Friday, 29 July 2011

More Than 400 Boxes: Going to Disconnect in Order to Reconnect

There is not likely to be much here over the next few days. The boxes arrived yesterday--something like 450 of them containing about 5,000 books and the various collections of decades in one house--and we're going to spend the next little while sorting things out. With a little luck we'll be back to normal by the first of the week.

In the meantime, wish us luck.

Advice from Paul Krugman That Nycole Turmel and the NDP Should Find Useful

As usual, Paul Krugman today is right on the money. "Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage," he says. Part of the problem is "the cult of “balance,” the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts."

Sound familiar, Canadians? Can't let the Harperites get away with it here. As Nycole Turmel said this morning on Radio-Can, as interim leader of the NDP, she's got big shoes to fill while Jack fights his personal battle with cancer. But the country requires a strong opposition, and as a former union leader (among other things) she ought to be able to hold her own in the fights ahead, seconded by an energetic caucus.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

WalMart Heiress Funds Big New Art Museum

As a sidebar to the previous posting about WalMart advertising on classical music stations, check out the interesting article in The New Yorker about WalMart heiress Alice Walton and her amazing art museum . She's used a large part of her share of the fortune to construct a collection of American art that apparently is unrivalled. It will go into a new Crystal Bridges museum designed by Moshe Safdie in a small Arkansas town of Bentonville.

Safdie also designed Canada's National Gallery (seen on the right) in Ottawa, which some would say is another small town looking for glory.

Advertising and Classical Music: If CBC/Radio-Canada Doesn't Deliver, Private Stations Make Money

We've been listening to the commerical classical music station a lot over the last few months. Partly, it's fatigue--there is so much to do just keeping afloat plus taking care of the house that neither of us has the energy to pick CDs to listen to in the evening. And neither Radio Canada's Espace Musique nor CBC's Radio Two play anything interesting most of the time, sad to say.

As I've posted several times before, this change in programming on the part of Canada's public broadcaster has improved ratings of private classical music stations across the country. (I haven't done the comparisons lately, but once things get back to normal I will.) That success is now showing up in the kinds of advertising the Montreal station is running--lots of concerts and festivals, but also restaurants, Sears, and now Walmart. This last I couldn't believe when I first heard the ad: specials for summer weekends mixed in with a little Mozart.

What does this represent? Several things, I think. First, there is a market for music that is not "popular." Second, that the market covers all parts of society. And third, that CBC/Radio Canada has made some incredibly stupid program choices.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Jack Layton: Another Fight for a Man of Courage

Shocked, although maybe not too surprised, to hear that Jack Layton is battling another cancer.

Here's a link to a place where you can send a message of encouragement to Jack Layton, one of Canada's truly good guys. We need him badly.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Intimacy of Facebook and Men Who Cry in Public on It

Just a quick comment on the day the furniture comes back (the boxes including 5000 books arrive Thursday!): the most emotionally over-the-top posts I've seen on my Facebook network have come from men in the last week or so.

One, who is someone whom I know only because he knows people I know, has been holding forth for the last 10 days about his approaching divorce, how much he misses his kids, how very, VERY unhappy he is. The other, a young man of considerable talent and ambition and whom I have had the pleasure of spending time with, has had some professional reverses lately and was weeping on his page. In his case, it isn't the first time since several months ago when he had a romantic problem, he also unburdened his soul.

Both men received many messages of support from FB friends, far and wide, which I suppose was their aim. If it helped them, terrific. But I can't think of any of my female FB friends who've cried publicly on their pages. Perhaps they have closer, flesh and blood friends to whom they can talk.

Which leads me to some reflection about men and women and their respective emotional networks. Maybe guys find the arms-length "intimacy" of FB easier to handle than actually talking to real people about their problems. And/or maybe this FB semblance of closeness and support is a step in the right direction for men who have always told that it's not manly to show weakness.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Saturday Photo: Hot Day, Light on Leaves

If you ever wondered about the value of street trees, here's an object lesson. The trees across the street from our temporary digs shade the buildings there, which means they don't receive nearly the same energy from the sun. The leaves are nearly blinding as they reflect back the light and heat.

Our side gets sun from before 7 a.m. until well after noon, and is extremely hot these days.

So glad we have AC at the house, where we are busily getting ready to move back in--and which is shaded by two big old maples.

What Is That Mushroom Cloud Advancing on the City? Just an Amazing Thunderstorm?

This is a link from a friend from the storm we had Thursday night. The view from the terrace here was very similar, and I stood and watched the rising cloud for quite a while, as the lightning flashed. What it reminded me of was the photos of the A bomb tests of my childhood: the same ominous mushroom, the menace of power beyond our control.

