Friday 31 August 2012

One Election Winds Down, Another Heats up

We're going to the polls on Tuesday in Quebec.  Here's a nice little video made by cinema wunderkind Xavier Dolan, urging people to vote.

VOTE QC 2012 1/2 from SonsofManual on Vimeo.

And here's something about Mitt Romney that is hilarious (aren't most things? )

Thursday 30 August 2012

Want to Make Waves....

Don't forget: today's the last day to enter the Goodreads Giveaway of two copies of my book Making Waves: The Continuing Portuguese Adventure

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Putting Out Fires Because Music Can Be Too Hot: A Tale of Free Pianos and Carelessness with Fire

Much to-do this morning about two decorated pianos installed on Montreal corners for the month of September to provide a place for impromptu music.  Great idea, even if not totally original: Toronto had 41 during July, and apparently artist Luke Jerram has inspired a couple of dozen other cities to try the idea: Play Me, I'm Yours.

Mike Kowalsky who posted the photo on the left to Facebook notes that the piano at the corner of St. Viateur and Casgrain is painted with flora and fauna found in the nearby Champ des possibles, a former industrial space/parking lot owned by the city of Montreal and now gone to glorious abandon.  Another great idea.

But just a few hours before that piano was inaugarated I had an experience in the Champ which is troubling.  While out walking I came upon a big tree trunk burning in the Champ, apparently the remnants of a campfire of the night previous.  With the aid of a young man cutting across the field on his way to work in one of the lofts in the nearby transformed light industrial buildings, I was able to turn it over so that the burning surface faced the ground.  Then I was able to cover it with dirt and gravel.  Stopped by the firehouse on the way back, just to let them know so they could check to see if the first was indeed extinguished.

Okay, camp fires are nice, and wild places in the center of the city are even nicer, but to keep them EVERYONE has to be careful of them.  This summer has been hot and dry, and even if it rained a bit the night before, it's quite possible that left undisturbed, the fire inthe trunk could have smoldered for hours or even days before bursting into flame.

Hey guys, be careful when you play with matches--and with the commons that we would all like to protect!

BTW. the second photo is of the piano on St. Denis and Marie-Anne, a much more urban setting.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

And We Think We Have Animals in Our Backyards..

The racoons ranging in our backyards seem to have disappeared--or maybe they just figured out how to get out of trash cans and so don't make so much noise.  Whatever, we haven't been bothered by their shrill cries for the last few weeks.

But I just checked back to see the variety of pictures that readers of The New York Times have posted about the wildlife that comes to visit.   Cynthia Williams reports: "Thiss little red fox lives in the wooded area by our home near Minneapolis. He seems to be very comfortable sitting on our back step while we run for our camera."

Monday 27 August 2012

The Case of the Missing Ducklings

For the last several summers we've watched with pleasure as ducks raise ducklings in at least one of our neighborhood parks.  This photo was taken two years ago when it appeared that two couples had a total of 16 offspring between them.

But this year we spied one couple early in the summer in the park, but they seemed either not to next, or not to hatch babies. 

That's why we were very pleased when Lee spied two families last week gliding around the ponds, looking very happy.

This morning they weren't there, or in any other nearby park.  Perhaps they had been just passing through on their way somewhere else.  I'd like to think that their stop meant that the parents were showing the young ones possible places to nest next year.

But who knows?  And who knows why no ducks were successful in nesting there this year?  We have had an explosion of the racoon population, and I wonder if the greedy beasts might have feasted on the eggs before they hatched. 

Tha balance of nature is a tricky thing, as we are learning as the climate changes.

Saturday 25 August 2012

Saturday Photo: Urban Agriculture

There's been a lot about urban agriculture in the press around here lately.  Hard to tell just how much impact the movement to grow your own food in the city is having, but it's clear that many people have long cultivated their own little gardens in the center of Montreal.

This summer has been excellent for growing things, provided you have access to wter.  This garden in the back of a triplex was doing well when I took the picture a couple of weeks ago, and now has many goodies ready to harvest.

