Sunday, 27 December 2015

Saturday Photo: A Little Snow for the After Party

We barbecued on Christmas Eve and went to the park with the kids on Christmas Day, but on Sunday, December 27 it actually snowed. 

Nice to to see the ground white.  Seems more normal.  But unless things get a lot colder, we're not likely to have a White New Year's.

Stand by, I'll keep you informed.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Saturday Photo: Melting Snow, or No Snow at All

The photo was taken in March when the snow was melting, but this year it looks like there may be no snow at all.

After a bit in October, we've had buckets of precipitation, but all of it fell as rain. Things are rather grey, as you might imagine.

If you'd like more about my thoughts on climate change and the world in general (plus some cheerfulness too), check out my holiday blog here

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Saturday Photo: Red Flowers....

Just a bit of colour for a grey day.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Saturday Photo: Holly, No Ivy, No Snow

Don't know where this photo came from.  Since holly doesn't survive in this climate, I doubt if I took it here.  Nevertheless it currently is my computer wallpaper, and I think it's a great shot for the beginning of December.

A December that is unusually mild, I might add.  Perhaps it is appropriate that the bigwigs in Paris are talking climate change with a certain amount of seriousness.  If the trend continues, we may have very few white Christmases in the future, although in the past Montreal has almost always had them.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Saturday Photo: Ice, Leaves, End of November, Climate Change

Walked up in the cemetery this morning where the ground was white, either from a heavy frost or the little snow that fell on Friday night.  Hard to tell, but it certainly was pretty.

Much talk about the climate change conference in Paris this week.  It's all to the good, would hate to have winter without snow.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Saturday Photo: Fall Bikes...

Bixi is closing down for the year.  Riding conditions continue to be good, but in Montreal the bike-share service doesn't run from about the middle of November until early April.  The opening date varies a bit from year to year, depending on snow conditions, but the ending date is relatively fixed.

I presume that's because we all know that winter can swoop down on us at any moment.  The big storm which apparently has bothered Chicago this weekend is tracking to the south of us so far, it's a rare year when we don't have some accumulation before early December.  Five years ago, when the house next to us burned and we suffered a lot of smoke damage, the bad weather held off until December 6 or 7.  Two years ago when I came back from South America Dec. 1, the first snow was piled at the edge of sidewalks.

Riding bikes in weather like that is crazy, I think, and I guess the Bixi folks think so too.  Time to turn back to the buses and your feet for transport, and to hockey for exercise?

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Saturday Photo: I Love Paris

The savage attacks in Paris last night are echoing around the world.  So it seems they were the result of twisted extremist thinking?

Probably, and the great question is how to counter that wicked distortion of Islam.  While I--and many, many others--reflect on that, I offer this photo taken in June 2014 in the Parc Vincennes.  Lovely day, peaceful crowds, faces from all corners of the globe.  That is the Paris I love.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Saturday Photo: The Excellent Adventure

This week I finished the revisions on Road through Time, and sent it off to the University of Regina Press which will publish it in Spring 2017.  The book, about roads as vectors of change and exchange, now has a subtitle: The Story of Humanity on the Move.   I hadn't given it one before because when I started writing I wasn't quite sure where I was going.

Now I know.

It begins with a trip my mother, my younger sister and I took in the mid-1950s from San Diego CA to Walla Walla WA. (The photo is of Laurie and me at about that time.)  It ends with the trip to South America I took two years ago, travelling a newly opened highway across the Andes from Peru to Brazil.  In between I explore where humans have wandered from the time our ancestors stood up through the Great Expansion out of Africa to the Age of the Automobile.

The book will be illustrated with some photos I've taken, some archival images and, I hope, this snapshot of two girls near the beginning of their respective journeys through life.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Last Call for Our Medicare System: Are You Listening, Justin?

An excellent piece in Thursday's Toronto Star about what is happening in Quebec to our system of supposedly universal health care. This should be a wake-up call for the entire country.  It's up to Justin and company to come to the rescue.  He said "we're back" to the world.  Now he needs to go back to the Liberal attitude toward health care that saw Liberal governments in 1957, 1966 and 1984 put in place an excellent system.

Everyone concerned about health care should write his or her MP!

From the story:

"Quebec is likely to be the first province to slip out of the Canadian medicare scheme. In fact, at present, Quebec’s health care laws and practices do not respect the principles set out in the Canada Health Act. The only hope the people of Quebec have to benefit from a universal, free and comprehensive healthcare system in the future is a strong and swift intervention by the new Trudeau government.

"During the past decade, the core principle of medicare – that medically necessary care should be universally covered and free of charge (paid for by public funds) – has gradually eroded in Quebec. The process has been a slow but steady sum of small legislative changes that have benefitted practitioners (and profits) over patients, government tolerance for grey-zone billing practices and impressive fee-charging creativity from medical entrepreneurs."

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Saturday Photo: Halloween...

Spent Wednesday afternoon making pumpkins with Jeanne.  It's very nice to have grandchildren since you have license to do all the artsy-craftsy things that you are supposedly too old to do.

