Monday, 31 May 2010

Forest Fires, Oil Spills and Suggestions for Reading to Get away from the News

In the night we were awakened by the strong smell of smoke: winds from the north were sending smoke south from forest fires burning 400 to 500 kilometers away so that it was blanketing Montreal as well as regions as far away as Maine.

Then I opened Le Devoir to see the extent of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Not a great way to start the day...

So it's time to look at the second half of that list of good reading for the summer and beyond. (Thanks again to Carol Greene for compiling it.)

Mawer, Simon The Glass room (faction–Mies van der Rohe)
McCann, Colum Zoli (based on true story)
McEwan, Ian Solar
Meek, James We are now beginning our descent
Meloy, Mail The Good thief
Michaels, Anne The Wintervault
Morton, Kate The Forgotten garden
Müller, Herta The Appointment; The Lane of purple plums
Munro, Alice Too much happiness
Nevo, Eshkol Homesick
Novik, Mary Conceit
Oren, Ram Gertruda’s oath: a child, a promise, and a heroic escape
Pamuk, Orhan Museum of innocence
Penny, Louise The Brutal telling (mystery–Eastern Townships)
Roy, Anuradha Atlas of impossible longing
Russo, Richard Old Cape Magic
Sansom, C.J. Winter in Madrid; Revelations
Saramago, Jose Death with interruptions;
The History of the siege of Lisbon

Seraji, Mahood The Rooftops of Tehran
Swan, Mary The Boys in the trees
Sweatman, Margaret The Players (Restoration UK)
Thomas, Joan Curiosity (“faction”– Mary Anning)
Thomas, Michael Man gone down
Trevor, William Love and summer
Waugh, Alex The House of Wittgenstein
Wroblewski, D. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Zhang, Wei The Ancient ship
Zweig, Stefan The Post office girl (Classic, first time in English)

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Saturday Photo: Honey Bees in Mile End

Today, it seems, is the Day of the Honey Bee. It's a campaign to emphasize the importance of bees to pollination of plants and to call attention to the threat that bee stocks all over the world are currently undergoing.

That makes it the perfect moment for a photo of a volunteer activity in an area of Mile End near the railroad tracks that is zoned for industry. Many of the factory buildings are disused while others now house computer software companies or artists. The land has been claimed by people in the neighborhood as a "wild" park. The city is working with citizens' groups on a plan but many of the residents want the overgrown fields preserved, in part at least, as an example of what happens when land is left undisturbed. There is an abundance of wild flowers which makes it a good place for a beehive. The sign explains in French and English that the bees living here are making honey from the surrounding flowers, and will continue happily as long as they are not disturbed. If they are, however, watch out!

Actually, that could be said of much of nature....

Friday, 28 May 2010

The Versatile Viol: Tina Chancey and a Western Music Classic

For a Friday when the world seems particularly complicated. Elin did a few master classes with Tina a couple of years ago--a different viola da gamba experience. A bit nostalgic from a time before the Tea Party types decided there was no other interpretation of the West.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

More Great Ideas for Reading

My oldest book group is one that was already well established when I joined it shortly after we arrived in Montreal a very long time ago. It has been going for at least 45 years, meeting every two weeks between September and June, except for December when there's one meeting.

Each year about this time we draw up a list of possible books for the coming season and for summer reading. The actual books discussed--and we take turns leading the discussion--are determined by what's easily available in paperback or libraries as well as the tastes of individual members. Here's the first half of what we came up with this week: I'll post the second half later. (Thanks to Carol Greene for compiling the list.)

