Thursday, 31 May 2012

Scapgoating 101: Ticks and Students

The New York Times today has an innteresting story by Gail Collins about the multibillion dollar loss at JP Morgan: blame it on ticks.  It seems that the person in charge was laid low by Lyme disease during a crucial period, and so nefarious actions took place that would have otherwise have been stopped.

Well, seems to me that there were other things involved, like greed and basic bad judgment.  But it is interesting how creative people looking for excuses can be.  Montreal was prey to some intense thlnder storms on Tuesday, with flooding of areas near the river.  As in happens, some of this area has been the scene of many demonstrations latelyl. 

The obvious conclusion to draw is: blame it on the students. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Everything That Goes around Comes around, So Maybe We'll Get a Speed Bump on Our Street

More than 30 years ago when our kids were little, a couple of other mothers on the street passed a petition to get a speed bump or two in order to slow down traffic.  The city wasn't interested, and nothing was done, although on other streets traffic calming has become de rigueur. (The picture shows fancy cutouts installed ten years ago on another busy street.)

But a neighborhood like ours renews itself, and the houses are turning over.  A whole set of other young mothers (and fathers) have become concerned about traffic, and have started another petition for speed bumps.  This time the local councillor has said that with enough signatures, we should get our way.  So I've just spent a half hour knocking on doors at our end of the street to collect signatures.  So far none of the nine households I've approached have said "no" which is heartening.

Better late than never, eh?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Walkable City Still Has Legs

Last weekend  friends from San Francisco were in town and we spent hours walking around Montreal.  It's always a pleasure to have out of town guests because you do and see things that you don't ordinarily do in your hometown.

We ended up walking from the Old Port to our place.  It took about four hours--we won no races, certainly!--but  the advantages of compact urban spaces were clearly evident.  Our friends had spent much time in Paris, and we shared stories of the joys of that marvelously walkable city.

Then this morning I came across a blog about my book The Walkable City: From Haussmann's Boulevards to Jane Jacobs' Streets and Beyond.   Even though the book was published several years ago, it remains relevant, it seems!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Jack, Alexis and Rack of Lamb

Tuesday my uncle Jack McDonald's life will be commemorated at a funeral service in Walla Walla, WA where he was born.  He was 83 when he died last week, leaving three children, eight grandchildren, his wife of more than 60 years Margy and many, many friends.

He was my mother's youngest sibling and only brother.  He was my first adult friend--all my other aunts and uncles were parents too, and so their attitude was different from his.  He was young and dashing and took me to places like the county fair with his buddies.  When he and Margy married, their wedding and romance seemed like a fairy tale come true.

When I grew up I didn't see him much, but once when Lee and I were undergraduates at Berkeley he visited San Francisco on business and took us to the first top class restaurant I'd ever eaten in.  Alexis on Nob Hill had a great wine list and specialized in such amazing dishes as rack of lamb: it was a meal I've never forgotten.

Unfortunately I won't be there tomorrow to help celebrate his life.  But on Saturday we ate in a Montreal restaurant which, while not as swank as Alexis, was every bit as good.  Rack of lamb was on the menu and we ate it and remembered Jack.

Obviously there are many ways of honouring someone, and I think Jack, a man who loved good food, drink and companionship, would understand what we were doing.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Saturday Photo: New Growth Everywhere

Evergreens are just that: trees which don't lose their leaves in the fall, but keep them (or the needles which are a manifestation of leaves) all year round. This is not to say they don't experience distinct periods of growth.