Now back to work on Road through Time.  The completed manuscript is promised for the University of Regina Press on Monday.  Almost got it done!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Saturday Photo: Burning Bush, Montreal Style

Justin Trudeau started out his stint as PM by telling the world on behalf of 35 million Canadians: "We're back!"

Those were good words to hear after nearly ten years of Harperite stupidity.  Can't imagine that JT will deliver on half of his promises, but there have been moments this last week when I could dream we were headed for a promised land.

This lovely shrub, whose name I don't know, is at its height right now, and it would be nice to think it was a Sign!  Not very likely, but hope is a good thing...

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

They Ran from the Left, Will They Govern from the Right?

Canadians' basic decency won yesterday, with the decisive defeat of Stephen Harper's politics of fear and hate.  Thank goodness!

Now, however, Justin Trudeau's Liberals will have to hold to their promises to invest in infrastructure, run deficits and amend the terrible C-51 anti-terrorism law.  As often happens with the Liberals, they ran from the left. It remains to be seen if they govern from there.

The NDP is going to have to do some real soul searching about where they're going and who is their leader.  This time around I, a long NDP militant,  effectively sat on my hands.  Oh, I raised several thousand bucks for various candidates, but that's it, even though Mulcair is my MP and I was chair of his riding association back in 2010-2012.  The party on his watch as moved right, espousing dubious economic policies--he doesn't seem to realize that deficit spending should often be viewed as investment in the future--and not standing up for programs that really matter.  When it comes to the cornerstone of the NDP heritage, he made some noises near the end about  protecting the Canada Health Act which guarantees universal health care with penalties for provinces who allow extra billing. but that's about it.

Mulcair is said to be going to spend the day recuperating.  Good.  So should the folks behind this crushing defeat for him and the party.  Some changes are in order.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Saturday Photo: Even the Leaves Votes Red, Orange or Green

The election is on Monday, and it looks from here like a minority Liberal (red) government.  The NDP (orange) stands to lose much of what it gained in the Orange Wave of 2011 for reasons that I might go into later (has to do with letting the Liberals out flank them on the left, I'm convinced).  The Greens (green, of course) ran an honourable campaign, but if they get more than two or three seats they'll be lucky.

And it is fall of course.  We had our first snow this morning.  It melted as if fell, but still it's clear that time is moving faster than we realize.  The leaves aren't all off the trees, nor off the vines climbing the walls.  The effect is beautiful.  No wonder this is the favourite season of many--particularly when you  see the blue (Conservative, up there on the roofline) being challenged successfully.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Saturday Photo: The Path to Thanksgiving and a New Government

The leaves are beginning to turn colour here, and the sky is the brilliant blue that always makes me think of my mother quoting Helen Hunt Jackson's poem about "October's bright blue weather."

The poem is rather schmaltzy, but the line certainly describes what it's like outside.  This photo also gives an idea of the uphill road we're all travelling in Canada this week, toward an election when we get rid of Stephen Harper and his Cons.  There will be a lot of heated conversation this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend  as tens of thousands of people debate what is the best way to do that.

If you feel the need to retreat from the fray, here's  the poem which is both dated and too sentimental, but can get your mind off the dilemmas of democracy.

 October's Bright Blue Weather
    O SUNS and skies and clouds of June,
        And flowers of June together,
    Ye cannot rival for one hour
        October's bright blue weather;
    When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
        Belated, thriftless vagrant,
    And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
        And lanes with grapes are fragrant;
    When Gentians roll their fringes tight
        To save them for the morning,
    And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
        Without a sound of warning;
    When on the ground red apples lie
        In piles like jewels shining,
    And redder still on old stone walls
        Are leaves of woodbine twining;
    When all the lovely wayside things
        Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
    And in the fields, still green and fair,
        Late aftermaths are growing;
    When springs run low, and on the brooks,
        In idle golden freighting,
    Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
        Of woods, for winter waiting;
    When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
        By twos and twos together,
    And count like misers, hour by hour,
        October's bright blue weather.
    O suns and skies and flowers of June,
        Count all your boasts together,
    Love loveth best of all the year
        October's bright blue weather.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Saturday Photo: Roman Road and Road through Time

Here's a photo of the Roman road at Conimbriga in central Portugal.  It's only one of the many roads I'm thinking about now, as I go back to the preliminary manuscript just accepted by the University of Regina Press.  Lots of fun in prospect!

Friday, 2 October 2015

Up Next: Road through Time

Pleased to say that I've just signed a contract with the University of Regina Press to publish my next non-fiction book Road through Time, probably in Spring 2017. It's about roads as vectors for change and exchange over time. The photo is of the Andes cordillera that I crossed on a bus just two years ago shortly after the new highway from Cuzco into Brazil was opened.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Saturday Photo: Dancing Grass

Just because it's another nice weekend...

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Required Reading for the Election Campaign: The Best Laid Plans by Terri Fallis

In my other life I lead book discussion groups in Montreal-area libraries, and, knowing that a federal election was coming up, I put Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans on the reading list for October.  At the time I didn't appreciate just how funny or how prescient the book is.  Now I think every political junkie should read it as this long, long campaign grinds on.