Ali, Monica In the kitchen
Alia, Ayann Hirsi No man
Alsanea, Rajaa The Girls of Riyadh
Armstrong, Sally The Nine lives of Charlotte Taylor
Aslam, Nadeem The Wasted vigil
Atkinson, Kate When will there be good news
Aw, Tash Map of the invisible world
Ballard, J.G. Miracles of life: from Shanghai to Shepperton
Banville, John Infinities (see also his mysteries, “by Benjamin Black”)
Barry, Sebastian Sacred scriptures
Behrens, Peter Law of dreams (GG 2006– Ireland)
Boylan, Clare Beloved Stranger
Brookner, Anite Strangers
Buergenthal, Thomas A Lucky child: a memoir of surviving Auschwitz
Bundrick, Sheramij Sunflowers
Carey, Peter Parrot and Olivier in America
Catton, Eleanor The Rehearsal
Chevalier, Tracy Remarkable creatures (“faction”– Mary Anning)
Coetzee Summertime
Connelly, Karen Burmese lessons (memoir)
Crummey, Michael Galore (Newfoundland)
De Bernieres, Louise Notwithstanding
Dias, Junot The Brief and wondrous life of Oscar Wao
Dickner, Nicholas Nikolski (Canada Reads winner)
Duras, Marguerite The Sea Wall
Ebadi, Shirin Iran awakening: from prison to peace prize
Edwards, Kim The Memory keeper’s daughter
Eggers, Dave Zeitoun
Eng, Tant Wan The Gift of rain
Falk, Sebastian Devil may care (a “James Bond” novel)
Fallada, Hans Every man dies alone
Foulds, Adam The Quickening maze
Fraser, Antonia Must you go? My life with Harold Pinter
Gardam, Jane The man in the wooden hat
Garner, Helen The Spare room
Gaynor, Arnold Girl in a blue dress (“Faction”– Dickens)
Gildiner , C After the falls (continuing memoir)
Grenville, Kate The Lieutenant
Guo, Xiaolu A Concise Chinese-English dictionary for lovers
Hage, Rawi De Niro’s game (Lebanon)
Hall, Barbara The Music teacher
Hanif, Mohammed A Case of exploding mangoes
Helligman, D. Charles and Emma (Darwin)
Holeman, Linda The Linnet bird
Kalniete, Sandra With dance shoes in Siberian snows
Kathryn Stockett The Help
Kingsolver, Barbara The Lacuna (“faction”) – Trotsky, Rivera, Frida,
Kneale, Matthew When we were Romans
Kunzru, Hari My revolutions (1700's in London); The Impressionist
Lansen, Lori The Wife’s tale
Larsson, Stieg The girl with the dragon tattoo, etc.
Leon, Donna Guido Brunetti Venetian mysteries
Lively, Penelope Family album
Lively, Penelope A House unlocked (memoir)
Lyon, Annabel The Golden mean
Maalouf, Amin Samarkand
Machado de Assis, J.M. Dom Casmurro
Mantel, Hilary Wolf Hall
Marai, Sandor Embers–a must read rediscovered Hungarian classic
Marias, Havier Your face tomorrow; Fever and spear; Poison shadow and farewell (3 vol. trilogy)

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Keeping Mount Royal Green and Lovely Is Non-Stop Work, But Worth It

Last night I was able to enjoy a view of Mount Royal that I'd never seen before--from the 10th floor of an apartment building near the bottom of the slope. The building is a condo that dates from the 1970s (whether it was built as that or as apartments, I'm not sure) and is far enough away from the mountain itself not to block views. As the sun set, the billows of green leaves looked amazingly bucolic, and yet we were in the center of the city.

That is one of the pleasures of Montreal, of course: that hill on the center of the island that gives the city its name. Part of it is park, part is cemetery and part is being nibbled away by development. On the north flank, plans are going ahead for the Université de Montréal to sell a convent school it acquired a few years ago and then decided would be too expensive to convert to classrooms and offices. The project will see the massive building--which the UdM is selling for $21 million, having acquired it for $15 million--turned into upscale condos that have the advantage of being just steps away from the Métro.

On the south, developers have just received a set back. The plan had been to change another former convent-turned-institution-of-higher-learning--Marianapolis College--in condos, and surround them with single family houses. Not so fast, the city said last week: converting the existing buildings might be all right, but not the single family houses also planned for the $300 million development (the land itself change hands for $46 million.) Go back to the drawing boards and figure out a better way.

It should be noted that neither project impinges on existing park or cemetery land, but each would modify the zone around the parks which conservationists insist needs to be protected. Neither school/convent complex should have been allowed to be built, but few imagined when they were proposed in the early 20th century that the city would grow as much as it has.

