Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Road through Time, or Roads in Time: World Heritage Site and My New Book Project

Now that I've put aside the short story collection Desire Lines: A Geography of Love that I've been working for the last several months, I'm back to working on the next non-fiction book.  It's called Road through Time, and may end up being a reflection both on time and the permanence of roads aas legacies of what humans do to the world. 

So I was delighted to see two interesting stories in  Le Devoir this week about roads, history and memory.  They have their starting point in a conference held earlier this month at Université Laval in Quebec City called Tourism, Roads and Cultural Itineraries: Meaning, Memory and Development.  More than 300 particpants from around the world gave presentations in English, French and Spanish about  cultural treasures that lend themselves to what might be truly called "Road Trips."

One of the most interesting series of talks was about the Inca Road through the Andes.  More than 6,000 km long, it traverses the spine of South America from Ecuador to Argentina, and still is in use.

Don't know just where this is going to lead me. To South America, maybe?

Monday, 30 July 2012

Fleeing: Today's Front Page and Yesterday's Back Story

This morning I spent a  long time looking at a photo of a group of people in the back of a truck fleeing the Syrian city of Aleppo. 

What can you tell from a photo like this?  Well, it probably is a family group--there's a strong resemblance between them.  And that they're reasonably well off to be able to pay for transport, instead of walking.  They women wear headscarves, which probably doesn't mean much about where they stand in the split between different Muslim groups, or just how traditional they are.  What is clear is that they are in a bad position, and even though the 13 or 14 year old boy seems fascinated by something in the air, this is a nightmare.

How this will end I have no idea.  But I've just read a most interesting novel that takes place in the aftermath of another city burnt and population displaced: The Goodtime Girl by Tess Fragoulis (Cormorant Books.)  The main character is a young woman who was her father's darling in the early 1920s in Smyrna.   WhenGreeks were driven from the city by Turks in 1922, she escaped to Pireaus and Athens where she ended up singing other people's songs of distress and love.

The worst of the story happens off stage.  Kivelli has wiped part of it from her mind.  It resurfaces in her dreams and in an abbreviated version told about half way through the book.  But we know always that a number of people were beastly to a number of others for reasons which in no way justify what happened.

Kivelli is a survivor, and sings her sorrows so movingly that she is able to escape. That she sings the songs of other people is also poignant, because Fragoulis makes it clear that while many people may have stories to tell, not all of them have the voice to tell them.

It's a good read, and will send you looking for more information about the bloodshed that followed World War I, as spheres of influence were redefined.  It will also make you wonder just what the stories are of the folk fleeing in the pictures we see all too frequently. 

Photo: Agence France Presse

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Saturday Photo: Fountain under Repair or Being in the Game for the Long Haul

Parc Outremont is one of the lovely smallish green spaces in my neighborhood.  In its center is a fountain which I had always thought was done by a Quebec sculptor, but which turns out to have been made in France toward the beginning of the 20th century.

The borough took the sculpture away for repairs this spring, leaving a sign explaining what was going to be done, and the small spray of water in the middle of the pond.  It's not nearly as nice was the fountain was, but that's life: maintenance, I'm coming to realize as I age,  is just as important as creation. 

Friday, 27 July 2012

Mick Jagger and Jean Drapeau on the Montreal Olympics: Scratch Your Beard and Get Stoned, Or How a Man Can Get Pregnant

Today the Oympics begin in London, with much hype. It remains to be seen what kind of legacy this orgy will leave in the troubled UK (look how Greece's Olympic experience set the scene for its current financial situation) but it is clear that Montreal's 1976 experience was a lasting disaster.

We didn't finish paying off the Olympic Stadium until the turn of the new century, even though the mayor at the time Jean Drapeau proclaimed that the Olympics here could not more lose money than a man could get pregnant.

 That's the inspiration for Aislin's cartoon, of course. Dr. Henry Morgenthaler was the Montreal doctor who persisted in doing abortions until abortion was de-criminalilzed in 1988.

 So what remains? Besides the white elephant of a stadium, this interesting interview with Mick Jagger, talking about effort and fame. His eyes look half-stoned, but obviously the man was sharp even ulnder the influence of whatever..

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Lawn Not Doing Well: Could Be Hairy Cinch Bugs, and Another Reason to Plant Something Else

Got yellow spots on your grass?

 Could be your neighbors dogs, could be the drought, but they also could be due to bugs living in your lawn, Le Devoir reports this morning. 

