Saturday, 29 December 2018

Saturday Photo: The Hinge of the Year Has Turned...

Sunrise over Parc Outremont.  Not today, because I haven't been out yet, but I'm sure it would have looked a lot like this because there is no snow around here. 

No, it's all rain, weird weather with leaves still on the grass after a fall which was colder than usual.  At least there was a dusting of snow on the ground over Christmas to be pretty.

But the days actually are getting longer, with sunrise coming perceptively earlier.  According to the data I found, the day is not that much longer than it was at the solstice, The sun is setting later though, because of a curious astronomical quirk, the earliest sunset actually occurs on December 10. The reason has something to do with a discrepancy between the way we measure time and the actual relation of the sun and the earth.  Too complicated to figure out this morning: I'll just be glad that on this gray day, the sun will be out a little later this afternoon. 

So I'll try to get going: after all the feasting over the last week, it's time to get back to work on finishing up the revisions to my next book, which is now called Fine Lines: The Love/Hate Relationship between Neighbo(u)ring States.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Saturday Photo: Sil, Lutfisk and Holiday Good Wishes in Troubled Times

First of all, here's the link to our holiday season blog, which has become something of a tradition.  Read it and know we're all hoping for the best as we all, collectively, lurch forward into a new year.

As for the photo, I'm sure I've used it before, but it seems appropriate this gray morning when the countdown to Christmas is intensifying. 

The sil is made and so are the cookies.  Thomas is coming over to paint a school bus he and Lee made out of wood over the last few weeks for Louis.  The others will be in and out over the next few days, which will be an island of happy excitement in a world where the sun seems to be obscured far too often. 

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Saturday Photo: Waiting...

Is it going to snow?  Or will the snow all melt? There are many more important questions out there, but these two are high on my mind right now, as they seem to be on the minds of these creatures.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Saturday Photo: Hanging in There...Oak Leaves and Snow

Today's lesson is about persistence. 

It has always been my long suite.  The fact that my family is very long-lived helps because I've been pretty sure since I became aware of such things that, all things being equal and wars not too close to home, I'll live long enough to see projects to completion.  A big, early splash is always nice, but what gets you to your goals is dogged, continued effort.  Not necessarily constant, gut-wrenching struggle, but the knack of coming back again and again to pick away at challenges.

These oak leaves which I saw this week in Parc Outremont seem a kind of symbol--or maybe even a sign  In past years there must have been similar leaves clinging to branches well into the cold weather, but I don't remember noticing them.  Perhaps I'm just ripe for a reminder of the value of hanging in there.  Still have many projects to work on, and, I hope, enough time to accomplish them, or at least hand them off to people who will carry them foward.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Saturday Photo: Finally a Jade Plant Flower!!!

For several years I've been trying to get my large and beautiful jade plant (kindly given me by Bettina Bergo when she went on sabbatical) to bloom.  My mother, who was no gardener, frequently had them in flower when I was growing up in San Diego, and if she could, I figured I could too.

But it has turned out to be far harder than I thought.  For one thing, our house and yard are shaded by big maples during high summer.  For another, I didn't know what the cues were that the plant needed to bud.

Last fall and winter I did some research, including contacting nurseries in California, to see how it was done.  Cool temperatures, it seemed.  Lots of sun, others said.

So this summer I put the plant on the front balcony which is about the sunniest place we have.  The plant seemed to do well, but there was no sign of budding well into early fall.  Then we had our first freezing temperatures in mid-October, and I covered the plant with a sheet during the night before finally bringing it in. 

Lo and behold, within a couple of days, buds began to form at three nodes.  Since then I've been watching carefully as the plant as the buds slowly grew.  Last week they burst open into tiny flowerlets, that have no smell, aren't very showy, but nonetheless seem to be to be an accomplishment!

What would seem to have worked, then, is the combination of a sunny summer, followed by exposure to cold as the days grew shorter after the solstice.  So pleased!

The other photo is what the plant looked like last February.  It's grow some since...

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Saturday Photo: Getting from There to Here and Vice Versa

Snow on the ground, for the moment at least. Snow clearance hasn't been terrific perhaps because the powers that be know rain is forecast for this weekend.

But between now and then people have to get places, and when there is no path plowed people will make their own.  Urbanists call them desire lines in other contexts.  I call them a metaphor for life.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Saturday Photo: Winter Is Here, Said Hamilton Duck

This what the windows looked like early this week, and this morning Lee had to move about 10 cm of very heavy wet snow.  It's warmer, but there is no doubt that winter has arrived well before its calendar date.

Reminds me of a book the kids liked when they were little.  Called Hamilton Duck, it featured a big white duck who found his pond ice covered one morning.  "Duck, who was wise, said 'Winter is here.'"  And it certainly is.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Saturday Photo: One Hundred Years Later....

The end of the War to End All Wars will be remembered tomorrow, Nov. 11, 2018.  One hundred years later we seem not to have learned much.

The photo is of the cenotaph in Outremont. It commemorates both World Wars.  Too, too sad that carnage goes on...

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Saturday Photo: Rain and the Return to Standard Time

Been raining here for several days.  I suppose I should be pleased because that means plants will be starting the winter well-hydrated, which can be a problem after a dry summer like the one we had.

But Lee has been grumbling that he's already tired of winter.  Certainly having the sun rise so late makes it very difficult to get going in the morning.

But all that will change tomorrow, and also the sun is supposed to come out. 