We had a few pears that I saved from the squirrels, but since I don't have hoses installed under the two trees at the back of our 25 by 100 foot lot and they suffered before I realized that they needed some extra help.  Last night I cut a few up for a fruit salad, and while they were a welcome addition, they didn't match the marvelous taste of this year's Ontario peaches.

Friday 24 August 2012

Celebrating Birthdays Today!!!

Lukas's birthday was Wednesday, Jeanne's will be Sunday, so we're having the gang (11 of them, counting Jeanne)  over for barbecued leg of lamb and other good things this evening.

It'll be Lukas who'll be doing the barbecue honours: his idea, I assured the butcher who butterflied the gigot for me.  But there's a lot of other things to do, so I'll not be posting anything more profound than this.  Carpe diem!

Thursday 23 August 2012

Let's Hear It for Montreal: Two Articles Laud My Favourite City

Montrealers have been beating up the city for the last little while: crumbling infrastructure, too much road repairs/reconstruction, doubtful influences in contract awards etc.  So it is refeshing to come across two stories on successive days which laud the city.

The first is from a well-read blog on urbanism, Placeshakers and Newsmakers.  In it Hazel Borys calls Montreal a place where lessons in urbanism are delightfully on display. She winds up: "..our 7-year-old enjoyed the shows (about Star Wars and the Biodome,) however at the end of the day, preferred riding the Metro and bus system and walking the streets, along with the visit to Saint-Joseph du Mount Royal. Just as with the urbanism, the bells and whistles are rarely as valued as much as the permanence. Even if you’re seven."

The second is rather old news: a story in The New York Times from last November about "Hip Cities That think about How They Work."  The selection was eclectic to say the least: Aukland, Berlin, Barcelona, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Curitiba, Santiago, Shanghai, and Vilnius, Latvia, besides Montreal. 

So there you go: it's a city that we didn't set out to move to really. We came because Lee got  a three year contract Lee, because, well, why not?   But that was in 1968 and we've never seriously considered living any place else.

Photo: Mount Royal in June.

Wednesday 22 August 2012

ERDC Committee to Plan Payout to Gazette Freelancers

The Electronic Rights Defence Committee is beginning discussions about how to distribute the money and stock it received on behalf of freelancers who wrote for The Gazette of Montreal from Postmedia and other defendants in a class action.  

A committee has been formed to consider how to distribute the proceeds. Because the cash value of the stock is much less than it was a year ago the executive instructed the committee to make a simple plan that will cut down on administration costs. Specifically, the committee is charged to use the following parameters:

a) The plan is to be based on considering all claimants as one group.
b) It will consider the distribution of shares among claimants.
c) It will propose minimum and maximum amounts in the payout per claimant.

The committee, currently composed of David Homel (class representative), Mary Soderstrom (ERDC president) and Stephanie O’Hanley (ERDC executive member at large), is to prepare a proposal by mid-October. ERDC members who would like to join the committee or who have suggestions for it should contact the ERDC through secretary Jack Ruttan at or me at

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Sad Day for Truth: Ideology Doesn't Cut It if You Don't Check the Facts

It used to be said that the first casualty of war was the truth. Now, unfortunately, truth seems to be completely forgotten in any sort of skirmish.

 The latest example is the cover story by Niall Ferguson in Newsweek (and I'm not going to give the link here because it doesn't deserve it) which says that the US needs a new president, and that Barak Obama has not kept his promises as president.

Certainly, Obama hasn't done all the things he said he'd do--think of closing down the prison at Guantanamo--and he can be legitimately criticized for that. But in many cases he was blocked ever step of the way by Republicans in Congress and by fear of the Right Wing out side of it. He tried to conciliat and you just can't do that with ideologues.

 But Ferguson's article and the prominence that Newsweek and The Daily Beast have given it are entirely different. The facts were wrong and Newsweek didn't check them.  "We, like other news organisations today, rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material," Newsweek spokesman Andrew Kirk told the website Politico.

That's the same kind of uncritical, self-serving thinking that led that sorry excuse for  a Congressman.  Todd Akin, to say that raped women have mechanisms in their body that can stop pregnancy.  Absolutely absurd.

