Saturday, 31 December 2011

Saturday Photo: Happy New Year on the Last Day of a Difficult Year

The year that will end at midnight tonight held some excellent things, but as I noted in our holiday blog, in some cases the only appropriate reaction was "be careful what you wish for."

Let us not dwell on trouble though. Best wishes from all of us for a 2012 which is not apocalyptic in any sense of the word, and for the courage necessary to meet the challenges of are inevitable

Friday, 30 December 2011

Lights Going off in US Cities in Order to Save Money

In this season of long nights and festivals of lights, The New York Times has a story about some municipalities which are turning off streetlights (and in some cases pulling them up) in order to save money.

The reasons given are failing economy, decreasing tax bases, fund-strapped cities. In the case the NYT documents, a formerly-affluent suburb of Detroit, Highland Park, whose population has dropped from 50,000 to 12,000, was $4 million in debt to the local power company. The municipality struck a deal: it would "take away 1,300 of the city’s lights, add 200 lights in strategic locations, and the debt would be forgiven."

The result was predictable: residents complained and have changed their lives so they aren't out after dark in many neighborhoods. Some have begun systematically leaving their porchlights on, while others are installing security lights--a way of shifting the cost of lighting from the city to individuals.

This is pretty sad. Taxes are what we pay for civilized society, Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes famously said. When the 99 per cent pay up, they should get the services they need.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Finally Cold--Ice Ferns on the Window This Morning

It finally turned cold last night, adn this morning the windows were covered with frost, even though they are double glazed. Or rather, they are double glazed since Monday.

The windows in the baywindow in the living room are old fashioned wooden ones where you have to take out the inside panes come spring, and replace them in the fall.

Or rather you're supposed to do itin the fall. This year, however, for various reasons we didn't get it done and didn't get it done, and then finally there were a few hours free on Boxing Day.

Thank goodness, because it really would be cold in here otherwise.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

King Stephen: Britain Has a Constitutional Monarchy Where the Queen Only Advises, But Canada Has a King Who Makes the Rules

Manon Corneiller in today's Le Devoir has a scathing evaluation of the Stephen Harper and his majority government, with a sidelong attack on our parliamentary system. In the US, she notes, the president has no guarantee of getting his program through, since the House and Senate can--and frequently do--block what he wants to do. But a majority government in Canada can do whatever it damn well pleases, as wel have been seeing lately.

This is fundamentally undemocratic, of course. Corneiller adds that this is nothing new: a year ago Jeffrey Simpson even published a book about Jean Chrétien called The Friendly Dictatorship.
What is new is the extent to which Harper has pushed "control, centralization, intransigence, intimidation and the exploitation of each weakness in our system to attain his ends, " she says. And she ends with a telling anecdote: in 2010 Harper took off at high speed across the landing strip at Tuktoyutuk on an all-terrain vehicle. When asked if he had necessary permission to do so, he answered simply: "I make the rules."

It seems to this anti-monarchist that ERII follows more rules than this guy does.

Cartoon by Tom Dolighan.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

More Christmas Presents and Words of Wisdom for Writers: Geraldine Brooks Edits The Best American Short Stories 2011

One of the gifts I look most forward to each year is the new number of The Best American Short Stories. This year the journalist-turned-fiction writer Geraldine Brooks is the editor, and, while I haven't had a chance to really delve into the volume, I found her introductory essay most thought provoking.

One of her main points is that a short story is often the better for having a structure which can be related to plot. The setup, the reveal, the reversal and the resolution are the names she gives to four elements that often (but, she asserts, not always) found in good stories.

Hmm, I thought to myself: that schema is worth holding in mind while I work on my own short stories. One of the things I've really got to get cracking on is the collection, Desire Lines: A Geography of Love, the collection for which I got a grant from Quebec's art agency, the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec.

Topic for this afternoon's work: take a look at what I've got so far to see if I've been using the structure.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Boxing Day Special: Listening to Nils Brown with My New Headphones.

The following Youtube clip can give you only a taste of the delightful CD the Lizieux elves gave me for Christmas: Nils Brown singing Belle Canzoni d'Italia through the headphones that were a present from Lukas and Sophie.

I've been following his career for about 15 years, ever since he was at McGill doing music about the same time Elin was. He sings all the classical usual stuff--oratorios are a particular specialty--but lately he's been experimenting with "bringing unusual Italian music to the public," as he says in the CD's liner notes. Here's a Barchet link to a better recording, but the video is fun because it shows his energy.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Saturday Photo: At Last a Little Snow

We had a few centimeters of snow yesterday afternoon and last night, so there's a semblance of a white Christmas here. The picture was taken from the back porch as the temperature hovered near the point where Fahrenheit and Celsius come together (0F and -18C)--it ws too cold and early to go out.

The stocking was our cat Calie's. Each year she got the same can of sardines which we never opened, as well as (some years) a cat toy, which she usually tore to bits by New Year's Day. We miss her.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Attack on the Health System Begins: The Federal Health Minister Says, Do What You Want.

It's well known that if you want something to pass unnoticed you announce it on a Friday afternoon, and if you really want it to disappear, you do it the Friday before Christmas.

Well, December 23 would appear to be too much, but last Friday the Conservatives began announcing how they want to change the health system. Then Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq sent a letter telling her provincial counterparts to say that just about anything will go when it comes to cutting the costs of health care in the future. So, goodbye Canada Health Act, hello rampant privatization.

What a bleak prospect...and a fight to take up again once the holiday season is over.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Veiled Threats to Women: It's Not Covering Your Head That's Important, It's What's Inside

What do Nancy Reagan, the Virgin Mary, and the girl in the blue bra have in common? All of them have covered their heads out of respect for custom and/or religious beliefs.

That's why the photo taken earlier this week at the rally in Tahir Square in Cairo is so shocking. Here is a young woman who has been protesting brutality against women, and who is brutalized by soldiers before the eyes of the world.

That she is wearing pretty underwear and jeans underneath her abaya should come as no surprise: many Muslim women are as interested in looking nice as women elsewhere. The main difference betwen this young woman and the ordinary 20 year old in Europe or North America, is that she probably is a whole lot braver because participating in a demonstration in Cairo is a lot more dangerous than occupying a park in Manhattan, Minneapolis or Montreal.

Bravo, Sister!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas Countdown Continues: Got to Get on the Road Today

One of the best things about living where we do is that it's very easy to get around by foot or public transporation. And since I've got a million things to do, I'll head out the door and do them.

But before that here's a link to an interesting story which show that relying on public transit and pedestrian traffic can make for good shopping streets. Earlier this year the Plateau Borough of Montreal introduced a lot of one way streets and cut back on parking in an attempt to cut down on excess car traffic. As you might imagine there was an outcry from merchants, who argued that the measures would cut down on their business.