Yay!  Got to keep one's spirits up in the face of what might happen on Nov. 6...

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Saturday Photo: Fall Bikes and Fighting the Good Political Fight

This is the time of year that the leaves fall--yesterday it was a veritable blizzard of yellow leaves on our street--but also time when bikes begin to look a little sad since so many will end up in the basement/garage/back balcony soon. 

However, it frequently is the time for politics, and this year I seem to be up to my neck in campaigns.  First came the provincial election where I worked some (not as much as I should have probably) for the excellent Quebec Solidaire candidate Eve Torres, who came a quite respectable second in a riding that was gift to the Liberal Party. 

Now there is a bye-election in prospect in Outremont to fill the seat vacated when Thomas Mulcair resigned at the end of the summer. Last Sunday I did some calling for the NDP candidate Julia Sanchez, another fine woman entering politics for the first time.

And today and tomorrow, I'm going to be calling into three Congressional districts which Lee and spotted last summer, thanks to SwingLeft, a movement to take back the US House of Representatives and whose motto is "Don't Despair.  Mobilize."  They looked winnable, so we checked to make sure that we could give money as non-resident Americans (yeah, this  kind of thing is mainly why I keep my dual citizenship), and coughed up some cash.  Now it's time to put my mouth where my money is, to turn the adage on its head.  Got a headphone-mike thing for my computer so I can use the campaigns' phone bansk, and when it's 1 p.m. here and 10 a.m. on the Pacific Coast where the three campaigns are, I'll spend some time on the phone.

Konrad Yakabuski in the Globe and Mail this morning is pretty downbeat on what will happen Nov. 6, even if the Dems take back the House.  The headline is "Democrats no match for 'nationalist' Trump." But you've got to try anyway, it seems to me. 

BTW, my daughter and her partner don't quit bike riding in the winter.  I think they're more than a little nuts, but she's just bought some new winter biking duds so she can ride in style and comfort in winter weather.  Given the traffic conditions around here I can understand the appeal: what takes a half hour on a bike would take an hour on the bus.  But fixing that is another story. 

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Saturday Photo: Burning Bush, or Antidote to a Burning World?

Our neighbors' burning bush trees are in full colour this week.  They are modest looking bushes for most of the year, but they turn a glorious red, come fall.

There have been moments these past few weeks when it has seemed to me that the world is on the brink of bursting into flames.  Not the nuclear war that haunted my dreams 40 or 50 years ago, but one where climate change, cupidity and stupidity seem to have brought out the worst in most leaders and many ordinary folk.

There is a connection between this lovely plant and the difficult state of the world: vegetation.  Plant, plant, plant: that would seem to be an answer to many problems from desertification to sweltering cities to rising CO2 levels.  Not the complete answer, to be sure, but a partial one.  And in this imperfect world, that's something.

Of course, it appears there's a caveat to be noted where burning bush trees are concerned.  In milder climates that ours, they can can become invasive, and in Massachusetts and New Hampshire they're actually banned.  Probably the lesson here is: we have to think about what we're doing and where we're going, even when we're pointed in the right direction.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Saturday Photo: Fall and Cataract Surgery

Fall is always a beautiful season here, with so many deciduous trees turning colour.  I'd always known that, but four years ago I learned just how gorgeous the trees are.  Until then, even with glasses, what I saw was basically a swirl of colour,  not individual leaves.  But, after much hesitation that ended when my optometrist asked if I was "still driving," I went in for a cataract examination.

As it turning out, my corrected vision wasn't that bad because of the way the cataracts were placed, but I was amazed at how much better I saw after the surgery.  Each and every leaf!  Landscapes as detailed as those painted by Canoletto! A very dirty kitchen floor!

Okay, I admit I wasn't too pleased at the last, and had to work several days to get the kitchen up to the standard I thought--pre-surgery--I was keeping.  Spots on linoleum, fingermarks and scratches in paint are much more evident to me now.  

But it's definitely worth that to be able to see the pointillist landscapes I see now, particularly as every leaf stands out.  Wonderful--Canaletto and Klimt and Seurat naturally!

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Saturday Photo: Thanksgiving....

This is a photo I've used before, but I really like it since it shows the beautiful hesitation that Nature goes through here before closing down for the winter.

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, and tomorrow we'll have about 30 adults and 10 children (give or take a few) for a community supper.  We provide turkeys, mashed potatoes and a few other basic things, and everyone else is invited to bring something they'd like to share with friends and family. 

This year the youngest will be a bit older than 2 years, and the oldest are going to turn 90 this fall and winter.  Not all are related to us, the majority belong to the extended family of friends that we've developed over the years here.  We expect to have a good time, and eat and drink very well!

I am far from being a person of faith--any faith, particularly in these dark days when some folks to who claim to be religious are doing such terrible things--but I think it is a good thing to stop at least once a year and realize how much we have.  Not to give thanks, exactly, but to realize that those of us who are so lucky have a duty to be generous, and to try to make the world a better place for everyone.

Hope your weekend is wonderful.  Now, I've got to start cooking....

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Saturday Photo: Harvest of Good Things

Chilis and garlic: great combination, não é?  This week I spent an hour at the Marché Jean Talon, buying wonderful, harvest-fresh things.  Basil, garlic, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, little pumpkins, and much more...

Once upon a time I froze and canned.  Last year I made green tomato relish in quantity--more, in fact, than we could eat.  So this year my purchases are aimed in just enough to keep us happy over the next little bit, without any waste.