The quote, by the way, is John 8:32.  Some Christians would have it the truth being talked about here is the Gospel.  But they're probably the ones who don't like the idea that Jesus might have been a poor, long-haired, Socialist, dark-skinned Jew.

Monday 20 August 2012

Eid al Fitr in Quebec and Saudi Arabia: Reports from Iles de Boucherville and the NY Times

Had a lovely picnic yesterday on the Iles de Boucherville with the extended Soderstrom and Lizée families: 10 adults and four kids with one on the way.  Nice to get together outside and play a bit.

We were far from the only ones.  The park in the middle of the St. Lawrence is always popular for its good picnicking, acces to kayaking and great bicyle and walking trails.  But yesterday was also the day when Muslims around the world broke the Ramadan month of fasting with celebrations.  The picnic ground was full of groups of families and friends barbecuing delicious-smelling things and feasting in the afternoon sun.

During the holy month, devout and not-so-devout Muslims fast during daylight hours, which always seemed to me to be an immense sacrfice when the month cycles into summer in northern latitudes.  But it seems that in many places, the evenings are filled with fun.  This story in The New York Times details how conservative Saudi Arabian television puts on its most engaging programs for audiences who spend the evenings at home during Ramadan.  Here's an  interesting look at what's considered risqué.  (Hint: a 31 episode drama about one of the Prophet's most illustrious follow, Omar.
And then there's the Arabian-Bollywood series, Hindistani. Popular culture is everywhere!

Saturday 18 August 2012

Saturday Photo: The Unyielding Clamour of the Morning

One of my favourite novels by a Canadian writer is Neil Bissonndath's The Unyielding Clamour of the Night, an imagined story of terrorism and dedication in a country not unlike Sri Lanka. 

The title always seemed to me unfelicitous, however, until I began thinking about how Bissonndath wrote the book.  A native of Trinidad, he knows first hand tropical climates, although  he's lived in Quebec for decades. He says he began writing the book sitting in a park on a snowy winter day.  Seemed terribly incongrous, until it occurred to me that one of the things about this climate is that it changes completely from season to season. 

In Bissonndath's story the chorus of insects at night is a comforting sound, which disappears when the country is in conflict.  A hallmark of Quebec summer is also a wild music made by insects--cicadas, crickets and probably others I don't know about.  You don't find it where the ecological balance has been upset, just where nature has had a chance to reassert itself. 

 I'm pleased to report that this morning over in the marvelous "vacant lot" which is the Champs des possibles, the clamour was truly deafening.  In addition, many orange butterflies (Monarchs?) floated up as I passed on the path running through clouds of wild clover, chicory and golden yarrow. 

These plants, you may notice, are all ones introduced into North America, and considered invasive by some.  But they can mark  a stage toward redemption of the land.  Would that other invasive species, humans, did as much!

One last thing: there will be a nature walk focused on insects at the Champs this afternoon, beginning at 1 p.m.

Friday 17 August 2012

Serendipity: A Video That Fits My Frame of Mind

These days I'm toggling back and forth between working on the short story collection Desire Lines and the first stages of a new non-fiction book called  Road through Time

The first has three short stories that deal in one way or another with the forces of the earth: click here for the only one published so far: "Open Window" which came out in the July 2004 issue of Maisconneuve. The latter is going to be about time and the tracks humans have made on the earth over time.  Just where I'm going I'm not sure, but it will consider our short time references against those of this planet (and maybe of the universe, but let's not get pretentious.

My friend Monique Hamelin sent me the link to the following video this morning, and it seems to fall right in with my reflections.  Perhaps it will with yours too.

Thursday 16 August 2012

The Following Is Completely Unsolicited. Centre du Rasoir is Terrific

Let's hear it for the Centre du rasoir and Sunbeam/Osterizer.  In these days of instant obsalesence how heartening it is to be able to replace a part for an appliance that is nearly 40 years old!