This morning when we walked in Mount Royal Cemetery I was delighted to see that the boxwood hedge (always hard to grow in this climate) was covered with new growth on the tips of the branches. 
This is not a shot of the boxwood--didn't think to take a camere, which is always a mistake in this marvelous season. The photo dates from last year, but shows the same lucious, almost luminous green of the new growth.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Friends from the Bay Area Arriving, and the Weather's Great

So unless things change drastically I'm taking the day off.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Pot Protests Spread in Montreal (No, Not That Kind)

Saturday May 19, there weren't many poople out pounding on pots and pans in Montreal to protest emergency legislation limiting public demonstrations and many other things as the long student protest against tuition fee hikes continues. But by Wednesday, the peaceful demonstraitons of neighborhs of all ages had begun to sweep the city. So far the action has been concentrated in Francohpone neighborhoods, but since it got coverage in English media today, it should be interesting to see what happens tonight.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Let's Not Go the Way the US Dept: Debt and Students and Massive Demonstrations

The New York Times lead editorial today is extremely pertinent as regional cyberspace swirls with analysis and pictures from yesterday's huge (and probably illegal) demonstration in Montreal.  "Full Disclosure for Student Borrowers" is the title, and it follows up on a story earlier about the enormous debt load many young people in the US have undertaken in trying to get a post-secondary degree: 

"Nationally, about two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients now borrow from either public or private lenders, up significantly from the early ’90s, when about 45 percent of graduates borrowed from all sources, including family. According to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the average debt for student borrowers last year was about $23,300, while 10 percent owed more than $54,000 and 3 percent owed more than $100,000. "

Bachelor degrees!  I remember when doctors would graduate with big debts, but they had every expectation of being able to pay them off pronto.  And, as I've said before, when I got my BA in English literature at UC Berkeley, I paid peanuts, earning more than half the money I needed in summer jobs with my parents topping up the rest rather easily.  No debt for me when I graduated, and when my husband got his Ph.D five years later, we had actually saved money. 

Post secondary tuition is lower in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, while the Canadian overall average is much lower than the US.  That is the way it should be.  Students here who are protesting are only channeling much disatisfaction with right wing ideas which are so prevalent among those in power now.  At the demonstration yesterday--150,000 to 250,000 present--I saw a lot of gray hair and babies in strollers, showing just how wide-spread discontent is.  The fact that the special law passed last week in (as they say here so deliciously) in catimini puts regulates strictly any call for demonstrations only made the turnout greater.

BTW  here's a good piece about what is going on from an Anglophone prof at the Université de Montréal: "An Open Letter to English-Canadians, who might be feeling that Quebeckers have taken leave of their senses."

Photo from Métro newspaper.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Lots of Political Action Today: Demonstration and Discussion

It's raining but a big crowd is expected this afternoon for a demonstration to protest tuition fee hikes, and the provincial government's draconian law on demonstrations, return to classes, and civil disobedience.

I missed an earlier one in March (it was during the NDP leadership convention) so I'd probably go even it I were outraged by some of the measures in the law.  Among them are the requirement that meetings of more than 10 people get police approval and a prohibition on inciting others to demonstrate illegally.  The measures, attacked by the Quebec bar among other extremely respectable organizations, have prompted some fascinating counter coups.  One of them is a web site called Arretez-moi, quelqu'un (Somebody Arrest Me), where people can post pictures of themselves engaged in civil disobedience.  As of 10 a.m. this morning more than 2500 photos had been posted, and not all  of them were of kids.

But this evening the NPD Outremont riding association will be discussing what comes next on the federal level:  What's Next: the Who, What, Where and How of the Next Three Years. 6-8 p.m. at the Côte des Neiges Community Centre, 6767 Côte des Neiges.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Robert Nelson, and the Journée des Patriotes

The Quebec flag is up in front of our place on this Journée des Patriotes. One of the little known things about the Rebellions of 1837-38 (the nearest thing Canada ever had to a revolution) is that a number of Anglophone Patriotes were leaders in the Lower Canadian version.

William Lyon McKenzie, Scottish firebrand and grandfather of one of Canada's longest serving prime ministers William Lyon McKenzie King, was the point man in Upper Canada, but Wolfred and Robert Nelson were front and center in what is now Quebec during the fight for representative government, among other things.

 Both are fascinating men, but I think Robert is particularly intersting. More than 15 years ago I started to write a biography of him, but switched to the historical novel/ fictionalized biography form when it became clear that the elusive doctor had covered his traces in the second half of his life.