That means for tonight pesto and pasta: the basil is beautiful!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Saturday Photo: Canal in Kochi....

I have no idea if this canal still exists in Fort Kochi, Kerala State, on India's southwest coast, but I hope it does despite the recent catastrophic monsoon that flooded the area this summer.  But I like the photo because it combines two of the projects I've been working on.

The first is my book about the wonders, menace and history of concrete, Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It.  The second is Frenemies:Why Some Places That Should Be Alike Aren't Alike.  Kerala  and Tamil Nadu, the state immediately to the east, are two of the pairs I consider in that book. 

Until last week, the plan was to publish the concrete book in 2019, and the one about unidentical twins some time later.  But the world is moving fast, and now it looks like Frenemies will be out sometime next year.

So at the moment  I'm pedaling fast to make the necessary changes, since the manuscript actually was finished about a year ago.  The memories of my time in Kerala are just that, mental souvenirs of a very interesting trip....

And now to get back to work.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Saturday Photo: The Bees Are At It, Thankfully

 One of the advantages of the kind of Darwinian gardening I do is that bees like it.  No pesticides or chemical fertilizer, just a lot of compost, some composted manure and a little bone meal.  The result is interesting--I'll share a photo next week--but the really important things is that bees love it.

All summer long they've been floating around.  Some of them must belong to hives like the one pictured here which sits in the Champs des possibles, vacant land along the railroad track through Montreal which has become a nature park.  There's only hive a couple of blocks away on the second story balcony of a classy house facing Parc Outremont.  Perhaps there are ones closer too that are hidden from casual view. 

Whatever, I'm glad to help out the busy pollenizers by providing environmental flowers....

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Saturday Photo: Tomato Time...

This is the best time of year for  lovers of real, ripe tomatoes.  What you get the rest of the year just does't cut it!

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Saturday Photo: Rideau Chapel and 40 Voice Motet

Highlight of a trip to Ottawa: a visit to the National Gallery of Canada to see the exhibit of Impressionist painters there until Sept. 9.  Nice, but what really was great was an installation in the Rideau Chapel  of a 40 Voice Motet by Joyce Cardiff based on music by Thomas Tallis.  Really amazing!  Go see/ hear it!

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Saturday Photo: Electric Cars, Only as Clean as Their Source of Energy

The folks a couple of blocks away have not one, but two electric cars.  Each cost a pretty penny, I'm sure.  But so did their house, which they've spent a lot of money on refurbishing.

I must say that I'm of two minds about giving subsidies to those who can afford these cars.  At the moment in Quebec you can get  a rebate of up to $8000 on the purchase of a new one, and $600 toward installing a recharging station at your home.  In Ontario, the new PC government is doing away with that province's subsidies which were considerably higher than Quebec's. 

Unless the electricity to charge these vehicles comes from a "green" renewable source, like solar, wind or hydroelectric, there is very little environmental good coming from them since emissions from traditional generating plants are extremely CO2 intense.  Furthermore, just adding more cars to the roads will not solve the other problems of our urban centers.  Better, probably, to put money into public transportation, including inter-city buses and trains. 

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Saturday Photo: Irrigation, or Another of the Things that Concrete Has Wrought

This was taken last summer near Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.  It shows dramatically the effect of irrigation on the dry lands of the region. 

Concrete made this possible.  It has also contributed mightily to the problems of climate change that we are seeing this summer. 

I've been thinking a lot about this as I reflect on what concrete has wrought for my book Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It. Lots of good things...but also some very questionable ones.  More about that later.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Saturday Photo: La bicyclette rose...Enduring Whimsy

It had been a while since I walked down Lajoie (great name) during summer, but I did this week.  What a delight to see that the folks who own the Pink Bicycle have put it out again, and decorated it with nifty plants.

Above is what it looked like on Wednesday, while below you'll find what it looked like in 2007 and 2011.  So nice to see that people continue the lovely, whimsical tradition.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Saturday Photo: Little Suns....

Yellow flowers are about my favourites I think, and Rudbeckia are my favourites among them. This is when they start blooming in earnest, the sign that summer is at its apex...

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Saturday Photo: Chicory on a Hot Summer Morning

The rain has finally begun to fall again a little, but for about three weeks we had very little, and only the hardiest of flowers were blooming in the fields.

Chicory is one of them.  The field is the disused brownfield in the Mile End district of Montreal called Le champ des possibles. It's been a protected urban wilderness for five years, and now it is full of wild flowers and bird song.

Nice to walk in on a hot morning.  Great initiative in the middle of a city.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Saturday Photo: Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It

 This week I hope to finish up my new book, Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World as We Know.  Well, maybe not finish, but at least have a decent manuscript to send to the folks at the University of Regina Press.  In the meantime, here's an example of what working with concrete on a small scale looks like.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Saturday Photo: Moshe Safdie's 80th Birthday

Here's the building that started the remarkable career of Moshe Safdie: Habitat 67.  Apparently he turns 80 this weekend, while Habitat turned 50 last year.  How time flies when you're having fun!

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Saturday Photo: Breakfast on the Grass, or Why It's Good to Talk about Heat-Related Deaths

It's been hot around here and  until the heat wave broke yesterday the parks were full of people early in the morning taking a break(fast) away from their hot digs.

We've had emails from friends who've seen the stories of heat related deaths in Montreal and want to know how we're faring.  The answer is:  fine actually. 