Loe and behold, though, they're finding that they're busier than ever. People who are attracted by the shops on busy Mont-Royal stick around to shop at other nearby commerces, it seems.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Days Grow Short and We Lose Some Giants

Strange how three small countries have lost important figures in their recent history these last few days. The world may be a better place without Kim Jong-Il, although the jury's out since instability in the region is not a thing to be wished. But to lose the Czech Republic's Vaclev Havel and and the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Évora in one weekend is quite sad.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Saturday Photo: Apples and er, Clementines, Say the Bells of Saint Clemens

This time of year it is the fruit that matured during the long days of summer that bring the sun into our lives. Here are clementines and Cortland apples (the best of the Quebec crop, I think) which make lovely decorations to say nothing of eating over the end of year holidays.

But I always think of the rhyme about the Bells of St. Clements when we eat them. We have bells from a church during the daylight hours, but nothing with the history of St. Clements in London. That is, of course, the way it goes in North America.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Countdown to Christmas...Herring and Trees

An expedition of sorts this morning: Elin and Jeanne accompanied us to the Jean Talon market to buy a Christmas treet and to a fish store to get salt herring for sil. Tomorrow Lukas is coming by to help set up the tree in the afternoon. With any luck the herring will be skinned and boned by then and set aside to marinate until Christmas eve.

Food is the heart of any festival, it seems to me, and by now I've whittled down the recipes to ones I like the most. This doesn't mean that the work is any less, but the reward is greater.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

What Happens When The Right Unites: The Cons Get Away with Murder

This morning La Presse has this excellent drawing by Chapleau, with an even more telling caption:

"C-10, Kyoto, Long Gun Registry, I do what I want because I'm MAJORITY"

A lesson for us all: unite the left.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Book Discussion Week: A Classic of African Independence at the Atwater Library

This is book discussion week: tonight Chinua Achebe's This Fall Apart is on the agenda at the Atwater Library. Here's a scene from a television series made in Nigeria to whet you interest.

The book is obviously required reading in many secondary schools: YouTube is full of "movie trailers" about the book made by students, some much better than others.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Harper Government Pulls out of Kyoto: Time to Get Serious about Who Should be the Leader of the Opposition

This morning there is only one question for anyone in the NDP:

Who will be the best leader to unite the left and leftish, not just in the party but across the country?

We need a very strong opposition in Ottawa led someone who has weight both in Quebec and elsewhere. As far as I can see, the one person is Thomas Mulcair. Brian Topp, whom I've known for years and admire for his many qualities, is a great strategist. The party needs him more than ever, not as leader, but as the chess player, the guy who has the big picture in his head. The consummate back room boy, in the best sense of the term.

We've Got Rhythm (We English Speakers, That Is)

Just an addenda to the previous post about Handel's Messiah:

Listening to the great performance on Sunday and to the way the continuo led the way, I was stuck by the way a strong rhythmic beat is so appropriate to English lyrics. Unlike French or Italian (and perhaps other Romance languages) English words are strongly accented, and the basis for English poetry is the various kinds of stressed "feet." It may be harder to find rhymes in English or to sing it with the mouth open widely to let the sound soar (it doesn't have all those words ending in 'o' or 'a'), but it certainly must be easier to play with the rhythms.

Again, what a grand peformance by The Violons du Roy! Great present from Lukas and Sophie, who gave us the tickets for our birthdays this fall, and who attended with us!

And here's a flashmob that is a pale comparison to Les Violons, mais quand même is a lot of fun. I must admit that this old atheist always sings along (or at least mouths the words). It is one of the few pieces I know all the way through, having sung alto in my seventh grade music class. But I don't stand up--So what if the king did a long time ago!

Monday, 12 December 2011

The Messiah by the Violon du Roy, LePage and Nézet-Séguin at the Met: What Happens When You Put Resources into Culture

An absolutely terrific afternoon yesterday when we heard Handel's Messiah presented by the Violons du Roy. I have never heard a better performance, with particularly marvelous singing by tenor James Gilchrist and the choir, La Chapelle de Québec. The critics agree : Christophe Huss, Le Devoir's picky reviewer, called it the "concert of the year," while Arthur Kaptainis of The Gazette wrote: "The excellence of the performance also could have been foreseen, but not all the novel details Bernard Labadie teased out of (or added to) the arch-familiar score."

Last week also saw Yannick Nézet-Séguin conduct the Metropolitan Opera in Gounod's Faust: the young conductor is "impressively gifted" said The New York Times. Earlier this fall, Robert LePage, another Quebec talent, mounted the third of his rethinking of Wagner's Ring Cycle, Siegfried.

There is a lesson here that is an argument for continued spending on "frills" like culture. Quebec, with a population of about 8 million, is hitting way above its weight. In large part this comes from 30 years of support for culture in all its aspects, culture that is exportable, that crosses boundaries, and enriches our lives.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Saturday Photo: Snow and Rock in the Noontime Light

Brilliant sunshine today, and a little snow. It's not enough for a white Christmas, but maybe it's a good sign.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Future of Canada's Health Care System: Don't Forget NDP Outremont's Forum on Saturday.

Don't forget:
Three panelists of note will participate in a forum on the future of our health care system, organized by the Outremont NDP Riding Association.

Mathieu Vick, parliamentary assistant to Anne Minh Thu Quach, NDP MP for Salaberry-Beauharnois and deputy critic for Health will be the moderator.

The panelists:

Michèle Beauclair, 1st vice-president of the Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec
Lucie Dagenais, associate member of Médecins québécois pour un régime public
Lee Soderstrom, economist specializing in health issues

Date: 1:30 p.m. Saturday, December 10
Place: La grande salle des Dominicains, 2715 Chemin de la Côte Ste-Catherine.
Entrance via par the parking lot on the east side (Bus129, Métro Université de Montréal)

The Annual General Meeting of the Outremont Riding Association and election of the new executive will follow at around 3:30.

And yes, that third panelist is my favourite economist, who is not a member of the NDP, but who agreed to participate because he cares so much about health care.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Fox News Attacks the Muppets for Being Dirty, Brainwashing Liberals: Will Attacks On Jesus Be Next?

I really thought this was a send-up when I first saw it: Fox News folks complaining that The Muppets are brainwashing children with an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist message. But it appears it was the real thing.

Come on, aren't these guys supposed to be Christian? And what did Christ preach? Certainly wasn't "every man for himself," cut throat stuff like these guys are pushing.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Demon on Harper's Back Versus NDP Attack

Stephen Harper's Conservatives haven't given much shrift to the international conference on climate change in Durban, South Africa. Nice to see that this negative presence has been matched by demonstrations on the ground, as witness the parody of our prime minister who appeared in media around the globe over the last few hours. The demon on his back must be whispering evil things in his ear--how else to explain how a supposedly intelligent man can ignore so much evidence about climate change?

The NDP has much better things to say, thank goodness. Leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair criticized the Conservatives stance roundly yesterday, while Deputy Environment Critic Laurin Liu. A recent McGill grad, she was one of the flock of young Quebeckers elected last spring, and has definitely found a niche for herself in Ottawa. Good on her.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Inequality and Its Perverse Effects from The Help to Rising Birth Rates among Educated Women

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is in the news this morning because of the report it has just published Divided We Stand: Wby Inequality Keeps Rising. The report's analysis ranks countries by economic inequality, showing that in Canada it has increased markedly in recent years, although things are still considerably better than the US. The effect is due to a widening disparity in labour earnings between high- and low-paid workers, and less redistribution through taxes.