I bought a Sunbeam blender sometime in the early 1970s which has worked wonderfully ever since.  For a time, however, it was hard to get the little rubber gaskets that go in the bottom of the mixing container, but then I discoverd that the shop on Phillips Square in downtown Montreal always had them, as well as many other small appliances and accessories.  Because of the store personnel's courtesy and the efforts made to find what I wanted, I've gone back frequently and was pleased to see that the enterprise has expanded into a small chain. (It's called Personal Edge in Ontario.)

Last week I dropped a heavy glass on the blender's mixing container and cracked ia big chip out of the top.  Not expecting too much since the blender is so old, I went to the Centre du rasoir in the Montreal Trust shops to see if they could order a replacement for me.  No, they had nothing in stock, but, yes, they could get one.  Might take two or three weeks, the clerk said: "they might have to order from China, you never know"

But last night the clerk called.  The part was in, and I'm back in business thanks to this small business that should be encouraged, I think.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Julia Child at 100: Let's Not Forget Elizabeth David and MFK Fischer Either

Even Google got in the act this morning with a cartoon of our Julia, cooking away.  It would be  Julia Child's 100 birthday today, and the cooking and eating world are celebrating this wonderfully eccentric American French chef.  Sometime in the 1960s I acquired Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, and I suspect that not a week has gone by that I haven't used one of its recipes.

Note that I say, that I don't use the book, because many of its recipes are engrained in my brain I made them so often.  Last week it was her bouillabaise, this week I suspect it will be her mayonnaise.  Probably it's a good thing that I don't have to haul the book out everytime because it is falling apart:  after the fire when our books were returned cleaned and dustered, the insurance company obviously bowed to the inevitable and put it in a large plastic Ziplock bag to keep it together.

But while we're talking cooking I'd like to mention two other early food writers:  the Ameican M.F.K. Fisher and the Brit Elizabeth David.  The former was four years older than Julia, the latter a year younger (her centenary comes next year.)  Both of them introduced the best of European cuisine to their compatriots: David wrote about olive oil when it was impossible to find in most of the UK except in pharmacies. 

Food pleases throughout life, no matter what the status of one's sentimental or economic situation.  Preparing food is creative: there were years when, struggling to write, the only completed creation I accomplished was a good meal.  Offering food is the quintessentially human gift too.   

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Fifty Years Later the Girl from Ipanema Still Rocks

One of the greatest songs of the 20th century turns 50 right about now. Given that Rio will host the 2014 World Cup of Soccer and the 2016 Olympics, it's a good time to revisit the song about the tall, tan and lovely girl on the famous Rio beach. This version was recorded 20 years ago, when the song turned 30.

Monday 13 August 2012

From the Book Front: Big Auction of Larry McMurtry's Books and the Future of Used Books

"Wanted Dead or Alive: Used Books" was the headline in The New York Times  story about a huge auction of some 300,000 books.  Larry McMurtry, the best selling novelist of stories set in the Southwest, had started a used book business in 1988 in Archer City, Texas, his hometown.  The story had grown to four buildings, and he, at 76, had decided to  get rid of a part of the stock in order to make it manageable for his heirs. 

The Times interviewed a number of the used book lovers and -store owners who'd come to the auction, some of them with the back seats stripped out of their cars so they could carry back their stock.  There is a future in used books, they proclaimed, even in this day of the e-book.

Certainly, on-line used book sellers (I particularly like have made finding used books much easier: I use them frequently to ferret out stuff I need for my various projects and which libraries around here don't have.  But also if printed books become rarer, their value is likely to increase.  Maybe our kids and grandkids will thank us for hanging on to them.

Or that's a good excuse for doing so, anyway....

Sunday 12 August 2012

Love Story: American Style: Medical Bills Leave No Money for Wedding

In the picture in the New York Times today, the couple are taking a turn around the ballroom as their wedding.  They look a little worn, but obviously happy.  Good for them, you might say, until she see that the man is trailing around an oxygen canister.

The story is about Michael Olexa and Angela Sclafani who were married Aug. 2 just before he was rushed back to the hospital as his terminal cancer bit again.  Apparently he's still there, hooked up to a ventilator.