The book was published in 2008, well before the Orange Wave, the Great Recession, even before the flirt with coalition government that occurred in December of that year.  It  starts off with a Liberal political wonk who is trying to get out of the game and who agrees as a swan song to find a candidate in a staunchly Conservative riding in eastern Ontario.  The candidate, a U of Ottawa engineering prof,  agrees only because he's promised he won't win.  But he does, for hilarious reasons .  (Hint: a sex scandal involving his opponent, leather and nipple rings are involved, which actually isn't much worse than the peeing-in-a-coffee cup video that scotched the chances of a Conservative candidate this time around.)

Fallis portrays  the vagaries of public opinion as well as the inner workings of political campaign extremely, but entertainingly well.  (Hint: there's quite a bit about lawn signs, telephone canvassing and door to door.)  I know just how hard that is to do.  In another life I spent far too much time organizing political campaigns and tried in one of my first novels (Endangered Species) to give a taste of the rush a political junkie gets from filling out phone canvass forms. My editor that time around made me cut a lot of the details. Fallis either was smarter than I or had a good editor too, because this novel is mostly fun. 

The accidental MP Angus McClintock turns out embodying all that is good in our political system, and makes a tremendous difference.  Would that all candidates out there were as principled.   Should also add that this is a very Canadian book: I can't imagine what Fallis would do with Donald Trump.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Saturday Photo: Cosmos, the End of Summer, Climate Change

I've always loved these sun-loving flowers.  Cosmos are the stars of many gardens around here at this point in the cycle of the seasons.  I suspect they won't be so gorgeous in a week when the temperatures are supposed to drop, but they are a pleasure now.

So is the lovely temperatures which have made September 2015 perhaps the hottest on record here.  Coming after an uncommonly cool and wet July and August, it has been a treat to have warm and dry days this month.

Of course, all this "unusual weather" is likely the result of climate change.  As someone who grew up in California, I get nervous when it doesn't rain here for a week or so since water shortages were always looming the background then.  To live in the current four-year drought must be awful.  

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Saturday Photo: End of Summer and the Spiders are Busy

Anyone who's read Charlotte's Web or gone walking early on a September morning knows that spiders are especially busy this time of year.

This web was glowing in the early sunlight a few days ago.  I don't know how long it lasted, but the spider seemed to be sure of a good meal or two.  

The beastie won't survive for long, even with the unseasonably warm weather we've been having.  The way of the world is that spiders must die and new spiders be born.

A lesson there?


Saturday, 5 September 2015

Saturday Photo: Runners and Rainbows

The last long weekend of the summer, and the weather is wonderful here.  No rain in sight, but I did find this rainbow when out walking this morning.

The runners obviously were enjoying the sun and mild temperatures too.  A good way to start a holiday.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Back to School

This week Jeanne started kindergarten--hard to believe that she's now five.  Like millions of children in North America, she's said good by to summer, and gone skippingly into a new place to meet new friends and learn new things.

At the same time, teachers and parents in Quebec are protesting budget cuts everywhere.  What short-sightedness!  Our kids need good, public schools where everyone can get a chance to grow and learn. Don't listen to anyone who tells you otherwise.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The New Normal: How Social Networks Make "Migrating" Possible

Last year a photo of African migrants holding cell phones up in Djibouti won the World Press Photo prize.  The men were trying to pick up a good signal in order to communicate back home.  Beautiful photo illustrating something that seemed exotic.

But that's not really the case, it appears.  Having a good smart phone is essential to trying to get out of war zones these days, according to The New York Times.   The price traffickers are charging has dropped, in fact, because of competition from what might be called "self-guided" migration.  Facebook pages also have helped people live through crises: one FB group told of safe water outlets in Aleppo when water mains were broken through during fighting.

Fascinating, and also testimony to the degree of sophistication and education of these displaced people from unstable regions.  They could be you or me, were we unlucky enough to live in one of the hotspots.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Tomatoes and the Hundred MIle Diet

August is a month of many pleasures, not the least being the arrival in markets of real tomatoes.  Most of the years I don't buy them because they don't taste like anything.  But now the choice is almost overwhelming and the possible uses for the lovely golden or red fruit/vegetables are legion.

Now, I can't be sure that these beauties were all picked within a hundred miles of the Jean Talon Market in the centre of Montreal where I found them.  But certainly they are from much closer than the tomato-shaped objects usually on sale around here in other seasons.  Worth waiting for...

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Saturday Photo: The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test--Or What the Rich Drive

Not that I'm going to make fun of the environmental  concerns of these folks who are shown powering up their two electric cars, but I mean, don't low gas-guzzlers and public transport have more effect on green house gas emissions and all that tra la la?

The house and cars are a couple of blocks over from us, on a street where the houses are single family, very large, and extremely well-kept.  (They were repointing all the brick work when the photo was taken: a good $10,000 or more right there.)