The Globe and Mail reports:

"The average income of the top 10 per cent of Canadians in 2008 was $103,500 – 10 times than that of the bottom 10 per cent, who had an average income of $10,260, an increase from a ratio of 8 to 1 in the early 1990s....At the same time, the top federal marginal income tax rates tumbled – to 29 per cent in 2010 from 43 per cent in 1981."

Last week the Globe had a story which must be read in tandem with this. It details how educated women are having more children in the US than in Canada. One of the many reasons, it seems, is because the growing divide between the wealthy and the poor in the US "has created both a class of women who can afford to hire help in their homes and a pool of workers who are willing to provide it cheaply...

"Because wages of unskilled workers have fallen for the past 30 years in the U.S. (30 per cent by some estimates), favourably employed working parents can afford to hire housekeepers and nannies – and they can afford to have more children as well."

What a sorry state of affairs. The report, please note, comes at a time when The Help by Katherine Stockett about African American maids and their employers in the 1960s is still on best seller lists and the movie from the novel is making waves. Not much has changed, except the maids now may be from foreign countries.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Saturday Photo: A Cat's Eye View of the World

It's chilly today, although there's no snow on the ground. The sun at the moment is flooding into our house, and lighting up this cat's window as well.

Actually, now that the leaves are off the trees many house plants go through a new growth spurt. And cats, who like to sun themselves, have new places to do that.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Message from One Canadian Steve to Another: Violence Is Actually Decreasing

The New York Times on Tuesday had an interesting interview with Montreal-born psychologist Steven Pinker, whose new book The Better Angels of Our Nature argues that violence has become less and less present in human life over history.

He says the "idea for the book took root in his mind...when he stumbled across graphs of historical rates of violence. In England, for example, homicide rates are about a hundredth of what they were in 1400." Shortly afterwards he was invited to write an essay on what he was optimistic about, and he quickly agreed to write about "the death of violence."

In 2006 Dr. Pinker was invited to write an essay on the theme “What Are You Optimistic About?” His answer: “The decline of violence.”

The NYT reports that reaction came quickly. "I started hearing from scholars from fields that I was barely aware of, saying, ‘There’s much more evidence on this trend than you were aware of,’ he said.

The video is a little old, but it gives a most interesting summary of his thinking. Steven Harper, who wants us to think that things are getting worse, would do well to watch it.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Saturday Photo: The End of Something, the Begiinning of Something Else

A few leaves left floating in a fountain before the winter snow comes. Got the boots and winter coats out, even wore them earlier this week. But the snow disappeared, not before Jeanne got to walk in it--not even crying when one boot came off and she traipsed along in her stocking feet. Guess the novelty outweighed the shock of the cold!

Who's Profiting from Those Day Care Centres--Families or Entrepreneurs

Jeanne and her parents are looking for good child care these days. She's 15 months old, and until now they've been able to work their schedules so that one of them is free, with a healthy amount of baby sitting by grandparents. But waiting lists are long for the usually-excellent provincially funded centers which charge $7 a day. Even good private day cares, where families fare better than in other provinces since they get a break through an income tax credit for child care expenses, aren't that easy to find.

So I--along with many others--was furious to read the report of the Quebec auditor general which says that not only have the Liberal government's promises about how many day care centres would be set up, but nearly a third of those approved did not meet standards. Instead they got the green light from the minister responsible for family affairs.

The opposition Parti Québécois points out that many of those who received permits were contributors to the Quebec Liberal Party.

Come on, let's not play games with our kids.... The principles behind the system are good, but the quality should be good too.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Year after the Fire: Things Are the Same But Different.

As I write this, it is 1:31 p.m., a year exactlyl after the moment when the first call went in on the fire which put us out of our house for eight months. We've been back since August 1, but the last work onlly was completed three weeks ago. Needless to say, this is a day that gives us the shivers. No one was hurt, we lost very little, but it was an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

You Are What You Read Department: Time Makes It Easy for Americans

An interesting comparison between the front pages of this week's Time, for the US, Europe, Asia and South Pacific. The Americans get the cover story "Why Anxiety Is Good for You" while the other ones get a photo of a protester in Egypt.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Flash Mob Monday: Too Busy for a Real Post

It's one of the days when I keep running around. Here's music and dance to go with that frenzy: Ravel's "Bolero" in Copenhagen, "This Time for Africa" in Rome, and ""

Friday, 25 November 2011

Holland in Montreal: A Woofnerf in St. Henri

Elin spent three years at The Hague, living just off a canal on a street that ended with -laan: neither she nor I can remember the complete name but the -laan referred to the canal. Then she moved to St. Henri, just off the Lachine canal, and I used to joke that she went from one -laan to another.

Today the Montreal Mirror has a story about another Dutch touch to the neighborhood. The former St. Pierre River, now converted into a buried storm sewer, has been a heat island, since the asphalt paving on top traps the sun's rays. But the arrondissement plans to convert it into a peculiarly Dutch invention, a space that is open to local traffic for people whose garages open onto it, but which will essentially a pedestrian walkway and park. There will be small parks at either end with exercise space. The Mirror story also notes that good street lighting is proposed to "dissuade nefarious activities."

To that end, the planners might include playground and exercise equipment in the middle, to encourage foot traffic. As Jane Jacobs noted, the more people passing on foot, the safer a street is, and that applies to woonerfs too.

Another version of the story with more about the St. Pierre River can be found in Alanah Heffez's post on SpacingMontreal from last May

Photo: Montreal Mirror

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Turkeys and Chickens and Pork Roast: the Best Ever

Since it's Thanksgiving south of the border, and other holidays are coming up, here's a recipe that I found a couple of years ago on Global Gourmet and adapted a bit. Turkeys had become to be considered real turkeys around here: the overbreeding of the poor stupid bird has led to pretty bland flesh that none of us particularly liked. But this marinade (or, really, brine) does great things. It can also be used for chickens and pork roasts: I used it for a few hours on a chicken earlier this week which turned out exceptionally succulent.

For a large turkey. Halve for a chicken or pork roast. I use a big canning pot for a turkey (mine will hold two 14 pound birds, which is what I cooked for our Canadian Thanksgiving buffet in October.)

2-1/2 gallons cold water

2 cups kosher salt or gros sel

1 cup sugar

2 bay leaves, torn into pieces

1 bunch fresh thyme, or 4 tablespoons dried
or a similar amount of rosemary

2-4 dried chilis, depending on your taste

1 whole head of garlic, peeled

5 whole allspice berries, crushed

4 juniper berries, crushed

Place the water in a large pot that can easily hold the liquid and the meat you intend to brine. Add all the ingredients and stir for a minute or so until the sugar and salt dissolve.