Nice story, eh?  But the real kicker is the fact that the couple couldn't afford a wedding party because all theri money was going to pay his medical bills.  Both working class, they didn'tt have much health insurance, and now he's unemployed and she's been forced to take a step-down job.    The wedding was financed by some foundation that pays for parties for terminally ill lovers.

In Canada, it's quite possible that a couple in similar circumstances wouldn't have the cash to get married in style but at least they wouldn't have to worry about medical bills.  Our single payer system is precious and supports all parts of our lives, including our love lifes.

Saturday 11 August 2012

Winners in the Great Goodreads After Surfing Ocean Beach Giveaway

Congratulations to Juan of San Diego, Sarah of Colorado Springs CO and Vicki of El Dorado, KS who were picked by Goodreads from the 558 entries to receive copies of my novel After Surfing Ocean Beach (Dundurn Press.) The books will go in the mail on Monday.

And I think we'll do another Goodreads Giveaway soon, this one of my most recent book Making Waves: The Continuing Portuguese Adventure (Véhicule Press). Até logo!

Saturday Photo: Rain, Reflections and Random Beauty

After weeks of hot, clear weather, we've had a few days of rain.  This weekend, in fact, is the first this summer to be wet.  Heaven knows we need it!

There are many good things about this kind of weather.  One of them is the chance for reflections that double the glory of green.

Friday 10 August 2012

The Internet Produces More Reliable Poll Results Than Telephoning

Great story today in Le Devoir about voting intention surveys by internet.  I've spent more time than I would like to admit calling voters during elections, and I know that the universe of people who have land lines is shrinking.  What effect that has on reaching voters and guaging their voting intentions is something I've been musing about.

So have survey companies, with more and more of them going to internet surveys.  Isn't it harder to get a good sample that way?  Not really, it seems.  The most accurate  survey prediction during the 2011 federal election came from Léger Marketing who used panels of Internet respondants, supplemented by telephone calls.  It currently has a panel of 400,000 Internet users across Canada who are panelists, of which 185,000 are in Quebec. 

President Jean-Marc Léger notes that as many people are hooked up to the Internet as have land lines (85 per cent.)  He asserts that it is easier to reach the young, elderly and poor by Internet than it is to do so by telephone.

This doesn't mean that a high speed connection is what is going to make the difference in future elections, but it does mean that there are ways of finding out what people think, in the aggregate, besides the telephone.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Sisters of Charity and Other Things: Nuns on the Firing LIne

One of my prouder moments came during my trip to Africa in 2001 when I was out walking on morning in the West Usambara mountains.  I'd left the lodge where I was staying armed with maps and a general idea of just looking around.  There was a school and a maternity hospital two small valleys away, I was told, and so I thought, great!  I'll see kids on their way to class and I'll get an idea of what health care in rural Tanzania is like.

The youngsters had a lot of questions for this  white face, the mzungu, and collaborated to come up with the right way to ask a question in English: where was I from? did I have children? would I give them 100,000 shillings (this last to peals of laughter at the absurdity of the request, which wasn't begging but sheer cheekiness.)

I expected that sort of thing because kids elsewhere had asked me similar questions.  What did give me pause was the man I encountered a little past the turn off to the school.  "Jambo, Sister," he said with a big smile.

"Jambo" is a greeting, I knew.  But the "Sister" business puzzled me until I made it to the hospital.  There I discovered neat and tidy buildings and a couple of signs indicating that Irish nuns were in charge here.  Since one glance at me suggested that I was from the same gene pool as they were--blues eyes, red hair, fair and freckled skin--the most reasonable thing to assume ws that I too was a nursing sister.

Tanzania at that time had relatively good maternal and infant mortality rates, in part because of these nuns and others who worked hard off the beaten path to provide safe deliveries for thousands of women.  Tough ladies, doing good work.

I've been thinking of them in the last few weeks as Pope Benedict XVI tries to clamp down on North American nuns and their strong, principled positions on a number of issues.  The discussions they are in the midst of is as important to the future of religion, feminism and social service as was the great opening of Catholicism after Vatican II to the modernization of the Church..

You go, Sisters!