The vehicles also are really classy, and I'm sure the people are cool too.  But I really can't think that these early-adapters represent the wave of the future.  Progress on the environmental front is frequently far more low-tech.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Proof the Bees Were out

We may end up with more pears this year than the squirrels can eat!  Last year we had perhaps a half dozen but this year there are lots.  I've started picking the ones that look ripe-ish, trying to keep ahead of our bushy-tailed scavengers.

I had feared that last year's dismal crop was due to an absence of bees to pollinate the  pear blossoms, a very sad thought.  The alternate hypothesis centers on the fact that the week the trees were in bloom coincided with a sudden cold snap.  Perhaps teh bees were dissuaded from flying around by the weather, I thought hopefully.

But this year the weather was fine when the trees bloomed, and the fruit set was good.  Now the only thing is to hope that I can pick faster than the squirrels can eat.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Saturday Photo: Orange Wave...

This is from a photo I took of a clementine back in 2011, just after the amazing sweep of Quebec by the New Democratic Party.  Election night was amazing--nobody believed what was happening really, old stalwarts were crying, the young were ecstatic.

Of course, I was glad and amazed at the Orange Wave, but I also was worried because the election ended with Stephen Harper and his Conservatives with a majority government. They were going to have a blank cheque to do whatever they wanted to do.  No matter how effective an opposition the NDP was--and it has proved to be very good--the Harper program was bound to be approved.

The Canadian Federal election called today, six weeks earlier than necessary, will be decided by people who are fed up with Harper and his gang.  It could be that the NDP will win a complete majority--I hope so--but even if the Liberals split the vote, the chances are good that the Conservatives will bite the dust.  I certainly hope so, because, while the NDP has moved to the centre more than I'd like, Thomas Mulcair is a better leader than Justin Trudeau, and the Canadian people need a Prime Minister who cares about issues that matter.

Friday, 31 July 2015

The Only Reason for an Early Election Call Is in Order to Spend More on Advertising

Don't get me wrong: there have been times in my life when I just loved political campaigns.  Hard to explain, but the kind of rush a political junkie gets after the writs are dropped and the canvassing begins is amazing.

This time, though, I'm simply angry that Stephen Harper will start the 2015 Canadian Federal election campaign next week, six weeks earlier than necessary.  The only reason for him to do this is because his Conservatives have a lot more money than any other party, and will be able to spend it on lots and lots of advertising.  To counter that is going to take a lot of work on the part of people who are fed up with Harper and his agenda to make Canada a different country from the one that has been admired around the world.

I won't mince words: polls now suggest that Thomas Mulcair and the New Democratic Party have an excellent chance of winning,  but they don't have the  same war chest that the Conservatives do, particularly in Quebec.  You probably saw the news reports last week about the difficulties many riding associations are having coming up with enough money to run a decent local campaign. The July 23 story in The Globe and Mail puts it bluntly: "vulnerable Quebec New Democrats are at risk of being outspent by opponents."

So consider this an appeal for contributions--to your local campaign, the federal Canada-wide one, and other ones that are going to need help from outside. There  are several campaigns that I think deserve extra help: here are five of them.

First of all,  those of two young women who were among the surprise NDP victors in 2011, and who have done great jobs in Ottawa: Ruth-Ellen Brosseau (Berthier-Maskinogé, Deputy critic for agriculture) and Laurin Liu (Rivière de Mille isles, Deputy critic for science and technology ). 

Then there are three campaigns outside of Montreal where the NDP incumbent is not running again: those of Danielle Landreville (Joliette), Brigitte Sansoucy (Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot) and Hans Marotte (St. Jean)

Federal election laws allow each citizen and permanent resident to give $1,500 a year to a Federal political party and $1,500 to local riding associations.  These contributions are eligible for a sizeable tax credit. For example a $100 donation works out to only $25 after the credit.  Were you to give $50 to each of the five campaigns mentioned above plus your local campaign,  your  total cost would be $75.  Were you to give an additional $100 to the federal campaign, your total cost for all the contributions would be $100.

The easiest way to contribute to  local campaigns in Quebec is on-line at

For a donation to the country-wide Federal campaign, see!step1

Or if you like, write a cheque: if you live in Montreal, I'll come and pick it up.  Please feel free to call me at 514 276-9257, or write me at

To find out more about these candidates:

Ruth Ellen Brosseau,  Berthier-Maskinogé, Deputy critic for agriculture

Laurin Liu, Rivière de Mille isles, Deputy critic for science and technology

Running to replace current NDP MPs.

Brigitte Sansoucy: Saint Hyacinthe-Bagot

Danielle Landreville: Joliette,-nouvelle-candidate-pour-le-NPD-dans-Joliette/1

Hans Marotte:St-Jean

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Saturday Photo: Resilience and that Other Goldilocks Planet

There's been a lot in the news this week about the discovery of a planet that might be hospitable to life as we know it.  The scientists have amused themselves, calling it a Goldilocks planet since it is not too close to its sun, nor too far away.