Hairy cinch bugs  have been around these parts of 40 years or so, but apparently this is a particularly good year for them.  The winter wasn't too cold, so many eggs survived, and the combination of hot temperatures and sunny weather has encourage their proliferation.

All the more reason to plants something else in that space in front of where you live.  Green grass is pleasing to the eye: evolutionary psychologists suggest that we have a hard-wired delight in it, because it suggests the kind of savannah-in-rainy season landscapes that meant good hunting and lots of water for our ancestors millennia ago in East Africa where all humans come from.

But grass isn't meant to be green all the time, and keeping it that way uses a lot of water and, frequently, chemicals.  If it's a good year for pests, it's all the more difficult.

The photo is of a neighbor's yard, which shows just how lovely low-maintenance plantings can be.  No brown spots in it!

BTW, the couple in Drummondville who got their fingers slapped for planting their front yeard in vegetables, have gotten much press, and, it seems, a reprieve from city officials.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

For the Young at Heart: Images and Songs

Love this photo, as well as the song by the marvelous Chico Buarque.

For lovers of all ages. 

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Life without Papers: Campaign to Register Children in Burundi

More than ten years ago now, I spent an amazing few weeks in Africa,  particularly in Burnundi in the central Great Lakes Region.  I was doing rsearch for the book that became The Violets of Usambara, but also trying to make some sense of what foreign do-gooders roles might be in a country struggling with the legacy of civil war and underdevelopment.

Things apparently are considerably better in Burundi now than then, when the country was making tiny steps to overcoming a legacy of ethnic conflict that was reminescnet of that in neighboing Rwanda.  But the IRIN is reports that the trappings and conveniences of civil society are still not in place.

Specifically, there is the question of identity cards.  Apparently 1.5 million children  have not had their births registered, which means that they can not get free health care.  When they are school age, more problems were develop.  Registration is supposed to be free for infants up to two weeks after birth, but costs the equivalent of $21.40 US afterwards, a sum impossibly high for most people. 

However, with the aid of international NGOs campaign is underway in two rural provinces to register children who have no identity cards. 

Strange to think of being without papers...

Monday, 23 July 2012

Another Hot Day: Parks in the Early Morning, and Paul Krugman

Another hot one, and this is what it looks like about 7:30 in Parc Outremont.  Nice, eh?

But these hot summer days are worrying.  Where are we going with climate change?

Paul Krugman writes about this today.  Heat and drought, like that ravaging the middle of the continent "is likely to be the leading edge of damage from climate change, taking place over the next few decades; the drowning of Florida by rising sea levels and all that will come later."

He continues: "Will the current drought finally lead to serious climate action? History isn’t encouraging.... For large-scale damage from climate change is no longer a disaster waiting to happen. It’s happening now. "

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Saturday Photo: At the Park Jeanne Says 'Partage!' Or the Beginnning of the Common Good

This was taken about 7:30 a.m. in a neighborhood park where we've spent several lovely afternoons this summer with Jeanne.

We go with sand pail and shovel, which she tosses into the sand box as soon as we arrive.  Then she starts playing with other kids' toys, some of which have obviously been forgotten or lost or contributed and remain from there from day to day.

At not quite two, one of the big lessons she's having to learn  is to share with other children: the swings, the slide, and the toys.  Her parents are constantly reminding her of that, to the point that when we arrive at the playground she's begun to say "Partage!" or "Share."  Doesn't keep her from sometimes being upset when someone takes her pail, even when she busy filling someone else's with sand, but it's a step in the right direction.

Not all of the parks around have the same cache of forgotten/communal toys, nor did this one at the beginning of the nice weather.   What's the difference, given that the social economic status of park users in the general vicinity isn't that disparate?

It's not a question of litter because  there is a groundskeeper in the park for 10 hours a day and it's otherwise quite clean.  I'd like to think that someone left behind a shovel one afternoon, more or less voluntarily, and others have followed suit for the common good.

More Municipal Ridiculousness

One of my neighbors who just spent a pretty penny to landscape her small front and back yards tells me that our borough administration wouldn't give her a permit to fill all the space in front with artfully arranged perennials. 

"The part that belongs to the city had to be grass," the clerk told her when she went in to get the okay for her project, which involved some excavation.  "We don't want people to claim damages if we have to go in and do work on the public land."

She said she'd sign something, agreeing not to do that were repairs needed on the gas, sewer and water lines which come in the front.  But no dice, despite the fact that grass is hard to grow under our street trees, and a good half of the residents have switched over to some other sort of planting. In fact the houses with the worst looking front yards are those where people have tried to grow grass and given up, to let it brown or grow too long.

