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.