The book, The Words on the Wall: Robert Nelson and the Rebellion of 1838, is available in many libraries,  from Amazon.ca, or directly from me. The French translation, Robert Nelson: Le médecin rebelle which believe it or not sold better than the original, is equally available from Renaud-Bray or from me.

A few of the neighbors have asked why I put up a Quebec flag over the years.  My reply is always that it's past time ro recognize those Anglophones who also wanted to make this part of the world a republic so long ago.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Satuday Photo: Zen and the Art of Spring Gardening

Actually I think the stone statute isn't Japanese but is a kind of inukshuk, those Inuit signs of greeting. But the minalist balance of this spring garden is quite lovely, whatever the inspiration. The violets have taken over our front yard, and while the flowes are lovely, once the blooms are gone I intend to do a major clear-out in order to have room for other plants. As I fussed a bit in front this morning, one of my Hassidic neighbors asked about weeds in the garden: she says she's got a terrible problem with her mostly-grass front garden. I had to think a minute abaout how to phrase what I have. No, I don't really have weeds, except for a few maple seedlings which have to be pulled up each spring. But invasive plants can be rather agressive and must be treated with some force at times!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Death of the Confidence Fairy Bis: NDP Hearing on the Budget

If it wasn't enough that Europeans are registering their disatisfaction with the idea of cutting budgets as a way to economic recovery by voting out parties preach austerity, a headline in today's New York Times suggests others are getting the message.

Angela Merkel apparently now is saying that she's not against stimulus for the Greek economy. It would be nice to think that she and her friends have been reading Paul Krugman's continued attacks on the illogic of thinking that austerity is a good thing. But who knows?

Don't forget that  Canadians will have a chance to say just what they think about the Harper government's "austerity" budget at a series of NDP meetings in the coming days.  The one in Montreal is Wednesday, May 23, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Centre St Pierre, 1212 Panet (Metro Bleury).

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Making Music Together: Young Musicans against the Free Hike

Last night was the second concert of the Orchestre de la solidarité sociale, bringing together music students from nearly all of Montreal's music faculties. Some of them have been on strike, some are not, but all wanted to support the student movement. Here's a short bit from the beginning. It's mostly talk but you get the idea. The concert proper began with Tchiakovsky's 1812 Overture. A battle cry 200 years later?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Sexing the Kiwi (With Apologies to New Zealanders)

Several years ago I bought two kiwi plants, a male and a female.  One grew, the other didn't, but I didn't know which one survived.  So the following year I bought another pair, and again, I had one which grew and one which didn't.  My guess was that the survivor was a male, so the following year I bought a female.

Flash forward to last year.  The three surviving plants were growing lustily, climbing up the volunteer grape vine that grows out of our compost heap, and twining happily around the lilac bushes in our neighbors yard.  None of the plants bore fruit though, and I wasn't sure whether I'd inadvertantly ended up with three plants of the same sex, or if the conditions weren't right for fruit.

This year we're going to do some work on the fence, which means that the kiwis would have to be moved anyway.  So, in an attempt to give the plants more sunlight, I dug them up a couple of months ago and transplanted them.  In doing so I found that one still bore a tag saying it was male.  Last week it began to leaf out, and I was delighted that it had survived the move.  The other two were lifeless until yesterday, though and this morning I found leaves on both.  Since the literature says that the male plants flower first, my hope is that the difference in growth reflects difference in sex too.  We shall see: I've downloaded a great pdf file which gives pictures of the differences between male and female flowers.

The picture above is of a kiwi that's been growing the Jardin des plantes.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Saturday Photo: Bleeding Heart in Bloom

Most years there is an explosion of growth here the first week in May. Bleeding heart, which dies back to nothing at all in early September, grows so fast that you can almost see it. The lovely arching branches and blooms are a miracle of spring.

This year, because we had two pulses of warm weather, spring has appeared longer, with forsythia and other plants in bloom for several weeks. This means that the extravagance of bleeding heart has not been as apparent. Nevertheless it is a plant of incredible fortitude and loveliness.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Fallout from Protests and Smoke Bombs: Quietness?