Holding the line here will make it easier to withstand the pressures that are bound to come in a couple of years time when the two hospitals on the mountain, the Royal Victoria and the Montreal General, see their vocation change completely with the opening of a Super Hospital.

Condos in the castle-like Royal Vic anyone? Who's going to say "no" to that idea?

Photos: Original Marianopolis project by The Royal Victoria Hospital and Mount Royal in 1890 from Archiseek.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

How to Unite the Left in Order to Fight the Right, That Is the Question

Chantale Hébert, columnist for The Toronto Star, Le Devoir, Actualité and frequent commnentator on the CBC and Radio Canada, has been doing some interesting reflection on what those who detest Stephen Harper might do to unseat him and his ilk. She's mused in both the Star and Le Devoir about the example of coalition government which Brits currently are showing us. She's also discussed the way the Thomas Mulcair of the NDP won the formerly Liberal riding of Outremont, first in a by election in 2007 and then in the 2008 general election and what that means for parties which want to unseat the Conservatives.

She points out the Michael Ignatieff has been a disaster for the Liberals, and that his popularity is lower than Stéphane Dion's was in 2008 when he was forced to step aside, She also suggests that Mulcair would be an asset for the NDP were it part of a coalition since he actually has had experience in government, albeit on the provincial level as a Liberal minister.

Serious thought must be given to how we can get rid of the Conservatives. This is a government which is systematically destroying decades of solid, mostly progressive policies. Instead of bringing the country together, it plays on fear and ethic and spirtual divisions to win seats: Le Devoir had four excellent stories on its tactics last weekend. But it does not--so far--represent a majority of population. Its current 34 per cent approval rating suggests that nearly two-thirds of the country is to its left. So how do we get rid of it?

By standing up to the Harperites on issues like the gun registry, abortion, health care, war, and by figuring out a way to unite the left.


Monday, 24 May 2010

Good Name for May Holiday: La Journée nationale des Patriotes Celebrates English as Well as French Progressives

Today is the Journée nationale des Patriotes, a end of May holiday which in the rest of Canada is sometimes called the Queen's Birthday or Victoria Day. In Quebec it was called the Fête de Dollard until the fact that Dollard's main claim to fame was a massacre of Amerindians percolated in the consciences of politicians.

The new name was adopted a couple of years ago, and I think it's a winner.

The flag above is a copy of the flag flown during the Rebellions of 1837-38, which was the nearest thing to a revolution that Canada ever had. Patriots, both English- and French-speaking, took on the British government for representative government. Some went further than others: on the right is a portrait of Robert Nelson, who picked up the rebellion in the winter of 1838 when the other leaders were in jail, exile or hiding, and declared the Republic of Lower Canada. I wrote a fictionalized biography of him several years ago--The Words on the Wall: Robert Nelson and the Rebellion of 1838--which remains a project that I'm proud of.

So today I've got the Quebec flag flying on the balcony in honour of Nelson and the other Patriotes. I do it not because I'm a Quebec separatist, but because I like this place, and I want to make sure that the majority realizes that people like me belong here too.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Saturday Photo: Lion-hearted Small Garden

Our neighbor across the street Tri Du and his family have been transforming the small plot in front of their house into a marvel. Last year they placed several large rocks artfully, and planted some interesting perennials, producing a calm, zen effect.

This year they've gone further, with more rocks that remind me of the Chinese gardens I saw in Shanghai, Singapore and, yes, in the Montreal Jardin botanique. The latest additions are two large stone lions which guard the steps on the front porch. Here's what one of them looked like earlier this week, before the vine which covers the front of the house leafed out completely.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Good Reading for the Summer and Beyond: Book Lists for Two Library Discussion Groups

This is the time of year when I'm supposed to come up with the programs for the book discussion groups I lead in Montreal-area libraries. I've drawn-up two so far, and I recommend all of the books highly.