Others have also joked that at least now there's an exit door if things get too bad down here.  No matter that Keplar 452b is about 1500 light years away, some may find the idea of another place to mess up comforting.  Of course, given the fact that it appears to be about a 1.5 billion years older than us, the chances are that, had life evolved the way it has here, there's not much left.

But when things get really depressing I like to remember Dylan Thomas's line about "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower." Life on this planet is amazingly resilient, as this treeling demonstrates.  I like this photo particularly because of the bus passing in the background.  A shift from individualistic, carbon-fuel dependent modes of living will be the key to making sure that this planet remains habitable for a while longer.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Saturday Photo: Street Furniture, or Living Outdoors

Didn't have my camera with me the other night, but Thom, his mother, Grandpa and I made an after-supper visit to a local artisanal ice cream place.  It was a lovely summer evening and the lines of parents, kids and grandkids were long.  Our choices were mostly chocolate: good thing Thom was wearing a brown tee shirt because it was covered in drips before the treat was eaten.  Grandpa's white beard also was decorated with chocolate as he ate a cone with TWO scoops!

We sat on one of the benches in the photo, enjoying the ice cream and the outing.  Putting just a few out as street furniture enhances the dynamics of urban life.  Periodic emptying of trash cans is necessary, but the folks at the ice cream parlor seem to be on the case.  A great addition to the neighborhood!

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Saturday Photo: Cemetery Gates over Time

The gate on the north side of Mount Royal Cemetery are just about finished.  The stonework was completed before the snow fell last winter, but it's been some time for the extent of the repairs to become evident.

I suppose that's not too surprising. A cemetery, after all, is a place where time stands still, except in the rolling onward of the season.  Here are a few other photos of the gates, shortly after the original construction in 1862, as it was before reconstruction began in 2010 and during the reconstruction process.   Must add that before the work this time, the gate was completely covered with climbing hydrangea--absolutely beautiful.  Do hope it will be replanted.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Night Hawks in the Night

Not to make too much about it, but when I woke up about 4 a.m. to open the windows after a thunderstorm I lay in bed listening to nighthawks flying in the night.  Obviously they aren't nesting near us, and the scouts were probably checking out a wider range, following the rain, but I was so pleased to know that the birds still nest in the city.

Earlier in the evening we had gone to see Le Sel de la terre, a very fine movie about the Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado.  He gained his reputation with tough photos from the conflict and famine regions of the world, but in the last decade has turned to taking pictures of the glory of the planet.  This desire to make the world a better place has found concrete expression in the refurbishing of the land his family own in the central region of Brazil.

The film includes an interview with Salgado's father who says that he educated his seven children on the proceeds of wood which once covered the land.  At the time he spoke, the hills were denuded and erosion was rampant.  But since then Salgado and his family have reforested it, a demonstration that at least some of the destruction we've wrought can be reversed.

So there's some hope for this summer day.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Saturday Photo: Where are the Nighthawks and the Ducks?

This photo was taken a couple of years ago at a pond in Parc Beaubien, a rather civilized neighborhood park near us.  For several years ducks had been nesting at this pond or in another a short flight away, and one of our summer pleasures was to watch the ducklings.

However, this year the only ducks to show up were three males.  Don't know what happened to the females, but it looks like the guys were checking out the place where they were born. Unfortunately work on the ponds-which originally were natural but which have been tamed--emptied them in early spring this year and last, so there was no place for nests.

Similarly, for the three decades that we've lived in this house, one of the delightful summer sounds was that of nighthawks hunting in the early evening and morning.  I'd heard from friends a few years ago that nighthawk numbers were crashing, but until now the plague hadn't hit here.  No sounds of the hunters this spring and summer, although the swallows have been swooping around a bit.

Yes, here were are at the Sixth Extinction.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Goodreads Results and a Nice Review

In the flurry of activity around here, I forgot to post the Goodreads Giveaway results.  The lucky three are:

Barry Kazimer of Campbell River, BC, Kelley Burrow of Morenc, MI and Caitlin Wardle of Adelaide, SA.   The books will be in the mail in a couple of days. 

And the latest on the review front:

Ian McGillis writes about River Music  in The Gazette. "Swept up by River Music: Mary Soderstrom's new novel charts course of pioneering pianist.:

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Saturday Photo: Yellow Flowers, Like the Sun

Think I probably posted a similar photo in the past, but at the moment I can't find it, nor can I remember the name of this marvelously invasive flower that is in bloom in our front yard right now.  In a garden of perennials, it does wonders since it provides a splash of yellow for a couple of weeks right after the tulips, daffodils and violets of spring have past.

Bees like the flowers too, and so there's constant coming and going of the beasties.  Good to see them at a time when there is so much bad news about how bees in general are doing.  When you look at the particular, though, some things are doing all right, such as beehives in urban areas.  Not being doused with pesticides makes a big difference.