This was book club week, and a strange thing happened. In all four groups, we had much less attendance than normal. The weather has been cold and damp, which might be a factor. but it certainly wasn't because one boring book was on the agenda.

No, in fact the choice was eclectic. In Pierrefons we discussed David Lodge's Deaf Sentence, in Outremont, Louise Hamelin's novel about the 1970 October Crisis La Consetellation du lynx, at the Atwater Library it was Johanna Skimsrud''s The Sentamentalists and in Kirkland the French translation of Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery.

 The discussion among those who attended in each case was animated and very interesting, but significantly fewer than usual people showed up. The only thing the books have in common is that they are serious fiction. All but The Sentimentalists have some pretty funny bits, but overall they require the reader to do a bit of thinking.

 Is it possible, I wonder, that the uncertainty about how we're going to find our way out of the tuition hike protests part of the reason people decided not to come out? Does media coverage of the nightly marches have an impact? Perhaps.

In Kirkland, a green and lovely automobile suburb, those who attended last night seemed surprised to hear that the Metro was up and running by 10:30 yestreday morning and that I rode it with no problem o last night. I did almost get caught in a protest the night before, but bus drivers have become very savvy about avoiding tie-ups, and I got home as quickly as I ever do.

 One thing worth noting, perhaps, is that on my Metro ride yesterday afternoon, I saw far fewer people sporting the red cloth square that has be become the badge of the protests. There may be a change of opinion going on, and I'm not sure, if it's caused by exagerated fear, that it's a good thing.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Smoke in the Metro Means Fire under Agents Provcateurs, Me Thinks

This morning after Montreal's Metro was closed during rush hours because of smoke bombs planted in several stations, I spent far too much time looking for references to "agents provocateurs" in the current student protests agains tuition hikes. 

Far too frequently, outside agitators linked to the forces of law and order or the powers that be have been instrumental in firing up demonstrations that turn nasty.  A completely confirmed case dates from 2007 when police forces admitted having undercover agents in the crowd at Montebello during a summit of North American leaders. But what I found for "agent provacateur Montreal"
today was just a bunch of soft-porn underwear ads for a London-based lingerie boutique which has a shop in the classy Holt Renfrew department store.
Don't think that's the same thing, although given the protest last week where everyone showed up in their undies maybe the shop has been influential on the political front too.

Oil Sands Mean "Game over" for Climate

Oil sands exploitation means the end of hope for controlling climate change, according to James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  In op-ed piece in today's New York Times, he writes:

"We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. ... Most ...would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price. "

But "If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

"Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history."

He ends with a plea to President Obama to show some real leadership in this case.  Without a doubt that will be necessary, but Canadians must also demand that the Stephen Harper government also look around and realize that it is throwing our future away.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Cold Today: Gonna Take a Nap

After passing the winter without getting sick, I seem to have been wacked with something.  So no post today.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Speak Red! A Dramatic Reading of a Quebec Classic Poem Transformed for the Current Crisis

"Speak White" by Quebec poet Michèle Lalonde was written and first performed in 1968 during the great rising wave of Quebec nationalism.  It refers to an epithet many Francophones heard for years (the first published reference goes back to 1899 whena Henri Bourassa was booed by English-speaking Members of Parliament while attempting to address the legislature in French against the engagement of the Dominion in the Second Boer War.)

But the poem uses the Thames, the Potomac and Wall Street as symbols of represssion, so  its terms of reference are far from being narrowly linguistic.  It refers to a plan for society, un projet de société as they way around here, which calls for, among other things,  equality of opportunity through education.  So it's no surprise taht a group of young protesters against tuition fee hikes here have transformed it into an anthem for those today who are trying to safeguard princples that the thinkers of Quebec Inc. seem to have forgotten.

And BTW, please note that at least one of those reciting the poem has a very thick Anglo accent.