Pierrefonds picks:

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, Winner of the 2008 Giller;
The Thing around Your Neck
, short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a young, internationally acclaimed Nigerian writer;
Out Stealing Horses
by Per Petterson, 2007 Dublin Impac award;
Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci, the first book of Ricci’s trilogy about Italian immigrants to Canada;
Ali and Nino
by Kurban Said, written in the 1930s, it takes place in Azerbaijan 1912-1920—a gem of a love story and a political document;
The Bishop’s Man
by Linden McIntyre, Giller Prize 2009;
The God of Small Things
by Arundhati Roy A story of love and loss from the west coast of India; and
The Flying Troutmans
by Miriam Toews, Rogers-Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction 2008

Outremont options (in French)
Ce que le jour doit à la nuit by Yasmina Khadr
Mercredi soir au bout du monde by Hélène Rioux
Le club des incorrigibles optimistes by Jean-Michel Guenassia ,
Le mur entre nous by Tecia Werbowska
La traversée des sentiments by Michel Tremblay
L’oeuvre au noir by Marguerit Yourcenar
Nocturne du Chili by Roberto Bolaño
Sans rien ni personne by Marie Laberge

Thursday, 20 May 2010

"Political Cabaret" from 50 Years Ago Has Strong Message Today: Et Vian, Dans la gueule! in Montreal

Sometimes a play, movie or book becomes more interesting as you reflect on it. That has occured with Et Vian! Dans la gueule!, a "political caberet" made from the work of Boris Vian, a French poet, novelist and jazz trumpeter. Lee and I saw it last night in a production by the Theatre du Nouveau monde, although apparently it was created 15 years ago.

Vian wrote most of the texts and songs used in the piece during the 1950s, when France was recovering from World War II by going to war to preserve its colonial empire in Vietnam and Algeria. At the center of the revue is a skit in which a group of infantile generals have a sort of play date with the permission of the general-in-chief's Mommy. In it the president of the French Republic (played by a woman) comes in to say that economic conditions require that the country go to war. Military mobilization follows, although it is not until a sort of world summit convenes that an enemy is chosen. Three generals (also played by women) from China, the USSR and the US say they can't offer their services as opponents since China is "too far" and the USSR and US are both "otherwise engaged." But, why not fight in Africa starting off in the French colonies in the north? suggests the Chinese general. Terrific idea, says the American, we'll send a force of our African Americans (only that's not the term used) and they can just stay there.

That much was clear to me last night: Lee had more problems than I did with the rapid-fire French and was much less engaged. As such, we decided that the production seemed almost old-hat, even though anti-war messages should probably be dusted off at least once a generation.

But on reflection, the parallels with our current situation become clearer. One of the most moving bits involved a soldier moving forward who steps on a mine, hears a click which means it is ready to go off, and tries to figure out how not to take the next step which will blow him up. There have been too many Canadian soldiers killed by what are euphemistically called "improvised explosive devices" these days. And why are we in Afghanistan? Why was there an invasion of Iraq? In part because so many elements of society need enemies. As in the revue, almost enemy will do.

Boris Vian (1920-1959) is a cult figure in the Francophone world. Not much of his work has been translated into English, but maybe more should.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Navigating a Noisy World: Three Books about Silence

The upside of a defeat for the Montreal Canadiens is that nobody honks their horns and parades through the streets screaming. Lee noted that last night when the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Habs 3-0, for their second victory in the semi-final round of the Stanley Cup. Always the optimist, that man.

But his flip remark underlines one of the current under-appreciated problems of urban life: noise. In a sustainable economy we are going to have live closer together, and once sewage and trash are taken care of, noise become a serious threat to health and to good community relations.

Dwight Garner in Tuesday's New York Times has a very thought-provoking review of three books on noise, which look like they are recommended reading for anyone interested in the problem. They are Garret Keizer's The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise, George Michelsen Foy's Zero Decibels: The Quest for Absolute Silence” and George Prochnik's In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise.

Garner writes: "I read all these books with an awareness of why my own nerves are increasingly jangled, why I mostly write (and often read) while wearing a clunky set of ear protectors, of the sort a particularly unhip airport runway worker in 1961 might have had clasped to his head. Make the world go away, as Hank Cochran’s song put it. Let my kids snicker at me."