Refrigerate turkey in the brine for 48 hours; chicken for 4 to 24 hours; pork for 3 days. (We have a cold room and when I do this in the winter I put the pot there since it takes up a lot of room in the fridge.) If the meat floats to the top, use a plate or other weight to keep it completely submerged in the brine. I also turn the meat over once or twice to make sure the spices permeate the flesh.

You can stuff a chicken with onions, lemon wedges, and herbs such as thyme, parsley, and rosemary. Rub the skin with oil to help browning. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. (Salt isn't needed because of the brine.) Cook uncovered in a 400-degree oven until done, about 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 3-1/2 to 4-pound chicken.

For the turkey, I stuff it with my mother's white bread, onion and sage dressing (about the only recipe she really was good at, I might add). But you can use any stuffing you like or just add lemons, herbs, and onions/ Rub the skin with oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper. Cook uncovered in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes per pound until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh registers at least 165 degrees.

For a boneless pork roast, sprinkle it with pepper and herbs such as sage, thyme, or tarragon, if desired. Roast uncovered in a 400-degree oven for about 12 to 15 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 150 to 160 degrees.

Very easy and very good.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

QWF Update

Neither David or Merrily won in their categories. In fiction Dimitri Nazralla won for Niko (Véhicule Press) while Joel Yanofsky won in non-fiction for Bad Animals: A Father's Accidental Education in Autism (Viking Canada). Both sound good: must read them.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

QWF Awards Tonight: Michel Freitag's Book to Be Launched

Tonight is a big literary night. It's the Quebec Writers' Federation annual awards gala, and my good friends David Homel and Merrily Weisbord are up for prizes. Thank goodness they're contestants in different categories --David for Midway in fiction, and Merrily for The Love Queen of Malabar in non-fiction--or I'd have a hard time knowing who to root for. I've always thought David a severely under-recognized novelist, and another prize would be good for him. Merrily, whom I've known nearly as long as I've known David, gave me an introduction to the subject of the book in question, Kamala Das. Ms. Das opened many doors to me in Kochi, India, when I was doing research for my book Green City, and I'm very grateful to Merrily.

But before then, sociologist and philosophy Michel Freitag's last book L'Abime de la liberté will be launched tonight too. Yesterday was the second anniversary of his death, so the choice of the launch date seems particularly appropriate.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Getting the User to Pay: Toll Roads Aren't That Awful, Poll Says

A Canada-wide poll commissioned by the CBC shows that Canadians are not averse to letting the user pay when it comes to roads and bridges. More than three-quarters of those questioned in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto said okay to tolls on new highway construction, with Montrealers being more in favour of tolls on existing infrastructure than in the two other cities. At the same time, Montrealers were far more satisfied with public transportation in their region than people elsewhere.

The old idea of letting the user pay is probably a good one when it comes to roads and bridges, because it amounts to a disincentive to use of the private vehicule. But money raised through the tolls must be used to improve public transit, because there's another old saw that works against good urban planning. "If you build it, they will come," means that unless alternatives are offered to new roads and bridges, within a short time they'll be as congested as the old ones were as urban sprawl creeps outwards.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Saturday Photo: Denser Development, Less Reliance on Cars

This is a good traffic day in Montreal, where the problems of urban sprawl are considerablly less than in many other North American cities and where public transit ridership is growing fast.

Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Montreal Community reports that urban sprawl is perceived as a real threat by people who attended a series of hearings on agricultural rezoning and urban development.

The Montreal Gazette reports that more than 1,400 people attneded the hearings while 344 briefs were submitted, 225 of which were presented verbally. As a result the study committee recommends that the plan for future development

"— include firm goals for conservation of green space, wetlands and shorelines. The document suggests 12 per cent of the territory should be protected by 2015, and 17 per cent by 2020.

"— favour dense, residential development around public transit hubs (at least 40 per cent of new homes built over the next two decades should be built near public transit)

"— encourage the development of a regional bicycle network for recreational and commuting purposes

"— encourage significant improvements to public transit service

"— favour maintenance of existing road and public transit infrastructure over construction of new roads and highways.:

While the preservation of wetlands and the bicycle path plan are laudable, what really is important is the last item, with the goal of denser development around transit hubs coming in a close second. It's true that if you build them they will come...or drive the roads and buy the houses. So don't.

Didn't See Any Snow Before My Birthday, But There Were Flurries Before the Party

Last week I posted about how for the first time since we came to Montreal there were no snow flakes before my birthday, November 8. A couple of people reported that they'd seen a few flurries which made me feel slightly better about global warning. And I'm happy to report that Thursday and Friday of this week saw definite snow squalls. Nothing measurable, nothing that even stayed on the ground for more than a minute, but at last a little snow.

As we will be celebrating my birthday this evening (those of Elin and Lee, Oct. 2 and Sept. 18 respectively for reasons that are too long to go into) I'm glad that the beginning of winter has made itself felt without doubt before the party.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Attention Must Be Paid to Writers--on Front Pages, if Not Ground Floors

There are times when a writer feels absolutely second rate, completely forgotten, totally unnecessary in the scheme of most of society. But then something comes along thatis amazing evidence that somebody cares a lot.

That happened Tuesday when Le Devoir invited a couple of dozen of Quebec writers to write the news. Not just reviews and cultural observations, but the hard stuff including politics and business. For example, novelist Marie Laberge contributed a fascinating article on the presence of immigrants in the construction industry, based on Statistics Canada data. The occasion was the opening of the Salon du livre, a six day book bash that draws more than 100,000 visitors every year.

The high profile attention given to writers is truly encouraging--almost enough to make up for the fact that when I went into the local Renaud-Bray (the Quebec book store chain) I discovered that books had been moved up to the second floor, and candles and Christmas paraphernalia took up most of the first floor space....

You win some, but you also lose an awful lot.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Writing the Back Story: Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea

Last month we talked about Jane Eyre at the Atwater Library, and tonight it will Jean Rhys's idea of why the first Mrs. Rochester went mad, Wide Sargasso Sea. Both books are great reads, and in their own way both are comments on the life of the time in which they were written.

While Charlotte Brontê's classic Gothic novel sheds much light on the difficulties of women's fate in the early 19th century, Rhys's much shorter story expands the vision to the evil left by slavery. She was born in Dominica, called a "white cockroach" as a child, and saw with very clear eyes the cruelty of the "peculiar institution" as well as the helplessness of women at the time.

The "honeymoon island" of her novel is in large part an image of Dominica, which is billing itself as marvelous, ecologically sound tropical paradise. This video makes you want to go, particularly as winter approaches in North America.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

We Walked and Walked...Montreal in the 1950s

Open File has a lovely story about a young immigrant from Germany, Alfred Bohn. who took many pictures of Montreal after he and his wife immigrated in the 1950s. Check it out.

A hatmaker by trade, he says he, his wife and two other couples who lived close by on Clarke Street would "spend our days walking and walking because we didn’t have cars and we all lived in the same area and we all had empty jobs.”

At 78, he lives in suburban Laval now. I wonder if anyone is taking pictures there now. Certainly it's a lot harder to cover on foot....

