly most of the time.

So, you can imagine my surprise this morning to wake up and look out on a lot of...nothing, really. Just a lot of bright grey fog where my neighbourhood should be.

Normally on a Sunday, my inability to see my hand in front of my face outside wouldn't pose much of a problem, as Sunday tends to be a "stay inside and do chores around the house" kind of day. But, given that I was supposed to be heading out for a going-away brunch on this particular morning, the fog was a bit more of an issue. Thankfully, by the time I was actually ready to go, it seemed to have lifted enough to at least drive safely. That was all good and fine uptown, but once I started heading down the hill to Old Town...not so much.

Originally, I thought it might be a good photo opportunity, fog over the lake with some houseboats or something. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick one could barely see the lake, and certainly not the houseboats. In fact, you couldn't see past the first row of boats in the local marina. The houseboats are a couple of hundred metres further out...there.

Still, driving around for a bit did allow me to find some good photo ops of things other than houseboats. Regular boats, for example.

Fog can be a photographer's best friend, or their worst nightmare. It all depends on the look you're going for. For example, normally three boats tied to a dock wouldn't be my first choice of subject. It's kind of blah, the boats are shiny aluminum, there's not much going on. On a foggy day though, when the sun is to one side, most of the colour gets drained out of the picture and it becomes a far more interesting subject. Here, the stillness of the water adds to the effect. Overall, I have to say I really like this one.

Now, in most places, the fog rolls in, it sticks around for a while, and then it clears out for the rest of the day. In...Out. Today though, it kept coming in, moving out, blowing around - generally being unpredictable every five or ten minutes. This constant shifting allowed for some interesting visual opportunities. For example, this morning the shot below wouldn't have been possible, because the sun would have been behind me, so all the camera would have seen was fog, and nothing else. By early afternoon however, the sun had swung around so it was between me and the island. Combine that with the fog being caught midway between blowing in, and rolling out, and we have a sharply focused foreground (love that dock!) with pockets of fog obscuring the island in the middle ground, and a clear sky in the distance. Sweet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

So, there is someone out there after all!

OK. So, I've been absent for the past couple of weeks. I really didn't think anyone would notice, since approximately four people even know this page exists. But at least one of you (yes, Little Miss Know It All, I mean you) has noticed my lack of blogging activity the past few weeks, and commented upon it.

I have no worthy excuse. Yes, I have been on the road for work. Yes, work itself is crazy busy right now. Yes, I do still go home once in a while and I could do this from here. See, no legitimate excuse.

It's not that I haven't had ample inspiration. Why, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni both died the same day back on July 30 (sue me, I'm a film geek). Barry Bonds FINALLY broke Hank Aaron's home run record (after the longest deathwatch on record). I was once again mistaken as a lesbian at a social event, to amusing and philosophical result.

So you see, there have been ideas. But late summer life has interrupted. I expect come winter I will be blogging quite a bit, if for no other reason than to keep myself awake (and apparently amuse LMKIA). I will have inspiration again.

Until then, let me leave you with a classic: the desert island disc list. I realize in this day of iPods that the idea of parsing one's total music collection to 10 albums, as we used to say in my youth, is a bit of an anachronism. Well, so am I. I like to think the parsing helps focus on the music as it was created, that is, which albums are so perfectly constructed that you could listen to them over and over again, front to back, without going berserk? This is the ultimate goal of a desert island disc list, since, after all, you are on a deserted island, and probably alone in the process.

I am fully mindful that if I were to ever actually be on a desert island, something bad probably would have occured to deposit me there, and it is unlikely that said island would have either electricity or a functional CD player, and I probably would not have these 10 discs with me, but really, people! This is a game of what if, not a documentary, so bear with me.

Here, in no particular order, are the 10 discs I would most wish to have on a fully-serviced deserted island:

The Pretenders - Pretenders II
The Clash - London Calling
Crowded House - Recurring Dream
Abdullah Ibrahim Trio - Cape Town Revisited
Ella Fitzgerald - Basin Street Blues
Luar na Lubre - 15 Aniversario
Pink Martini – Hang on, Little Tomato
Roxy Music - Avalon
Monkeywalk - More
k.d. lang - Invincible Summer

The beauty of this list is, each disc is a gem in its own right, and together, there's a significant musical banquet on display. Angry at being deserted? Meet The Clash. Happy with the tropical good weather (it must always be a tropical island)? A little k.d. lang sets the mood. Feeling international? Have you met Luar Na Lubre and Abdullah Ibrahim? Just looking to mellow out and enjoy the view? Choose any of the others. No matter what mood may strike, there's a disc on this list that fits the bill. It also doesn't hurt that there are some amazing songs on each of these records, or that each entire disc hangs together perfectly.