But of course we can't do this, and what we can do is still not clear. Read Garner's review and then see if you can find one or more of the books, and perhaps we'll finally find the way.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

But on the Positive Side: A Bumper Year for Lilacs

The air is filled with the perfume of lilacs today. Honey suckle and bridal veil are in bloom too. This year seems to be an outstanding one for flowering shrubs.

Just wish it were a good year for stopping oil well leaks, too....

Monday, 17 May 2010

Nanos Research Poll Shows Increase in Concern about Canadian Health Care

Health care is rising as a concern, according to a Nanos Research poll that Jane Taber commented on in Friday's Globe and Mail. More than 22 per cent of persons polled volunteered on May 3 volunteered health care as their "most important national issue of concern," an increase of 3.3 per cent since the last poll March 12. That contrast to the a drop in concern about the economy: 24.4 per cent listed that first in March, but only 18.6 did in May.

This may reflect more confidence about the economic situation, Taber notes. It also is tempting to think that the kerfuffle in Quebec about the Charest government's plans to charge user fees may have contributed. While what happens in this province frequently doesn't register on the radar of the Rest of Canada, the strong negative reaction to the idea has been reported elsewhere.

Universally accessible health care is one of the pillars of Canadian society. It must be safeguarded, and politicians who mess with it should take warning.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Saturday Photo: Traveling in Springtime, from Chaucer's Time to Ours

Chaucer wrote about pilgrimages in April at the beginning of his Canterbury Tales:

"WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour...
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages"

But I like to travel in May. Lee and I have been in Paris four Mays in the last ten years, and last year I went to Lisbon by myself as I did research for Making Waves. This is a great month to be on the road. The days are long in the Northern Hemisphere and the weather is usually nice. In many places, it also is a month of explosive growth.

This was taken on a Sunday last year as I wandered around Lisbon. The difference in street levels is due to the rejigging of the city after the 1755 earthquake, and the architecture is a fine example of the way old and new are mixed in this lovely city which was full of green leaves and purple flowers when I was there. I didn't know it at the time, but I learned later of a connection between Chaucer and Lisbon. He appears to have been the tutor for Philippa of Lancaster who married the king of Portugal in 1373. The couple had a brood of illustrious children, including the famous Infante Henrique, Henry the Navigator, who started the whole Portuguese golden age of exploration. The world was small, even then.

Of course, May is a lovely month in Montreal too, so even though we're not on the road for various reasons, I should console myself with the wonder of growth surrounding us. Lilacs are in full bloom and the crabapples are still glorious although they are beginning to lose their blossoms. We had very warm weather in early April, which meant that spring got a quick start, but cooler temperatures have allowed the flowers to linger longer than usual. As Chaucer might put it today: "of such virtue engendered is the flower."

Friday, 14 May 2010

Exotic Materials from Old Computers May Be Key to Green Technology: Or Why the Mac Museum May Have to Go

Your old computer is valuable, and ought to be recycled. That's the thrust of an excellent article by Le Devoir's environmental reporter, Louis-Gilles Francoeur. Many of the materials--like lithium, neodyme, gallium and pallaldium--found in old computers are extremely valuable, and are growing more expensive as demand increases. Reclaiming them from old equipment uses far less energy than refining them from raw materials, as well as producing smaller quantities of greenhouse gases, he writes.

What is more, many of these materials are key elements in developing green technology, says a report released yesterday by the United Nations Enviornmental Program, which appears to have been the starting point for Francoeur's story. "Moving the global economy towards environmentally-friendly, clean technologies will increasingly hinge on rapid improvements in the recycling rates of so called "high-tech" specialty metals like lithium, neodymium and gallium," the UNEP says.

"Such metals, needed to make key components for wind turbines and photovoltaics to the battery packs of hybrid cars, fuel cells and energy efficient lighting systems, exist in nature in relatively small supplies or in discreet geographical locations.

"Yet despite concern among the clean tech industry over scarcity and high prices, only around one per cent of these crucial high-tech metals are recycled, with the rest discarded and thrown away at the end of a product's life."