"The next battle?" I asked her, who has been instrumental in various struggles involving the neighbors and the city.

She shrugged.  Seems before she left someone, whose function and name will remain obscure, whispered that she probably wouldn't get a fine if she planted all the way to the sidewalk!  Maybe there's some sense in city hall, after all.

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Plants Counter-Attack: What's New in Urban Agriculture

Yesterday's post about a small Quebec town forbidding front yard vegetable gardens sent me thinking about the urban agriculture movement.  It certainly is alive and well in Montreal--there will even be a five day conference on it with hands-on workshops next week in the center of the city sponsored by the Université du Québec à Montréal. 

Other efforts: Santropol Roulant, a meals-on-wheels program, has begun a partnership with a group growing food on the island of Montreal commercially.

Hearings on urban agriculture in the city were held in June, prompted by a petition signed by 29,900 who wanted regulations--includingn whether you can have chickens--reviewed and the whole idea of growing your own food in the city encouraged.

About 12,000 people have garden plots in the 95 community gardens sponsored right now by the city.  Countless more grow at least a few tomatoes on their own lots or balconies: 51 per cent of those surveyed last year say that they or someone in their family grows at least a little food.

I must admit that I've switched from vegetables to perennials, because our yard is shady and because the squirrels ate almost everything I grew.  But the two pears trees thrive, with the crop just about ready to pick.  Of course, the squirrels are watching and waiting too....

BTW the photo was taken two years ago  of a small garden next to an auto dealership, where someone had taken advantage of the sun (and maybe absence of trees as refuges for squirrels) to grow some nice veggies.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Why Not Vegetables in Front Yard Gardens?

A couple in Drummondville, a town about 100 km from Montreal, have run into problems with a city bylaw that limits vegetable growing in front yards. Drummondville would like to do away with such gardens altogether--and will forbid new ones in the future--and have given the couple five days to reduce theis to 30 per cent of the space in front of the house.

What nonsense! As soneone who has watched with delight as my neighbors have torn up lawns to make more interesting front yard gardens, this seems to me to be a step in the wrong direction. And, as someone who walks regularly in neighborhoos where people--frequently immigrants--grow vegetables and flowers on every available centimeter of dirt, I can only say: grass is boring, and not environmentally sound.

The photo, courtesy of the CBC, shows just how attractive this garden is.  A  good example of a trend to encourage, it seems to me.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Today Is a Day That Is Filled with Excitment...Anything Can Happen, or How to Be a Writer

Temperature has dropped. Ought to get back to work on the next thing. But I came across this: a great spoof of the writing life.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Ways to Beat the Heat (and Drought) II

Until today, we've had more than two weeks of drought, along with horrendous temperatures.  Water levels in the rivers and lakes are as low as they usually get in August, and there has been much talk about water conservation. 

I got concerned (growing up in Southern California where we were always supposed to be careful with water) and decided to see what I could do about watering my garden without damaging things. 

The answer was simple: the condensation from the air conditioner had been going down the drain in the basement, but slipping a bucket under the hose, turned it into a great source of watering water.  On the hot humid days of the weekend, I ended up with a couple of gallons, even though we ran the AC only for four or five hours.   
But obviously I'm not the only person to have this idea.  One or more of the  taxi drivers at the stand at Avenue du Parc and St-Viateur have started a little flower garden in the space around a street tree.  To get water, they are pirating the condensation from an air conditioner in the apartment building on the corner.

It's raining today so we don't have to collect water, but as soon as it dries out, the condensation will do its job.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Ways to Beat the Heat I

Way Number 1: Take your breakfast to the park.

This couple were reading the weekend papers early the other Saturday morning, and I was charmed at the idea of  escaping the heat of your apartment to eat outside.

They were there again this morning  at 7:30 a.m., hidden a bit behind a tree from those who might be jogging around the park.  A little later in the day, the place will be overflowing with kids from day cares and day camps, but at that moment all was pleasant and still cool.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Saturday Photo: A Pile of Wood

Lee, after more than a year of post-fire tribulations, is back in business as a furniture maker.  He had to spend 8 months away from his work shop while the house was repaired, and the following months were busy with redoing what had been done poorly.

He still has a number of mainteance projects underway, but he has been able lately to turn his attention a bit toward his great love: fine furniture.  He finished up benches that had been in the works when the fire happened, and now has gone on to planning a chest of drawers/changing table for Lukas and Sophie's baby, due in early September.