Just Hours Left in the River Music Giveaway

Don't forget to enter the Goodreads Giveaway for River Music.  Three copies are available.  Enter here.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Saturday Photo: Emerald Ash Borer and the Sixth Extinction

Lots in the news about what climate change and human intervention in the natural world lately: the Pope's encyclical on the environment is a case in point.  
I thought of that this morning when out walking and saw, once again, these signs on several large ash trees on Mount Royal.  Unfortunately the treatment against the emerald ash borer, which was started last fall, didn't work for several that didn't leaf out this spring.  They have become sad ghosts. 
Earlier this week, the city took down several younger ash trees on our street as part of the attempt to contain the disease.  The trees had been planted in the last five or six years to replace aging maples.  All of them appeared relatively healthy, but the strategy is to create a cordon sanitaire around  affected areas, apparently.  
They're supposed to be replaced in the near future, but with what I have no idea.  Once again the balance of nature has been upset by the introduction of something.  As Le Devoir reports this morning, we are in the midst of what appears to be the sixth great extinction of life on earth, with consequences that were not even imagined only a few years ago. 

Friday, 19 June 2015

Where is the NDP When It Comes to Extrabilling?

What is happening in Quebec under the Couillard Liberals is extremely discouraging.  Step by step, under the banner of fiscal rigor, the government is privatizing the supply of all services offered to the citizenry.  The evidence is clear as witness the cuts to public education which are not accompanied by similar cuts to financial support to private schools, and the pressure on day cares to reduce their reserves, meaning that they will have to rent facilities from private enterprise, not acquire their own.

The latest thing is the institutionalization of user fees charged by doctors practicing in private clinics.  They are paid by the public system for the care they give, but argue that they can't cover their office expenses  if they don't charge extra.  Of course, any other professional has to figure out how to pay basic costs, and certainly doctors are just as smart as lawyers and accountants so certainly they should be able to do the same.  But that's not an argument I want to get into here.

What does bother me terrificallyis  that under the Canada Health Act which set up the framework of our health system, charging extra fees is not supposed to be allowed.  The idea of eliminating financial barriers to access underlies the whole idea of our Medicare set-up.  Extra billing is contrary to that principle.

To be sure, health is a provincial responsibility, and the cuts in transfers to the provinces from the Federal government gives the Feds less leverage.  But why isn't the NDP, which led the fight for Medicare, protesting the increasing charging of extra fees throughout the country?  Given the desire not to appear to impinge on the provinces,  it might be too much to expect Thomas Mulcair to condemn  extrabilling in Quebec, but there is no reason why he and his team in Quebec can't come out against extrabilling on principle.

The photo, by the way, is of Gaetan Barrette, Quebec's health minister.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Saturday Photo: Now We're Deep into Spring

Perhaps because winter closes down so many things, the odors of spring are particularly poignant here.  Oh, there are days when people say "it smells like snow" and there are others when someone's fireplace sends wood smoke into the air. But at no point is the air as full of fascinating smells as spring.

For a while the delicate perfume of tulips and daffodils floated in when I opened the door in the morning.  Then came the heavier smell of lilacs.  Now Russian olives are in bloom, sending a sort of mock orange fragrance everywhere.  At the same time, Japanese maples are at their loveliest.  The combination of gray green leaves and magenta ones is striking.

This sunny morning after a night of more rain, it smells so good that I just don't want to stay inside.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Beauty out of Disaster: And the Birds Rained Down

Last night my bookies in Kirkland discussed Jocelyn Saucier's Il pleuvait des oiseaux--And the Birds Rained Down in English translation by Rhonda Mullins-  The story has haunted me all day.

This is not a long book, but it is filled with vivid scenes, intricate relationships, a couple of mysteries and a love story that gives hope to anyone who feels time at his or her back. Saucier says she started doing research on the great fires that swept northern Ontario, Minnesota and parts of Manitoba 100 years ago. Between 1910 and 1920 thousands of square kilometers were burned by wildfires started as mining, logging and settlement moved into formerly lightly settled country. Saucier's heroine, a photographer, is trying to make a record of the survivors and goes looking for the legendary Ted Boychuk, who was rendered temporarily blind yet managed to wander for months, searching for friends and family.

The photographer arrives at an encampment of old geezers two weeks after Boychuk's death, and so never hears him tell his story. She and his friends do discover, however, that he has exorcized his memories by making more than 300 paintings of the time. A woman who also has terrible memories of mental illness arrives on the scene, and the small community changes in a way that no one expects.

Clearly Saucier was inspired by some paintings by members of the Group of Seven: none of them experienced the fires first hand, but several painted the ravaged landscapes. Yet Saucier's story is original and moving. It's success cuts across age groups: even though it has more than its share of very old people, the novel has twice won prizes awarded by college students. Definitely worth reading.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Saturday Photo: Columbine Time

The season progresses, and the wisdom of certain gardening decisions becomes more evident.  At one point I bought a few columbine plants.  They most delightfully have seeded themselves so now, and several of my neighbors, have these lovely flowers in bloom now.

And the air smells sweet.  Last week I kept thinking: lilacs and bird songs.  This week the robins are still staking out their territory, but the delicious perfume is coming from the Russian olives.  Thought a nuisance, invasive species in warmer climates, here the trees are at the limit of their range and so don't spread easily.  When the few in our neighborhood are in bloom, it smells heavenly.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Saturday Photo: Bees

Lots of bees in the garden these days of lilacs and bird song.  Do hope this means that the bees around here are surviving the plague that seems to be killing so many.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Morning after...