In the Montreal area, at least one small business is agressively pursuing this niche market. buys old computer equipment, and guarantees that the material will be properly recycled. Several computers stores are participating in the endeavor, and will pay you for your old stuff, plus give you a $25 gift certificate for use in the store.

Definitely worth looking into. We've got a small museum of Macs dating back to our first 512 in 1985 that might be ripe for recycling, now that I think of it.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

No Time to Talk: Time to Get Stuff That Done That Didn't Get Done over the Winter.

Well, actually the work I've got to do todoay is nothing like the picture. It was taken a year ago when sewer and water pipes were replaced in Outremont. This is more like taking stuff to the Ecocentre to drop of dribs and drabs of paint, and finishing a project for grandnephew Kirk. But enough chat: to work!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Measuring the Decline of the CBC: Discussion about Novel Brings up Question of Who Listens Now, "Late Nights on Air," and Who Cares?

The book tonight at the Atwater Library is Elizabeth Hay's Late Nights on Air. A winner of the 2007 Scotia Bank Giller Prize, it takes place in the mid-1970s in Yellowknife, and the main characters are all involved in the CBC station there. Television is just about to arrive in the North with a vengeance, one of the main characters who sounds a little like Peter Gzowski might have, had he took to drink after his unhappy sortie into television, and implicit in the whole book is the importance of radio, particularly the kind of close-to-the-community radio that the CBC used to be.

I'm looking forward to the discussion, but as I prepare for it, I keep thinking about the diminished place that CBC radio has in our lives now. The local programming keeps getting less and less intelligent, the news is more superficial, the cultural shows are mainly a joke (Shelagh Rogers, Eleanor Wachtel and Ideas are the exceptions) and the less said about Radio Two the better.

The quality of the CBC used to be one of the defining things about Canada. Its programming was intelligent, sometimes funny, and always relevant. It tied the country together, and informed people from all backgrounds. I can't imagine anyone wanting to write a novel 30 years from now about CBC radio today. Who cares about it? Who will care? Very few, and that is exactly what the current government is working toward, as it overrides the CRTC on broadcast license and other matters, and refuses to provide adequate support for public radio.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

"True" Fiction: When Letting the Facts Get in the Way of the Story Is a Questionable Idea

Is it fair for a writer to take the life of a real person, switch it around, add bits, fill in the gaps--in short, make a fiction of it?

That's what I've been thinking about lately, as Claire Holden Rothman's interesting The Heart Specialist has been discussed around me. Maud Abbott (1869-1940) was one of the first female physicans in North America, fighting unsuccessfully to get a medical education at McGill, but finally suceeding at Bishop's University. She did pioneering work in the study and classification of heart anamolies which are still referred to in medical literature. But McGill, until recently at least, did not honour her as it has honoured other of its leading lights: there is a portrait of her in the Faculty Club, but it hangs in the lounge that was until the 1970s the only place where women were allowed aside from the dining room.

Rothman says her novel was inspired by Abbott, but she has filled in tried to imagine the emotional life of a woman like Abbott, inventing a love interest for her and giving her a motivating quest for an absent father. The result is a good read, and one that is selling briskly. But is it fair to play such games with a real person? Wouldn't it have been better just to write a biography?

I'm not sure. Historical fiction takes two forms: one (which includes War and Peace and Gone with the Wind) where the reader encounters real people, but in which the point of view characters are invented, and another where the historical figures take center stage. Sandra Gulland's novels about Josephine are examples of this second sort, and Gulland prides herself on basing everything on documentary evidence. I did something similar in my book about the Lower Canadian patriot (and physician) Robert Nelson in The Words on the Wall, although I had to imagine bits and pieces of his life it's a novel with 198 footnotes, including one which explains why I imagined his marriage the way I did.

Maybe what it boils down to is this: does the novel "inspired" by a person work? Success excuses everything when it comes to good writing. A case in point is Mary Novik's excellent Conceit, which imagines the life of John Donne's wife from her point of view. But that standard is very high, and few attain it.