But has been bothering me is the way that practically none of the reporting mentioned the fact that health authorities in other jurisdictions like Ontario don't report heat-related  dates immediately.  Presumably that will come, but only a couple of months later, in the fall, after the heat crisis is past.

The approach in Quebec has been different since 2010.  Heath-related deaths must be reported, so that public health measures can be taken right now.  There's no way of knowing at this point if the door to door visits by firemen, the bottles of water distributed, and the publicity of what to do during a heat wave have averted deaths.    Presumably that will come later when the numbers are crunched and we see what kind of "excess deaths" occurred.

The interesting thing will be to see how the figures here compare with those in Toronto, say, or Ottawa where there weren't  heat awareness campaigns. My guess is that the rate will be as high or higher, even though according to the Globe and Mail today "only 53 per cent of households in Quebec have air conditioning, compared with 83 per cent in Ontario and 57 per cent nationwide, according to 2015 figures from Statistics Canada.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Saturday Photo: Morning Contemplation

Hot weather.  Time to get out in the morning and then cool it inside...

We were in the parks at 8:30 a.m. Often go walking at that hour, but the boys spent the night with us, and they were ready for action early on.  Spent some nice time in the various parks.  Nice to have them so close (and "them" means both parks and grandsons.)

Now the old folks are resting, since the kids have gone home. ...

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Saturday Photo: The Ducklings Are Back..

The ponds in our neighborhood parks are home some years to duck families.  This is the first time I've seen one in this particular park which is one of the most used.  Visited daily by masses of kids, exercisers and loafers, you wouldn't think it would offer much shelter.

But obviously it does, because the eight little guys I counted (couldn't get them all in the photo at one time) are too small to have flown here.  The nest must be in nearby bushes, and remained undiscovered long enough for the eggs to hatch.

Nice to see them.  A delight to know that there's still some nature in the city.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Saturday Photo: More Concrete....This Time in Peru

Moving toward the home stretch for my book Rock of Ages: How Concrete Built the World As We Know It. The University of Regina Press wants a draft by the middle of July, so it can be published sometime in 2019.

So I'm hard at work.  Among the things I'm doing is looking at the photos I've taken in my various travels to see what role concrete has played in the places I've visited.  The photo is of a building under construction in the little town in the Amazon basin where my bus stopped on the trip I took across the Andes from Cusco, Peru to Rio Branco, Brazil.  (For more about that, see Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move.)  Definitely artisanal, DIY work, but it's also testimony to the ubiquity and usefulness of concrete.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Saturday Photo: Cars...

Woke up about 2 a.m. to the sound of cars racing.  This is Grand Prix weekend and the town is full of wannabes who are driving muscle cars too fast.  I suspect they were racing down Park Avenue which at the hour is usually deserted. 

It was a moment when you listen, almost hopefully, for a crash.

Cars are useful.  But like fire, they need to be controlled.  I'm a born-again pedestrian and I definitely could do without so much vehicular traffic on our streets.

But last year, this lovingly decorated oldie caught my eye.  Don't know if you could race it.  Probably not, thank goodness.  Somebody, however, thought a lot of it. 

The exception that proves the rule that cars are a pox on civilization?

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Saturday Photo: Reading Lists....

Well,  it really isn't a photo, but a painting  done by the Hungarian painter Mihály Munkácsy in the 1890s.  Called "Paris Interior" in some places, it captures an era, as well as the calm delight of reading. Even the child on the floor seems to have escaped the heavy (if rather lovely) atmosphere of the salon.

Which brings me to reading lists.  I animate (the French word for moderate which I like a lot better) five book discussion groups in Montreal libraries, and this is the time to come up with reading lists for the season beginning in the fall.  Below you'll find what the groups will be reading, with the books in no particularly order. Note that these are not the only good books out there, but four of the five groups provide copies for the members, which means that only books for which there are 10-15 copies in local libraries make the cut.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Bone and Bread  by Saleema Nawaz
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Lost in September by Kathleen Winter
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
The Seven Sisters by Margaret Drabble
The Human Stain by Philip Roth
Indian Horse by Richard Wagemese
Daughter of Fortune by Isabelle Allende
The Widow by Fiona Barton
The Door by Magda Szabo
419 by Will Ferguson
Larose by Louise Erdrich
The story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Exposure  by Helen Dunmore
Indian Horse by Richard Wagemese
The Women by T.C. Boyle
The Free World by  David Bezmozgis
The Road Past Altamount by Gabrielle Roy
A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O'Brien
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
 Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Sélections en français

Nana de Émile Zola
Petit pays de Gaël Faye.
Le Mystère Henri Pick de David Foenkinos
La servante écarlate de Margaret Atwood
Le plongeur de Stéphane Larue
Un pedigree de Patrick Modiano
Un long retour de Louise Penny
L'heure mauve de Michèle Ouimet
Les sirènes de Bagdad de Yasmina Khadra

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Saturday Photo: Not Just Maples and Oaks and etc.

Everything starts growing this time of year.  Here is a photo of the brilliant new growth on a deciduous tree.  Don't know the name--I'm not good with those of plants--but I'm struck by the power of renewal in plants.

Reminds me of the title and first line of Dylan Thomas's poem The Force That through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower. The rest is rather like those brilliant still-lives of fruit and flowers that always show some decay to remind us of our mortality. 

Better on a spring day to think of the force, not the end of the force.

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime.

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Saturday Photo: Bumper Crop of Violets, the Other Side of Invasive

I love invasive plants.  Or Darwinian gardening, if you prefer. In my book, an attractive plant that has expansive tendencies is wonderful, because it will push out less attractive plants that aren't so aggressive.