Photo: the West Usambara Mountains of Tanzania. That's not fog you see but smoke from fires set to clear land.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

More Friends from Out of Town: A Flash from the Fresno Past

Summer is the time when people travel and we've just enjoyed a visit from old friends of Lee's from his youth in Fresno.

There was much talked about the class of 1960 at high schools there, and stories about what has happened since then. Made me think of American Graffiti, the great film by George Lucas, only two years younger and from Modesto, just a little way up Highway 99.

This is what it was like back then, kiddies.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

That Strange Thing Crying? It's a Racoon, Or Why Messing with the Food Chain Presents Problems

We've been bothered by a family of racoons--count 'em, one adult and six young ones--for the last several weeks. They cry at night, they get caught in garbage cans, they generally are a nuisance.

Both the city and the SPCA say that caging and transorting them is neither practical or a permanent solution, that people have just got to stop leaving food out for them, or, worse, feeding them directly.

La Presse had a story on the weekend about obese racoons on Mount Royal, while this video shows a family not at all concerned by tourists taking their pictures. As one of my neighbors (who spent a Saturday night vigil with me, rescuing the beasts from trash cans) points out, they have no predators around here any more, so they just keep multiplying in Malthusian fashion as long as the pickings are good.

There's a lesson there for everyone, I think.

Monday 6 August 2012

Will Twits Make a Difference in the Quebec Election?

Much talk these days about what impact Twitter and Facebook will have on elections.  Since last Wednesday Quebec has been in provincial campaign mode, with everything being analyzed right and left (and center, too). 

Tweets and Facebook also played an important role in passing the message about anti-tuition hike demonstrations earlier this yeara.  Will comments in the Twittersphere make a difference in engaging young people this election?  Who knows?  Certainly Twitter can be dangerous.  The leader of the terribly named Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec (CAQ, and it sounds as bad in French as it does in English) has already got into hot water with his tweets.  His remark that girls put less importance on wages then boys do is a classic.

These social media are a bit like an echo chamber, though: comments on them go around and around and can end up being amplified to deafening levels among those who are listening.  The audience is circumscribed though.  Those outside the circle only hear a faint roar when commentators on more traditional media mention them.

Certainly so far none of the political parties seem ready to put aside posters and ads on radio and television.  And who can judge what winds blow through the spirits of voters?  The Orange Wave of the 2011 federal election was not accompanied by a lot of social media action, yet some pretty major changes went on in voters' intentions.

À suivre, as they say around here.

Saturday 4 August 2012

Saturday Photo: Drought, But Great Produce

Lot of talk about drought this summer, and certainly the photos of drying fields are enough to make one weep.  But for food-lovers there is an up side: flavour.

The early Quebec strawberries were the best I've ever eaten, the raspberries have been good too.  But the Ontario peaches take the cake.  Because of the heat and sun, the sugar content is very high so their taste is terrific.

The photo is of Bala's fruiterie on Park Avenue early in the morning before the shoppers arrive. In one block there are three green groceries and a standard grocer store, all of which at the moment have a wealth of great things to eat, much of them locally grown.

Friday 3 August 2012

Well, I Always Say I Feel 35 When I'm not Feeling 19

Congratuations to Braydon Beaulieu of Essex who just won the Litpop 2012 contest for fiction!

But I must add that I was on the short list, as M.S. McGowan (the name I was born with ) and I'm feeling pretty good about making that illustrious group whose demographic is more like that of my kida,'
The story si called "The Ugly Baby" and now I 'll have to find another home for it.  It's parat of the collection Desire Lines: A Geography of Love  that I've been working on for the last year.

Thursday 2 August 2012

An Interesting Blog about Canadian Literature

It never hurts to post about oneself on Facebook, I guess. If Fred Stenson hadn't, I never would have stumbled upon his very interesting blog about Canadian literature,  Along with Susan Olding's Proved on Pulses it is a great way to keep abreast of what is happening in around here.

That is good because the book sections in ordinary newspapers have practically disappeared. 

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Pause for a Little Refeshment...

Lunch for a friend's birthday at noon, out of town guests this afternoon.  Much fun, but no time to blog.  See you tomorrow!