I've seen displays like this before, but this one started me thinking about how good it is not to have the Cold War threat to colour our nightmares any more. But as the friend we sent me the link commented, violent weather is a symptom of the harm we're doing in other ways...

Can't give up, the fights are never over... Now to go to work on a morning when the temperature in the apartment is only 28 (75) and the high will bein the low 80s, not 90s.

Video: The Demon Storm from operatique on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 July 2011

A Couple of Laughs on a Hot Day When the Less You Wear the Better (But No Elastic-Breaking, Please)

Got this from a friend this morning. It seems perfect as an antidote for a day that looks blistering:

"In April, Maya Angelou was interviewed by Oprah on her 70+ birthday. Among the things she said was this...

'I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.'

'I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.'

'I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life.'

'I've learned that making a 'living' is not the same thing as 'making a life.'

'I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance..'

'I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back...'

'I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision.'

'I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one.'

'I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back...'

'I've learned that I still have a lot to learn...'

'I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Please send this to some phenomenal women today. If you do, something good will happen:
You will boost another woman's self-esteem

If you don't....the elastic will break and your underpants will fall down around your ankles! "

Photo: Queen Victoria's drawers, before the days of elastic waistbands. SkyNews

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The True Story of Little Match Girls in Canada: Why Unions and Government Regulation Are Important

"The Little Match Girl" is one of those Hans Christian Andersen stories that wrench the heart: the poor little match seller outside a grand residence dies of cold after slowly burning all the matches she has to sell. It is a staple of sentimental collections of tales for children, and was one of the few stories that made me weep as a child.

Le Devoir ran another about match girls Monday, this one true and even sadder. For decades at the turn of the 20th century, young women worked at the E.B. Eddy match factory in Hull, dipping tiny sticks of wood into phosphorous, a highly toxic substance. Not only did they fall victim to disease specific to handling the substance, but they were frequently victims of fires. Phosphorous was used in matches because it flames at low temperatures, after all, and it seems the match girls had to keep buckets of water by their work stations to put out flames. In the end the factory where they worked burned to the ground because of one such conflagration: a half dozen young women perished because supervisors had padlocked the doors from the outside. In protest, the workers, who had formed the first union of female workers in Canada, walked out on a wild-cat strike.

Today the Boulevard des Allumettières is a major, tree-lined thoroughfare linking one end of Gatineau--the bedroom community across the Ottawa river from the Canada's capital on the Quebec side--to the other. Let us hope these little match girls descendants are able to enjoy some of its benefits. Let us also hope that the horrors of rampant, unrestrained capitalism are not forgotten in this time of union-bashing. Life is not a fairy tale: we need action, not sentiment.

Photo: E. B. Eddy factory and match girls, c. 1880, from Le Devoir.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Claire Messud and the Murdochs: A Novel That Saw What Was Coming

One of the few things I've been able to read lately--too much physical labour, it seems, makes you fall asleep at 9:30 p.m.--was Claire Messud's novel The Emperor's Children from 2006. I remember reading a review of it, and thinking it sounded interesting. But I had forgotten the context and I had trouble placing it in time. Thus the ending--which must have been apparent to anyone reading it when it came out--came almost as a surprise for me, and actually increased my pleasure greatly.

The strength of Messud's observations came home this week, when I remembered how she paints a picture of a young Australian media guy, who tries to take the US by storm with a new, bling-filled magazine where the credo is "to shock is to rock." It fails because his timing is terrible--try throwing a launch party on September 13, 2001--and he slopes off to the UK.

Messud has not written a sequel, but I'm sure the guy got a job at The News of the World, and has spent the last several years listening in on conversations there and making or breaking politicos. His name is Ludovic Seeley, but it could have been Tony Coulson or any of a number of others now in the news.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Countdown to Moving: Let's Hope It's Not Like This

The clothes, rugs, linens and the like come back on Thursday. Monday it's the furniture, Wednesday the boxes (including 5,000 books.) Maybe it will all be over soon!

BTW, the plumbers fixed the rads, too!

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Nicest Weekend of the Year? Or Why Countries Have Holidays This Time of Year

This was taken as the moon rose on Thursday night, Bastille Day or the Fête nationale française. The moon was not quite full, but the evening was lovely after a hot day.