That's why I planted violets in the front garden a few years ago.  Now they have taken over a fair amount of it and the neighbor's little yard.  Transplanted to the back yard, they now are making a wonderful show.  Of course, the little treelets are some competition, and I spent part of yesterday afternoon taking many out.  But still, what a delight to see so many lovely little flowers growing expansively on their own.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Saturday Photo: To Ope' Their Trunks the Trees Are Never Seen...

...How Then Do They Put on Their Robes of Green? "

Good question!  I always think of that song we sang  in my Southern California childhood this time of year in Montreal.  Back then there wasn't much seasonal difference in foliage and I remember puzzling about the words.  Here, though, the difference is nothing but miraculous.

The photo on the left was taken April 29 a few years ago, and the one on the right, three days later.  The great spurt of growth usually comes in the first week in May, when the bare branches a transformed into clouds of yellow green, and then into leafy shade.  The change has come a little later this year--leaflets just coming on now because of a week of very cool temperatures--but it is none the less something wonderful.

The last line of the song is: "They Leave Them Out!"  Another puzzle, until you realize that it's a pun.  Too sophisticated for kids, maybe.  Or maybe not...

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Saturday Photo: Years of Contestation...

There's been a lot in the press here about the fiftieth anniversary of the uprising in Paris. Certainly 1968 was a year of unrest, particularly among the young there and elsewhere. 

But that's not the whole story. We were in Berkeley in 1964, where things got really started.  At issue were a number of things: the increasingly hot American War in Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, and on the campus the Free Speech Movement which protested university restrictions on who could speak on campus.

And then there were other fights there, here in Montreal and in Paris again.  The photo was taken 15 years ago during a conflict over retirement rules, a battle that continues.  We went looking for the demonstration, and found these teachers preparing to march near the Jardin de Luxembourg. We could see when we arrived that this was only a gathering point, not the place where the demonstrations would begin, and when we asked where the starting point was, people looked at us in astonishment.  Seemed everyone knew it was la Place de la République. Only tourists had to ask...

Things still are hot in France.  I found a website that lists all the demonstrations this week, for those of you who might like to participate.  Today it's:

 Samedi 5 mai 2018
- Manifestation contre la politique d’Emmanuel Macron le samedi 5 mai 2018 pour faire "la fête à Macron", à l’appel de François Ruffin / La France Insoumise. Rassemblement à 12h à Opéra puis manifestation à 14h en direction de Bastille.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Before Its Time? Manifest Destiny, a Short Story

The story below appeared in my short story collection, Finding the Enemy, published in 1999 by Oberon Press.  Given the news today of a caravan of refugees at the US/Mexico border, it seems "déjà vu all over again.