Monday, 14 November 2011

Book Groups This Week: The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa

I'm expecting fascinating discussions this weeks as two of the book groups I lead will be talking about Mario Vargas Llosa's historical novel about Paul Gauguin and his grand mother, the French-Peruvian proto-feminist Flora Trístan, The Way to Paradise.

The book is flawed, but Vargas Llosa always has something interesting to say. Here's an interview with David Frost about democracy in Latin America.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Saturday Photo: Thinking of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Geometry

Perhaps my favourite photographer is Henri Cartier-Bresson. On a trip to France a few years ago we spent two afternoons in a restrospective exhibition of his work at the Biblithèque nationale. It was literally an eye-opener, as not only were great prints of his photos on display, so were notebooks and some of his contact sheets.

Being the kind of picture snapper who always took lots of exposures even before digital photography, I was amazed to see how few times he clicked the shutter. On a roll of 36 shots, he would have no less than three or four subjects. Each shot would be a distinct moment, and the amazing thing was that each was exactly the right one. His famous shot of a man jumping across a puddle, for example, was not one of a half dozen, if I remember correctly. He didn't warm up with snaps of other people crossing the square or fuss with settings to get the right exposure. He simply knew what aperature and speed to use and waited until the man in question was ready to take flight.

Cartier Bresson also was passionate about geometry, saying that underlying all photography was structure and the geometric relation of a photo's elements. That's evident in the jumping man shot, and it is also an idea that I'd like to use more often in my own pictures. The one at top is of a trestle near Kamloops, BC. where I think the geometry works. But I must admit that it is only one of about 10 shots I took during half an hour and I had the aid of automatic exposure meters.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Deep Integration Is Not the Way to Go: The Economic Pitfalls of Common Currencies (to Say Nothing about the Cultural Fallout)

Memo to Stephen Harper and others who'd like to integrate the US and Canada: it's not the welfare state that causes problems, it's the inability to manage your economy independently.

Today in The New York Times Paul Krugman says about the Euro crisis: "Sweden, with its famously high benefits, is a star performer, one of the few countries whose G.D.P. is now higher than it was before the crisis...(while) spending on welfare-state programs..."was lower, as a percentage of national income, in all of the nations now in trouble than in Germany, let alone Sweden.

"Oh, and Canada, which has universal health care and much more generous aid to the poor than the United States, has weathered the crisis better than we have."

He goes on: " ...the big determining factor for interest rates isn’t the level of government debt but whether a government borrows in its own currency. Japan is much more deeply in debt than Italy, but the interest rate on long-term Japanese bonds is only about 1 percent to Italy’s 7 percent... In particular, since euro-area countries can’t print money even in an emergency, they’re subject to funding disruptions in a way that nations that kept their own currencies aren’t."

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Music for a Rainy Day: Debussy's Jardins sous la pluie

It is a wet day with rain soaking the fallen leaves. Perfect for listening to Debussy's Estampes, a charming piece of music.

The heroine of my novel River Music, I'm discovering, is one of the greatest interpreters of Debussy's piano music in the mid to late 20th century. So I've been listening to it a lot, and am discovering wonders.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Too Much Success? Nope, Just a Reason to Put More Money in Transit

More and more people in the Montreal region are using public transit, a report by the group Transit says. In 2006, Quebec set out to increase use of public transit by 8 per cent in six years. The good news is that that goal has been surpassed everywhere in the province already. The bad news is that in some places, like Montreal, buses and Metro trains are full to capacity. Use will jump by 4 per cent over 2010, it seems, while use of suburban trains has increased by 18 per cent . The last figure is due in large part ot increased service, a vindication for those who believe "if you build it, they will come"

It's time to increase financing, Transit says. More lines, more buses and Metro cars will be needed by commuters. And by the world as some of us try to meet the challenge of green house gases and climate change.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Climate Change: a Personal View

Today is my birthday and for the first time since we came to Montreal decades ago, no snow has fallen so far this season. Every other year there have been at least a few flakes by now, even though rare has been the birthday when we had to wade through snow.

Today the high temperature reached 14 C (55 F) and the sun shone marvelously. When I walked around the mountain this morning, many trees still glowed yellow and orange: leaves have just not fallen when they usually do.

Tomorrow who knows what the temperature will be, but it's clear that all our tomorrows will be different than our yesterdays when it comes to climate. We've brought it on ourselves, and even as I enjoy this Indian Summer, I fret about what this means.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the NDP: a Forum

Here's an invitation that may be just what you wanted!

You would like to know more about the history of the NDP and its record as a force for change in Canada? You would like the chance to discuss the issues currently being defended by the NDP team of MPs in Ottawa?

If so, you shouldn't miss a forum organized by the Outremont NDP Riding Association

Monday November 7, 2011, beginning at 5:30

The meeting will begin with a presentation by Raoul Gébert, president of the Quebec section of the NDP, on the roots and the mission of the party. Then we hope to have one of the young MPs from Quebec on the party's future (to be confirmed). A question and answer period will follow. (The presentations will be in French, but questions in English will be welcome).

Whether you're a new friend of the party or a long-time member, this event is for you!

So write it down in your datebook:

Date: Monday, November 7, 2011, beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Place: Café EM
5718, Park Avenue, Mile End, (Buses 80, 535 and 160)

Snacks will be served and there will be a menu available for orders of beverages or more substantial meals.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Why It Matters That the Rich are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer

Paul Krugman has it right again: "...extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?"

Saturday Photo: Dawn Redwood in the Cemetery

The redwoods and giant Sequoias of California were the mythic trees of my youth. Both the variety that grows in the Sierra Nevada and the one native to the coastal ranges were awe-inspiring, while walks in the groves were they grow remain exceedingly pleasant memories.

At one point I tried to start a coast redwood here from seed, but had no luck. It would appear that more astute gardeners than I also have trouble: a quick search of the Jardin botanique web site shows only a listing for redwood used as bonsai.

But the tree's long-lost anscester, the dawn redwood, will grow here. The Metasequoia had been known as a fossil dating from 100 million years ago, but ws assumed to be extinct. In 1944, however, a huge specimen--64 inches in diameter and 98 feet tall--was found in a temple courtyard in Central China. Subsequent searches found more in isolated Chinese mountain valleys. The seeds were brought back to North America in 1948 and planted in botanic gardens widely.

I'm not sure just when this specimen was planted, but it can be no older than 60 years old. It is more like a bush at this point, and it will be interesting to see at what point it shoots for the stars like the original find. Given our climate that may be a while, but in the meantime it is an elegant addition to the cemetery garden.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Jeanne's Favourite Picture: On Kids and Dogs and Population Control

Le Devoir columnist Josée Blanchette has a piece today about dogs and what a pain they are. Jeanne, who can not read of course, was taken by it nevertheless. The pictures of the dogs enchanted her. The one she liked the best is of the dog in a stroller, because, I presume, it included two of her favourite things.