He made one in yellow birch for Jeanne, which has been most useful and is also extremely lovely.  Sophie and Lukas chose cherry wood, and that is what you see in the photo, taken last March when it was sitting the basement, acclimatizing.  Now, after a couple of weeks of planing, he's got the sides ready level and ready to glue up.  Progress is being made, thanks goodness!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Cicadas Are Back, Summer Is Really Here

I heard the first cicadas on Sunday--just one,  tentative buzz.  But by now the buzzing begins in the early morning and continues through the heat of the day.

One of the sounds of summer...

Okay, So I Succumbed to the Social Media Business

Goodreads finally caught up with me, and so I've joined.  One of the things they have is book giveaways, so here's one for my novel about people who make mistakes and then have to live with them.  The background is the beach, specifically Ocean Beach in San Diego, which is where I spent a lot of my time growing up. 

But don't take my word for it: here's what Jacqueline Turner of The Georgia Straight said: "This is a thoughtful book, one with a mysterious plot and a dramatic twist. Perfect reading for any beach."

If you'd like to join the giveaway, here's the link.  Or you can buy the Kindle version directly from  Amazon.com.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Quebec Going to the Polls in Early September, It Looks Like

The rumor mills are buzzing with the news that Jean Charest's Liberals are going to call an election for Sept. 4 or Sept. 10.  Which makes it quite apparent that he is planning to make student protests of tuition fee hikes a major element in the campaign.

The draconian Law 78, passed to cool things off in May, put off the continuation of the winter term in 14 cegeps and several university departments until the middle of August.  Today one of the student groups has begun a tour of the province (with a sortie into Ontario) to rally the troops.

This sets things up for some pretty hot August days when students are supposed to be back in school (according to the govenrment) but student groups are in the streets, continuing unfinished business from the Printemps érable.

This is in line with what I've been expecting all along: why else let a rather simple conflict fster and grow unless you want to make political hay from it?  Charest doesn't want social peace, he wants social subjugation.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Death of Wisdom Comes When You Refuse to Look for the Truth: More Harper

Yesterday Canadian scientists protested the cuts to scientific research included in the recently passed omnibus budget.  Facebook was full of "shares" of this photo and others similar showing scientists and their colleagues "burying" research and truth. 

Their protest got some good press, but that didn't stop the news this morning that the federal government will be financing research into the health effects of windmills as electrical power generators.  The anti-wind power  advocates are delighted, and so, I imagine, are all the fossil fuel folk.   Studies into the  health effects of oil sands and other fossil fuel exploitation projects haven't got the same kind of support lately, to say the least.

And, as the scientists said yesterday, if you don't study something you don't have the facts to make decisions...

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Draft Again? The New York Times Suggests It Might Be a Good Thing

In an op ed piece in The New York Times today, Thomas E. Ricks says: Let's Draft Our Kids.  He writes;

"In late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

"This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system."

Very interesting proposition, particularly since the major reason the US quit the draft system was because Main Street was affected by it, prompting massive protests over the War in Vietnam.  I thought that argument was over, particularly since so much of the jobs formerly done by grunts are now done by contract workers with the profits spread around quite cozily. 

But maybe it will be open again, which might be a very good idea.  As Ricks ends his essay: maybe "having a draft might, as General McChrystal said, make Americans think more carefully before going to war. Imagine the savings — in blood, tears and national treasure — if we had thought twice about whether we really wanted to invade Iraq"

Monday, 9 July 2012

O Povo Formidável: The Portuguese Continue to Make Waves

Two very interesting things coming out of the Portuguese connection. The first is the Portuguese Sundays being held on Montreal's St. Lawrence Main for several Sunday this summer.  Music, dance, poetry: should like a lovely way to spend the end of a summer afternoon.  I didn't make yesteday's which was the first, but I certainly will try to get there in the future.

The second is not new, apparently.  According to YouTube it was first posted 8 or 10 months ago, when all financial eyes were turned toward Portugal and its debt.  The video--which would appear to have been aimed at an upscale, foreign audience--demonstrates the creativity and strength of character that I admire in the Portuguese and the Lusophone world in general.  They are formidável!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Saturday Photo: The Loveliest Flowers in the World

Just got back from delivering Jeanne and Elin home after a shower for Sophie and baby Thomas (not to mention Lukas.) 