There followed a weekend where the skies were clear and the moon shone brightly. Too hot during the day, perhaps, but since we were working at the house where the air conditioning is back working, we didn't suffer as much as some people. The evenings, partiularly well after sunset, were very fine for people-watching from the balcon overlooking Mount Royal boulevard, and a breeze sprang up each night which cooled the apartment. It even rained last night, and the heat was broken, at least for several delightful hours.

It is no accident that Quebec (June 24,) Canada (July 1,) the USA (July 4,) and France ( the aforementioned July 14) all have their big national celebrations this time of year. In the Northern Hemisphere, if you're going to have fine weather it will be now, and when the full moon happens to come at the same time, you've got a very fine weekend, indeed.

Given the news of the world (including The News of the World) all of us need a little something--like a full moon--to brighten our collective way.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Saturday Photo: A Tangle of Hosta Flowers, and Shooting Star Daylilies

One of the joys of a garden full of perennials is that the plants and the flowers come back, even in yars of neglect. I took these yesterday, when the hostas--all descendants of three plants I bought 15 years ago--were in full flower around the front garden patch, and the daylillies were beginning to bloom

Aside from a little watering in recent days and the application (read: dumping) of some composted manure in May, I've done nothing this year to the garden. Still the flowers have come back in their usual progression. Ain't nature grand!

Friday, 15 July 2011

Swimming in the St. Lawrence: Not So Crazy as You Might Think

As I write this, at shortly after 7 a.m., some hardy souls are gathering on a pier in Montreal's Old Port, getting ready for the Grand Splash. For the seventh year in a row, the group Montreal Baignade will take the leap to demonstrate that the St. Lawrence River, once so polluted at that point that you could walk in it, is now safe enough to swim in. The members argue that several more access point could and should be developed for public swimming.

The fact that there are four swimming beaches on the island now is a grand step forward. One of my first political actions here was with an anti-pollution group called STOP in the early 1970s, and an early campaign was aimed at getting better sewer treatment. The slogan was "You Can't Swim in the Water You Drink," underscoring the fact that Montreal's water supply is purified river water, but that at that point no beach was deemed safe for swimming.

That's progress, a bit of progress. And certainly with heat and humidity in the forecast for the next several days, it would be great to have more places to swim.

All right: it's approaching 7:45 a.m., the time set for the collective swim. On your marks, get set, GO...

Photo: Last year's Grand Splash, from Radio Canada file

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Plumbers Came and (Almost) Fixed Things

Well, actually the plumbers yesterday came to put the radiators back in place. They'd been removed so the new hardwood floors could be installed. It only took two guys to take the rads out, but it took three to wrestle them back into place without damaging the floors.

Of course, when the guys went down to the basement to put the system back in business, they ran into problems with the ancient plumbing down there. Had to replace the union joint, which then leaked. So there was another visit yesterday to fix that, but then when the system filled up with water and there was pressure on the rads, one of the newly installed ones started to leak, involving a third visit.

But the problem was still not resolved, and now Lee has gone over to the house to wait for them to come a fourth time. Life can be complicated, post-fire.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Upon the Roof: The Place on a Summer Evening

The last couple of weeks on the Plateau, as the house near readiness. It is very hot, and the apartment is hotter, but at least we can get up on the roof.

Reminds me of the old song:
When this old world starts getting me down,
And people are just too much for me to face—
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space ...

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

St. Basil's Cathedral and Disneyland: Celebrating Kitsch

Google this morning brings us an image of St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow (right). Seems it was consecrated on July 12, 1561, or 550 years ago today.

It's quite an impressive construction, but I must admit my first thought was that Google was directing us to Disneyland (left).

I remembered that it opened in July back in the 1950s, and thought Google might be giving the nod to the only theme park that Walt designed and supervised directly. My family visited there a couple of years after the opening (which actually was July 18, 1951) and I remember being absolutely enchanted. All fake, of course, with lots of borrowing from elsewhere.

Certainly there's a huge irony in the resemblance with the old cathedral in Moscow, since Disneyland was conceived at the beginning of the Cold War, during a time when anything Russian was suspect. Maybe Disney thought nobody would notice resemblance, given the black out on information crossing the Iron Curtain. Maybe kitsch is bigger than borders.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The United States: Classless Country of Equality?

One of the strange things about the US (and to a lesser extent Canada) is the way this supposeodly classless society dumps on people who would be considered on the lower end of the class scale elsewhere. Two stories over the weekend in The New York Times point this out.

One, "The Unemployed Somehow Became Invisible," is only the most recent in a series of comments about the way the unemployed have not rallied together to protest what is happened to them. In earlier downturns, "jobless recovery," handouts for the rich, a rhetoric that puts the emphasis on debt reduction, not stimulus, led to serious unrest which led to the social security system among other things.