Here are the words:
Speak Red

Il est si beau de vous entendre parler d’équité sociale,
de la jeunesse instruite et engagée qui sortira
un jour de nos universités

On voudrait nous garder incultes et dociles
mais nous ne sommes pas muets et notre voix porte
Nous ne sommes ni idiots ni criminels ni inconscients ni lâches

Speak Red

Et n’acceptons pas de n’avoir pour réponse
que des statistiques économiques réductrices
et le silence obstiné de nos ministres.

Speak Red

Parlons d’éducation et de justice sociale
Parlons du rapport Parent, de la Révolution tranquille
Parlons des luttes de nos prédécesseurs pour des acquis aujourd’hui balayés
Parlons de la déroute de notre gouvernement

Nous sommes une génération sacrifiée mais avide de savoir
et d’une société plus juste où l’éducation n’est pas un luxe

Et quand vous really speak red, quand vous get down in the streets
pour parler de vos idéaux et parler d’égalité des chances
et du Québec que vous voulez vôtre

Un peu plus fort alors speak red
Haussez vos voix de citoyenNEs de second-ordre
Ils sont un peu durs d’oreille
Ils vivent trop près des patronats
et n’entendent que notre souffle depuis leur tour d’ivoire

Speak Red and loud qu’on vous entende de Montréal à la Côte-Nord
usez de votre admirable langue
pour revendiquer
demander des comptes
refuser qu’on vous ignore
pour des histoires de chiffres et de lunettes cassées

Speak Red

Dites-leur que la « juste part » nous la ferons
lorsque, diplômés, nous contribuerons à faire
du Québec un endroit meilleur

Speak Red

Devant ceux et celles qui croient que les bancs d’école ne sont pas faits
pour apprendre
mais pour se vendre
mais pour se vendre à perte d’âme
mais pour se vendre

ah! Speak Red
Tous autant que vous êtes pour leur dire
l’éternité d’un jour de grève
pour raconter ce que nous souhaitons pour demain

Et pour qu’ils rentrent chez eux le soir
à l’heure où le soleil s’en vient crever au dessus de leurs tours
et pour qu’ils se disent oui que le soleil se couche oui
chaque jour de leur vie à l’est de leurs empires

Mais que peut-être, peut-être
quelque chose ne tourne pas rond
dans leurs logiques marchandes

Speak Red

Soyez à l’aise dans vos mots
Nous sommes peut-être idéalistes
mais n’accepterons que personne
vienne menacer les fondements de notre société

Dans la langue douce de Molière
mais avec l’accent de Miron
Parlons la langue de notre génération
comme en Angleterre en Colombie
Disons notre colère clairement
un carré rouge entre les dents

vous parlez hausse
parlez rappel à l’ordre
parlez répression

Speak Red

C’est une langue universelle
Nous sommes nés pour la comprendre
malgré vos gaz lacrymogènes
malgré vos matraques

Speak Red

Rappelez-leur ce que sont la Liberté et la Démocratie
Nous savons que liberté est un mot rouge
comme la dette des étudiants
et comme tous ces gens qui, au Québec et ailleurs, se battent pour leurs droits

Speak Red
de Montréal à Québec relayez-vous
speak red comme à Trois-Rivières
red comme à Rimouski

Soyons fortEs
et continuons vaillamment de défendre nos valeurs
devant ceux qui nous demandent encore

Répondons-leur fermement
Nous croyons en demain
Nous n’abandonnons pas
Nous sommes le Québec
et nous savons que nous ne sommes pas seuls.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Pele's Hair and Pele's Tears: The Hawaiian Goddess and Lava

I'm back to working on the short story collection. The current story is one that has quite a bit about volcanos, and as I speak, a small bottle of ash from Mount St. Helens is sitting on my desk.

 I'd love to have some Pele's hair too, those strands of lava form when lava is lofted into the air when the wind was high. The molten rock was stretched out, forming strands that are about the thickness of a strand of hair. The name comes from the Hawaiian goddess of volcanos who is supposed to be so jealous that she brings bad luck on anyone who takes rocks away from the volcanos. Hence, there are few samples of Pele's hair coming from Hawaii in museums, even though people studying volcanos are scientists whom you'd think would not worry about the wrath of a volcano goddess.