Time to get back to writing and ranting: last night my novel River Music was officially launched.  It's now available at good bookstores, and on line in Kobo and Kindle format from and Chapters-Indigo.

Monday, 25 May 2015

To Each Thing There Is a Season....

And now is the time when people in these climes begin gardening.  The average date for the last freeze in Montreal is May 10, it seems.  Last week I brought in the two tomatoes and four cucumber plants I bought last week to grow with Thomas and Jeanne--didn't freeze, but they had begun to look a little sad. 

But there is a way to garden all year around here, as this report on Radio Canada shows. A geodesic dome that captures sunlight all year round produces 80 percent of this family's vegetable needs.  Cost $12,000 US and is probably only allowed in rural areass.  Interesting idea, though.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Saturday Photo: Mellow Yellow

Went to the garden centre this week, and came home with a few new plants.  But nowhere did I find anything as fabulous as the display of dandelions on lawns around here now.  If we had to pay $15 a plant, they'd be in high demand.  As it is, I'll spend some time this afternoon digging a few up in the back yard!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

What's Not to Like: Food, History and Leftish Causes

Breakfast is just over, but as usual I'm thinking about food.  Came across this great story about Thunder Bay, its Finnish connection and Labour strife there. The centre is a restaurant called Hoito.

"Founded as a cooperative in 1918, the basement restaurant is a vestige of a period in Canadian history when radical labor unions urged general strikes as part of their campaign for economic and social revolution. It is also a symbol of the several waves of immigrants from Finland who flocked here to work in this paper-mill town, railway junction and port on Lake Superior," says NYT writer Ian Austen.

"But in some ways, it is food that has conquered all. Even in its heyday as a political hotbed, the place was best known as a destination for a solid meal. Today the Hoito is arguably Canada’s most famous pancake house, particularly beloved for its formidable Finnish pancakes."

Many summers ago we bought great sausages at a deli in Thunder Bay and cooked them when we camped outside town.  Still think about them, longingly.  Maybe we ought to go back, says she at the beginning of a summer when we're likely to stay on the island of Montreal. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The May Holiday: Journée des Patriotes

This weekend is the unofficial beginning of summer in Canada.  In the Rest of Canada it is called Victoria Day, but in Quebec it's now called la Journée des Patriotes.  

Nice juxtaposition here.  One name refers to a Queen, the other to a rebellion that began just as Victoria was ascending the throne. 

The Rebellions of 1837-38 were the closest thing to a revolution that Canada ever had.  Protesters in both Upper Canada (now Ontario) and Lower Canada (now Quebec) wanted representative government.  Eventually many of the things they demanded were granted, but today the role of the Patriotes (as they were called in Lower Canada) is not as well known as it should be.

The flag in the photo is not the one I just put up on our balcony: it is one designed during the Rebellion and revived during by Quebec's nationalists in the late 20th century.  I probably should go looking for one to fly on this holiday, but the nearest thing I have is the Quebec flag.   I fly it largely as a reminder that the Patriotes included many Anglophones who had had enough with British dominance.  Justice, democracy and responsible government go beyond linguistic barriers.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Saturday Photo: Mystery Plant

My friends and family know I love plants, so frequently I receive flowers or houseplants as gifts on special occasions.  Last week was Mother's Day and Elin and Jeanne arrived with this lovely little one.

The pot is almost Zen in his simplicity, and I can see that it will take a favoured position in my indoor garden no matter what plant it contains.  But I hope that the one in it now thrives because it is very interesting.  Long, thin branches that appear to be succulent, with tips that look as if they're ready to grow.  No spikes like a cactus, no hint from the soil in the pot as to what it originally grew in.

I called the florist to see if they knew what it was, but the person who answered didn't have a clue.  "We sold so many things last weekend," she said with mixture of pleasure and fatigue.

The photos I found on line suggested that it might be a salicornia, sometimes called sea asparagus, and sold around here in fish markets.  But they tend to be salty, and this one doesn't taste that way.  (Taking a chomp from an unidentified plant probably isn't too wise, but so far I'm still alive.) 

If anyone who reads this has an idea of what it is, I'd love to hear.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Saturday Photo, a Little Late: Green Rain

I think I've posted this photo before, but it is very appropriate right now. The maples are in flower--yes, they flower--and the ground is covered with the blossoms.  Extremely pretty, although the entry to our house is also full of them since they're so easy to track in. 

But the houseboy--named Lee--is preparing to vacuum them up, so I guess I shouldn't complain!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

First We Take Alberta,Then We Take the Hill...

When the NDP swept into Quebec four years ago almost to the day, I was flabbergasted.  Long a stalwart, I knew there was support for progressive candidates, but nothing prepared me for the sight  of 58 new MPs elected to join my own MP Thomas Mulcair. 