Manifest Destiny

The car doors were locked.  Even from where she stood at the edge of the embankment, Lucy could see that the buttons were pushed down. Her mother would be all right.  She had the radio on, there was no one around besides the park maintenance crew cleaning the bathrooms.  It wasn't too hot, it wasn't too cold. 
    Yes, her mother would be all right.  She had even agreed she would be.  "Go take your walk," she'd said.  "Don't worry about me."
    Nevertheless Lucy stifled the impulse to check again.  Bad conscience acting up.  But for Lord's sake, she ought to take advantage of this.  When was the last time she'd taken a walk by herself?
    She turned to look for a path that led to the beach.  Too long, was the answer.  Two weeks at least.
    That was when she caught sight of the seal, swimming north.  At least she thought it was a seal:  a dark sleek form just beyond the breakers, barely visible through the morning fog, still hanging over the water.
    She found herself smiling for the first time in a while.  The last time she and Gordon and the kids had been down to San Diego, they'd watched a harbor seal basking on the deck of a small sail boat.  A thief who took bait off fishermen's lines, who wouldn't be chased away, who appropriated any small boat it pleased, according to the man who ran the hot dog concession.  But the kids had wanted to come back and see it every afternoon.
    They still talked about it, four years later.  They'd wanted to come too, this time, but of course it was out of the question.  They were in school and Lucy had too much work to do, moving her mother.   The move into the residence was done now, Lucy would be going home in a few days, she would see them all. She shouldn't be resentful that her mother wanted to come with her this Sunday morning, too, when she'd promised herself one last walk on the beach.
    But this beach couldn't be a good place for seals, though, Lucy realized as she watched the animal rise and fall in the surf. The State Park was the most extreme south-western point in the Continental United States. Ocean  currents here swept sewage up from Tijuana, and from the embankment, Lucy could see that the beach was littered with black splotches of oil from off shore drilling.  She also white plastic bottles, small plastic tampon applicators, long strings of kelp, a pile of feathers that probably was a dead bird.
    Lucy shivered and not just from the fog remaining in the air.  She pulled her sweater tighter around her shoulders, and held her car keys so they projected through her fingers like the spikes on brass knuckles.  She was sure there was no reason to be afraid,  this was a well-patrolled State Park, there was absolutely no other car around, nobody would walk two miles from the road  in Southern California even to get a beach.  Maybe even especially to get to a beach, since there were so many of them.
    Which of course brought up the question why she had chosen this beach to come to. 
    Partly to annoy her mother, she had to admit, because she had really wanted to go to the beach by herself.  But her mother had assumed she was going too, and Lucy had given in without arguing.    Certainly, if her mother's aim had been to annoy, she'd succeeded.  Moreover, as soon as the woman had seen the freeway signs for the south county towns, she'd started in again about how Ava had deserted her, how you couldn't trust people like that, how the country would be better off without any of them, how it was bad enough in towns but down here near the border....
    Lucy, however, was not going to think about Ava or her mother right now.  She started down the path that lead to the beach.  No, it was not a deserted path, obviously people used it a lot.  Not only was it well worn but also it was littered with soft drink cans and the bright scraps of corn chip bags...
    Lucy avoided looking at the litter and concentrated on the other sensations.  The air smelled of licorice and rot.  The first came from the foliage, the second from the river which the road into the park had followed, past barren strawberry fields, past places where water pooled in the river bed.  Some water must flow all year round. 
    That surprised her.  Growing up, the place had always seemed dry.   The tap water, imported from Colorado over 200 miles, tasted of magnesium.  She remembered gasping at the taste the first time she came back.  But she also remembered seeing the names of streams on the map: the Otay,  San Diego, San Dieguito, Santa Margarita and San Luis Rey rivers.  All those streams  coming out of the dry hills, stream beds lined with greenery even in the summer.  Ending at the bay, which here owed its existence to the sediments deposited by the streams and which formed a long barrier peninsula.  She had a sudden vision of how inviting the land must have looked two hundred years ago when Spaniards set up their missions, when the Indians hunted and gathered. 
    She pushed on.  The plants muffled the boom of the surf, and when the sun broke momentarily through the fog, she felt the heat un-tempered by a breeze off the water.  Suddenly, just when she wondered how long the path could go on, she found herself at the edge of a bulwark of rocks.  Below  lay a short stretch of beach.  Beyond that: the breakers.  Where a head still bobbed, half hidden by a swirl of fog.  The seal?
    No, no, not a seal, but somebody body-surfing, she told herself.  Somebody who couldn't resist the long expanse of sand, running northwards so beautifully.   But even as she began to invent the idea of such a somebody, she thought of sewage in the water.    She would have gagged, but the rustle in the reeds stopped her.   She froze.  She searched with her eyes, suddenly too afraid to move.
    There was a man was watching her.  There, over there, half hidden in the reeds.  His hair was black, and so was his skin except around his eyes, where his real color showed through,  The pupils were dark too, but the whites glowed.   He wasn't as tall as she was, and he was hunched over as if trying to make himself smaller.  He was bare foot and wearing only  a black tee shirt and jeans..  His arms had been greased like his face: camouflage, she thought.  What you did when you didn't want to be seen at night.
    It was daylight, though.
    Someone shouted, louder than the roar of the breakers.   She looked toward the noise, south, toward.  One of the maintenance crew was waving his arms, calling something she couldn't understand.
    She tried to see what he was calling too, but she heard another rustle in the grass, saw the glint of the knife as it was drawn.  The blackened face split in the middle as the man stepped toward her, grimacing. 
    She wanted to scream, but she couldn't.  All she could think of was what her mother would say about her being killed on a beach near the border.  Her mother would find it either embarassing or ridiculous, would blame her for doing something that reflected badly on the family,  or on some standard of behavior that no one had been able to define in 30 years.
    Poor old woman, Gordon said after Ava left and Lucy's mother had telephoned in a panic. Ava had come to clean and cook only three days a week, but without her help the old woman was locked inside her arthritis and her memories. Poor Ava, too, he added; too bad she never got her immigration status fixed. But, he added, your mother needs your help, go and get her settled in some place decent.  I'll hold down the fort. 
    Lucy had already decided she wouldn't tell him about everything her mother said: how she called his father an old drunk (true enough but never said aloud), how she accused him, Gordon, of instability because he'd changed jobs a half dozen times, how she railed against Ava for deserting her, even though it seemed pretty clear Ava had only left because Immigration was after her and her husband.
    Lucy wasn't going to say anything about the underwear either.  She had found mounds of it when she began to pack her mother's things.   Three dresser drawers were filled with pants and slips and camisoles which her father had given her mother over the years, some of it still wrapped in tissue paper.  Beautiful stuff but there was no point in keeping it, Lucy decided.  None of it would fit because her mother was  a shadow of what she'd been.  Besides she doubted if her mother even realized it was there: Ava had done the laundry for the last three years, Ava put the every day things in one drawer that Lucy's mother could reach without getting out of bed.  
    So Lucy wrapped it all up with sweaters and old blouses and what remained of her father's clothes and gave them to Ava's church for its next rummage sale.  Ava was gone, nobody admitted knowing where she and her husband were hiding, but Lucy knew of no better place to get rid of the stuff. 
    The night before the move, however,  Lucy heard a noise well after midnight.  When she got to the doorway of her mother's bedroom, she saw her standing, crying, holding on to the edge of the dresser as if she would fall otherwise.  "My things," she said, "my pretty things."  She looked up as Lucy entered.  "That slut took my pretty things."