Blanchette quotes a friend as saying that the reason she loves her dog so much is because it is her child. Well, I know that we practiced raising a dog before we started raising kids, and I also know what we learned contributed to the creation of a couple of pretty decent people. And if dogs offer a subsitute for children in North American households, perhaps that's all to the good since there's been much in the press about the resource expenditures per person in developed countries in this world of seven million people.

Jeanne, by the way, has passed the point where a dog demonstrates more intelligence than she does. Twice in the last little while she has gone and fetched something when asked, a trick which most well-reared dogs can master. Of course, having learned the trick, a dog will keep doing it forever. A child, though, at some point will stop and give you an argument. Ah the terrible twos which sometimes stretch out to the terrible twenties...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Burning Bushes: Fall Lingers on

This morning I had an appointment on the other side of the mountain, so I walked across through Mount Royal Park. We didn't get the snow storm that whipped the Northeast US into submission, and the leaves are lingering on the trees. The yellows and oranges are past their prime, but the walk was still lovely.

And there were the occasional splotch of pure flame. One of them is up the street where a bush, green and unpreposing all summer, has turned a flamboyant magenta. No wonder that fall is the favourite season for so many people!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Quebec Won't Help Finance Prisons: Another Reason for Federalism?

Quebec's Justice Minister told a Commons committee yesterday that the province has no intention of paying for the prisons that the Harper government wants to build as a consequence of its omnibus crime bill.

The CBC reports him saying that: "the Conservatives' bill is more of a short-term solution to fighting crime and he repeatedly warned it will mean more repeat offenders in the court and corrections systems.

"C-10 does not take into account the return of the young offender, of the individual into society," he said.

"What you've got is a Band-Aid solution here, you're not curing anything,"

Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty has also been making noises about that province's dissatisfaction with the bill.

The Conservatives can pass the bill, which combines nine separate pieces of legislation which died on the order paper when the election was called last spring. That's the problem when you've got a majority government, even though a majority of the people didn't vote for you. The only hope is that in the current federal system the provinces will be able to make their opinions felt.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Seven Million: How to Make the World a Better Place

The last few days the rapidly increasing numbers of humans have been getting a lot of press, probably well-merited. The New York Times had an interesting story yesterday about a campaign to link birth rates in the developed world with species extinction.

Were the US birth rate reduced from about two children per woman (below the replacement rate) to 1.5, green house gases would decline by 10 percent by 2050 and by 33 by the end of the century, the story says.

Canada's birthrate already is about 1.58 per woman, so I have no idea what decreasing that farther would mean. What I do know is that all children should be wanted children, and that women around the world should be educated. Literate girls grow into women who have fewer chilren because they are more likely to know what their birth control choices are as well as having a better idea of how to raise healthy children. Indeed, educating girls have proved to be a more effective path to population control than coercive government policies.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween: Obesity Versus the Occasional Splurge

This year it seems like Halloween has gone on forever. Today's the day, and I expect not much is getting done in schools all across North America as kids parade around in their costumes and prepare for the candy gorge today. But there have been parties (often only for grownups) since Friday night which means almost four days of festivities.

This morning Radio Can interviewed a cardiologist who compared the menace of obesity to that of smoking 40 years ago. Attitudes towad smoking have changed dramatically, and he said that the same must happen to attitudes toward too much fast food and other empty calorie food. Otherwise, he said, we are going to be faced with immense problems of diabetes and heart disease as overweight childen become overweight adults.

How does Halloween fit into this? Halloween was once a rare moment when children could stuff themselves with candy, but now excess has become part of the daily fare.
Far better to splurge occasionnally. Not only do the moments of sugar high seem more intense because they stand out more from ordinary life, their effects on health have got to be less.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Sunday Music: CBC Two/ Espace Musique Play an All-Day Concert of Serious Music

This is what the two services of the public broadcaster should be playing all the time: the very best in serious music by Canadian performers.

Concert in Canada


Espace Musique

Why wait for the 75th birthday to do this, particularly when the Harper government is out to cut their funding?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Saturday Photo: Rebuilding the Cemetery Gates

Who would have thought that climbing hydrangeas could do such damage? But given enough time and the cycle of freeze and thaw in this climate, and it probably should not be a surprise that the lovely vine--which covers the gates to the Mount Royal Cemetery--has done considerable damage.

About two years ago, routinue maintenance revealed fissures in the stone structure. Initially, the cemetery posted notices, saying that things would be repaired within months. But obviously the problems are much greater, and will cost about $750,000 to repair.

Here's what the gates looked like this week. After attempts to brace the stone in place, the gate is now strapped together and barricaded so that no one can pass underneath, even on foot.

One small photo shows the gate about four years ago on another lovely fall morning.

The other, from the placard now explaining what's going on, was taken more than 150 years ago, when the cemetery was just opened.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Lessons from Iceland: Paul Krugman on How to Get out of a Crisis by Not Listening (Much) to the Right

For a long time I had a sticker from the Icelandic social democratic party, brought back by a young friend who'd spent some time in that small, rugged country in the 1980s. It's gone now, cleaned of the fridge by zealous post-fire cleaning.

In Iceland itself, the leftish parties have realigned since my friend's trip, but it's clear that social democratic ideas are alive and well, and have served the country well, after that much larger crisis, the 2008 worldwide financial meltdown. The result, Paul Krugman writes this morning, has meant following a path no other country took, with results that have been much better, it seems, that what's happening Europe.

Krugman writes from Rejkavik that:

"Iceland was supposed to be the ultimate economic disaster story: its runaway bankers saddled the country with huge debts and seemed to leave the nation in a hopeless position.

"But a funny thing happened on the way to economic Armageddon: Iceland’s very desperation made conventional behavior impossible, freeing the nation to break the rules. Where everyone else bailed out the bankers and made the public pay the price, Iceland let the banks go bust and actually expanded its social safety net.

"....Iceland hasn’t avoided major economic damage or a significant drop in living standards. But it has managed to limit both the rise in unemployment and the suffering of the most vulnerable... “Things could have been a lot worse” may not be the most stirring of slogans, but when everyone expected utter disaster, it amounts to a policy triumph.

"And there’s a lesson here for the rest of us: The suffering that so many of our citizens are facing is unnecessary..."

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Lighting up the Night: Diwali, Halloween or the Struggle Between Sweet and Salty

Lots of pumpkins yesterday at the Jean Talon Market, all ready to be carved for Halloween next week.

I didn't see anyone preparing lights for Diwali, though, whose beginning was celebrated by South Asians yesterday. It also is a festival of lights, and in Anita Rau Badami's novel The Hero's Walk, almost makes up for the loss of Halloween when one little girl raised in Vancouver is transported back to India.

Here's a link to a Diwali treat, chewda. It's not unlike the nuts and bolts snack mix that was popular at cocktail parties 40 years ago, only chewda is much better and more highly spiced, IMHO.