There was a down side to this, which people that night didn't seem to appreciate: a Conservative majority government.  We've seen what King Stephen Harper has accomplished sinceas he turned many of the things that were good about Canada inside out. 

Yesterday, voters in Alberta swept a majority NDP government into office, which means that new Premier Rachel Notley should be able to make some major changes in that province.  She's not going to be a left-wing as many feared or hoped, but this victory shows how vulnerable Harper's Conservatives are in their homeland.

We need to get the Cons out of Ottawa, we need to take the Hill...

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Saturday Photo: To Ope Their Trunks The Tree Are Never Seen...

How then to they put on their robes of green?

Those are the words of a song  I learned in fourth grade.  Can't find where it comes from, but I always think of it this time of year.  The temperature has shot up to 23 C (around 71 F) and you can pracically see the leaves growing.  Quite amazing!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Good News Today: No Rant...

All right, it looks like everything's a go.

Monday I signed off on the copy for the cover of my new novel River Music, and Alessandra Ferrari, Cormorant's publicity director, just wrote that copies of the book will be shipped to arrive in Montreal May 13.

That will be perfect for the Words and Music even the Atwater Library is planning for Thursday, May 14.  That's when I'll present the book at 12:30 p.m., and pianist Jana Stuart will play some Debussy that is very important in the novel. 

Then we'll have an official launch party at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27 at the Librairie Drawn and Quarterly, 211 Bernard West, in the Mile End district of Montreal. 

And to whet your appetite, here's an excerpt from the publicity bumph:

"Set against a backdrop of war, economic changes, and social upheavals, River Music explores the sacrifices that women make to fulfill their destiny, the wildcards of sex and passion, and the complicated relationships between mothers and their children.   

After an adolescence playing in churches and hotel lobbies, Gloria Murray  prepares to study in post-World War II France, but tpassion intrudes and, halfway through her year abroad, she finds herself forced into a hard choice that she shares with no one. Back in Canada, her career blossoms, she marries and has two children, and her secret seems best forgotten — until, thirty years later, her past and her career collide."

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Saturday Photo: Forsythia, a First Sighting

One of the most spectacular flowers of spring around here is forsythia, whose flowers burst forth on bare branches. 

Saw the first ones this week, growing along a sunny wall despite the temperature which was not much above freezing.  But this is a sure sign of spring, as were the little kids trying out their bikes with training wheels in the park yesterday.

Maybe this anamolous weather will finally end!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Reading Some Context for the Armenian Genocide

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Armenians by Turks, as the Ottoman Empire entered its death throes.  There are a number of articles and programs about the event, but here are a handful of books that give a wider context to what happened.

1. The Ottoman Empire began in the heyday of the Mongols: its dates are usually given as 1299-1923.  To understand who the Mongols are, read Jack Weatherford's excellent Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.  The great Khan was a Mongol chieftain who believed that he and his people were chosen by heaven--The Great Blue Sky--to conquer the world. By the end of his lifetime he and his four sons held sway over the greatest empire the world knew until the Britania ruled the waves 400 years later. They and their mounted followers went as far as the grasslands of Eurasia extended. Only the forests of Europe and the heat and humidity of southern India and Southeast Asia--both unwelcoming to mounted warriors--limited their advance.

Cruel in the extreme to those who refused to surrender, they searched talent wherever they went, and, Weatherford writes, produced a body of law that was relatively egalitarian and allowed considerable religious freedom.

2. Ali and Nino  by Kurban Said. The Romeo and Juliet lovers of this novel set in Azerbaijan are Georgian and Muslim, but the uneasy relation between Armenians and their neighbors is in the background.

3.  The Goodtime Girl by Tess Fragoulis. The Armenians were not the only victims of Turkish agression in the early 20th century: the Greeks of Anatolia also were chased and killed.  In this novel, the main character is a young woman who was her father's darling in the early 1920s in Smyrna.   When Greeks 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.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Why Didn't Joe Oliver Buy Canadian Shoes?

So the federal government is going to aim for more industrial growth?  What does it mean when Finance Minister Joe Oliver buys New Balance shoes for his big speech? 

Much was made of the fact that the shoes go with a zero deficit or "balanced" budget.  But I didn't see anyone comment on where the shoes were made.  At best they were made in the US (New Balance says one in four of the shoes it sells are), but none of the production is in Canada. 

Given that footwear once was a big Canadian industry, that's really telling.  As The Globe and Mail noted 18 months ago, Canada has lost its manufacturing edge, and it won't come back easily. And when I tried to find just how many shoes have been made lately in Canada, all I got on the Stats Can website was a cryptic remark that six monthly stats on footwear manufacturing--begun in 1926--were discontinued in 2005.

'Nuf said. 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Saturday Photo: And Next up, Scylla

The progression of spring flowers is upon us.  Last week the snowdrops came up, this week it's the turn of scylla.  Tulip leaves have emerged also and my neighbor's crocuses are about to bloom

I spent Monday raking the garden, and installing drip hoses.  It wasn't a moment to soon since to do that work today would mean tromping on the emerging plants.  When spring arrives here, it often comes at a gallop.