    "What slut? What things?" Lucy said.  She knew, though, but she couldn't bring herself to explain just yet.
    "Ava, the Mexican slut," her mother said.  "She ran away, she deserted me. And she took my things."
    It was pathetic.  Even after Lucy explained what she'd done, her mother didn't understand.  But then maybe being old was pathetic.  This was not the time to reflect on the pathos of age, however.  She had the man in front of her now.  And his knife.
    She took a deep breath.  "You don't want to hurt me," she said.   She took a step backward, trying to decide which way to run.  Back to the parking lot was sure safety but she would have to go through the weeds again.  As long as the workman was up there, looking at the ocean, she'd be better off going toward the water where she'd be seen. 
    The man in front of her said nothing, and she realized that probably he didn't know much English.  An illegal, a wet back: what else could he be?  Same thing for the seal, the supposed-surfer out there in the water, she reaslized suddenly.  Not a seal at all, another one trying to slip across the imaginary line out there, the border between the two countries.  Greased up like Channel swimmers, they must have started down the coast, and swum north.  
    Lucy stood up straighter.  She reached out her hand to the man.   "Give it to me," she said.  She saw she probably could not win a fight with him because, although he was thin and obviously exhausted, he was desparate, and she wasn't.   Neverthless, she kept her hand held out and repeated; "You don't want to hurt me.  Give it to me." 
    On the little bluff, the man from the park crew was screaming something.  One of the other crew members was hurrying toward the edge too.  She looked toward them, her concentration disturbed.    The man in front of her shifted his weight, as he saw her distraction.  "No," she said firmly as soon as she perceived his movement.  "Don't do it."
    The man's eyes held hers.  Dark brown eyes with flecks of green in the irises.  Tired eyes.  She sensed just how much he resented her clean clothes, her well-fed aspect, her English, her perfectly legitimate right to be in this country, on this beach, part of the Anglo world.  To demand that he give her something, as if it were her right to take.
    The workmen had begun to jump from the low bluff down the beach, however, and the man looked over at them.  This time she moved in the moment of distraction. She stepped forward on her left foot and brought her right knee up hard! into his groin.  He bent over, still holding the knife, but she turned and ran toward the beach.
    The sand was soft, and she stumbled.  She gasped for breath, and willed her legs to thrash forward because she was sure the man was behind her, ready to attack her.  It was not until she reached the hard, wet sand where it was easier going, not until she was nearly even with the park workmen, that she realized the man was not likely to move out of his shelter.  Especially not if he could see what was happening at the water's edge.
    There the black thing she had thought was a seal washed back and forth where the waves, having broken their backs on the sandy bottom, beat raggedly on the shore.  The taller of the two workmen was sitting down on the sand, taking off his boots, and rolling up his trousers.  The other man was yelling something at him. 
    But he had been swimming, she told herself.   The thing I saw was moving northward,  was alive.  Unless she had seen it just in its last minutes of exhaustion, just before it gave itself up to the currents and the waves, just yards away from its destination.  Now it floated face downwards, and nothing moved except when rocked by the rising and falling water.
    The tall workman waded out and pulled the body from the water.  He and his partner stood for a moment, looking at it.  The body looked short and dark haired and greased black just like the other man in the reeds.  It also looked quite dead; the taller worker nudged it slightly in the ribs with his foot.
    Lucy knew, and she assumed the workers knew that when a person is drowning, you're supposed to turn him on the back, pull out the tongue and breathe rhythmically into the mouth.  But the men stood there, looking at the body, as if too ashamed or disgusted to touch this person, to put mouth to mouth, even though they had hurried to try to save him.
    The illogic of that annoyed her.  She started across the sand again.  Before she realized it, she was kneeling next to the man, fishing his tongue out, pinching his nostrils shut and breathing into his mouth. 
    "Hey, cool it, lady," the taller workman began.
    She looked up, and as she did the man on the ground choked, and vomitted up a quantity of saltwater.  Then, it was clear, he started breathing.
    For a second she continued to kneel next to the man.  Her hands were covered with grease and the front of her  blouse was soaking wet.  Poor guy.  Like Ava's husband.  Like Ava.  No chance at the American dream.
    She stood up, and suddenly she found herself shaking: her legs, her hands, her teeth.  She was cold, she was exhausted, she realized that probably she was very lucky.  "He had a friend, hiding in the reeds over there," she nodded her head toward the bottom land.  "He tried to jump me."  The words were hard to say.  She seemed to have lost control of part of her body: she couldn't stop shaking.
    She had to wait while the Border Patrol looked for the man in the reeds (he was gone, as Lucy was sure it would be), and then they did the paperwork.   She wondered what would happen to the other man.  Paramedics took him away, but it wasn't clear if a hospital would admit him, or if he'd just be dumped across the border.
    Twice during the wait Lucy went over to check on her mother, standing where the woman wouldn't be able to see her.   Her mother sat  staring out at the stretch of sea and sky directly in front of her, her head no higher above the door frame than that of a child. Safe behind the locked doors.
     Two brown pelicans patrolled the waves.  The tide began to turn and after a while Lucy realized the beach was growing wider and dirtier as the receding water  left behind more garbage on the sand.   Then, a half hour later, the officers were through and she could go.
    "Where have you been?" her mother said when she unlocked the door.  "I was dying in here of the heat.  I hope you got enough excercise to last  a while, because I don't intend to wait again."
    Lucy nodded. "Of course," she said, not trusting herself to say anything more.  It was only when she was behind the wheel with the key in the ignition that she looked over at her mother.
    The woman was crying silently.  Then she felt Lucy's eyes on her and she turned abruptly away.  "Don't look,"  she said.  "Don't remember me this way.  I wasn't always like this."     
    They took  I-5 up the coast on the way back, then cut over at Palomar Road.   The residence was out in what still was almost country.  Even on Sunday there were men in the fields, planting gladiolas, potting poinsettias, and, in one place wearing white contamination suits, goggles and hoods, spraying tomatoes.
    The trip took longer than Lucy expected; the traffic coming back from the beaches was heavy.  The road passed El Camino Real, passed the sign for the San Luis Rey Mission, passed a group of men waiting for the bus to take them home from the fields.  Small, dark men, of course. 
    The afternoon smog had settled in, but Lucy still could see how the upland rolled off north and south, cut by the streams she'd seen on the map running down from the mountains to the sea.:  San Dieguito, Santa Margarita and San Luis Rey rivers, San Marcos creek, Agua Hedionda.  All names, she noted, left by the Spaniards, who must have traveled the uplands when they went from one mission, one estancia to another.  Long, long ago.   
     They arrived in time for her mother to have a little nap before Lucy took her down to dinner in the dining room. 
    Her mother walked slowly, but she was out of breath before they reached the door to the dining room.  She stopped, although not (Lucy knew), not only because her old body needed to.  She looked around the room: at the polished oak plank floor, the white stucco walls, the dark beams spanning the space end to end.  At the potted plants in the corners, the yellow chrysanthemums on the tables, the white napkins, the 35 women and the three men waiting to be served their dinner.  At the white hair and walkers, the stooped shoulders and shaking hands.  And  at the small dark women who would serve them.
    Then Lucy's mother straightened up and started into the room as if she owned it.  The waitress for her table smiled.  Lucy smiled back.  It was the least she could do.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Blue Grass, Sort of, on a Foggy Mountain...