My decided preference for fat and salty things probably may have contributed to my famous "stinginess" at Halloween. Our treats were always little boxes or raisins or something similar. The kids, of course, craved candy, and were half embarassed at what we handed out, until they had eaten enough of their Halloween loot to have a sugar high. I've mellowed a bit in my old age--I've even been known to buy little packs of M&Ms (definitely superior to Smarties.) But I'll take chewda any day.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Overkill: Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the Long Gun Registry

I'd hoped it was dead, that ill-intentioned attempt to do away with Canada's long gun registry. But it has arisen, like a zombie that turns even uglier at each resurrection. Now not only will the federal registry be abolished, but the records will be destroyed Provinces, like Quebec where the idea for the registry was born after massacre of 12 young women in 1989, would have to start from scratch to make their own.

The Conservatives care not a bit that the RCMP and other police forces have used the registry incessantly since its inception. The Toronto Star quotes Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and an assistant coroner in Perth, " the Conservatives are “conveniently ignoring the clear scientific evidence that rural suicides with long guns are the principal issue in the tragic toll of Canadian firearms deaths. So we will now all be unwilling participants in a social experiment that will undoubtedly place Canadian lives at risk.”

Shame, shame, as Hansard would have it.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Leonard Cohen Has New Meaning: First We Take Manhattan ....or Occupy Wall Street

A bard captures the spirit of his time. This song was written in the 1980s (the first time I heard it was in 1987 when driving across Sasketchewan) but ilt seems even more fitting today, given the movement to occupy the centers of power, and the struggle for Europe to find solutions to its problems.

Suburbs Grow Poorer around US Cities: Hard Times Are Another Argument against Urban Sprawl

Suburbs are different in Europe and North America. In the former, for the last century and a half they have been where the poor lived, chased from the center of cities by development since the days of Haussmann's reconstruction of Paris. In the latter, they became the promised land of the rising middle class. Bigger houses, better schools, greener landscapes all beckoned on the edge of cities, particularly since the advent of the automobile.

But the promised land is growing shabby in many places. This is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention (for more, see my book The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs' Street and Beyond.) This morning The New York Times recounts how the current Great Recession has hit formerly comfortable suburbs. More than half the poor in the US's metropolitan areas now live in suburbs. As a result, the story says, suburban municipalities "are confronting a new set of issues, namely how to help poor residents without the array of social programs that cities have, and how to get those residents to services without public transportation. Many suburbs are facing these challenges with the tightest budgets in years."

Canadian cities have not suffered as much from economic bads times, nor did the center cities become the home of the poor, but talking with young people around here, it's clear that the suburban option has many attractions. Housing prices are about half what they are in the center of Montreal for example, and if you're a man with good DIY skills you may think you'll be getting more for your money buying an older place in St. Bruno or Terrebonne or St. Eustache than if you take on a six room flat in Mile End or Villeray.

But the cost of transportation is often not considered in the equation, nor is the social isolation of living in a neighborhood where distances are too great to walk. Nor is the future cost of the infrastructure needed for growing suburbs--roads, sewers, water, schools.

Monday, 24 October 2011

My Song: Belafonte's Memoir: Entertainment, Workers, and Social Justice

One of the best books I've read in recent years is Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes (Somebody Knows My Name in the US) It is the story of a woman born free in what is now Mali and who after crossing Atlantic three times dies in England in 1803 as the slave trade is being abolished. One of the latest chapters in the continuing story of what happened next is Harry Belafonte's memoir, My Song, which sounds like a worthy complement to Hill's novel.

Belafonte is a real star--in 1964 a month after the Beatles got 13 minutes on the Ed Sullivan show, Bela­fonte got 22 minutes--but he also was always involved in the struggle for justice, civil rights and economic fair play. The review (by Garrison Keilor in The New York Times on the weekend) makes the book (written with Michael Schnayerson) sound like an illuminating view of what it was like growing up in Jamaica and New York, always an outsider, always labelled black.

Keilor quotes him: “About my own life, I have no complaints. Yet the problems faced by most Americans of color seem as dire and entrenched as they were half a century ago. And as I write this, our president has yet to acknowledge that this fact is of any concern to him. . . . For all of his smoothness and intellect, Barack Obama seems to lack a fundamental empathy with the dispossessed, be they white or black.”

His hit songs from the beginning had that concern behind them. Here's one of his first hits from the 1950s which is a work song. Listen to the words closely and you'll feel the sweat of the workers who hauled bananas all night long.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Saturday Photo: From Zen to Wild Victorian on the Plateau

Sometimes the whole is different from the sum of its parts. In this case, the occupants of the first floor of this triplex from the end of the 19th century have turned their tiny front garden into a Zen-inspired oasis in the city.

But step back a bit and you see how the garden is only one part of a stylish reworking of the building. And step across the street and you'll see how wild the owners really are.

The colours aren't as anachronistic as you might think, however. One of the things that give the impression that the 19th century was restrained is the fact that photographs were all black and white. Not only were clothes bright with newly created dyes, but flower beds tended toward the garish as gardeners experimented with newly available varieties of dahlias, zinias and marigolds. That's a topic for another day, though.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Down with Twitters, Or the Fracturing of Time and Culture

These days I don't seem to have enough time to do everything I want or need to do. Short cuts look quite attractive, in fact. But there is one that I wouldn't recommend to anybody--the twitterization of culture.

Last week we discussed Jane Eyre at one of the libraries where I lead discussions. It was a great evening, full of lively debate and sharp observations. And then I read the group part of the twitter version, taken from a rather funny book, Twitterature by Alexander Aciman and Emmet Rensin. The young authors promise the world's greatest book in 20 tweets or less. In the case of Jane Eyre, they've got the plot line down, but certainly there is nothing vaguely resembling the tone or the weight of the book.

The discussion participants laughed, but afterwards several of them commented about the injustice this kind of parody does to a work of substance.

Twittering--that is, reducing life to 150 characters or whatever--can only increase the splintering of our attention. Most things that are worth anything, from making good wine to raising competent human beings, take time. Jane Eyre is more than 400 pages in the edition I read. The story covers 10 years, and gives the reader both things to consider and an exciting story. Try to reduce that to something you can write with your thumbs.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Jane Jacobs, Jeanne and Sesame Street

One of the pleasures of having Jeanne here a lot, is that I've been revisiting scenes (literally) of our kids' childhood. Today it was great version of Sunny Day. the Sesame Street theme song that is, I was delighted to discover, an implicit tribute to Jane Jacobs, the urban planner.

Jeanne was charmed by the video of this archetypal "eyes on the street," densely populated neighborhood. Just as Jacobs advocated, Sesame Street sidewalks are places to play, there's corner store and people of different backgrounds look out for one another. It is, in fact, very much like the East Village neighborhod that inspired Jane Jacobs observations on what works in cities.

Walking around our neighborhood with Jeanne, I've been reminded of how wonderful urban life can be. People stop to talk to her, I've been amazed at the help I've been offered with the stroller from people of all ages, and she is delighted by what Jacobs called "the urban dance," the steady stream of people that invigorate both our residential street and the nearby shopping streets.