As I finish a couple of book projects and look around for new ones, I find myself tempted by doing something with the lives of writers underappreciated in the English speaking world--Marguerite Duras and Machado de Assis, for example. You can be sure there will be more on this later.

The portraits of Maude Abbott are from official McGill Medical Museum website.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't Mess with Universally Accessible Health Care, Quebeckers Say in Léger Marketing Poll

If anyone needed proof of the committment of Quebeckers to universallly accessible health care, the Léger Marketing poll reported in today's Le Devoir is it. Some 72 per cent of Quebeckers are against the health care user fee proposed in the recent provincial budget, and 62 per cent would want to the federal government to intervene, if the Charest government goes ahead with the proposal.

Christian Bourque, vice president of the polling firm, called the results "astonishing" since Quebeckers generally don't want the Feds to mess with fields, like health, which are provincial responsbilities. But obviously this is one issue where an attack on one of the defining institutions of the Quebec projet de société cuts through a lot of polemic. PQ premier René Lévèsque unabashedly espoused things like universally accessible health but it should also be remembered that the Liberal premier who brought in full-fledged medicare in Quebec, Robert Bourassa, always called himself a social democrat. Jean Charest and his buddies certainly are not.

On a personal note, I'd like to note the passing of our ancient cat, Calie, just five weeks short of her 23rd birthday. She quit eating and drinking Friday, but she held on through Saturday when her buddies Lukas and Elin and their conjoints came by for dinner. After many pats, she went to sleep and didn't wake up on Sunday morning.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Saturday Photo: Flower Fair

The poster design is one used for several years for the flower sale put on each Mother's Day weekend by the school where my kids went, years ago. It's a great way to make money for school projects, and also serves a valuable neighborhood purpose.

This is planting time, and finding bedding plants, hanging baskets and other gardening fripery is pleasant work. But in this neighborhood not everyone has cars--ordinariily you don't need one really--and so getting flowers home can be a problem. The school is just a short walk or bike away, though, which makes providing the growing things that will make small gardens lovely is much easier.

Of course, it just thundered and rain is forecast, which may make the sale a little damp. But, courage, gardeners: planting in rainy weather gets plants off to a good start.

My apologies for the quality of the images: the poster was too big to be scanned in one piece by my machine, so I had to split it up.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Cod-fishing Schooner Takes to the Seas Again: The Portuguese Adventure Continues

Everything that goes around comes around. This morning I got a message from António Fangueiro who'd been doodling around on the internet and found my blog entry about the Santa Maria Manuela, a Portuguese cod fishing schooner about which the National Film Board of Canada made a lovely short film The White Ship.

The ship and its men were among the last to fish off the Grand Banks under sail. The very last went out in 1973, when factory ships had begun vacuuming up cod with the results we know now.

But don't underestimate the determination of the Portuguese: a group of dedicated mariners have been working for the last few years to refit the Santa Maria Manuela, and last weekend it took to the sea. António reports that there will be a big celebration next week to mark the return of the ship:

"I am son and grandson of dory fishermen, and most of my comunity, Caxinas, has a deep past in it. I try to be involved in everything related to this piece of portuguese past, researching and colecting everything I find....

"The schooner "Santa Maria Manuela" will have it´s official start of a new life this next 10th of May, with a great ceremony in Gafanha da Nazaré. I and many others feel so good seeing this ship reborn.. My grandfather did 9 years of codfishing in "Santa Maria Manuela", from 1952-1960 and previously 6 in a wooden schooner..."

He adds, politely: "I hope your work on "Making Waves: The Portuguese Adventure" goes well and with fair winds." (Whole comment here)

Thank you very much. Muito obrigada.

Photo from the official Santa Maria Manuela website.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Exam Day, So Let's Look at a Movie Instead: Os Normais, the Normal Ones from Brazil.

All right, today's the final for the advanced Portuguese class, so I haven't much time: got to review some subjunctive conjugations (nobody told me that Portugueses uses the subjunctive A LOT, which is tough for native English speakers who never suspected their mother tongue used that tense: would that I had learned earlier! ). Last night we were shown a Brazilian comedy about which we had to answer questions and then discuss. That's all part of the catch-up classes after the lecturers' strike at the Université de Montreal, and it was very intersting excercise.