The same process occurs in other volcanos, and I've never heard of similar legends regarding rocks from them. Is the Hawaiian goddess paricularly powerful?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Saturday Photo: Because Purple Flowers Are Lovely

This isn't a new photo.  It's one I took when I was in Portugal about this time of year.  The jacaranda trees were in bloom: absolutely spectacular!

I'm waiting impatiently for the lilacs to bloom this spring, but in the meantime this pix will have to do.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Magnoiias in Bloom: The April Showers Bring May Flowers

Despite the very early warm weather we had in late March and again in the middle of April, flowers and leaves are bursting out this first week in May, much as usual.  Among the glories are magnolias.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jane's Walks Coming up This Weekend: Learning about Neighborhoods One Step at a Time

The series of walks given all over the world in honour of urbanist Jane Jacobs are coming up this weekend.  In past years I've given a couple: last year it was a tour of Montreal's Bairro Português where we were living post-fire.  The neighborhood is one which Jacobs would have loved, where walkable streets mean a high quality of urban life.

This year I'm not going to give one but it seems that another aspect of that part of town will be features.  The walk, to be given on Sunday, May 6 in French, will explore a part of town that dates back to the late 19th century by following a road originally tramped out by workers going to a big quarry.  The gathering place, funnily enough, is the corner where we were living last year: Henri-Julien and Mont-Royal. 

Definitely worth checking out. Kudos to Mile End Memories for leading it. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Taco Bell, Cal-Mex and Tortillas: My Love Affair with Food Inspired by Mexico

Great story in The New York Times today about Mexican-inspired food: "How the Taco Gained in Translation." Makes me hungry just to read it. Makes me also reflect on how we all are better (and eat better) when cultures borrow from each other.

When we arrived in Montreal in 1968, one of the things I went looking for was tortillas. Growing up in Southern California, and then later in the Bay Area, tacos were a favourite dish. You took a corn tortilla, fried it quickly in oil, folded it, then filled it with cooked ground beef spiced with a chili mixture, added grated cheese and shredded iceberg lettuce and you had a great supper.  Salsa went on the side, but I think in the beginning we didn't even have that, and used Tabasco sauce. Lee could eat four or five, and I, at least three.

Back then there were very few Latino immigrants of any sort in Montreal: it was before the Chilean and Central American exoduses of political refugees, and there weren't even many Mexican agricultural workers. The closest thing I could find to tortillas was sacks of masa hariña, the lime-cured corn flower used to make them.

However, as a friend of my mother's raised in Mexico used to say, you have to start making tortillas when you are seven or eight, flipping small balls of dough between the palms of your hands to flatten them out. I just made a mess, even when I acquired a tortilla press like the one in the picture.

Recent years have brought both more Latinos to Quebec and the influence of Americanized Mexican culture and cuisine. Then about 10 years ago the Tortillera Maya opened its doors not far from us on St. Laurent, that great immigrant corridor. The tortillas were made on the premises and a kilo cost less than a dollar. Success forced the enterprise to move up near the Jean Talon Market.  Now  you can find their products there as well as in many grocery stores, along side the President's Choice flour tortillas and ones imported from places like Detroit.

Quesadillas, chimichangas, enchiladas, burritos, refritos, tamales,  chilis of all sorts, not to mention adobes and molés: these are delights from the corn kitchen but nothing, in my book, is quite as good as an old fashioned Southern California taco, which the NYT story says was invented by Vicento and Lucia Montaño in the 1930s.  The real name for the dish, as served today at the Mitla café is tacos dorados con carne molida.

Excuse me: got to go to the store.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Musical Swings Are Back!

If you're in Montreal, be sure and check out this marvelous installation in the Quartier des spéctacles, right across the street from Place des Arts. The viceo was made last spring, but yesterday, they were just as nice.

Okay, Get out There and Move: Walk Dance, the New Way to Exercise

Well, I've always walked a lot. Maybe I should try this.