My observations are not original: urban planning articles have been written on the similarities. As one says:

"To date, Sesame Street is perhaps the most concrete and accessible model of a U.S. urban community." Forty-two years after the show began in the fall of 1969, it ought to be required watching for anybody interested in cities and urban planning.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Business Interests and Transit Gurus Agree: Quebec Needs to Concentrate on Public Transit, Not New Autoroutes

The federation of Quebec chambers of commerce (FCCQ) and Transit, a new alliance of several dozen groups and experts advocating public transit, came out strongly on Monday in favour of concentrating on public transit in Quebec and infrastructure repairs for a while rather than building new autoroutes.

In a letter addressed to the Quebec Minister of Transport, they point out that over the next five years the ministry plans on investing $16.9 billion in road construction, of which $5.4 billion will go for new road projects or the extension of existing ones. In comparison, only $2.9 billion are earmarked for public transit projects.

The latter figure falls far short of the $10.3 billion need between now and 2020 for maintaining the public transit infrastructe, to say nothing of expanding it, the two groups said in press release.

What good sense! It would be nice to think that the common front they're presenting will have some impact

Making the City Green: Ecoquartier and the Neighbors on Rouen Plant their Ruelle Verte

Jack Ruttan made this great video of the planting day on the lane project next to his apartment. A great project that is only one of many, greening Montreal.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Chimney Repairs, but No Chimney Sweeps

The three young men who came to rebuild our chimney look nothing like Dick Van Dyck and the chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins, but we were very glad to see them when they came this morning.

When the roof was redone this summer after the fire, we discoverd that the base of the chimney was rotten. So after much sturm und drang we got masons to come and do the repair work. Nice to think that the chimney won't fall over this winter.

But we won't have any need for chimney sweeps this year, I guess, as the young men cleaned out the chimney lining. The wind changed in the night too,, so perhaps we might see Mary Poppins coming by.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Saturday Photo: The Wilds of the Plateau

Tiny front ylard gardens are a feature of Montreal's densely settled neighborhoods. People spend a great deal of time and effort claiming the little bit of green they offer for themselves. But sometimes, the efforts are pure whimsy.

The bathtub says "smile" and the sign in the window says "Forbidden to collect snails and mushrooms." Not what you'd expect in a center city, I imagine.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Suburban Ponzi Scheme: Mayors North of Montreal Want More Development in Order to Provide Sevrices

So you build houses in the far suburbs and don't have proper infrastructure for them, so you ask to dezone agricultural land in order to build more to have the tax base to provides services? Doesn't make any sense, but that's what mayors of the second tief of suburbs north of Montreal want. They've been appearing before hearings a new plan for development in the greater Montreal area.

The time frame is 20 years, we're told, and there is much talk of densifying, building around transportation nodes and all that good urban planning talk. But it's about time that the chutzpah of pleading poor when you've deliberately set out to cut corners so your tax rates are low is breathtaking.

Agricultural interests as well as muncipal governments from the island of Montreal and already-established suburbs are arguing that urban sprawl must be tamed. They should be listened to, it seems to me.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Wonder What's Happening Here? A Great Explanation

A great explanation of Occupy Wall Street--should go viral.

Fighting Back: What Unions Do Well, Or Why Stephen Harper Would Like to Defang Them

A somewhat conservative American friend was musing the other day about why it has taken so long for protest too build about the way big corporations and the right wing are blocking nearly every remotely progressive measure in the US. My answer was that corporations, including banks, have been spending millions and millions to convince us they are our friends. That they aren't takes a while to realize.

But there's also the fact that unions--one of the few sectors of society to have political savvy and (sometimes) funds needed to fight corporate interests and the guts to point the finger of blame when govenments and buiness do stupid, right wing things--have come under attack from the forces of darkness over the last decades.

So it probably should not be surprising that Stephen Harper's Conservatives are trying to erode unions' influence further. The most recent incident is the threat to change the labour code in response to strikes by Air Canada personnel. Most observers agree that the changes would make it much harder to go on strike.

But just as maybe the tide may be changing in the US, unions here are beginnning to fight back. Postal workers will be taking the government to court as a prostests of the settlement imposed on them last June which actually offered less than the two bargaining parties had previuosly agreed. Good on them!

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Orange Wave Rolls on, a Bit More Gently Than in May, But Nevertheless There

This is Democracy Festival month in Canada, and Canadians dissatisfacation with conservative policy continues to make it mark. The NDP won a smashing majority in Manitoba, it now holds the balance of power in Ontario, became the official opposiiont in Yukon and almost won that status in Newfoundland and Labrador. As it was, the party made historic gains on The Rock, seeing one of theirs defeat a Tory cabinet minister in the capitol, St. John's.

As the NDP works to consolidate the amazing support voters gave it in Quebec last May, the election results are great news. The people are speaking--thank goodness.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Love on the Moors; New films from the Bronte Sisters

Can't say that I remember ever finishing anything by the Brontes until now, but this fall I put Jane Eyre on the reading lists for two of my book groups. Part of my reason was so I could make a comparison with The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys which I've always thought was a great book.

As it turns out there is a new version of Jane Eyre out this year, as well as one of her sister's epic Wuthering Heights. So if you're into film trailers, here are two for the Bronte's novels, followed by one from a 1994 version of the Rhys book. They're a feast for those who love period drama and grandiose emotions.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Canadian Thanksgiving: Marvelous Weather, Lots of Food, Much to be Grateful for

I must say straight up that I'm not at all a believer, but I do think it is instructive and good for ones spirits to now and then take stock of what one has. This has not been an easy year for us, but our experiences have been so much better than that of 95 per cent of the world, that we shouldn't complain.

And when we can welcome three generations of friends and family (35 adults and 13 kids) into our newly restored house as we did yesterday for a copious and delicious Thanksgiving buffet, we should be pretty happy--and we are.

Photo: Tomatoes at the Jean Talon Market.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Saturday Photo: My Two Favourite Little Girls

If you think there's a resemblance between these lovely little girls, you're right. The black and white photo is of Elin at about 10 months, and the colour one is of Jeanne at a bit more than a year.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Occupy Wall Street: The Left Advances, at Long Last?

Maybe the Tea Party is meeting its match, maybe the tide is turning toward a more enlightened way of looking at the mess we're in. As Paul Krugman said today:

"There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people."

A Novel to Read This Long Weekend as the Last Roses of Summer Bloom

The flowers of fall are much on my mind. Yesterday I went around taking pictures in gardens, including several of the last roses of summer which I will post soon.

And my evening was filled with another sort of rose, Rosa Candida by the Icelandic novelist Auður A. Ólafsdóttir. It's a deceptively simple tale of a young man who leaves home to restore a rose garden in a monastery somewhere (probably) in Italy.

Along the way he encounters a number of lovely young women who want to sleep with him, just as a bright graduate student back home did about 18 months previously. The result of that one-night stand was a little girl Flora Sól. The book mixes motifs and themes from mythology and litterature with the struggles of young people who must somehow negotiate a world of changing gender roles. One of the young women is learning a part in Ibsen's The Doll House as she strives to make her way in the world, others are competent professionals, and the mother of his child wants to continue her studies.

The book is a delightful read, perfect for a long weekend evening as the sun sets earlier and earlier.