The other, "Vocational Schools Face Deep Cuts in Federal Funding," talks about the way technical education is being slashed, and the emphasis being put on college education. To be sure, an economy needs high tech workers, but it also needs well-trained, proud tradesmen and women who are not in oversupply.

Something is wrong here. What to do about it?

Friday, 8 July 2011

Saturday Photo: The Eure at Chartres

As the pace quickens in our struggle to get back inot our house, I find myself slipping off mentally into quieter times. This photo is from our trip to France a couple of yeas ago when we wandered around Chartres. A good deal of the time was spent at the cathedral, of course.

But we also enjoyed seeing the other elements in the landscape of this little town where the River Eure provided a means of transport as well as energy long before the glorious cathedral was built. It runs tamely in a canal now, but looking at it gives an idea of how people got around in the past.

Compared to the rivers of North America, the Eure doesn't look like much. Certainly compared to the St. Lawrence it is puny. But sometimes on hot, hurried days like to day, the quieter, calmer river-scape seems most inviting.

Today Too!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Why There's Nothing Interesting Here Today

Running errands, washing kitchen cabinets, putting out more fires (figuratively speaking) as the countdown on the house continues, so no post today.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Coming Up Sometime: A New Short Story Collection

My big news is a nice grant from the Conseil des arts et lettres du Québec to support work on a new short story collection. It'll be called Desire Lines: A Geography of Love. Now all I've got to do is get moved back into the house (end of the July even though things won't be done) and finish River Music, and then I can get to work on it!

Monday, 4 July 2011

Cool City = Low Rent: Better Times for Detroit?

When Montreal seemed to tank after the various crises about French nationalism, some interesting things started to happen, in part because rents were low enough to encourage edgy young people to take chances with art and new businesses.

The same thing seems to be happening in Detroit, according to The New York Times. "These days the word “movement” is often heard to describe the influx of socially aware hipsters and artists now roaming the streets of Detroit. Not unlike Berlin, which was revitalized in the 1990s by young artists migrating there for the cheap studio space, Detroit may have this new generation of what city leaders are calling “creatives” to thank if it comes through its transition from a one-industry."

It's the low rent theory of urban development!

Happy Fourth of July: Is It the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence You Celebrate?

In my Southern California childhood, the Fourth of July was a big holiday, right up there with Thanksgiving, not far behind Christimas. We were taught that it celebrated the birth of the greatest nation on the face of the earth, that the principles behind the founding of the United States of America were truly revolutionary and a model for the world to follow.

Now, having left the US several decades ago, I have considerable distance from the patriotic brouhaha, but I find I'm still marked by it. For example, I am very anti-monarchist and was enraged Saturday night to be hindered from crossing the street by William and Kate's motorcade at the end of the Royals visit to Montreal. I even made a few friends by saying very loudly, "Down with the Monarchy." Lee cringed at my obsteperousness, if not by the sentiment.

The question arises this morning, however: does this holiday commemorate the Declaration of Independence--the model for many revolutionary statements including that of in 1945 by Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, launching that long, drawn-out struggle out of colonialism--or actual founding of the USA and its far less inflamatory Constitution? I imagine that many celebrations today confuse the two, and the Tea Partiers ignore the difference. The Constitution as it has evolved over the decades, and it is a mistake to take the version written at the end of the 18th century as Gospel, as do the Tea Partiers.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Saturday Photo: Protecting Produce

As we head over to the house early these mornings to see what's happening, we've been going past the community garden at the corner of Henri-Julien and Maguire even before the gardeners get there. This was the scene a couple of weeks ago when a gardener concerned about birds eating seeds he'd sown put up an interesting version of scare crow.

I can report that the seeds seem to have germinated and the garden is considerably lusher. Must take the camera with me one of these mornings to record how well things are growing.

Happy Canada/Moving Day: Maybe a Month from Now We'll Have Moved Too!

In the Rest of Canada, this is the major national holiday, and while there will be some festivities in Quebec, the big thing in Montreal is moving. Most leases run from July 1 to June 30, and since more than half of Montrealers rent, there is a lot running around with trucks, vans and even bicycles. You have to book movers weeks, if not months in advance for the 10 day period around July 1.

And maybe we'll be moved in by August 1. The roof was replaced yesterday, the hardwood floors should be done today, and we have maybe a week of stuff that we have to do. That leaves 1 or 2 days of work that the general contractor has been promising to finish since the end of May. I would like to think that the week after next we'll be able to book movers for the end of the month!