The photo actually is one I took several years ago in Chicago of scylla blooming in a park.  But my front yard looks similar right now as the lovely little blue flowers--the second ones that bloom in my garden each spring--have made their appearance in force.

This is what Kentucky bluegrass is like, pretty but not at all the same thing. 

And this is what Blue Grass sounds like: the inimitable Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Two Takes on a Pepper

I've always admired the sensual photographs of fruit and vegetables by Edward Weston.  He did a number of lovely photos of nudes and rocks, but nothing quite beats his peppers and pears.  Apparently he got in trouble once because one of his stilllifes looked far too much like  the backside of a woman so that his photo was removed from a show...

Be that as it may, I was delighted when two red peppers that I roasted in the oven in order to use them later as pimento in cooking turned out to look so much like Weston peppers that had aged. The slightly sagging bottom, the wrinkled skin, the age spots--I can relate to that these days.  But beauty and pleasure is where you find it, one must remember...

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Trying to Get a Jade Plant to Bloom in a Difficult World

There are some plants I can get to bloom year after year.  The various sorts of Christmas cactus are one, and recently I've been having pretty good luck with hibiscus.  But Jade Plant, also called crassula, is one I would love to see blooming, but which is resisting my attempts to recreate the circumstances in which it flowers naturally.

Thalassa Cruso in her classic guide to indoor gardening, Making Things Grow, talks about hers rewarding her with fragrant flowers every spring. My mother--never much of a gardener--had  big one that bloomed occasionally when I was a kid in San Diego.  But I've never got a flower.

Apparently the plant is a native to a coastal Mediterranean-type climate, so I'm trying to imitate the conditions.  It's not easy, as you can see in the photo which shows the snow outside.  But I'll keep trying.

Of course, it's an insignificant challenge considered against the problems of the world.  But sometimes finding solutions to small things gives one the energy to go to bigger ones...

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Saturday Photo: Brasília....

Sad news from Brazil about the right wing campaign to stamp out any politician to the right of centre.  Lula (former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva)  this morning still seems to be holding out, but we shall see...

In the meantime, read this by Mark Weisbrot. A sample:

"If Mr. da Silva is barred from the presidential election, the result could have very little legitimacy, as in the Honduran election in November that was widely seen as stolen. A poll last year found that 42.7 percent of Brazilians believed that Mr. da Silva was being persecuted by the news media and the judiciary. A noncredible election could be politically destabilizing.
Perhaps most important, Brazil will have reconstituted itself as a much more limited form of electoral democracy, in which a politicized judiciary can exclude a popular political leader from running for office. That would be a calamity for Brazilians, the region and the world."

The photo was one I took four years ago in Brasília from the gorgeous Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, designed by Oscar Niemeyer.  Note the big Brazilian flag in the background.  Things appeared better then, with Dilma Rouseff poised to win re-election.  How times have changed.  Wonder if the view has. 

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Saturday Photo: Marmalade from Ornamental Oranges!

Last Sunday Jeanne, Thomas and I harvested the bumper crop of little oranges that our ornamental orange tree had this year.  There must have been 40-50 (I forgot to count.)  We planted several in three little pots; one for each of them, and one for little Louis who didn't get the idea but will probably be old enough to be pleased to have a little tree whenever the seeds germinate.

Then I made marmalade with a little help from them, although they wanted to go out to play in the snow that remained.  The result was pretty good, if not enormous in quantity!

The second photo is of the tree at its most abundant.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Road through Time is an Indies Prize Finalist!

Great way to start a Saturday:  An email announcing that Road through Time: The Story of Humanity on the Move (University of Regina Press) has been short-listed for the 2017 Indies Book of the Year Award in the History category!

Hosted by Foreword Reviews, these awards highlight the best books from university and indie publishers across the U.S. and Canada and were chosen from more than 2000 entries across 68 genres. The winners will be announced June 15, 2018. Got my fingers crossed! 

The photo, by the way, is of one of the many roads I traveled researching the book, the new highway across the Andes from Peru to Brazil. That's the bus we traveled on from Cuzco to Rio Branco.