The film was Os Normais, a slap-stick comedy that was released in 2003 as a prequel to a very popular situation comedy that had been running for a couple years at that point. Basically it tells how the principal characters, Rui and Vani, meet--during and after their previous weddings to other people. Lots of sexual innuendo, much rushing around and probably the best car chase I've seen since Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Anyway, it was fun, but there doesn't seem to be an English translations of dialogue on YouTube. So here is the trailer in Portuguese which may give you a laugh anyway.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Bombardier CEO Says PPPs Cost More than Government-Run Infrastructure Programs: Stories that Should Be Reported More Widely

Sometimes there are interesting stories that sort of fall between the cracks. One of them concerns a presentation that Bombardier CEO Pierre Beaudoin gave in Los Angeles last week at a conference put on by the Milken Institute, a West Coast think tank that "whose mission is to improve the lives and economic conditions of diverse populations in the United States and around the world by helping business and public policy leaders identify and implement innovative ideas for creating broad-based prosperity."

Public Private Partnerships are constructed so that they cost more money than projects financed solely by governments, if only because the interest rates charged public entities are less than those charged companies and consortiums, Beaucoin said on a panel on "Investing in Global Infrastructure." While he said he thinks that cost management is better done by the private sector--a point which is hotly debated in other circles--the finance costs are much higher there. Over a period of 20 years, a PPP that would cost $1 billion would see added interest costsof $480 million, were it financed by government alone, he said. This is a problem that bears much reflection, he said.

What is more, when PPPs run into financial problems, they're bound to be bailed out because the governments need what they are producing. In the end, financing by PPPs amounts to an indirect way of raising taxes, he said.

This interesting admission appears to have been reported practically no place until Sylvain Laroque of La Presse candienne moved a story yesterday on what Beaudoin said. I haven't been able to find a Bombardier press release on it, there was nothing in the Los Angeles Times or any financial publication. I'd like to know how Laroque got hold of the talk: good reporting on his part? Or a leak from Bombardier? Were was the Twitter on this one? And why hasn't it shown up yet in the Anglophone press?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Street Trees in Mile End Get More Root Room--and Less Stress

The importance of keeping city trees in good health was brought home last week when the spring snow storm weighed down branches. Not all the fallen limbs have been picked up, and it's clear that many old trees just couldn't take the stress.

Cities aren't the greatest places for trees, given air pollution and the way that their roots are often squeezed by pavement or construction. Making sure they get enough root-room is one way to cut down on casualties, though, and so it is with great pleasure that I note the way trees in Mile End are being given more space.

The borough appears to be systematically doubling the size of the opening in the pavement around street trees on all its streets. Since there are many--the fruit of a well-intended policy in place for the last few years--it's not cheap, I imagine, to go along and jack-hammer the pavement up. But the effort is bound to pay off over time. Fewer trees will succumb to stress since they'll get more water where they need it. The storm sewer system also will get a reprieve as the run-off on the pavement will be less.

More trees mean cooler street-level temperatures, too, which in turn means less burden on cooling systems, as well as the pleasure of shade during hot, humid summer days. A win-win ecological effort that should be adopted elsewhere!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Vivaldi's Four Seasons Revisited: Stefano Montanari and Arion Make Terrific Music Together

There are concerts that you remember for months, returning to them in your head, listening to the music that still echoes there. Friday night was one of them: an absolutely incredible performance by the Ensemble Ario with violinist and guest conductor Stefano Montanari of Vivaldi's Four Seasons,

The following is a clip from a rehearsal with Tafelmusik, but it gives a taste of the orginality that Montanari brings to Vivaldi. If he plays anywhere near you, run to get tickets.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Saturday Photo: Snow, Tulips and the Resilience of Nature

Snow on Tuesday, which bent the poor tulips over and broke many branches on trees that had already leafed out.

But then the sun came out and, wonderfully, nature rebounded. By this morning all the tulips and daffodils had righted themselves and were looking lovely.

This is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, as Dylan Thomas said. We forget its power to our peril.