There's my list. What's yours? At some point, I'll post another list, of the perfect desert island DVDs. Because a perfect island not only has electricity, it has TV and a DVD player too!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Flying High

Last weekend, a few dozen bush pilots and recreational flyers were in town for the biannual Bush Plane Fly-In, a series of events that salutes the City's heritage and reminds those of us who weren't around in the heyday of the 1930s just what we were missing out on during those frontier times.

While having breakfast at a waterfront restaurant in the "Old Town", i.e. the original town site from the 1930s, I noticed that a green biplane on floats seemed to be practicing takeoffs and landings on the bay outside our window. With a bit more observation, it seemed he was actually offering people short rides over the city, picking them up and dropping them off at a wharf just 50 or so yards from where I was sitting.

Being a fan of small planes generally, and never having flown in an open cockpit biplane in particular, this was too good to pass up, so as soon as breakfast was over, off we went to see how much this would cost. I figured I was prepared to spend up to $100 for this unique experience. Turns out "Bucky" from Seattle WA was offering rides to all comers - FOR FREE. This hardly seemed fair to him, but who was I to say no?

So, after putting my name on a list and waiting my turn for approximately an hour, I eagerly clambered into the front cockpit, with only six inches of windscreen between my face and the great outdoors. After some minimal safety instructions - keep the seatbelt on at all times, hold on to your glasses, especially if you look around the windscreen - Bucky started up his 1927 Curtis-Wright Travel Air, and the single prop up front began to thrum with an impressive power. A quick taxi on the bay, and we were airborne, going up probably 2000 feet and threading a back and forth pattern over Old Town, Downtown, and the houseboats on the other bay across the peninsula.

Those 15 minutes were like being strapped into the biggest, most kick ass rollercoaster on the planet. The wind rushing over the windscreen, pinning your glasses to your face; the gripping of the cockpit's leather rim whenever the plane banked, certain you would spill out; the direct contact with the elements, not least of which was the sun; and the unbelievable views of the city, from not too terribly high up.

After we'd landed and taxied back to the wharf, I tried to offer Bucky at least a token towards his gas money, but he wasn't having any of it. He had spent the past 3.5 hours ferrying a variety of people around for the sheer love of flying, and for the love of his particular aircraft. So Bucky, back in Seattle, thanks for a thrilling ride and an unforgettable experience.

The Radius of a Rainbow

The city that I now call home is located in a sub-Arctic desert, which mostly means we need to run humidifiers in the winter to keep the cat fur from sticking to the walls with all the static, and in the summer, we are largely spared the spectacular, but kind of frightening, thunder and lightning storms I grew up with in hot, humid Montreal.

Global warming however, means shifting weather patterns, and over the past couple of summers, we have slowly but surely been having more thunderstorms. Tonight's however, was even more spectacular than normal, if crazy weather can be seen to be "normal" at all.

It started around 4 p.m., when I could see a sheet of charcoal grey stretching from the horizon up into the equally somber clouds in the North sky. Over the next couple of hours, those clouds rolled in, until the entire sky was charcoal grey. And then those clouds opened, and for roughly an hour the rain pelted down, bouncing off the pavement like nickels, piercing the screen door until the entire patio door track was filled with water, and obscuring my view across the street.

When the rains finally slowed however, I saw something I don't remember ever seeing before - a double rainbow tracing a full 180 degrees in the sky, the inner rainbow almost incandescent, the colours were so vivid. I will always regret not having a camera to capture this astounding sight, but I stood there on the deck of the sailing club for several minutes, watching it fade and shift, even remarking at one point that it was being reflected in the lake, it was so intense. A handful of other people attending the same workshop also stepped outside to take it in while it lasted, and we were commenting about how you usually only see one end of a rainbow, and the arc tends to disappear into a cloud or fade away, and that this was something else entirely.

I was thinking the arc of this particular rainbow was perfectly circular, not stretched out the way they sometimes are, and then I thought, for no particular reason, what is the radius of a rainbow?

I'm pretty sure someone like Descartes has done the math, and figured out the complicated principles of refraction and distance, and the size of the water droplets probably matters too, but somehow all the science diminishes the sheer perfection of nature's beauty, this big, bright, multicoloured arc stretching from the North sky to the South over the massive dark lake, even for a moment shining back up at itself.

And then, like so many other things in nature, it was gone, obscured once more by another wave of rain.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I have finally made the jump into the blogosphere, after months of reading other people's blogs and wondering, how hard can this be, exactly? I guess we're going to find out, together.

I'm happy to say that while I'm not exactly sure what form this blog will take over the coming weeks and months, I can make a couple of promises : there will be no discussion of my job, or of my co-workers, and no whinging about either. I really like my job (and my co-workers), but I spend enough time doing it and thinking about it, and I'd like to think I'm more than my job, so this blog is going to be about everything, and anything, else.