It was delightful to see how Sophie's friends wanted to help out with a party and material aids.  Also nice to realize that a good portion of the gifts were recyled or re-purposed. Foir example, one was a booster chair that had been passed on to a young woman without kids, who thought Sophie might like it.  Since Thomas is not due before early September, several months will elapse before he's ready to use anything like it, but one of Sophie's friends has a 20 month old girl who can use it right now.  So an exchange was made on the spot, and the Parent Underground continues.

Needless to say, Jeanne had great fun with all the attebtion.  Among the guests were two very small babies (two weeks and three months) whose mothers allowed Jeanne to kiss.  Grandmaman Andrée and Grandpapa Marc (Sophie's parents) were also patiently indulgent with their future grandson's cousin.

Then I took them home to be greeted by the gernaiums that Elin and Emmanuel's landlords display so warmly on the front steps.  They are Italian, and I grew up in California, and the love of these brilliant flowers from South Africa unites us.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Ying Jia:" Success" of a Chinese Couple As Owners of a Depanneur

Great  reportage on the life of a corner store owner in Quebec, done by the National Film Board and Le Devoir.  Check it out: part in English, mostly in French, but its a story about the immigrant experience tht goes beyond language.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Words of Wisdom? I Think Not

Somebody posted a variation of this on Facebook recently, and I'm back to musing about just how destructive this bit of "wisdom" is. 

I have always thought Yoda is saying here that unless you are sure to succeed, don't bother to try.  That, I am absolutely sure, is very bad advice.  Failing is not a bad thing, if you learn something from it.  The trick is not to give up.

Our Lukas says the quote means that you must put everything you have into your efforts so you won't be doing a simple, wishy-washy "try."  I've got no problem with all-out effort (most of the time, there is a great deal to be said about choosing your battles) but I would hate to think that George Lucas was counselling the safe way--only undertaking battles that you know you'll win.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Happy Fourth of July in a New Era: Even the DAR Has Changed

The face of the United States is changing, no one can deny that. Recent census figures show that more than half the babies born in the US are non-Hispanic whites, a situation which is going to much impact on the country's future. 

But things are also changing within some institutions that have been around for a long while, that, indeed, go back to the founding of the country. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) has just inaugarated a new chapter where the majority of members of non-white. 

That's an enormous change from 1939 when the DAR barred contralto Marian Anderson from appearing in Constitution Hall.  The veto prompted the First Lady of the time, Eleanor Roosevelt, to resign. In response Ms. Anderson gave a grand concert at the Lincoln Memorial

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Want to Know What I Think I Do for Living? Canada Writes Asks Me Some Questions

Earlier this year I spent a slew of evenings reading entries in the Canada Writes non-fiction competition.  Very interesting, with some sterling entries in the lot I was given.  (There were ten of us in the first round of reading, with a hand off to a smaller group who will pick the winners.)

So if you want to know more about me and Canada Writes, check this out.

Ten Days of Patriot Love: June 24 to July 1

Like to see anybody in the US of A take on "Oh Say Can You See" in the same spirit

And if you're feeling beaten by the heat, here's the Quebec "hymne nationale," mon pays, ce n'est pays, c'est l'hiver" (my country isn't a country, it's the winter."

Monday, 2 July 2012

M. Aimé Lafleur and His Hens: an Adventure in Urban Agriculture

Jeanne and I have checked out an urban henhouse the last couple of Saturdays, and today I went by to take a few pictures. It's in the heart of Piccola Italia, or Little Italy. right next to a community center that was formerly a church.  She's been somewhat interested in the birds, although the swings and slides in the nearby playground have been more of an attraction. 

But I wanted to learn more, and luckily I met the man in charge, Monsieur Aimé Lafleur (not his real name, but a nom de poulailler that means something like "Likes Flowers")  He tends to the three Chantecler hens (a white heritage breed developed in Quebec) and two red-brown ones whose breed I don't know.

The birds are a great way to show neighborhood children where their food comes from, and indeed they get to help take care of them.  M. Lafleur does the cleaning, feeding, watering and tending three times a day, but the kids, including some little ones from the day care centre next door, take a lot of responsiblity.

The project is in its fourth year: the hen house is constructed snugly enough that the Chanteclers can stay there until temperatures reach near the place where Fahrenheit and Celsuis come together, around minus 20.  To be on the safe side, though, the hens spend part of the winter in the barn of a retired farmer outside Montreal.

M. Lafleur also runs two community gardens and a project which collects left over food once a week from the Jean Talon Market, just a few blocks away.  The idea is to improve available food and eating habits for the folks in the neighborhood.

There will be an open house for neighborhood kids in the next few weeks: "Bring your granddaughter over," he told me. 

Sure will...